Magazine October 5, 2009, Issue

The Week

‐ We watched the videos. Who says ACORN’s against entrepreneurs?

‐ How big was the tea party in Washington on September 12? It was the biggest crowd in the city since Barack Obama’s inauguration. To have engendered such a backlash only eight months after that history-minded burst of good feeling is quite an achievement for conservatives. Were there kooks? Some — LaRouchites, mainly. Was it all drummed up? The free-market group FreedomWorks did some inspiring and organizing. Still, the people had to come, and they did, many from hundreds of miles away — conservatives, the apolitical, some Obama voters, all alarmed by the sweep of this administration’s ambitions, epitomized by but not limited to its health-care plan. Best signs: I’M NOT YOUR ATM and GRANDMA’S NOT SHOVEL-READY. A point of order: The demonstrators left very little trash behind. They hope to clean up Washington in 2010.

‐ Rep. Joe Wilson will go down as the man who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his health-care speech to Congress. Wilson cried out after Obama said his plan would not cover illegal aliens. Indeed it would, but that was not the time or the way to set the record straight. Past instances of rudeness, even violence, in Congress — Rep. Matthew Lyon’s spitting at Rep. Roger Griswold, and being caned in turn — are no excuse. Under American parliamentary procedure, we let a man have his say; then we pound him, if we can. Joe Wilson knows this, which is why he apologized. House Democrats still rebuked him, for which there is also precedent, also bad: After a Whig-run Senate censured Andrew Jackson, the next Senate, dominated by Democrats, expunged the vote from the record. Lockstep partisanship is almost as unattractive as boorishness.

‐ ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and the organization has a long history with Barack Obama. James O’Keefe, a conservative filmmaker, visited ACORN offices in four cities, posing as a pimp accompanied by his prostitute (Hannah Giles, an assistant). The two asked how to secure a mortgage for a brothel, which they proposed to stock with underage Salvadoran girls. It sounds like a comedy sketch, but in each office ACORN workers tried to help, giving sage counsel on dodging taxes and the police while collecting maximum welfare benefits (by, among other things, claiming underage victims as dependents). In Baltimore, Giles was told to list her occupation as “performing artist.” In D.C., the faux prostitute was told to call herself an “independent consultant.” “Honesty is not going to get you the house,” said ACORN in Brooklyn. In California, an ACORN staffer reminisced about shooting her husband dead and her own career in prostitution. Once O’Keefe revealed his findings, the Census Bureau dropped ACORN as a partner in next year’s census. Counseling fake pimps is lurid, but small potatoes. Pimping out the census to a sleazy outfit like this is an act of civic sabotage.

‐ Van Jones, whose reign as the nation’s “green jobs” czar has ended abortively, is a radical beyond the usual Obama-administration parameters. He hit the familiar notes — Apollo Alliance, George Soros, etc. — but also described himself as a “rowdy black nationalist” and a “Communist.” He was a member of a Maoist cell known as Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, and he waxed enthusiastic about the prospect of using green initiatives as a political money-laundering service to shunt public funds into leftist projects. He also was a signatory to one of the 9/11 “Truther” documents alleging that the U.S. government was complicit in al-Qaeda’s attacks, and that’s what got him: The Obama administration did not want to spend Sept. 11, 2009, defending the repulsive views of Van Jones as they touch on Sept. 11, 2001. Jones was not some guy off the street, or somebody foisted on the administration by the Democratic machine: Obama’s team recruited him. It took Glenn Beck about five minutes to discern that something was amiss with Mr. Jones after the Obama administration, with the investigative apparatus of the federal government at its disposal, had found nothing objectionable in the man. Or was it that they didn’t object to what they found? Neither possibility suggests moral seriousness on the part of Barack Obama and his circle.

‐ It’s here. Criticism of President Obama, which is increasing, is said to be racist — said to be racist by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Maureen Dowd. This was almost inevitable. And we should really scratch the “almost.” When the Obama campaign had trouble against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, some Obama people played the race card: saying or implying the Clintons were racist. Later that year, Slate published an article, “If Obama Loses.” The subtitle: “Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him.” Representative Wilson’s outburst was painted by a great many as racist — as is opposition to Obamacare in general. A writer for Salon said, “Cries of racism against Hillary Clinton’s campaign . . . look damn silly now that we’ve seen real anti-Obama racism.” Some presidential critics are getting nicely fed up. At the 9/12 rally, one woman held up a sign: No Matter What I Put on This Sign, You’re Going to Call It Racist. It is a good day in America when a black man can be president. It will be a very good day when criticism of a black president can be accepted as just that: criticism.

‐ The raw pit has been spruced up a bit: It looks like a building site, not a wound. But eight years after 9/11 and counting, nothing has been put in place of the Twin Towers. Postmodern New York is a notoriously difficult city for getting anything done, and the local political class simply could not make new buildings happen: George Pataki, governor through 2006, was a limp nonentity, and his successors, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, have been, in their different ways, even worse. Probably the best course would have been to let the owner of the former towers, Larry Silverstein, take his insurance payout and build whatever he liked. The hole in New York’s skyline bespeaks a hole in America’s competence and resolve. It is a disgrace.

‐ The case of Wall Street v. Main Street was reopened on September 15, the anniversary of the catastrophic collapse of Lehman Brothers. On Wall Street and in other broadly anti-Bush precincts, failing to prop up the crippled investment bank is considered the mortal sin of the Bush administration’s final days, precipitating a massive crisis in the credit markets, a 500-point one-day drop in the Dow, “breaking the buck” at the Reserve Primary Fund, the collapse of AIG, and the near-mortal wounding of the remaining investment banks in the panic that ensued. Those who resent the bailouts and interventions of the past year, on the other hand, snort that the rest of Wall Street should have followed Lehman down the drain. The truth is that a financial sector leveraged up to the gills to cover bets on dodgy real-estate deals was kindling awaiting its spark: If it hadn’t been Lehman, it would have been another firm — possibly a larger one, more interconnected with the rest of the financial word, such as Merrill Lynch. Lehman scared the Bush administration into action and, given the politically plausible alternatives, we are better off for that. But what have we learned since? Our “too big to fail” institutions are still very big and very insulated from failure. No authority has been given to the Fed to achieve the orderly dissolution of troubled firms that pose systemic risk. President Obama should turn his attention away from the wording of mortgage advertisements to this problem.

‐ Does the Constitution give the federal government the power to ban the distribution of Hillary: The Movie in the name of “campaign-finance reform”? By extension, can the government ban the distribution of books published by corporations that advocate the defeat or election of a candidate, such as the NRA or the ACLU? The Supreme Court is considering these questions, in a case that starkly illustrates what conservatives and a few embattled liberals have long contended: that the campaign-finance laws are incompatible with free speech. Most liberals take the view that the ban on “independent expenditures” by corporations is necessary to enforce the ban on corporate donations to candidates. Seventy years of American practice suggests that they are wrong. But if they were right, it would not matter. If free political speech makes certain regulatory schemes hard to sustain, then so much the worse for those schemes. 

‐ In a bow to the United Steelworkers, Obama levied a 35 percent tariff on tires imported from China. Significantly, this was not a case of a domestic industry’s begging for and receiving protection from foreign competition. The tire industry opposed the tariffs. The largest U.S. tire companies have relocated production of their lowest-quality, lowest-price tires to China, and the steelworkers’ union, which represents tire-factory employees, objected to the companies’ move and asked Obama to step into the dispute. Nor was this a case of “unfair” trade. Obama invoked a section of trade law that allows the president to levy tariffs in response to a surge in Chinese imports, regardless of whether the imports are unfairly subsidized (they weren’t). The law did not compel him to act. Obama keeps telling us he isn’t a protectionist. Remember that during the trade wars to come.

‐ Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist-about-the-globe, recently wrote a paean to China. “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.” Friedman contrasts American arguments over cap-and-trade with Chinese plans to dominate the field of clean energy. After blackening the skies of eastern Asia for the last 30 years, maybe the Chinese should change their energy policy. But they are unlikely to pursue a new course with less corner-cutting and corruption than their old one. The reason is that their system negates both freedom and rights. They have no true free market, and their politics proceeds by fiat and influence peddling. A sorry performance, Friedman’s — and one, as Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism reminded us, all too typical of Western intellectuals. 

‐ Speaking to the nation’s schoolchildren, President Obama was in that strange, nouveau-American, State of the Union mode, singling out by name a number of students who had overcome serious obstacles to their education. Their stories are inspiring, and the president did well to share them. But as usual, Obama was more inspiring in word than in deed: We rather wish the president had also considered the case of Anquanette Williamson, mother of Donae and Dayonte, who was able to take her children out of Washington’s disastrous public schools and send them to Calvary Christian Academy thanks to the vouchers she received under D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. “My kids’ educations mean the world to me,” she said, praising the program. “You saw what happened with Obama, right?” Pointing to her children: “I’m looking for the next president right here!” Obama’s allies made a priority of killing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for narrow ideological reasons, leaving future Donaes and Dayontes out of luck. Obama advised students to wash their hands. He knows something about that.

Media in Exile

We RWTs (Right-Wing Troglodytes, in case you didn’t know) are routinely accused of wanting to “turn back the clock.” We want to restore the pre–New Deal “Constitution in exile” and set the dial on the time machine to anarchic 19th-century capitalism. Now let’s be fair: There’s some truth to all that. But we can sift the Shinola from the other stuff another time. Suffice it to say that C. S. Lewis was right when he said, “If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Conservatives aren’t keen on using the state to nightstick the American people back toward the right road. Fortunately, the natural order of things sometimes does our work for us. I have in mind the ongoing transformation of “the media.” Newspapers are dying. Broadcast TV news is evaporating before our eyes. Trust in the “mainstream media” is hitting historic lows according to some polls. The New York Times’s readership is plummeting, its price skyrocketing, and its credibility cratering.

There are aspects of this decline that make me sad. I like newspapers. A sizable fraction of my mortgage payments is dependent on the continued existence of newspapers. But I also think that the horse and buggy is a delightful conveyance and that whale-tallow candles have a splendid aroma. Life moves on.

That said, to listen to many people, you’d think God had ordained that there be a New York Times, a Washington Post, three big broadcast-news operations, and two newsweeklies, and that everyone should consider them the Word. “I am the Lord thy God, and this is your media. You shall have no media before it.”

But the truth is that we are restoring what might be called the media-in-exile. For most of American history, the country was a hurly-burly of angry, loud, hyper-partisan media. The Founders thought long and hard about the role of the press and knew it was no staid affair. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at how much more boisterous the press in America was than the court stenographers of France. Moreover, he argued that America’s young democracy, thriving on “associations” between like-minded citizens, relied on newspapers to sustain a sense of community. Since groups of people could rarely meet physically, newspapers were essential. “Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.” Political parties had newspapers, industries and interests had newspapers, even the White House, for a time put, out its own newspaper. (Hardly necessary today, of course.)

Look around the contemporary media landscape. The web is performing precisely this function. As execrable as I may find some left-wing blogs, they are uniting communities of like-minded citizens and providing them with information and ammunition for political combat. The same is of course true on the right. Meanwhile, cable-network news is fragmenting and diversifying, appealing to different citizens, tastes, and agendas.

You might lament this development, but if so bear in mind that you are attached to an aberration. The New Deal and World War II bred a citizenry that accepted and looked to large institutions, including Big Media, to run the society. Technology reinforced the idea that news, particularly TV news, can be “objective.” Walter Cronkite — absurdly — signed off with “And that’s the way it is,” as if his version of events were God’s own point of view. Not only was the belief that the media could be omnisciently objective dumb, it empowered the liberal establishment as much as anything in the second half of the 20th century. 

Truth of course matters, and news is important. And centrist, non-partisan journalism will never vanish so long as there’s a market for it. But both truth and the news can be delivered by partisans. For evidence, just look at Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine, the muckrakers, and Woodward and Bernstein. Or just look at those kids making ACORN videos.



‐ Bill made a lot of noise for a day or two, but the whole thing soon blew over; and Fred kicked up a storm, but it also ended quickly. And that’s been it for hurricanes this year. Some skeptics doubt that Barack Obama is the messiah, but you have to admit that, after less than a year in office, he has already calmed the winds and stilled the waters. Now let’s see how he does with healing the sick.

‐ Earlier this year, National Review noted that a ridiculous toy-safety law — among other things, it essentially banned books printed before 1985 because the ink in them contains a trivial amount of lead — had gone into effect. Things have only gotten worse: More of the law’s provisions became active in August; these demand that toy makers affix “permanent, distinguishing marks on [each] product and its packaging, to the extent practicable.” Such labels must include information about when and where the product was manufactured, for the purpose of facilitating recalls. As the Manhattan Institute’s Walter Olson explained in the Wall Street Journal, these first two phases have already cost businesses billions while improving safety little, and a third (featuring expensive product-testing requirements) is set to hit in February of next year. Yet the only sign that Congress cares has been a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing at which a single witness — a strong advocate of the law, naturally — was allowed to testify. Can someone order Congress to recall ill-considered legislation?

‐ Robert McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, continues to lead in the polls, much to the consternation of the Washington Post. The Post ran a breathless story on a socially conservative master’s thesis McDonnell wrote 20 years ago, and subsequently ran story after story on the alleged “firestorm” this revelation provoked. The polls have not budged, and the story’s main effect seems to have been to distract Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds from coming up with plans on transportation and education to compete with McDonnell’s. Perhaps the firestorm is in the Post’s newsroom, which is burning up what remains of its credibility.

‐ The day Congress returned from its August recess, Sen. Arlen Specter posted this message on his Twitter account: “Your first day back in Washington and you’re already skipping more votes, Congressman Sestak?” Rep. Joe Sestak, who will challenge Specter in next year’s Democratic primary, did indeed miss House votes that day, but he was not “back in Washington” — because his father had died over the weekend. Senator Specter’s change of parties appears unlikely to change his reputation for tact and discretion.

‐ The Afghan election made Illinois in the good old days look like a paragon of good government. Supporters of incumbent president Hamid Karzai stole votes early and often. In the current count, he leads the second-place finisher, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, 54–28, just above the threshold of 50 percent that is required to avoid a runoff. An election designed to give the government more legitimacy may achieve the opposite. What to do now? First, let the recount and complaint process play out. Second, realize we’re probably stuck with Karzai and it’s not the worst thing. The fact remains that he outpolled Abdullah by a wide margin. And Karzai is a Pashtun who is not, like Abdullah, aligned with the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance — important at a time when we are trying to defeat a Pashtun-based insurgency. Third, pressure Karzai to try to recover the legitimacy he lost in the election, by cashiering corrupt and incompetent officials. Asked by a journalist whether he thought President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam was the next Winston Churchill, then–Vice President Johnson replied, in his inimitable style, “S***, man, he’s the only boy we got out there” (a judgment vindicated after the Kennedy administration sponsored a disastrous coup against him). Much the same could, at this juncture, be said of Hamid Karzai.

‐ President Obama has agreed to talks with Iran on the understanding that the Iranian nuclear project is the real issue to be negotiated between the two countries. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has agreed to talks with the United States on the understanding that the nuclear project is an afterthought to the discussion. On behalf of the administration, officials and diplomats are pitching expectations at a level hardly higher than a shrug. On behalf of Iran, officials and diplomats speak as though they have victory over the United States already in their pocket. They want everyone to be as afraid of them as their own population already is. Tehran, they like to emphasize, will never give up its right to produce nuclear fuel, and is ready to defend itself against international pressure and any military strike. As in the fruitless past, talks are to include Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany, and the U.S. has even engaged Javier Solana, the man in charge of foreign policy for the European Union, to be the intermediary. Should the talks fail to materialize, or to provide any meaningful outcome, the next option is sanctions. But Russia will not go along with that, as its foreign minister has made clear. The course of events looks set to move from slow motion to stalemate.

‐ One of Iran’s numerous weaknesses is its absence of refining capacity, and the need therefore to import as much as 40 percent of its domestically consumed gasoline. This leaves it vulnerable to sanctions, if foreign exporters can agree to impose them. Venezuela is stepping into the breach. Its caudillo, Hugo Chávez, has signed an agreement to provide, beginning in October, 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day. With the payments received, Venezuela is to purchase Iranian machinery and technology. The anti-American alliance of this pair takes peculiar twists and turns. The Iranians flatter Chávez for his support of “resistance” — that is to say, terror. Visiting Iran for the eighth time to sign the agreement, Chávez, nominally a Catholic, went to a shrine at Mashhad where he professed to his delighted Muslim hosts the central belief of their brand of Shiite Islam, that the Hidden Imam who disappeared a thousand years ago will return one day. The man is for anything, as long as it’s anti-American.

‐ The State Department has formally suspended non-humanitarian aid to Honduras. Furthermore, it has made clear that it will not support the outcome of the upcoming Honduran elections (scheduled for November) unless the country’s recently deposed and exiled leader, Manuel Zelaya, is first reinstalled as president. Let’s see if we understand this: In order to be considered “legitimate,” the Honduran elections must be overseen by a Hugo Chávez disciple who was ousted from the presidency for (as Honduran supreme-court chairman José Tomás Arita wrote in the arrest order) “acting against the established form of government, treason against the country, abuse of authority, and usurpation of power.” The Obama administration has effectively turned Zelaya into a symbol of democracy. He is exactly the opposite. The administration’s mistreatment of the interim Honduran government is an ongoing travesty. In removing Zelaya from office, Honduran officials took a legal, constitutionally authorized stand against Chávez-style authoritarianism. They deserve praise, not punishment.

‐ British prime minister Gordon Brown broke an ominously long silence on the release of the Lockerbie bomber by saying there had been “no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil.” Hardly had he spoken when Jack Straw, his justice minister, refuted him outright, incidentally lowering the government’s already low poll numbers. “There were of course wider issues of relations with Libya,” as Straw put it. It was in Britain’s “overwhelming interests” that Abdel al-Megrahi return to Libya, and he had therefore signed a prisoner-transfer agreement that made this possible. Six weeks later, Qaddafi ratified a £15 billion oil-and-gas deal with British Petroleum. Q.E.D., as the logicians like to say when some proposition is finally proven. On top of it, Megrahi — said to be terminally ill and supposedly released on grounds of compassion — has given interviews to the effect that he’s innocent and would welcome an official inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing. The injury is enough without this insult.

‐ Has anyone ever written under more pressure than Solzhenitsyn? “Look after your health, Aleksandr Isayevich,” the letters used to say. “We are all depending on you.” It was Solzhenitsyn’s burden to speak and report for the entire Russian people, ruled by a crushing Communism. He did his duty with brilliance, extreme courage, and grace. Malcolm Muggeridge called him “the noblest human being alive.” The Gulag Archipelago broke the back of Soviet Communism, in a way. After the publication of this three-volume “experiment in literary investigation,” as the author called it, the USSR could no longer be defended in the West — not plausibly. The book was banned in the Soviet Union, of course. And the Kremlin forced Solzhenitsyn into exile. Just this year, Gulag was placed on the regular curriculum of Russian high schools. History takes strange twists, we know, and some of those twists are sweet.

‐ Once prosperous, stable, and well governed, Zimbabwe has been reduced to beggary, disorder, and disease by the horrible dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. In an attempt to pressure Mugabe to respect human rights and rational economics, the European Union (EU) imposed some feeble sanctions in 2002. Last year there was an election, which even Mugabe’s thuggery could not swing decisively in his favor. After much wrangling and international pressure, a power-sharing government was formed; but Mugabe is still president, and still controls the armed forces and secret police. After sending a fact-finding delegation to the country recently, the EU has decided to keep sanctions in place, on the reasonable assumption that Mugabe, free of any pressure, would massacre his opposition and return Zimbabwe to one-party rule. Which would be just fine with the leaders of other southern African nations: A regional summit has just endorsed Mugabe and called for an end to the sanctions.

‐ Liberal zeal on global warming has long seemed quasi-religious. Now a British court agrees. Tim Nicholson, senior executive at a property-investment company over there, was fired for protesting the firm’s wanton indifference to environmental correctness. His colleagues, Nicholson said, had driven to board meetings in “some of the most highly polluting cars on the road.” The tribunal ruled in Nicholson’s favor, citing a new British law under which “philosophical belief” is protected alongside religious belief if it passes a test requiring it to be cogent, serious, and “worthy of respect in a democratic society.” If not quite up there with Mohammed, Zoroaster, and the Son of God, apparently Al Gore can at least claim equal status under British law with Plato, Kant, and Wittgenstein. 

‐ It stands to reason that the land that invented Mary Poppins would turn itself into a SuperNanny state. The latest from England is that individuals and businesses not only must sort their rubbish by category, but must produce a state-mandated amount of it or pay a penalty. Mark Howard, owner of a bicycle shop in Southend, is so green that he reuses cardboard and paper waste and sells his scrap metal to a dealer. A hero for the age? Not so; instead a criminal deserving of a £180 fine. In the olden time, the king was entitled to the head of any whale captured off England’s coast, and to this day the queen owns all mute swans on the Thames; but we suspect that when eco-conscious Prince Charles takes the throne, he will be proudest of all that he is entitled to dispose of every bit of Britain’s rubbish.

‐ In the Internet Age, any country hosting a major international event had better make sure its telecom systems have enough bandwidth to support a surge of visitors. South Africa will be host to the soccer World Cup in 2010, and it seems there could be problems. Unlimited IT, a software firm in that country, frustrated with the data-transmission speeds offered by Telkom, the nation’s Internet-service provider, decided to see whether a carrier pigeon could do better. It certainly could. In a trial over the 50 miles from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, a file was downloaded to a data card, flown by pigeon, then uploaded, all in a little over two hours. In that time, the Telkom line had transmitted just 4 percent of the data. Moral of the story: If you’re planning to attend the 2010 World Cup and want to keep up with your e-mail, pack a pigeon.

‐ Jytte Klausen’s book on the Mohammed cartoons is called The Cartoons That Shook the World. They certainly shook her publisher, Yale University Press, which decided, after consulting unnamed experts, to strip them from her book. Tony Blair, who is teaching a course at Yale, piped up in defense of the ban, as did journalist Fareed Zakaria, a member of the Yale Corporation. But Yale is catching flak, too. The PEN American Center urged Yale’s president and corporation to review the decision, deploring “the introduction of violence or threats of violence into debates over art and ideas.” Twenty-five Yale alums, including John Bolton, NR’s Richard Brookhiser, and Maggie Gallagher, wrote the Yale Alumni Magazine asking that the “error” be reversed. The strongest statement, not surprisingly, came from a poet, Sarah Ruden, whose Aeneid was published by Yale. Ruden advised authors “to stay away from this non-publisher. . . . Yale Press, after breaking a crucial relationship of trust with an author’s mind and work, should be called a lickspittle of fanatics.”

‐ John Stossel, the libertarian-minded television journalist, is leaving ABC News for the Fox Business Network. About that we are of two minds: We congratulate Mr. Stossel on his well-deserved success, but we lament that he will not continue to leaven the wider airwaves. Planet Fox has a lot of freedom-loving, market-minded commentators. ABC News does not, and it needs them. We hope Mr. Stossel’s viewers will follow him to his new home, and that his message will continue to reach those with eyes to see.

‐ Who should care about the launch of National Affairs? Anyone who is interested in the social contract after our entitlements go bust, capitalism after the financial crisis, marriage after the divorce revolution, compassionate conservatism after Bush, California after its bankruptcy, or the universities after the triumph of science — just to pick some topics from its first issue. The quarterly journal, edited by our friend Yuval Levin, has assembled some lively thinkers to ponder deep questions. It is modeled on the late, lamented Public Interest, and its timing is perfect: That journal was launched in 1965, the previous peak of liberal technocratic smugness. 

‐ The Associated Press, over the objections of the Pentagon and of his family, published a photo of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, 21, after he was mortally wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. For the AP, journalism apparently means abandoning any sense of public-spiritedness or decency. The photo wasn’t newsworthy, since we already know our men are wounded and killed in Afghanistan. And printing it arguably violated the AP’s embed agreement. This was not the image of Lance Corporal Bernard — in his last extremity — that his family wanted him to be remembered by. We can never repay his or his family’s sacrifice, but the AP could certainly have honored this request.

‐ A wind ensemble at Henry M. Jackson High School in Everett, Wash., played Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” at a winter concert. No words, mind you — just the music. (The Biebl “Ave Maria” is one of the most beautiful pieces of the 20th century.) The kids wanted to reprise their performance at graduation, but the school said no: because of the title of the piece. Religious, you know. Against the Constitution. One of the students, Kathryn Nurre, sued. And the case has just been ruled on by the Ninth Circuit. The student, and Biebl, and others, lost. One of the judges, however, wrote sensibly: Milan Smith warned against the barring of anything and everything with a “trace of religious inspiration.” And he wrote that “unnecessary measures by school administrators will only foster the increasingly sterile and hypersensitive way in which students may express themselves . . . and hasten the retrogression of our young into a nation of Philistines who have little or no understanding of our civic and cultural heritage.” We are familiar with the saying that the Bill of Rights is not a “suicide pact.” It is also not the enemy of the Biebl “Ave Maria,” even at high-school graduations. The good news is that some students want to play this heavenly music. They should even be allowed to sing it.

‐ In its latest article on that perennial subject, Paul Robeson, the New York Times said two noteworthy things. It said that Robeson was “a pioneering and uncompromising human rights advocate.” And it said that he was “an enthusiastic, unflagging admirer of the Soviet Union, something he never renounced or backed away from, even in the face of Stalin’s atrocities.” Bless the Times for noting Robeson’s loyalty to Uncle Joe. But can you really be an uncompromising human-rights advocate and an enthusiastic, unflagging admirer of the Soviet Union?

‐ Derek Jeter broke Lou Gehrig’s record for hits as a Yankee (2,722 and counting), with a characteristic opposite-field single. Other players may astound with their power, but Jeter impresses day in, day out by spraying hits to all fields, demonstrating an extraordinary baseball IQ, excelling in the clutch — and conducting himself with class. No steroids, no scandals, no showboating. In a low and dishonest era in baseball’s history, he is a throwback to the glory days of Yankee Pride.

‐ When Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, his wife drove into a Mexican wheat field to tell him. “Someone’s pulling your leg,” he said. Then he returned to the backbreaking research that was his life’s work. Today, more people may owe their lives to Borlaug than to any other person. He was an Iowa farm boy who became a scientist. His development of high-yielding crop varieties led to worldwide increases in agricultural productivity and allowed mankind to defuse “the population bomb” grimly foreseen by neo-Malthusians. The environmental movement, perhaps upset at the failure of one of its long-predicted apocalypses to materialize, made Borlaug a target of its ire. He fought back with energy and enthusiasm, calling for the embrace of biotechnology and “the advent of a ‘Gene’ Revolution.” Dead at 95. R.I.P.

‐ Professor J. B. Kelly was a rare academic who came to grips with the Arab world as it really is, sometimes in the pages of National Review. His great scholarly works concern the treaties made by the British in the Persian Gulf. A New Zealander by birth, he liked to think of himself as “a wild colonial boy.” His Arabia, the Gulf and the West is one of the fiercest polemics of the past 50 years, written with blazing scorn for those who apologize for the harm that Arab and Muslim rulers do to their people and to others. That book brought him to the attention of President Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher. He retired to France, and up to the time of his death was working on an exposé of Saudi Arabia. R.I.P.

‐ He was a longtime NR friend, one of the merry gang who created the New York State Conservative party, partner at one of the nation’s premier law firms, former assistant U.S. attorney, adviser on the selection of federal judges, confidant to Sen. James Buckley, former president of the Federal Bar Council and Brooklyn Law School, and much more. Paul Windels Jr. — a World War II artillery officer who fought in the Battle of the Bulge — died, having lived 88 very full years dedicated to country, family, and conservative principles. Our deepest sympathies to his family. R.I.P.


Keep Bickering

The president went before Congress to say that he supports health-care legislation that will cut costs, expand coverage, and increase security, all without imposing rationing, cutting Medicare benefits, or raising taxes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the president’s poll numbers went up after this literally incredible speech. 

Obama was characteristically fast and loose with the facts. Nonpartisan experts who have studied the questions do not believe that preventive care saves money and say frankly that the congressional bills will increase deficits. Obama’s denial that the bill will subsidize abortion was also untrue. In two areas, the president shifted his ground. Where previously he had spoken about “47 million uninsured” Americans, he now reduced his estimate to 30 million — a tacit admission that those critics were right who said he had been exaggerating the numbers by, among other things, counting illegal immigrants. He also said that his plan did not “require” anyone to drop his current coverage, an admission that his previous claim that it would not cause anyone to lose his coverage was false. In neither case did he explicitly acknowledge either that he had been wrong or that his critics were right. Instead, he continued to speak as though his critics were self-interested liars.

Conservative alternatives were given short shrift. Obama dismissed the idea of replacing the current employer-based insurance system with one relying on individually purchased insurance on the ground that it would be too disruptive. In that respect, he claimed, it resembled its mirror image, a “single payer” government-run system. His own proposals were by contrast sensible and moderate. Here the president used a familiar and disreputable debater’s trick. His plan is to take several steps toward a government-run system. The true alternative would be to move incrementally toward a marketplace in which individuals and families own their insurance policies. Obama has never explained why he rejects this course.

Moreover, he rejects further argument on health care as “bickering.” The last word has been said. Truly the last word: Obama expressed the hope that he would be the last president to “take up” health care. With all due respect — and the amount due is diminishing by the day — we cannot agree.

The president’s proposal that all people be required to buy health insurance will amount to a tax increase, first on people with low wages and then, as liberal legislation increases health costs, on everyone. His plan will expand deficits substantially, needlessly, and at the worst possible time. His cuts in Medicare target with the precision of a laser that program’s most market-friendly components. The plan as a whole promises an unprecedented and likely growing level of federal interference in the practice of medicine, without giving anyone any reason to think that this interference will improve patients’ health.

As the debate returns to Capitol Hill this fall, Democrats should be wondering whether passing this bill is even in their political interest, let alone the national interest — and Republicans ought to give them plenty of reasons to consider the question.


Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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