At this rate, the population of Charlotte might actually drop during the Democratic convention.
Each month since mid-spring has brought another depressing jobs number. The economy gained 80,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate stayed at 8.2 percent. An Obama aide said that too much should not be read into one month’s data. True: Too bad we have had so many more months than one. While the oddsmakers are still giving Obama the edge in the election, this ought to be a winnable race.
Governor Romney is doing pretty well even as a growing number of conservatives carp about his strategy. After winning the primaries, he consolidated Republican support faster than some people expected. He has raised a lot of money: more than Obama in June. Both of those developments testify to the continued enthusiasm of conservatives for Obama’s ejection. Polls continue to show Romney behind, but only modestly. The carpers nonetheless have a point. The Romney campaign’s message that Obama has failed is fine for now. At some point, though, Romney will have to make the case that he would do better. And not just on the economy: The public expects a president to be able to handle a wide range of issues. If Romney ever feels tempted to complacency, he should consider the examples of two other politicians from his state. Michael Dukakis and John Kerry had some pretty good months after wrapping up their nominations too.
pledge of “hope and change.” Sixty-eight percent of likely voters, according to a poll by the Hill newspaper, believe that Barack Obama has “significantly changed America.” Unfortunately, 56 percent of that group think he has altered America for the worse. Just 35 percent of them think he has changed the country for the better. Americans seem to feel better off when Barack Obama doesn’t keep his promises than when he does.
President Obama must be defeated, says Roberto Mangabeira Unger, one of his former law professors and an informal adviser to his 2008 campaign. Unger thinks that the president “has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States” and that he must lose his reelection bid in order for “the voice of democratic prophecy to speak once again in American life.” With the buzzword “progressive,” Unger establishes that he’s attacking from the left, and with the phrase “democratic prophecy,” he invites us to hear in his message whatever we want. Taking him up on that offer, we note that some of the chords Unger sounds are sadly agreeable to conservative ears. For example: Obama “has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunity to the important but secondary issue of access to health care.” Has Professor Unger been reading National Review?
Having trouble finding the perfect gift for your friends’ upcoming wedding? Not to fear, the Obama reelection team has a grand idea. BarackObama.com has a new item, “the Obama event registry,” which tells supporters, “Got a birthday, anniversary, or wedding coming up? Let your friends know how important this election is to you — register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift. . . . It’s a gift that we can all appreciate — and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl.” “Not if you love gravy, it doesn’t,” Jimmy Kimmel chimed in. Sure, it’s less practical than a new toaster, but just think of how many milliseconds of airtime the Obama campaign will be able to purchase thanks to your donation. Or better yet, buy the newlyweds comfortable shoes for walking to the unemployment office.
Two guests at a gay-pride reception at the Obama White House posted shots of themselves on Facebook, flipping the bird in front of Ronald Reagan’s portrait. “F*** Reagan,” explained flipper Matthew Hart. “Ronald Reagan has blood on his hands. The man was in the White House as AIDS exploded.” This is the distilled infantilism of the Left: Actions have no consequences, except those of the government, which should be devoted to forestalling every emergency and immediately fulfilling every need. In the Gay Moment, gays must present themselves as the most victimized (Jim Crow and Let My People Go are so Sixties). Entitlement, fustian, undigested pain, and undirected rage: What charming friends the Obama White House has.
Barack Obama managed to twice embarrass himself, first with a risibly xenophobic tirade against the Chinese on the subject of “outsourcing,” then by demonstrating that he does not know what the word “outsourcing” means. At issue is a Washington Post story, subsequently criticized by the newspaper’s ombudsman, that attempted to depict Mitt Romney and his Bain colleagues as scourges of the American worker, moving jobs overseas to low-wage hellholes as fast as their loafers could take them. The Romney camp pointed out that, among other things, the story failed to distinguish between “outsourcing” — contracting services to outside firms — and “offshoring” — shifting operations overseas. Obama scoffed that Romney was dodging the issue “by telling us that there was a difference between ‘outsourcing’ and ‘offshoring.’ Seriously. You can’t make that up.” But you wouldn’t have to make that up, since the words do not mean the same thing. Perhaps the president missed that day in commercial law at Harvard. Meanwhile, Bain seems to be guilty of exploiting low wages and inhumane working conditions by investing in such Third World misery pits as France, Ireland, and Australia, often for the purpose of helping firms increase their exports to those countries. Obama doesn’t seem to understand how business operates; unfortunately for him, business knows quite a bit about how Obama operates.
Incumbent and candidate Democratic politicians have started announcing in surprising numbers that they will skip the Democratic National Convention (some Republicans are eschewing their own convention, but far fewer). One congressman and one senator from West Virginia will be absent, as well as that state’s governor, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and five other sitting congressmen. Barack Obama’s halo has become a millstone.
The Catholic bishops of the United States held a “fortnight for freedom” starting with the feasts of martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher and ending with Independence Day. This schedule drew a line from the cross to the flag, reminding us that a great glory of our government is its protection of religious freedom. It reminded us, as well, that religious freedom is under threat in this election year. The president, as part of his reelection campaign, has decided that for the first time in American history employers should be forced to provide services they consider morally objectionable, such as abortion drugs. Even most religious employers are being ordered to comply. The bishops have said that Catholic charities should close their doors rather than obey. They are not telling anyone for whom to vote. They are forming consciences, and seeking to protect their right to do so.
There’s much debate about the details, but virtually everyone agrees that Fast and Furious was a deeply flawed operation in which U.S. law-enforcement agents deliberately allowed Mexican gangs to purchase American guns and walk away with them. Everyone, that is, except Fortune magazine, which recently published the results of an intensive investigation. Fortune’s conclusion, based largely on off-the-record interviews: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives didn’t really let guns “walk”; what happened is that prosecutors, thanks to lax gun laws, weren’t able to give the go-ahead to seize the firearms. The story contradicts much of the available evidence. According to leaked e-mails, Justice Department officials explicitly discussed the number of guns that had “walked” during Fast and Furious, and the ATF asked at least one gun-store owner to continue making sales that made him uncomfortable. The Fortune narrative also can’t explain the Obama administration’s behavior: Last year, the Justice Department retracted a previous statement that there was no gun-walking, and the administration has been doing its best to impede a congressional investigation of Fast and Furious. Most recently, the president invoked executive privilege to keep some documents away from investigators. We’re still waiting for a credible explanation of how Fast and Furious happened — but it did, indeed, happen.
In the U.S., Border Patrol agent Brian Terry has been the face of Fast and Furious — it was at the scene of Terry’s murder that two Fast and Furious guns were found, igniting the controversy. But as Deroy Murdock pointed out in a recent NRO column, we shouldn’t forget the victims south of the border, either. Mexico’s former attorney general estimates that 300 citizens have already been killed or injured by the roughly 2,000 guns that “walked.” Victims have included the brother of a Mexican state attorney general and three officers of the Mexican Federal Police. Fast and Furious guns were also tied to a plan to assassinate the police chief of Baja California. The operation’s guns will be turning up at Mexican crime scenes for years, and the American officials responsible should be held accountable.
Conservatives had mixed reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s immigration law, depending on whether they considered its impact on immigration policy or on constitutional law. By affirming several portions of the Arizona statute, the Court enabled states to take effective action against illegal immigration. The provisions it nullified were comparatively unimportant. The Court went out of its way, however, to say that it reserved the right to revisit the law once it can see how it is being enforced. Worse, it invalidated parts of the law even though they were consistent with the Constitution and federal law, on the ground that they were inconsistent with the Obama administration’s stated preferences on how to enforce the immigration laws. As Justice Scalia commented in his own opinion, the Constitution would never have been ratified had the public of the 1790s conceived it would so neuter the states. The state of Arizona has been treated in the press as though it were a rogue state. All along, its offense has been showing too much respect for the rule of law. Neither the executive nor the judicial branch of the federal government is guilty of that.
The Supreme Court also decided that legislatures may not draw up criminal codes that require juvenile murderers to receive life sentences without the possibility of parole. So, for example, the legislature may not say that juvenile murderers may be tried as adults, say further that certain types of murderers convicted as adults must have life sentences, and thus require some juveniles to get those sentences. Although 28 states and the federal government have such legislative schemes, the Court ruled that they amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” and violate the Constitution. The Court will still allow the nation’s judges and juries to issue life sentences without parole to juveniles — but it says that it expects such sentences to be “uncommon.” Another word for “uncommon” is, of course, “unusual,” just in case anyone doubts where this train is headed.
California, home of the little deuce coupe and the girl who’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes the T-Bird away, is the birthplace of car culture. Naturally, Governor Jerry Brown and state Democrats are proposing to spend some $68 billion from the budget-busted state’s coffers to build a high-speed train connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco, apparently never having heard of the Wright brothers and their newfangled aeroplanes. The Obama administration has offered more generous help funding a high-speed train in California, on the condition that the first segment connect Bakersfield and Madera. (Really.) California is setting itself up for an old-fashioned fiscal fiasco: The legislature has committed to the first $4.6 billion in bonds, but voters in a November referendum are likely to reject the tax increase Governor Brown helped secure to pay for them, meaning that the state would be forced to make cuts in real services in order to fund a pointless train that replicates faster air travel and that will under the best-case scenario not carry a single passenger between L.A. and San Francisco for more than a decade. (We’d bet against on-time-and-under-budget in this case.) Liberals have a peculiar affection for trains that mirrors their cultural disdain for cars and the freewheeling culture associated with them: Central planners love a train because they get to tell you where to go. We hope Californians will do the same with this project.
Business vs. Markets
A recent Associated Press headline brings intriguing news: “Conservatives make it rough for business.”
Donna Cassata reports that various business groups had a tougher-than-expected time renewing authorization for the corporatist carbuncle known as the Export-Import Bank. “Congress had reaffirmed the independent federal agency some two dozen times since its creation in 1934,” she writes. “But this year it took months of pleas, briefings and negotiations to overcome conservative opposition.”
So what is the Right’s latest ideological obsession? Has the Ex-Im been paying for lesbian birth control?
No, the conservatives are caught up in an even deeper dogmatic quagmire. Cassata explains: “They and their ideological leaders argue that the marketplace should dictate what businesses thrive and falter, not Washington.”
Sweet fancy Moses! What’s next? Will conservatives come out in favor of bears doing their bathroom business in the woods without government oversight? Will the market fundamentalists soon argue that children eat candy for the sweet, sweet taste? Is there no end to their ideological madness?
Sarcasm aside, the depressing — or encouraging — thing about Cassata’s report is that it is in fact news. For far, far, far too long, Republicans have preferred being pro-business to being pro-market. To be sure, they were always more ideologically constrained than the corporatists of the Democratic party, who, since the Progressive era, have seen nothing wrong with using big business as government-by-proxy. But that’s an awfully low bar. Saying you’re more capitalistic than the Democrats is like saying you’re sexier than David Axelrod.
Conservatives — and especially libertarians, but also some leftists — have been building the case against corporatism for a very long time. But what has prompted this new aversion to it has less to do with the force of those arguments than with the power of example. President Obama is easily the most corporatist president since FDR. He bought a couple of car companies. His health-care law turns insurance companies into utilities. He increasingly speaks the language of economic nationalism used by the two Roosevelts.
It’s far too soon to tell if the opponents of “crony capitalism” will capture the commanding heights of the Republican party, never mind the country. After all, the Ex-Im Bank ultimately got its reauthorization. Still, the trend is encouraging.
What will be intriguing to watch is the way the mainstream media and establishment institutions respond to this growing philosophical consistency on the right. My very strong hunch is that they will decry it as another example of “polarization” and the end of compromise. The old bipartisan consensus around a bad idea will be seen through the gauzy lens of nostalgia, while the new partisan disagreement over a good idea will be greeted with fear. And the Democrats will of course take the position that they aren’t ideologically committed to corporatism, it’s just a coincidence that at this particular moment it makes enormous sense for Washington to dictate which businesses thrive or falter.
But it is always that particular moment for those who like dictating from Washington.
David Blankenhorn was among the chroniclers of the wages of, as the title of a book of his called it, fatherless America. His concern for the future of the family led him to oppose same-sex marriage. He testified for the defense in the trial of Californians’ right to codify the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In the New York Times, Blankenhorn announced that while he does not recant his views, he is quitting the fight. He cited the need for comity, the dignity of gay people, and the “emerging consensus” of “national elites” and “most younger Americans” as reasons for his “accepting” the redefinition of marriage. He expresses the hope, although he does not place a bet on it, that his withdrawal will enable him more effectively to make the case that people should marry before having children. None of these arguments really stand up. The triumph of same-sex marriage would lead not to comity, for example, but to new assaults on the rights of dissenters. We certainly share his hopes about illegitimacy, and wish they did not rest on the theory that young people can best be persuaded by elders who lack both a coherent argument and the courage of their convictions.
Bankers continue to be collectively committed to proving Willi Schlamm’s axiom that the problem with capitalism is capitalists, with the latest being Barclays’ attempts to manipulate interest rates to pad its book and bolster its position. Other banks also are under investigation. At issue is the abuse of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), an index interest rate calculated from banks’ estimates of what it would cost them to borrow from another bank on any particular day. The LIBOR scandal is in fact two scandals: First, Barclays appears to have submitted false reports, and pressured others to do so, in order to improve its derivatives-trading profits from day to day. Second, Barclays appears to have lowballed its borrowing-cost estimates in order to appear to be in a stronger credit position than it was. Communication between Barclays and its regulators suggests that the latter knew the bank was up to shenanigans; when a Barclays representative told a regulator, “We’re clean, but we’re dirty-clean, rather than clean-clean,” the regulator’s response was: “No one’s clean-clean.” As indeed it seems nobody is: Derivatives trading is a zero-sum game, and Barclays does not appear to have been alone in trying to manipulate the LIBOR for the benefit of its book. Regulators have known for years that banks were understating their borrowing costs in LIBOR estimates: During the crisis, banks on the verge of collapse were reporting lower rates than those that were flush with liquidity. Naughty bankers, feckless regulators: Little has changed since the financial crisis.
The power struggle currently in progress between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brothers pits secular and Islamist values against one another with the Middle East at stake. The moves and countermoves are as carefully calculated as in chess. Mohammed Morsi is one of the more guarded Muslim Brothers, and recent elections gave him the presidency and a parliament with an Islamist majority. In self-protection, the army thereupon found fault with the election and closed the parliament. Morsi has summoned it to meet all the same. Both sides claim constitutional rights and are making plays to have the judiciary decide in their favor and then lay hands on the legislature and the executive. One or another of them will be checkmated. For reasons that are not clear, the United States is supporting the Muslim Brothers, representing Islamism as part of the transition to democracy. In this spirit of self-delusion, President Obama has invited President Morsi to visit in the fall — if by then the army has not hobbled him and a lot more Muslim Brothers, which right now seems the likely course.
Morsi thrilled fellow Islamists when, immediately upon being elected, he vowed to pressure the United States for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman. The “Blind Sheikh” is serving a life sentence for leading a terrorist war against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb various New York City landmarks. He also schemed to murder now-ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Rahman is the emir of the Islamic Group (IG), which orchestrated the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and has been agitating for Rahman’s release for almost 20 years — often in barbarous ways, such as the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which dozens of Western tourists were killed and leaflets demanding Rahman’s release left behind. In the new Egypt, IG is one of the Salafist “political parties” in the Muslim Brotherhood’s ruling coalition. Though its formal designation as a terrorist organization makes assisting IG a crime, the Obama administration recently issued one of its officials a visa to come to Washington for consultations. Is it any wonder that Morsi sees an opening here? Expect no action on Rahman before the U.S. election. Afterwards . . . ?
Kofi Annan had no chance at all of halting the civil war in Syria on behalf of the United Nations. He had nothing to offer Bashar Assad except stepping down, exile, probable arrest, and danger to his life. A proposal for a truce with the rebels amounted to an appeal to Assad’s better nature, something that surely doesn’t exist. Annan had six points to discuss with Assad, as though he were one bureaucrat talking to another. Proposals for ceasefires coincided with reports of large-scale massacres. In the absence of leadership, the 300 blue-beret observers chose to stay in their hotels. The final disaster was Annan’s visit to Tehran to discuss his peace plan with the very people determined to have civil war at all costs. Could anything be more ill-conceived, more designed to humiliate the United Nations? Why, yes: At this very moment Syria is in the running for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Libya is the latest Arab country to have had an election, and it’s gone surprisingly well considering what a complicated business it is to start life after Moammar Qaddafi. The vote has been for a National Congress of 200 seats, 80 of them for political parties, 120 for independents. This Congress or parliament will be drafting the constitution. That’s all very well in theory, but in practice the country is fragmented, tribal, and potentially violent. The 150 or so political parties that have formed are little more than militias gathered around someone who wants power. Islam alone is common to all, so the election seemed likely to be another step in the triumphal march of the Muslim Brothers through the region. That this did not happen is due to Mahmoud Jibril, an American-educated political scientist from the University of Pittsburgh and a former prime minister in Libya. His skill was to unite as many as a third of the political parties into a coalition that became the majority, at the same time presenting himself as every bit as good a Muslim as his Islamist rivals. He favors sharia, or Islamic law, for instance, and made a point of being seen praying five times a day, as the faith requires. According to the small print, former prime ministers are not permitted to hold office again. Nobody knows who the 120 independent members of the future National Congress will be or how they will be selected. There’s still plenty of room for trouble, but a good start has been made.
Mexicans elected Enrique Peña Nieto, a sleek and reticent 45-year-old, president. Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador to his left and Josefina Vázquez Mota to his right. PRI was the mummified corpse of the Mexican revolution, a corrupt oligarchy that perpetuated itself via rigged plebiscites for over 70 years until its grip was broken in 2000 by the National Action Party (PAN), which stood for economic and religious liberty (PRI was rigidly anti-clerical). PAN’s economic promises were mostly unfulfilled, as Mexico continued to offload its poor and its problems northwards. What got much worse under two PAN presidents was drug violence, as northern Mexico became a Cormac McCarthy novel. Washington waits to see whether Peña Nieto will continue the war on the cartels; maybe we could help our troubled neighbor to the south, and ourselves, by reexamining our drug policies.
One perk of being president of China is that you don’t get asked pesky questions by reporters. But Hu Jintao faced such a question when he visited Hong Kong, a “semiautonomous” city: Rex Hon of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily News asked him a question about Tiananmen Square. Hu did not answer, and may not have heard. The journalist was held briefly afterward. According to Beijing’s agreement with London, Hong Kong is supposed to have a degree of autonomy and freedom until 2047 (50 years after the “handover”). Ask your questions while you can!
Last year, the British government had Queen Elizabeth go to Ireland, making her the first monarch to visit that land since Irish independence in 1922. The queen, never putting a foot wrong, made a total success of it. This year, the government had her do something probably more difficult: shake the hand of Martin McGuinness. Who’s he? He is the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland’s provincial government. More important, he was a commander of the IRA — the group that, among other black deeds, blew up Louis Mountbatten as he was at leisure on his fishing boat. He was a beloved cousin of the queen. The IRA killed four others in that act, including two teenagers, one of them Mountbatten’s grandson. There has since been peace in Northern Ireland: peace and reconciliation. Thirty years ago, George Will said there were two intractable problems in the world: the Arab–Israeli conflict and Northern Ireland. The latter problem appears to have been cracked. The queen smiled warmly, even gaily, as she met with McGuinness. The rest of us might as well smile too, or at least not object too strenuously — even as we would have understood if, with the other hand, the queen had held her nose.
In tiny Liechtenstein (pop. 36,000), Crown Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein said last year that if the citizens voted, in a referendum, to legalize abortion, he would veto the measure. Activists responded by scheduling a referendum on whether the crown prince should be stripped of his veto power. The vote was held on July 1, and the people spoke: Seventy-six percent voted to let the prince keep the veto power. The procedural mechanics of a political system are an open issue for debate, and have been for millennia. But more important than the procedures is the character of the people and the responsiveness of the government. It appears that in Liechtenstein, more than in many procedural democracies, there is government with the genuine consent of the governed.
Representative Barney Frank and his companion, Jim Ready, entered a “marriage.” Officiating at the ceremony was Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. Somewhere, former governors John Winthrop and James Michael Curley put aside their religious and, er, ethical differences, and asked: Wassup with that?
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper says he’s gay. And America shrugs. As for his public silence on the subject up to now, Cooper explains that his job is to tell other people’s stories, not his own. But this story is his. From the non-reaction to it, we might generalize about the acceptance of gay people in American society. In the past 40 years, we’ve made progress. Note, though, that social conservatives maintain a distinction in this regard. The ability to smile on gay people but not on homosexuality is an emotional and intellectual achievement. Not all are capable of it. Those who aren’t cast aspersions on those who are. It’s part of the culture war. Take sides, if you wish, and beware the combatant posing as a journalist, but spare the journalist who’s there only to do his job, which is to tell other people’s stories.
We join the world in mourning the death of Lonesome George, the Galapagos Islands tortoise who served as a quietly charismatic symbol for Ecuador’s tourist industry. At age 100 or so, George was not particularly elderly; tortoises tend to be long-lived, which means his grandparents could have known Darwin personally. George was the last surviving member of the Pinta Island subspecies, and, like many aging bachelors, he was forever beset by matchmakers, who sought to hook him up with a female from a similar subspecies and thus carry on (at least halfway) the Pinta lineage. George responded with indifference, shunning most of the chelonian cuties proffered to him; his few successful couplings produced no fertile eggs. Once you get past 50, evidently, it isn’t worth the effort, particularly when your beloved is protected by an impenetrable shell. (We know the feeling.) The dictionary defines tortoiseshell as “a horny substance,” but what do they know? In any case, we hope Lonesome George is now settling in nicely in Tortoise Heaven — which cannot be much of an improvement on the Galapagos — and for his sake, we hope he has been given the option of declining the standard 72 virgins.
Thanks to the efforts of the North Dakota state government, supreme court, and state board of higher education — was anybody in North Dakota not involved in this? — as well as the NCAA and the Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect, another Native American–inspired mascot went the way of the buffalo. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux are no more. Even though the athletics logo was designed by an artist of Ojibwa ancestry and bestowed on the team at a Sioux pipe ceremony in 1969, the school faced sanctions from the NCAA and boycotts from some of its rivals, who held that the symbol was prejudicial and offensive. Many of the logo’s supporters abandoned their last stand because of a simple cost-benefit analysis, though: Resolving the controversy cost taxpayers $46,000, and carrying on would have been even more expensive. So North Dakotans voted to retire the symbol, and from this day forward, the Sioux shall fight no more.
Physicists finally seem to have found the Higgs particle, the existence of which their theories had long predicted. You may have read references to it as “the God particle.” Physicist Leon Lederman originally wanted to call it “the goddamn particle” in a book, because it was so maddeningly elusive. His publishers made an amendment. The particle has no more theological significance than its peers; just better marketing.
Ease of living and the stupid Cyclops eye of media meteorologists have turned Americans into weather wimps. The wimpiest live in Washington, D.C., and environs. In a continental nation subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, blizzards, and heat waves, the least jog out of the normal — a few flakes of snow, for instance — shuts the nation’s capital down. Recent high winds — with a fancy Spanish name (derecho), like a cheap sports car — caused real havoc, but were treated like the end of the world. The wind’s force multiplier was the local utility, Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), which was a day late and a dollar short in clean-up. There was ample power, though, for handwringing, some of it coming from conservatives (Farewell? A long farewell to all my greatness!). Here’s a suggestion: Next time there is a spot of bad weather, could everybody just do his job, and suck it up?
Roger Federer has won his seventh Wimbledon. If he’s not the best tennis player ever, he has few challengers. He is, indeed, one of the best athletes ever. Writers on both sides of the Atlantic have been quoting David Foster Wallace, the late American novelist: “Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws.” He is “a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar. He is never hurried or off-balance. The approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to. . . . Like Ali, Jordan, Maradona, and Gretzky, he seems both less and more substantial than the men he faces. Particularly in the all-white that Wimbledon enjoys getting away with still requiring, he looks like what he may well (I think) be: a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light.” Pretentious claptrap, of the kind all too often written about sports — until you actually see Federer.
There are very few things on which all economists can agree. One of them is the greatness of Anna Jacobson Schwartz, an economist with the National Bureau of Economic Research and the co-author with Milton Friedman of A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960. Paul Krugman has called her “one of the world’s greatest monetary scholars,” and Ben Bernanke considers himself a disciple of both Friedman and Schwartz. She was considered the “high priestess of monetarism,” and her work with Friedman rocked the economics profession. They demonstrated that the Federal Reserve’s contractionary policies in the late 1920s and early 1930s turned what would have been a normal recession into the Great Depression, and they argued forcefully that growth in the money supply is a main cause of inflation. Both points, ridiculed when first presented, are now standard explanations that economists take for granted. Schwartz did not slow down in her later years, either. She was a fierce critic of Bernanke’s handling of monetary policy, arguing that the cause of the present economic crisis was not a lack of liquidity, but a lack of information regarding which firms were truly solvent. Schwartz, who remained sharp well into her 90s, is survived by her four children, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Another wonderful legacy. R.I.P.
Starting in the 1950s, Andy Griffith’s career trajectory paralleled that of the South. His first national attention came with a comic monologue about a hillbilly preacher at a football game; he then played a series of cornpone roles on stage, screen, and television, most memorably as a deceptively folksy country singer in A Face in the Crowd. Griffith weathered the turbulent 1960s as Sheriff Andy Taylor, an island of calm and reason surrounded by zany white people in rural Mayberry, N.C., and two decades later he completed the Li’l Abnerâ€’toâ€’Jeff Foxworthy transition with Matlock, in which he played a Harvard-educated lawyer living in the Atlanta suburbs. Most recently, he made a commercial promoting big-government health care on behalf of America’s first black president. Yet Griffith remained keenly aware of the difference between television and life, which was why he wisely turned down an offer to run for Senate against Jesse Helms in 1990. Dead at 86, R.I.P. (and R.F.D.).
Who better defined the tininess of late-20th-century Manhattan: Woody Allen or Nora Ephron? Since Allen discovered Europe in his old age, the answer has to be Ephron. She was a Jewish feminist liberal New Yorker, of a generation that equated all four terms. The last decades of her life were devoted to writing and directing movie fluff; the lines she wrote for Meg Ryan’s deli scene in When Harry Met Sally (“Yes”) made a splash at the time, but have been inundated by later rom-com raunch. Her essays, however, find a real vein of humor, within their postage-stamp dimensions. Dead at 71. R.I.P.
Chief Justice Roberts’s Folly
The paradox of the Obamacare decision is that a majority of the Supreme Court actually got the Constitution mostly right. The Commerce Clause — the part of the Constitution that grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce among the states — does not authorize the federal government to force Americans to buy health insurance. The Court, by a 5–4 margin, refused to join all the august legal experts who insisted that of course it granted that authorization, that only yahoos and Republican partisans could possibly doubt it. It then upheld Obamacare anyway, arguing that the mandate could be read to be merely a tax on not buying insurance.
What the Court has done is not so much to declare the mandate constitutional as to declare that it is not a mandate at all, any more than the mortgage-interest deduction in the tax code is a mandate to buy a house. Congress would almost surely have been within its constitutional powers to tax the uninsured more than the insured. Very few people doubt that it could, for example, create a tax credit for the purchase of insurance, which would have precisely that effect. But Obamacare, as written, does more than that. The law repeatedly speaks in terms of a “requirement” to buy insurance, it says that individuals “shall” buy it, and it levies a “penalty” on those who refuse. As the conservative dissent points out, these are the hallmarks of a “regulatory penalty, not a tax.”
The law as written also cuts off all federal Medicaid funds for states that decline to expand the program in the ways the lawmakers sought. A majority of the Court, including two of the liberals, found this cut-off unconstitutionally coercive on the states. The Court’s solution was not to invalidate the law or the Medicaid expansion, but to rule that only the extra federal funds devoted to the expansion could be cut off. As the dissenters rightly point out, this solution rewrites the law — and arbitrarily, since Congress could have avoided the constitutional problem in many other ways.
The dissent acknowledges that if an ambiguous law can be read in a way that renders it constitutional, it should be. It distinguishes, though, between construing a law charitably and rewriting it. The latter is what Chief Justice John Roberts has done. If Roberts believes that this tactic avoids damage to the Constitution because it does not stretch the Commerce Clause to justify a mandate, he is mistaken. The Constitution does not give the Court the power to rewrite statutes, and Roberts and his colleagues have therefore done violence to it. If the law has been rendered less constitutionally obnoxious, the Court has rendered itself more so. Chief Justice Roberts cannot justly take pride in this legacy.
The Court has failed to do its duty. Conservatives should not follow its example — which is what they would do if they now gave up the fight against Obamacare. The law, as rewritten by judges, remains incompatible with the country’s tradition of limited government, the future strength of our health-care system, and the nation’s solvency. We are not among those who are convinced that we will be stuck with it forever if the next election goes wrong: The law is also so poorly structured that we think it may well unravel even if put fully into effect. But we would prefer not to take the risk.
It now falls to the Republicans, and especially to Mitt Romney, to make the case for the repeal of the law and for its replacement by something better than either it or the health-care policies that preceded it. Instead of trusting experts to use the federal government’s purchasing power to drive efficiency throughout the health sector — the vain hope of Obamacare’s Medicare-cutting board — they should replace Medicare with a new system in which individuals have incentives to get value for their dollar. Instead of having Washington establish a cartel for the insurance industry, they should give individuals tax credits and the ability to purchase insurance across state lines. Instead of further centralizing the health-care system, in short, they should give individuals more control over their insurance.
Opponents should take heart: The law remains unpopular. The task of Obamacare’s opponents is now to expand and mobilize that public sentiment.