National Security & Defense

Barack of Israel, &c.

President Obama at the Adas Israel Congregation in May (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

So, according to David Axelrod, President Obama gets bent out of shape when people perceive him as unfriendly to Israel, or to Jews at large.

Again according to Axelrod, the president once described himself as “the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office.”

The mind reels with responses. I think I’ll choose just one: Does the Anti-Defamation League know about this?

‐Actually, I’m relieved that Obama gets bent out of shape when perceived as unfriendly to Israel or the Jews. One can think of politicians — and “civic leaders” — who would not get bent out of shape. Who would be basically fine with it.

‐As you know, Obama doesn’t want us to “get on our high horse.” And, by “us,” I mean Americans, or citizens of the broader Western world.

At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, Obama said, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often were justified in the name of Christ.”

More recently, he was talking to his go-to interviewer, at least on matters Middle Eastern: Jeffrey Goldberg, of The Atlantic. Goldberg asked him about the pending nuclear deal with Iran, in light of the insane anti-Semitism of that regime.

“Well,” said Obama, “the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival.” That’s true, as far as it goes.

Obama went on to say that “there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country” — i.e., America.

Deep strains? By the historical and global standards of anti-Semitism, those strains were mercifully shallow. You had to build your own country club, instead of getting into the established one, and they had a quota on you at Yale.

The Iranian mullahs could tell you about varsity anti-Semitism, as opposed to the JV kind. Our president often seems to be on a high horse of his own — a horse that has been inhaling the fumes of the Choom Gang.

‐What Obama is (among other things) is a perfect representative of the even-steven syndrome. I wrote about this syndrome in an essay for National Review a couple of months ago: here.

Everything has to be even-steven: I’m okay, you’re okay. I’m not okay, you’re not okay. Some Third World dictatorship is bad? Well, we’re bad too (or have been). The Nazis were evil? Well, what about our bombing of Dresden? And our atomic bombing of Japan?

I grew up with even-steven. So did Obama, obviously. And sometimes such balancing is right and polite and humble and justified (as I say in my essay). But the even-steven temptation can lead you into nutty equating . . .

‐Lately, I’ve been picking on an English teacher in Sacramento who refuses to teach Shakespeare to her students — because Shakespeare was white, and British, and her students are not. I’m going to pick on her some more, though this may constitute piling on.

I’ve already cited Maya Angelou, who said, “I was convinced that he was a little black girl,” meaning Shakespeare. Why did she have such a conviction? Because he knew exactly how she felt.

What doesn’t Shakespeare know?

I’d now like to call on W. E. B. Du Bois — who in his Souls of Black Folk said,

I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. . . . So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America?

I was led to this quotation by Norman Podhoretz, one of the best Shakespeareans I know. Another is Daniel Hannan — who’ll write about this issue soon, I think.

‐Du Bois was great, in many respects, but man did he love Stalin. I mean, all the commies did, but he really loved him.

‐I’m grateful to my colleague Stanley Kurtz, who is an intellectual and an activist — a force for much good. It’s he who alerted me to a serious problem in education. The College Board has established a new framework for advanced-placement U.S. history — a framework grossly skewed to the left.

But that’s not the end of the story: A formidable roster of historians and other scholars have made clear their opposition to this development. The roster includes those credits to Harvard, Stephan Thernstrom and Harvey Mansfield.

Our side — if I may put it that way — wants a “warts and all” presentation of U.S. history. The College Board is more interested in warts only.

This is yet another educational skirmish, yes — but one important to the future of America. “Teach your children well” may be a lyric from a dippy hippie song, but it undoubtedly has a point.

‐Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week was something of a surprise. The chancellor, George Osborne, spoke for the government in the prime minister’s absence. Speaking for Labour — they do not have a leader yet — was Hilary Benn.

Son of. The son of Tony Benn, the famed aristocratic leftist. Hilary Benn spoke beautifully and seriously. Labour could be represented by far worse (and will be). Benn once said, amusingly but significantly, “I’m a Benn, but not a Bennite.” That is, he is part of the family, but he is not a leftist: more like a New Labourite, as I’m given to understand.

I was also amused to see that there was a peppy new Conservative MP named Johnny Mercer — just like the late American songwriter. This Johnny Mercer represents Plymouth. Whether he has any musical talent, I can’t tell you.

But surely he must know about our Johnny Mercer. Right?

‐In 2002, Congress passed a law saying that if you’re a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem, you can list Israel as your place of birth on your passport. The Supreme Court has now voided that law in a 6-3 ruling. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority and Justice Scalia wrote for the minority.

I haven’t read either opinion. But I think I’m pretty safe in saying I’m with Scalia.

“Stuff me, mount me, and vote me with Nino.” Remember that one? Know what that alludes to? (People joked that one of the liberal justices had said, “If I die, stuff me, mount me, and vote me with Brennan.”)

The PLO rejoiced in the Court’s decision. The Israeli government declined comment.

Our court entirely aside, I can say this, with confidence: The sooner the world accepts that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the sooner there will be genuine peace and coexistence in that region. To demand that Israel go back to its pre-1967 vulnerability is tantamount to demanding the end of Israel.

‐Two days ago, I was traveling from New York to Washington on an Amtrak train, and, shortly after we departed, the conductor came through saying, “Close the compartments.” In other words, passengers were supposed to close the compartments in which they had placed their luggage.

On airplanes, flight attendants do this, I believe. One reason must be: An individual passenger doesn’t know whether his fellow passengers have finished placing luggage in a particular compartment — unless the compartment is totally full.

The thought crossed my mind: If this were a private enterprise, rather than a government enterprise, would the conductor do that? I mean, people had paid something like $250 for this particular train.

‐Ralph Reed held a dinner for his Faith & Freedom Coalition. Reed is a wonder, for many reasons. He’s one of the most impressive politicos in the country, of course. But he is also eternally boyish — looking the same year after year.

He is sort of the Dick Clark of conservative politics. And a pleasure to be around (as is his entire family).

Giving a brief talk was Senator Lindsey Graham. His introducer said that Graham was the biggest vote-getter in South Carolina history. I said to the senator, “More than Strom?” He nodded his head. And said, “Don’t tell him, he’ll come back.”

A few months ago, I did a Q&A podcast with John McCain. I asked him about his well-known friendship with Graham. McCain said (I paraphrase), “One thing about Lindsey: He’s not dull. You can’t say that about many politicians. He’s entertaining as hell to be around.”

One can see that. Recently, I read an article in which Graham said that his speeches were “half stand-up.” Now I witnessed it for myself. Graham is really funny — and makes the most serious of points.

Two subjects he hit hard were abortion and the mullahs. He spoke in an interesting and, to me, original way about abortion: Mothers are encouraged to sing to their unborn children; at the same time, they are free to . . . do away with them. That’s a little weird, isn’t it?

About the mullahs, no politician is blunter: “religious Nazis.”

After Graham’s talk, there was a panel of three radio stars: Mike Gallagher, Michael Medved, and Bill Bennett. I moderated. They were all first-rate — smooth and smart. No wonder they’re stars of radio.

Bennett was funny as hell. We were talking about the police, and he said, “Let’s face it, I’m the only one up here who looks like a cop.” He’s a burly, tough Brooklyn kid. He added, “Not infrequently, I’ve been mistaken for my own security.”

After that, Charles Krauthammer spoke — after which we did a Q&A. Dr. K., too, is funny as hell. Dry, straight-laced, and deadly. The guy’s timing is magnificent.

Anyway . . .

‐I’ve got lots more for you, y’all, but I should wrap up. Want a language note? A language note coupled with a car note?

Okay. On the streets of D.C., I saw a car called “Protegé.” There ought to be two accents in that word — one over each “e.” But they just had the ending one. I suppose that’s justified. Sort of phonetic, in English.

That’s not a very interesting item to end on, is it? But ending I am. Have a great weekend.

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