‐ At least we agree: We wish he were president of China too.
‐ “Thou turnest man to destruction. . . . Thou carriest them away as with a flood.” The 90th Psalm fears a wrathful Almighty, but a shrug of earth’s shoulders can do quite as much damage. The Japanese earthquake/tsunami has sown destruction on every hand. It is all the more shocking for having happened in a First World country where, we assume, civilization buffers us. So it does — until it does not. The U.S. Navy, as it should, is giving humanitarian help to a valuable ally. Media coverage has focused on the havoc at the Fukushima nuclear-power plant in central Japan, where there have been leaks of radiation and at least a partial meltdown. Much of the coverage has been foam-flecked, with Matt Drudge (now, nuclear snow) taking (dis)honors. As we go to press, the damage caused by disabled nuclear-power plants has been a trivial factor in Japan’s woes. The United States should continue to pursue nuclear power as an alternative to Qaddafi oil.
‐ Is lassitude coming in with Barack Obama’s gray hairs? Apropos of the Arab revolt, a friendly story in the New York Times reported that Obama “has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China.” Not so that he could wield, as per Thomas Friedman, dictatorial powers, but so that he might get less attention. “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square,” an unnamed official explained. Obama picked the wrong job then, didn’t he? Ambition, vanity, and a string of unearned successes may have persuaded Mr. Legislator-Who-Votes-Present to think that he could step up to the most demanding executive position on earth. What explains the troop of flacks, including Obamacons, who praised this man’s character as they whooped him into office?
‐ The early days of Newt Gingrich’s not-yet-quite-a-presidential-campaign were dominated by discussion of the break-up of his second marriage, during which he had an affair with the woman who became wife number three. Gingrich gave an interview to Christian broadcaster David Brody, during which he condemned his past behavior while also seeming to excuse it. His family life was under stress because he was working so hard, and he was working so hard in part because of his commitment to the country. Patriotism made him do it, chortled his many critics. We hold neither the view that infidelity disqualifies a candidate for high office, nor its opposite, that it is irrelevant to his fitness to serve. The weight voters should give it should depend on what the circumstances say about the man, and will depend as well on their own sensibilities. If he wants to run, Newt should reiterate his regret for past sins, refrain from further explanations, and move on to other topics. It is the least he can do for his current and past wives.
‐ The House Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), opened hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims. Melvin Bledsoe, a Memphis businessman, told how his son Carlos converted to radical Islam in college, traveled to Yemen, then killed a soldier at a recruiting station in Arkansas. Extremism, he said, “is a big elephant in the room, but our society continues not to see it.” Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali immigrant from Minnesota, described his nephew Burhan Hassan’s joining an Islamic militia in Somalia. American Muslim clerics threatened Bihi with “eternal fire and hell” if he went to the authorities. The press mentioned them, but showcased Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), who wept over the “smear[ing]” of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a former NYPD cadet killed on 9/11 while helping rescuers. In mid-October the FBI and the NYPD, wrongly believing that Hamdani was still alive, briefly investigated him, and New York papers reported on it. Two weeks later he was singled out for praise in the Patriot Act. So that is the smear that Ellison believes should derail investigations into Carlos Bledsoe, Burhan Hassan, and others who continue to be tempted into becoming America’s enemies. Carry on, Representative King.
#page#‐ James O’Keefe, provocateur and performance artist, put on a show for National Public Radio. But NPR did not realize it was part of the production. Two fundraising execs, including Ron Schiller, senior vice president of development, had lunch with two members of the Muslim Education Action Center. The MEAC is a creature of O’Keefe’s imagination, but its supposed members dangled $5 million before NPR, and Schiller jumped for it. He told them that the GOP, which now controls the purse-strings in the House, had been “hijacked” by “Islamophobic,” “xenophobic,” “gun-toting,” “racist, racist people.” When O’Keefe leaked a video of the lunch, Schiller was canned, and NPR president Vivian Schiller (no relation) quit shortly thereafter. “Big Bird needs to be pushed out of the nest,” said one House Republican, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, understandably irked. Big Bird can thrive on his own. Foolish, left-wing Beltway moneygrubbers should be consigned to try reviving Air America.
‐ Our congratulations to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and to his fellow Republicans, who showed great resolution in curtailing the collective-bargaining powers of the state’s government-employee unions. The drama surrounding this vote — the cowardly flight of the Democrats, the occupation of the capitol by bongo-beating hippies, the chanting union goons, the thuggery and death threats — should not distract us from the fact that this victory, while significant, is only a first step toward rebalancing the state’s fiscal priorities in a sensible and economically sustainable fashion. The task will be even harder in other states. As governors and legislators contemplate following Wisconsin’s example, as they should, they must likewise bear in mind that the fight entails not merely restraining the public-sector unions but the public sector itself. A line was drawn at Madison, but the campaign is only beginning.
‐ “You and the people that support the dictator have to die.” Who got that e-mail? Some chum of Qaddafi? No — the 18 Republicans in the Wisconsin state senate who supported Gov. Scott Walker (“the dictator”) in his fight to rein in public-union power. State officials say they are questioning a suspect, but there’s more. Two Republicans, state senator Randy Hopper and state representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, were advised not to march in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Fond du Lac because of threats. State representative Michelle Litjens was threatened to her face when a goon shouted “You’re f***ing dead!” at her on the floor of the assembly. The goon was Democratic state representative Gordon Hintz, who non-apologized when, as he put it, he realized his threat “may have been taken personally by someone.” Call Bill Clinton at the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
‐ Protesters, especially in state capitols, often cross paths with the past. Ann Althouse, a libertarian-ish law professor in Madison, Wis., has been blogging about the modern labor movement’s encounters with the Civil War. Col. Hans Christian Heg, mortally wounded at Chickamauga, is memorialized by a statue near the capitol. Demonstrators decked it with signs saying, “I fought for the union, you should too.” Too cute by half. The Awl, a hip website, reported that Governor Walker gave his budget address “beneath a dead and stuffed eagle.” That, youngsters, was Old Abe, mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who screamed at the enemy at Vicksburg, among other battles. For his services he is preserved in the Wisconsin Assembly chamber. But hey, one of the perks of being a liberal is believing that history began yesterday — even if you’re a public-school teacher.
#page#‐ A Wisconsin T-shirt shop was bullied by union brass for making pro-Walker shirts. When a 17-year-old student wore the lime green garment — emblazoned with “Scott Walker: My Hero!” — to his Two Rivers high school, Wes Glenna, a local teacher and labor leader, attempted to shut down the T-party. Glenn e-mailed the VanGinkel family, which runs the business, and warned that their “decision could result in the loss of profits.” The appalled VanGinkels would not budge and soon, thanks in part to a mention on NRO’s Corner, hundreds of orders began to pour in from around the country. If they wanted to avoid controversy, they could have just stuck to Che Guevara shirts.
‐ In another blow to the “gay marriage is inevitable” narrative, legislation recognizing same-sex marriage has failed in Maryland. All signals had pointed to a different end: The bill had passed the state senate and Democratic governor Martin O’Malley had promised to sign it. But in the house, where there are 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans, the bill could not muster the 71 votes required for passage and was sent back to committee, an action that effectively killed it for this year. What changed was an outpouring of opposition, most notably from black-church members. The wave of the future isn’t hitting Maryland’s shore.
‐ The administration announced that military commissions for Gitmo detainees have been reauthorized. But since the White House simultaneously reaffirmed its commitment to civilian-court prosecutions, and refused to explain its plans for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow 9/11 plotters, its policy remains at best a work in progress. In judging the twists and turns of administration policy, always bear in mind that KSM et al. were poised to plead guilty two years ago. Around the same time, with less fanfare, the administration also announced its intention to treat part of Geneva Conventions Protocol I as legally binding even though the Senate never ratified it, and to seek ratification of Protocol II. Prior administrations of both parties have rejected these treaties because they reward terrorists with enhanced due-process rights. We are left with another mystery: If the president can adopt treaties without ratification, why is he bothering to submit Protocol II to the Senate? Remember this the next time the president and his men earnestly declaim about how our treatment of detainees needs to follow “the rule of law.”
#page#Brothers to the Rescue
Beware the Kochtopus. This is the supposedly nefarious secret-Bond-villain network run by the Koch brothers. If you went only by left-wing magazines, blogs, and the emanations of their penumbras on Twitter, you would be forgiven for wondering why Jack Bauer hasn’t stopped the Kochtopus: They are that bad. The Kochtopus’s tentacles reach into every right-wing effort to destroy this country. They give money to the tea parties, libertarians, Republican politicians who want to take away collective bargaining for educrats, and ninjas hell-bent on stealing your mattress tags (I made the last one up).
The Koch brothers are very successful libertarians who, as people who don’t much like the government should, give lots of money to things they want to see more of — like museums, scientific documentaries, hospitals (including hundreds of millions to cancer research), ballet, and, of course, other libertarians.
Before I continue, I should point out that if you’re looking for a good but also novel reason to dislike those damn hippies, the word “Kochtopus” is a great place to start. You see, Koch is pronounced “Coke” and not, well, the way that rhymes with octopus.
But what the term lacks in euphony it makes up for in stupidity. The image is supposed to conjure shadowy, secretive machinations. As Andrew Ferguson pointed out in a brilliant Commentary essay a few months ago, the Koch brothers have been doing their thing in plain view for 30 years (David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980). Just because the Left hasn’t been paying attention to something doesn’t make it a secret. By that standard, the whole state of North Dakota is a Brigadoon hidden in the very bosom of our nation. Yet every time the Koch brothers do something publicly, leftists respond as though they’ve uncovered an immense conspiracy.
It’s at this point that I need to offer some full disclosure and tell you that I have lined my pockets with the laundered lucre of the Koch brothers. I’ve given speeches for Americans for Prosperity and other groups that have received funding from the Kochs. I like getting paid to say what I think, so I don’t see any problem with that. Indeed, I would like to be paid a lot more of their money (or, frankly, yours) to say what I think.
But I would gladly forgo that if the Koch brothers would follow my advice for how they can save the country (I know, you’d think my idea for saving the country would have made it into the lede).
Every serious plan for saving the country from fiscal doom involves massive reforms to entitlements. But the voters who will determine whether we can fix those entitlements are old and feel, well, entitled to them. The good news is that pretty much every serious plan (such as Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap”) exempts current retirees or people close to retirement. The bad news is that this shadowy, squidlike outfit called “the Democratic party” scares the bejeebus out of the oldsters by lying to them about how the other party wants to “take away” their Social Security. And so long as these lies are effective, little to no serious progress can be made.
So here is what I propose: Rather than give money to individual politicians, ballet companies, or even libertarian policy wonks, the Koch brothers should pay for a national education campaign that calmly, clearly, and rationally explains that, under any tea-party-approved reform, old people won’t lose their current benefits. And that they shouldn’t fall for the fear-mongering to come.
From what I’ve read, the Kochs will still have enough money for the ninjas.
‐ Speaking at West Point, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently unburdened himself of the opinion that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Incidentally, or rather not incidentally, it was Gates who helped dispatch considerable reinforcements to missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates has served his country honorably and well, but in this instance he failed to grasp part of his job: keeping faith with those standing sentry on distant frontiers.
‐ The only thing worse than rule by arbitrary government regulations is rule by arbitrary government bureaucrats. Case in point: Obamacare, whose 900-odd pages contain endless invocations of “the Secretary shall determine . . . ,” leaving many critical rules and parameters subject to the fickle whim of whoever runs the Department of Health and Human Services. For example, more than 1,000 exemptions from the requirements of Obamacare have been granted by HHS, covering some 2.6 million people, with no explanation or guidelines as to who gets them and who does not. Many of these exemptions cover the lavish plans of Obama’s labor-union supporters; others are “mini-plans” for part-time workers, who would probably lose their jobs if their employers had to offer full-scale coverage. In the latter case, at least, the exemptions are certainly welcome — but why make providers apply for them in the first place? How many more of Obamacare’s strict regulations will turn out to require waivers of their own? Which waivers will be rescinded when no longer politically expedient? And why should businesses have to jump through hoops to innovate in health-care provision? When Congress finally passes repeal, perhaps it should call it the Omnibus Obamacare Waiver Act.
‐ Fred Phelps and his family cult won at the Supreme Court, which ruled 8–1 that they had a constitutional right to hoist their “God Hates Fags” signs near a military funeral. (The cult holds that our country’s tolerance for homosexuals leads God to kill American soldiers.) Justice Alito was the holdout. Much of the debate between the majority and dissenting opinion concerned the extent to which the Phelpses were personally insulting the dead soldier and his survivors or making a political point, albeit a demented one. The case should serve as a reminder that conservatives were right to resist the “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights against the states. It is hard to see any good reason someone drafting a constitution would empower the federal judiciary to keep state governments from imposing reasonable restrictions on this sort of demonstration; and even harder to see the evidence that the drafters of ours did.
‐ Donald Berwick, who currently serves under a recess appointment from President Obama as head of the powerful Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is facing a death panel of his own: Senate Republicans have announced their intention to oppose his reappointment and have requested that the president withdraw the nomination. Dr. Berwick has praised government-monopoly systems and their attendant rationing, and denounced “the darkness of private enterprise.” President Obama is not a man who knows how to choose his battles wisely; by showing early resolution, Senate Republicans are in fact doing him a favor, one he ought to repay by transferring Dr. Berwick’s CMS career to the hospice for palliative care.
#page#‐ Last year’s big financial-regulation bill directed the Federal Reserve to impose a cap on debit-card networks’ interchange fees: the percent they charge merchants each time someone swipes a card. The merchants’ case for price controls combines insincerity with self-contradiction. They say the fees are burdensome; but they also say that letting customers use the cards brings in too much business for them to stop. They say the fees are passed on to their customers. If so, why are they lobbying so assiduously? Debit-card providers say that the rule will lead to higher fees and new restrictions on the use of these cards. A bipartisan coalition of senators has introduced legislation to delay the regulation pending further study. House Republican leaders are said to be wary of moving on the legislation, fearing the wrath of the merchants’ lobby. But that lobby didn’t get the Republican majority in the House elected. It was elected because of concern about governmental overreach. These price controls are a fine example.
‐ With talk of spending cuts echoing through the halls of Congress, Senate majority leader Harry Reid leapt to the defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEH is, Reid told the Senate chamber, the reason northern Nevada has, every January, the Cowboy Poetry Festival. “Had that program not been around,” he further declared, “the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.” Leaving aside the small ontological error there, Reid’s speech left many citizens wondering what kind of poems are on display at the Cowboy Poetry Festival. National Review’s own deep bench of versifiers were quick to offer suggestions. “Yippi-ki-o yippi-ki-ay / Cow Poets on the Dole,” went the refrain of Mark Steyn’s ode, while John Derbyshire reworked an old western ballad to read “Defund us not on the lone prairie.” Parody aside, it is dismaying to reflect on the possibilities for real reform of federal spending when a legislator as prominent as Senator Reid will not even contemplate the withdrawal of subsidies from these sagebrush sonneteers. Git along, little doggerelist, git along.
‐ An FDA panel said that people be required to get a prescription before ordering or reviewing genetic tests for themselves. The coalition supporting this proposal is made up of paternalists (people will “jump off a building” when they get their results, worries one Republican congressman), regulatory bureaucrats, and biotech companies that work through physicians. On the other side are entrepreneurs, personal-genomics enthusiasts, and the spirit of liberty. There is no good case for this regulation, and the FDA should back off.
‐ Sales figures are not encouraging for the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, two electric cars whose performance is as wimpy as their names. (Cars used to be called Model A, Fifth Avenue, Imperial, Rambler, Mustang; everything went to hell when car names started sounding like the foreign minister of a Scandinavian country.) The Volt is an electric car equipped with a supplementary gas engine, in case you actually want to go somewhere; the Leaf is all-electric, and has the 70-mile range to prove it. The number of consumers willing to spend upwards of 30 grand on a toy car seems rather limited, as just 602 Volts were sold in the first two months of this year, and 154 Leafs (or, if you prefer, Leaves, which also describes what the typical customer does upon hearing its performance specs). What’s even worse is that purchasers of either car get a $7,500 tax credit, and this provision will not expire until the model in question sells 200,000 units. Based on early returns, this means we will all be subsidizing the eco-vanity of wealthy e-car buyers for many years to come.
‐ When we wrote about Libya last issue, Qaddafi seemed doomed, and we opposed proposals for a no-fly zone as an unnecessary humanitarian gesture. In stunning fashion, Qaddafi has reversed the tide and as we write threatens the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Time is running out, but we should impose a no-fly zone over Libya and — more important — a no-drive zone around Benghazi to preserve a rebel enclave. If Qaddafi is unable to regain control of the entire country and if a rival government remains in control of its east, he will at least be weakened, and still might eventually fall. He is an America-hating terrorist with the blood of our countrymen on his hands and will — if he survives after we and much of the rest of the world said he had to go — surely attempt to restart his WMD program as an insurance policy for the future. Whatever the flaws of the opposition, it cannot be any worse.
#page#‐ Marisol Valles Garcia took a job that no one else wanted: police chief of her town in Mexico. This is one of those towns “riddled with drug violence,” as the news reports say. The previous police chief had been murdered — beheaded. Fifteen of the 17 officers under his command had also been killed. The week Valles Garcia took over, a local politician and his son were killed. And so on. This was a nightmare situation. And the new chief, by the way, was a 20-year-old criminology student: a woman with a baby. The international media hailed her as “The Bravest Woman in Mexico.” It was not her job to cope with the drug gangs; that was the job of the federal police. But she did what she could. Eventually the extreme pressure got to her, and she sought asylum in the United States. Her case is a reminder of how much ground civilization is losing in our southern neighbor.
‐ Ruth and Ehud Fogel lived at Itamar, a settlement of 800 Israelis near the Arab town of Nablus on the West Bank, and one supposedly to be incorporated by agreement one day into Israel. In the middle of the night, one or more Palestinians broke through the security fence and entered the Fogel home. The parents were then stabbed to death, and three of their children had their throats slit — the youngest a baby girl of three months. Palestinian activists are not sure whether these murders make them look good or bad. A cell of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility, while Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, called the killings “inhuman and immoral.” The rival movement of Hamas celebrated by handing out candy in Gaza. Several news outlets used the euphemism of “intruders” to describe the terrorists, or put “terrorist attack” in quotation marks, as though doubtful about the notion. The government immediately decided to build more homes on the West Bank. Such is Israeli outrage over these murders and the world’s indifference.
‐ Pakistan’s blasphemy law decrees the death sentence for insulting Islam. So vague a charge can be made to cover almost anything, and it plays perfectly into the hands of fanatics as they set about making Pakistan their Muslim caliphate. The government has not actually executed anyone for blasphemy, but scores of Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, considered heretics by the majority Sunnis, are in detention facing trial under the law. In January Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot dead for campaigning against the blasphemy law, and the second high-profile victim of this same cause of reform is Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minority affairs, a Catholic and the one and only Christian in the cabinet. In a video, he took the position that death threats from Muslims would not deter him and he was ready to die to defend the rights of Christians and other minorities. This came sadly true. As he was on his way to a cabinet meeting, gunmen fired on his car, dragged him out, and pumped at least eight bullets into him. Escaping, they left leaflets saying they were acting for the local Taliban and al-Qaeda because the government had appointed an “infidel Christian” to an important position. Asif Ali Zardari, the nominally secular Pakistani president, has dropped moves to reform the blasphemy law. Not everyone has Shahbaz Bhatti’s fortitude.
‐ In the last several years, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet has become the symbol of the democratic opposition in Cuba. He is an Afro-Cuban physician whose models are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In 1998 and 1999, he was detained 27 times. In 2003, he was arrested and imprisoned in the crackdown known as “Black Spring.” George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. (The prisoner could not accept in person.) A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, on behalf of the Hungarian government, nominated Biscet for the Nobel peace prize. Shortly thereafter, the Cuban dictatorship released him. Specifically, they paroled him. The prisoner had refused to accept exile to Spain. He told the New York–based Human Rights Foundation, “I refused to leave Cuba because I’ve pledged never to abandon it until I achieve my objectives — democracy and freedom for Cuba.” He also said, “I know I’m leaving a small prison for the big prison that is Cuba. Yet I’m very happy and very thankful to God.” So are we.
#page#‐ Australia is “the lucky country” the way Jews are the chosen people. A poem once taught to every Aussie schoolchild called it “a sunburnt country, a land . . . of droughts and flooding rains.” Weather extremes used to be taken for granted Down Under, but in recent years, each new drought has been attributed to (can you guess?) global warming. Unless greenhouse gases were sharply reduced, it was predicted, Australia would never again have enough water. Now the lucky country is experiencing violent, destructive floods, and the Australian intelligentsia has fingered the exact same versatile phenomenon as the culprit. Is there anything global warming can’t do? We half expect Charlie Sheen and the NFL lockout to be linked to it.
‐ The leadership precincts of brutish dictatorships need not be glamour-free zones. The last Madame Mao Tse-Tung was an ex-movie actress, and Grace Mugabe is said to be quite the fashion plate. Over then to Syria, where the al-Assad dynasty is in its 41st year of power, ruling through an all-pervasive secret-police force and steadfastly refusing to recognize, even in school geography textbooks, the existence of their neighbor Israel. The fashion magazine Vogue has published a gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. The lady is, Vogue tells us, “a rose in the desert . . . glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” The Desert Rose is keen to tell Vogue how ecumenical her nation is: “That’s how religions live together in Syria — a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world.” What, including Jews? Apparently not: Our reporter finds the Jewish quarter of Damascus mostly abandoned. Oh, but never mind that: Look at those “dark-brown eyes,” that “wavy chin-length brown hair,” those “Chanel agates around her neck,” the “Syrian-silk Louboutin tote” carelessly thrown on the seat of her SUV. Perhaps in its next issue Vogue can explore the country’s glamorous dungeons.
‐ Owen and Eunice Johns are a couple in their early sixties living in Derby, England. They have four children and six grandchildren of their own, and since their nest emptied they have been foster parents to 15 other children. Social workers have praised them as “kind and hospitable people” who “respond sensitively to youngsters.” But when the Johnses recently applied to foster more children, the municipal authorities turned them down. The Johnses appealed to Britain’s highest court, but they lost there too. The High Court judges ruled that Biblical Christian beliefs may be “inimical” to children — the Johnses, Pentecostalist Christians, consider homosexual activity sinful — and they upheld a submission by Britain’s sinister Equality and Human Rights Commission that children risk being “infected” by Christian moral beliefs. Mrs. Johns said, “All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing.” Said Mr. Johns: “We wanted to offer love and stability and security to a vulnerable child. Eight-year-olds we have looked after want to play, not talk about their sexuality.” In that respect they are quite unlike the people who serve on human-rights commissions.
‐ When incompatible mandates of political correctness collide, the results can be amusing. But they can also be appalling, as in the New York Times’s recent coverage of the gang-rape of an eleven-year-old girl in Texas. The men charged — there are eighteen of them, mind you — range in age from their early teens to their later twenties, and all of them are black, and the victim is Hispanic. The Times being the Times, racial polarization became the dominant aspect of its coverage, and its account dwelled on the fate of the poor young black men whose lives no doubt will be disrupted if they are held criminally accountable for the gang-rape of a child — one who, as the Times helpfully reported, was said to have “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” The paper’s readers howled in outrage, but the editors replied that their beclowned reporter, James C. McKinley, was merely repeating what he’d been told — a dunderheaded excuse in the circumstances. The Times’s staff apologist, Arthur Brisbane, eventually was shamed into conceding that the story “lacked balance.” But how does one balance the orthodoxy holding that every black criminal is a victim of society against the particular horrors of this crime? To do so is to court the very moral illiteracy that the Times exhibited in its coverage.
#page#‐ More degeneration of the youth: Teens are having less sex. In the largest study yet commissioned on this subject, the National Center for Health Statistics found 27 percent of men and 29 percent of women between 15 and 24 declaring “Sex: None.” That’s up from 22 percent for each gender in 2002. Turns out all that time spent texting has its upside.
‐ Earlier this semester, students in Prof. John Michael Bailey’s human-sexuality course, at Northwestern University, were invited to stay after class for an optional demonstration. It turned out to involve, according to the Daily Northwestern, “a naked non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated to the point of orgasm” by a rather alarming motorized device that sounds like a cross between a chainsaw and an electric toothbrush. Some audience members enjoyed the demonstration, though probably not as much as the naked non-student woman. Others were offended: a live sex show, complete with power tools, on stage at one of America’s most distinguished universities? Officials said Northwestern “supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge,” but if this event qualifies, what doesn’t? Bailey has issued a semi-apology, and “more than 800 NU students have signed an online petition asking that Bailey not be severely punished for the incident.” No word on how they would feel about a little light domination.
‐ David S. Broder was known as “the dean of the Washington press corps,” but he did not acquire this designation in older age, as you might expect. He acquired it when he was still in his thirties. And he earned it. He was astute, industrious, and clear. Very few have known more about American politics than he. He was born in Chicago Heights, Ill., in 1929. His father was a dentist. Broder entered the University of Chicago at 15, and he of course edited the student newspaper. The paper was split between two camps: the liberals and the Communists. Broder was with the liberals. He spent the bulk of his career at the Washington Post. He was basically centrist in his politics, and he was sometimes knocked for embodying the “conventional wisdom” — but often the conventional wisdom was right. It should be remembered that he was fair to Dan Quayle when practically no one was. He cared deeply about politics, the government, and the country. He wanted things to be on the up and up. His journalism was in part an expression of patriotism. “The dean” has died at 81. R.I.P.
‐ The movie actress Jane Russell died on February 28 at age 89. Her career began with Howard Hughes’s The Outlaw (1943), peaked with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and ended with the deeply forgettable Darker than Amber (1970). Better known for her striking embonpoint than for any extraordinary acting ability, she was a favorite pinup of the GIs in WWII, served as a spokeswoman for the Playtex Corporation, and inspired innumerable borderline quips from the likes of Bob Hope (“the two and only Jane Russell”). A devout Christian — Assemblies of God — and a conservative Republican, she founded a Hollywood Bible-study group and attended Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration. She was far more at ease in the Hollywood of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Charlton Heston than anyone of her views would be among today’s left-liberal movie stars. She fought her way through some personal problems with wit and grit, and added much to the sum of human gaiety. R.I.P.
The Entitlement State
House Republicans are likely to propose entitlement reforms as part of next year’s budget, and several of the party’s potential presidential candidates have spoken up in favor of reform. The long-term budget outlook drives this new interest. We cannot pay for an unreformed entitlement state without adopting historically unprecedented levels of taxation.
The debate is likely to be dominated by dueling cost projections, which is reasonable. But the fiscal arguments by no means exhaust the case for entitlement reform. It is worth going through some of the other reasons before they are crowded out of a public discussion that is sure to be heated.
There is, for one thing, the economic dimension of the entitlement problem. Social Security and Medicare shrink the capital stock by reducing both people’s incentives and their ability to save for their futures. A lower savings rate makes for reduced investment and thus lower wages and, in the end, a diminished national capacity to pay for anything, including old age. The programs also unfairly penalize investment in the future by overtaxing parents.
Entitlements reduce the quality of our health care. The expansion of Medicaid — most of Obamacare’s projected increase in coverage comes from more expansion — has left more and more Americans with crummy insurance policies that many health-care providers will not take, and that are indistinguishable, from the point of view of health outcomes, from no coverage at all. The growth of Medicare as a dominant player in health markets has made American medicine more bureaucratic, and more reliant on governmental rationing.
Most insidiously, perhaps, entitlements are the enemy of constitutional self-government. They have subverted the constitutional order by making both citizens and states into clients of Washington, D.C. They make responsible budgeting nearly impossible: What distinguishes entitlements from other programs is, after all, the conceit that they should not be subject to ordinary democratic deliberation.
The solution to the growth of the entitlement state is as easy conceptually as it is hard politically. Each year’s retirees should receive the same Social Security benefits as the previous year’s, with growth limited to inflation. Medicare should be converted into vouchers, with beneficiaries free to purchase tailored policies in a decentralized marketplace. States should be given both the power to set benefit levels for Medicaid and the responsibility to pay for them, with federal assistance capped.
We do not underestimate the magnitude of the challenge facing entitlement reformers, or the importance of meeting it with as intelligent a strategy as they can devise. But neither do we doubt that the reformers are engaged in a high service to their country.
#page#PUBLIC POLICY II
The Cuts to Come
The House voted to extend funding for the federal government for three more weeks of March, during which a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year is to be negotiated. Both Democrats and Republicans indicated that they had lost patience for these stopgap extensions. Over the next weeks and months, then, Congress is to take up this year’s budget, next year’s budget, and a bill to raise the debt ceiling.
Many conservatives balked at the three-week extension for containing insufficient spending cuts and lacking deeply desired policies (such as bans on funding Planned Parenthood and Obamacare). So keeping Republicans together for these three fights is going to be a challenge for the leadership — especially since the budget for next year is likely to include politically dangerous entitlement reforms.
As they enter these battles, conservatives should distinguish between two sets of budget goals. Some of them can plausibly be signed into law even with a Democratic Senate and president, and as many of them as possible should be pursued in these pieces of legislation. Changes to the budget rules — an end to the current practice of incorporating automatic increases into each year’s budget levels, for example — fall into this category. So do steep budget cuts.
Other goals will require, in practice, a new Senate majority and president, and in these cases the task will be to make the case for conservative legislation, hold votes that put politicians on record, and then make the case for replacing those who vote the wrong way. Obamacare is not going to be repealed or defunded until 2013 at the earliest, for example, but Republicans should still devise as many votes as possible to put its defenders on the spot. The budget bills do not exhaust the opportunities for holding votes on this second set of issues, so conservatives should not be too disappointed if some of their causes do not make it into them.
What conservatives should not do is blame one another for failing to overcome liberal opposition. We are going to need help from voters to do that.