‐ A $250,000 debt at Tiffany’s? Newt is obviously desperate to close his gender gap.
‐ Newt Gingrich praised Paul Ryan’s budget, then issued a statement quibbling with part of its Medicare plan, then trashed the budget as “radical” on national television, and then had a spokesman say that his views are pretty close to Ryan’s. As of press time that’s where Gingrich stands. What Gingrich’s peregrinations reflect is that there is no popular way to bring revenues and spending into alignment over the long haul. That truth is also becoming clear in a special election to the House in New York, where a Republican seat is now up for grabs and Medicare is the top issue. Meanwhile, the actuaries of Social Security and Medicare have released their annual reports, which say that the programs’ dire outlooks are slightly worse than they thought last year. The only way to avoid sudden and severe changes in these programs is to reform them soon. Republicans should have no illusions about the popularity of reining in entitlement spending, nor about its necessity.
‐ Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) introduced a budget plan that complements Paul Ryan’s House budget. Unlike Ryan’s plan, it defers the question of Medicare reform until a supportive president is in office. Instead of solving the long-term problems, it takes what Toomey calls the “necessary first step” of getting to short-term budget balance. Entitlement reform is not entirely omitted — Toomey’s budget block-grants Medicaid. Cuts in discretionary spending and a pro-growth tax reform round out the package. It is less bold than the Ryan plan, but it is more politically prudent; and running on it might be the precondition for achieving bolder reforms. There are necessary first steps in politics as well as policy.
‐ Mitt Romney reiterated his support for the Massachusetts health-care law he signed as governor and his opposition to Obamacare. The chief distinction he drew between the two concerned federalism, and it is a real one. Romneycare is less objectionable than Obamacare, and its individual mandate runs afoul of no constitutional limits. But its assumptions about what health-care policy should be, as opposed to what level of government should set it, are identical to those of Obamacare. The next Republican nominee has to be able to make the case against those assumptions. If Romney can’t do that, his campaign is a bad investment.
‐ Pres. Barack Obama went to El Paso to give a speech that was characteristically graceless and substanceless. He declared that the border is secured, which is manifestly not so: Only a tiny fraction of the legislatively mandated border fence has been constructed, illicit pedestrian traffic across the border freely continues, etc. The city in which the president spoke is conjoined to the Mexican city of Juárez, an outpost of lawlessness that spills over into the United States. Federal authorities have posted signs reading “Danger: Public Warning: Travel Not Recommended” in smuggling corridors of Arizona, and an IED — a new favorite weapon of the Mexican drug cartels — was recently discovered on a highway in Texas. Yet Obama jibed that those who seek more immigration control must want to encircle the country with an alligator-filled moat, and promised action on an immigration agenda that stands very little chance of emerging from the subcommitteean depths. Enforcing the law hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and not tried.
‐ In advance of a commencement speech by Speaker Boehner at the Catholic University of America, a group of Catholic academics issued a letter saying that his voting record “is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings” — namely, that there is a duty to protect the poor. The House Republican budget, the academics complained, “effectively ends Medicare.” Now of course it is not the case that the Catholic Church teaches that the best way to help the poor is to keep a largely middle-class program growing so fast that it squeezes all the other responsibilities of government. It is hard to see why anyone influenced by Catholic social thought would come to that conclusion, and in any case the academics attempt no argument to that effect. About some public-policy controversies, by contrast, Church teaching has clear and obvious implications. About abortion and unborn human life, naturally, the letter says not a word.
#page#‐ The president and the first lady held a gathering of poets, musicians, and artists May 11, an event billed on the White House website as “a celebration of American poetry and prose.” The main evening function was preceded by an afternoon “workshop” where the invited performers imparted the wisdom of their craft to youngsters. Among the literary lions instructing our youth and being feted by our president was a rap singer with the stage name Common, author and performer of, among much else, lyrics praising Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal, underclass desperadoes convicted of killing police officers. Common seems not to have written or performed songs in praise of other living convicted cop killers such as Kenneth Allen or Donald Dillbeck. One might expect that Barack Obama, with all the radical baggage of his past — Bill Ayers, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — would want nothing to do with ghetto cop-haters, or with educated middle-class leftists masquerading as such (Common’s father was a professional basketball player). It seems that they and their AmeriKKKa-the-oppressor mumblings are just irresistible to the type of liberals who work in this White House.
‐ The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is operating on a deficit. Seven employees are to be laid off. One of them, 43-year-old Karin Gallo, addressed President Obama at a CBS News town-hall meeting. Ms. Gallo, a senior public-affairs specialist at the zoo, told the president she was seven months pregnant, and that she and her husband were building a house with borrowed money. Now their loan and their plans were in jeopardy. “Three years ago . . . I took a job with the federal government, thinking it was a secure job,” she whined. No modern politician, of course, would tell the lady to face life like an adult, to move into rented rooms and prepare for the child as best her circumstances permit. Obama let loose a gusher of sympathy. Ms. Gallo was, after all, a federal employee. “I think there’s nothing more important than working on behalf of the American people,” the president keened. Without trying very hard, we can think of quite a few positions more important than PR flack at a government zoo.
‐ The Senate Ethics Committee said that Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who resigned in the wake of a sex scandal, broke federal laws and the Senate’s ethics rules. He certainly violated any imaginable standard of dignity: Both the woman with whom he was having an affair and her husband were staffers, and Ensign at one point found himself being chased around an airport parking lot by the angry cuckold, for whom he later arranged a new job (that’s Washington), along with hush money from his parents ($96,000 is what a Washington wife is going for these days, if you’re wondering). Ensign, who shared an apartment in Washington with other lawmakers, at one point found several angry members of Congress, including Sen. Tom Coburn, dispatched to his bedroom to confront him about the matter. The presence of a congressional delegation led by Senator Coburn is a sure sign that the party is over, and Mr. Ensign, whose name is not Bill Clinton, may very well face criminal prosecution for deceptions undertaken to hide the affair.
#page#‐ The Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act is a minotaur’s labyrinth of economic illiteracy, with Democratic senators Robert Menendez (N.J.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) lurking at the center. They have taken a hard look at rising gasoline prices and concluded that the most reasonable course of action is to increase the cost of producing oil by “closing tax loopholes” for the five biggest oil companies. Why the five biggest? Why not four or six? Why not all oil companies? Because this is not a bill about tax reform, but a bill about Democrats’ impotence in the face of unpleasant economic realities. And the main items under discussion are not exactly oil-company loopholes. In 2004, Congress enacted an ill-considered tax break for manufacturing companies — one of many harebrained efforts to improve the U.S. economy by empowering politicians to hand out favors to their friends — and the definition of “manufacturer” was written in such a way as to cover just about any firm with investments in physical capital: Starbucks qualifies for benefits. It is a stupid law, and it should be repealed, but it is not a law that grants special privileges to oil companies, and describing it otherwise is dishonest. A better class of senators would be ashamed to associate with demagoguery of this flavor. Perhaps 2012 will give us one.
‐ “I suppose I’m the anti-Christie,” Gov. Dannel Malloy (D., Conn.) once mused to reporters. No doubt. While the New Jersey governor stuck to his state’s problems, Malloy needlessly inserted himself into the Garden State’s battles to curry favor with the liberal press. The real kicker, however, was when he mused aloud, “Hopefully I take a slightly more intellectual approach to [the budget] discussion than Governor Christie has demonstrated.” Well, the results are in: Christie has avoided both massive tax increases and massive state layoffs by asking state employees to take greater responsibility for their health-care and pension costs. Malloy, on the other hand, has signed into law the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history, and was forced to hand out over 4,000 pink slips (since rescinded) to bring the state unions to the bargaining table. Nutmeggers may be wishing for a less intellectual approach right about now.
‐ Rich Republicans in New York are bankrolling a campaign to get the state government to recognize same-sex unions as marriages. Hedge-fund manager Cliff Asness tells the New York Times, “I’m a pretty straight-down-the-line small-government guy,” adding, “This is an issue of basic freedom.” It’s a sentiment so frequently expressed in the marriage debate that one can easily forget how odd it is. This is not an issue of freedom, basic or otherwise, at all. No law recognizing same-sex marriage is necessary to make it possible for two men to have a ceremony at a church or temple, use the term “husband,” buy a house together, or put each other in their wills — and do all of these things perfectly legally. Doctrinaire libertarians might object that government should not recognize marriage at all. But given that we have marriage law, government ought to recognize all actual marriages, and only actual marriages, as such. What counts as such is not a question that support for small government can settle. The proper contours of marriage policy, like those of abortion policy, are just not amenable to being settled by libertarian principles.
#page#The Youth Votes
Last December, Ezra Klein, a liberal blogger and policy analyst of some kind for the Washington Post, made a big stir in an appearance on MSNBC. He was there to mock Republicans (although I suppose that’s implied by simply pointing out that he was invited to appear on MSNBC). Specifically, he was there to ridicule the newly Republican-controlled House’s plan to read the Constitution before the opening of the 112th session of Congress.
“The issue of the Constitution,” Klein explained, sounding a bit like a cocky sophomore taking an oral exam, “is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.”
This sparked a riot of mockery on the Internet (Google “the Constitution is very important” and “Iowahawk” for the best in this category). Klein spent the rest of the day in what one might call “Gingrich mode,” after the former Speaker’s recent efforts to “clarify” what he meant about the House GOP budget.
What Klein meant about the Constitution is fairly straightforward: The Constitution is like super inconvenient because people can quote it and stuff in ways that make it hard for liberals to you know do what we want to do.
Fast-forward to last week. Klein offered his “outside-the-box policy for the day”: give youngsters extra votes. The idea comes in an article titled “End One Man/One Vote; Shift to Age Weighted Voting,” by a writer named Paul Sterne.
“America should implement age weighted voting to make voting more objective and fair, and give the young more power, because the consequences of political decisions will affect them the longest,” Sterne said. Here’s my favorite line: “Weighted voting would restore power to twenty and thirty year olds, where it resided before the advent of medical science.” Damn you medical science and your life-extending powers! Twentysomethings would still rule this country if you hadn’t come along.
Later in the day, Klein was again in Gingrich mode. He explained that he hadn’t endorsed Sterne’s idea, he was just making the larger point that our current system of laundering the popular will through the Electoral College — and the Senate, where states are not represented in proportion to their populations — is just as arbitrary as weighting votes by age, and that’s why we should scrap the whole system. “Weighting votes by state . . . ,” argued Klein, “doesn’t make any more sense” than weighting them by age or college education.
It probably should be no shock that Klein finds the Constitution, older voters, the Electoral College, and the Senate — the major bulwarks against progressive schemes in recent years — in need of “reform.” I propose a reform of my own: Let’s require all voters to pass the same civics test immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens. Or maybe we should just weight votes by test score.
My hunch is that Klein would oppose this, because it would make it more difficult to mobilize some of the Democratic party’s most reliable voters.
Or maybe he’d be opposed for more personal reasons, since the test requires you not only to know how old the Constitution is, but to understand what it says.
#page#‐ Sears, the iconic retailer, has long been the pride of the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, Ill. But so misgoverned is the political incubator of Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Daleys various and sundry (who, like the poor, shall always be with us) that Sears may close up shop and move its headquarters. Where? Don’t let the National Labor Relations Board hear about it (for reasons Michael S. Greve explains on page 24), but South Carolina is in the running, as is Texas. A firm with $40 billion in revenues and 280,000 employees, Sears is uneager to suffer under the jacked-up personal- and corporate-income taxes recently imposed on Illinois by its spendthrift Democratic leadership. The famed Jimmy John’s sandwich chain, which employs 100 at its Champaign, Ill., headquarters, is also searching for a new home, Jimmy John Liautaud himself having decamped already for Florida. Mr. Liautaud points out that trainees brought to the chain’s headquarters account for 1,400 hotel nights each month in Champaign and untold spending on restaurants and services. Beyond the tax burden, he complains of protesters outside those of his shops built without the blessing of labor unions. When asked whether Illinois politicians might do anything to change his mind, he answered, “Apologize.”
‐ If there was any doubt that Pakistan was playing a double game with us, the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in relative comfort in Abbottabad should have ended it. Devoutly though we may wish it, Pakistan is never going to be reliable; elements of its so-called government are too wedded to wielding Islamic militants as an instrument of state policy, especially with an eye to its rival India. We could cut off aid, but that got us nowhere in the 1990s and will only diminish our access and influence in a country of 180 million with 100 nuclear weapons. If we rapidly pull out of Afghanistan in frustration, it will only strengthen militants connected to al-Qaeda on both sides of the border. For now, we are stuck with Pakistan and the thankless work of influencing its behavior at the margins.
‐ It’s not exactly a blitzkrieg, but NATO has tipped the momentum in its direction in Libya. Air strikes on command-and-control sites in Tripoli have Moammar Qaddafi under siege; we are clearly attempting to kill him “by accident.” The position of the rebels has stabilized in the east, and Qatari trainers are working to inject at least a measure of discipline in them. In Misrata, the city in the west long besieged by government forces, rebels have begun to get the upper hand on their attackers. NATO and its allies should continue to ramp up the military pressure on Qaddafi and their aid to the rebels. Winning a war is easier if you actually try.
‐ Each spring Israelis celebrate the foundation of their state, which Palestinians lament as the original “nakba,” the Arabic for “catastrophe,” and already a loan word (like “jihad”) in other languages. This year, in memory of the nakba, Palestinians were bused to the borders of Israel in their hundreds, even thousands, from every one of the bordering countries. Here was a sort of civilian reenactment of the 1948 war, in which all the surrounding Arab countries attacked in order to destroy Israel at birth. The right to return to their original homes is also apparently too firm a fantasy to be open to negotiation. In what became a miniature nakba, Israeli soldiers had to defend their territory as people broke into it: Four Palestinians were killed on the Syrian border, ten on the Lebanese border, and one in Gaza, while scores were injured, including at least ten Israeli soldiers. More casualties occurred when Jordan and Egypt prevented protesters from reaching the Israeli border. Coordination of an event involving the conscripting and busing of such numbers through no-go zones in different countries is impressive, and Israeli authorities detect the hand of Iran at work. This may be a storm signal for the attempt due in September to have the United Nations approve a Palestinian state. On the other hand, things may not be quite what they look. Some of those coming in from Syria said they wanted to remain in Israel because they were safer there than at home.
#page#‐ Which is true enough. Syria is a hell on earth right now. Its president, Bashar Assad, inherited from his father a police state with a semi-Sovietized economy fit only to enrich his corrupt family and friends. Popular protests and calls for reform have been answered with state terror. Closing the country, Bashar has made sure that there are no foreign journalists to witness the crimes he is ordering so as to perpetuate his rule. The security forces have shot dead many hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, and arrested thousands more. There are reports of torture chambers, corpses piled in morgues and mosques, and even a mass grave in the town of Deraa. Tanks encircle numerous towns, and have been shelling several of them, including Homs. A group there held up a placard that read, “We urge our heroic armed forces to use rubber bullets, just as the Israelis do.” Ordinary Syrians are escaping to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon in ever larger numbers. The outcome in Syria could make or break the Arab Spring.
‐ One and a half million Catholics came to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II. Catholic spokesmen tried to explain his historical effect and his ongoing hold on the faithful. His successor, Benedict XVI, said he “reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress.” George Weigel, his biographer, called him “a great channel of grace, conviction, and courage for others.” Susan Vigilante, an American layman, wrote this description of him praying: “I looked at that back, those shoulders, those hands. All I could think was ‘mountain.’ . . . Mountain air, the purest on earth, the timeless healer of stricken lungs and broken hearts. The place where all becomes clear at last.” Historians and church historians will parse his achievements — his role in the fall of Communism — and his failures — his inattention to priestly sex scandals. But even ordinary bystanders could see that a force passed through the fin de siècle.
‐ Classical Persian love poetry is famous for its tenderness, so the modern story of Ameneh Bahrami and Majid Movahedi is a horrific come-down. Aged 24 and 19 respectively, they were students in the same class some years ago. What began as pursuit on his part evolved into harassment. She had to say yes: If she refused to marry him, he said, he would kill her. She did refuse, and his vengeance was to throw a bucket of sulfuric acid over her. She was blinded and disfigured. Seventeen operations, many of them in Spain, have not succeeded in rebuilding her face. In Iran, the customary law of retribution operates, and quite literally Ameneh has the right of an eye for an eye, blinding Majid with sulfuric acid. Majid’s father and Amnesty International have tried to persuade her to relent, and she would, she says, if they gave her two million euros to cater to her needs. Otherwise, she is quoted saying, she wishes she could drip the acid herself into his eyes. A doctor was due to do it for her. As is often the case with these Iranian barbarities, it is not clear whether the punishment occurred. A semi-official news agency says that it has been postponed. And all this in a country that claims to be establishing universal rule in the name of holiness.
‐ Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hauled off an Air France plane about to leave Kennedy Airport on a charge of raping a maid at the midtown hotel he had just checked out of. Strauss-Kahn is managing director of the International Monetary Fund; more important, he is a leading Socialist-party rival of center-right president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is up for reelection next year. A French-government spokesman urged everyone to remember the presumption of innocence, while tout le monde buzzed with accusations, defenses, and exclamations. The French pride themselves on being hommes du monde, but that’s not supposed to involve force majeure, is it? If Strauss-Kahn should be guilty, he will have achieved the almost unimaginable feat of making Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni the first couple of family values.
#page#‐ The Financial Times published a very friendly profile of Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general — the kind he has long been used to. He appraised the career of Robert Mugabe, the dictator and butcher of Zimbabwe. Annan said, “He did well at the beginning. One has to give him that, and, after all, he is not a young man. However capable he is, we all get tired.” Not tired enough of brutalizing his country.
‐ Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is an admirable Conservative, and conservative. He has led minority governments since 2006. Now he will lead a majority government. Election Day in Canada was astounding. The Conservatives gained 24 seats, going from 143 to 167. The Liberals, once the colossus of Canada, lost 43 seats, going from 77 to 34. They have never had such a low standing. To make this even sweeter, the Liberals’ leader, Michael Ignatieff, lost his seat, personally. Further sweet news concerns the Bloc Québécois, those separatist annoyances: They went into the elections with 47 seats; now they have just four — barely enough to call themselves a rump. The only fly in the ointment is that the New Democrats, like the Liberals a left-wing party, rose from 36 seats to 102. They are now the Official Opposition. But no matter: Prime Minister Harper will be able to govern with great gusts at his back. He made the elections a referendum on his economic policies. And now he will be able to pursue those policies — tax cuts, spending cuts, growth — with abandon. May the Canadian elections presage our own.
‐ The Schengen Treaty gives people the right to cross most frontiers in Europe without any formalities or control. The Eurocrats in Brussels like to talk loftily about freedom of movement. Which is all very well, until the movement really becomes free. Following the turmoil in the Mediterranean, tens of thousands of North Africans are arriving in Italy, and dispersing north, first of all into France. Never backward when its interests are at stake, France has been quick to control its border with Italy. Denmark too is now restoring border controls, ostensibly to aid police and customs officers. Actually the move is part of the resistance gathering everywhere in Europe to the exploitation of free movement by immigrants, legal and illegal. The Danish People’s party, still a minority in parliament, demands the tightening of controls in return for the support that keeps the government of Prime Minister Rasmussen in power. An election is due by the end of the year, and the nationalism of the Danish People’s party may well be rewarded. The Eurocrats of Brussels like to maintain that the Schengen Treaty is comparable to the euro as a pillar of European integration, but which of them is the shakier they do not say.
‐ A pub singer named Simon Ledger was arrested on the Isle of Wight for performing Carl Douglas’s 1974 pop hit “Kung Fu Fighting.” Was he charged with offending against good taste? Nope; if that were a crime, scarcely a pub dweller in the entire United Kingdom would escape incarceration. Instead, he was booked on “suspicion of racially aggravated harassment” after a pair of Chinese passers-by heard the song (a regular part of Ledger’s act for years) and decided it was degrading to them. About the worst the lyrics get is a reference to “funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown,” but that was enough for the Hampshire constabulary to arrest the surprised crooner — in a Chinese restaurant, of all places. Ledger was freed on bail, and even in hypersensitive, multicultural Britain, there’s a chance that good sense will prevail and the complaint will be dismissed. Still, when singing a goofy throwaway song about a mid-1970s fad is enough to get you locked up, it’s more than “a little bit frightening.”
#page#‐ The economist F. A. Hayek is having an unlikely postmortem career: rap star (thanks to Russ Roberts and EconStories.tv), intellectual pin-up (Dorian Electra’s “I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek”), bestselling author (Glenn Beck made The Road to Serfdom No. 1 on Amazon), and occasional whipping boy. Austrian economics has entered the political mainstream sufficiently that popular leftist outlets feel the need to denounce it, as Salon did in May, just after Hayek found himself drafted into a New York Times debate with Francis Fukuyama, who does not seem to understand his work. “Hayek,” Fukuyama wrote, “made the slipperiest of slippery slope arguments: the smallest move toward the expansion of government would lead to a cascade of bad consequences that would result in full-blown authoritarian socialism.” That is untrue: Hayek was a sworn foe of central planning, but he in fact contemplated a welfare state of a scope that might surprise (and even dismay) the modern free-market acolytes who know him more as a figurehead for free markets than as a complex analyst. Hayek never mistook himself for a conservative (cf. “Why I Am Not a Conservative”), and conservatives ought not to mistake him for one, either. But as a critic of the micromanagerial impulse in politics — what he called “the fatal conceit” — Hayek is peerless, and he remains essential reading.
‐ Comic-book hero Superman is of course a fighter for “truth, justice, and the American way.” That’s been fine with generations of readers, but not always easy to square with the anfractuosities of international diplomacy. In a recent adventure the Man of Steel stood in solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators in Tehran. The comic-book Iranians called this an act of war by the U.S., causing conniptions among our national-security people. Frustrated, Superman told a presidential adviser that he would renounce his U.S. citizenship. Real-world patriots reacted in various ways, all negative, to the superhero’s transnational aspirations. Bill O’Reilly harrumphed and Mike Huckabee declared himself “disturbed.” Several disenchanted commentators snarked that we should expect nothing better from an undocumented immigrant. (The infant Superman, it will be remembered, arrived here visa-less in a space capsule dispatched from his native Krypton.) As we go to press, we hear that Superman seems to have had a change of heart. But just wait until he hears about Obama’s taxes.
‐ The code name for the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was “Geronimo.” (The code name for Osama himself was “Jackpot.”) A senior official told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that the actual transmission from the ground commander signaling the mission’s success was heard as “For God and country: Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo!” The name of the ferocious old Apache chief (1829–1909) has long been favored by the U.S. military as a call sign or exclamation in moments of great daring. Nowadays, however, such usage is bound to ignite a firestorm of victimological indignation. Sure enough: “An unpardonable slander,” bristled Harlyn Geronimo, the chief’s great-grandson. Why is it a slander on a man to use his name for an operation of great boldness carried out by our bravest warriors? What name would the complainers prefer we used — Custer?
#page#‐ The golden age of the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment ended in the late Sixties with the Vietnam War. Anti-Communist liberals either defected to the radical anti-anti-Communist camp or sought refuge within conservatism and became neocons. After the collapse of Communism (and before the Iraq War), however, there was a brief silver age of foreign-policy bipartisanship. This coincided with the Clinton administration and partly explains its embrace, initially reluctant, of both NATO expansion and NAFTA membership. One of the architects of this Clintonian bipartisanship was Ronald Asmus, who has just died of cancer at the early age of 53. With two RAND Corporation colleagues, Asmus wrote a 1993 article in Foreign Affairs advancing the argument that the U.S. should bring Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO as a way of stabilizing Europe and deterring a revanchist Russia (then a remote nightmare, now a reality) from seeking to reverse the result of the Cold War. In 1997 he became deputy assistant secretary in the State Department, where he recruited a bipartisan U.S. coalition for NATO expansion in a skeptical Washington. Behind the scenes he urged strong U.S. leadership of NATO to drag reluctant West Europeans into accepting it. And he succeeded beyond his own expectations — three new members joined NATO in 1999, a further seven in 2004, and two more in 2009. All are safer, and Europe’s borders more secure, as a result. Rest in peace.
‐ Richard Cornuelle was a latter-day Tocqueville who championed voluntary organizations and defended them against the encroachments of government. A native of Indiana, he studied under Ludwig von Mises and supported free-market scholars as a program officer at the Volker Fund. An eye-opening trip to Kentucky’s coal country convinced him that the best libertarianism must be leavened with compassion for the less fortunate. In his 1965 book Reclaiming the American Dream, he came up with the notion of the “independent sector” — the constellation of non-profit groups and individual actions that confront social problems without federal subsidies or instruction. Since then, this sector has become significantly less independent, making Cornuelle’s message all the more urgent today. Dead at 84, R.I.P.
‐ Kate Swift will join the translators of the New English Bible, and the rock lyricists who decided that assonance is as good as rhyme, as one of the debasers of late-20th-century English. For it was she, and fellow copy editor Casey Miller (d. 1997), who pushed for “desexing the English language,” as one of their — excuse us — seminal essays put it. No more policemen or firemen, no more stewardesses. Some of their gripes went too far: Swift and Miller proposed tey as a sexless substitute for he and she, but not even Star Trek: The Next Generation took that one up. Even so Swift leaves a legacy of timidity and bumble (consider the many solecisms arising from the death of the generic he — If anyone asks, tell them . . .). Dead at 87. May she rest in peace.
The End of Osama
Osama bin Laden, who aspired to found a caliphate on the rubble of New York City and Washington, instead spent a decade running from pillar to post, before he was finally shot in the head, alongside one of his sons, in a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The weak horse stumbled, and was taken to the bone yard. Ten years is not too long to wait for such a fitting end.
Congratulations to the SEALs and other special forces who executed the bold and sophisticated raid. Congratulations to the intelligence agents who grilled the turncoats who supplied key information. Congratulations to President Obama for making the mission a priority and for seeing it through. And congratulations to former president Bush for vowing that Obama would be taken, dead or alive.
Bin Laden was a common type throughout the modern world, not just its Muslim quadrant: the obscurely aggrieved rich kid turned zealot. He murdered thousands, including co-religionists, without remorse. He spoke of God and martyrdom, but what he really pursued was a fusion of the totalitarian temptation with romanticized bits of Dark Ages bric-à-brac. An omnivorous polemicist, he fortified his Koranic justifications with the writings of Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter.
The raid stirred a flurry of ancillary issues. Did waterboarding help track bin Laden down? Al-Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became cooperative after five sessions of waterboarding. He spoke slightingly of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the courier in whose house bin Laden was finally shot, through all his interrogations. Did his reticence, after Kuwaiti’s key role was revealed by another al-Qaeda prisoner, in fact confirm the courier’s importance? One thing that seems certain is that no leads would have been developed if every al-Qaeda member captured had been taken to American jails and lawyered up, as candidate Barack Obama pledged he would do. Obama’s long retreat from his sweeping critique of Bush-era procedures continues apace.
The Abbottabad compound held a porn stash. No surprise there: Jihadist nests in Iraq and other places have frequently turned up porn. Women-oppressing fanatics who expect heavenly harems are natural candidates for the solitary vice. It is true that the material might have been consumed by other members of the household. Yet there is ocular proof of bin Laden’s viewing porn — he was filmed watching videos of his speeches.
Some quarters greeted bin Laden’s demise with a range of criticisms and outright sorrow. Omar bin Laden, one of his surviving sons, complained that his father had not been captured and tried. Dad should have thought about that before he began directing combat operations in the field. Assorted Europeans, particularly Germans, echoed young bin Laden’s complaints. Heinz Uthmann, a Hamburg judge, filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for saying she was “glad” Osama was killed, on the grounds that she had approved a homicide. Hamas didn’t fuss over procedure: Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the Gaza strip, called Osama “a Muslim and Arab warrior.” Terrorists praised the terrorist, anti-Americans slammed America, moral equivocators equivocated.
The administration’s handling of the rollout was marked by bumbles and backtracks. Did bin Laden resist, or didn’t he? Was one of his wives killed? Injured? The structure of the modern administrative state ensures that there will be many mouths close to a big news story, and modern media give them many outlets. No White House can change those dynamics. That is why it is important to think the media strategy through beforehand, and to have disciplinarians to enforce it.
The president’s polls have bounced and begun to subside before even a month has passed. Everyone cited George H. W. Bush, who went from sky high after the first Iraq War to being thrashed in November 1992. The lingering memory of the Abbottabad raid will complicate critiques of Obama’s foreign policy, perhaps also of his leadership. But the domestic mess — Obamacare, trillions in debt — isn’t going anywhere. Republicans will fight the incumbent where they always intended to attack him.
Bin Laden’s death is a welcome antidote to self-hatred and funk. America remembers its own, and defends itself. She goes not abroad, as John Quincy Adams once said, in search of monsters to destroy. But when they come in search of us, we will destroy them — one by one by one.
The Starting Line
Recent announcements have brought some clarity to the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The top tier of candidates will be a group of governors: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and, if he runs, Mitch Daniels. Right below them is another governor, Jon Huntsman. Other announced or likely candidates include Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and Michele Bachmann.
As always, conservative voters will and should be looking for the candidate who seems likely to do the best job of defending our society’s best moral traditions, pursuing a foreign policy that unapologetically advances American interests, promoting prosperity, and conserving our constitutional inheritance. That job necessarily includes getting elected.
President Obama is neither invulnerable nor a pushover. Because they won control of the House and the power to filibuster in the Senate, Republicans will not be able to count on a tidal wave of anger at aggressive liberalism in 2012. Middle-of-the-road voters will be looking for more in presidential candidates than just a resolve to oppose liberalism. And liberal voting blocs will turn out at heavier rates than they did in 2010. On the other hand, Obama’s weakness among independent voters and the general lack of confidence in his handling of the economy make the Republican nomination very much worth having.
But while the economy is Obama’s greatest liability, the lack of a sensible and appealing economic program is the Republicans’ greatest flaw. So far, the candidates have been emphasizing their desire to cut spending. But the real challenge is to create the kind of broad-based economic growth that we have not seen in more than a decade. Middle-class voters, the keepers of the American dream and the key to every election, have spent the intervening time first treading water and then sinking. Mike Huckabee is the only Republican candidate of the last two cycles who seems aware that all was not well even before the financial crisis — and he had no plausible solutions and has just announced he will not run this time.
We believe that conservative policies can, in combination with private-sector initiative, again produce a shared prosperity. Reforming the tax code to restrain the growth of health-care costs, encourage hiring, lighten the load on middle-class parents, and make American companies competitive is essential. The Federal Reserve should be bound to rules designed to achieve macroeconomic stability. An immigration policy that enhances the country’s average skill level rather than reducing it would help as well. But before the public will listen to conservative solutions, it needs to know that conservative candidates understand its problems.