The seats in Madison Square Garden were only a little more than half filled on the night of November 29…
What’s Senator McCarthy’s future now? Three days before the close of the special session of the Senate called to decide on the Watkins Committee charges of misconduct against him, his followers rallied in Madison Square Garden for a demonstration of popular strength that, many observers believed, would swing the Senatorial vote in his favor, and spark the formation of a coalition that might lay the basis for a third party, with the Senator as its candidate. Reporting on the Garden meeting and subsequent events, James Rorty here takes a measure of the movement that was to save McCarthy from censure and start a wave of popular sentiment on which this latter-day Kingfish would ride to power and glory.
Caliban: Farewell, master, farewell, fare-
Trinculo: A howling monster, a drunken
Caliban: No more dams I’ll make for fish.
Nor fetch in firing
Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish,
‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca-caliban
Has a new master.—Get a new man.
Freedom, heyday! Heyday, freedom! Free-
dom, heyday, freedom!
Stephano: O brave monster! Lead the
—The Tempest, Act II, Scene 2.
The seats in Madison Square Garden were only a little more than half filled on the night of November 29 when the McCarthyites of the New York metropolitan area rallied to the defense of their hero, three days before he was formally censured by his Senatorial colleagues. And only 2,287,143 people signed the pro-McCarthy petitions distributed by a hastily organized committee calling itself Ten Million Americans Mobilizing for Justice. It is quite possible, however, that as many as ten million Americans attended the Garden rally in spirit, if not in person, and their 13,000 proxies made up in fervor what they lacked in numbers.
Before the evening ended, McCarthy had been repeatedly acclaimed, with applause too spontaneous to have been pre-arranged, as “one of the greatest living Americans” and the one “who has been the object of more contumely than Abraham Lincoln.”
The Senator was not present to blush at these tributes, or to answer the questions that every journalist would have wished to ask him, such as: Are these revels meant to celebrate the birth of a third party? Are you sure that these hypothetical Ten Million Americans for Justice really want Joe McCarthy? Are they sure? And what, by the way, do you want, Joe?
A few days later all these questions were given added pertinence by President Eisenhower’s congratulation of Senator Watkins and by McCarthy’s prompt and savage response to that gesture. At the re-opened hearings of the Senatorial subcommittee investigating subversion in defense plants, McCarthy disregarded the counsel of his friend Senator Mundt to “simmer down and cool off” and, instead, attacked the President directly in one of the most violent speeches of his career. Apologizing to the electorate for his support of Eisenhower during the 1952 campaign, McCarthy declared that “The President sees fit to congratulate those who hold up the exposure of Communists in one breath, and in the next breath urges patience, tolerance, and niceties to those who are torturing American uniformed men.”
Despite McCarthy’s subsequent statement that he had “no interest—at the present time—in a third party,” his speech was interpreted by his supporters, several of whom hastened to repudiate him, as an open break with the administration and an attempt to mobilize the Republican right wing for a contemplated split in 1956. Did McCarthy so intend it? Or was he betrayed by the inner violence of his nature—as has happened more than once in the past—into sounding, prematurely or desperately, the trumpets of a charge which he is now committed to lead, with or without an army to follow him?
A brave monster, indeed, but not a clever one. Does McCarthy have—has he ever had—the minimal stuff of leadership? Or has he been doomed from the beginning to political self-destruction by the compulsions of a nature too primitive or too distorted to direct and control the forces his roars have summoned from the vasty political deep?
The Madison Square Garden meeting provided almost the first real opportunity we have had to measure and appraise these forces. Watching the McCarthyites gather in the lobby and stream through the turnstiles of the Garden, one was struck by the curious guerrilla quality of this mobilization. What the little group of retired military men who had improvised the meeting were accustomed to was a disciplined army. What they got was a rabble of atomized individuals representing no organized pressure groups and no clearly defined political orientation or program. Fear and hatred alone united them; they had signed the petition with their heated blood.
It was a typical McCarthyite document. In the kind of inverted Orwellian automatic writing that has become almost the trademark of Senator McCarthy and his followers, the petition appealed to “reason, common sense, and justice.” It called upon the Senate to reject the recommendations of the Watkins Committee as “an affront to the dignity of the Senate.” It prayed for a decision “based upon honorable considerations, rather than political partisanship and Red-inspired propaganda.”
The signers who attended the Garden rally were young, middle-aged, and old. There were almost as many women as men; more Irish seemingly than any other ethnic group; more suburban middle-class couples than urban working class. And there was barely a token representation of Jews and Negroes. Practically everybody seemed to be there because they cared.
When Major Al Williams, master of ceremonies, told them that they had started a prairie fire of patriotic protest, they burned audibly. When somebody mentioned the New York Times, they booed from their shoes. When Lisa Larsen, Time’s petite candid-camera photographer, ventured into the audience to snap an applauding couple, she touched off a near-riot; as the police escorted her from the hall a venomous voice from a box behind the press section shouted, “Hang the Communist bitch!”
Fifteen years before, at the 1939 rally of the German-American Bund, I saw Dorothy Thompson walk out through the same gate, similarly escorted, and followed by similar imprecations. Did the same people yell them?
Quite possibly. Edward A. Fleckenstein, an American agitator and associate of neo-Nazis whom Chancellor Adenauer had the State Department oust from Germany, had worked overtime to mobilize his Voters Alliance of Americans of German Ancestry. So successful were his efforts that Weehawken, Secaucus, and other northern New Jersey communities had sent delegations so large that, according to organizer George Racey Jordan, it had been necessary to limit their allotment of seats, to avoid giving an “unrepresentative” character to the meeting.1
Major Jordan and his co-workers had obviously been to some pains to keep their meeting as respectable and all-American as possible. The anti-Semitic banners that had draped the Garden for the 1939 Bund rally were conspicuous by their absence, and with one possible exception there were no clearly identifiable anti-Semites among the speakers. Music of a sort was supplied by a 100-percent-American high school band from Hortonsville, Wisconsin, seven miles from Joe’s home town of Appleton. An Irish tenor sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” a Negro entertainer jived a “patriotic number” of his own composition. A Catholic missionary, recently released from a Chinese Communist prison, gave the invocation. A Protestant minister from New Jersey introduced a Jewish rabbi from Los Angeles who pronounced the benediction.
Obviously, the committee had tried to keep out known anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalist fanatics and crackpots. But its success was incomplete. Early in the evening a reporter spotted and photographed a spectator who bore a startling resemblance to Gerald L. K. Smith, sitting incognito in the audience and imperfectly disguised by a ten-gallon hat. The Reverend Smith stoutly denied his identity, fled the meeting rather than endure further questioning—and subsequently wrote in the December 10 issue of the Gerald L. K. Smith Newsletter: “In the audience of approximately 1,400 the only Jews that were visible were the newspapermen. . . . As the meeting was about to begin the Jewish newspapermen discovered Mrs. Smith and I [sic] and actually attempted to incite a riot against us. . . . Under the protection of the police we went to a taxi cab. . . . We could easily have been mobbed by the hysterical Jews in front of the Garden.” The truth, as set forth in the December 17 issue of the New York Post, is that nobody knew of the Reverend Smith’s unannounced presence and precipitate departure except the reporter (a Methodist) and the cameraman (a Catholic). Joseph P. Kamp and James A. Madole were also reported to have been among those present.
Seemingly, the committee had not tried to recruit eggheads. The only intellectuals on the platform were Willaim Buckley, Jr., and George Schuyler, the Negro journalist; where, one wondered, were James Burnham, Eugene Lyons, and others who had publicly condemned the censure of Senator McCarthy? Most of the speakers were retired army and navy officers whose earned prestige and high personal integrity had somehow been conscripted in the defense and glorification of the shabbiest demagogue American politics has produced in many a long year.
One after the other these officers joined the fray, either in person or with transcribed speeches fed into the loud-speaker from the rostrum. Major Al Williams, test pilot and speed flyer who resigned his Marine Corps commission in 1940, was assisted as master of ceremonies by Major George Racey Jordan, author of From Major Jordan’s Diaries, a book which accuses Harry Hopkins of folly or worse in authorizing, among other things, the postwar forwarding of uranium samples to the Soviet Union. Major Jordan’s eloquence was more restrained than in 1950 when he was reported to have told an audience of female superpatriots that “we may have to use some strong arm methods before we’re through. . . .” Also prominently there was Rear Admiral John G. Crommelin, who had commanded a carrier during World War II and lost two younger brothers in South Pacific air battles. In 1949 Admiral Crommelin was suspended from duty for revealing information bearing on the then pending unification of the armed forces. Admiral William H. Standley, our wartime ambassador to Moscow, was on the platform, as was Colonel William Heimlich, one-time director of the Rias radio station in Berlin, along with Lieutenant General Pedro del Valle, retired from the Marine Corps, and later a director of the National Economic Council, which the Americanism Commission of the American Legion has described as a vehicle for the hate propaganda of its director, Merwin K. Hart. General del Valle has also contributed to Common Sense, the hate sheet published by the notorious anti-Semite Conde McGinley, and is the organizer of the extremely isolationist Defenders of the American Constitution.
These officers could not be expected to know much politics, and they clearly didn’t. Because they were officers, they could be expected to abstain from the grosser forms of McCarthyite demagogy, and for the most part they did. For the same reason they could be expected not to approve of Joe’s methods; at least one of the original organizing group, Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, withdrew before the meeting with the declaration that McCarthy should admit his mistakes. Another, General James A. Van Fleet, former commander of the American forces in Korea, defected later as a result of McCarthy’s attack on President Eisenhower which he characterized as “reprehensible.”
The reservations these military men attached to their support of Senator McCarthy were emphasized repeatedly in the course of the meeting. “We are not here to praise Joe McCarthy,” said Major Williams. “And by the same token we are not here to bury him—politically. For whether you love McCarthy or hate him—whether you admire or despise him—is beside the point. Joe McCarthy as an individual is unimportant.”
What was important, insisted Major Williams, was “American patriotism, American nationalism—yes, I will use what has become a ‘dirty word’—and our Constitutional form of government of limited powers.” What was important was to prevent the elected representatives of the American people from being “censured . . . by the contrivance of the clandestine forces outside the Congress itself.”
The keynote of “conspiracy” was sounded once again by Admiral Crommelin, who appeared to be the chief of staff of Ten Million Americans. Quoting Lieutenant General Stratemeyer’s testimony before the Senate Internal Security Committee, Admiral Crommelin added his own conviction that “there is some Hidden Force or some Hidden Power or Something that is influencing our people. . . . They don’t act like Americans.”
The appearance of this force, declared Admiral Crommelin, had made it necessary for him and his fellow officers to violate the tradition that has ordinarily deterred American military men from engaging in politics. It was this Hidden Force, he insisted, that had decreed the liquidation of Joe McCarthy, “the one man who, single-handed, has been able to arouse the people of the United States to the menace of the Hidden Force in their Government.”2
Joe McCarthy, martyred tribune of the Little People whose brains have been washed for years by the subversive propaganda of the Hidden Force—the loyal, patriotic Little People who now, aroused by the enormity of the Watkins Committee’s censure recommendations, were rubbing the mist from their eyes and rallying from every American village and farm to the defense of their beloved Leader—every time a speaker presented this version of the McCarthy drama, the crowd roared its approval. At mention of the Senator’s critics it booed with startling ferocity. (For Senator Fulbright, the Rhodes scholar: “Boo!” For Senator Flanders: “Boo! Get the net for the CEC’s pet!”—the CEC being the Committee for an Effective Congress headed by General Telford Taylor.)
When Major Williams, in defending Senator McCarthy’s private espionage apparatus, declaimed, “God knows I myself have encouraged men to disobey orders from above,” they howled their endorsement. When General del Valle denounced coexistence with those responsible for the imprisonment of our fliers in Korea (“Who wants to shake those bloody hands?”), they applauded deliriously.
One of the most impassioned orators was Professor Godfrey Schmidt, of Fordham University. “Those who plan to strike second may not live to do it,” declared Professor Schmidt. At which the crowd shouted. And it roared again when he demanded rhetorically: “Should the Senate censure one of its own members in order to soothe the feelings of a cry-baby general?”
From time to time the master of ceremonies had promised that there would be surprises. Midway in the proceedings a searchlight focused on a box, the news photographers swarmed to snap the indicated quarry, and Roy Cohn permitted himself to be led to the platform. There he reached into an inside pocket and extracted a few well-chosen words. He was proud, he said, because of what this country had done for him and for those of his faith. Referring to McCarthy as “one of our greatest living Americans,” he declared that if the Senate censured him “it will have committed one of the blackest crimes in its history.” (A shout: “Roy Cohn for Vice President!”)
The second surprise was even more crudely staged. There was a stir near the gate through which Miss Larsen had departed. As the photographers scrambled for points of vantage, Mrs. McCarthy made her entrance and the master of ceremonies shot the rhetorical works: “The tinder of America is dry and thank God it is burning fast. . . . I present the motivating spirit behind the greatest patriot the United States has produced in a century!”
Mrs. McCarthy too seemed to have rehearsed her lines. “I wish I could tell you,” she said, “how deeply Joe is touched by this demonstration of your faith and support. He keeps saying to me, ‘I’m unimportant as an individual in this fight. ’ As his wife I don’t agree, but I think I know what he means. Are we about to lose the freedom that enables our elected officials to expose evil and Communism? I hope and pray that we do not.”
The rest was pretty much anti-climax. The Fundamentalist president of a small New Jersey College wished he’d had the wit to compose Joe’s immortal tribute to Senator Hennings: “A living miracle, without brains or guts.” Rabbi Max Merritt of Los Angeles (assistant director of the extremist American Jewish League Against Communism of which Rabbi Benjamin Schultz is director) said he was proud to be a co-religionist of Roy Cohn, and added that Roy’s friend Joe “has been made the object of more contumely than Abraham Lincoln.”
In effect the meeting concluded as it had begun, on the keynote of the unimportance of Joe McCarthy. Many a true word has been spoken in jest, and it would seem probable that some, at least, of those officers were not joking; certainly not General Van Fleet, as shown by his subsequent abandonment of McCarthy. Under the exigencies of war, the wounded must sometimes be left behind—even wounded heroes. It is at least conceivable that just as the Republican party was forced finally to appraise Senator McCarthy as a liability rather than an asset, so the organizers of a third party might feel that they could get along without Joe. . . .
Assuming, of course, that there is to be a third party, which is rather unlikely. The immediate effect of McCarthy’s attack was to alienate the right-wing leaders who had voted against censuring him, to align the overwhelming majority of the Republican party with the President, and to lessen, rather than increase, the possibility of a split. A third party movement will scarcely develop if the President runs for re-election, and it is reported that Mr. Eisenhower will soon remove all existing doubts on that score.
Where does that leave Ten Million Americans for Justice, and where does it leave Joe? The morning after the meeting Major Jordan, inundated by a continuing deluge of signatures to the petition, was willing to say only that of course he and his fellow officers hadn’t put in all that work just to stage a single meeting. Later, Admiral Crommelin announced that the state and local chairmen of the movement would canvass the signers of the petition “to determine their wishes and suggestions regarding a permanent organization.”
Presumably, what is in prospect is the formation of a right-wing organization that might or might not become the nucleus of a third party movement in 1956. Meanwhile it would support the right wing of the Republican party and attempt to neutralize the pressure and propaganda batteries of Americans for Democratic Action and the Committee for an Effective Congress.
But such an organization has long been in existence. It was formally established last May as For America, and among its directors are Lieutenant General Stratemeyer, chairman of Ten Million Americans, and General James A. Van Fleet, who did not resign from Ten Million Americans when he publicly forswore his future support of Senator McCarthy. And by a remarkable coincidence, For America, too, aspires to recruit ten million Americans to support its principles.
For America has its headquarters at 208 South La Salle Street, Chicago, and in addition maintains a Washington office. General Robert E. Wood and Dean Clarence Manion are co-chairmen and it, too, has a military man as its executive director: General Bonner Fellers, author of Wings for Peace. On its National Policy Committee, in addition to Generals Van Fleet, Fellers, and Stratemeyer, are such distinguished military figures as General A. C. Wedemeyer, General Mark W. Clark, and Admiral Ben Moreell. Its policy is avowedly non-political; it does not support candidates, and on this issue Ham Fish, one of For America’s original sponsors, broke away from it to set about organizing his American Political Action Committee.
The cuckoos of the ultra-nationalist, more or less anti-Semitic and anti-Negro right will undoubtedly try to lay their eggs in all these nests, but even if they are successful, it is still unlikely that anything will hatch out in the form of a real third party. It is also unlikely that any of these organizations will want to provide a political home for Joe McCarthy. Since the censure vote, and even more, after his splenetic attack on the President, both his Congressional friends and his press supporters have been deserting him in droves. Moreover, when the Democrats take over Congress, McCarthy will no longer have the chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations as a sounding board. The Senate floor provides a poor substitute, and Joe’s special brand of foreign policy, as outlined in his latest speeches, is likely to splinter rather than consolidate his following. Where, then, will our Wisconsin Caliban go from here?
Perhaps the person least able to answer that question is Joe himself. The misfortune of being Joe McCarthy is that he is all too inhuman: a kind of monstrous political robot unequipped with steering mechanism or reverse gear. Because of these defects he is both unfitted to lead and dangerous to use to further the political ambitions of others.
Not only is it too late for McCarthy to make his peace with the Republican party; it may be that he has also lost his power to win away any part of it.
There have been people like that in the radical movement: victims of a kind of mad glandular logic. Invariably they wound up shouting in the van of ephemeral three-man splinter groups. One is sure that Joe dreads the kiss of death that the Gerald L. K. Smiths, the Joe Kamps, the Merwin Harts would like to plant upon his brow. But it may be that he cannot choose; that he is being pushed ineluctably from the right, by the logic of his own demagogic nihilism, much as Henry Wallace was pushed from the Communist left, down a murky path that can lead only to political oblivion.
1 Following the meeting, it was reported that Fleckenstein, who is co-chairman with James J. McIntyre of the New Jersey branch of Ten Million Americans, would tour the state for McCarthy. When questioned by a reporter, McIntyre declared: “This committee will be incorporated, and with it we will start a third party.”
2 So far as the record shows, Admiral Crommelin has never exhibited anti-Semitic tendencies. The same can scarcely be said for General del Valle and other sponsors of Ten Million Americans, who in the past have been closely associated with Merwin K. Hart, Allen A. Zoll, Joseph P. Kamp, and other agitators for whom the Hidden Force is just an Aesopian euphemism for that myth of an international Jewish Communist conspiracy which is their theme. Grace Brosseau, one of Ten Million Americans’ founders, and a speaker at the Garden rally, has been actively identified with Zoll’s American Patriots, Inc., and with his current National Council for American Education. John B. Trevor, Ten Million Americans’ treasurer, is president emeritus of the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, with which Major George Racey Jordan is also associated. Although most of the Coalition’s affiliates are entirely respectable patriotic organizations, some of them function more or less openly in the ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic fringe. Other sponsors who at one time or another have associated themselves with organizations more or less tainted with bigotry include Mrs. David Good, a leader of the ultra-conservative Women’s Patriotic Movement in the Philadelphia area, and Fred H. Goodwin, J. Howard Rhodes, and Roscoe Peacock-the last three all associated with the National Economic Council.
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What Price McCarthy Now?Exit Caliban?
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, though, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.