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Obama, Islam, and C.S. Lewis



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Ramesh and Daniel have both mentioned the presidential inclination to delimit the “true” beliefs of Muslims. The inimitable C. S. Lewis, in the preface to Mere Christianity, had something to say about this subject, albeit in a slightly different context:

Far deeper objections may be felt—and have been expressed— against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?” or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every amiable quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it.

By way of illustration, Lewis points to the history of the word “gentleman,” which “originally meant something recognisable: one who had a coat of arms and some landed property.” To call someone a gentleman was not a compliment, but a fact. But along came an inclination to distinguish, among the landed class, “true” gentlemen, so that “gentleman” became a term of commendation — to be opposed to, say, cad. “We had lots of terms of approval already,” Lewis laments. The addition of “gentleman” to that list did not add anything; it merely made “gentleman” a useless word.

He then applies that lesson to the word “Christian”:

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say “deepening,” the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to “the disciples,” to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were “far closer to the spirit of Christ” than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

Similarly, the point with Obama — or Bush or Clinton — need not be a theological or moral one. What they, and others, have done is to transform “Islam” or “Muslim” from neutral words of description into words of praise. In the president’s mouth, these words no longer communicate any content; they only express approval. When Barack Obama says “Muslim,” he means “a self-proclaimed Muslim with whom I agree.”

Of course, we can communicate at all only because words mean things. So emptying words of their content does not facilitate, but hinders clear communication. And that is not a pedantic point. This confusion poses a danger to the integrity of our public debates.

Consider the assertion that illegal immigrants are “Americans.” When a conservative says that illegal immigrants are not “Americans,” he most likely means that that person is not a legal citizen of the United States. But when his opponent says that many illegal immigrants are, in fact, “Americans,” he is employing a version of the word that is, in Lewis’s terms, “refined” or “spiritualized.” One speaker is using a distinct, neutral descriptor; the other is expressing approbation. 

How are these interlocutors ever to agree on a conclusion to their debate when they cannot agree on its terms?

In his book Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Josef Pieper wrote, “The dignity of the word, to be sure, consists in this: through the word is accomplished what no other means can accomplish, namely, communication based on reality.”

Inevitably, when you obscure the language, you obscure the reality. But in many cases, that helps to win the argument.

Jim Foley’s Mother ‘Embarrassed and Appalled’ by Government Efforts to Free Her Son



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Diane Foley, the mother of beheaded American journalist James Foley, said she was “embarrassed and appalled” by the Obama administration’s efforts to free her son from the Islamic State, adding she often felt like an “annoyance” to the officials she spoke with.

Foley spoke with CNN about the tragic fate of her son, whose savage beheading was broadcast by Islamic State terrorists last month as a warning for the United States to cease its air campaign in Iraq. And the grieving mother made it clear that her experience with the American government left much to be desired. 

“As an American, I was embarrassed and appalled,” she told Anderson Cooper. “I think our efforts to get Jim free were an annoyance. . . . Jim would’ve been saddened. Jim believed until the end that his country would come to their aid.”

Foley detailed the Obama administration’s instructions to her family. “We were asked to not go to the media, to just trust that it would be taken care of,” she said. “We were told we could not raise ransom — that it was illegal, we might be prosecuted.”

“You were told you would actually be prosecuted?” Cooper asked.

“Yes, that was a real possibility — told that many times,” Foley said. “We were told that our government would not exchange prisoners, would not do a military action. So we were just told to trust that he would be freed somehow. And he wasn’t, was he?”

She concluded by calling on the Obama administration to “acknowledge that there are better ways for American citizens to be treated.”

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Kansas Supreme Court Will Hear Dem Senate Candidate’s Challenge to Withdraw from Race



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Kansas Democratic Senate candidate Chad Taylor’s effort to get his name taken off this fall’s ballot will be heard in the state’s supreme court, according to reports, the latest twist in a suddenly fast-changing race thought to be a shoo-in for Republicans.

Last week, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach ruled that Taylor will have to remain on the ballot since he did not demonstrate that he was incapable of serving if elected, a requirement under state statutes. Taylor went on to file a lawsuit against Kobach, claiming an election official helped him prepare the necessary documents to withdraw from the race; the official denies doing so.

Kobach argued that the lawsuit should be taken up in a lower court, but the supreme court decided the matter was too time-sensitive to go through the standard process, particularly as some ballots are set to be mailed before the end of the month, according to the Hill.

The make-up of the court may favor Taylor: Four of the bench’s seven judges were appointed by former Democratic governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Taylor’s sudden decision is considered by many to be part of a Democratic political strategy to unseat Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, and move a previously safe Senate seat into play. If Taylor voters move to support independent candidate Greg Orman, Roberts will face much stiffer competition, with a recent poll showing him trailing in a match-up against Orman.

Web Briefing: October 1, 2014

Pat Quinn Airballs



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Illinois Democratic governor Pat Quinn seems to be having as much success on the basketball court as has been on the campaign trail: not very much.

Quinn, one of the most unpopular governors in the country, swung by practice for the Chicago Sky, a WNBA team currently in the league finals, on Thursday. Quinn opted to take a few jumpshots to show off his skills.

He airballed his first one, and then went on to miss his next seven attempts before finally sinking one from the left elbow.

In Quinn’s defense, his shooting percentage — 1 for 8 – is slightly better than a fellow prominent Illinois politician: last year, President Obama went pitiful a 2-for-22 at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

This isn’t Quinn’s first embarrassing sports-related display this cycle. Last month, at a Chicago rally to welcome Little League Word Series champions Jackie Robinson West, the governor was met with near-silence. His attempts to lead the crowd in a chant of the team’s name fell flat as well.

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The President’s Delusional Speech



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Even leaving aside the military and strategic infirmities in Obama’s speech pointed out by Bing West, Fred Kagan, General Jack Keane, and others, there remain an impressive array of false, misleading, and delusional statements. A few random examples:

“I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” The “broad coalition” currently consists of a grand total of 9 countries, 29 fewer than the coalition formed by George W. Bush, who was repeatedly maligned by Obama’s friends on the left and in the mainstream media for “going it alone ” in Iraq.
 “This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” . . . unless I swap you and four other world-class terrorists for Bowe Bergdahl.
 
“As commander-in-chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people.” That’s why, in the face of multiple threats exploding around the globe, I’m in the process of slashing the defense budget 10 percent, reducing the Army to 420,000 personnel — the smallest level in 90 years – shrinking the strategic bomber force by 35 percent, cutting ballistic missiles to the lowest level since before the Cuban missile crisis, refusing to build the border fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and advertising to the world that our southern border is open to one and all.
 
“For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history.” That’s why 7 million people have left the workforce since I took office, the labor-force-participation rate is near an historic low, 11 million more people are in poverty than when I became president, median household income has fallen a mere $2,300, one in six men in their working prime isn’t working , and 8 million more are on food stamps.

Cocooned by a sycophantic press corps for six years, the president has succumbed to the Taranto Principle: He utters transparent inanities completely oblivious to how ludicrous he now sounds to a public no longer impressed with teleprompter wizardry. An unserious leader for a serious time.

Video: Why Weakness Is Dangerous



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Today, my organization — Concerned Veterans for America — launched our “Strength & Security Project,” a veterans-led national-security initiative dedicated to restoring American strength and leadership. You can learn more on our site here.

The project’s first video was also released, entitled “Weakness Is Dangerous.” Take two minutes to watch it, and then share it. I’m biased, but think you’ll enjoy it.

‘A President Surrenders’



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Walter Russell Mead unloads:
The policy of delay bought Obama nothing and cost him dearly. Procrastination was an unmitigated disaster for him, reducing his credibility abroad and his stature at home. He didn’t want to arm the moderates in Syria because he was afraid U.S. weapons would go to ISIS; so the U.S. stayed out, and ISIS swooped across Iraq, capturing more U.S. weapons (and more sophisticated weapons) than any leaks from Syrian Sunnis could have given it. Now, with ISIS sitting on a large U.S. weapons arsenal, President Obama is going to pump more weapons to the “moderates”— a group that is less reliable, in a worse military position, more radicalized, and more factionalized than they were when he first refused to arm them. The President is like a man who refused to jump into what he saw as too deep and dangerous of a hole, and then watched for three years while the hole grew deeper before finally taking the plunge. 
 

Manchin: I Will Not Be Voting to Arm Syrian Rebels



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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said he will not support a key part of President Obama’s strategy for taking on the Islamic State.

“I have a problem with one part, and one part mainly, and that is paying for training and arming Syrian rebels that we’re not sure are our friends,” he said on MSNBC on Thursday. “Right now, I can’t do that — I cannot support arming the rebels who we have not been able to identify.”​

For example, it remains unclear if the rebels sent American journalist Steven Sotloff to his death by capturing him and selling him to the Islamic State, where he was beheaded earlier this month, Manchin explained.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat, represents some of the divisions within his party, and Congress as a whole, towards the president’s approach for the growing threat in the region. He highlighted concerns that U.S. military engagement could escalate to sending over American troops and keeping them in Iraq long-term.

“We’re not good at putting troops on the ground, and getting out of that part of the world,” he said.

Other countries in the Middle East also have to take responsibility for countering the Islamic State and stabilizing the region, Manchin said. He also warned of the risk that aiding rebels might backfire, as has happened in the past.

“We have proven, for the last twelve years, that people we have trained, people we have clothed, people we have fed, people we have armed turn those arms against us,” he said.

The Long Campaign



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My Politico column on the president’s speech last night:
 
The cynical interpretation is that he is hoping to do enough against ISIL to satisfy domestic political opinion and keep the terror group at bay until he can hand off an incomplete campaign to his successor, who will be left with the difficult choice of whether to truly defeat ISIL.

Fall 2014 Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, Underway



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The Brookings Institution publishes a phenomenal series of academic research papers on current issues in economics and economic policy. Papers are published and presented twice a year, and the release of the papers is a major event in the worlds of economics, public policy, and, increasing, media. To learn more about the Brookings Papers, click here.

This fall’s conference is underway. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to make it — duty calls elsewhere. But I will be reading the papers.

I’m especially interested in the papers on….

….labor force participation:

The decline in the labor force participation rate—the number of Americans either working or looking for work as a percentage of the population—is primarily due to the aging population and other structural factors, rather than cyclical weaknesses, and is expected to continue. The finding has implications for policymakers who are grappling with whether the sluggish job market can be improved with government tools, and for the potential growth rate of the U.S. economy through the end of the decade. The rate is projected to decline to 61 percent by 2022—a level as low as the early 1970s.

…the Affordable Care Act:

The number of Americans insured in the individual health insurance market through exchanges and directly through insurers was at least 13.2 million in the second quarter of 2014—larger than reported by the government, which only includes the number insured through exchanges—and at least 4.2 million of them would not have been insured in this market had pre-2014 trends continued, but average per-person premiums increased over 24 percent. This large premium increase stands in contrast to the experience in Massachusetts, which saw premium decreases after its 2006 reform; Massachusetts also saw decreases in markups (premiums minus costs), which have been rare in other states in 2014.

…and European integration

Although each major step forward in European integration has caused popular support to drop, support for the common currency remains strong—mainly out of fear. The paper finds that the so-called father of Europe Jean Monnet’s, chain reaction theory—that partial steps toward unification would generate crises increasing demand for further integration—has worked in fostering that integration, but at the cost of a decline in popularity as well as jeopardizing future sustainability such as increasing the risk of an economic meltdown.

The other papers look fascinating, too.

To find all the papers, paper summaries, and explanatory videos by co-editor Justin Wolfers, click here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Ray Rice Fallout



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The most famous elevator video in the world continues to shake the football world. Now former FBI chief Robert Mueller will investigate the league’s handling of the matter. If it turns out that Roger Goodell or others lied about the case, there will clearly be resignations coming. 

The video is shocking and even our jaded world has no trouble rising up with righteous indignation. The National Organization for Women has called for “an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community.” Fine. But most men who hurt women these days don’t do it with their closed fists. The far more common method is through the divorce courts or by fathering children they don’t stick around to raise. There’s a new study (and take it, as with all studies, with a grain of salt), suggesting that children of affluent families are even more damaged by divorce than others. Of course the women in these relationships bear some of the blame — let’s say half, though who knows? Still, we all know of situations in which prominent men have fathered multiple children by different mothers, married none of them, and yet are treated as respected members of society. We, and NOW, should spare some righteous indignation for them.

John Kerry: America Isn’t at War with ISIS



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Secretary of state John Kerry said the United States is not actually at war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, explaining instead that what we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation.”

In an interview in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kerry pushed back against CNN reporter Elise Labott’s characterization of the conflict between the Islamic State and the United States as a “war.”

“Is the United States at war with ISIS?” she asked. “Because it sure sounds, from the president’s speech, that we are.”

“I think that’s the wrong terminology,” Kerry said. “What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation. And it’s going to go on for some period of time.”

“If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so,” the secretary continued. “But the fact is, it’s a major counter-terrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.”

CNN anchor Jake Tapper seemed unconvinced by Kerry’s ambiguous wording. “Dropping bombs on a sovereign nation and offering to arm and train rebels who not only oppose ISIS, but oppose the regime that ostensibly rules Syria — to some people, that might sound a lot like war,” he said skeptically. 

The secretary of state’s caveat comes just hours after President Obama announced an expanded air campaign to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” jihadists fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

 

Obama’s Speech



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We have a strategy to degrade and a hope to destroy.

Authorize It



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From our editorial on the president’s speech last night:
If the president’s resolve is in doubt, Congress isn’t covering itself in glory, either. The president asked Congress to authorize his program to aid the Syrian rebels. We would go further: It would be an important statement of national will, a strong signal to our allies, and an act of democratic accountability if Congress voted for military action against the Islamic State in a strong, clean authorization. Instead, Congress has been ducking, in keeping with the belief of too many of its members that their role is to carp from the sidelines without ever taking any responsibility themselves.
 

Well, They’re Both Painters



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D.C. public schools are simultaneously among the worst and most expensive in the country. But sometimes that green-eye-shade critique fails to capture the scope of how bad they are. For instance:

Some D.C. Public School seventh-graders were assigned the rather unpatriotic task this week of comparing Adolf Hitler to former President George W. Bush. But now the school district wants you to know that such an intellectual exercise is not part of the official D.C. curriculum.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a tweet showing the Venn diagram homework assignment circulated, in which students (at McKinley Middle School, according to NBC4) were asked to compare the similarities and differences between the president and the dictator, “two men of power who abused their power in various ways.” The instructions read:

Now that we have read about two men of power who abused their power in various ways, we will compare and contrast them and their actions. Please refer to your texts “Fighting Hitler—a Holocaust story” and “Bush: Iraq War Justified Despite No WMD” to compare and contrast former President George W. Bush and HItler [sic] We will use this in class tomorrow for an activity!

Tribute in Light . . .



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. . . slightly shrouded in a cloud last night from downtown Manhattan:

Bill Maher Defends Christian Right



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No, it’s not the Onion, it is Bill Maher on the Charlie Rose show pointing out the difference between Islam and Christianity. He is responding to President Obama’s assertion that there is no relationship between Islam and Islamism:

Maher: There are illiberal beliefs that are held by vast numbers of Muslim people –

Rose: A vast number of Christians too.

Maher: No, that’s not true. Not true. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe that if you leave the Christian religion you should be killed for it. Vast numbers of Christians do not treat women as second class citizens. Vast numbers of Christians –

Rose: I agree with that.

Maher: . . .do not believe if you draw a picture of Jesus Christ you should get killed for it.

Thanks, Bill, for noticing. 

The effort by Presidents Bush and Obama to create space for Muslims to reject terrorism and live in peace, like the overwhelming majority of our Muslim fellow citizens do here, is noble and necessary –  I might say downright Christian – if frustrating.

President Obama is right about one thing: Very few people of any religion want the Islamic State. That’s why they have to terrorize their own people to gain power. But terrorists do not need majority support to terrorize, and the Islamic sources of their ideology are a powerful recruiting tool that only Muslims have the power to de-legitimate, or separate from their religion.

Gallup: Obama’s Job Approval Hovers at Bush 2006 Levels



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President Obama’s job approval rating, according to Gallup, is hovering near then-president George W. Bush’s numbers at this time in 2006, which turned out to be a disastrous election for the president’s party.

Gallup’s daily tracker shows Obama with a 42 percent job approval, compared with 52 percent of respondents who view him unfavorably. That’s slightly better than Bush’s ratings from September 7–10, 2006, but slightly worse than the September 15–17, 2006, survey results.

From Gallup:

That month, then–Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) predicted to Bush that his low approval ratings would cost the party on Election Day.

“Mr. President,” Bush quoted McConnell in his memoir as saying, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress.” 

Republicans went on to lose six Senate seats, the same number they need to gain to win the majority this year.

Tom Ridge: Obama ‘Disingenuous’ for Pretending U.S. Advisers in Iraq ‘Not in Harm’s Way’



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Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge rejected the White House’s characterization of its operation against the Islamic State as a painless air campaign, calling it ”disingenuous” to suggest that the approximately 1,600 U.S. special forces on their way to Iraqi battlefields ”are not in harm’s way.”

Ridge appeared on CNN Thursday to react to President Obama’s speech, which laid out a vague strategy to defeat Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria. The first Homeland Security secretary felt compelled to push back against the president’s implication that an antiseptic air campaign — and no “boots on the ground” – will be enough to defeat the jihadists.

“It is disingenuous to say that the men and women that we’re going to send to Iraq are not in harm’s way,” he claimed. ”They’re not wearing sneakers. They’re probably going to help pre-position air strikes. They may be military advisers.” 

“No commander-in-chief wants to send men and women in harm’s way,” Ridge continued. ”But don’t pretend those military personnel, these brave men and women are not going to be caught up in the middle of a violent battle with a violent, medieval, barbaric organization. It’s fiction. They are in harm’s way. There are boots on the ground.” 

“This whole notion that somehow we can do this cosmetically from the air, and just rely on the Syrian moderates and the new coalition army that is going to hopefully resurrect itself under the new leadership in Iraq — that may happen,” he later added. “But let’s not kid ourselves about where these 1,500 men and women are going, and how perilous and dangerous their world is.”

About That ‘Motherhood Penalty’



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Kay Hymowitz cuts through journalistic hype.

Taken all together, the available research presents not what Miller calls “a clear-cut look at American culture’s ambiguous feelings about gender and work” but evidence of men and women’s different preferences across cultures and the limits of parity, particularly in a society where single parenthood is commonplace.  But don’t expect to read about any of that in the continuing flow of gender gap journalism.

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