British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.
Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.
But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.
History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.
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Gordon Brown: Stand-up Guy
Must-Reads from Magazine
Timeless tradition, fluid standards.
Yesodey Hatorah is a Jewish girls school in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood. Founded during World War II, Yesodey Hatorah became a voluntary-aided school a few years ago, meaning it is funded partly by the state and partly by a religious foundation. Tony Blair attended the opening of its new building in 2005, and the school has maintained its reputation for excellence ever since. More recently, however, regulators have singled out the school for intense scrutiny and opprobrium.
The reason: Yesodey Hatorah is determined to preserve its Orthodox Jewish values and to impart them to students.
This week, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, known as Ofsted, denounced Yesodey Hatorah as “inadequate” and took the school to task for failing to “prepare pupils well for life in modern British society,” as a BBC report put it. No parent wants to hear that about her children’s school, and a few of the concerns about Yesodey Hatorah were legitimate; teachers had blacked out all questions related to the theory of evolution in one exam, for example. But most of the complaints had to do with ideological rather than academic shortcomings.
In keeping with Orthodox religious precepts, “staff had systematically gone through every book to blank out any bare skin on ankles, wrists or necks,” the Ofsted report said. Likewise, “the majority of pictures in books on major artists such as Picasso had been blanked out.”
Yesodey Hatorah was also deemed insufficiently woke by the standards of British secular progressivism and the sexual revolution. The curriculum de-emphasized global warming. Students didn’t learn much by way of sex education and especially about homosexuality, which, according to an earlier report, deprived them of “a full understanding of fundamental British values” and limited their “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and [did] not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles.” Finally, Ofsted rapped the school’s knuckles for failing to expose the girls to the opposite sex.
Yet, as Giles Fraser wrote in March for UnHerd, “modesty is an important virtue for the Haredim, and that is reflected in their dress–no trousers for women, white shirts and black coats for the men–and also in their desire to protect their children from what they see as early sexualization.” Parents send their daughters to Yesodey Hatorah, precisely because they seek a school that shields them from the vulgarity and sexual coarseness of secular Britain.
The inspection reflected some of that coarseness. Fraser reported:
The Ofsted inspectors obviously came with a fixed agenda, they wanted to talk to the girls about sex. And those who told me about it were obviously made to feel extremely uncomfortable by the questions. Three girls complained to the Principal and he told them to explain that to the inspectors. They did–but that only made matters worse, and invited further interrogation. They were very upset by the whole process. ‘This felt like an attack,’ one of them said, ‘because under no circumstances did we want to discuss things that we were brought up our entire lives not to discuss.’
Talk about a #MeToo moment.
The attack on Yesodey Hatorah is part of a larger campaign against religious education in the U.K. Faithful Jews, Catholics, and Muslims are all targets. Former Education Secretary Justine Greening laid bare the agenda last year in an interview with Sky News. “We have allowed same-sex marriage,” she said. “That’s a massive step forward for the better. And for me, I think people do want to see our major faiths keep up with modern attitudes.” Senior government adviser Louise Casey expressed similar sentiments at the House of Commons: “It is not OK for Catholic schools to be . . . anti-gay marriage. I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities.”
If and when totalitarianism arrives in the West, it will carry the grammatically appalling banner of “equalities.”
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An unruly lot.
It wasn’t that long ago Democrats had the Tea Party’s biggest weaknesses pegged. The GOP’s insurgent wing had developed a bad habit of prioritizing the fight over whatever the fight was supposed to achieve. And because Republicans depended on their activist wing for electoral energy, Republicans were frequently tempted into unwinnable conflicts with no face-saving way out. Well, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, liberal activists are surely making Tea Partiers blush.
Blinded by anxiety and outrage over the GOP’s successes, the Democratic minority in Congress has been led by their activist base voters into committing several unforced errors. If it wasn’t for Donald Trump’s unique ability to alienate swing voters and the Democratic Party’s corresponding successes at the ballot box, elected Democrats would have to reckon with the mistakes they’ve made in heeding their base’s most self-indulgent desires.
The first and possibly the most consequential rake onto which Democrats lunged was a pique-fueled filibuster of Trump’s eminently qualified Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. He was arguably the first associate justice-designate to face a filibuster, and that dishonor was explicitly designed to force the GOP to make good on their threats to finish the job that Harry Reid started. “You already deployed the ‘nuclear option’ in 2013,” Mitch McConnell advised his colleagues “don’t trigger it again in 2017.” But they did. And so, the filibuster for all judicial appointments, not just lower court nominees, was vaporized.
At no point were Democrats pursuing anything that could be called a strategy here. They had no higher objective than making their base voters happy. Stung by the GOP’s successful effort to block Barack Obama’s final judicial appointment, liberal activists demanded a grand gesture of defiance. Even if the fight was a losing one, the liberal activists wanted to see a fight. Congressional Democrats knew that a filibuster would accomplish little and sacrifice a lot, but it was what their voters asked for.
Today, the costs of accommodating the irrational are coming fully into view. Not only are Democrats utterly without any mechanism to prevent Donald Trump’s second appointment to the Supreme Court, but the party’s activist grassroots seems neither to know that nor to care.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews nearly chewed the head off his colleague, Steve Kornacki, for merely asking how Democrats could prevent the confirmation of Trump’s nominee. He even managed to convince Senator Kamala Harris to promise that Senate Democrats would play “hardball,” whatever that means, to prevent the seating of a second Trump justice. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent quotes everyone from Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary to Harry Reid’s former deputy chief of staff, all demanding that Democrats “hold the line” and decline to “play by the new rules,” but not one word from any of them on the logistics of how they would go about doing that. The Post’s E.J. Dionne insisted that something has be done to block Trump’s appointment. But what? Though he ominously concedes that “civility” may be an obstacle to achieving his preferred outcome, he is deliberately vague. To be sure, the implication here is an ugly one.
This is not sense or strategy. It is a collective emotional outburst. Democrats cannot reason their voters out of a conclusion that reason did not lead them to in the first place, but they have no choice but to defuse these tensions and resentments before they spill out into the streets.
To do that, Democrats have only two options. The first option is to promise their base that they will fight until there is no more fight left in them. That is, of course, a lie; the fight is already over. Democrats who were promised a showdown will be bitterly resentful toward their elected leaders when one is not forthcoming. The second option is more forthright, and it seems to be the one toward which the Senate’s Democratic leaders are leaning. That would be to let Democrats down gently now. Tell them repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that Trump will get his associate justice on the Supreme Court, and there is no point in pretending that it can be prevented or even delayed.
Democrats who have convinced themselves that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement represents an existential calamity for the progressive project will never accept the legitimacy of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Democratic honesty at this juncture will, however, help liberal activists come to grips with their powerlessness. Such a course of action also preemptively debunks the idea that Democratic voters were stabbed in the back by their party’s Quisling establishmentarians. As Republicans know too well, that is a powerful message that fuels primary challenges and helps disreputable operatives separate the earnest from their money.
Democrats could learn a lot from Republicans these days. Republicans know what it is like to sleepwalk into a government shutdown without an exit strategy while sacrificing core elements of their brand in the process. They know how frustrating it can be to have their rights as a minority party curtailed simply for exercising them. They know that having an enthusiastic base of true believers is a double-edged sword; they’re great for winning elections but almost contemptuous of tactics.
If Democrats can convince their voters that “outrage” does not suffice for strategy, they will avoid a trap into which Republicans repeatedly fell—one that cost them a number of winnable races. But that’s a fraught course. After all, the left does seem to be enjoying their primal scream, and no one likes a scold.
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A confusing legacy.
Anthony Kennedy announced his intention to retire from the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The Ronald Reagan-appointed associate justice will long be remembered for undoing the popular will, and dramatically altering the moral landscape of the United States, based on a jurisprudence of balderdash. That his balderdash frequently came wrapped in the elevated rhetoric of “dignity” and “respect” and “autonomy” didn’t change the underlying substance–which is to say, balderdash.
The Kennedy brand of balderdash reached its apogee–nadir, really–in the plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). There, Kennedy wrote that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” The right at question was a mother’s liberty to terminate her pregnancy–a right with no basis in statute, common law, the Western moral tradition, or the U.S. Constitution.
It’s worth trying to retrace Kennedy’s logical steps in that densely packed jumble of balderdash. It begins with a bold but questionable assertion about what lies at the heart of liberty. And what lies at the heart of liberty, Kennedy argued, was something utterly mystical having to do with figuring out the meaning of life for yourself. And the state, he went on, can’t impose an answer to these mystical questions. Each citizen must figure out for herself what the meaning of the mystery of life is. And if unlocking the mystery of life involves the taking of life, well, the state can’t intervene against that, either. Therefore, there is a constitutional right to abortion.
Balderdash, as I say.
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The thirst for power.
Laura Ingalls Wilder has finally won her rightful place alongside Mark Twain and Harper Lee as the Association for Library Services to Children moves to strip her name from an award given to children’s authors.
The complaint is the familiar one: A writer rooted in the 19th Century (b. 1867) failed to anticipate the courtly etiquette of the 21st Century, in which American intellectuals and their institutions (ALSC is a division of the American Library Association) demand groveling and total conformity in thought and expression. Wilder’s violations involve “expressions of stereotypical attitudes,” in her Little House on the Prairie series, particularly in passages involving African Americans and Indians, which are “inconsistent with ALSC’s core values,” those being gutlessness and stupidity.
The same arguments have been put forward over the years in the case for the partial suppression of many of the great American works of literature. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are the most popular targets, though authors ranging from Toni Morrison to J. D. Salinger to Joseph Heller all have had a turn in the barrel. The champions of illiteracy, which the American Library Association must now count itself among, demand that those books be removed from library shelves and stricken from school curricula. That’s not quite as dramatic as burning them at a public rally while singing hymns to the greatness and purity of the Party, but the effect is roughly the same.
It is useful to consider the intellectual character of the people calling for the suppression of books or the memory-holing of their authors. In Virginia, the charge against To Kill a Mockingbird was led by a parent named Marie Rothstein-Williams, who made this complaint: “There is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.” The person who spoke that sentence does not have any business directing anyone else’s education in literature. If democracy demands that we defer to their judgment, then to Hell with it.
Mrs. Rothstein-Williams complained that To Kill a Mockingbird disturbed her teenaged son, who is biracial. A decently educated and halfway responsible school board member would have replied: “Good. It’s a disturbing book. It’s meant to be. You’re welcome.” The literal meaning of the word “education” is “to lead out” (from the Latin e ducere), but to lead out of what and into what? Our educators have forgotten that–if they ever knew. And so we are left with the blind leading the blind.
This is another of those paradoxes of progressivism that are mystifying until you develop cynicism sufficient to understand what they really are about: the opportunistic pursuit of power in matters momentous or petty.
On the one hand, progressives at the commanding heights of our artistic and cultural institutions insist that great art should be “transgressive,” e.g., this mess of words from Artspace: “Vagina Painting stands as an iconic Fluxus performance and has been interpreted as a key moment in feminist art . . . Underneath a ramped floor built in New York’s Sonnabend Gallery, Vito Acconci (b.1940) spent eight hours a day over three weeks crawling around and masturbating in an attempt to scatter as much of his semen as possible . . . At the conclusion of the work, Schneemann dropped her apron and pulled a thin scroll from her body that had been wound up and hidden in her vagina.”
These works, Artspace informs us, “are some of the most famous examples of contemporary artists transgressing the agreed-upon limits of safety, sanity, and decency.” The friends of the National Endowment for the Arts have argued that part of the value in the works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano (of “Piss Christ” fame) is that they are “transgressive.” When members of Congress protested the use of federal funds to subsidize a showing of Mapplethorpe’s photographs (a self-portrait of the photographer sodomizing himself with a bullwhip particularly seized their attention), Time magazine described him as a “persecuted artist.” An article about Gloria Watkins (better known as bell hooks) in the NEA Higher Education Journal assures readers that transgression is a necessary part of education.
At the same time they are celebrating transgression, the leaders of our artistic and cultural institutions insist that every piece of art—and every artist—should live up to the ever-more-refined sensibilities of their own particular tribe, which is to say, approximately, the tastes of high-income, college-educated white people who voted for Bernie Sanders. It’s a familiar bait-and-switch: Transgression is good and necessary when it serves the Left’s ends, and the social abolition of transgression (which is what “sensitivity” means) is good when it serves the Left’s ends.
Hence, the jihad against Laura Ingalls Wilder, which far predates this episode.
Partly, it is a jihad against the Little House on the Prairie books themselves, which are popularly understood as paeans to old-fashioned Protestant virtues and the westward expansion of the United States, two things that give progressives the screeching heebie-jeebies. Partly, it is a jihad against Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a well-known writer in her day whose silent role in the Little House books was something between editor and author. Lane, who still enjoys a following among libertarians with literary interests, was a trenchant (and cranky) critic of the New Deal who protested Social Security and war rationing, denounced Franklin Roosevelt as a dictator, and wrote as a fierce anti-Communist, having seen the ghastly results of that philosophy up close when reporting from the Soviet Union.
And so the Little House books are, in the progressive view, politically suspect. Sarah Palin was said to have adored them as a child. (Ronald Reagan, they say, preferred the television adaptation.) Judith Thurman wrote in The New Yorker in 2009:
Last June, Anita Clair Fellman, a professor emerita of history at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, published “Little House, Long Shadow,” a survey of the Wilders’ “core” beliefs, and of their influence on American political culture. Two streams of conservatism, she argues—not in themselves inherently compatible—converge in the series. One is Lane’s libertarianism, and the other is Wilder’s image of a poster family for Republican “value voters”: a devoted couple of Christian patriots and their unspoiled children; the father a heroic provider and benign disciplinarian, the mother a pious homemaker and an example of feminine self-sacrifice. (In that respect, Rose considered herself an abject failure. “My life has been arid and sterile,” she wrote, “because I have been a human being instead of a woman.”)
Fellman concludes, “The popularity of the Little House books . . . helped create a constituency for politicians like Reagan who sought to unsettle the so-called liberal consensus established by New Deal politics.” Considering the outcome of the November election, and the present debacle of laissez-faire capitalism, that popularity may have peaked. On the other hand, it may not have. Hard times whet the appetite for survival stories
(Alert readers will note the familiar question-begging in “not in themselves inherently compatible.”)
It is difficult to say how much of Lane’s libertarian politics the typical Little House reader is likely to absorb from those books. Her own accounts of the same material in Free Land and Let the Hurricane Roar offer a bleaker picture of settlers nearly destroyed by “free” land that, like most “free” things, turned out to be crushingly costly. But the stink of right-wingery is on the Little House books, and that probably is enough for the American Library Association and the other idiot children of American letters, suffocating as they are beneath the weight of their own ridiculous and infantile self-centeredness. Too egotistical to read a novel: You couldn’t even say that about poor daft old Ayn Rand.
The librarians long ago joined the brigades of little suppressors, along with the teachers and professors, the museum directors, the deans of students, and the enforcers of uniformity who, in the Orwellian style, describe their portfolios as “diversity.”
Funny word, “diversity.”
A few years ago, I was teaching at The King’s College in New York City, a Christian school that attracts a considerable number of students with rather severe religious upbringings. There was a dress code, inevitably, which was roughly “business casual.” One posted memo advised young ladies that they shouldn’t come to school dressed for a night out on the town in Manhattan, but neither should they show up dressed “like a character from Little House on the Prairie,” that look being à la mode in certain evangelical circles.
There’s transgression, and then there’s transgression, and Little House on the Prairie does not offer the fashionable kind.
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The obvious link.
Last Thursday, Palestinian Media Watch revealed that the Palestinian Culture Ministry proclaimed a National Reading Day in honor of Baha Alyan, a terrorist who murdered three civilians on a Jerusalem bus in 2015. This was just the latest of hundreds of similar examples of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorists, a practice the international community has been dismissing as unimportant for a quarter century now. Thus, it might be useful for Americans to look at the issue through the prism of a more familiar problem: school shootings. Because, as investigations into the shooters’ motivations reveal, those shootings have quite a lot in common with Palestinian terror.
As the New York Times reported last month, school shootings seem to have become “contagious.” Each new shooter is inspired by his predecessors, and especially by the media attention they receive. In a cellphone video made prior to February’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, for instance, the gunman declared, “I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018 … It’s going to be a big event. When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am.”
Similarly, after another gunman killed two people on live television in 2015, one 26-year-old man wrote on his blog, “I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are … Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.” A few months later, that man murdered nine people in a shooting spree at an Oregon community college.
Investigators have consequently concluded that alienated or mentally disturbed young men see such shootings as a way “to get the attention of a society that they believe bullies, ignores or misunderstands them,” the Times reported. And media attention plays a major role in this, according to researchers at Western New Mexico University. As the Times put it, “The role of the media in turning school gunmen into household names and perpetuating ‘the infamous legacy they desire’ can be shown to have inspired additional attacks.”
This conclusion would come as no surprise to Israelis because Israeli researchers had long ago reached a similar conclusion about the role of societal attention in motivating Palestinian terror. During the height of the second intifada (2000-05), Dr. Anat Berko interviewed numerous failed suicide bombers–people who were caught before they could blow themselves up. She found that, for young men, a key driver of such attacks was the knowledge that they would be lionized by their own society (women were more likely to be motivated by a desire to escape miserable personal circumstances). As she put it in a 2014 interview, “The suicide bomber does not act out of suffering or inferior economic status, but rather out of a desire to win social recognition.”
Since Israel obviously couldn’t eliminate that motive as long as the PA continued to exist and to glorify murderers, it focused instead on denying suicide bombers means and opportunity. In this, it was stunningly successful, thanks mainly (as I’ve explained before) to its decision to let the Israel Defense Forces retake full control of the West Bank, thereby depriving terrorists of the safe havens in the PA where they had plotted, prepared, and trained for their attacks.
Yet the motive still exists, in spades, as even a cursory glance at PMW’s latest press releases show. Two days before the organization issued its release about National Reading Day, it announced that the PA had named a plaza after Maher Younes, an Israeli Arab who kidnapped and murdered an IDF soldier in 1980. And four days before that, it issued a press release about a new game show on official PA television whose host opened it by praising “our heroic martyrs who water the land of Palestine with their blood every day.”
As anyone familiar with Palestinian language-laundering knows, “martyrs” are terrorists who kill Israelis. This was made explicit in a music video broadcast last December on a television station run by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, in which the lyrics glorifying “martyrdom” were accompanied by pictures of suicide bombers.
This ongoing glorification of terrorists hasn’t made much of a dent in the Western dogma that Palestinian terror is actually driven by “legitimate grievances” and/or “poverty and distress.” Hence, many Westerners still deem PA incitement a trivial issue undeserving of attention, and Western countries still lavish aid on the PA without insisting on an end to such incitement.
This is clearly counterproductive for the West’s oft-proclaimed desire that Israel withdraw from the West Bank. As long as the PA continues urging its people to slaughter Israelis on a daily basis, such a withdrawal would be completely untenable. Were Israel to remove its soldiers, it would instantly be back in the situation of the second intifada–in which Palestinians had not just motive but also means and opportunity, and used it to slaughter over 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians.
Yet it also turns out, and not for the first time, that by treating Palestinian terror as a unique and somehow “legitimate” form of terror, other countries harm themselves as well as Israel, because they deny themselves the chance to learn lessons that could save lives back home. As the Times reported, investigators now consider school shootings “the American equivalent of suicide bombings.” And, if so, as Berko’s study makes clear, logical tactics to combat them might include denying the shooters the media attention they crave and closer monitoring of those dark corners of the web where such shootings are glorified (and, yes, Israel’s experience also obviously shows that making it harder for killers to get guns would be a third).
Contrary to the old children’s rhyme, it is not true that “words can never hurt me.” The glorification of violence, whether it’s Palestinian terror or school shootings, can be deadly. It is, therefore, long past time for the West to stop tolerating it. Conditioning financial aid to the PA on an end to such incitement would be a good place to start.