Politics & Policy

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# We have a mixed record when it comes to analyzing the politics of the Dubai ports deal. We were wrong when we suggested two weeks ago that a 45-day delay could calm the political storm and give a chance for facts, not fear-mongering, to prevail. Polls showed a majority of the public persistently opposed to the deal and Democrats were determined to use the controversy to redefine themselves as more concerned about national security than President Bush. Many Republicans resolved not to be on the wrong side of public opinion in a partisan divide. So, we were correct, unfortunately, when we said last week that the deal was shaping up as a political debacle for the White House, and that the administration would be well-advised to find a way to jettison it sooner rather than later. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee confirmed this judgment by voting 62-2 to block DP World’s new role at terminals at six U.S. ports. The vote appears to have been the nail in the deal’s coffin. The next morning, congressional leaders advised the president that the deal would certainly be repudiated by both Houses. Later that day, Dubai Ports World pulled out, agreeing to allow a U.S. firm to do the actual port management. A participant in the meeting with the president explained that he understood the political reality, telling the New York Times, “Look, the president didn’t fall off a turnip truck.” But he was run over by one when he failed to anticipate the reaction to the Dubai Ports World deal–and his own defiant response to the brewing backlash raised the stakes and congressional temperatures. The port terminals in question will come under new management and the episode will increase calls for some new management in the Bush administration.

#-# It was an anti-climatic end to the great Patriot Act debate. After all the heated rhetoric, opponents bowed to the public’s will and voted for reauthorization in overwhelming numbers. Still, the across-the-board renewal of all provisions that were scheduled to sunset is a major victory for national security and a tribute to President Bush’s leadership. The administration faced down an often slanderous anti-Patriot campaign. The result is a proper balancing: deferential to individual rights but giving pride of place to public safety. Civil-liberties protections, such as the ability to seek judicial review of demands for information, are shored up. On the whole, however, vital investigative improvements are preserved. The infamous “wall” will stay down, meaning agents will be free to compare notes and develop a more complete threat mosaic. Procedures for monitoring terrorists (including roving wiretaps) and cutting off their funding streams will remain in place. And rules for delayed notification (or “sneak-and-peek”) search warrants have been sensibly standardized. The Patriot Act has been central to avoiding a repetition of 9/11. Its preservation is a much-needed political victory for the White House and, more significantly, a security victory for the American people.

#-# The Supreme Court dismantled the protests of liberal law professors in an 8–0 ruling against a challenge to the Solomon Amendment. The law schools want to be able to exclude military recruiters from campus as a way of protesting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The amendment denied federal funding to universities that refuse to give military recruiters equal access to their campuses. The professors claimed that the law violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. The Court ruled that this was a ridiculous claim. The plaintiff in the case was the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, or FAIR. Of course, if universities could be counted on to act fairly, the Solomon Amendment would never have been necessary. The spoiled princes of academia cannot bear even the least offense against liberalism within their ivory towers. It is more important to them that they be allowed to take their puerile stands in behalf of homosexuality than that the military be allowed to recruit the men and women it needs to defend our country. Fortunately for the military (and for the rest of us), what they find even more important is money.

#-# The New York Times reports, based on its study of six states, that parental-consent and parental-notification laws do not reduce abortion as a percentage of pregnancies. The methodology is uncannily reminiscent of Glen Harold Stassen’s 2004 finding that abortion rates had increased under President Bush. In both cases, the researchers relied on state health departments’ statistics rather than the more authoritative numbers of the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control. In both cases, the researchers looked at only a handful of states. Stassen’s work is now universally discredited. The Times writers’ similarly counterintuitive result almost surely will follow suit. Michael New, a professor at the University of Alabama, has looked at CDC numbers for all the states and found that parental-involvement laws have contributed to substantial declines in the abortion rate for minors. And just three days after the Times ran its story, The New England Journal of Medicine ran a study showing that a Texas parental-notification law had brought the abortion rate down among minors. We need not wait for a more thorough debunking to reach the provisional conclusion that the Times got this question wrong.

#-# The Pew Hispanic Center reported this week that there are 11.5 to 12 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. Some will point to the magnitude of the illegal-alien problem as a rationale for the kind of guestworker program and amnesty that President Bush and so many senators–Specter, McCain, Kennedy, and others–are promoting. After all, we can’t deport them all, and there are jobs Americans won’t do. The new report suggests otherwise. It found that most illegals are relatively recent arrivals and thus not deeply rooted here, supporting our contention that tough interior enforcement can compel a large share of illegal immigrants to deport themselves. Also, while it will surprise no one that illegal immigrants make up a significant portion of the workforce in certain occupations–24 percent in farming, 17 percent in cleaning, and so on–the study indicates that even in these occupations, the overwhelming majority of workers even in those occupations are here legally. There goes the argument that we need illegal aliens “to do jobs Americans won’t.” Finally, it seems that more than 40 percent of illegals are women, mostly of child-bearing age–which suggests that a “temporary” worker program will be nothing of the sort, since any children foreign workers might have here will automatically become U.S. citizens, making their departure (voluntary or coerced) highly unlikely.

#-# The headline on the Associated Press story reads, “Vanity Fair: Bush Had Ties to Abramoff.” The story begins, “Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff says President Bush knew him well enough to joke with him about weightlifting. ‘What are you benching, buff guy?’ Abramoff says Bush asked him. The president has said he doesn’t know Abramoff.” There you have it: The AP is saying, as clearly as it can, that Bush is lying. But did anyone actually read the Vanity Fair article? Far from showing the closeness of Abramoff and the president, the story instead reveals the flimsiness of Abramoff’s story. Abramoff shows Vanity Fair writer David Margolick his pictures with the president; we don’t see them, but they sound like the sort of grip-and-grin shots the White House has described. Abramoff quotes the “buff guy” line, which sounds to us like the sort of standard Bush grip-and-grin patter that the president has used at a million photo-ops. And Abramoff again mentions his invitation to Bush’s ranch, which, we know from other accounts, was an invitation to a 350-guest fundraising gathering–not exactly the intimate affair Abramoff would like you to think. Later in the Vanity Fair story, Abramoff himself seems to downplay his ties to Bush, referring to his “so-called relationship” with the president and “the very few times” he was at the White House; it seems that even he realizes he doesn’t have much to show. For months now, Democrats have been working overtime to connect Bush with the world’s most disgraced lobbyist. Based on what is in Vanity Fair, that just won’t work.

#-# The first big election of 2006 took place on Tuesday in Texas . While most of the mainstream media was hoping that Tom DeLay might get forced into a runoff in the primaries there (in the event, he handily beat three opponents), Democrats were waging a pitched battle in the 28th congressional district. Two years ago, Henry Cuellar beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in the primary by 58 votes. This time, Cuellar was the incumbent and Rodriguez the challenger. Although the contest was something of a personal grudge match, it also had wider implications: Cuellar is a moderate who supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement and wants to abolish the death tax, while Rodriguez comes from the left wing of his party. The Club for Growth endorsed Cuellar–the first time the pro-growth group has backed a Democrat–and the Bush-hating blogosphere rallied behind Rodriguez. When all the votes were counted, Cuellar came out on top. Republicans, who aren’t running a candidate against Cuellar in November, will now retain an occasional ally whose defeat would have signaled to others in his party that cooperating with the GOP is an unforgivable apostasy. It’s a small victory for conservatives–and also for sensible Democrats.

#-# We’d venture that the United Nations is particularly adept at only two things: making simple, obvious solutions to global problems infinitely complex; and taking grave issues and covering them with the tritest of wrapping paper. Both of these skills were on full display this week when the U.N. announced a malaria-awareness-raising event called “Dunk Malaria,” in which fans at a New York Knicks game could help the cause with a “small dunk of a little basketball directed toward a mini-basket.” Trite? Definitely. Funny? Not at all. The U.N. itself has been at the forefront of the movement to ban the most effective solution to malaria: DDT. Though the pesticide has been a bogeyman for almost 50 years, it remains the cheapest, most effective weapon against malaria. It was responsible for the disease’s eradication in the United States and Europe; sprayed correctly–indoors–it is almost 100-percent effective, and of no harm to people or the environment; studies estimate that DDT is directly responsible for saving 500 million lives; et cetera; et cetera. The U.N. continues to ignore the one solution that ought to be child’s play, and instead it chooses to play like a child, mini-balls and all.

#-# Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1996 and 2000, has died at the age of 72. In his earlier life he made a reputation as an author and investment adviser–and then he ran for office. His simple campaign platform rested on the pillars of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the promise of the free market. He was doomed from the beginning. He proclaimed: “It is obvious that no Democrat or Republican is ever going to stop the relentless growth of the federal government. Only a Libertarian is going to set you free.” But Browne was not the man to do it. Promising to legalize heroin, eliminate public schools, and eviscerate national entitlement programs, he was forever blazing new trails in the alienation of the electorate. Henry Clay, who lost five bids for the presidency, is famous for his line that he would rather be right than president. The trick, of course, is to be both, and Browne never came close. His commitment to the principles of liberty was inspiring, just as his lack of resonance among voters was mostly depressing. R.I.P.

#-# FX has begun airing a six-part reality series, Black.White., in which–through the miracles of modern makeup–a black family becomes white and a white family becomes black. The idea is that each will see how the other half (or whatever the right percentage now is) lives. It would be unwise to pronounce the show proof of anything: After all, for instance, the camera will distort behavior, and the editing process must magnify whatever incidents or possible incidents there are (or else the audience will go to sleep or, worse, change channels). Based on the first episode, there is a dispute among the participants about how much–or, even, if any–discrimination has been observed. But let’s assume that, as the black dad asserts, when he was black a shoe clerk would just hand him the shoes and let him put them on, but now that he’s white, for the first time the clerk puts the shoes on for him. This is quite a different world from John Howard Griffin’s 1960 book Black Like Me that is the show’s prototype. Then to become black meant that you were blatantly denied access to all manner of opportunities, services, and accommodations–and, indeed, risked jail and violence if you stepped out of line. It’s not just a matter, then, of whether in 2006 the glass is now half full or half empty–it’s 7/8ths full, and that’s great news.


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