We don’t know why everyone is being so hard on Obama’s debate performance. He did fine. Carry on, Mr. President!
Every famous political debate is coated with myth. Reagan did not in fact trounce Carter in 1980, nor Kennedy Nixon in 1960. But the myths are right too, for a debate — especially when the result is a surprise — can nudge the tectonic plates. The first Obama–Romney debate produced two surprises. Obama, considered by his admirers (including himself) the modern Moses, was listless and dispirited. (Al Gore thought he’d had trouble adjusting to Denver’s elevation, though the U.S. Geological Survey could have warned him ahead of time.) Romney, solid but no barnburner in the long GOP primaries, was bright, quick, dignified, aggressive. Put the two together and — well, if a debate were a title bout, the heavyweight division would have a new champ. Debates are not title bouts: There are two more to come, plus Biden vs. Ryan and October surprises. But maybe, just maybe, pseudo-Moses won’t have to climb many more heights.
Romney responded during the debate to Obama’s charge that he will have to raise middle-class taxes to make up for the tax cuts for the rich he is hell-bent on enacting. If Romney eliminates deductions and breaks, and delivers a tax code that slightly increases economic growth, there will be no need to raise middle-class taxes — and in any case he rules out raising them. Romney noted that the tax reform he seeks cannot rightly be called a large net tax cut, since it would raise the same amount of revenue as the current code. The press then said that Romney had moved to the center by disavowing tax cuts. The substance of his position has not changed at all, though, and conservatives favor an improvement in the tax code however it is described. The benefit of journalists’ self-induced confusion is that they mostly failed to bash Romney for pointing out that Obama’s agenda threatens a large middle-class tax increase to pay for all his spending. Each party is now accusing the other of seeking to raise middle-class taxes. In an even fight, with both sides making their cases, voters are likely to side with the party they know dislikes tax increases, and against the one they know to be enthusiastic about them.
The debate saw President Obama invoke Abraham Lincoln in defense of his economic program, as is his wont. But: One, Obama wants to pretend that he supports only opportunity-enhancing policies on par with the Morrill land-grant colleges, instead of a vast, ever-expanding redistributive welfare state that would have been unimaginable to the 16th president. Two, Obama loves to talk about Lincoln’s support for subsidies for the railroads, but the railroads were, unlike green energy, a genuinely transformative technology with immediate, practical application. (Even so, the subsidies fed corruption and waste.) Finally, the economic gospel of Lincoln was work and self-reliance: “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.” President Obama’s cheap, economically illiterate populism would have been anathema to him. Besides, Lincoln admired people capable of defending themselves in debate.
As the presidential race enters its final weeks, Romney has begun making the case that his agenda would serve voters’ interests in stronger economic growth, cheaper energy, lower taxes, and affordable health care — the case we have been urging him to make for some time. He has not yet devised an answer, however, to President Obama’s claim that he would return the country to the policies of George W. Bush, which are still widely seen as a failure notwithstanding the respect many Americans have for him. Romney’s rhetoric has sometimes aided Obama’s strategy: By implying that Obama’s policies are responsible for all that ails the country, he also implies that everything was fine before he took office. Better, we think, for Romney to acknowledge that many of the country’s institutions — its health-care system, tax code, and entitlements, to name three — have been growing creakier since before Obama took office; to say that Obama deserves blame for either not addressing their problems or making them worse, rather than for creating them; and to promise that as president he will tackle them. That argument would be more plausible than a simple-minded partisan one; it would enable Romney to separate himself from Bush without explicitly repudiating him; and it represents what Romney probably believes. In this case, at least, let Romney be Romney.
An e-card appeared on the Obama campaign’s official Tumblr page exhorting women to “vote like your lady parts depend on it.” After the image went viral, the campaign quickly scrubbed it from the website and explained that “this piece did not go through our regular review.” The staffer who cleared it can be forgiven for not seeing anything amiss in posting a distilled version of the campaign’s “war on women” rhetoric. Many things depend on the outcome of this election, but the fate of any woman’s “lady parts” is not one of them — at least not once she’s been born.
On the stump, Obama says that only the “far right” wants to let employers who object to contraception, sterilization, and abortion drugs refrain from offering coverage for these things. He should meet former representative Nancy Johnson (R., Conn.). In Congress she was a strong supporter of abortion, even voting to keep partial-birth abortion legal. She nonetheless stands firm against the Obama administration’s attack on conscience rights. In an op-ed, Johnson points out that previous health-care bills, including those promoted by Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, respected those rights, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act demands that they prevail. Johnson remains strongly pro-choice; but at least she is willing to recognize that social conservatives get to make choices too.
There needs to be a stronger word than “cynicism”: The Obama campaign published a letter from a 25-year-old woman with Down syndrome, who complained about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks. The young lady wrote that she hoped one day to make a lot of money and own a hot tub — which sounds like a Romney voter to us — but found it difficult to save because her Social Security disability benefits are reduced as she earns money working in a clothing store. About that, a few things: No Republican candidate with whom we are familiar has proposed throwing people with Down syndrome off of disability, and in fact many are sympathetic to the notion that benefit recipients should not be discouraged from working. Second, Barack Obama represents a social tendency that has produced a 90 percent rate of abortion of Down syndrome babies, and Obamacare promises to push that rate toward 100 percent. The young lady has an interest in her property, which is excellent. If she wants to add liberty and life to that, there is an alternative.
In early October, AFSCME put out a rather silly ad featuring Mitt Romney’s former garbage collector in La Jolla, Calif. “My name is Richard Hayes,” said the collector, “and I pick up Mitt Romney’s trash. We’re kind of like the invisible people. . . . He doesn’t realize that . . . if it wasn’t for us, it’d be a big health issue.” Hayes went on to complain that Romney had never shaken his hand or hugged him. The sledgehammer message was clear: Mitt Romney could have no idea about quotidian things such as trash collection, because his wealth and detachment prevent him from having to know what life is like for blue-collar workers. But there was just a small problem with this. In Romney’s book, No Apology, he explained that, “during my campaign for governor, I decided to spend a day every few weeks doing the jobs of other people in Massachusetts. . . . One day I gathered trash as a garbage collector. . . . It was as if I was invisible. Perhaps it was because a lot of us don’t think garbage men are worthy of notice; I disagree — anyone who works that hard deserves our respect.”
Unless a deal is reached on taxes before New Year’s Day, the U.S. economy will enjoy yet another dubious distinction: suffering under the highest tax rate on dividends in the world. The U.S. already labors under the highest statutory corporate-tax rate, though politically favored businesses and industries escape paying the full bill. For individual investors, qualified dividends are taxed at the lower capital-gains rate, but that arrangement will expire in January, putting dividends back at the higher personal-income rate. Low-income dividend recipients, those in the two lowest brackets, currently pay a tax of 0 percent; in 2013, that will go up to 15 percent and 28 percent, respectively. High-income taxpayers will see dividends taxed at 39.6 percent — along with another 3.8 percent surtax on investment income to fund Obamacare. Add in state and local taxes, and a New York–based investor will be paying taxes of more than 50 percent on dividend income — which of course already has been taxed as corporate income. The Monaco Yacht Club set have ways of getting around that (expatriating money, incorporating, and forming specialized partnerships) but the ordinary investor will get hammered — as will the enterprises counting on his investment to enable them to grow and innovate. Mitt Romney happens to be sitting on a credible alternative to this dire scenario.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey revealed an unusually large — 0.3 percent — drop in unemployment in September, and many skeptics cried foul. Business titan Jack Welch called the figures “unbelievable” and strongly implied that the Obama administration had somehow manipulated the numbers. We think that unlikely: Because the household survey has a much smaller sample size than the institutional-payroll survey, it shows a good deal more month-to-month volatility. And a fairly good technical explanation exists for the September numbers: There usually is a large decline in employment among workers aged 20 to 24 as they return to school in September. That did not happen this year: For reasons that are unclear, it happened mostly in August. Because the BLS uses a seasonal-adjustment protocol in crunching its numbers, the lack of a large decrease in September, where it was expected, shows up as an increase. Statistics are fun. Critics who argue that the official 7.8 percent unemployment rate and the 0.3 percent September drop are inconsistent with our current rate of growth, competing measures of unemployment, and other economic indicators are of course correct; that the household survey suffers from important limitations is not news to those who follow it. It is unlikely that the White House played a behind-the-scenes role here, and, given the grim state of the real-world job market, even less likely that it will derive any lasting benefit from this statistical hiccup.
It appears this will be the standard liberal rebuttal to all inconvenient truths and arguments as we head into the home stretch of the presidential campaign. The trend began in earnest even before Paul Ryan finished his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The Obama campaign insisted that everything Paul Ryan said was a lie. The media’s “fact-checkers” took the cue. The next day, the universal opinion of the Morning Joe set was that Ryan needed asbestos underwear to deal with all his pants-on-fire lies.
Left out of much of this discussion was the simple fact that Ryan hadn’t actually lied about anything. Yes, he failed to make Obama’s case for him, but that’s quite different from lying.
Then there was the first presidential debate, which, you may have heard, Obama lost. As of this writing, liberals haven’t figured out how to deal with their nakba — the Arabic term meaning “disaster,” usually reserved for the founding of Israel. There’s a great deal of flailing about and lashing out as a result of the Obama nakba. But one cry can be heard above the din: Liar!
Obviously there’s a significant amount of spin, nonsense, and hackery embedded in such partisan brickbats. And my centrifuge isn’t strong enough to break down each charge to its constituent ingredients. But it occurs to me that mixed in with the cynicism and the slander might be more than just a soupçon of sincerity.
Think about it. For nearly a decade now, liberals have been insisting that they are members of “the reality-based community.” They are empiricists and fact-finders, non-ideologues and pragmatists. If you buy my book The Tyranny of Clichés, you can a) make me happy and b) get a tutorial on how this canard actually has a two-century-old pedigree. Regardless, as Paul Krugman and Stephen Colbert — two of liberalism’s most revered thinkers — like to say, the facts have a liberal bias.
Well, if you actually believe in your bones that liberalism has a monopoly on the truth, then anything you hear that contradicts your understanding of the facts must be a lie. For instance, take Robert Reich. “Republicans are well practiced in the politics of fear and the logistics of the big lie,” he wrote after Obama’s politically disastrous performance in the debate. “The challenge for Obama and Biden and for the rest of us over the next four weeks is to counter their fearsome lies with the truth.”
This is a guy who was caught red-handed making up stuff — lots of stuff — in his memoirs and defended it on the grounds that “I claim no higher truth than my own perceptions. This is how I lived it.” In other words, whatever I feel is the truth is the truth. And therefore, whatever I feel is a lie must be a lie.
A while back, there was a largely stupid argument about whether or not the Right suffers from “epistemic closure.” We know what we know, and therefore we don’t need to learn anymore. Now, closed-mindedness is something everyone should be on the lookout for, and that goes for conservatives as well as liberals. But if you’re searching for an example of “epistemic closure” taking its toll, you need only look at Barack Obama’s performance in the first presidential debate. Here was someone who clearly didn’t understand the limits of his talking points and sound bites (and practicing against John Kerry surely didn’t help stretch his imagination). He was unable to process inconvenient facts and truths because in his bubble, such things are called “lies.”
President Obama once told a reporter, “I actually believe my own bulls***t.” That sums up the problem nicely.
In September, Lockheed Martin announced its intention to fall in line with the executive branch’s astonishing request that defense contractors willfully violate the WARN Act, a federal law that requires them to give 60 days’ notice to workers before laying them off. The defense giant expects to lay off employees on January 2, as part of budget “sequestration,” and so should deliver notices on November 2. But the administration has claimed the notices are unnecessary and even promised that Uncle Sam will pick up the cost of any legal damages awarded to laid-off workers. Once upon a time, President Obama liked the WARN Act and wished to strengthen it: In 2007, while still a senator, he proposed extending its notification period from 60 days to 90 days. Those wondering what explains his change of heart may note that November 2 is the Friday before Election Day.
The Spanish-language television network Univision recently lent a personal touch to Fast and Furious, the notorious “gun-walking” operation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. We have long known that roughly 2,000 guns made their way to Mexican drug cartels through the program, but it took the network’s report to drive home exactly what that means. By cross-referencing a list of Fast and Furious guns with a list of guns found in Mexico and used in crimes, the network discovered a long and bloody trail leading back to the U.S. — 96 Fast and Furious guns that had been used in murders, kidnappings, and other crimes, 57 of which had not been identified previously. One of the crimes was a mass shooting of teenagers at a birthday party that claimed 16 lives; the targets were gang members, but not all the victims were. Another crime was a massacre at a rehabilitation center that left 18 dead. The Spanish media are finally giving this scandal the coverage it deserves. Perhaps the English media will follow suit.
It used to be said that Americans paid no attention to the presidential campaign until the World Series was over, but nowadays they practically cast votes before the Cubs are eliminated. Thirty-two states plus D.C. have some form of early voting, and an estimated 40 percent of this year’s votes will be cast ahead of Election Day — sometimes nearly two months ahead. There is no evidence that this significantly increases turnout, but it definitely makes fraud easier, which is reason enough to end the practice (as Kevin D. Williamson argues on page 30). Beyond that, it dilutes the tradition of a political campaign as a single drama that everyone watches. Early voting encourages hasty decisions, decreases voters’ ability to react to late developments, and, by protracting crunch time, makes the need to raise funds even more acute. Where early voting is allowed, it should be done in person and start no earlier than the weekend before Election Day, and absentee ballots should be available only to those who are genuinely unable to go to the polls. That way, voting will remain an important event, with a special, anticipated day set aside for it, instead of just another errand to take care of on the way to Costco.
Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law, which requires that citizens show photo identification before casting their ballots, has emerged basically unscathed from a court challenge. Judge Robert Simpson did delay the law’s implementation, requiring the state to count ballots cast by voters without ID in November. This injunction was needless: The law was tested during the state’s primaries in April, and the closest things to disfranchisement that ensued were long lines and some bureaucratic difficulties in acquiring IDs. Nonetheless, the courts got the most important thing right, and did not issue a permanent injunction. The law will serve as a bulwark against fraud in future elections, and we hope it will inspire more states to protect the integrity of their elections the same way.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority used to ban political advertisements from its subway cars and station walls on the grounds that passengers have no choice but to look at the ads. After the policy was struck down, the anti-Islamist blogger Pamela Geller posted ads decrying jihadists as “savages.” Leftists defaced them, and the MTA’s board hastily adopted new regulations banning ads that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.” While we sympathize with the wish to avoid violence, what the authority is doing is creating a heckler’s, or rioter’s, veto. Prohibiting speech critical of Islam for fear that Muslims will be unable to restrain themselves is a more damning indictment of the faithful than anything in Geller’s ads.
California governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that will allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in his state to apply for driver’s licenses. The new law piggybacks on President Obama’s DREAM Act–by–fiat, affording young illegals who receive work permits the opportunity to expand their collection of official documentation: In California, qualifying illegals will be given a stay of deportation, a work permit, a Social Security number, and a driver’s license. This policy effectively makes these illegal immigrants into permanent residents, removing almost all consequence from their being outside of the law. But there may be trouble ahead. Since immigration and work permits are federal, do not be surprised if some illegals living outside of California elect to relocate there, and if those who do not relocate see fit to challenge their own states’ “right” to deny them licenses.
The so-called insider attacks by members of Afghan security forces against our troops in Afghanistan are horrifying and insidious. They hit at an essential element of our strategy — building up Afghan forces through partnership with them — and undermine support for the war here at home. But letting them drive us out of the country would give dozens of people a veto over the entire war effort. They are hardly representative. There have been about 30 insider attacks this year. Yet there are more than 300,000 members of Afghan security forces. We are in the field with them constantly. And they are taking casualties in the fight against the Taliban at a greater rate than our troops. The surge made progress in the southern part of the country that the Taliban hasn’t been able to reverse. The question is whether we turn our back on what we have gained. President Obama wants to draw down most U.S. forces by 2014, and also reduce the size of Afghan forces, in what is likely a formula for mayhem. The minimal standard for success in any war is a commander-in-chief who is vested in the fight.
Iranians in a position to do so are dumping the rial, their national currency, and it has lost about 40 percent of its value against the dollar in a matter of days. Inflation has been estimated by some to be running at 70 percent per month. People are very well able to recognize that the ruling clerics are answerable for the sanctions that were imposed on the country in response to the regime’s nuclear program and that now are threatening ruin. They have been demonstrating as they did after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the election in 2009. Once more, the riot police have been taking things into their own hands: Clouds of tear gas hovered over shuttered shops in Tehran and money-changers are hounded down and arrested. Ahmadinejad crows that his ventures abroad and nuclear development at home are so successful that wicked foreign speculators are having a last shot at thwarting them. “Leave Syria alone, think of us!” was one popular slogan among the demonstrators. Dismayingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton popped up with the contradictory and defeatist fiction that sanctions are just one of a number of causes of hardship in Iran. She followed up with a suggestion that sanctions could be eased if Tehran were only to be a little more accommodating over its nuclear program. Offering something in the certainty of receiving nothing in return seems like an unpromising negotiation strategy.
Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Islamist cleric with hooks for hands who managed to delay his extradition from Britain for eight years, is finally in the custody of the U.S. government. Hamza, nicknamed “Captain Hook” by the British press, will confront a wide range of terrorism charges, including the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, “advocating violent jihad” in Afghanistan in 2001, and conspiring in the establishment of an al-Qaeda-style training camp in Oregon in 2000. By dint of Britain’s membership in the European Union, the U.S. was obligated to agree, in exchange for Hamza’s extradition, that it would not seek the death penalty for him. While this mercy is disappointing to many, that the European Court has finally moved aside on the matter is worthy of celebration. Hamza had become a master of playing European legal and welfare systems: The Taxpayers’ Alliance estimated that he cost the British £2.75 million in “in welfare benefits, council housing, NHS treatment, trials, legal appeals, and incarceration.” While the U.S. must respect its extradition agreement, one would hope that Hamza will receive less of a welcome in America.
The ghost of Ragnar Danneskjöld haunts the seas: Elliott Associates, a New York–based hedge fund, has seized an Argentine naval vessel in the Ghanaian port of Tema as collateral against bonds Argentina defaulted on in 2001. (It is an elegant tall ship, not a nuclear submarine.) Unlike Ayn Rand’s charismatic pirate, the Wall Street gang went through the courts, and the matter is awaiting final adjudication. This is not the first time the tango-loving deadbeats down south have faced such an action: A few years back, Argentina’s version of Air Force One skipped a scheduled maintenance trip to the U.S. because the government feared it would be seized. We imagine that if a New York–based hedge fund failed to pay a decade-old tax bill in Buenos Aires, the Argentine government would seize its assets to make good on the bill. Turnabout is fair play. And a lot of fun to watch.
In the western United States, there are probably more streets, parks, and buildings named for Cesar Chavez than there are for Martin Luther King Jr. In several states, including California, the late union leader’s birthday is a state holiday. It is from Chavez that we get the slogan “Sí, se puede,” which Barack Obama turned into “Yes, we can.” Now, as the Associated Press tells us, the president “is designating the California home of labor leader Cesar Chavez as a national monument, a move likely to shore up support from Hispanic and progressive voters just five weeks before the election.” What’s Spanish for “pander”?
There is something of a miracle playing in American movie theaters right now. Listen to the plot: Two mothers struggle to reform an inner-city school. Standing in their way are the villains: an entrenched bureaucracy and the teachers’-union president. Won’t Back Down is a real movie, too, a genuine Hollywood flick, with genuine movie stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Rosie Perez. Critics are outraged, calling the movie right-wing propaganda. We are reminded of the 2008 Democratic primaries, in which the Clintons were called racist for daring to oppose Barack Obama. How does it feel, friends?
On the evening of October 3, after the lights went out at the West Coast ballparks and the regular season was in the books, one player, Miguel Cabrera, third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, stood atop the American League in batting average (.330), home runs (44), and runs batted in (139). Only the 15th player to win the Triple Crown, and the first since 1967, Cabrera should be a lock for the Most Valuable Player award, at least as some baseball traditionalists see it. But rookie Mike Trout, a standout five-tool player, good with the glove and on the basepaths as well as at bat, led the league in WAR, or wins above replacement value: The Los Angeles Angels are calculated to have won ten more games with him in their line-up than they would have won with an average replacement player. The iron logic of WAR, a relatively new metric, is compelling. But the classic beauty of sweeping the three most time-honored batting metrics has charm. It’s persuasive. The numbers don’t lie, though sometimes they disagree. In the spirit of geometry, as Pascal called it, the MVP award belongs to Trout. It should go to Cabrera in the spirit of finesse.
Raccoons are taking over New York City, and we don’t mean Ralph Kramden’s lodge brothers. Residents of the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn report an infestation of the masked rascals, who have been knocking over trash cans, invading yards, frightening pets, and just generally way overplaying their cuteness. A few years ago, coyotes were spotted in the city (where’s Rick Perry when you need him?), but for true New Yorkers, this is even worse — the bridge-and-tunnel crowd invading from the suburbs. No raccoons have yet been spotted in the vicinity of National Review’s offices, but if one ever is, our plan it to tranquilize it with Obama campaign ads and then put it on New Jersey Transit to Gladstone. If the result is anything like the typical commute, the raccoon will never find its way back to the city.
John Silber was a Texas transplant to Boston, a down-to-earth Kant scholar, an in-your-face elitist, and a would-be Democratic politician. President of Boston University from 1971 to 1996, he turned a broke, backwater institution into a flourishing academic powerhouse. He flouted pieties of all kinds, disdaining political correctness and college football in equal measure. In 1990 he ran for governor of Massachusetts, winning the Democratic primary; serious people spoke of a shot at the presidency. He decorated his campaign with bumper-sticker pronouncements like this: “When you’ve had a long life and you’re ripe, then it’s time to go.” In the event, he lost to Republican William Weld (who commenced his long ripening to squishiness). “I want to grate on their minds,” he once said of his students. “I want to grate on their conscience.” A great academic, he died, age 86. R.I.P.
Arthur O. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times from 1963 to 1992, kept his newspaper in the Ochs/Sulzberger family and in the larger family of liberalism. His peers hailed him for publishing the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks of the 1970s — a landmark in Fourth Estate self-esteem. But other newspapers were running similar stories (the Washington Post broke Watergate shortly thereafter). Sulzberger did two somewhat surprising things. He pushed the Times to have an op-ed page, and tapped William Safire, a former Nixon hand, to be its conservative voice. Liberals hated Safire, but Sulzberger backed him (Safire would win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary). He also directed the Times to endorse Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1976 Democratic Senate primary over Bella Abzug. Incumbent James Buckley might have stopped Abzug in the general, but keeping a Stalinist out of the Senate was important enough to justify an early hit. Dead at 86. R.I.P.
The lifework of popular singer Andy Williams constitutes an excellent summary case for the proposition that there is nothing shameful about the concept of “easy listening” music. He was easy to listen to because he had a great, velvety voice and excellent material, not to mention a kindly demeanor that endeared him to TV audiences and concertgoers alike. He was best known for his rendition of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” but his “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” also belongs in the canon of essential American pop songs. He was a close friend of Robert F. Kennedy, and sang “Ave Maria” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at RFK’s funeral. Dead at 84. R.I.P.
The Bottom of Benghazi
Between reverences to the majesty of abortion, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte regularly collapsed into displays of facile jingoism that would have sent liberals for their fainting couches had the streamers in the hall been red instead of blue, or had they occurred in, oh, say, 2004. Opaque and vaguely sinister phrases such as “economic patriotism” were bandied about freely, and the laudable extirpation of Osama bin Laden was milked for all it was worth. The frenzy reached its climax with Vice President Biden’s sloganeered boast that “bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!”
Less than a week later, four Americans were dead in Libya and al-Qaeda flags flew over our diplomatic missions in Benghazi and Cairo on the anniversary of 9/11. The juxtaposition of the campaign brag with the video of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s body being dragged through the streets was politically unfortunate for the president — especially given his earlier boast that anti-Americanism would wane under his administration. This perhaps explains, though it can never justify, what is now clear about the administration’s persistent denial that the attack was preplanned — namely, that the White House was either deliberately less than truthful, cataclysmically incompetent, or both.
We now know that before Benghazi — before Charlotte — the U.S. intelligence community was well aware that al-Qaeda was in an “expansion phase” in Libya. Indeed, anti-Western attacks had been ramping up since as early as April, and by June Libyan militants were openly discussing targeting Ambassador Stevens. We know that despite all this, repeated requests for additional security from U.S. mission staff in Libya were denied, even as Stevens warned in a cable written days before his death that the local militia group entrusted to help protect the consulate — the self-styled “February 17 Martyrs Brigade” — was threatening to pull out over a political dispute. And we know that within 24 hours of the 9/11/12 attack, U.S. intelligence had “very good information” that the strike was preplanned and perpetrated by al-Qaeda-connected militants. And yet as late as September 16, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice was flooding the Sunday chat shows with the same message: “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
It wasn’t until more than a week after the attack that administration officials admitted Benghazi was a terrorist hit, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that the president conceded as much. In the interim, the yawning gap between the administration’s official line and the dictates of common sense raised the critical question: Was the White House wishfully guessing because it actually didn’t know or care about the conditions on the ground in a state it had helped create by intervening with precision-guided munitions, or was it telling tales as part of a shortsighted political calculation to keep the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador in 30 years from becoming a campaign issue down the home stretch? If it’s the former, it suggests a startling and dangerous disconnect between the administration’s diplomatic, intelligence, and political chains of command in a region critical to our national security. If it’s the latter, it reveals something just as dangerous: an administration willing to suppress the truth about the murder of Americans to protect its short-term political interests.
In light of these alternatives, Secretary Clinton’s recent announcement — that her State Department will not have definitive answers about what happened in the lead-up to and aftermath of Benghazi until (what are the odds?) sometime between November and January — is unacceptable. If the mounting evidence of malfeasance isn’t a smoking gun, it is at least one still warm to the touch, and at this point even CNN has called the administration’s behavior indicative of a “cover-up.” We hope the rest of the mainstream media can be persuaded — or shamed — into joining the effort to get to the bottom of Benghazi. The American people deserve to hear the truth from the president. And his foreign policy deserves a reckoning.
Eugene D. Genovese, R.I.P.
Eugene D. Genovese was widely regarded as our foremost historian of the American South. But that was not the most interesting thing about him. What was most interesting was the journey he took, from Communism and atheism to conservatism and faith in God. A Brooklyn boy, the son of a dockworker, he was born in 1930. At 15, he joined the Communist Party. At 20, he was expelled,“having zigged when I was supposed to zag,” he explained. But he remained loyal to Communism.
In 1965, when he was a professor at Rutgers, he gained what he too modestly called “my 15 minutes of fame.” That was when he said he would welcome a victory by the Viet Cong. Former vice president Richard Nixon, campaigning for a candidate in New Jersey that year, called for Rutgers to fire Genovese. So did many others. Rutgers refused.
In 1970, National Review asked Genovese to contribute to its 15th-anniversary issue. We wanted a perspective from the Left. (We also got a perspective from the “liberal” camp. In those days, you could tell the difference.) After reading Genovese’s essay, our senior editor James Burnham, a former Communist, told him, “It’s good. It’s very good. It’s much too good for my taste.”
On his journey, Genovese won the Bancroft Prize, the highest honor in his profession. He enjoyed another high honor when he was elected president of the Organization of American Historians. He was the first Marxist to hold that position. But he did not hold his Marxism. He moved steadily the other way. Doing this with him, remarkably, was his wife, the historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. After she died in 2007, Genovese wrote a memoir of their marriage: Miss Betsey. In it, he says: “She gagged on abortion for a simple reason: She knew, as everyone knows, that an abortion kills a baby.”
In 1994, he wrote a blockbuster essay for Dissent magazine: “The Question.” What was the question? It derived from Watergate, and it was two questions in one: “What did you know, and when did you know it?” In other words, What did you know about the atrocities of the Communists, and when did you know it? Genovese wrote that “in a noble effort to liberate the human race from violence and oppression we broke all records for mass slaughter, piling up tens of millions of corpses in less than three-quarters of a century.” And “those who are big on multiculturalism might note that the great majority of our victims were nonwhite.”
This was a giant mea culpa. Almost no one else issued one. Genovese was virtually alone. His apostasy cost him friends, but also earned him others.
WFB praised him, as only he could. The 20th century was a hard teacher, he observed, and Genovese had learned his way through. “Is this learning to be compared with ‘learning’ that the earth is round, not flat? No, because the physical features of the earth are not deniable. But it is different in the social sciences. Everything is deniable, or ignorable.” Gene Genovese refused to keep denying and ignoring. He did it late, you might say, and that’s true. But he did it gloriously, and his life was superb.