Magazine | February 8, 2010, Issue

The Week

‐ Just wait to see what we have planned for Vermont.

‐ The earthquake spared nothing, from ordinary homes to the palace and the cathedral, and cost tens of thousands of lives. This was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755; Voltaire used the sudden and overwhelming destruction in Candide to undermine the theodicy of Leibniz. Two hundred and fifty-five years later we are still using disasters to score theological and political points. After the Haitian earthquake Pat Robertson mused on CBN that the country’s troubles stemmed from a pact with the devil made by rebellious slaves in 1791. David Brooks gave a secularist interpretation for New York Times readers: “This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story . . . about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services.” Yes, Haiti’s woes, before and after the earthquake, are exacerbated by cultural, social, and political corruption. But let no one make too much of that. No human order is shock-proof, no human life is completely secure in this vale of tears. We do not know the day nor the hour. May God, and the U.S. Navy, help the sufferers.

‐ Harry Reid, according to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, authors of a new book (Game Change) on the 2008 election, was an early supporter of Barack Obama. And one reason was that he spotted a racial winner: Obama was “light-skinned . . . with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Blacks have been saying such things about one another for ages (hence the mordant rhyme, If you’re brown, come on down; if you’re black, stay back). For a white man to make such judgments casually is, to say the least, tin-eared. Reid promptly apologized, and that should be the end of it — with the hope that Reid will show a little mercy to the next public figure who puts his foot in it. He won’t, though, because accusations of racism are political tools, to be wielded by Democrats against Repub­licans (note that Reid apologized not only to Barack Obama, whom he offended, but to racial bully Al Sharpton). If you’re on the right, good night.

‐ Ted Olson and David Boies, a bipartisan team of top-flight lawyers, are challenging California’s Proposition 8 in federal court. The argument is that the ballot initiative, by which California voters defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the state constitution, violates the rights of same-sex couples under the U.S. Constitution. If Olson and Boies are correct, then the marriage laws of most states are also likely unconstitutional. The high stakes make it all the more dismaying that Judge Vaughn Walker has been turning the case into a circus. First he prompted Olson and Boies to bring to court evidence about the motivations of the amendment’s backers, including their moral views about homosexuality. Then he took irregular procedural steps to allow the trial to be videotaped and broadcast — creating the possibility that YouTube clips would expose amendment backers to more of the harassment in which supporters of same-sex marriage have shamefully engaged since the vote. The Supreme Court had to step in to block this scenario. If this lawsuit is not an attempt to exploit the law to achieve political goals that are properly sought elsewhere, the judge is certainly doing his best to give that impression.

‐ Maureen Dowd devoted a column to lauding Olson and Boies. Dowd did not waste a paragraph on anything resembling legal analysis, which was perhaps a blessing. Olson told her that maintaining marriage as the union of a man and a woman “has no point at all except some people don’t want to recognize gays and lesbians as normal, as human beings.” So now we know what Olson thinks of a majority of Americans and the vast majority of conservatives. Olson also cited the cases of notorious heterosexual adulterers such as Tiger Woods to prove . . . what, exactly? If same-sex marriages turn out to have high rates of infidelity, will Olson switch sides? And Olson told Dowd that “he finds himself getting weepy a lot” as he works on the case. Conservatives contemplating his performance may find themselves similarly moved.

#page#‐ Bret Schundler was once just about every conservative’s favorite mayor, or at least one in whom they placed many hopes. “Look for him in 2008,” wrote William F. Buckley Jr. This was during the 1990s, when Schundler was the Republican mayor of heavily Democratic Jersey City, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. He gained national attention for his tireless promotion of school choice. This advocacy never enjoyed a payoff in actual policy, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort: Trenton always blocked Schundler’s initiatives. His two forays into state politics flopped. In 2001, he won the Repub­lican gubernatorial nomination but lost the general election. In 2005, he didn’t even get out of the GOP primary. Yet Schundler soon may find himself in New Jersey’s capital: Gov. Chris Christie has nominated him to serve as state education commissioner. This is a bold selection that says much about Christie’s commitment to education reform. Schundler still must be confirmed, but his presumptive return to the public arena is a welcome development.

‐ Harold Ford Jr. for Senate? The former congressman (D., Tenn.) narrowly lost a tough race in 2006, and he is only 39 years old, so it makes sense to try again. Thing is, he wants to try in New York, where he now works for Bank of America. Ford is a stranger (he still has a Tennessee driver’s license) with a number of right-of-center positions (he opposes partial-birth abortion and supports parental-consent laws), some of which he has expeditiously dumped (he now supports gay marriage). The only solid thing he has going for him is unease with the bland incumbent, Kirsten Gil­librand, appointed to Hillary Clin­ton’s old seat — and with Gillibrand’s dragon­ish patron, senior senator Charles Schumer, who bullied two local congressmen out of challenging his protégé. Voters are restless these days — and maybe even someone as transparent as Harold Ford Jr. can turn that bucking and stamping to his advantage.

A Farewell to Reality

Remember that whole thing about the “reality-based community”? A little bit? Not really? Okay, well, just to bring you up to speed, in 2004 Ron Suskind, author of some Bush-bashing books that seemed really important to Frank Rich at the time, quoted an unnamed Bush aide who said something that perfectly symbolized everything Bush-bashers liked to believe about themselves. The long and short of it was that this anonymous guy conveniently told Suskind that the empire builders of the Bush administration weren’t members of the “reality-based community,” like Suskind.

Wikipedia, a perfect source for this sort of thing, if for nothing else, says that “Reality-based community is a popular term among liberal political commentators in the United States. . . . The term has been defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality.’ Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that there is an overarching conflict in society between the reality-based community and the ‘faith-based community’ as a whole.”

So why rehash all this stuff?

Because, if you haven’t noticed, that same RBC is going nuts. By my rough calculation, E. J. Dionne Jr. has written 10,000 columns (okay, maybe it just feels that way) on how liberalism has no real problems of any kind. The only challenges it faces derive from a fictional “narrative” made up by nasty Republicans. That narrative says that Senate majority leader Harry Reid is a comic oaf, when he is in fact a master of the Senate. The same conservative ignorami call House speaker Nancy Pelosi a left-wing ideologue, when in fact she is “a highly practical local politician more concerned with delivering the goods than with passing ideological litmus tests.”

#page#And the fact that Massachusetts was poised to elect a Republican who had turned his race into a referendum on Obamacare? No problem; Bay State voters actually have a “love-hate” relationship with the Democratic party and vote for Republicans all the time. Jonathan Chait over at The New Republic agrees: “It’s not actually that uncommon for a Senator to win an election in a state that tends to heavily favor the opposite party.” That it hasn’t happened in Massachusetts in over 30 years, and that it’s Ted Kennedy’s seat? Mere details!

Other leading liberal pundits don’t deny that Obama is having problems; they just attribute the problems to things that have nothing in common with the universe we actually occupy. Take Paul Krugman. On January 18, Krugman penned a column in which he insisted that all of Obama’s problems can be traced to the fact that he has been too centrist and bipartisan. If only the stimulus hadn’t been so small, the economy would be humming right now. Obama the Triangulator stumbled because he is too deeply committed to moderation.

Obama’s bigger sin, according to Krugman? He has steadfastly refused to blame his problems on his predecessor, George W. Bush. No, really, he said that, and without dissolving in giggles. Krugman seems to have missed Obama’s reflexive blame-passing to Bush in nearly every major address and interview, foreign and domestic, for the last year.

But back to Dionne. He insists that what conservatives call “liberalism” isn’t really liberalism. “Big government, big deficits, an overly ambitious health-care plan, a stimulus that spent too much and other supposedly left-leaning sins of the Obama regime” don’t amount to liberalism, he ex­plains, just to what addle-pated conservatives think liberalism is.

Now, where could conservatives have gotten that idea? I’ll give you hint: It rhymes with shmeality.

‐ Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag became a father again last November, six weeks before announcing his engagement. Putting the baby before the ring is increasingly common. But it’s still unusual for the baby to be borne by one woman while the ring goes on the finger of another. The mother is venture capitalist Claire Milonas, who was Orszag’s girlfriend. The fiancée is ABC News financial correspondent Bianna Golodryga, whom Orszag met at last spring’s White House Correspondents Dinner. Did Orszag and Milonas split up before Orszag and Golodryga started dating? That is the point of decorum that the Jane Austens of 21st-century Washington are reduced to discussing. Everybody in the circus might ponder this: “Too many fathers . . . have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it” (Barack Obama, Father’s Day 2008). But that was a speech aimed at poor black fathers, not rich and famous white ones.

‐ In an effort to save the imperiled health-care bill, Democrats cut a tentative deal with organized labor that would exempt unionized employees from an excise tax on high-cost health-care plans. Of the many unsavory bargains and rotten deals that have characterized the rush to get this thing passed (the “Louisiana Purchase,” the “Cornhusker Kickback,” etc.), the “Labor Loophole” surely takes the prize. The deal, for which there is no conceivable public-policy justification, would mean that two people with the same plans and incomes would pay different taxes based on union membership. A few Democrats in the Senate tried to insert this provision at the committee level and were laughed out of the smoke-filled room, so nakedly obvious was the special-interest favoritism at work. That the Democratic party embraced this deal at the last minute is a sign of how desperate it became to pass a bill — any bill — that shoved the federal foot through the waiting-room door.

‐ Nevada officials said the state may drop out of Medicaid if the health-care bill passes. Instead it would help its low-income legal residents participate in the federally subsidized exchanges that the bill would establish. The resulting insurance policies would doubtless be more attractive to beneficiaries than Medicaid is. The result: Nevada would spend less on their health insurance, the federal government more. Other states would inevitably make the same calculation. So we have more reason to think that the official projections of this bill’s impact on the federal budget are off the mark. And that the perversities of this legislation have no end.

#page#‐ President Obama wants to slap a cumbrous new tax on American banks. “We want our money back,” he says. The government is expected to lose money on the bailouts — but not the money used to backstop the banks, which are paying it back, with interest. The real losses are expected to come from insurer AIG and from such untouchable Democratic holies as Fannie Mae, the heavily unionized automakers, and the foreclosure-prevention program. Obama’s tax hike would harrow the prudent and imprudent alike, extracting billions of dollars from banks that never took bailout money in the first place. A new tax on banks is a new tax on Americans’ savings and checking accounts. How big? It would have cost JPMorgan’s customers and shareholders $1.5 billion had it been in effect last year, another $1.5 billion for Bank of America, another $1 billion for Morgan Stanley, and would have punished many smaller banks to the tune of billions more. The Democrats are having trouble running against Republicans at the moment, so Obama seeks to run instead against Wall Street — and against the bailouts he voted for as a senator and expanded as president.

‐ The Pentagon released its review of the Fort Hood massacre — the one in which Maj. Nidal Hasan, a jihadist in an American uniform, opened fire on defenseless people, killing 13 of them and wounding 43. It concludes that Hasan’s supervisors made some mistakes, failing to intervene when his special characteristics became clear. And it says that the Army should consider disciplining those supervisors. As Bill Bennett has pointed out, the 86-page report does not mention the word “Islam” or “Muslim” once. It is soaked in the political correctness that is a longstanding hallmark of our military: indeed, that in all likelihood prevented Hasan’s superiors from intervening. Who would have faced repercussions, the Islamist major or his “insensitive,” possibly “Islamophobic” superiors? Even so mild and moderate a politician as Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) was disappointed by the report. Shortly after the massacre, the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, made a chilling statement. He said, “As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” A mentality of political correctness does no one any favors: not American Muslims, not Muslims serving honorably in the armed forces, not anybody.

‐ Democrats caterwauled about President Bush’s “signing statements.” Traditionally issued by presidents to explain their views about bills being signed into law, they are a vestige of a time when all three branches of government felt obliged to consider the constitutionality of their actions — instead of feeling entitled to see what they could get away with and let the courts sort it out later. Moreover, a government that is too big enacts laws that contain thousands of provisions; it would be impractical to veto every bill that includes some dubious component. Presidents are not required to enforce unconstitutional laws, so better they tell us which provisions they believe to be invalid. Plus, signing statements are no more binding on courts than legislative history is: Only the actual words of a statute become law. But congressional Democrats want to own the prerogative of extra-legal spin, which litigants use to persuade judges about how laws should be construed. Thus Democrats speciously complained that Bush’s signing statements were a usurpation of legislative authority. When Obama nevertheless continued the practice, Bush-deranged Dems complained, so Obama has stopped issuing signing statements. Oh, he’s still picking out provisions he intends to disregard. He just doesn’t tell us what they are. Nothing like transparency.

‐ Jon Stewart, the comedian masquerading as a political commentator (or is it the other way around?), delights in making conservative guests on his Daily Show squirm. It was delightful, then, to see the tables turned on him by John Yoo, the Bush Justice Department official who authored what the Left tendentiously calls the “torture memos.” These offered an argument that it would not constitute torture for the administration to waterboard top al-Qaeda detainees and use other “en­hanced” interrogation techniques against them. As Stewart tried to interrogate Yoo, it became clear the former did not grasp the distinction between advocating torture and arguing that something is not torture. It also became clear he did not understand the constitutional role of the executive in wartime. It also became clear he generally had no clue. He at one point had to save himself by going to a commercial, and he ended the interview sputtering for words. Yoo was devastating in part because he was polite; there was no trace of a scowl or a sneer in his demeanor, only a smile. Let future right-leaning Daily Show guests take note: You needn’t outjoke Stewart, or get angry with him. It is enough to explain what you know — and he doesn’t.

#page#‐ The standard argument for the superiority of the American to the more statist European economic model holds that the former does more to promote economic growth. National Review contributor Jim Manzi, writing in National Affairs, argues that the American model, to be sustained, must incorporate reforms to enable the least fortunate to improve their lot. Liberals, notably Paul Krugman, have reacted to the essay by claiming that Manzi never proves that the American model is in fact better at promoting growth — which is true, since proving that view was not Manzi’s aim. In the ensuing debate, liberals pointed out that Europe’s per capita growth has been roughly equal to America’s. Conservatives made three points in response. The first was that one might have expected Europe to grow faster than America over the last few decades since America had a head start after World War II. The second is that total economic growth has been higher in the U.S. than in European social democracies because of population growth. That may suggest that the European model cannot accommodate large families and immigration, and that it is better suited to countries that are resigned to declining on the world stage: Geopolitical influence depends more on the total size of the economy than on individual living standards. The third is that Europe has had the advantage of not having to devote the resources to the military that the U.S. does, in part because the U.S. does. All in all, for the U.S. to go the social-democratic route seems like a bad idea — for the world as well as for us.

‐ Reporters largely ignored it, but the Department of Health and Human Services released a study showing that Head Start’s positive effects peter out by the end of first grade. The study included 44 tests, of which 42 found no statistically significant and lasting improvement. Some positive results are to be expected when you run that many tests, and a footnote points out that the two apparently lasting results disappear after correcting for that tendency. Andrew Coulson and Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute point out that school choice, on the other hand, appears to have lasting positive results. Naturally, the Democrats have expanded funding for Head Start while ending school choice in D.C.

‐ The stimulus bill included $4.35 billion to encourage the states to reform their schools, and President Obama has just suggested another $1.35 billion. The program is called “Race to the Top.” As Stephen Spruiell explains on page 24 of this issue, Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, has turned down his state’s share of the money. Perry says that Texas has already improved its schools and can continue to do so without jumping through federal hoops, and warns that the federal funding is a step toward national standards — standards that he thinks would inevitably be mediocre. He is probably right. But the Democrats should be commended for acknowledging, if only in a small way, that competition might deliver better schools.

‐ Texas is in a battle over its public-school history curriculum, in which the founder of the Mary Kay cosmetics com­pany currently receives more prominent notice than does Chris­topher Columbus — and which had, until recently, excluded Christmas from its list of prominent cultural observations. The role of Christianity in the American Founding is the subject of particularly hot debate. Identity politics is a predictable and lamentable aspect of the debate, with liberals on the curriculum board attempting to legislate specific mention of such vitals of American history as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Raza Unida. Conservatives on the board have made mirroring demands for mention of Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Rifle Association. Such are the abundant glories of government-run education. Texas’s students would be better served if these decisions were made by local school boards rather than by Austin-based political animals of either party — as would the nation’s: Texas and California are the country’s two largest buyers of textbooks (and penniless California is not buying these days), so Texas’s mandates affect what is taught from coast to coast.

#page#‐ The Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035! That factoid, which appeared in the IPCC’s 2007 climate-change report, turns out to have zero evidence behind it. The claim, from a 1999 news story in the British magazine New Scientist, was based on a brief telephone interview with an Indian researcher who now says it was mere speculation, and in any case applied to only a portion of the glaciers. New Scientist presented it as a preliminary finding that had not been reviewed or published, but in the IPCC report, this non-result became the following: “Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.” What appears to be melting now is the IPCC’s credibility.

‐ Some of President Obama’s appointments have been at least mildly encouraging (Robert Gates, Arne Duncan), while others have been disappointing in all-too-predictable ways (Eric Holder, Sonia Sotomayor, Kevin Jennings). But the now-withdrawn nomination of Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Safety Administration was a puzzler. For a job that requires great judgment and discretion, Obama chose a man who misused a secret government database for personal reasons (and was less than forthcoming in his testimony about it); who would have given workers on the front lines against terror the same union protections as Agriculture Department file clerks; and who, based on a 2008 interview, seemed to view pro-life and “Christian identity” groups as a bigger threat than al-Qaeda and its allies (who are, of course, provoked by America’s foreign policy). We’re sure Mr. Southers would have done fine work keeping fundamentalist Episcopalians from blowing up aircraft, but for the job of stopping Islamic terrorists he was singularly ill-suited. Let us give thanks that the job will not be his.

‐ The president has done it again: called Guantanamo Bay a “recruiting tool,” something that causes Muslims to join up with the jihad. He said, “Make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo Prison, which has damaged our national-security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” Jihadism has no shortage of excuses — it never has. It had plenty of excuses before any jihadist was sent to Guantanamo Bay. And an American president should be careful not to give any credence to jihadist excuses. He should also be careful about mentioning the “explicit rationales” of jihadists. The American-Israeli alliance is an explicit rationale of terrorist groups; so is the American-Saudi alliance; so is an Iraq striving toward democracy. Terrorists do not dictate our policies, and they should be free of any illusion that they do.

‐ If someone tries to rob you, do you care whether the policeman who stops him is black or white? The Department of Justice does. Using the standard of “disparate impact” — under which almost any test, no matter how carefully vetted, can be ruled illegally discriminatory if some group does not score high enough on it — DOJ has filed suit against New Jersey because of its exam for police sergeants. The mere threat of such litigation has made Chicago consider completely abolishing its testing of police applicants; meanwhile, a federal judge has accused New York City’s fire department of “intentional discrimination” for using a test on which blacks did poorly. The “disparate impact” doctrine is bad for white applicants, who must meet unfairly high standards; bad for states and municipalities, which, between DOJ’s zealots and the Supreme Court’s recent Ricci decision, are damned if they do and damned if they don’t; and bad for the public of all races, whose civil servants cannot be winnowed as thoroughly as they should be. But it’s great for the diversity industry, which is why Barack Obama’s Justice Department is sure to continue the crusade no matter what.

#page#‐ IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman recently confessed that our tax system is so complicated that even he has to pay somebody else to do his taxes: “I find the tax code complex, so I use a preparer,” he said on C-SPAN. Maybe he could ask his boss, Tim Geithner, for some tips.

‐ When the FBI made an online “wanted” poster of Osama bin Laden, it needed an image showing what he would look like today. The artist created it, in part, using features from an image of Gaspar Llamazares, a Spanish politician who could pass for the middle-aged Osama in a dim light. When Llamazares found out, he was understandably furious, expecting to be strip-searched every time he tried to board a plane. The U.S. government has offered an apology, which Llamazares has angrily spurned, but we have a better idea. Llamazares led the leftist coalition in Spain’s parliament for eight years; he is a member of the Communist party who earned a public-health degree in Havana. What better way for Obama to make amends than by appointing him federal health czar?

‐ In a region traditionally known for producing loud, blustery autocrats who champion failed economic policies (Castro, Ortega, Chávez), Chile is a quietly remarkable success story. On January 11, it signed an accession agreement to become the first South American member of the OECD. Less than a week later, Chilean voters elected a conservative government for the first time since General Pinochet stepped down 20 years ago. The victory of presidential candidate Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire airline mogul, ends two decades of rule by the center-left Concertación coalition, whose multiple governments largely maintained the free-market economic reforms that were adopted under Pinochet. In recent years, Chilean officials moved away from pro-growth policies and toward greater social spending, but they also saved much of their copper windfall during the commodity boom, ensuring that they were in a strong fiscal position when the global financial crisis erupted. Piñera will inherit a well-run economy — one that has the potential to grow much faster. His election, like that of Ricardo Martinelli in Panama last May, affirms that not all Latin American countries are moving left.

‐ In 2005, Google, the Internet giant, went into China. It made a grave compromise when it did so. Bowing to the demands of the Chinese authorities, Google censored its search engine. It created a special engine just for China. This means that Web users in China who Google “human rights,” say, or “Tibet,” will get sanitized results, or none at all. The company justified its decision to cooperate with Beijing by saying that it was better for Chinese people to have some Google rather than none. In any case, Google is in a much different posture now. Sometime in December, the Chinese government attacked Google’s “corporate infrastructure,” as the company says. The government’s main purpose was to pry into the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists and their supporters. Google expressed public displeasure with China, something rarely expressed toward that government, by anyone. And the company is threatening to pull out of the country altogether. It is also saying that, after these five years, it is no longer willing to censor its search engine. This is a surprising and welcome development. At Google’s offices in Beijing, ordinary Chinese came to present flowers, in appreciation.

‐ The Obama administration may be putting the brakes on America’s development of missile defenses, but China hasn’t halted any of its plans to develop a missile shield. On January 11, Beijing announced a successful missile-intercept test above the Earth’s atmosphere. Xinhua, the government news agency, said the test was “defensive in nature.” If that’s true, China may want to propose a reduction in the number of missiles it aims at Taiwan and elsewhere.

#page#‐ You will remember that, on December 30, a Jordanian doctor killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in Afghan­istan. His wife — widow, we should probably say — is quite proud of him. She is a Turk named Defne Bayrak, and she has written a book: Osama bin Laden, the Che Guevara of the East. The comparison is not a bad one, actually.

‐ Here’s a happy story: Two thugs broke into the garden of a British television personality and new mother, but she scared them off by brandishing a kitchen knife and shouting from her window. Unfortunately, the Hertfordshire coppers who re­sponded to Myleene Klass’s call were not impressed by her self-described display of “mummy powers” — they advised her to let the police handle all intrusions in the future. No official reprimand was handed down, but the police department’s message is clear: A Briton’s home is his castle only in the most theoretical sense.

‐ The pyramids of Egypt have excited wonder and speculation for millennia. Some other responses, too: Dr. Johnson called the Great Pyramid “a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments.” These astonishing structures continue to deliver surprises — a hitherto-unknown one, much reduced and buried in sand, was discovered only in November 2008. How were they built? Herodotus was told that the Pharaoh Cheops “commanded all Egyptians to do forced labor for him,” including the cutting and transporting of stones for his pyramids. In later centuries, perhaps influenced by the Book of Exodus (which, however, deals with events a millennium later), people came to think that foreign slaves built the pyramids. Egyptologists, working from traces left by the ancient work force, were skeptical, and their skepticism has now been vindicated. Tombs of workmen have been discovered that are better appointed, and closer to the pyramids themselves, than would have been the case for slaves. Indirect evidence suggests the workers may even have been from upper-class families. Perhaps the well-informed parents of ancient Egypt, like those of today’s United States, were urging their kids to get a government job.

‐ One Saudi Arabian braved flash floods in Jeddah to rescue two family members and dozens of strangers from drowning. This act of heroism was made more remarkable by the fact that the driver, who threw a rope to stranded cars and then dragged them out, was a woman — which makes it a violation of Saudi Arabia’s ban on woman drivers. Malak al-Mutairy’s rescued father isn’t complaining, though: “My daughter has a strong personality. Nothing, even floods, deters her when she is determined to do something.” Isn’t that exactly the spirit the law is trying to combat?

‐ There is such a thing as preemptive surrender to the jihad. We have seen this in case after case — and the latest involves the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This is one of the most important cultural institutions in America, indeed the world. The New York Post reports that the museum “quietly pulled images of the Prophet Mohammed from its Islamic collection and may not include them in a renovated exhibition area slated to open in 2011.” Why? “The museum said the controversial images — objected to by conservative Muslims who say their religion forbids images of their holy founder — were ‘under review.’” The New Criterion’s Roger Kimball had a pointed comment about “controversial images”: “You know what, I’ll bet there are some prudish types who object to the exhibition of naked women. What is the Met going to do about that?” We all understand that an institution should not take unnecessary risks. We also understand that, as you continue to give ground to extremists, you may find yourself with too little ground left to stand on.

‐ After years of denials and evasions, Mark McGwire, the home-run king, admitted to steroid use. As he did so, he sobbed. He said, “The toughest thing is my wife, my parents, close friends have had no idea that I hid it from them all this time. . . . I knew this day was going to come. I didn’t know when.” He said it was especially hard to break the news to his son, now 22, who was 10 when McGwire hoisted him at home plate: That was when McGwire broke Roger Maris’s record for home runs in a single season. Before he made his public admission, McGwire called Maris’s widow, to tell her and apologize. Some people greeted McGwire’s admission cynically: For one thing, everyone knew he was guilty; for another, he was to reenter baseball as the hitting coach for one of his old teams, the Cardinals — and he had to come clean before that. Still, a coming clean is a wonderful thing. A great slugger, Hank Aaron, responded this way: “He has my forgiveness.” He added that, if steroids are the only thing keeping McGwire out of the Hall of Fame, “we should all forgive him.” That seems right.

‐ Miep Gies used to say she was just an ordinary housewife. Austrian by birth, and Catholic, she married a Dutchman named Jan Gies and lived in Amsterdam. In the war, Miep and Jan helped hide Otto Frank and his family in a secret room, daily risking their own lives to do so. For Miep, Otto Frank’s young daughter Anne was a girl “full of the joy of just being alive,” and she remembered seeing Anne writing her diary with a look of utter intensity in her face. When the Gestapo rounded up the Franks, Miep kept Anne’s diary safe. She also respected Anne’s privacy. If she’d read those pages, she would have found references to herself and Jan, and might well have destroyed the lot for fear that the Gestapo in another search would incriminate them. After the war Otto Frank returned, and he was with Miep when he heard that his wife and daughters were dead. Miep took out the diary, saying, “Here is your daughter Anne’s legacy to you.” More than that, it is a legacy to us all. The Diary of Anne Frank has been published in millions of copies in dozens of languages. Miep had her part in rescuing a human document that touches the heart like no other. This admirable lady lived to be 100. The world could do with a lot more ordinariness like hers. R.I.P.

#page#THE SENATE

Brown In

Scott Brown didn’t defeat just Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race. He also defeated a hardy band of political clichés. That Republicans can’t win Senate races in deep-blue Massachusetts. That the state is devoted to “the Kennedy legacy.” That the Republican party has become hostage to extremists who would rather lose than support a pro-choice candidate. That the GOP has become a southern regional party. That what Democrats call “health- care reform” is a fait accompli. That President Obama has magical powers of persuasion.

Democrats are blaming Coakley for running a bad campaign. Actually, it was a terrible one. But she had won statewide before, and the local party establishment expressed no alarm when she won the nomination. They either didn’t see her flaws or thought that in Massachusetts it wouldn’t matter. What made a weak candidate a losing candidate was the national environment.

Liberals — some of the same people who chalked up Obama’s win to the public’s new zeal for progressivism — blame the economy for the public mood. But is it really high unemployment that has moved the public against the health-care legis­lation, abortion, and gun control? Remember that just a few months ago the conventional wisdom was that a weak economy would build public support for Obamacare. The Massachusetts race was as close to a referendum on that legislation as can reasonably be imagined, and it lost.

So another Democratic excuse is making the rounds: Massa­chusetts is a special case, since it already has near-universal coverage and thus has more to lose than gain from the legis­lation. But a lot of states, and indeed the whole country, will lose more than gain, and know it. Some Democrats have talked about putting Obamacare into law by having Demo­cratic appointee Paul Kirk vote for it before Brown can be seated. We suspect that move would be too disgraceful to work. But to push the Senate bill through the House and make it law that way would also be to ignore the clear will of even blue-state voters. Democrats will deserve the thrashing they will get if they follow this course.

We have no doubt that National Review will have friendly disagreements with Senator Brown on many issues. But Brown ran on tax cuts, tough interrogations of terrorists, and opposition to a federal takeover of health care and a bank tax. If that is a winning platform in Massachusetts, it will surely be one elsewhere.

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

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Assimilating Down

If Rep. Luis Gutierrez gets his way, Americans will soon be engaged in another bare-knuckled brawl over the future of U.S. immigration policy. On December 15, the Illinois Democrat unveiled ...
Politics & Policy

Balancing Act

The Obama administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, has produced genuine headline news: The Democrats, usually seen kowtowing to organized labor’s demands, for once are standing up to ...
Politics & Policy

Defanged

A trailer for the new movie Daybreakers invites us to “ima­gine a world where almost everyone is a vampire.” That shouldn’t be too hard. It seems like we’re already living in ...

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Generation Gap

The dilemmas of youth are universal. Consider Nicholas and Victoria, a pair of late-blossoming youngsters cur­rently making their way toward adult­hood at a multiplex near you. Respectively male and female, ...
Country Life

Upstate Blues

Christmas has come and gone, even for the Eastern Orthodox, and the stores are looking ahead to Valentine’s Day. But many upstate lawns still have their Christmas decorations: Santa, Frosty, ...
Politics & Policy

Future Imperfect

In this intriguingly contrarian re­work of the Thomas Friedman “hot and flat” motif, Gregg Easterbrook asserts that venture capitalists are no better than lottery players when it comes to choosing ...

Sections

The Long View

From the Wednesday Inbox

TO:  jstevens@wilmercutlerllc.com FROM:  pwilliamson@manattphelpsllc.com SUBJ:  our clients Dear Joe: I just got an e-mail from my client. He has been watching the Massachusetts Sen­ate returns closely — he says it reminds him a lot ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

FOOTNOTE *He lied. [When he left and said he didn’t love you anymore, that he needed to find some space to grow as a person, above all, as an artist, a writer of some ...
Happy Warrior

Carried Away

‘It’s ’Elf ’n’ Safety, mate, innit?” You only have to spend, oh, 20 minutes in almost any corner of the British Isles to have that distinctive local formulation proffered as ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

Incumbent Slayers In his review of Craig Shirley’s Rendezvous with Destiny (“Bliss Was It in That Dawn,” January 25), Jay Cost writes that Ronald Reagan “was the only candidate in the ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Just wait to see what we have planned for Vermont. ‐ The earthquake spared nothing, from ordinary homes to the palace and the cathedral, and cost tens of thousands of ...

Most Popular

Elections

A Reckoning Is in Store for Democrats

The crisis of the Democrats is becoming more evident each week. Those of us who have been loudly predicting for years that the Russian-collusion argument would be exposed as a defamatory farce, and that the authors of it would eventually pay for it, are bemused at the fallback position of the Trump-haters: that ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar: A Hostage Situation

‘It has to stop,” says Representative Ilhan Omar. No, it does not. Representative Omar, the Jew-hating Minnesota Democrat, is engaged in one of her usual games of misdirection, a pattern of hers that by now is familiar enough to be predicted: She says something outrageously stupid, offensive, ... Read More
Elections

Why ‘Stop Sanders’?

'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” T. S. Eliot asked. “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” And where is the intelligence we have lost in cleverness? Cleverness is the plague of our political classes, an influenza of the intellect. The consultants are always trying to ... Read More