Politics & Policy

Window on the Week – 6/9/06

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–this week, in abbreviated form in observance of Memorial Day weekend. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# Hawaii will remain intact for now, despite the best efforts of Sen. Daniel Akaka. After a contentious debate over his bill–which would have established a sovereign government entity for “native Hawaiians”–the Senate came up four votes short of the 60 required for cloture. Opponents emphasized that the new entity would be strictly racial in nature, and would undermine the fundamental American belief in E Pluribus Unum. The Bush administration echoed these criticisms in a letter condemning the bill. Proponents responded with little more than hollow platitudes about healing the wounds America has supposedly inflicted on Hawaiians. It is a sign of the times that spurious charges of racism and imperialism can prompt legislative action, but we can take comfort knowing that there are still lawmakers with the will to resist grievance peddlers. Let us hope we have seen the last of the Akaka bill.

#-# The Senate voted against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Sen. John McCain justified his “no” vote by saying that he did not see any imminent threat that federal judges would impose same-sex marriage on the country, and that voters in the states could remedy any overreaching by state judges. Sen. Judd Gregg, who had backed the amendment previously, said that he no longer worried that the Massachusetts high court’s activism would spill over state borders. As the cause of same-sex marriage advances in the courts, more senators might come to see the urgency of enacting an amendment. We hope that it will not be too late by then.

#-# The victory of Republican Brian Bilbray in this week’s special election to fill an empty House seat representing San Diego was by no means inevitable. The seat was left vacant following the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal; Bilbray is a former congressman who became a lobbyist (not a popular way to make a living); Democratic nominee Francine Busby ran an energetic and well-funded campaign; and national polls continue to suggest that Democrats will fare well this fall. Yet Busby attracted only 45 percent of the vote–not much better than John Kerry did in 2004, when he carried 44 percent of the district. Republicans would be wrong, however, to assume that they can rest easy: Bilbray prevailed in large measure because the national GOP pumped $4.5 million into his campaign, which it will surely not be able to do for every candidate. But these candidates can make one useful observation about the win: Bilbray campaigned on the need for strong immigration enforcement; his opponent committed a fatal gaffe by telling a group of Hispanics, “You don’t need papers to vote.” The majority registered its preference.

#-# California voters delivered a well-deserved defeat to Proposition 82, a ballot referendum that would have created a multi-billion-dollar program for universal preschool in the state. What was expected to be a close call turned out to be a landslide, with support for the measure barely topping 39 percent at the polls. How heartening that, in a state so blue, voters were able to see through the proposal’s empty promises. Like so many other big-government initiatives, it was a monstrosity of statism and wasteful spending wrapped in a paper-thin layer of earnest idealism. In the ceaseless battle between the soothing of liberal consciences and the making of responsible policy choices, the right side carried this day.

#-# On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear a pair of cases involving racial preferences in its next term–the most important such cases since the Court accepted “diversity” as a legitimate pursuit of colleges and universities three years ago, when it ruled on the University of Michigan’s admissions system. There are two potentially significant differences this time: First, the cases involve K-12 education; second, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed (most significantly by the departure of wobbly Sandra Day O’Connor and her replacement by Samuel Alito, who is presumably more resolute). Interestingly, the lower courts in these cases both accepted race-based plans to assign students to schools, so there’s no conflict between circuit courts to be cleared up. And the justices tend not to hear cases that they wish merely to affirm. But nothing can be taken for granted. The Bush administration should commit itself to stopping the hard bigotry of racial bean counting by submitting amicus briefs that correct its shameful capitulation in the Michigan cases.

#-# Six years ago, we told President-elect Bush that majority whip Tom DeLay was his “most valuable asset in Congress.” The same has been true for the conservative movement during DeLay’s remarkable 22-year congressional career, which ended Thursday in a farewell speech on the House floor. Since being elected by his Houston district in 1984, DeLay has been a rare political figure–combining strong principles with a gift for organization and tactics. After the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, he provided both anchor and sails for the GOP caucus. During his eight years as majority whip, Republicans never numbered more than 236 and were once as few as 221, yet time and again DeLay was able to put together the 218 votes needed for victory. Frustrated Democrats paid tribute to this success by making him the chief target of their attacks. In a final act of loyalty, DeLay resigned his seat rather than risk losing the majority he had been so instrumental in creating and so dedicated to serving. He will be sorely missed.

#-# Harvard is going to get into the field of human cloning: creating human embryos for the purpose of stem-cell research that will kill them. News coverage of Harvard’s announcement has included the usual obfuscation. Some reporters have avoided the word “cloning” in favor of the phrase “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” and others have left it unclear that human embryos would be created by this transfer and killed afterward. Because some kinds of stem-cell research on human embryos poll well, Republicans have been wary of taking any stem-cell research on. But the public is still against cloning, and still against the deliberate creation of human embryos for research purposes, when the act is described in either of those ways. An industry in human cloning may develop in this country, but there is no good reason to be resigned to that outcome.

#-# Why would the U.S. back the offer of a light-water nuclear reactor to a country on its list of terror sponsors? The answer most charitable to the Bush administration is that the offer–part of a package of incentives that Europe, with U.S. blessing, has extended to Iran–will make it impossible for the mullahs to pretend their intentions are peaceful should they reject the deal. And American willingness to join negotiations with Iran if it suspends uranium enrichment might be necessary to win Security Council backing of eventual punitive action. But in the meantime we are trading something for nothing. Even if negotiations never happen, our offer to talk with the mullahs allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to claim that the West has bowed to the will of the “Iranian nation.” We have given the mullahs time to delay. We have strengthened their hand against Iranian democrats by conceding, in principle, that they can be treated as legitimate state actors. What reason is there to believe that their regime–whose strategic aim has always been to export Islamic revolution; whose modus operandi has always been terror–can now be tamed? If there is a good answer, we have yet to hear it.

#-# Islamic militants have driven U.S.-backed warlords out of Mogadishu and may be poised to turn Somalia into a Taliban-style state. It would be hard to overstate how bad this is. At least for now, the militants disclaim ties to al Qaeda, but these disclaimers are unconvincing, given al Qaeda’s history in Somalia. This history includes battling American forces and providing support for terrorists involved in both the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies and operations against Israeli targets in Kenya. The militants’ victory is a chance for al Qaeda to reestablish a stable base of operations–something it enjoyed in Sudan and Afghanistan during the years when it was most effective, and the subsequent absence of which has helped prevent terrorist attacks. Nor should we lose sight of the role of sharia courts in Somalia’s unrest. It is around the authority of Islamic law that jihadists rally. This should be borne in mind as we attempt to build democracy in Iraq–and in Afganistan, where we have curiously helped secure the continuing influence of sharia.

#-# Mark Malloch Brown, a Briton who serves as Kofi Annan’s deputy at the U.N., lashed out at the United States last Tuesday in a move even the New York Times called “highly unusual.” Malloch Brown attacked U.S. ambassador John Bolton’s policy of linking dues payment to management reforms at the U.N., as well as the Bush administration’s perceived tolerance for critics of Turtle Bay (here he singled out Rush Limbaugh and Fox News). But a little over a year ago, when asked whether he thought Fox News was waging a political campaign against the U.N., Malloch Brown replied, “What Fox News and many others have said, which was that there were failings in [the oil-for-food] program, is correct.” We watch the U.N. closely–but, unlike Mr. Malloch Brown, we somehow overlooked the moment when it attained infallibility.

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