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.

#-# Susan Sarandon will play Cindy Sheehan in a biopic. Could they just mail her the Oscar now?

#-# President Bush embarked on another campaign to sell the Iraq War, coinciding with its third anniversary. If high spirits alone were enough to restore faith in the war effort, Bush would have won the public-opinion battle this week. He was passionate, conversational, and confident. His most important speech was in Cleveland, where he described in detail the setbacks and progress in the western Iraqi town of Tal Afar over the last two years. It was a useful departure from his standard war rhetoric, which has been mind-numbingly repetitive and has emphasized continuity (“stay the course”) even though his administration’s approach in Iraq has been dynamic, reacting to changed conditions and lessons learned. Bush would be better off if, instead of endlessly re-litigating the war’s run-up and justification, he talked frankly and with as much specificity as possible about current conditions and how we intend to deal with them. People want to know there is a path to victory in Iraq–that is the key to attitudes to the war. The fact that, say, U.N. resolution 1441 passed unanimously is not relevant to this question. Unfortunately, the most persuasive arguments in the world won’t lessen sectarian violence or hasten the day of major U.S. troop withdrawals–the kind of indicators of progress that might make a big difference in American public opinion.

#-# Having repeatedly rapped the president for his secretiveness and unwillingness to take questions that aren’t pre-screened, the press hit him from the other direction this week. Bush held two town-hall meetings and a press conference. At all three, he answered tough questions about Iraq and the War on Terror–and criticized some of the media’s coverage in the process. The press repaid Bush by accusing him of declaring a “war on the media.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell exemplified this defensive attempt to change the subject when she wrote, “It’s a political strategy by a White House struggling with an unpopular war.” The president is supposedly insular and in a bunker. But when it comes to being thin-skinned about criticism, he’s nothing compared with the press.

#-# Speaking last week in Toledo, Ohio, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that having two women on the Court prior to the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor brought a sense of caring and concern to the bench. If Antonin Scalia had said it, he would have been denounced as a sexist. We’ve got nothing against caring and concern here–but we hope that all the justices primarily care about interpreting the Constitution correctly.

#-# Two more women’s deaths have been linked to RU-486, the combination of two drugs used to induce abortion. It may be that the fatalities are the result of the way Planned Parenthood clinics have been using the drugs rather than inherent dangers from the drugs themselves. And Planned Parenthood has rushed to assure us that RU-486 is statistically safer for women than continued pregnancy or surgical abortion. That may be so. But the FDA hasn’t taken that calm, cool approach when other drugs have been implicated in deaths. Palladone caused no deaths, but was merely suspected of posing a risk of death when combined with alcohol. It was pulled from the market last year. Marketing of Tysabri was suspended last year when it was linked to one death, even though many MS sufferers have no good substitutes for the drug. (The FDA is on the verge of letting it back on the market.) Elidel cream was forced to carry a cancer warning based on animal studies: again, no deaths. The FDA has merely issued a rather wimpy advisory about RU-486. Why the double standard? Why the lack of outcry from the usual “public-health advocates”? Those are the questions we would ask, if we did not already know the answers.

#-# The National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Fund have stayed true to their pro-abortion principles and endorsed Alan Sandals over the heavily favored Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania’s Senate Democratic primary. Their support for Sandals is noticeably tepid: They are giving him only $5,000 apiece, which won’t go far to offset the $6 million Casey has already raised. Most Democrats, including ardent pro-choicers such as Howard Dean and Barbara Boxer, support Casey because they believe he’s the only member of their party who can beat GOP senator Rick Santorum. Dean has argued that Casey is more likely than Santorum to block conservative justices and thus to preserve Roe. Casey came out for local favorite Alito, but pro-life voters who are reassured by Casey’s position on abortion should keep Dean’s point in mind. And if they are tempted to hold Santorum’s endorsement of Arlen Specter against him, they should remember that Casey endorsed John Kerry.

#-# Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has gotten himself a bit of good press by “okaying” talks with the U.S. on stabilizing Iraq–but he warns that “if the talks mean opening a venue for bullying and imposition by the deceitful party, then it will be forbidden.” (No prizes for guessing which party is the deceitful one.) It’s hard to see this as a step forward. The U.S. has sought such talks for some time, and Iran’s sudden acquiescence is in all likelihood an insincere ploy to distract attention from its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Russia and China are trying to neuter a draft Security Council statement against that program, and a large part of the U.S. intelligence community believes that the Iranian government is providing al Qaeda a base of operation. The road ahead may be tough, but this is no time to go wobbly.

#-# Three years ago, students, professors, and locals marched from Harvard into Boston, beating drums and chanting in protest of the Iraq War. Last weekend at Harvard, there were sounds of a different sort. More than 100 students came out for the Iran Freedom Concert to support dissidents in that country and to draw attention to its oppressive regime. Between acts, various speakers addressed the crowd, including Iranian student activist Akbar Atri. They included the Harvard College Democrats, the Harvard Republican Club, Harvard’s conservative magazine, The Salient, and the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance. The despots in Tehran are not particularly discriminating about which human rights they deny, and the diversity of groups organizing the event reflected this.

#-# It could be the opening of a joke: “Have you heard the one about the Harvard dean, the Islamist, and David Duke?” But instead of walking into a bar, Stephen Walt–academic dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government–co-wrote a “working paper” claiming that a network of Jewish officials, lobbyists, journalists, and think-tankers, aided and abetted by some “neoconservative gentiles,” has seized control of U.S. foreign policy and manipulated us into invading Iraq. As scholarship, the paper isn’t much–conspiracy theory with sloppy fact-checking (it wrongly asserts that Israeli citizenship is based on “blood kinship”). But it does pick up on some favorite themes of anti-Semites. No wonder a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has praised it, and former Klansman David Duke is “surprised by how excellent it is.” We note that Duke has a Ph.D. in history from a Ukrainian university. Perhaps Walt could arrange a visiting professorship?

#-# They’re rioting on the streets of Paris, and tear gas is the scent of the season. Déjà vu all over again, isn’t it? Only a few weeks ago, the violence was countrywide, led by disaffected Arabs and Muslims. This time, the students are at it: They’ve shut down the Sorbonne, and they’ve got the unions to threaten a general strike. The young expect their first jobs to carry rights to tenure and compensation that make them virtually unsackable, and they feel so strongly that they are hurling rocks at the cops in the traditional manner. One direct consequence of the work benefits they wish to keep is that almost a quarter of the young are too expensive to employ–in some blighted areas the proportion of young unemployed rises to almost half. Prime Minister de Villepin is hoping to implement a law allowing employers to take on those under 26 without any protective rights. Since he’s in the running for president next year, he is expected to retreat under cover of some Napoleonic flourish presented as an advance. Even so limited a scope to hire and fire, the students and the unions say, is a surrender to the brutal practices of American capitalism, and nobody becomes le Président de la République on a platform like that.

#-# With Sarandon playing Sheehan in that biopic, there is yet more reason to feel sad when you replay your mental DVD of Bull Durham. What’s next: Sean Penn as the Yale Taliban? Denzel Washington as Moussaoui? If that’s far-fetched, it’s only a matter of degree–for, as conservative film blogger Jason Apuzzo argues, Hollywood has discovered that it no longer needs the heartland. Low-budget films can make tidy profits playing to blue-state audiences and the foreign anti-American market. Michael Moore led the way, but George Clooney is following. “Hollywood,” Apuzzo writes, “simply doesn’t need the Red States any more. Hollywood’s more interested in how a film plays in Mexico or France these days than in Kansas. . . . That’s the global economy for you–Hollywood’s now out-sourcing its audience.” Apuzzo’s solution: red-state producers who play the same game. The Passion of the Christ grossed $610 million on a budget of $30 million. So, who wants to put on a show?

#-# A psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley claims to have shown that whiny, insecure three- and four-year-olds are more likely to grow up to be conservatives, while confident toddlers grow up to be liberals. Not hard to believe, given that all the professor’s subjects were Berkeley kids. Anyone with a trace of innate conservatism would be whiny, being fed large quantities of tofu, supervised through “non-competitive play activities,” and forced to sing “Kumbaya” at the beginning of every lesson.


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