Politics & Policy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This marks our second installment of a new National Review Online feature, “Window on The Week.” It acts as our weekly quick-and-punchy “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day. “Window on The Week” will not in any way replace “The Week,” which appears fortnightly in all its glory in National Review.

#-# The outbreak of St. Vitus Dance among certain segments of the establishment media–and liberals generally–over what is now the most famous hunting accident in American history is instructive. First, it demonstrates that the paranoid style is doing well on the left half of American politics (much as Bill Clinton demonstrated that those genes were still firing in many corners on the right). Instantaneously, leading bloggers and liberal pundits proclaimed: He was drunk! He was having an affair! The image of a bombed, cardiovascularly impaired Dick Cheney having a bacchanalian tryst on Texas scrubland is apparently quite plausible (even likely) to those who would wish it to be so. The Washington Post suggested that this unfortunate accident might come to “define” Cheney’s career. Numerous voices called for his resignation. In hindsight, this was all as silly as it was predictable. Nonetheless, the vice president also probably erred in not reporting the information sooner. His actions are defensible and, on the merits, sound. But the vice president is also a politician, and politicians–particularly conservative ones–should understand that an unfair media climate comes with the territory, and that ignoring this reality on principle often creates even bigger problems. Cheney explained himself well, even if a day or two late. The issue should be over. But the preening mainstream media cannot forgive him for it, and the liberal mob doesn’t care to listen. This will ultimately exacerbate the problems of both the press and the Left, leaving them once again shocked that the “people” aren’t with them.

#-#Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a tape of Saddam Hussein saying, “I’ve got loads of weapons of mass destruction. I’ve hidden them from everybody. Someday I’ll use them against the United States. Bush and Cheney are right.” Yes, it would be nice, but so far it hasn’t happened. The tapes of the deposed Iraqi dictator that are now being released do show that Saddam lied to U.N. weapons inspectors, and that he desperately wanted to keep the capacity to produce WMDs in the future. This might not be the smoking-gun proof of weapons stockpiles that some had hoped for. But it is enough to reaffirm the war’s justification, which depended as much on the weapons Saddam might build as on the weapons he had already built. America and the world are safer now that he has been removed from power.

#-#The trial of Saddam Hussein was always going to be difficult. He suppressed democracy with a brutality all his own, and now he is in the dock using legalisms and let-outs that are designed to protect citizens in democracies. It is truly intolerable, but there it is–the court has no option but to try to impose standards of procedure and jurisprudence appropriate to the new Iraq. No fool, Saddam knows that no argument can be made in his defense. That leaves only one tactic: to misbehave, to claim that his rights are infringed, to rant at the judge and the Americans, and generally to posture as the victim of victors’ justice. Western media are of course thrilled by the spectacle, and refer to the trial as an unfair farce that is descending into chaos. No such thing, it has the predictability of clockwork, and more of the same is sure to follow as Saddam increasingly comes to feel the truth of Dr. Johnson’s celebrated remark that the knowledge that he will be hanged wonderfully concentrates a man’s mind. Perhaps the trial’s justice can’t be perfect, but it is an enormous advance on no justice at all.

#-#A sensible compromise has ended the Senate logjam over renewal of Patriot Act provisions. Recipients of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders or FBI-issued national-security letters demanding production of business records will be free to consult lawyers without first notifying the government. If they have been told not to disclose those court orders and letters to anyone but their lawyers, they will be free, after one year, to challenge that gag order. (Such challenges will likely be rare, and courts will be able to deny them when appropriate.) The compromise means that the improvements the Patriot Act made–including the dismantling of the “wall” that prevented intelligence agents and criminal investigators from pooling threat information, broader availability of FISA wiretapping and search authority, the sharing of grand-jury information with the intelligence community, and roving wiretaps for terror suspects–will be preserved substantially as they were enacted after 9/11. There will be additional oversight to protect civil liberties, some of it helpful, little of it harmful. It looks like most Patriot provisions will be made permanent in early March, with the remainder kept in place for at least four more years. The terrorist threat has not ended. These tools, which have contributed significantly to maintaining homeland security, remain vital.

#-#Speaking before an audience in Saudi Arabia, Al Gore, who used to be vice president before he went mad, said that the United States had committed “terrible abuses” against Arabs after September 11. What are these abuses? Said Arabs were “indiscriminately rounded up” and “held in conditions that were just unforgivable.” This, apparently, was a reference to the detention and interviewing of individuals with visa irregularities following the 9/11 attacks. There are several questions one would like to ask Gore. Given that the hijackers were lawbreaking Arab immigrants, might the detentions in question have been a justified precaution against further attack? Doesn’t someone who opposes the detentions have an obligation at least to explain why they are unacceptable? What precautions would not have been terribly abusive? What aspect of the detainees’ treatment was “just unforgivable”? What rhetorical escalation do those words allow in characterizing the treatment of, say, Christians in Saudi Arabia? Is it responsible to make such statements to a Muslim world convulsed with anti-Western hatred? Does Gore even ask himself these things? And can a man capable of such inanities have a political future outside of MoveOn.org poster boy?

#-#Senator Jim Talent of Missouri has cosponsored Sam Brownback’s bill to ban human cloning for three years. This year, Missouri will vote on a pro-cloning initiative. Biotech interests are spending heavily to promote that initiative, the state’s Republican governor is behind it, and the ballot has been misleadingly worded to make voters think it will restrict cloning. Facing this juggernaut, Talent decided to change course. He has withdrawn his support for the bill and offered a variety of explanations for this decision. According to his latest explanation, given to columnist Robert Novak, he still opposes the creation and destruction of human embryos for research purposes, but worries that the Brownback bill would, in some unspecified way, hinder other, unspecified research that he supports. This undignified straddle is a disappointment to the senator’s fans.

#-#Adios to asbestos? This week’s Senate setback for the asbestos-litigation reform legislation–which failed to get the required 60 votes for cloture–might be more than a bump in the road for the behemoth bill. Senator Arlen Specter–the bill’s sponsor–was given the chance for a vote that he’d been promised, and he came up short. There is now reluctance to devote a week or two of the Senate’s crowded calendar to controversial legislation that is unlikely to overcome the filibuster it might face. Unless there is bipartisan support for John Cornyn’s sensible bill–which establishes reasonable medical criteria for claimants–abusive asbestos litigation will continue to hurt genuine victims and business defendants alike.

#-#Democrats lost one of their most interesting Senate candidates when Paul Hackett announced that he would not challenge Republican senator Mike DeWine of Ohio. The first veteran of the Iraq war to seek federal office, Hackett seemingly came out of nowhere last August to run a surprisingly strong (but losing) race in a special election for a House seat near Cincinnati. Although he became a semi-celebrity among left-wing bloggers, the national publicity was at best a mixed blessing: It exposed Hackett as Howard Dean without the good manners. It takes a special breed of blowhard to declare, as Hackett did, that Christian Republicans “aren’t a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden.” Yet Democratic leaders went on to recruit him to take on DeWine, a moderate Republican whose support for gun control probably would have convinced the National Rifle Association to endorse Hackett (who departs from the liberal orthodoxy on guns). More recently, however, these same Democrats decided that they stood a better chance of victory if they rallied behind Rep. Sherrod Brown, whose lifetime voting record is to the left of Dennis Kucinich’s (according to the American Conservative Union). In reality, Hackett just couldn’t hack it–by the end of last year, Brown had led him in fundraising by a factor of ten. The insurgent exited the stage with his trademark bluster: “First, my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and now my party is afraid to support candidates like me.”

#-#During Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings, we heard lots of chatter (again) about the alleged “extremism” of the Federalist Society. But what about the American Bar Association? An ABA council just voted to approve a new standard for law-school accreditation, stating that law schools “shall take concrete actions to enroll a diverse student body.” The standard adds, “The requirements of a constitutional provision or statute that purports to prohibit consideration of gender, race, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school’s non-compliance.” This comes dangerously close to demanding defiance of the law; in its most charitable interpretation, it requires law schools to take aggressive steps toward race-based admissions, even when such steps subvert the spirit of legal equality. And that’s not all. The same ABA council has been passing resolutions calling on Congress to pursue various left-wing projects: to create a commission to study the present-day effects of American slavery; “to provide federal recognition and to restore self-determination to Native Hawaiians”; and to kill legislation that would regulate same-sex foster parents. All that remains is to elect Howard Dean their chairman.

#-#Arsonists attacked ten rural Baptist churches in Alabama during a span of eight days earlier this month. That would seem to be a pattern, but investigators and interest groups are saying there’s no evidence that these are “hate crimes.” It could of course turn out that the crimes are not motivated by antipathy toward southern Baptists–but if ten mosques had been burned instead of ten churches, would anyone be so cautious about jumping to conclusions? We don’t support hate-crime laws–a crime is a crime is a crime–but the reflexive need to dissociate the Alabama burnings from any “hate” reveals less about the difficulty of divining a scofflaw’s motives than about the hypocrisy inherent in hate-crime designations. But if investigators are unwilling to ascribe motivations to the arsonists, the victims aren’t quite as timid. Jim Thrasher, a member of one of the torched congregations, told USA Today that “whoever did this is looking for a front-row seat in hell.” That’s hard to dispute.

#-#ABC newswoman Elizabeth Vargas this week announced her unexpected pregnancy. Asked by a reporter if an assignment in Iraq–where her colleague Bob Woodruff was recently critically injured–is in her future, Vargas sensibly replied: “Any war zone is off the table… Even if I might be willing to go to Iraq right now, somebody else’s life hangs in the balance.” “Life”? She’s talking about a fetus! Mother Vargas’s diction probably automatically disqualified her for any media-woman-of-the-year award from the feminist sisterhood. On behalf of those who can’t, we thank her.

#-#There never was an icon of American manhood to compare with the cowboy. For decades, from Tex Ritter and Hopalong Cassidy, though Gary Cooper and John Wayne, down to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, these rugged, self-reliant heroes rode and swaggered across our movie and TV screens, teaching us the elements of justice, honor, chivalry, and manliness. Alas, when we lost our national innocence, around 1968, we lost the cowboy too. Nowadays these slow-talkin’, fast-drawin’ legends of the old West are remembered, if at all, as pathetic symbols of a vanquished patriarchy, probably addled with insecurity, neurosis, and shameful secret longings. At least, that was the image presented in Brokeback Mountain–and now, too, in the latest production by aging Texas country singer Willie Nelson: “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other).” The song has lines like: “What did you think all them saddles and boots was about?” and “Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” John Wayne, thou shouldst be living at this hour. America has need of thee.

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