Politics & Policy

Window on The Week — 12/7/06

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.

‐ With just two terms under his belt, Rep. Jeb Hensarling is already making his presence felt on Capitol Hill. Hensarling was just elected head of the Republican Study Committee. He hopes to use the conservative caucus to present an alternative vision to the new Democratic majority. But, as he’s proven in the House, he won’t be shy about criticizing his fellow Republicans when they stray from the values that got them to Washington in the first place. Hensarling also brings with him years of experience in the gritty business of winning elections. Principled conservatism and practical political experience: not a bad combination for a party looking to keep its time in the minority to a minimum.

‐ Rep. Steny Hoyer, who will be majority whip in the next Congress, announced that members of the House will henceforth be expected to work five days a week on Capitol Hill. This news met with grumbling from Republicans accustomed to a two-day work week. In 2006, the House kept to a schedule that went from late Tuesday afternoon to early Thursday afternoon, meeting for only 103 days — seven fewer than the infamous “Do Nothing” Congress of 1948. After winning the majority in 1994, the GOP operated on the theory that members who spend less time in Washington and keep their families back home are less likely to be seduced by the power and perks of political life. But plenty of Republicans — far too many — got seduced anyway. One reason people run for office is, presumably, their willingness to place the public good above their personal interests. Is a five-day work week really too great a sacrifice? Before complaining about their onerous duties, members of Congress should pause and consider the troops serving their third tour in Iraq.

‐ Nobody denies that the public schools in Louisville and Seattle discriminate against students on the basis of their skin color. The question that the Supreme Court must now address, after hearing oral arguments in two cases on December 4, is whether they have the right to do so. In 2003, a 5–4 Supreme Court decision permitted the University of Michigan to keep using an admissions procedure that is hard to distinguish from a racial-quota system. Last month, however, Michigan voters revolted against government-sponsored bean counting when they overwhelmingly approved a referendum that outlaws racial preferences. The Supreme Court of 2006, which added Samuel Alito and subtracted Sandra Day O’Connor, should take a cue from this blue-state majority, as well as from the true-blue voters of California and Washington, who also rejected color coding in the late 1990s. More important, the justices should look to the Constitution, which rejects the idea that the schoolhouse door should swing open or slam shut for someone simply because of how he matches up against a bureaucrat’s color wheel.

‐ The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would require abortionists to inform patients that an unborn child at 20 weeks’ gestation may feel pain, and to offer anesthesia for the child if the woman requests it. The bill split the abortion lobby, with Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation opposed and NARAL Pro-Choice America neutral. The House voted for the bill 250–162, but it needed two-thirds support to pass. There are federal laws that restrict the cruelty with which animals can be slaughtered. Unborn children have no such protection.

‐ The Australian parliament voted Wednesday to legalize human cloning for research purposes. The cloned embryos cannot be implanted in a womb and must be destroyed within 14 days. Anything else would be unethical . . . or unpleasant . . . or something. The leader of the opposition Labor party, Kevin Rudd, opposed the law, as did Prime Minister John Howard. Both spoke persuasively against it. “I find it difficult to support a legal regime,” said Rudd, “that results in the creation of a form of human life for the single and explicit purpose of conducting experimentation on that form of human life.” And Howard said, “There must be some absolutes in our society. To vote in favor of this bill is to embrace a relativism on society and its value of human life and what leads to it, which does, to use that cliché, get us terribly close if not on to the slippery slope.” Supporters of human cloning should engage these objections, rather than drown them out with more and more extravagant promises of the benefits to be derived from the research they favor.

‐ Six imams were supposed to fly last month on US Airways from Minneapolis to Phoenix. Before the flight, they were loudly praying in the terminal, erupting occasionally in cries of “Allah!” On the plane, they did not all sit in their assigned seats; two sat in the front, two in the middle, and two in the back — an arrangement similar to that of the 9/11 hijackers. Two asked for seatbelt extensions; neither appeared overweight, and each put his extension on the floor. They were heard condemning the U.S. and speaking of Osama bin Laden and Saddam. Predictably and understandably, they were escorted off of the flight by federal air marshals. Shortly thereafter, they were complaining to the media under the guidance of legal support provided by CAIR. Thus far, US Airways has concluded that the imams’ behavior was suspicious, and their removal proper. If their intent was to provoke a multitude of stories about discrimination against Muslims, they couldn’t have done better than this. Certainly not all Muslims are terrorists; certainly some are provocative fools.

‐ A newspaper editor in Yemen has been found guilty of denigrating Islam, for republishing the cartoons depicting Muhammad that sparked riots after they appeared in a Danish newspaper. Prosecutors had called for the death penalty, but the court found it sufficient to punish the editor, Muhammad al-Asadi, with a steep fine instead. Al-Asadi claimed that he only republished the cartoons to show his readers how insulting they were. Whatever his motivations may have been, he proved himself more courageous than CNN, the New York Times, and many other mainstream media outlets in the United States that refused to show the cartoons for fear of violent reprisals from enraged Muslims.

‐ We have long lamented that, while our nation’s campuses are supposed to be bastions of free inquiry and open debate, their postmodern stewards have transformed them into hotbeds of political correctness and petty authoritarianism. A recent study reveals just how bad the problem is: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reported this week that an overwhelming majority of colleges and universities (including 73 percent of public schools) ban speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Disguised as “harassment policies” and “sensitivity guidelines,” campus speech codes routinely ban “offensiveness,” “disrespect,” and “inappropriate comments.” Of course, the vagueness and subjectivity of these prohibitions allows them to be selectively applied against viewpoints that contravene the prevailing orthodoxies of the academy. At public universities, these speech codes may be unconstitutional. At private schools, they often contradict mission statements and advertisements that promise to uphold free expression. So the sad irony remains: If you want to have an uninhibited conversation about a controversial topic today, you’d better avoid college campuses.

‐ It’s official: New York City has banned trans fats in restaurants. The fats contribute to obesity and heart disease, and so — out they go. City restaurants will have a year and a half to replace them with other types of fats. In apologia, mayor Mike Bloomberg explained: “Nobody wants to take away your French fries and hamburgers — I love those things too. But if you can make them with something that is less damaging to your health, we should do that.” What he fails to consider is the profound difference between aspiring to healthiness and passing a law abridging people’s freedom to be unhealthy. Aside from impinging on the choices of diners, the new ban will add another layer of compliance costs to restaurateurs — most of whom are small-business owners already struggling under the weight of New York’s bloated nanny bureaucracy. Another rule to follow, and we wonder: Where will it end?

‐ Why did the Neanderthals go extinct more than 20,000 years ago? Scientists may never know for sure, though it almost certainly had something to do with the arrival of modern humans — the big bruisers just couldn’t keep up with their smaller cousins, who were better toolmakers and communicators. A new study by the University of Arizona’s Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner argues that the sexual division of labor also delivered a significant competitive advantage to our ancestors. The development of traditionally female roles involving skill-intensive crafts improved clothing and shelter, for instance, and thereby enhanced the overall fitness of the species. Among Neanderthals, by contrast, males and females appear to have participated in many of the same activities, such as big-game hunting. So the next time feminists say there should never be any difference between the roles of men and women, call them a bunch of paleos who threaten to turn back the clock on social progress.

See also our editorials this week on the Iraq Study Group, John Bolton, and Social Security.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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