‐ We liked limousine liberals better when they paid for their own cars.
‐ Former senator Tom Daschle, who withdrew his nomination to serve as secretary of health and human services, faced three problems. First, he violated the standards of the man who nominated him. President Hope and Change promised to chase lobbyists from the temple, but Daschle has earned millions lobbying since he lost his Senate seat in 2004, a quarter million of that in fees from the health-care industry that he had been asked to regulate. Second, he was a tax cheat. Daschle got another $250,000 worth of service between 2005 and 2007 from a car and driver provided by a big Democratic contributor, none of which he declared on his tax returns. Third, he was a weasel. Daschle asked his accountant about his car and driver in June 2008 — just the moment when Barack Obama wrapped up the nomination and Daschle began sniffing for a job. High office: the Democrats’ incentive for tax compliance. The Senate overlooked Timothy Geithner’s tax troubles because the times required the right man at Treasury. The Left requires the right man at HHS, to disperse its vast funds to their pet causes, but that argument was insufficient for the scandalized public.
‐ Geithner, whose offenses were worse, should be dismissed. He is an eminent example of our new two-tiered tax code — one law for us yokels, another, more generous system for politically connected friends of Barack Obama. Geithner failed to pay various self-employment taxes in spite of the fact that his employer paid him many thousands of dollars to offset those very taxes (what, your employer doesn’t give you an allowance to make up for your taxes?) and in spite of the fact that, upon accepting that money, Geithner signed a form reading: “I hereby certify that all the information contained herein is true to the best of my knowledge and belief and that I will pay the taxes for which I have received tax allowance payment.” Perhaps most galling is that Geithner made good on some of his debts but declined to pay his 2001–02 taxes, an offense for which the statute of limitations had conveniently expired. Now you know why Democrats don’t worry about tax hikes — even, or especially, on the rich.
‐ While campaigning for president, Barack Obama repeatedly pledged that lobbyists “won’t find a job in my White House.” With the election over, he soon learned that excluding people who are knowledgeable in their fields simply because they made money off that knowledge is no way to build a staff. So he set his assistants to work manufacturing loopholes, and by late January National Journal reported that Obama had “nominated two recent lobbyists to high-level administration posts, and 14 of the 112 White House staffers that Obama had named had been registered as lobbyists at some point since 2005.” Anyone who wants the president to hire the best people available should indulge him in this mild reversal. The only thing about it that rankles is the hypocrisy.
‐ President Obama took a swipe at Rush Limbaugh, telling Republicans whom he’d brought into the White House to discuss the stimulus bill that “you can’t just listen” to him “and get things done.” Obama thinks he is being clever, making a broadcaster the voice of the GOP. In fact he has outfoxed himself. We deeply admire Rush Limbaugh, but he is a journalist, as are we. The president and a small circle of other politicians belong to a different class. When they want to dis us, they should dispatch some hatchet man — a press secretary, a vice president — to do the work. For all his famous cool, Obama showed himself to be a wee bit callow and petty — qualities that will be neither endearing nor useful over the long haul.
The Second Coming of Keynes
As the world’s economy has entered a dramatic slowdown, an interesting Keynesian revolution has taken shape. Up until recently, there was wide consensus among macroeconomists that activist fiscal policy was inadvisable. Princeton University’s Alan Blinder, for example, wrote in 2004 that “virtually every contemporary discussion of stabilization policy by economists — whether it is abstract or concrete, theoretical or practical — is about monetary policy, not fiscal policy.” Blinder went on presciently to question this consensus, but even he cautioned against relying too much on spending, stating that “if Congress decides to stimulate economic activity by building more public infrastructure, the natural spend-out rate of such programs will probably be very slow.”
President Obama’s economists have disputed that consensus. It was recently reported, for example, that Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors, said “aggressive, well-designed fiscal stimulus is critical to reversing this severe decline.” The New York Times helpfully added: “The vast majority of the nation’s economists agree that one is necessary, and soon.”
Statements such as these have been echoed by economists throughout the Obama administration, and by the new director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, in recent congressional testimony. This apparent unanimity has had an enormous effect on the design of the current stimulus package, which calls for massive spending increases along with tax cuts.
The statements are not, strictly speaking, true. Monetary policy has pushed the economy as far as it can, but fiscal policy need not rely only on the Keynesian bag of temporary tricks.
The accompanying chart documents how dramatic this turn of events has been. It tracks the increase in government spending that occurred in each past recession (in blue) and the increase planned for the current recession. For scaling, all numbers are expressed relative to overall GDP. Until this year, the biggest countercyclical government-spending program in history was in the 1981–82 recession, when government spending increased by a bit more than 2 percent of GDP. In this recession, the increase will be approximately three times that.
The truth is that there is very little empirical support for policies such as these. They will likely provide a small boost, at an enormous cost. When the boost is gone, the cost will remain.
For those economists who are more skeptical of the theories of John Maynard Keynes, there is but one consolation: An experiment this large will provide ample opportunity for study.
‐ Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, won the race to be chairman of the Republican National Committee. The optimistic way of looking at it is that there is a lot of upside potential: The party has far to go in its deployment of technology, fundraising, and organization. He needs, moreover, to remoralize Republicans, and fast. The party suddenly finds itself with many opportunities to take Senate seats in 2010: in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, New York, and North Dakota. Nobody expects Steele to bring about victory in all of those states, but he can reasonably be asked to back serious challenges in each of them.
‐ It’s a story out of Shakespeare, with dialogue by Mamet. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich came up through the same Chicago political machine as Barack Obama, but unfortunately lacked Obama’s discretion — as well as his eloquence and talent for useful ambiguity. When FBI wiretaps recorded the Evo Morales — coiffed governor openly hawking Obama’s vacated Senate seat like a coprolaliac Wrigley Field vendor, his political career collapsed as suddenly and shockingly as the 2003 Cubs. Blago had committed the one sin deemed unforgivable in Illinois politics: getting caught. Even his wife, Patti (revealed on the tapes to share her husband’s taste in adjectives), took a fall, as she was suddenly deemed incapable of performing her well-paid job with a Chicago charity. But all is not lost: Although Blago had to take a haircut on his salary, a generous and non-forfeitable $64,000 annual state pension sweetens his departure.
‐ The ascent of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat sought, then not sought, by Caroline Kennedy, puts the baroque calculations of Albany on the national stage. Gillibrand, a 42-year-old veteran of all of one House term, has an air of freshness, belied by a family history of politicking: She interned for Al D’Amato, her father was a lobbyist, her grandmother was what the New York Times calls a “confidant” of Albany mayor-for-life Erastus Corning. Sen. Charles Schumer pushed Gillibrand as a pro-gun pol (NRA rating: 100 percent) who could carry upstate. But unless she moves left, she will face a primary challenge from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who got into politics because her husband was murdered and her son wounded by a crazed gunman on the Long Island Railroad. That might open room for a strong Republican challenger — best would be Rep. Peter King — but the New York GOP has been lacking strength recently, as Democratic control of the governorship, both senate seats, 25 out of 29 house seats, and both houses of the state legislature attests.
‐ A lead sentence in a Washington Post article deserves to enter the annals of political-reporting history: “Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of ‘petty grievances,’ President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.” We guess media bias isn’t one of those “childish things” to be put away.
‐ An article from the Associated Press focused on a little-covered aspect of Obama’s greatness: “Rick Bayless,” a Chicago chef, “says Obama’s comfortable demeanor at the table — slumped contentedly in his chair, clearly there to enjoy himself — bodes well for the nation’s food policy. While former President George W. Bush rarely visited restaurants and didn’t often talk about what he ate, Obama dines out frequently and enjoys exploring different foods.” Three questions: Why didn’t they just say that Bush liked Velveeta? The nation has a food policy? Why don’t they just title all articles “President Obama Better than Bush in Every Conceivable Way”?
‐ Obama has changed one more thing: Business casual is acceptable in the White House on weekends, and he takes his jacket off in the Oval Office when he cranks up the thermostat. (Spokesman David Axelrod attributed Obama’s appetite for heat to his Hawaiian background, though wouldn’t all those winters in Chicago have frozen it out of him?) One must not judge presidents by appearance alone: One spectator at Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural in 1861 found outgoing president James Buchanan “undeniably the more presentable man.” Recent Democrats have run to informality: Carter in his sweaters, Clinton . . . well, you know. They speak to the populist pole of the job, and of American politics. Be careful what you discard, however — for there are times of stress, anger, and backlash, when any president longs for whatever additional support a slight air of ceremony confers.
‐ Al-Arabiya, the Arab satellite channel based in Dubai, obtained the first televised interview of the Obama administration. The point no doubt was to emphasize that he himself has Muslim roots, and therefore is well placed to deal with the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden and other Islamists included. He called for a relationship with Muslims “based on mutual respect and mutual interest.” His job, he elaborated, is “to communicate that Americans are not your enemy.” But who, within the reach of rational conversation, ever thought they were? In one military campaign after another, the United States has been liberating Muslim populations from oppression and autocracy. In this interview, Obama also went out of his way to reaffirm the previous administration’s policy of working for the establishment of Palestine, yet another Muslim state-to-be. Obama admitted past mistakes and misdeeds on the part of the United States, and al-Arabiya didn’t quite complete its scoop by getting him actually to apologize for them, but it certainly served to whet expectations.
‐ The stimulus package is a magic hat out of which Democrats pull rabbits to feed to their pet causes. Nancy Pelosi, worried about the state of children’s health, hit upon an ingenious solution: fewer children. To that end, she attempted to fertilize the stimulus package with “family planning” funds and offered this gem of an explanation: “Well, the family-planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those — one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” Pelosi’s view of children is disturbingly instrumentalist, but even taken on her own terms it is backward: True, having fewer children today means fewer future users of children’s health services. But it also means fewer future workers, future taxpayers, future contributors to the national good of all kinds. Pelosi’s views make sense only if one thinks children are a net loss to the country. Republicans were right to insist that the “family planning” funds be extracted from the bill. One frivolous provision down, many to go.
‐ Democrats in Congress put provisions into the stimulus bill that would prohibit the procurement of foreign-made steel and iron for use in most of the bill’s infrastructure projects. Such “Buy American” provisions are doubly damaging: They force higher prices on consumers and invite retaliation from our trading partners. The last time the government intervened to help the steel industry — the steel tariffs of 2002 — the EU promptly drew up a list of products it planned to hit with $2.2 billion worth of retaliatory sanctions. The Bush administration reversed course in the face of disaster, and the head of the steelworkers union was furious. “Our trading partners obviously engaged the administration in a game of guts poker,” he said. “Instead of telling them to ‘bring it on,’ the president blinked.” Who cares how many American exporters would have lost their jobs due to crippling sanctions, right? Expect such ignorant rhetoric to resurface now that Obama has voiced his opposition to the idea of starting a trade war in the midst of a recession.
‐ President Obama has boldly followed through on his commitment to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay — sort of. His executive order promises that the facility will be closed within a year, a non-binding deadline he could extend simply by signing another order. And when Gitmo does close, what will become of the 245 alien enemy combatants currently in detention? If released, many will probably return to terrorism; a Saudi set free in 2007 is thought to have rejoined al-Qaeda and participated in last fall’s bombing of the U.S. embassy in Yemen. Similar gaps and flip-flops pervade Obama’s detainee policy, if it can be called a policy: We’d love to close Guantanamo, but we can’t right now; we’d love to find them new homes, but other countries don’t want them; we’d love to give them civilian trials, but we don’t have enough usable evidence; we’d love to release them, but they’re dangerous; and we’d love to stick to gentle interrogation techniques, but every now and then something more severe may be warranted (such as outsourcing the interrogation to a less fastidious nation). Underneath all the lofty rhetoric, we’re gratified to see that this is change George W. Bush could believe in.
‐ Obama also issued an executive order overturning the pro-life “Mexico City” policy that Republican presidents have followed over the last three decades. Under that policy, groups that advocate or commit abortions could not receive money from our international family-planning programs. Now they can. Obama waited until the day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the March for Life to make his order, which is being treated as a noble gesture of respect. If Obama understood pro-lifers better, he would know that being treated nicely is not one of their main concerns.
‐ If President Obama is sincere in his stated intention to reform entitlements, he needs Republican support. As eager as many Democrats may be to raise taxes to pay for Social Security and Medicare, they are unlikely to want to take full responsibility for it — and Republicans will not, and should not, sign up for an entitlement solution that increases the programs’ burden on the economy. A bipartisan deal could still be made, however, if Washington tackles Social Security, the easier of the two programs to fix, first. To get Republican support, tax increases would have to be taken off the table. To get Democratic support, using Social Security taxes to fund personal accounts would have to be taken off the table. The program could then be made solvent mostly by slowing the growth of benefits. (To placate Democrats, the benefit growth need not be slowed down for poor people.) Democrats have long advocated setting up savings accounts outside Social Security, a good idea that Republicans should accept. The country will be better off. And in 2012, as he campaigns for re-election, Obama will be able to say that for all his stimulus spending, he made good on his pledge to oversee a “net spending cut” — surprising everyone, including, most likely, himself.
‐ While we’d like to believe that the Obama administration has caught a sudden case of acute federalism, we do not believe that explains the president’s desire to allow California to enforce its own strict auto-emissions rules, which exceed federal standards. One reason for our doubt is that Obama is also calling on the Transportation Department to tighten automotive-fuel-economy requirements nationally. Here, he is actually serving the third Bush term: New standards already were required under the Energy Independence and Security Act signed by President Bush in 2007, and Obama advocates nothing more than imposition of the law’s existing requirements. But the California rules are more troubling: This is hardly the hour to impose expensive new regulations on U.S. automakers, and the California rules, owing to the size and importance of that state’s market, would become de facto national standards. Obama is throwing a fat green sop at his all-important grad-student eco-activist constituency. His moves will do little or nothing to address legitimate environmental concerns (the California rules, even if enforced nationally, would have a negligible effect on global warming), but the costs will be real.
‐ Richard Nadler has a bracing piece in this issue (see page 28) arguing that the restrictionist position on immigration is political disaster for Republicans. We think Nadler underestimates the effect of the general degradation of the Republican brand on the 2008 election results. Enforcement of immigration laws has to be the start of any rational policy, and it’s politically saleable so long as its advocates avoid rhetorical excess and don’t over-rely on it (it’s not a substitute for a compelling agenda on other issues). We look forward to the debate over Nadler’s piece, which readers can follow on SMALLCAPSNational Review Online.
‐ Iraqis voted in peaceful and orderly provincial elections, another sign that the improved security environment forged by the surge is sustainable. Prime Minister Maliki’s Dawa party, running as the party of law and order, appears to have drubbed the main Shiite religious party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which was hampered by its support for federalism, its connections to Iran, and its ineffectuality. In Sunni areas, the elections were an opportunity for those who had boycotted provincial elections in 2005 finally to come all the way in from the cold, moving from supporting the insurgency to taking positions on provincial councils. But the established Iraqi Islamic party, which had disproportionate sway because it didn’t sit out the 2005 ballot, appears to have minimized gains by the new Sunni political players. As a result, tensions are high in Anbar, where disappointed Sunni parties are crying foul. There is a tendency on the right and the left now to declare the Iraq War over. Although the war has entered a new — and most welcome — stage, U.S. forces are still necessary to keep political tensions from flaring into violence. It continues to be astounding that people in what a few years ago was one of the most repressive countries on earth can now vote their preferences and proudly display ink-stained fingers afterwards. May it become an Iraqi national tradition.
‐ Ever since Obama’s election, the State Department has been busy drafting a letter to Iran, or so the London Guardian confidently reports and everyone seems to believe. What’s more, it’s to be a sweetheart letter. It might be sent to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or addressed openly to the Iranian people. The letter gives assurance that Washington does not seek regime change in Iran. They’re said to be still working on the draft, but its main thrust is that Washington is merely asking for civilized behavior — for instance, no more state-sponsored terrorism. In anticipation of a major concession that it has done nothing to deserve, Tehran naturally remains unimpressed, presumably in the expectation of still more. On behalf of the Islamist regime, President Ahmadinejad calls for real change, adding that Americans must also apologize and “try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation” over a period of 60 years, no less. A spokesman has added that Iran has no intention of stopping its nuclear activities. In the language of the Bible, a soft answer turneth away wrath, but it is more probable that this letter will simply bounce off a founding member of the Axis of Evil.
‐ Israel has derived several advantages from its recent campaign in Gaza. At last, it put an end to the long-running and inexplicable failure to respond to the thousands of missiles that Hamas and its associates have enjoyed firing from Gaza into Israel in recent years. The Israeli military performed well, proving that the tactics of the previous but less successful campaign against Hezbollah have been revised and improved. Casualties were at a minimum. Provoking Israel has been shown once again to be a costly proposition. The neighboring Arab states, now thoroughly alarmed by Iranian imperialism, have tacitly supported Israel. Hamas has already violated the recently concluded ceasefire many times, and is smuggling arms in while trumpeting that it has won a divine victory. Israel may not be able to deter Hamas and Iran indefinitely. In which case the unfortunate Palestinians will have to rid themselves of Hamas, or become accustomed to living in the ruins of divine victories of this sort.
‐ Last year Dutch conservative parliamentarian Geert Wilders made a short film titled Fitna, that being the Arabic word for “discord.” In the film, Wilders explored themes of violence in Islam and the Koran. Muslims made a fuss, Wilders retorted with some off-the-cuff anti-Islamist remarks, and hate-crime charges against Wilders ended up on the desk of the nation’s public prosecutor. Last June that dignitary decided that there was no case for prosecution. Muslim activists appealed, and now the appeals court says there is too a case: “Statements which create hate and grief made by politicians, taking their special responsibility into consideration, are not permitted according to European standards.” An indictment is now being drawn up. This “diversity” authoritarianism has had a predictable result: Public support for Wilders’s party — which holds nine seats in the 150-seat Dutch lower chamber — has increased since the legal actions against him began.
‐ On January 31, the Communist party in the Czech Republic — yes, it still exists — delivered a letter to Obama at the U.S. embassy in Prague. It urged the new president to abandon the Bush administration’s plans to build a small missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. There’s no official word yet on whether Obama intends to do their bidding, though his criticism of missile defense as a candidate is worrisome. America’s adversaries clearly hope he reverses the Bush position. Right after his election, in a transparent attempt to intimidate, Russia announced it would deploy cruise missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the U.S. interceptors slated for Poland. Having flashed this stick, Moscow has gone on to offer a carrot: Unnamed officials hinted to reporters in January that perhaps they wouldn’t deploy those cruise missiles after all. Yet the need for missile defense persists, as Iran moves forward with its nuclear agenda and North Korea prepares to test the latest version of its long-range missile, the Taepodong-2. All of the “smart diplomacy” in the world won’t stop a warhead in flight.
‐ It’s time the West started looking to China for human-rights inspiration. Or so says Sir Jonathon Porritt, one of the U.K.’s leading environmental advisers. He suggests a two-child limit to combat global warming. Further, the problem isn’t just couples’ having more than two children, but also women who get pregnant accidentally and don’t abort: “We still have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Europe and we still have relatively high levels of pregnancies going to birth, often among women who are not convinced they want to become mothers.” Were it not for his government position, it would be easy to classify Porritt’s views as fringe. As it is, we’re keeping our babies stateside.
‐ Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre nicely illustrated the dead end of “traditionalist” opposition to Vatican II. In 1988, against Pope John Paul II’s orders, he consecrated four priests as bishops. They were promptly excommunicated, sundering, in consequence of Lefebvre’s pride and folly, the unity toward which Christian tradition rightly aspires. That division outlived Lefebvre. Now Pope Benedict XVI has tried to start bringing his lost sheep home by lifting the excommunication. The decision has not played well in the media, which have sometimes suggested that the pope is signaling that the Lefebvrists’ views — one of the bishops denies the Holocaust and spouts 9/11 Trutherism — are legitimate. He isn’t. A certain amount of press cluelessness about the church is to be expected, but Rome ought to consider whether better media relations would serve its teaching mission. As for the Lefebvrists, their leaders do not seem all that keen on reconciliation. Faithful Catholics should say a prayer for them, and their followers.
‐ According to news reports, an unmarried California mother of octuplets — she already had six children — had all 14 through in vitro fertilization. The lady deserves credit for turning down “selective reduction.” But the decisions that led to the pregnancy in the first place, by both this woman and the lightly regulated industry that appears to have helped her, should be condemned. To create children outside marriage through carelessness is bad enough. To do it deliberately, and on an industrial scale, is worse.
‐ Olympic medalist Michael Phelps got his picture, smoking a bong, in the Brit tabloid News of the World. A publicity panic attack — among celebrity mavens, and Phelps’s handlers — ensued. Phelps is perhaps the best swimmer in history (he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics). Now he wants to cash in, which means he must play by a new set of rules: You stray, we see. But aren’t those rules sick? Like any great athlete, Phelps made a demanding bargain, giving up childhood and adolescence to pursue excellence. Is the normal life he forswore so empty that millions of the rest of us must spend portions of it ogling the famous? Give Phelps a break; give ourselves a break.
‐ Just two decades after the Cold War’s end, we shouldn’t need Armando Valladares to point out the horrors of Communism. But when filmmakers put out works like Che, we are fortunate to have the likes of Valladares taking to the public square. Once a Cuban political prisoner, he now speaks out against the effort to rewrite history: “[Che actor] Benicio Del Toro is just one of the many accomplices of the Cuban tyranny,” he told the Washington Times. Too bad no one wears a T-shirt with Valladares’s face on it.
‐ H. Walker Royall is a Dallas real-estate developer who ought to be ashamed of himself twice over — once for trying to abuse eminent domain to seize property from its rightful owners for his purposes, and again for trying to silence those who have criticized this low tactic. Among those in Royall’s crosshairs is our friend and SMALLCAPSNational Review contributor Roger Kimball, the publisher of Encounter Books, which brought out Carla Main’s Bulldozed, an exposé of Royall’s project in Freeport, Tex. Royall has filed lawsuits against the publisher and the author, and has even gone to the ludicrous length of suing a professor who wrote a back-of-the-book blurb and a newspaper that published a positive review. In this diminished age, Texans’ traditional methods for dealing with varmints of this variety have fallen into disfavor, but the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, is taking up its cudgels for free speech and private property.
‐ Back in China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 40 years ago, anyone who wanted to avoid a beating by Red Guards made sure to carry a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, more familiarly known as the Little Red Book. Sample quotation: “Thrift should be the guiding principle in our government expenditure.” Hmm. The keener sort of patriot memorized the book, and one still runs across middle-aged Chinese people who can rattle off the whole thing. A few still keener types memorized the Little Red Book backwards: “Expenditure government our in principle” and so on. Well, here comes Pocket Obama, a handy (“easily fits into pocket or purse”) blue-jacketed compendium of our new president’s apothegms for those of us who might find ourselves needing a fresh shot of Obamian rhetoric in the midst of our daily round. Peering into the Little Blue Book, we find only the gassy, content-free fustian of Obama’s campaign speeches, page after soporific page. Some say it’s a spoof, but how can they tell? Perhaps it reads better backwards.
‐ Understandably, the Left doesn’t like it much when you say that too often politics is their religion, or environmentalism is their religion, or something other than religion is their religion. But Susan Sarandon doesn’t help when she says of Obama: “He is a community organizer like Jesus was, and now we’re a community and he can organize us.” Actually, we’re a free society. But perhaps Sarandon would be more comfortable in a system more . . . organized?
‐ Over in England, a cricket club named the Middlesex Crusaders has felt obliged to change its name to the Middlesex Panthers. There had been complaints from Muslim and Jewish persons still smarting from the humiliations and cruelties of 900 years ago, apparently having nothing more important to think about. So much for the second part of the club’s name. We await with resignation their buckling to the demands of the “transgender” lobbies, who will not, we feel sure, be deterred by the information that “Middlesex” is the name of an English county.
‐ Nurse Caroline Petrie, a Christian, making her departure after a home visit to 79-year-old May Phippen in an English town, offered to pray for the patient. “No, thank you,” replied Mrs. Phippen, and later mentioned the incident to a different nurse, who reported it to her superiors. Klaxons went off, bureaucrats scurried to battle stations, and the Sensitivity Police were alerted. Nurse Petrie has been suspended for breaching her code of conduct on equality and diversity. She may lose her job. Our advice to her would be to convert to Islam. Any objections to her offers of spiritual succor would then be hate crimes.
‐ Linguistic conservatives should arm for battle: The humble apostrophe is under threat in various parts of the Anglosphere. One English municipality has dropped it from street signs for places like St. Paul’s Square. Australian grammarian Kate Burridge (author of Weeds in the Garden of Words) wants the possessive apostrophe scrapped altogether. A professor at University College, London, is arguing that strict rules of spelling and grammar “hold children back,” and he wants the apostrophe completely eliminated. Defenders of the little critter have counterattacked with examples of sentences ambiguous in an apostrophe-free world: “Those smelly things are my brothers,” for example. American conservatives should join the fray in defense of traditional usage. Of course, we shall need to enlist some good conservative and academic names in the cause: our own Kate O’Beirne, perhaps; Dinesh D’Souza; novelist-professor John L’Heureux; Nobel physicist Gerardus ’t Hooft . . . In any case, there is nothing difficult or mysterious about correct placement of the apostrophe. The rules can be learned in ten minutes. This campaign will need all the support it can get. It certainly has our’s!
‐ A cat may look at a king, goes the old proverb. And canines show little respect for the mighty, at least in France. When Napoleon climbed into bed with Josephine on their wedding night, the bride’s little pug sank its teeth into his shin. (The name of the heroic canine was Fortuné.) History repeated itself the other day, after a fashion, when former French president Jacques Chirac was attacked by Sumo, his pet Maltese poodle. Chirac’s wife, Bernadette, explained that Sumo has become increasingly violent in recent years and is being treated with anti-depressant medications. After a few years’ close acquaintance with the bumptious Chirac, any person, or pooch, might be similarly disposed. We wish the 76-year-old former president a speedy recovery nonetheless, and hope our own president’s much-discussed pet will have a less aggressive temperament.
‐ We bid farewell to John Updike, R.I.P., elsewhere (see p. 43). Here we note one accolade conferred on him, in 1978, by WFB, who, in one of his syndicated columns, “disavow[ed] a living legend, namely that I am the American fountainhead of recondite words. . . . The proximate cause of my declaration is a splendid novel by John Updike called The Coup. I read it and here is a list of words in that novel with which I am unfamiliar: Harmattan, disphoretic, toubab, laterite, suras, euphorbia, extollation, jerboa, coussabe, sareba, bilharzia, pangolins, hyraxes, pestles, phloem, xylem, eversion, goobers, marabout, xerophytic, oleograph, cowries, chrysoprase, henna, scree, riverine, adsorptive, haptic, burnoose. And so I pass on the sesquipedalian torch.” Now both WFB and Updike have left us; the world is a duller (because less surprising) place.
The Right Stimulus
The Democrats’ stimulus bill did not get a single Republican vote in the House, a fact that set liberals to speculating that Republicans have a death wish for the economy, themselves, or both. But the case for the bill is getting harder and harder to make, which is perhaps why Democrats are making it less and less.
Instead they are chest-thumping: Several Democratic leaders, including President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic senator Richard Durbin, have in recent weeks predicted that they would get their way because they “won the election.” True enough; but Republican officeholders won their elections as well, and have no obligation to vote for legislation they consider ill-advised. So the Democrats are making threats. Ads claim that opponents of the stimulus have voted to tank the economy.
Americans are well-disposed toward the new president — which is one reason House Republicans insist that Pelosi, rather than Obama, made the bill unacceptable — worried about the economy, and eager (probably over-eager) for federal action. But they are not sold on this bill. Nor should they be. It is an expensive hodgepodge of liberal nostrums, many of which make no sense even in Keynesian terms. It does nothing to stabilize financial markets, nothing to help the housing market find its bottom, nothing to improve work incentives, and nothing to restore corporate profits.
Republicans understand that rejecting a flawed stimulus is not enough. They need to propose alternatives. Those alternatives should include reductions in the job-killing, wage-cutting payroll tax, an expansion of the child tax credit, and a reduction in corporate taxes. Mark-to-market accounting rules should be modified so as not to force a downward spiral in financial-asset prices. The two-fleet rule, which makes it hard for automakers to meet their fuel-economy requirements economically, should be ended. States and localities should be freed to meet their need for roads. Finally, it might be a good idea to encourage mortgage holders to refinance at low rates, less to set a floor under the housing market than to isolate those mortgages that might go into default.
House Republicans were right to reject the Democrats’ stimulus and to propose alternatives. Senate Republicans should follow their lead. Unless the stimulus bill is greatly improved, it will not deserve support.