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WH to Ed Henry: We’re Actually Not Sure What Obama Did Instead of Going to Paris


President Obama’s absence at Sunday’s Unity Rally in Paris had many scratching their head wondering what he did instead, including his own press secretary.

“I haven’t spoken to the president about what he did yesterday,” Josh Earnest told Fox News’s Ed Henry during Monday’s briefing. “I guess I prepared for a lot of questions today, but I did not prepare for a question based on what the president was actually doing yesterday.”

Earnest explained that the president’s attendance at the outdoor march proved too difficult to coordinate oless than 36 hours notice, given security protocols. Additionally, the White House worried that security measures would have impacted other participants’ ability to take a part in the rally.

Henry pushed back, saying that dozens of other world leaders adequately addressed those concerns and attended the rally on short notice, such as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He went on to compare the sudden event to South African president Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013, which President Obama attended. Unlike Mandela’s funeral, which officials had already planned for years in advance in the event of his passing, the Paris march quickly came together, Earnest said. As a result of the president’s “more onerous” security compared to that of other world leaders, the sudden turnaround was too difficult.

Ultimately, Earnest reiterated that the administration should have sent a more “high-profile” official to the rally, including potentially Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris for an anti-terrorism summit. Before moving on from Henry, Earnest emphasized that the administration continues to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the French in the aftermath of last week’s attacks.

As White House Admits Error Over Paris March, State Dept Gets Snippy


Looks like somebody forgot to pass State Department deputy press secretary Marie Harf the memo. 

As White House press secretary Josh Earnest ate crow over the Obama administration’s failure to send a high-ranking official to Sunday’s massive anti-terror march in Paris, Harf remained defiant in the face of similar questions from the State Department press corps. 

Exhausted by a series of questions on the absence of President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and even Attorney General Eric Holder — who was in Paris the day of the march — Harf lashed out at the State Department press corps.

“I would like to see how many minutes we spend on Boko Haram compared to a march, I just want to point that out to people,” she said testily, referencing an attack by the Islamic terror group that killed thousands in Nigeria last week. “I know, I know. I’m just pointing it out. Making it a little commentary there.”

Harf had earlier reiterated ad nauseam that the United States “stands squarely by our French ally,” explaining that Secretary Kerry was in India for a pre-scheduled event.

“I don’t think [the criticism] is fair,” Harf said, pushing back against a reporter who said it was “weird” that the United States was absent while more than 40 other world leaders attended.

“There are more ways than just this march to show our solidarity with the French,” she insisted. “And I think that’s what I would underscore . . . It is not the only way to show solidarity. And the secretary certainly would’ve been there if he could, and he’s looking forward to going there on Thursday.”

And when another reporter asked if there were any internal administration discussions on sending a high-ranking White House official, Harf got snippy. “I’m not going to get into what our internal conversations look like,” she said. “As we said on the record, the secretary’s schedule wouldn’t allow it.”


White House Admits Snubbing Paris March Was a Mistake


White House press secretary Josh Earnest admitted on Monday that the Obama administration failed to pay the proper respect to French victims of terrorism by withholding high-ranking officials from Sunday’s rally in Paris.

“Some have asked whether or not the United States should’ve sent someone with a higher profile than the ambassador of France,” Earnest said. “And I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile.”

The largest rally in French history, the march drew world leaders from over 40 countries, who together walked arm-in-arm through the streets of Paris in defiance of the Islamic radicals that attacked the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo last week.

Earnest explained that President Obama failed to attend the rally due to concerns about his personal safety and the problems the U.S. Secret Service would’ve caused to the crowd. “This is a march, the planning for which only began on Friday night,” he said. “And 36 hours later it had begun . . . the security requirements around a presidential-level visit, or even a vice-presidential visit are onerous and significant.”

Although initially expressing contrition over the White House’s error, the press secretary got snippy after reporters asked about the “wide variety of criticism.”

“Well, criticism from who?” Earnest said, smirking when the reporter mentioned Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz.

“It’s certainly a free country,” the press secretary said. “People have the opportunity to subject their elected officials to criticism, and make it clear when they disagree with a decision or action that’s been taken by the administration.”

Web Briefing: January 30, 2015

The Great Walter Berns


“Gov’t can rule only by laws, not by decrees.” “The Last paragraph Fed 10: (first object of gov’t: protect the unequal faculties of acquiring property.) [arrow to next sentence:] “To secure equal rights is to secure rights of unequally endowed human beings. To allow pursuit of happiness as the individual defines it.” “Berns says Congress may indeed remove S. Court’s jurisdiction from cases.” “‘One thing is clear: the Founders did not anticipate that the Supreme Court would have anything like the role it plays today’ – Berns.” “Berns says only substantive clause of 14th is privileges and immunities (also see Article 4).”

These are a few of my scribbled notes from the fall of 1986, from a class at Georgetown on the essentials of American constitutionalism, taught by the great scholar Walter Berns, who died this past weekend at age 95. I had graduated in May of that year with a degree in government and theology (double major), but somehow had missed the chance to take any courses from Berns. So, since I remained in D.C. to work (as a Reagan appointee to the Veterans’ Administration), I contacted him and asked if I could audit his class for free — and he agreed, as long as I didn’t tell anybody in Georgetown’s administration. Of course, as almost every student Berns ever taught will tell you, the class was superb. Berns’s knowledge was vast and deep, and his love for the American experiment was inspirational. James Madison, in particular, leapt from Berns’s lectures in full intellectual color, a still-living paragon of wisdom, decency, practicality, and principle.

I was particularly moved by Berns’s exposition of how the Founders regarded the interplay between liberty and equality, with the latter being defined, for American purposes, in terms of the former. (In other words, the equality we enjoy is quite specifically, and in almost all respects no more than, an equality of liberty.)

After the last class, I approached Berns and said that since I would not be taking the final exam (since, of course, I wasn’t officially in his class to start with), I wondered if there were any project he was working on, or wanted to explore, but which he did not have time to thoroughly research and on which he might therefore welcome some research assistance — for free or, depending on how one looked at it, as my payment for him having allowed me to audit his class. He invited me to meet with him at his AEI office and, while it was certainly not a long meeting, maybe 20–30 minutes or so, we decided that a great area of mutual interest would involve re-deciding Brown v. Board of Education to reach the same practical result (outlawing state-sponsored school segregation), but on the basis of a liberty argument based on the “privileges and/or immunities” clauses rather than on the equality argument through the strained application of “due process,” especially as further confused by Earl Warren’s mumbo-jumbo citing supposed developments in psychological understanding, etc., etc. I’m not sure if Berns was just humoring me (he was a serious man, who did not strike me as being wont to humor somebody), but I left his office with grandiose visions of literally writing an entirely new, mock Brown v. Board decision and publishing it somewhere. 

As I remember it, I spent maybe three hours at a library one day (if that) on the task. What notes I took from that session seem to be lost. But shortly after I returned to D.C. from spending Christmas at home in New Orleans, I was asked to return to Louisiana to work on Representative Bob Livingston’s 1987 campaign for governor. The research project died in its cradle — and, 20 years later, which was the next time I saw Berns, who was giving one of his magnificent presentations at an AEI event, he remembered neither the project nor me. But he did say something like: “Privileges and immunities: Yes, I always lamented the Court’s treatment of those clauses.”

The second-last note from that 1986 class, citing something Berns said from the lectern, was this: “a prejudiced attachment to the Const. is good.

Walter Berns provided generations of students a wonderfully prejudiced attachment to, and reverence for, the Constitution of the United States of America. It was a great life’s work. May we be ever grateful for Berns, for his work, and for the system of ordered liberty he expounded. And may he rest in God’s good peace and joy.


Vox Discovers a Party Called ‘the National Front’ Wants a National Currency


Matt Yglesias of the website Vox (“the smartest thinkers, the toughest questions”) decided over the weekend to read the party platform of the National Front, the so-called far-right French political party that’s expected to gain substantially in its standing because of last week’s terror attacks. 

He makes two discoveries. First, the National Front is not a uniformly conservative party as Americans might conceptualize it — it’s hostile to “Anglo-Saxon finance,” supports a generous welfare state (for the native-born), etc. This is obviously not characteristic of most of, say, the right wing of America’s right-wing party, but it’s not odd in terms of the history of what have been termed Western far-right parties. There’s a name for this phenomenon, called the “horseshoe theory.” I don’t know if Yglesias is unaware that he’s identifying a common dynamic, but it seems like useful context for his readers. It’s also an explanation of why almost no American conservatives and relatively few British ones like Le Pen.

In any case, Yglesias’s other discovery is that the National Front wants national control over France’s currency. He’s surprised that a far-right party has hit upon a good policy insight: The euro was either a horribly misguided project or way ahead of its time, and that’s made it an atrocious economic policy for Europe, cause of a great deal of the continent’s pain right now. It should be relatively obvious that serious and nationalistic economic conservatives were going to get that one right.

The incredibly shallow understanding of European politics implied by this piece’s surprised tone means that Yglesias’s conclusion is naïve. He writes:

Le Pen deserves to be confronted where she’s making the most sense, not the least. Mainstream leaders need to either co-opt her European agenda, or else construct a viable alternative in which the European Central Bank creates growth-friendly conditions without disrupting the single currency.

EU leaders and the European politicians who support their project, of course, have chosen to confront Le Pen and her ilk where they’re making the least sense (in their alleged racism), not the most. That’s not just because that’s generally how politics work. It’s because, for the reasons Yglesias cites from Le Pen, it’s nigh impossible to create “growth-friendly conditions,” or an economy that can respond to the business cycle, “without disrupting the single currency.” And they can’t co-opt her European agenda — it would then not be a “European” agenda at all, as pro-EU forces understand it.

‘CyberCaliphate’ Hacks U.S. Army Central Command’s Twitter, Youtube Accounts


The Twitter and Youtube accounts of the U.S. Army’s Central Command was hacked by unknown attackers calling themselves the “CyberCaliphate” on Monday, publishing the phone numbers and private information of American officers and posting propaganda videos glorifying the Islamic State.

The attack on the Army’s headquarters for Middle Eastern operations occurred around 12:30 EST, when the hackers sent out the following tweet on @CENTCOM’s account:

“AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK,” the post read, adding that “we broke into your networks and personal devices and know everything about you. You’ll see no mercy infidels.”

The chilling tweets continued, with spreadsheets of the phone numbers, email accounts and private information of top-ranking Army officers uploaded to the page along with threatening messages:

The attackers then posted what appears to be Powerpoint slides of Pentagon contingency plans for a war against China and North Korea:

CENTCOM’s Youtube account was simultaneously taken over, with the hackers posting videos titled “Flames of War” and “O Soldiers of Truth Go Forth,” showing Islamic State fighters in combat:

A CENTCOM press officer reached by phone confirmed that the hacks were genuine, though he would not comment on the suspected identity of the attackers. It is unclear whether the attacks emanate from Islamic State sympathizers or operatives of the Islamic State itself. NBC News reported that none of the information posted was classified.

“We can confirm that the CENTCOM Twitter and YouTube accounts were compromised earlier today,” an official press release said. ”We are taking appropriate measures to address the matter. We have no further information to provide at this time.”

Both the Twitter and Youtube account of the U.S. Army’s Central Command have now been suspended.

Kerry Dismisses ‘Quibbling’ Criticisms Over Lack of U.S. Leadership at Paris Rally


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rejected widespread criticism of the Obama administration’s failure to send a high-ranking representative to Sunday’s massive anti-terrorism rally in Paris, calling the critiques “quibbling” despite the attendance of more than 40 world leaders. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov all marched arm-in-arm with French President Francois Hollande and dozens of other foreign leaders in response to last Wednesday’s massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists by Islamic terrorists.

But the United States was represented only by ambassador Jane Hartley, who reportedly marched a few rows back from the line of global leaders. That lack of high-level U.S. leadership set off a firestorm of disapproval from across the political spectrum, with the NY Daily News saying the president “let the world down” and Democratic strategist Doug Schoen saying he “morally abdicated his place as leader of the free world.”

Asked about the absence during a press conference in India on Monday, Kerry rejected the criticism. “I really think this is sort of quibbling a little bit,” he told reporters, noting that the United States sent intelligence assets to help the French find the terrorists and that he already had a prior commitment to attend the event in India.

The secretary of state also stressed that he would be traveling to France on Thursday, “to make it crystal clear how passionately we feel about the events that have taken place there.”

via The Weekly Standard

French Muslim Students Refused to Honor Moment of Silence for Charlie Hebdo Attack


A nationwide minute of silence for the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices was not honored by some Muslim students in French schools, a BBC reporter claimed.

Following last Wednesday’s slaughter of 12 people at the satirical newspaper by Islamic terrorists, President Francois Hollande asked the French people to observe a moment of silence the following day.

But while most of the nation responded with an outpouring of grief and solidarity, one subset of the French nation was less-than-reverential.

“I’m already getting reports from people in France that some schools in those strongly Muslim neighborhoods, the kids didn’t stand for the minute’s silence,” BBC reporter Katty Kay said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “They see those attackers as heroes. How do we change that? Because that’s where the problem for Europe lies.”

Kay said the Muslim-dominated Parisian suburbs must be “detoxified,” explaining that radicalization is spreading rapidly within the French Muslim community.

Muslims worldwide were incensed by Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons mocking their prophet Mohammed, with many calling for revenge attacks like the one finally carried out last week. 

NYPD Brass: No Vacation, Sick Days Until Slowdown Ends


A work stoppage by NYPD officers to protest a perceived lack of support from New York City leaders, among them Mayor Bill de Blasio, has earned a sharp rebuke from police commissioner Bill Bratton. Via the NY Post:

At precincts across the city, top brass are cracking the whip on summons activity and even barring many cops from taking vacation and sick days, The Post has learned.

Throughout the city, precincts are being ordered to hand up to borough commanders “activity sheets” indicating the number of arrests and summonses per shift, sources told The Post.

“Police officers around the city are now threatened with transfers, no vacation time and sick time unless they write summonses,” one union source said.

According to the Post, the following memo, informing cops that “no new days off would be approved beyond already approved vacation days” nor sick days approved without a doctor’s note, was posted inside a NYPD station house.

Monday links


Eat your hearts (or brains, or whatever) out, zombies - Atlas Missile Silo turned into Luxury Survival Condos.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, famous for inspiring Stephen King to write The Shining, is planning to construct a 10,000 square foot maze, and is having an open design contest.

20 Award-Winning Wedding Photographs of 2014.

Math: how long it would take 2 million people to fart enough hydrogen to fill the Hindenburg?

One man built his own dialyses machine, another built replacements for his blown-off hands: 5 Desperate People Who Hacked Junk Into Life-Saving Devices.

There Are Now Lego Astronauts Aboard The ISS.

ICYMIFriday’s links are here, and include the story of the 1969 “Paul McCartney is dead” hoax, turning Nazi super cows into sausage, macro photos of weird insects, and a device for butt selfies

Harry Jaffa, R.I.P.


Harry Jaffa has died. I remember, in order of increasing importance:

1. The character. Harry was a handful. Early in the Reagan years I got an excited phone call from him (was there ever a calm one?) about the fight over who should head the NEH. The frontrunner was M.E. Bradford, a learned English prof with a sideline in Confederate history. Irving Kristol then pushed Bill Bennett, for his manifest talent, and to avoid re-fighting the Civil War in a Senate confirmation hearing. This was one of the opening shots in the paleocon/neocon fight. (Like many great struggles, it began with cheese parings.) Everyone in right-world took sides. Harry, although he was the last living soldier of the Army of the Potomac, was for Bradford. Why? Because he disliked Kristol. (Irving took the right side in the Civil War, of course, but he did not take it for what Harry considered the right reasons, therefore he was worse than wrong.) And also because of: cheese parings. “This is all about patronage!” he told me. “Bradford will give me patronage! And those [I suppress his epithets] won’t!”

2. Speechwriter. Harry wrote the most incendiary lines of convention oratory since the Cross of Gold speech for Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the Cow Palace in 1964. “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” It rings and sings; it expresses a powerful thought; I have used it for mic tests whenever I am in a TV or radio studio. But at that time and place, it did its little bit to hold Goldwater to six states.

3. Time thrusts these failings into obscurity, may all of ours follow. Harry’s great and lasting service was to rescue Abraham Lincoln from the whittlers and the minimizers. Early/mid-20th century biographers like Beveridge and Randall added to our detailed knowledge of Lincoln, but in their effort to be scientific and non-partisan, they lost sight of what was at stake in the 1850s and 60s. The Crisis of the House Divided, which Harry wrote for the centennial of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, reminded his scholarly colleagues that politics is sometimes about something; and in Lincoln’s life it was about something vitally important — the nature, and hence the future, of the United States. Imagine a white republic with a slave economy entering the imperial scramble of the late 19th century and beyond — its effect on the world, and on ourselves at home. Harry also defended Lincoln indirectly from his Communist admirers and black nationalist detractors. Lincoln was not concerned, or insufficiently concerned, with justice for the proletariat or for the black man. He was concerned with justice.

If Harry sometimes became hoarse and repetitious in expressing the truth, it was because the truth he expressed was so important, and so often ignored.

“Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution.”– Lincoln, Peoria, October 16, 1854.


Berns and Jaffa


There’s a hint of Jefferson and Adams in the news that two learned titans, Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns passed away on the same day. Berns and Jaffa weren’t nearly the adversaries that Jefferson and Adams were, but they had their moments. I always loved this bit from a response from Berns to a letter from Jaffa in Commentary magazine:

Silence, Harry V. Jaffa once wrote, quoting Shakespeare, “is the perfectest herald of joy,” but he is not much given to practicing it, as I and many others who have been the targets of his numerous letters in this and other journals over the years have come to know.

In this latest of his effusions, after saying that my “story” of the second of Lincoln’s Freeport questions is apocryphal (which it might very well be), Mr. Jaffa goes on to say that “the third question was of far greater consequence.” I do not doubt that, but in his book on the Lincoln-Douglas debates (Crisis of the House Divided), Mr. Jaffa wrote that “Lincoln’s second question to Douglas at Freeport is rightly famous, for it was the immediate cause of the most significant political effects.” That, in a nutshell, is what I said, and since he taxes me for saying it, I must conclude that either he thinks I should be censured for not citing him as authority for it or that he has changed his mind.

This is the sort of thing Bill Buckley had in mind when he said of Jaffa: “If you think it’s hard to argue with Harry Jaffa, try agreeing with him.”

I did not know Jaffa, I shook his hand once I think. I know him mostly from his writings and his students. I didn’t always love his writings, but I always learned from them. I’ve learned even more from his devoted students. 

I did know Walter Berns fairly well. We weren’t friends, per se. But he loomed large at AEI when I first worked there over 20 years ago. He could be one of the most intimidating people you ever saw — until you worked up the courage to talk to him and then he couldn’t be more generous. He had the soul of a teacher. He was also very clearly in love with his wife, Irene. At AEI’s annual dinner we famously have ballroom dancing after the formal stuff is out of the way. That was, as lore has it, at the insistence of Walter, who wanted to be able to dance with his wife. Which he did, with style and passion. That’s how he conducted himself off the dance floor as well. 


Do We Still Believe in the American Dream?


My AEI colleagues Karlyn Bowman and Heather Sims, along with my former colleague Jennifer Marsico, have been examining the attitudes of Americans on a very important question: Is the American Dream Alive?

Bowman and Sims, from a recent blog post:

AEI’s new ebook “Is the American Dream Alive? Examining Americans’ Attitudes” offers insight into this perennial topic. In this case, the study’s data on hard work — a primary means of pursuing the dream — and on achieving the dream prove instructive.

Americans have long believed that hard work enables people to get ahead, and that belief remains firm today. In a 1990 Pew poll, 63% disagreed with the statement that hard work offers little guarantee of success. In 2012, Pew’s most recent asking, the same percent gave the same response. In a similar trend question, 68% of Americans told Pew pollsters that most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard. In March 2014, 65% gave that response.

That said, Americans’ confidence in the opportunities their hard work will provide has suffered over the past decade. In a 2001 Gallup poll, 76% of Americans were very or somewhat satisfied with the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard. Twenty-two percent were dissatisfied. In 2012, 53% were satisfied and 46% dissatisfied. Americans still believe in the value of hard work but express increasing concern that it won’t help them gain ground in their pursuit of the dream.

Nevertheless, most Americans believe the American Dream is still achievable. In 2011, 75% of Americans said the American Dream was still “possible and achievable for other people like you” (Allstate/National Journal). Multiple polling organizations have long asked Americans if they have achieved the dream or will do so eventually. A plurality of Americans say they have achieved the dream, and, significantly, similar proportions say that if they haven’t achieved the dream, they believe they will do so eventually.

You can find more in this essay, and, of course, in the ebook itself, which you can find here.

— Michael R. Strain is deputy director of economic policy studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at

Ten Things That Caught My Eye This Morning



2. Inside the kosher deli’s freezer hideout.

3. Pope Francis: “A Middle East without Christians would be a marred and mutilated Middle East!” His talk Monday morning to the Vatican diplomatic corps this morning about a throwaway culture of rejection, enslavement, and persecution.


5. Via the Wall Street Journal:

The deadly terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo shows the need to impose limits on freedom of the press, China’s official news agency argued on Sunday, as more than three million people marched in anti-terror rallies across France.

“Charlie Hebdo had on multiple occasions been the target of protests and even revenge attacks on account of its controversial cartoons,” the Xinhua news agency commentary said, adding that the magazine had been criticized in the past for being “both crude and heartless” in its attacks on religion.

“What they seem not to realize is that world is diverse, and there should be limits on press freedom,” it continued.


7. Wesley Smith: “Most Oregonians who commit assisted suicide in hospice. But hospice that omits suicide prevention isn’t hospice.”

8. “No one will ever show me tenderness. No one will ever love me.” Read this from NPR: “Trapped In His Body For 12 Years, A Man Breaks Free”

9. Mark Regernus: “Dignity, rightly understood, has less to do with autonomy or independence than with intrinsic worth and the ability to flourish.”

10. At the Golden Globes, Michael Keaton gives a shout-out in gratitude to faith and family.

(ICYMI: Saturday edition. Sunday edition. Weekend Catholic editions here and here.)

Others Who Are Not Charlie Hebdo


In my column, I said I am not Charlie Hebdo, because I do not believe in gratuitously offending other people’s religion in juvenile ways, and because I do not deserve the title, as I am no martyr. No hero would probably be closer to my meaning. The meme claims the courage of others, without actually displaying any.

When I conceived the column I wasn’t aware of others who do not want to claim the title, for various reasons including David Brooks and Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg writes, “It is easy to express solidarity with murdered cartoonist, but it is difficult to live as bravely as they did.”


Nina Shea urges us to express solidarity by repealing the hate-speech laws that are functioning as anti-blasphemy statutes and (in this country) private speech codes. Brava.

Harry Jaffa, R.I.P.


Yesterday brought sad news of the death of Walter Berns, and today comes word from Claremont that Harry Jaffa has passed away at the age of 96. Two truly towering figures in American intellectual life for many decades, each of whom made us smarter about ourselves and more grateful for our inheritance, if often in quite different ways. What a loss all at once.  

Jaffa was perhaps best known for his contributions to our understanding of Abraham Lincoln’s political thought. Even amid the staggering profusion of books about Lincoln — surely the most thoroughly examined American political figure — Jaffa’s greatest book, Crisis of the House Divided, easily stands out. It is a masterful work of analysis, filled with brilliant gems that have lost none of their shine in the 55 years since the book was published. Any scholar would be lucky to leave behind such a contribution, but Jaffa leaves behind much more than that. Although his other work tends to be overshadowed by his case for Lincoln, he was, among other things, a path-breaking and important scholar of Aristotle’s political thought and its implications, and his first book, Thomism and Aristotelianism, remains an underappreciated masterpiece. Shakespeare’s Politics, which Jaffa co-authored with Allan Bloom in 1964, also deserves an audience these days, especially for Jaffa’s chief contribution — an extended analysis of the opening scene of King Lear that stands as a model of how students of philosophy and human affairs can help draw wisdom out of great works of art.

Particularly in his younger days, Jaffa was not only a scholar of political ideas but also involved himself in the political arena. Perhaps most famously, he was a kind of adviser to Barry Goldwater in his ill-fated 1964 presidential campaign, even penning Goldwater’s famous declaration that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” (though Jaffa had not intended those lines to become part of Goldwater’s Republican-convention acceptance speech). 

Throughout his many essays and books, Jaffa argued for a recovery of classical political philosophy and insisted that the American founding — launched in the Declaration of Independence, further perfected in the Constitution, and completed in Lincoln’s statesmanship — embodied those principles in practice. This was always a controversial assertion, and led Jaffa into many disputes not only with critics of the American constitutional system but even with his fellow defenders of the American founding and the American order (Walter Berns not least among them). 

Jaffa had a reputation as a master of the feud, particularly with people who mostly shared his views and commitments. William F. Buckley, a friend of Jaffa’s over many decades, famously said (in a foreword to one of Jaffa’s books) “if you think it’s hard to argue with Harry Jaffa, try agreeing with him.” But as an interested observer of these feuds (mostly long after the fact) what always struck me about Jaffa’s intensity, even in cases when I have been more persuaded by his interlocutors’ arguments than his, was that it was plainly driven by a deep and earnest commitment to the truth and to the country. He took the questions at issue — questions of the principles underlying our republic and the truths that undergird all politics — to be not only important but pressing and urgent, and worth fighting over. And he taught generations of students to see that too. He pushed America to become more like its best self. Pushiness in the defense of such a cause is not only no vice but a very great virtue. He will be missed. 


As World Leaders Gather for Paris Rally, Holder Skips Town and Obama Sends . . . His Ambassador to Paris


Heads of state from France’s closest allies joined more than a million people on the streets of Paris today in a march of unity following this week’s terror attacks — British prime minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were all there, joining more than 40 world leaders in total.

President Obama was not there, and neither was any top-level American official, not even the one who’d been in France the day before. Attorney General Eric Holder attended meetings about extremism in Paris this week but left before the march. When asked why the U.S. didn’t send a prominent representative, a White House official noted to BuzzFeed that the U.S. ambassador to France was present.

Well, the largest rally in French history, commemorating one of the most deadly terror attacks France has seen . . . yes, you’d hope she’d find the time.

Increasing the bizarreness of the snub, as Ian Bremmer pointed out on Twitter, is the fact that French president François Hollande has been one of the U.S.’s more stalwart allies in the war on terror in recent years. To Hollande’s left in the leaders at the front of the procession above is the president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Thousands of French troops have been making war on an al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali and basically holding the country together for a couple of years now. Nine French soldiers, and more than 100 French-trained Malian soldiers, have died in the operation.

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today


1. Rod Dreher prays in solidarity with France, in French

2. Some Pope Benedict XVI was right in Regensberg talk here and here.

3. Philip Jenkins worries about Europe’s churches.

4. A “five-star” refugee camp in Mosul.

5. This tweet:

6. And this one:

7. And:

8. Naomi Riley on the terrible NYC school-cell-phone idea.

9. And this:

10. And this.

(And for Sunday: 10 Things about the Baptism of Jesus.)

Summit on Violent Extremism—Laugh or Cry?


It was just announced that the White House, in the wake of the mass murders in France, plans to reactivate an old idea of convening a “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.”

Is this an accurate news account or some sort of cruel satire?

Is there something about the recent attacks in Boston, Canada, Australia, and France, in the larger landscape of what the Islamic State is doing in the Middle East, that the Obama administration does not understand? 

Such a summit that mentions neither terrorism nor Islam in its title would be like fighting Nazi Germany as if it were a crusade against “extremism” — perhaps true but utterly trite. What global threat could be included under the rubric “violent extremism” in addition to Islamic terrorism? Are Hindu nationalists threatening the Boston Marathon, Puerto Rican independence thugs storming U.S. army bases to shoot soldiers, anti-abortionists filming ritual beheadings, or Buddhist reactionaries blowing up European media offices? Have skinheads hijacked German airliners and rammed them into the Brandenburg Gate? Is the  Tea Party attacking New York policemen with hatchets?

And what possibly could the Obama administration offer to such a global effort? Can one imagine the administration’s 15-point conference agenda?

I. The power of euphemisms — how “workplace violence” and “man-caused disaster” lessened violent extremism.

II. Understanding your enemy — why the Muslim Brotherhood is largely “secular” and jihad is really a “holy struggle”.

III. Mythology at work — the Cairo Speech as a means to win hearts and minds

IV. The art of swapping hostages — the Bowe Bergdahl paradigm for ending hostage-taking

V. Miranda rights and civil trials — why foreign terrorists are not really enemy combatants

VI. Closing Guantanamo — how releasing Islamic terrorists makes us safer

VII. Calming the waters — the Iraq model of how to stabilize postwar societies by withdrawing all U.S. peacekeepers.

VIII. The Benghazi video maker — how demonizing our own and attacking free expression win respect

IX. The Value of silence — why ignoring the Iranian Green Revolution and Egyptian president Sisi’s recent speech makes sense

X. Clapper, Brennan, and Holder — why the right experts matter and how they mitigate extremism

XI. Drones are the answer — how blowing up suspected terrorists is better than interrogating live confessed ones

XII. The art of the redline — why issuing but not enforcing deadlines, redlines, and step-over-lines are game-changers

XIII. Courting Iran — how concessions, weakening sanctions, and allying with Iran in Iraq thwart extremism

XIV. Isolating Israel — when Netanyahu is called a “chickens***” and a “coward” the West wins allies

XV. Russia to the rescue — utilizing the resource of Vladimir Putin as a way to lessen Middle East tensions

George Will: Give Sisi the Nobel Peace Prize


Following the deadly Islamic terror attacks this week in Paris, attention has been refocused on the question of how the violent ideology behind them can be defeated for good, leading some to point to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent comments about Islamic doctrine at the central university of the Sunni Muslim world. Islamic “thinking,” Sisi said — as opposed to the religion itself — leads to such a violent and antagonistic attitude toward the world that it has to be reformed.

What exactly Sisi meant or what the reaction of Islamic authorities has been to his comments isn’t quite clear, but Juan Williams and George Will are impressed. After the former said the Egyptian president’s attitude has to be embraced, Washington Post columnist George Will said he thinks Sisi, who took power in a popular, military-backed coup last year, may be the most plausible candidate so far for the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Tags: Sunday Shows January 11 2014


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