‐ Apparently he confused the emperor of Japan with Andy Stern.
‐ Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue, arrived on the scene with the force of a three-megaton explosion. It’s not a policy book, or a reputation-enhancing tome like Richard Nixon’s Six Crises. Instead, it’s a breezy memoir, relating her idyllic, outdoorsy Alaska childhood and her often rocky ride as John McCain’s running mate. She settles scores against her antagonists within the McCain campaign — the ones who trashed her, anonymously, in print — in a dishy exercise in payback. It couldn’t happen to nicer people. The book unleashed the sort of bilious attacks that attend anything Palin does, with, for example, the liberal opinion magazine Newsweek running a cover piece condemning her for ruining America, balanced by a companion piece condemning her for religious zealotry. Where does all this leave Palin? Probably roughly where she was before publication. If she wants to run for president, she’ll have to spend time developing and mastering a policy portfolio and smoothing over the rough spots in her image. If she wants to be a significant force within conservatism, she’s already there — and now she has the sales to prove it.
‐ The House, with only two votes to spare, passed Nancy Pelosi’s version of health “reform.” Then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed that the bill would compromise senior citizens’ health care while raising total costs. Polls show that the public continues both to oppose the Democrats’ plans and to want Washington to spend more time on jobs than on health care. It is nonetheless full speed ahead for the Democrats. Harry Reid floated a new idea to pay for the legislation: higher Medicare taxes on high earners. And President Obama continues to seek to give the country this dubious medicine, even if he has to force it down our throats.
‐ Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic party, was so intent on upholding the mores of a republic that he abolished all precedence at state dinners, excepting only that women walked ahead of men. He must be Roto-Rooting his grave at the sight of his successor, Barack Obama, bowing to Emperor Akihito of Japan, months after bowing to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The first time, press secretary Robert Gibbs denied that any bow had been made, though it was clearly visible in photographs; now the administration is saying that Obama “observes protocol,” though no protocol requires presidents to kowtow. (That Nixon did it is no defense.) Obama’s enemies tax him with arrogance; could it be that he is unsure of himself? Bow your head (in prayer) should he prove to be both.
‐ Obama opened his Asian trip by calling himself “America’s first Pacific president” and saying that “the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world.” The biographical peg is a valid rhetorical technique, and Obama (Hawaii, Indonesia) has had a unique life. But he is not unique in having had a unique life, or even a Pacific presidential life. Ronald Reagan’s took him to California, Richard Nixon’s began there. John Kennedy’s PT boat sank off New Georgia; George H. W. Bush’s torpedo bomber crashed in the Bonin Islands; Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and Gerald Ford also served in the Pacific in World War II. Dwight Eisenhower served in the Canal Zone and the Philippines before the war, Herbert Hoover ran mines in Australia and Manchuria, William Howard Taft was governor general of the Philippines . . . Oh, forget it. Obama’s self-regard is as boundless as the Pacific.
‐ Barack Obama spoke at the 20th deathday of the Berlin Wall by video hookup. He hailed the “rebuke of tyranny” and the “affirmation of freedom” that the fall of the Wall represented, as well as the East Berliners who tore it down and “our soldiers who kept watch” all the years it stood. Just so. Yet important things went unsaid. Obama recalled a generic tyranny without identifying it (Communism), nor did he shout out to Ronald Reagan, who helped keep Berlin going through dark days. He did mention himself. “Few would have foreseen . . . that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg [Chancellor Angela Merkel] or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent. But human destiny is what human beings make of it.” Would that destiny had made the American more history-minded, and more modest.
‐ The treatment of jihadist terror as a mere law-enforcement matter, fit for civilian courts, was among the worst national-security derelictions of the 1990s. After 9/11, the Bush administration changed this policy by invoking the laws of war to try terrorists by military commission — giving them unprecedented due-process protections, including appellate review in the civilian courts. The Obama administration has no principled objection to the commissions, which it says it will use to try some terrorists. But even though Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s 9/11 mastermind, and his four co-defendants offered to plead guilty to those commissions and be executed, Obama has decided to try them as civilians. It is difficult to convey how dangerously foolish this course is. KSM and friends will use the proceedings to put the United States on trial, pressing for expansive discovery of government intelligence files. Having already gratuitously exposed classified information on interrogation tactics and other sensitive matters, the Justice Department will be in a poor position to argue against broad disclosure, even if it were so inclined. As the revelations multiply, potential intelligence sources and foreign spy services will reduce their cooperation, and the nation will be dramatically more vulnerable. Since Obama’s Justice Department overflows with lawyers who spent the last eight years representing America’s enemies, this self-inflicted blow to U.S. interests comes as no surprise. That doesn’t make it any more excusable.
‐ Serious and learned scholars of Islam fear that it is not compatible with freedom, modernity, and peace — that making it so would require a radical redefinition to which Islam is particularly resistant. Pat Robertson recently aired his own analysis. Islam, he said, “is not a religion,” but “a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination. . . . And I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such, as we would members of the Communist party, or members of some fascist group.” There is a defensible thought here, an exaggerated reference to Islam’s imperialist tendencies, but it is buried under the culpable stupidity of the formulation. (Why, by the way, would a religion cease to be a religion because it is wicked?) Robertson condemns the forces of “political correctness” that surround Islam with happy talk, but he aids those forces by reinforcing the notion that the alternative is bigotry.
‐ Just when you thought things might be getting better for the GOP, Gallup delivers some bad news: Among independent voters, Republicans are leading Democrats on the generic congressional ballot by 22 percent. Only 22 percent. Could there be more compelling evidence for what a rump the GOP has become, appealing only to anti-government nuts and tobacco-spitters in the South? It is always possible that the Republicans will drop all the way down to a 20-point lead among independents. And then what hope will the party have of emerging from the wilderness?
‐ Al Gore believes in doing well by doing good. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital firm in which he is a partner, gave $75 million to Silver Spring Networks, a company that produces hardware and software for the electrical grid. In late October, the Energy Department awarded Silver Spring $560 million in smart-grid grants — inspired, no doubt, in some small part by Gore’s tireless green advocacy. “Do you think there’s something wrong with being active in business in this country?” Gore said during congressional testimony this spring when questioned about his investments. No, we do not. Gore is no longer a public official; he can put his money where his mouth is, and make money from his mouth. The public should note only that there is a layer of interest to Gore’s advocacy. We think his ideas are mistaken and harmful — and if anyone wants to give us $3.4 billion for saying so, fine.
‐ The unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent, sparking talk in Washington of the need for a new “jobs bill.” Set aside the obvious point that the last time Washington constructed a jobs bill, it spent $787 billion without creating any jobs, as Stephen Spruiell explains on page 29 of this issue. Ask instead, What should a jobs bill look like? For starters, it might encourage hiring by cutting the payroll tax. The payroll tax adds to the cost of each new worker; cut the tax, lower the cost, increase the demand for labor. The government has done the opposite, extending unemployment benefits and funding the extension through a surtax on employers that was scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The extension simultaneously provides incentives for workers not to work and for employers not to hire them. What we need is for Congress to stop passing anti-jobs bills.
Give the Veep a Noogie
Remember when the president shouted “Nobody messes with Joe!” to a joint session of Congress? He sounded a bit like a condescending high-school quarterback trying to buck up the paste-eating waterboy in front of the other players. Biden even smiled awkwardly, as if to say, “Aw, Barack, cut it out!” All that was missing was the presidential headlock and noogie.
The point of that emasculating exercise was ostensibly to tell the world that Joe Biden was going to be riding herd over how the stimulus money was spent. It’s worth revisiting exactly what he said:
That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort — because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive inspector general to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called Recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.
In the cold, bracing light of today’s facts, this is just plain bladder-draining hilarious. We’ve all heard the stories of vast sums of money funding a tiny number of jobs, and tiny amounts of money paying for vast numbers of jobs. Even better, the stories have for the most part been broken by such non-right-wing-decoder-ring-wearers as the AP and the Boston Globe. A story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that after spending $608.9 million, the White House got 1,458 jobs. That’s nearly half a million dollars per job. Meanwhile, Alabama’s Talladega County alone claimed that it stretched $42,000 into 5,000 jobs “saved or created.”
“Saved or created” is itself the greatest weaselly locution yet coined in the 21st century. Just for the record, I save or create 500 push-ups every morning.
According to Recovery.gov, Arizona’s 86th congressional district received $34 million to help the Navajo people. Trouble is, Arizona has only eight districts. In fact, Watchdog.org claims that the White House has given $6.4 billion to 440 nonexistent districts. That’s five more fake districts than there are real ones.
On October 30, two weeks before the fake-district story broke, Ed DeSeve, the White House’s top man on stimulus oversight — other than Biden — insisted that he’d been “scrubbing” the job estimates for fraud and discrepancies so thoroughly he had “dishpan hands and my fingers are worn to the nub.” Unmessable Joe has insisted that the stimulus is working better than anyone hoped, creating a million jobs he cannot identify as he ignores the 4 million jobs we know the economy has lost.
There’s so much deceit, incompetence, arrogance, and outright fantasy at work, it’s like listening to a high-school kid explain how he maxed out a for-emergencies-only credit card buying a prom dress for his fictional super-hot girlfriend in Canada, even though she won’t be able to make it to the party after all.
Last winter, Christopher Caldwell argued in the Financial Times that the stimulus bill, “whether it succeeds or fails, could be the Democrats’ Iraq.” He went on: “Like Iraq, it is a long-standing partisan project that is being marketed as an ad hoc response to a national emergency. It reflects the pre-existing wishes of the party’s most powerful interest groups more than the pre-existing wishes of the country. Democrats are now liable to be judged by the standard they created when they abandoned the Bush administration over the Iraq war: you break it, you own it.”
The comparison may be strained in parts, but the point is a good one. Perhaps the biggest similarity is that the stimulus may well cement the Obama brand, if it hasn’t already. Despite a lot of rhetoric and actions to the contrary — compassionate conservatism, “Islam means peace,” humble foreign policy, amnesty, etc. — Bush was defined by Iraq, and this restricted the political space in which he could maneuver. Every day, the stimulus looks more and more like Obama’s InvisiFence, demarcating how far he can go politically before he gets zapped with the painful reality of the stimulus. In purely economic terms, the stimulus robbed the Treasury and the taxpayers of dollars he surely wishes he could spend on health care and other programs.
But just as significantly, the stimulus bleeds sincerity from his rhetoric. The president still spouts a great deal about post-partisan unity, economic expertise, and heartfelt concern for jobs, the deficit, and “sound science.” On each score the stimulus boondoggle undermines his credibility.
Just imagine if Obama said “Nobody messes with Joe!” today. The only appropriate venue for such a statement now is either immediately before, or immediately after, giving the vice president a wedgie in the White House locker room.
– JONAH GOLDBERG
‐ Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) has dropped a leaden lump of a bank-reform bill on Congress, a cumbrous compilation of regulatory overreach stewed in populist choler. Senator Dodd’s plan would undermine the independence of the Federal Reserve and would weaken the FDIC, our best-functioning institution throughout the financial crisis. It would create a fistful of new regulatory agencies — an industry-wide financial-services regulator, a “financial stability” regulator, a consumer-protection regulator — as though we did not already have institutions charged with regulating banks, minding financial stability, and protecting consumers. The problem was not that we lacked regulators, but that our regulators performed poorly, and often at cross purposes with one another: The regulators who were supposed to be watching the banks were among those who helped inflate the housing bubble in the first place. Multiplying their number will multiply their problems, and rearranging their cubicles and the nameplates on their doors will not make them perform more intelligently. A better alternative would be to model reforms on what works, as Rep. Barney Frank (!) has started to do with his proposal for an FDIC-style guarantor that would insure “too big to fail” institutions while charging them an appropriate premium for doing so and standing ready to unwind them if necessary. Dodd is playing the wrong cards: One functional FDIC trumps three imaginary regulators.
‐ Chrysler disbanded its electric-car division, named ENVI, short for “environmental.” ENVI was a big part of Chrysler’s pitch for government aid; former CEO Robert Nardelli touted a plan to market 500,000 plug-in vehicles by 2013. New CEO Sergio Marchionne has cut that expectation to 60,000. The Obama administration has not complained too loudly about this broken promise, perhaps because it knows that Chrysler cannot hope to repay taxpayers the billions it owes them by making little green cars in high-wage union shops. Still, Chrysler’s decision is an embarrassment for Obama. His program to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is looking increasingly like a stimulus package for Japan.
‐ The illegal population has shrunk in recent years, thanks to increased enforcement of the immigration laws and, less happily, the recession. One of the leading arguments for amnesty, that it is necessary to combat illegal immigration, has thus been disproven. But Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has just reiterated the administration’s support for an immigration overhaul that includes a “tough and fair pathway to earned legal status” — in other words, an amnesty — for illegal immigrants. Perhaps the administration is just stringing Hispanic groups along. Or perhaps it figures that its margins in Congress are going to thin after the next election, so why not try now to guarantee millions of future Democratic votes? If you have worried about a large Democratic majority, worry still more about one with nothing to lose.
‐ Even though Fort Hood is a military base, and even though it’s in gun-friendly Texas, it’s a “gun-free zone”: Soldiers are not allowed to carry weapons except for military purposes. And the massacre there was part of a pattern. Multiple-victim public shootings tend to occur in places where the carrying of weapons is prohibited — a category that includes everything from schools (Virginia Tech) to private businesses (Utah’s Trolley Square Mall) to entire states (Illinois). Such policies may be constitutional — the military and private entities have every right to decide who may and may not carry guns on their property, and entire states can prohibit at least concealed weapons — but they are also unwise.
‐ In the 2005 case of Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court let a Connecticut city use eminent domain to kick residents out of their homes and take their land — not because the neighborhood was particularly run down, and not to build a road or pumping station or other form of infrastructure, but simply because the city thought it would collect more tax revenues if the area were developed for commercial use. The chief lobbyist for the development was Pfizer, the pharmaceutical firm, which had a research facility nearby. But not only has ground never been broken on the site, Pfizer now says it is leaving New London. At this point, the city’s grandiose scheme is nothing more than a group of demolished buildings on a vacant plot. Also in ruins is the rationale for letting local governments seize private property and transfer it to other private owners, based on some bureaucrat’s guesstimate of how much cash it might possibly yield someday.
‐ From 2000 to 2008, the Manhattan Institute reports, one out of seven New York City taxpayers skedaddled. (Presumably, they were the ones who couldn’t secure rent-controlled apartments.) The fundamental reason is high taxes: New York’s state and city income taxes are justly infamous. They help finance unaffordable largesse: New York spends significantly more per capita on Medicaid, for instance, than most other states, and has the highest instance of Medicaid fraud — meaning that New Yorkers are overtaxed and then stolen from to boot. And one policy analyst estimates that the typical New York City taxpaying family is coughing up nearly $900 a year to support the city’s very large population of (non-taxpaying) illegal aliens. Mike Bloomberg may find himself with fewer and fewer dinner parties to attend.
‐ World leaders convened at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have lowered their gazes from the thermosphere to the earth when it comes to global warming, relinquishing their dream of a legally binding international accord on climate change before December’s meeting in Copenhagen. But they’ll be back: Danish prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who is chairing the talks, said he would not let “anyone off the hook,” which is a comical remark for a Dane to address to the United States and China — but maybe Denmark has some of that “smart power” we’ve been hearing about.
‐ The mullahs in charge of the Iranian regime evidently believe that brutality pays. Supporters of theirs have been desecrating the grave of Neda Soltan, the young woman shot dead this summer during a mass demonstration to protest the rigged elections of that moment. On the Internet, Iranians can hear Neda’s mother weeping and cursing. Despair and rage are running deep. Trading on its anti-American credentials as usual, the regime mobilized people to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy and the holding of its staff as hostages. Anti-regime protesters had the courage to exploit the occasion by coming out in tens of thousands on the streets of Tehran and several other cities. As they were being beaten and hounded, they kept up a chant: “Obama — either you’re with us or with them.” The president could surely have found words to say that he was on the side of those appealing to him to help them to a better and freer life. Instead he burbled boilerplate about seeking a relationship, “based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” with what he was eager to call the Islamic Republic of Iran. The mullahs conclude that Obama at the end of the day is more with them, and their thugs can continue to do their worst.
‐ One of the most stirring of the Cuban oppositionists is Yoani Sánchez, a young woman who has gained some renown as a blogger. On a recent Friday, she and a few of her colleagues were going to an anti-violence march in Havana. They were met with violence. The usual goons stuffed Sánchez and another blogger, Orlando Luís Pardo, in a car. They beat them mercilessly; Sánchez resisted with all her might. Apparently, the goons felt that Sánchez and Pardo were more trouble than they were worth that day. Instead of locking them up, they dumped them on the sidewalk. Later, Sánchez wrote, “I managed to see . . . the degree of fright of our assailants, the fear of the new, of what they cannot destroy because they don’t understand, the blustering terror of he who knows that his days are numbered.”
‐ If you think our own “progressives” are bad, be glad you don’t live in Sweden. The obsession over there is for “gender equality.” One Stockholm kindergarten even encourages parents to equip their sons with dresses and female first names. The furthest limits of this trend are being explored by Mr. Ragnar Bengtsson, who since September has been applying a breast-pump to himself in an effort to produce milk. “If it works and the milk turns out to have a high nutritional value it could be a real breakthrough,” gushes (as it were) Mr. Bengtsson — whose next campaign, presumably, will be for the right to pump in public.
‐ The City University of New York was a great conduit for upward mobility through the early and middle decades of the 20th century, with a glittering list of alumni in law (Felix Frankfurter), science (Jonas Salk), the military (Colin Powell), and other fields of endeavor. Sad, then, to read that 90 percent of CUNY freshmen could not solve a simple algebra problem when tested in 2008. Even arithmetic baffled them: Two-thirds could not convert a fraction to a decimal. This is after years of news stories about improved test scores and graduation rates for city schools. The usual response from local politicians is that the school system needs more money. Odd: New York State, with the city well in line, spent $15,981 per public-school student in 2007. The U.S. average is $9,666 — just three-fifths of the New York figure. The city is in any case flat broke, with the mayor demanding 8 percent budget cuts. What’s to be done? Ship students to Utah, perhaps. The Beehive State spent only $5,683 per student, yet math-test results are well-nigh identical with New York’s.
‐ Conservatives are well inured to the charge of racism, but it must sting when aimed at a leftist from accusers farther to the left. Here are ex-Weatherman terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, writing about the 2008 presidential campaign in the hard-left Monthly Review: “[Hillary] Clinton flagrantly appealed to white voters’ identity as ‘workers’ or ‘women’ . . . and followed the ancient and dismal road of racial discourse that appeals to white supremacy, fear, and anxiety.” Goodness! What happened to pas d’ennemis à gauche? But when you have spent your youth in radical-underground bomb factories, Hillary doesn’t look like a leftist at all. We do not put much stock in the judgment of Ayers and Dohrn, but we assume they had their reasons for preferring Obama.
‐ NASA’s early-October LCROSS mission, if not a complete floperoo, delivered less than expected. The idea was to crash a probe into one of the permanently shadowed regions near the moon’s south pole, then analyze the debris cloud thrown up for signs of buried ice. The cloud was much smaller than hoped for, and the results correspondingly doubtful, but yes, there did seem to be water molecules in it. This is less than astonishing. Water ice is a major component of the outer Solar System. Comets, for example, are largely made of ice, and many thousands of them must have hit the moon this past 4 billion years. NASA boosters (so to speak) are thrilled that our future moon bases will be self-sufficient in water. We wonder how, when this year’s flagship lunar mission was smashing something into the moon to see what came up, NASA will ever coax enough funds from Congress to establish a permanent moon base.
‐ CNN has divested itself of Lou Dobbs, the longtime commentator who joined the network at its founding. Aside from the occasional contributions of Bill Bennett, Dobbs was CNN’s only high-profile non-liberal anchor. He is a crusader against illegal immigration (CNN en Español was not in his future) but also a tireless foe of free trade, his mind apparently impregnable by economics. Dobbs will be replaced by John King, the hologram monarch of CNN’s multi-touch dominion. Which is to say, CNN is rejecting its last taste of vinegar for vanilla.
‐ Neocutis, a company based in San Francisco, sells a skin cream that it says can “turn back time to create flawless baby skin again.” Valerie Richardson, reporting for the Washington Times, quotes its website: “Inspired by fetal skin’s unique properties, Neocutis’s proprietary technology uses cultured fetal skin cells to obtain an optimal, naturally balanced mixture of skin nutrients.” The cell line was developed using the skin of an aborted human fetus. Richardson also quoted the company’s statement in response to critics: “Our view — which is shared by most medical professionals and patients — is that the limited, prudent and responsible use of donated fetal skin tissue can continue to ease suffering, speed healing, save lives and improve the well-being of many patients around the globe.” And who can doubt that people with dry skin are, in their own way, suffering? It is a relief to learn that Neocutis is not exercising its legal rights thoughtlessly.
‐ In Pygmalion, Prof. Henry Higgins could tell what part of London a Cockney lived in just by hearing his accent. Now Higgins may have been outdone by Prof. Kathleen Wermke of Germany’s University of Würzburg, who can determine where a baby is from by listening to its cry. Newborns, she explains, “produce those melody patterns that are typical for their languages they have heard during their foetal life, within the last trimester.” Thus voluble French babies’ cries tend to rise toward the end, while those of dour German newborns tend to fall. A British newspaper speculates that research might reveal how “Geordie infants sound different from Brummies,” who in turn would of course be different from the Scouse. Do Texas babies bawl with a drawl? Do New York City babies wail twice as fast and loud as others? (Answer: Yes — and they all ride the subway to work with us in the morning.)
‐ Our congratulations to Mr. Ahmed Muhamed Dore of the Galguduud region of central Somalia, who just married for the sixth time. Mr. Dore claims to be 112 years old; his bride, Safia Abdulleh, is 17. Mr. Dore has 13 children and 101 grandchildren; two of his previous wives are still alive. Confronted with skepticism about his age, Mr. Dore cleared up the matter dispositively by producing the original of his birth certificate, written on goatskin. “Today God helped me realize my dream,” said Mr. Dore following the wedding ceremony. May you continue to receive divine assistance, sir.
Jihad in Texas
In time of war, an army psychiatrist who redefined his identity (born in Virginia, he called himself Palestinian), abused his profession (he tried to convert patients to Islam), prayed with a jihadist cleric (Anwar al-Alwaki, formerly of Falls Church, now of Yemen), and complained, privately and in public, about the unacceptable burdens placed on Muslims obliged to fight fellow Muslims, shoots several dozen people, most of them servicemen and -women, murdering 13.
So how did our politicians and commentators react to Maj. Nidal Hasan’s attack at Fort Hood? Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that what we most have to fear now is a possible wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. Journalist Michael Tomasky said that we should not draw any inferences from “Allahu akbar,” the killer’s battle cry before he opened fire, because it’s just something that votaries of the religion of peace say in moments of stress. Everybody and his brother attributed Major Hasan’s rampage to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), not that he ever experienced any trauma himself — but presumably he heard tales of it from his patients during the intervals when he was not trying to convert them to Islam.
This was the same political correctness that cocooned Major Hasan throughout his Army career. Fellow soldiers noticed his strident and unbalanced behavior: NPR reported that top officials at Walter Reed (his previous posting before Fort Hood) debated whether he was “psychotic.” But no one ever reported him, for fear of discriminating against him — or being rebuked for discrimination. “They’re afraid of getting an equal-opportunity complaint that can end careers,” one Hasan classmate told Time. When Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, worried lest “diversity . . . become a casualty,” he was effectively telling the ranks: Keep your lips zipped.
The free flow of ideas in this country means that pernicious ones will lodge in the minds of very bad actors. The solution is not to restrict freedom, but to take ideas seriously — to flag them and combat them; to monitor those who take ideas to extremes and to come down on them when they first cross the line to incitement or action; certainly to keep them out of positions of power or responsibility, even to the rank of major. This becomes especially important if the jihad draws tactical conclusions from Fort Hood. Since the runup to 9/11, al-Qaeda and its spawn have gone for the big targets: landmarks, airliners, transportation systems. Suppose they now shift to what one Klan theoretician called “leaderless resistance”: one, two, many Fort Hoods.
We have a difficult enough problem as it is — and we cannot address it unless we honestly identify and discuss what is happening around us.
AT WAR II
President Obama’s deliberations on Afghanistan have begun to take on an element of farce.
It is understandable that he wants to think carefully before almost doubling our force in Afghanistan, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal has asked him to do. But let’s remember: McChrystal is Obama’s hand-picked general, sent to Afghanistan to carry out the “comprehensive” strategy Obama announced in the spring. Obama isn’t drilling down on a strategy that has failed, as Bush had to do in Iraq at the end of 2006. He is reconsidering his strategy before it has been given a chance to work.
The reason for doing this, we are told, is the fraudulent Afghan election and the corruption of Hamid Karzai. All the erstwhile Afghanistan hawks on the left have made Karzai central to their anti-war case. Karzai’s performance is undeniably a problem, but a strategy of counterinsurgency regards relatively clean, functional government as a goal, not a precondition.
The Obama administration would be wise to see Karzai as a flawed partner rather than a punching bag. The threats to cut him loose prior to the election only pushed him into the arms of exactly the kind of people we want him to avoid and to isolate. If he cannot rely on us, why would he not fortify himself politically with the support of key indigenous players, even tainted ones?
If we want Karzai to improve, we will need to work through problems with him rather than huff and puff with ultimata (pulling out, or drawing down) that we can’t follow through on without damaging our interests. And we will need to get a better handle on the security situation. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki had many of the same failings as Karzai while we were permitting his country to collapse all around him in 2006. Only when the surge improved security did he become a stronger and more popular leader.
No such transformation will happen in Afghanistan unless McChrystal gets his additional troops. Obama gives every sign of wanting to find a clever way around this fact, needlessly complicating what is a momentous but relatively simple decision. If the Afghan War is important enough that we need to win it, and if counterinsurgency is the only way to do that — conclusions that most members of Obama’s national-security team, from Hillary Clinton to Bob Gates to chairman of the joint chiefs Admiral Mullen, have already reached — then McChrystal must get his troops.
Resistance to McChrystal centers on the White House politicos. They worry about Obama’s expending time and energy defending the war when he has priorities he cares about much more — namely expanding the government here at home. Incredibly enough, the cost of the war has reportedly become a major element of the White House’s deliberations. Obama nearly tripled the projected national debt over ten years in the first few months of his administration without a second thought, but he hesitates at an additional expenditure — that could always be offset elsewhere — to win one of the nation’s wars.
It has been a long, unsatisfactory process of deliberation, but Obama can still put aside politics, and his own micro-managing hesitations, and do the right thing: give his general what he needs to succeed.
The Stupak Victory
Our very Democratic House just held the most important and politically significant vote on abortion since 2003 (at least) — and pro-lifers won big. Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Michigan Democrat, offered an amendment to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health-care bill to ensure that the new government-run insurance program it creates cannot cover abortions, and that the bill’s new subsidies for buying health insurance do not apply to policies that cover abortion. For months Pelosi had been blocking a vote on the amendment, but enough pro-life Democrats demanded a vote as a condition for voting for the bill that she relented. Sixty-four Democrats joined nearly every Republican to vote for the Stupak amendment. The bill then narrowly passed the House.
Liberals, shocked to discover that public opposition to federal encouragement of abortion has persisted into the Obama era, have reacted with disbelief. Some pro-abortion Democratic congressmen are threatening to vote against the final version of the bill if it includes the amendment. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) wants to investigate the Catholic bishops’ lobbying activities. (Restricting federal funds for abortion is now being cast as an act of religious oppression.) Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) is one of many pro-choicers who warn that the back alley will return. Yet the Hyde amendment has blocked federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortion for more than three decades, and nobody has produced any evidence that it has led to anything of the kind.
President Obama went oleaginous rather than hysterical. He just wanted to maintain the status quo on abortion funding, he claimed, and added that the “strong feelings” about the amendment suggested that it did not meet his test. In the months leading up to the amendment, however, it was pro-lifers who were voicing objections to the health-care bills’ funding of abortion. Obama did not worry about a disruption to the status quo then. Instead he accused the pro-lifers who noticed it of “bearing false witness.” Such conduct is exactly what one would expect of a man who favors federal funding of abortion but does not want to have to speak up for it.
The Stupak amendment extends the principle that the Hyde amendment applies to Medicaid — that federal money should not facilitate abortion — to new health-care programs. It changes the status quo only because it affects additional people, as a result of the Obama administration’s ambitions to remake American health care. No serious opponent of abortion in either party could vote in good conscience for health-care legislation without the amendment.
The debate should give pause to those who insist, year after year and without much evidence, that pro-lifers are on the losing side in American politics. The Stupak vote came the weekend after pro-lifers won the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia. The abortion lobby’s low opinion of democracy is receiving new confirmation all the time.