Politics & Policy

Window on The Week — 11/17/06

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of some 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.

‐ “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” said Calvin Coolidge. As congressional Republicans prepare to play defense, they might take heed of the 30th president’s advice (which was tendered to his father on Coolidge Sr.’s election to the Vermont state senate in 1910). Go defense!

‐ She didn’t have to do it. If Nancy Pelosi hadn’t publicly stated her support for John Murtha’s majority-leader bid, it could have been assumed. Murtha ran Pelosi’s race for minority whip in 2001 — against the man who defeated him earlier this week, Steny Hoyer — and has been a loyal ally ever since. What’s more, two of Murtha’s most vocal supporters are veteran California congressmen George Miller and Anna Eshoo — who happen to be two of Pelosi’s closest friends in Congress. Had Pelosi not gone public with her support — and had Murtha won — it would have been another testament to her savvy at playing the inside game. The stories, fed by ample leaks, would have been headlined: “Pelosi Works Backchannels; Gets Her Man for Number Two Slot.” On the other hand, had Murtha lost after Pelosi maintained some level of public neutrality, she would have had plausible deniability about her involvement. Now she has wrecked her honeymoon on what was always a long shot. But there’s a silver lining for the new Speaker: At least she won’t have video of her majority leader conspiring to accept bribes from Arab sheikhs playing on endless loop for the next two years.

‐ Trent Lott is back in the GOP Senate leadership, as the new minority whip. There are some good arguments for his return: He’s a great vote counter, a master of the Senate’s arcane ways, and a team player. Other arguments are less good but not wholly without merit: The White House unfairly threw Lott under the bus for its own purposes following his Strom Thurmond gaffe; he has paid a steep enough price for a small mistake; it’s the Senate’s prerogative to declare its independence; etc. But all these arguments miss a bigger point: Lott is not what the GOP needs right now. Fair or not, he symbolizes the image that cost the GOP its majority. He is a pork-barrel politician first, last, and forever. He sees being in the Senate leadership as akin to being the recording secretary of the local country club, and his public comments often seem aimed at his colleagues rather than the wider world (he coined that albatross of a phrase “the nuclear option”). Lott’s rehabilitation represents justice for him, but not for those to whom falls the task of rebuilding the GOP’s shattered majority.

‐ As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter bent over backward to make the committee’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy, happy. Specter reached a deal with House Republicans over the Patriot Act, for example, and then walked away from it when Leahy objected. Now that Leahy will run the committee, no doubt Republicans can expect the same solicitude. Right? Republicans who have less faith in human nature should consider whether Specter, having negotiated so poorly when Republicans were in a position of strength, will negotiate better from a position of weakness — and whether he ought to remain the top Republican on the committee.

‐ We know that Iran does not fear the West, but rarely have events permitted it a display of brazenness to match this week’s. Tony Blair said that Iran could be the West’s “partner for peace” if it stopped sponsoring terrorism in Iraq and forswore its nuclear program. Notwithstanding hopeful media reports to the contrary, this did not signal a split between Washington and London: Blair’s demands of Iran are the same as Washington’s, even if his is more likely (read: naïve enough) to believe that Iran will do as he wishes. But scarcely had Blair stopped speaking when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied with an unequivocal slap down. Iran will soon master all phases of nuclear-fuel production, he said, and nothing will persuade it to change course. In other words: Why should we make a deal with you, Mr. Prime Minister, when you’re obviously bluffing? It is not too late for the U.S. and its allies to decide that they are not, after all, bluffing; but midnight fast approaches.

‐ A clip posted on the Google Video website claimed that the Iranian city of Tabriz is actually in Azerbaijan. Iranian officials were incensed that part of their country had been wiped off the map, so to speak. Samad Mohmen Bela, an official at the Iranian ministry of information technology, blustered, “This act is a typical example of interference in the affairs of another country.” Iran, of course, would never interfere in the affairs of another country. Just ask the Iraqis.

‐ Al-Jazeera launched on Wednesday an English-language network in America and around the world. The station has even attracted a small crew of American journalists to produce some of its shows. David Marash, an American Jew who will anchor one of its daily broadcasts, defended his decision to work for al Qaeda’s megaphone thus: “Even if you think about it in the most adversarial way, you want to know your enemy, and a lot of people consider themselves our enemy, so better we should know what’s on their minds than to pretend it isn’t there.” Has he any misgivings at all about broadcasting anti-American and anti-Jewish venom? Apparently not: “Hate speech is part of the dialogue of the Middle East. To censor or to exclude it would be to lose all credibility” with al-Jazeera’s audience. Well now, we couldn’t have that. No satellite networks have picked up the new station, and cable companies are similarly leery. Their executives apparently lack Mr. Marash’s high-minded devotion to truth.

‐ The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (RCOG), a prestigious British medical association, has recommended that consideration be given to allowing euthanasia for seriously ill and deformed newborn babies. The assumption that necessarily precedes an argument in favor of such a practice is obvious — namely, that certain human beings would be better off killed. It is an assumption that should be intolerable in the medical profession. Of course, doctors have already accepted it in principle. John Harris, a professor of bioethics at Manchester University, points out the logic of the RCOG’s proposal: “We can terminate [pregnancy] for serious foetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?” His reasoning is consistent — and it leads all the way to infanticide.

‐ If you’re going to public school in San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. On Tuesday, the city’s school board voted to banish the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) from its high schools. As an assembly of tearful cadets looked on, opponents of the program broke into loud applause. Against JROTC, they had made two chief arguments: first, that the military unjustly discriminates against gays, thereby forfeiting its right to participate in public schooling; and second, that the program deceptively lures unsuspecting children into a career of military service. But the cheering was inspired by a much deeper conviction. As a former teacher in the audience explained, “We need to teach a curriculum of peace.” San Francisco is a city of pacifists who feel animosity toward America and are wholly ignorant of the means by which peace is secured. Their banning of JROTC is as shameful as it is unsurprising.

‐ If all economists were like Milton Friedman, their trade never would have earned a reputation as “the dismal science.” Friedman was not only an accomplished academic who earned a Nobel Prize for his ideas about monetarism — a provocative challenge to the interventionist assumptions of Keynesianism — but also the very definition of a public intellectual. With Capitalism and Freedom, a short book that promotes 19th-century classical liberalism and skewers 20th-century socialism, Friedman began to win admirers outside of scholarly circles. He became a powerful evangelist for freedom, advising presidents and prime ministers, writing a column for Newsweek, and hosting what may be the most influential television documentary ever broadcast: Free to Choose, which also became a best-selling book. Friedman never shied away from pressing questions of policy: In the 1960s, he was a strong voice for the all-volunteer military. He also called for a flat tax, deregulation, and drug legalization. The issue that may have concerned him most, however, was education. He proposed a market-based system of school choice in 1955, long before the idea captured the imagination of others. In 1996, he and his wife Rose — an intellectual co-conspirator who is a skillful economist in her own right — established the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to promote parental choice in education. With his death on Wednesday, at the age of 94, liberty has lost a great friend and champion. R.I.P.

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