‐ The climate of Palin-hatred, on the other hand, may carry on as usual.
‐ Clarence Dupnik, 75 years old, has been sheriff of Arizona’s Pima County since 1980. When tragedy thrust him into the spotlight, he was not ready for it. “When you look at unbalanced people,” he told reporters the day of the shootings, “how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government — the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry. . . . I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol.” Dupnik’s rant was psychologically obtuse (unbalanced people listen more often to their own dark muses than to circumambient vitriol) and politically motivated (Pima County’s sheriff is an elected officer and Dupnik is a mainstay of the local Democratic party). The portrait of Jared Lee Loughner that emerged over the next few days showed Dupnik’s characterization to be false as well: Loughner was a crazed drug user, not political in any meaningful sense, considered left-wing by some former friends. Thirty-one years is a long time on the job — time for Pima County to find a new sheriff.
‐ Paul Krugman is an economist who has earned the highest honors in his field. Since 2000 he has also written a semi-weekly column for the New York Times. There have long been signs that his second career is a mistake. In 2005 Daniel Okrent, then the public editor of the Times, wrote that Krugman has a “disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers.” A friendly 2010 profile in The New Yorker mentioned that he relies on his wife, Robin Wells, to edit his columns and punch them up. Any reader not completely in sympathy with these two could see that their columns were disfigured by rancor and bluster. With the Tucson shootings Krugman crossed a line. Within hours his blog blamed the bloodshed on “the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc.” because “violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate.” In his regular column the next day he wrote of a right-wing tide of “eliminationist rhetoric,” which ought to be “shunned by all decent people.” Outside the confines of academic economics, Krugman is not used to disagreement. He is not knowledgeable about politics or government, and his self-righteousness unsuits him for writing about controversy. Paul Krugman can’t stand the heat, and only knows how to generate more of it. He should get out of the kitchen.
‐ After Tucson, the Brady Center, an anti-gun group, issued a number of misleading statements arguing that the federal “assault weapons” ban might have prevented the crime. This claim is flatly untrue: Neither the weapon used in this heinous assault nor the high-capacity magazine that fed it were banned under the AWB, despite the usual ignorant media reports to the contrary. Hardly an exotic assault weapon, the Glock pistol used by Loughner is one of the most common privately kept firearms in the United States — a great many U.S. police departments use it too — and such a weapon could reasonably be banned only if almost all U.S. handguns were. One would think that the Brady Center would have some insight on the limits of narrowly drawn gun bans: If we banned all semiautomatic handguns and permitted only revolvers, and if we banned all powerful revolvers, permitting only the smallest of them, that still would have left untouched the .22-caliber pistol with which John Hinckley Jr. shot James Brady, for whom the center is named. Committed killers, whether wild-eyed and crazy or clear-eyed and calculating, will not be dissuaded by law or reason. Timothy McVeigh needed no gun at all, nor did the 9/11 killers.
‐ The Tucson murders have raised one important, as opposed to opportunistic, issue: that of how our society handles those mentally ill people who do not appear obviously homicidal or suicidal but nevertheless require serious psychiatric care. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, roughly half of all U.S. states allow involuntary commitment under a “need for treatment” (NFT) standard. The vast majority of states also have laws permitting court-ordered “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT). The available evidence suggests that AOT can dramatically curb the risk of homelessness, psychiatric hospitalization, arrest, and imprisonment among the mentally ill. Arizona boasts some of the strongest AOT and NFT laws in America. But those laws make no difference if no one invokes them, as nobody did in Loughner’s case. Arizona’s mental-health system is also woefully underfunded, as are those of most other states. At a time when state budgets are under enormous strain, directing more money toward psychiatric care may seem a low priority. But the consequences of neglecting mental health are all around us: on our street corners, in our hospitals, and throughout our jails. Critics of compulsory treatment denounce it as an assault on personal freedom. Yet schizophrenics cannot truly exercise their God-given freedom — or enjoy any real dignity — without medical assistance. To prolong their enslavement in the name of freedom is mad.
#page#In Their Guts, They Think We’re Nuts
I will forgive you, dear reader, for skipping over this column if you are just too sick of the “civility” mania that erupted after the Tucson massacre. “Mania” is an overused word these days, and it does feel a bit callow to utter it in the context of a story in which a true madman committed such a heinous act. Still, from where I sit, I think it’s appropriate, because what we witnessed during the week after Jared Lee Loughner’s murder spree was an example of collective hysteria that would add a useful chapter in any updated version of Charles Mackay’s 19th-century classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one,” Mackay observed. In the 16th century, when crops failed, or wells ran dry, witches were blamed and made to pay for it. It may be true, as Mackay claims, that the rush to kill witches was often an excuse to settle old scores. But that doesn’t negate the fact that those who burned innocent women had convinced themselves they were in the right. It was this self-delusion that qualified the mobs as mad. Were it otherwise, we would speak of the Machiavellianism, not the madness, of the mob.
So too I think it was with the modern witch hunt that sprang up from the pools of blood in Tucson. To be sure, amidst the spittle-chinned ranters, there undoubtedly were Machiavellians who knew that their slanders were unconstrained by the ballast of fact or reason. But for every partisan mercenary, there were a thousand (ten thousand?) true believers, who sincerely connected the dots on Sarah Palin’s Facebook map to the mayhem in Tucson.
What explains this epidemic of St. Vitus’s Dance? How can people who see “No Justice, No Peace!” as a heroic slogan, or who laughed when they saw “Snipers Wanted” emblazoned under the last president’s image on a comedy show, suddenly contend that everyday phrases and metaphors incite violence?
The answer, I think, lies not in a fear of the words or even in hatred of those who utter them. Rather, I think it is a fear of their fellow Americans. The Left believes that their people are smart enough to distinguish incitement from metaphor. Hence former congressman Paul Kanjorski, who not long ago said a Republican politician should be put up against a wall and shot, saw no inconsistency in warning others not to use far less uncivil language. When asked about the incongruity, he replied that “only fruitcakes” would think he was serious. Well, yes, but isn’t that exactly the nut of the Left’s argument about Loughner?
The Kanjorskis, Olbermanns, Sullivans, and Krugmans have such contempt for the Americans who disagree with them that they honestly conclude that only “those people” are so dimwitted and hateful that they can be triggered to kill with a metaphor. They fear denizens of “Red States” so much they’ve convinced themselves there is a blood-red state of mind.
‐ In November 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan went on a rampage at Fort Hood, yelling “Allahu akbar!” as he did so. He left 13 people dead. Within hours, we all learned of his longtime devotion to the Islamist cause. And yet much of the political and media establishment, from President Obama on down, urged that we must not “jump to conclusions” — must not assume that the killer was an Islamist terrorist. In a recent column for the Washington Examiner, Byron York recalled and documented all this. The reaction of the political and media establishment to the Tucson massacre, of course, was a lot different: featuring much “jumping to conclusions,” about Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and their culpability. Last year, when an Islamist tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg speculated that the bomber “doesn’t like the health-care bill or something.” If even Islamic terrorists are presumed tea partiers, no wonder Sarah Palin is always in the dock.
‐ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Abu Dhabi, conducting a townhall-style meeting at a college. Someone asked her about 9/11, the Arab world, and extremism. She said, “We have extremists in my country,” noting that Representative Giffords “was just shot by an extremist in our country.” Clinton was eager for her Arab audience to understand: “We have the same kinds of problems” — the same problems the Arab world has. “So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.” We’re sure the UAE has its share of feckless officials, too. Maybe Mrs. Clinton can bond with its residents over that.
‐ House Republicans opened the new Congress by reading the Constitution. Democrats huffed. A meaningless stunt, they said. By omitting superseded portions of the Constitution, including those dealing with slavery, the Republicans had “whitewashed” the Founders’ record, they said. Worst of all, they said, the Republicans were obnoxiously implying that Democrats dislike the Constitution. Wherever would people get that idea?
‐ When President Obama appointed William Daley chief of staff — replacing Rahm Emanuel, who is running to succeed Daley’s brother, who is retiring as mayor of Chicago — we checked the statute books to make sure that incest is still illegal. As products of the Chicago Democratic machine go, though, Daley is not bad. He helped win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement for the Clinton administration and disagreed in public with the Democrats’ push for a partisan health-care bill last year. He may help Obama get reelected, especially if Americans forget the president’s first two dismal years.
‐ Reince Priebus won the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee, beating among others the incumbent Michael Steele, whose gaffes and mismanagement had emptied the reservoir of goodwill Republicans had for him at the start. Under Priebus, the Wisconsin Republican party had an enormously successful 2010: beating Sen. Russ Feingold, picking up the governorship and two House seats, and taking control of both houses of the legislature. As chairman, Priebus is off to a running start, firing convention staff he considers overpaid. It’s good that Priebus appears to be a solid conservative, and even better that he seems to understand that the chairman’s job is largely behind the scenes.
‐ Pres. Barack Obama, whose signature achievement in office has been dropping a 1,000-page package of regulations onto the American health-care market, has now decided that there are too many federal regulations, and, with an eye on job growth, has ordered regulators to study the problem. There is a kind of genius at work in that: The regulators already are regulated under regulations derived from the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires that regulators, before regulating, study a proposed regulation’s impact on small business. To that regulator-regulating regulation, President Obama has added an additional regulation, stipulating that regulators “reduce regulatory burdens on small business.” What obviously is needed here are additional regulators to regulate the enforcement of the regulator-regulating regulations, which is to say, regulator-regulating-regulation-regulator regulators. Who says Obama doesn’t know how to create jobs?
#page#‐ Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has announced that he will not seek reelection, was many conservatives’ favorite liberal and many liberals’ least-favorite liberal, a fact that was almost entirely the product of his breaking with his party to endorse a sensible U.S. foreign policy rooted in the frank pursuit of American interests in the Middle East. His steady and high-profile support for the Iraq campaign helped to ease the Bush administration’s execution of it. It also earned him an antiwar primary challenge and left him permanently estranged from his Democratic colleagues. He was otherwise an almost entirely orthodox liberal, unconventional among his caucus only in that his heterodoxy was principled rather than opportunistic. But the one thing he was right on was a big one, and for that he has our thanks, and our best wishes for a long and fruitful retirement.
‐ Senate Democrats, especially those who have never served in the minority, want to “reform the filibuster,” their theory being that it is outrageous that their temporary majority of the last two years was able to restructure only the health-care and financial industries. But their reforms do not just make it easier for simple majorities to prevail on votes. They also reduce the minority party’s power in subtler, and less defensible, ways. Right now, the minority party can filibuster to prevent a bill from being taken up on the Senate floor — a threat that can force the majority party to let it offer amendments. The leading “reform” proposal eliminates this leverage. Current Senate procedures also let the minority slow down the majority, forcing it to choose priorities rather than ram its whole wish list through. Many Democrats want to change that, too. Looking over the Senate’s legislative output — both recently and over a longer horizon — we cannot see a case for making it a less deliberative body.
‐ Instances of genuine political persecution are rare in the United States, which makes the case of former House majority leader Tom DeLay remarkable. DeLay was engaged in a routine act of political fundraising: He solicited $155,000 in contributions for a political-action committee he headed, and the PAC contributed $190,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee. The RNSEC then contributed $877,000 to 42 state and local candidates in Texas in the final two months of the 2002 campaign, including seven recommended by DeLay. For this, DeLay was charged with and convicted of criminal money laundering, a crime defined by knowingly using the proceeds of criminal activity. Since these contributions were all legal, the most basic element of this supposed crime could not be proved; nonetheless, the spotlight-hungry Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, documentary-film crew in tow, drove the case forward in one of the most outrageous abuses of criminal law that we have seen in decades. He needed three grand juries before he found one that didn’t laugh him out of court. Meanwhile, he indicted a number of companies, including Sears, that had made perfectly legal contributions to DeLay’s PAC, and then sold those companies dismissals in exchange for donations to one of his favorite charities. Tom DeLay played brass-knuckles politics, but that does not mean he belongs in prison.
‐ My Father at 100: A Memoir is Ron Reagan Jr.’s account of his famous father. It is less about politics than family history: the Atreus family, to judge by early reviews. Ron Jr. claims that the president had Alzheimer’s when he was still in the White House. The medical basis for this diagnosis? “I had an inkling something was going on,” he told an interviewer. Elder half-brother Michael Reagan has fought back with tweets, maintaining that Ron Jr. wants to “sell out his father to sell books.” Ron Reagan is a liberal activist who uses the paradox of his name to attract attention he would not otherwise get. Historians and biographers will naturally sift his book, even if they judge it to be no more than a cri de coeur. Reagan Jr.’s worst offense is to suck up media air. His book is not the commemoration that a world-historical figure of Reagan’s stature merits on the centennial of his birth.
#page#‐ According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all Americans believe China has become the leading global economic power. Such fears are now driving support for foolish populist measures aimed at Chinese currency and trade practices. The outrage over Beijing’s weak-yuan policy is understandable, but also misguided. For one thing, a stronger yuan would probably do very little to boost U.S. employment, given the huge disparities between American and Chinese exports, not to mention the enormous gap in labor costs. As for the bilateral trade deficit, it continued to grow between 2005 and 2008, even as the yuan appreciated by 21 percent against the dollar. Beijing’s persistent trade mischief deserves criticism, but the U.S. lost much credibility when it imposed sanctions on Chinese tires in 2009. Generally speaking, the Obama administration should maintain its dual-track approach of engaging Beijing on issues of mutual concern while also bolstering U.S. security partnerships throughout Asia. The Chinese have denounced this as a hostile “containment” strategy. Which it is. But it is one that they have the power to make unnecessary.
‐ It is the turn of Tunisians to illustrate how dictatorship ends and what happens next. They’d had enough of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in power as president since 1987 and a model of injustice, continuously suppressing opposition and also amassing a fortune said to be $5.5 billion. Taking to the streets in mass demonstrations, they forced Ben Ali either to make concessions or to order his security police to fire on the protesters. Concessions only made Ben Ali look weak and ready to run away, and, sure enough, he soon fled to Saudi Arabia, where failed dictators like to retire. In his absence, persons unknown gave orders to the army, the one and only institution capable of ruling. When Ben Ali’s security forces tried to restore the status quo, the shooting and the looting began. The head of these forces and his deputy are already under arrest. In hope and expectation, many protesters are calling for elections, democracy, a new start. Some elderly and rather compromised politicians are declaring themselves to be the government, and local Islamists and even al-Qaeda are also mustering. The outcome of this revolution could be freedom or yet another dictatorship, and the uncertainty of it is shaking the whole Arab order.
‐ Aasia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian under sentence of death for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. She had been working in the fields one day alongside Muslim women, and they apparently set her up. The blasphemy law with its mandatory death sentence dates from the 1980s as part of Pakistan’s growing Islamism and has no Koranic sanction. The case of Aasia Bibi has become almost a national cause. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab and a personal friend of Pres. Asif Ali Zardari, was the latest eminent man to push for the repeal of this law. A prominent politician in the Pakistan Peoples party, a successful businessman and publisher, Taseer was one of the country’s most outspoken critics of religious extremism. As Taseer was getting into his car in an Islamabad market, one of his security guards, a man by the name of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, shot him more than 20 times in the back. Calmly smiling as he surrendered to the police, Qadri justified the murder with the words, “I am a slave of the Prophet.” When Qadri was charged in court, supporters, many of them lawyers, turned up to throw rose petals at him. Pakistani politicians, including President Zardari, protest that they will carry on with Taseer’s progressive ideas, but most of them were too intimidated even to attend his funeral.
#page#‐ President Obama has eased U.S. policy on Cuba, by allowing broader travel to the island and upping the limit on remittances that can be sent there. He did not seem eager to advertise these changes: The White House announced them at 5 p.m. on a Friday before a holiday weekend. Obama did not consult Congress. The new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American, decried the new policy. Cuba’s dictatorship is facing a liquidity crisis, and must be very pleased by the increased remittances: These are one of the dictatorship’s most important sources of revenue. The money arrives in an individual’s pocket greatly reduced; his government has taken a cruel share. From the beginning, Obama has seemed eager to ingratiate himself with the Latin American Left. He gave Hugo Chávez a soul-brother handshake and called him “mi amigo,” his friend. When a constitutional crisis erupted in Honduras, Obama sided with the would-be Chávez of that country, Manuel Zelaya. Pres. George W. Bush’s policy on Cuba was one of carrots and sticks: incentives for liberalization, penalties for continued repression. Obama’s policy seems to be one of gifts.
‐ Silvio Berlusconi seems to lead a life straight out of an Italian opera, with its well-tried devices of hidden identity and surreptitious meetings of lovers. The latest repeat of the comedy features Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan prostitute aged 18. Her nickname is Rubacuori, or Heart-Robber. All agree that she spent nights in Berlusconi’s villa near Milan. On television, and looking most demure and pale, she conceded that on one of her visits to the villa Berlusconi had paid her 7,000 euros, but only because he was aware of her financial plight. Yes, at the villa there was what she intriguingly called bunga-bunga, but the euros were not for services rendered. On another television program Berlusconi took the opening — as he often does — to assert that it would be beneath his dignity to pay for sex. But he admitted that at one point El Mahroug had been detained on a charge of stealing, and he had called the police station in Milan, describing her as a relation of Pres. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and pressing for her release. What a gift for Rossini or Donizetti to set to music.
‐ Here is another in our continuing series on animal misbehavior in the Muslim Middle East due to those evil scheming Israelis. First it was sharks (“The Week,” December 31), then wild boar and poison-resistant rats (January 24). Now we learn that the Saudis have arrested a vulture suspected of spying for Mossad. The big bird — vulture wingspans can exceed eight feet — landed in the desert city of Hyaal. Locals discovered that it was tagged with a GPS transmitter bearing the name of Tel Aviv University. Zionist plot! Vic the vulture was handed over to the security services, who no doubt vowed they’d make the bastard talk. Fortunately there are a few sane people in Saudi Arabia. The worldly Prince Bandar bin Saud al-Saud took charge, pointed out that all countries — including Saudi Arabia — tag birds for research purposes, and promised a swift release.
‐ A new television show recently debuted on the Moscow station REN-TV: Mysteries of the World with Anna Chapman. It stars the 28-year-old redhead who was arrested in New York City last year for attempting to spy on behalf of the Russian government. After a prisoner swap returned Chapman to her native land, she cashed in on her notoriety — and her looks — for all the trappings of a media personality: a Playboy article, a Maxim spread, and even a prominent role in the United Russia party. Each week, the “Venus of the Volga” will explore “puzzling phenomena,” the show’s website promises. In an ad, she beckons viewers, “I reveal all mysteries, if you have the courage.” Considering that Chapman, undercover in the U.S., registered her cell phone at the address “99 Fake Street,” perhaps the real mystery is how she entered her previous career.
#page#‐ The Queensland floods of early January, which put Brisbane, the third-largest city in Australia, underwater, claimed the lives of at least 30 people. One of them is Jordan Rice, age 13, who was in a car on the streets of Toowoomba with his mother and ten-year-old brother, Blake, when the water level surged. A nearby truck driver tied a rope to a pole and swam downstream to rescue the stranded family. Jordan, who according to his father could not swim and was terrified of water, told the man to take his brother first; by the time Blake made it to safety, the Rices’ car had flipped and submerged, and Jordan and his mother had been carried off. News coverage of the flood fastened on Jordan’s selfless act, making his school picture, tow-headed and freckly, the face of the disaster. If Mother Nature’s fighting spirit has always been a little closer to the surface in the sunburnt country than elsewhere, the human fighting spirit has, too.
‐ The annual winter dance at Vermont’s South Burlington High School was canceled this year because few students wanted to attend. The reason: School authorities had banned “grinding” — which, as the Burlington Free Press’s choreography beat writer explains, is “a popular form of dancing in which participants rub their bodies against each other, usually with the partners facing the same direction.” The less coy Wikipedia adds that “the women try to arouse the men by strong hip movements.” SBHS’s senior-class president protests that grinding can be done in a tasteful way, but the school’s principal remains firmly opposed. Tough calls like that are why educational administrators make the big bucks. What makes it worse is that the winter dance has traditionally been a fundraiser for school activities. “We’re running the risk of having the students pay for their senior banquet,” the class president complains. Heaven forfend. Another student points out that grinding is just “our way of dancing.” If Irving Berlin were a modern teenager, he might say that any other style doesn’t thrill him half as much as dancing cheek to . . . er, never mind.
‐ Astrology is tosh (NR, 7/9/2001), but many citizens seem not to know this. These poor souls are now taking in the fact that they might not belong to the zodiacal sign they always supposed — might be outgoing and inquisitive, not sensitive and emotional. Here are the basics. The ancients, observing the night sky, grouped stars in constellations named for mythical persons or animals. Twentieth-century astrologers used these old patterns as a basis for dividing the celestial sphere into 88 precisely defined regions, each bearing the name of a constellation. The sun appears to move through 13 of these constellations in a year, plodding through the middle of some while merely grazing others. (It takes 44.5 days to traverse Virgo, but skips through Scorpius in little more than a week.) Astrologers have stuck with the Babylonian system, which for numerological reasons ignores the 13th constellation and assigns almost-equal transit times, from 29 to 32 days, to the others. All this has long been known, but when astronomer Parke Kunkle pointed it out to the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune, he made headlines anyway. Told that there’s a fool born every minute, P. T. Barnum responded: “Where do the rest of them come from?”
#page#‐ Astronomical conservatives suffered a crushing blow in August 2006 when Pluto was demoted to the status of “dwarf planet.” This followed the discovery of a bigger planet, subsequently named Eris, much farther from the Sun. The existence of Eris opened up the possibility of many more such worlds. To avoid an overabundance of planetary names for schoolchildren to remember, astronomers tightened up the definition of “planet,” and Pluto fell outside the new rules. Now we learn that, as so often is the case with ill-considered schemes of reform, the decision may have been premature. Observations made when Eris passed in front of a distant star on November 6 last suggest she may be smaller than Pluto after all. Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, who discovered Eris (and wrote a book about it with the regrettably eliminationist title How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming), is unrepentant, but allows that this new data could have saved Pluto. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
‐ Sargent Shriver had the not-altogether-enviable fate of being a Kennedy in-law. Of old Maryland stock, he went to Yale and was wounded at Guadalcanal before going to work for Joseph P. Kennedy and marrying Kennedy’s daughter Eunice. He found himself something more than a family retainer but less than a blood relation, and his political aspirations were sacrificed to dynastic interests. Not until 1972, when he became George McGovern’s running mate after Thomas Eagleton withdrew, did he seek high office. According to his biographer, Shriver would each day “ask himself, in effect, What have I done to improve the lot of humanity?” Jack Kennedy, who regarded such ingenuous idealism with skepticism, gave him charge of the Peace Corps, a program that Kennedy valued less as a means of saving the world than as a Cold War propaganda device. Shriver’s other great public service — Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty — was the kind of grandiose Washington project in which he delighted, though it proved a failure. With all the naïveté of his intentions, Sargent Shriver was a good man, a devout Catholic, and a patriot. He died at 95 in Bethesda. R.I.P.
‐ John Gross was the most civilized man you could have known. He had superb manners, and was versed in literature, theater, art, history, and virtually everything else. He was once called “the best-read man in Britain,” no less. But there was nothing stuffy or pompous about him. He was perpetually generous and amusing. He was born in London’s East End in 1935. He became a famous man of letters, both in Britain and in America. He held a number of important positions. For example, he was the editor of The Times Literary Supplement. And senior book editor of the New York Times. He compiled many Oxford anthologies, the last of which came out only last year: a book of literary parodies (see John O’Sullivan’s review on p. 48). He was a trustee of London’s National Portrait Gallery, judged the Booker Prize. People regarded him as a conservative, and he was, in a way. But this was mainly not a political matter. It was a matter of high standards in art, letters, and life. It was a matter of sticking up for the Judeo-Christian civilization. John Gross has died at 75. The last of a breed? Maybe not, but there are precious few specimens left. R.I.P.
Madness in Tucson
The Tucson shootings seem, thanks to the intensity of our attention, to have happened months ago. But the first thing to say, now as on January 8, is a prayer for the murdered, praise for those who helped the victims and subdued their attacker, and best wishes for the grief-stricken and the wounded, particularly Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The supermarket meet-and-greet that Jared Loughner shot up was a microcosm of American retail politics: officeholder and aide, partisans pro and con, the friendly judge, the curious girl. Such routines are a part of the way we run our affairs; the quiet dignity of these and other ordinary rituals of daily life rebukes insanity and chaos.
That was not the first reaction of half the American commenting class. Columnists and commentators, bloggers and tweeters descended on the event in a whirlwind of wrath. A map that Sarah Palin had posted during the last election cycle, targeting 20 swing House seats, including that of Representative Giffords, was taken as evidence that the former governor had targeted the congresswoman for destruction, not just electoral defeat. Or, if the common use of such maps, and the universal use of military metaphors in politics (campaign, battleground states, saving your best shot, etc., etc.) made it ridiculous to charge Palin with incitement, her enemies raged instead at the “climate” of hate and fear that she had brewed. Or, once it began to be clear that Jared Loughner was a deranged loner without political sympathies or even interests, the meteorological accusation still held: Political “vitriol” (the word of Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik) drew Loughner to Representative Giffords subliminally. The vitriol throwers were legion, but all were to be found on the right: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, talk radio, the Tea Party.
Some liberals — Howard Kurtz, Jonathan Chait, Charles Blow — declined to join the orgy. A few of the worst — Dupnik, Paul Krugman — are singled out for disdain above. A window was opened into the unhealthy soul of liberalism: a soul that believes its opponents are bigoted and violent; or are (in the words of cartoonist Jeff Danziger, who drew a gunman firing from a teapot) “crazed fat people tortured by their lack of success in life, following the absolute worst of our politicians.”
Four days after the shootings, Sarah Palin defended herself in a taped statement, forgoing her trademark high spirits for the gravity appropriate to the occasion. She expressed sympathy for the victims, but spent most of her time defending herself — understandably enough, since she had been cast in the role of murderous mind-controller. Along the way she called the campaign against her a “blood libel” — which prompted a new round of accusations, this time for insensitivity. Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch, liberal Jews both, had to stamp that one out: The blood libel, they explained, though wielded against Jews in the Middle Ages, may now rightly describe any wrongful blanket accusation. The lady certainly has a knack for getting under her critics’ skin.
On the evening of the fourth day, President Obama spoke at the University of Arizona. His speech fulfilled one of the roles of the modern presidency, what Walter Dean Burnham called “pontifex maximus of the American civil religion.” He praised and consoled. He quoted Psalm 46 and the Book of Job. He offered modest theological reflections. “When a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations — to try to impose some order on the chaos. . . . [Yet] Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. . . . Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.” He rebuked the carnival of the preceding days: “It is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not . . .”
His words stood in contrast to his audience — an auditorium full of thousands of whooping students, complete with T-shirts to commemorate the event. We were given to understand that the university commissioned the T-shirts, but mavens of political events assumed that winks and nods from Team Obama let the hoopla go forward. The kids should have taken a lesson in deportment from adult Tucsonians, and the president, like any good speechmaker, should have known how to control his crowd.
As of now the public sees a lunatic who fixated on a nearby authority figure (Loughner had been thinking about Representative Giffords since 2007, when he asked her a senseless question at an earlier meet-and-greet, and came away calling her “stupid and unintelligent”). The public was not persuaded that weird sisters of the Right had called up an assassin. But liberals, overrepresented in old media and well-represented in the new, will persist. They will harp endlessly on Palin/Beck/Tea, on hate, on climate, on Arizona bristling with guns. Conservatives must push back with equal zeal and greater self-control. They must also defend the virtues of argument and partisanship. Argument is how ideas are presented and refined in the public square; parties are America’s mechanisms for acquiring and transferring power. The latter make our system work, the former keeps it free. They are as precious as the gathering that Jared Loughner terrorized.
The Reagan We Knew
In 1966 Ronald Reagan, making his maiden run for governor of California, wrote WFB to thank him for the cover of the June 28 issue of NR, devoted to two approving articles about him. “I’m going to save that particular issue to look at in the months ahead,” he wrote, because “I’ll need a morale booster every once in a while.” Reagan and WFB were already good friends, NR already Reagan’s favorite magazine. Reagan won in 1966, and began his history-making career.
In this issue Tevi Troy and Steven Hayward pay tribute to him on his hundredth birthday. It only needs saying how grim the Sixties and Seventies, the years when Reagan and NR first bonded, were for conservatism and for America. The sky glowered with the light of burning paradigms. The liberal technocratic state crashed, and Richard Nixon’s search for a right-wing third way crashed right behind it. Stagflation and energy crises were the economic baseline. Communism hopped, skipped, and jumped from Southeast Asia to Africa, from Nicaragua to Afghanistan.
Reagan ended all that, partly thanks to his buoyant, Fourth of July–flag temper. But he was able to end it because he understood what was wrong, and what was needed to fix it. Among his most important instructors, prompters, and corner men were William F. Buckley Jr., and National Review. Reagan belongs to the ages — and will always, in some measure, belong to us.