‐ President Obama told 60 Minutes that mending the economy “probably takes more than one president.” Hey, we’ve been saying that since January 2009.
‐ Obama, having tired of performing his Woodrow Wilson impersonation, has moved on to Theodore Roosevelt, the rough-riding, war-fighting, gun-toting adventurer-president, and the man on earth whom he least resembles. Giving a speech in Osawatomie, Kan., he offered his own take on TR’s famous “New Nationalism” speech; he should have called it “Stale Liberalism,” for it was nothing more than his familiar managerial bluster accompanied by sharpened class-warfare rhetoric. A great many of TR’s economic ideas were daft and authoritarian, but the thing about the New Nationalism was that it was new — it had not yet been discredited by the experience of similar central-planning philosophies throughout the 20th century. Obama-style progressivism is nothing if not an arrogant refusal to learn from history. Teddy Roosevelt might be forgiven his naïveté, but Barack Obama should know better by now, as should we all.
‐ Newt Gingrich, who has a unique talent for sounding wrong when he is right, raised a chorus of heckles when he described child-labor laws as “truly stupid.” But he was, as he so often is, on to something: His proposal is to offer teenagers jobs at their schools, which would achieve two goods — marginally reducing the schools’ bloated personnel costs and, more important, providing students with experience to facilitate their entry into the work force. Gingrich at his best is something of an education realist who realizes that the current model of education — which recognizes only one metric of success, receipt of a four-year (or more) college degree — does not in fact serve all students well. Work experience, vocational education, and — most critical — choice among a variety of educational options are essential if we are to maximize the productivity and well-being of the very large number of American students who are not headed for careers as investment bankers and management consultants. About this, Gingrich has nothing for which to apologize.
‐ Gingrich also took himself for a spin through Middle East history. “I think we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community,” he told the Jewish Channel. True enough — under the British mandate, “Palestinian” denoted the local Jews. But professorial Newt leaves political Newt with problems. Now that the horse has gone, why fumble with the barn door? If it was not aimless showing off, then it was a cynical feel-good appeal for Jewish votes. It was nice, however, to see Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat sputter. “This is the lowest point of thinking anyone can reach,” said Erekat. Lower than blowing up pizza parlors?
‐ Why would anyone participate in, or listen to, a debate hosted by Donald Trump on any subjects other than media, bankruptcy, or how eminent domain can work for you? Yet when Trump announced that he would host a debate of Republican candidates at the end of December, Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreed to appear. (Bachmann, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, and Romney all declined.) Trump is a successful self-promoter. His ventures into politics have been bizarre and disastrous. He led the GOP and the media on a hunt for Obama’s birth certificate, the tinfoil non-story of this presidency. He wants above all to plug his next book, or the latest season of his reality show. Trump ended up withdrawing as moderator, for which action concerned citizens should be grateful.
#page#‐ Herman Cain went up like a rocket, and came down like a booster rocket. His life arc — the son of a janitor and a maid, he became a CEO — and his platform personality made him shine in an array of dimmer GOP bulbs. Then he began to be smacked by charges of sexual misconduct: Four women claimed to have been harassed by him when he headed the National Restaurant Association. A fifth, Ginger White, said she and Cain had had a 13-year affair. Cain denied all charges, though he admitted that he had given White money, and that his wife had never known about her. But Cain’s inexperience also caught up with him. His 9-9-9 tax-reform plan was a bad idea, but at least it reflected some earnest economic thought. Cain gave no thought to the world, joking about U-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan — his trope for obscure places — then blowing a question about Libya, a real place that has been in the news constantly. Herman Cain was at best an unprepared man recklessly offering himself as a fantasy candidate. It is good that he is out of the race.
‐ A federal grand jury is investigating whether ex–New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s presidential campaign arranged for supporters to pay hush money to his former mistress, the Wall Street Journal reported. According to the allegations, Richardson’s boosters gave $250,000 to a state employee who considered suing him in 2007. (The two supposedly began their affair in 2004.) It has been a tough three years for the 2008 Democratic-primary contenders. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards is standing trial for the very same charges. And former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd has had to give up his long-held seat after the public learned of his sweetheart loans from Countrywide. We are not surprised to see such corruption. But we are a little taken aback that these men were brazen enough to run for president.
‐ Nearly a year after the Operation Fast and Furious scandal broke, the Obama administration has yet to answer a simple question: What did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) hope to gain by letting Mexican drug gangs buy guns in the U.S.? The question becomes even more pertinent in light of an e-mail uncovered by CBS News. In the July 2010 message, Mark Chait — an ATF higher-up who was demoted, but not fired, in the wake of the scandal — asked a colleague whether a Fast and Furious case involved any guns that were bought in groups from a single dealer. The reason for his request: He was looking for anecdotes to justify a new “demand letter” — an ATF regulation that would require some gun dealers to report customers who bought more than one rifle at once. A congressional report suggests that by the time he sent this e-mail, Chait was aware that if the case involved guns that were purchased in groups, the ATF might very well have sanctioned the sales (in some cases over resistance from the dealers themselves). This does not prove the theory that Fast and Furious was intended from the beginning to create an argument for gun control, but it does show that at least one ATF official considered putting it to that use. Chait should, as also should the Justice Department, give a full explanation of what in the world Fast and Furious was meant to accomplish.
‐ “I simply do not know where the money is,” said Jon Corzine, the disgraced Wall Street mogul and Democratic politico whose collapsed firm, MF Global, seems to have lost track of some $1.2 billion in customers’ money. Corzine’s troubles combine in a single case a number of relevant political themes — the hypocrisy of Democrats’ railing against Wall Street, the ineffectual nature of the financial reforms enacted by Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, and the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and the political class. While it remains unclear what precisely did happen to the customers’ money, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission seems to think that Corzine used a complex financial instrument to “borrow” customers’ money to collateralize his trades in European government bonds — at least, the CFTC recently voted unanimously to ban such trades. It had earlier considered doing so, but was lobbied by Corzine to put off the rule change. And when Corzine went to lobby the CFTC, whom should he have met but his old Goldman Sachs colleague, Commissioner Gary Gensler, along with Commissioner Mark Wetjen, a former aide to his Democratic Senate colleague Harry Reid? Corzine has much to answer for — and so does the CFTC, and Washington at large.
#page#‐ The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is supposed to make sure that the nation’s schools don’t practice racial discrimination. Instead, in two new “guidance” memos for school administrators, the office, in conjunction with the Justice Department, promotes racial discrimination. The memos — one pertaining to higher education, the other pertaining to elementary and secondary schools — tout the benefits of racial diversity, including “promoting cross-racial understanding, breaking down racial and other stereotypes, and eliminating bias and prejudice.” They then advise schools that, while the Supreme Court says they have to consider race-neutral methods of promoting diversity (such as preferences for the poor) before resorting to outright discrimination, they have no obligation to use race-neutral methods if these are not “workable.” The memos even provide reasons for which race-neutral admissions might not be “workable,” including the all-purpose excuse that discrimination is the only way to get the level of diversity the institution has decided it needs. Message received.
‐ Do American students of Asian ancestry face racial discrimination in college admissions? There is much evidence that they do. The Center for Equal Opportunity has found, for example, that the combined median SAT scores for Asians admitted to the University of Michigan in 2005 were 50 points higher than those for whites. Further, where it is forbidden by law to consider race in admissions policy, proportions of Asian students in colleges are higher than elsewhere. The student body at the University of California–Berkeley, for example, is over 40 percent Asian (three times the proportion of Californians with Asian ancestry). It is well-nigh a universal belief among Asian Americans that college admissions officers discriminate against them when the law permits this. What to do? For students of mixed parentage the solution is obvious: Check any box on the application form other than “Asian.” Since three-quarters of white-Asian marriages in the U.S. involve a white father, surname is a giveaway only for the other quarter. A December 3 report from Associated Press reveals that this practice is exactly what is happening. Apparently we are trending toward the model of apartheid South Africa, where Asians were “honorary whites.”
‐ There must be something in the water in Durban: The home of conferences that routinely proclaim Zionism to be the world’s most virulent form of racism hosted another U.N. jamboree, the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Some of the more ambitious proposals, such as a carbon tax on the world’s shipping and aviation fleets and an “international climate court of justice,” were, thankfully, rejected. Two major agreements were reached: on the creation of a fund to help developing countries switch to clean energy, and on a tentative step toward a legally binding greenhouse-gas treaty that will treat rich and poor countries equally. The latter was a victory of sorts for the U.S., which has insisted on setting limits for developing countries if any applied to the developed world, though no treaty at all would have been much better. As for the climate fund, it has no funding source, and there is no plan for how the treaty’s specifics will be set. In short, this was just another U.N. conference, wrongly conceived but mercifully unproductive.
‐ The U.S. Postal Service — which lost $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2011, has reached its debt limit of $15 billion, and is behind on a $5.5 billion payment to fund retiree health-care benefits — has proposed a new measure to cut costs: The “independent” but government-owned company would like to slow down the delivery of first-class mail, so that short-range letters no longer reach their destinations overnight. While we would prefer a plan that ends USPS’s government-enforced monopoly on letter delivery and then privatizes the company, slower mail could be part of a plan to keep USPS afloat without a bailout. Other cuts should include ending Saturday delivery, closing non-essential USPS facilities, and downsizing the work force. The House’s Issa-Ross Postal Reform Act is a worthy bill that takes up some of these reforms. The Senate’s bill, awkwardly titled the “21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011,” also contains much of value, but is considerably weaker. In hammering out a compromise, House Republicans should push hard for concessions from the Democratic Senate. If we’re to be stuck with a government-owned mail company, at the very least it should not be run at the expense of taxpayers.
#page#Another Socialist Plot
The recently released Muppet movie caused one of those five-minute fracases that pass across the Internet/cable-TV landscape like a summer squall. Essentially, the Muppet movie (official title, The Muppets) laid on a slew of Hollywood clichés — hardly shocking given that the Muppets themselves are something of a send-up of old vaudeville and movie bits. The one that annoyed some conservatives was the utterly typical casting of the villain as an evil businessman (in this case Tex Richman, dastardly oil baron).
Liberals made fun of conservatives for taking the movie so seriously. Liberals overlooked the fact that the reason it’s a cliché is that Hollywood does, in fact, have a deep-seated, long-established, easily verified animus towards capitalists and businessmen. Yes, yes, yes: Part of the reason businessmen are used as villains stems from the fact that you need villains to be rich and powerful. But part of the reason also has something to do with the fact that liberals run Hollywood and liberals think capitalism is evil — even though it makes them rich.
Enough about all that. If you don’t think Hollywood has liberal biases, all I can say to you is, “How on earth did you end up reading this magazine?”
But Hollywood could learn something from The Muppets. One of the reasons that so many movie sequels are so awful is that the producers think they have to re-create essentially the same plot, leaving audiences to say, “I’ve seen this movie before.” One of the best recent examples is The Hangover Part II, in which the whole gang is asked to film essentially the same movie as the first Hangover, only this time in Thailand. “I can’t believe this is happening again!” says one of the guys at the bachelor party gone awry. And neither can the audience!
I grew up watching Abbott and Costello movies every Sunday morning. I’ve seen them all: Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Get Syphilis, Abbott and Costello Testify at HUAC, etc.
Okay, I made up a couple of those. But you get the point. The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, et al. made lots of films in which they essentially played the same character — i.e., themselves — over and over again. What changed were the plots.
These days we get the same actors playing the same parts repeating the same plots over and over again. Sometimes this is forgivable, of course. It’s not like Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger would really work as a romantic lead. And if you’re going to make a Jaws II, it’s pretty hard to get away from the whole boy-meets-shark storyline. But, really, why exactly did Return of the Jedi have to end with the rebel alliance blowing up a Death Star? And why couldn’t the gang from The Hangover come back in a sequel where they robbed a bank?
Obviously, making endless variations on a theme was easier to do under the old contract system than it is today. Movie-star trailers were like cells in a Hollywood-studio gulag. Of course Spencer Tracy would do another movie with Hepburn — anything just to get some yard time.
That’s the great thing about the Muppets. Because they are merely technically advanced socks with sewn-on eyeballs, you can make them do one movie after another and they won’t complain. Personally, I’d love to see an all-Muppet remake of All the President’s Men (Carl Bernstein could play himself!).
Alas, that’s as likely as Hollywood casting liberals as villains.
#page#‐ Since 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has received federal funds through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to administer a nationwide network of organizations that aid victims of human trafficking with shelter, food, counseling, and other services. This fall, the group’s application for a grant was denied in favor of three other organizations, though two of these scored significantly lower than the USCCB in an independent review commissioned by HHS. Preference was given, administration officials explained, to organizations offering referrals for “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care,” i.e. contraception and abortion, which the USCCB does not provide. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), in hearings investigating the politicization of the grant process, has accused HHS of anti-Catholic bias, but any religious or secular institution that shares the bishops’ principles is liable to face similar discrimination under an administration whose commitment to promoting abortion outweighs its concern for the real needs of victims.
‐ Andrew Cuomo looked like he was rebranding the family name, as well as Democratic politics in New York State, and possibly the nation: He was a social liberal, committed to same-sex marriage, but a fiscal hawk. “You are kidding yourself if you think you can be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation . . . and have a rosy economic future,” he said as recently as this fall. Turns out the only people who were kidding themselves were those who believed his prudent noises. A temporary surcharge on high incomes was allowed to lapse as scheduled. But in its place Cuomo and the legislature imposed new “progressive” tax brackets. The surcharge was in effect reduced but made permanent. Cuomo explained the new brackets by saying that the state faced “a different economic reality than anyone could have anticipated.” Same political reality that every New Yorker anticipated, though.
‐ Confounding all expectations, British prime minister David Cameron seems to have discovered his spine, in refusing to kowtow to Franco-German demands for reorganizing the eurozone in a way that would further erode British sovereignty and — probably the deciding factor — put the City of London, the financial powerhouse of Europe, at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis its Continental competitors. Proposed amendments to the EU treaty forging greater fiscal integration would require British assent. Cameron was thought likely to go along with treaty changes in exchange for the giving of leeway to Britain to protect its financial sector, but it was clear that the concessions he would require would not be acceptable to the other members of the EU — and so he refused. Cameron’s “No” may have disruptive consequences in the rest of Europe: Without British support, European economic coordination — meaning, among other things, shadow bailouts for the spendthrift south — will become more difficult. Without the palliative of German money, German fiscal discipline may create social disorder in more places than Greece. But Cameron has sensibly declined to sacrifice the well-being of Britons for the well-being of Greeks, an important victory for those who think of the United Kingdom as a nation rather than an administrative subdivision of the European Union.
‐ The world is living a high-class thriller, but is still at the stage of having to use imagination to decipher the plot. The one clear clue is the setting: Iran. Events turn on the nuclear program that the Iranians are asking everyone to believe is peaceful but according to many intelligence services is developing a nuclear weapon. Stuxnet and Duqu are anonymous cyber attacks that have destroyed essential equipment. About half a dozen Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered or disabled, one of them Dariush Rezaei, said to have been very senior. Mysterious explosions have marked the past 18 months, one of them at a missile base near Khorramabad and another 30 miles west of Tehran. This latter destroyed a sprawling complex of buildings and killed Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, the head of the country’s missile program. Grief-stricken, the Iranian establishment turned up for his funeral. Is all this accident and coincidence, or might it be war, and if so, who is waging it? Suspects include American agencies — perhaps the very one that just lost a drone in Iran — and Israel, whose public figures are prone to attribute what’s happening to divine intervention. The subject matter is too dramatic even to begin sketching the ending.
#page#‐ In central Tehran the police stood by and watched while hundreds of protesters simultaneously broke into the British embassy and the residency compound in Qolhak to the north of the city. They seized seven of the 26 members of the staff, and for a while a replay of the 1979 hostage crisis seemed in the making. Dominick Chilcott, the ambassador, was to say afterward that he “had no idea how it was going to end.” One historic building is 135 years old, and in it Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill held their conference in 1943. The protesters systematically vandalized both sites, setting fires and parading in the streets the royal portraits and the embassy crest they had looted. Such incidents in the region follow a well-defined course that serves as a political statement. At the prompting of increasingly anxious Western powers, a new round of sanctions had just been passed to discourage Iran from finalizing its nuclear program. The Iranians would no doubt have preferred to take reprisals on Americans or Israelis, but in the absence of these favorite Satans they had to make do with voting to expel the British ambassador and sending in the official wrecking crews. Once the ambassador and his staff had touched down safely in London, the British gave the Iranians 48 hours to close their embassy and get out of the country. An embargo on oil purchases might make a point about the importance of more civilized behavior in Iran, and Britain is pressing for it.
‐ The Obama administration has pursued a policy of “reset” with a Russian regime that, according to the State Department’s own reporting, runs a “mafia state.” Now the people of Moscow are denouncing that government. Our excuse for engaging a corrupt regime has been that Vladimir Putin enjoyed the support of the Russian people, but when the oil-and-gas boom came to an end in 2008, the population’s commitment to Putin collapsed with it. All it took was the latest manifestation of electoral fraud, following recent parliamentary elections, to bring them out into the streets. (Sensing an opportunity, the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets, has announced his candidacy for president of Russia in next year’s contest.) The United States can continue trying to engage the Russian leaders, or it can do what it should have done in the first place: base U.S. responses on U.S. principles, and react to Russian behavior realistically. The authors of “reset” will be inclined to defend their brainchild, but the Obama administration should bear in mind that Russia is no longer just the Putin-Medvedev tandem. The people of Russia have stepped out onto the stage as well.
‐ Last year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave its peace prize to a Chinese dissident and prisoner of conscience, Liu Xiaobo. This piqued the Chinese government, which created its own peace prize in response. In this, the Chinese were following the Nazi government and the Soviet government, both of which created peace prizes when piqued at Oslo. The Chinese award is called the Confucius Peace Prize. And this year it was given to Vladimir Putin, boss of Russia. Why? In the words of an Associated Press report, “for enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya.” Say this for the Chinese Communists: They know what they like.
‐ Last year the South Korean government allowed a Christian group to set up a Christmas tree near the Demilitarized Zone separating their territory from North Korea. This year, they have announced, three trees will be erected, with a lighting ceremony scheduled for December 23. The Norks are not happy. A state-run website hissed that the tree-lighting plan is “a mean attempt at psychological warfare.” The website further threatened that lighting the trees would lead to an “unexpected consequence.” What will that be, we wonder — a carol-singing concert from the North Korean side? Why not? Kim Il Sung, father of the current North Korean dictator, was raised a Presbyterian, and liked to relax by playing a church organ.
‐ Who would have known it: One in ten people is a war criminal. Or at least they might be if the International Red Cross gets its way. The organization has suggested that video gamers who play violent games could be violating the Hague Convention. Never mind that the Hague Convention applies only to states; not to mention to the real world. One can only stand and wonder where this all ends: Should the police storm the stage at performances of Julius Caesar after Brutus’s betrayal? Speaking in defense of the Red Cross’s position, Australian professor of international law Anthony Billingsley warned that “there are concerns about the blurring of fantasy and reality.” On that much we agree.
#page#‐ Amnesty International has decided that former president George W. Bush should be arrested as a war criminal. In October, Amnesty asked Canada to do the job. (Bush was visiting British Columbia.) More recently, it asked Ethiopia, Tanzania, or Zambia to do the job. The Zambian foreign minister, Chishimba Kambwili, had a tart response. “On what basis does Amnesty International want us to arrest Mr. Bush? Tell them to hang, and also please ask them to create their own country and wait for Mr. Bush to visit their country so that they can arrest him to suit their wish and not here in Zambia.”
‐ Whatever you may think is the purpose of higher education, there is a case to be made that public funding of college-level studies should bear some relation to the requirements of the national economy. In mainland China, where most higher education is paid for by the state, the government has found this case persuasive. They have recently announced that funding of college majors will in the future be determined by graduate employment rates. Fields in which the employment rate for graduates falls below 60 percent for two consecutive years will have their state subsidies cut back or eliminated. It pains us to find ourselves in agreement with the Chinese Communist party on anything at all, but this new policy is surely a sound one. If applied in the U.S., it would have two highly desirable side effects: one, there would be fewer unemployable graduates available to populate the “Occupy” movements, and two, the liberal professoriate would be furious.
‐ The California State University system has study-abroad programs in which CSU students can spend a year at universities in such places as chilly Sweden, tropical Ghana, and exotic Canada. In 2002, Israel was suspended from participation due to safety concerns, but officials have announced plans to reinstate it. Cue expressions of outrage from 80-odd CSU faculty, staff members, and administrators, representing “a wide range of views and political perspectives” (from Marxist to anarchist, presumably), who have signed an open letter asserting that “CSU participation with the government of Israel in the proposed study abroad program could be interpreted as an endorsement of the international crime of apartheid.” CSU also has a study-abroad program in China. Does this mean the system and its faculty endorse censorship, torture, slave labor, and arbitrary arrest and detention?
‐ Britain’s Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, gave her name to an age popularly associated with bourgeois rectitude and sexual repression. It has long been plain from her own recorded remarks and letters, however, that Victoria’s blood ran hotter than is suggested by the stiffly formal portraits we are familiar with. Further evidence for this has been getting some attention in the British press recently: a remarkably sensual picture of the bare-shouldered Victoria, then 24 years old, painted by Franz Winterhalter and treasured by Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Victoria was not quite 21 when she married Albert: His death 22 years and nine children later devastated her, and she wore widow’s weeds for the rest of her reign. Some silly gossip (made into an even sillier 1997 movie) notwithstanding, there is no evidence that Victoria’s feelings found any physical expression outside her marriage. In that respect at least she was truly, and commendably, Victorian.
‐ Illegal immigrant Joaquin Luna, aged 18, shot himself dead on November 25 at his family home in Mission, Tex. The family told local media that Joaquin had been driven to the sad deed by distress over the failure of Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would have given federal college aid to illegals. National news media picked up the story and ran with it: CNN devoted a lengthy segment to it on November 30. Local congressman Rubén Hinojosa, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, aired the case in a maudlin speech to the House of Representatives. Given that Texas actually does offer tuition relief to illegals attending state colleges, and that Mexico itself has many fine colleges Luna could have attended in perfect legality, it is hard to see why he should have been so upset over DREAM. Well, apparently he wasn’t: When the county sheriff’s office at last released Luna’s eleven-page suicide note, there was no mention in it of the DREAM Act. The sheriff himself scolded those who had tried to politicize the tragedy. Representative Hinojosa was unrepentant, blustering through a spokeswoman that “there was no reason to doubt” the family.
#page#‐ There has been a flurry of striking news stories from outer space. Closest to home, though still impressively far away, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, seems to have reached the “heliosheath” — the boundary zone between the influence of the Sun, as defined by the “solar wind” of particles the Sun emits, and interstellar space. The plucky little spacecraft is two and a half times farther away from the Sun than Pluto ever gets, and still operating. Five hundred times farther away than that, astronomers have found the most earthlike planet yet, orbiting a sunlike star. The mean surface temperature on Kepler-22b is a pleasant 72 degrees. And half a million times farther away than that, two black holes of record size have been discovered, one 10 billion times more massive than the Sun, one 20 billion times. The black holes sound terrifying; Kepler-22b sounds intriguing; but we will save our enthusiasm for Voyager 1, which we Americans made and sent on its way, and which bears an audio-visual selection of information about our planet and our species, including a Chuck Berry song, a picture of Boston, a sketch of the human sex organs, and a greeting from Jimmy Carter.
‐ New York University is set to become the first college in the United States to offer classes in Occupy Wall Street, when two new for-credit classes join the timetables next semester. In keeping with the inchoate nature of the movement, both classes — one for undergraduates, one for graduates — have a “rotating focus.” Expect the subject to rotate to the evils of government if a Republican wins the White House in 2012. NYU’s move appears to have been quite brilliantly designed to ensure the maintenance of a vicious cycle and ensure that the course’s content never becomes stale: In this vein, expect more debt-laden graduates to stand around complaining about the uselessness of their costly education about four years from now.
‐ Michigan and Wisconsin are embroiled in a dispute over which state looks more like a mitten. The controversy began when a Michigan resident noticed that Wisconsin was using a mitten to symbolize itself in a marketing campaign. Blasphemy, he declared: Everybody knows Michigan is the Mitten State, while Wisconsin looks like one only if you stretch the thumb part over your pinky. Wisconsin partisans retorted that at least their state doesn’t have to leave out an entire peninsula — and besides, Wisconsin beat Michigan State for this year’s Big Ten football championship, so there. An online survey at TravelMichigan.com predictably showed Michigan winning in a 5–1 landslide; international monitors have yet to weigh in on the survey’s fairness. Mitt Romney was unavailable for comment until he could check the two states’ polling data. Meanwhile, we’re told that Wyoming and Colorado will soon slug it out over which state more closely resembles a Pop-Tart.
‐ What would the Christmas season be without a War on Christmas story? Here’s one from Stockton, Calif. Teachers at a local K-through-8 school have been told that Santas, Christmas trees, and poinsettia plants are not to be displayed, though snowmen and snowflakes are acceptable. Why the ban? There are a “myriad of religious affiliations,” quoth the superintendent, and “we don’t want a pervasive theme of a class to represent one religious affiliation.” If you can make sense of that, you’re smart enough to be an ed bureaucrat in California. After many protests the superintendent seems to have backed off, though his English usage is so idiosyncratic that it’s hard to tell: “Well-intentioned people may take a step that’s incongruous with district expectations. That’s been corrected.” Meanwhile, in Florida, there is a dire shortage of multicultural Santas, with speakers of Spanish and Haitian Creole especially in demand for community centers and churches. Black Santas, too: “When Santa bears the face that kids can connect to, it can raise their self-esteem,” caroled a local community activist. What could be more important than raising kiddies’ self-esteem? Assimilation into a common culture? Ho ho ho!
Winnowing the Field
A hard-fought presidential primary campaign is obscuring the uncharacteristic degree of unity within the Republican party. It has reached a conservative consensus on most of the pressing issues of the day. All of the leading candidates, and almost all of the lagging ones, support the right to life. All of them favor the repeal of Obamacare. Most of them support reforms to restrain the growth of entitlement spending. All of them favor reducing the corporate tax rate to levels that will make the U.S. a competitive location for investment. Almost all of them seem to understand the dangers of a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and of a defense policy driven by the need to protect social spending rather than the national interest. Conservatives may disagree among themselves about which candidate most deserves support, but all of us should take heart in this development — and none of us should exaggerate the programmatic differences within the field.
Just as heartening, the White House seems winnable next year, and with it a majority in both houses of Congress, so that much of this conservative consensus could actually become law. A conservative majority on the Supreme Court, a halt to the march of regulation, free-market health-care policies: All of them seem within our grasp. But none of them is assured, and the costs of failure — either a failure to win the election, or a failure to govern competently and purposefully afterward — are as large as the opportunity.
We fear that to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the polls, would be to blow this opportunity. We say that mindful of his opponents’ imperfections — and of his own virtues, which have been on display during his amazing comeback. Very few people with a personal history like his — two divorces, two marriages to former mistresses — have ever tried running for president. Gingrich himself has never run for a statewide office, let alone a national one, and has not run for anything since 1998. That year he was kicked out by his colleagues, the most conservative ones especially, who had lost confidence in him. During his time as Speaker, he was one of the most unpopular figures in public life. Just a few months ago his campaign seemed dead after a series of gaffes and resignations. That Gingrich now tops the polls is a tribute to his perseverance, and to Republicans’ admiration for his intellectual fecundity.
Both qualities served conservatives well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Gingrich, nearly alone, saw the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress and worked tirelessly to bring it about. Even before the takeover, Gingrich helped to solidify the party’s opposition to tax increases and helped to defeat the Clinton health-care plan. The victory of 1994 enabled the passage of welfare reform, the most successful social policy of recent decades.
Gingrich’s colleagues were, however, right to bring his tenure to an end. His character flaws — his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas — made him a poor Speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.
#page#He says, and his defenders say, that time, reflection, and religious conversion have conquered his dark side. If he is the nominee, a campaign that should be about whether the country will continue on the path to social democracy would inevitably become to a large extent a referendum on Gingrich instead. And there is reason to doubt that he has changed. Each week we see the same traits that weakened Republicans from 1995 through 1998: I’d vote for Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform; Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform is radical right-wing social engineering; I apologize for saying that, and no one should quote what I said because I was wrong; actually, what I said was right all along but nobody understood me. I helped defeat Communism; anyone who made money in the ’80s and ’90s owes me; I’m like Reagan and Thatcher. Local community boards should decide what to do with illegal immigrants. Freddie Mac paid me all that money to tell them how stupid they were. Enough. Gingrich has always said he wants to transform the country. He appears unable to transform, or even govern, himself. He should be an adviser to the Republican party, but not again its head.
Gingrich is not the only candidate whom we believe conservatives should, regretfully, exclude from consideration for the presidency. Governor Perry has done an exemplary job in Texas but has seemed curiously and persistently unable to bring gravity to the national stage. Republican presidential candidates have not been known for their off-the-cuff eloquence in recent decades, but conservatism should not choose a standard-bearer who would have to spend much of his time untying his own tongue. Representative Bachmann’s rise early in the primary season reflected the public’s hunger for sincere conviction; her later descent, following among other things her casual repetition of false anti-vaccine rumors, its desire that conviction be married to judgment. Representative Paul’s recent re-dabbling in vile conspiracy theories about September 11 are a reminder that the excesses of the movement he leads are actually its essence.
Three other candidates deserve serious consideration. Governor Huntsman has a solid record, notwithstanding his sometimes glib foreign-policy pronouncements; his main weakness is his apparent inability, so far, to forge a connection with conservative voters outside Utah. Governor Romney won our endorsement last time, in part because some of the other leading candidates were openly hostile to important elements of conservatism. He is highly intelligent and disciplined, and he takes conservative positions on all the key issues. We still think he would make a fine president, but time and ceaseless effort have not yet overcome conservative voters’ skepticism about the liberal aspects of his record and his managerial disposition. Senator Santorum was an effective legislator. He deserves credit for highlighting, more than any other candidate, the need for public policies that topple barriers to middle-class aspirations. Weighing against him is a lack of executive experience.
As Republican primary voters consider their choices, they should ask themselves several questions: Which candidate is most likely to make the race turn on the large questions before the country, and not his personal idiosyncrasies? Which candidate is most likely to defeat Obama? Who could, if elected, form an effective partnership with Republican leaders and governors to achieve the conservative agenda? We will render further judgments in the weeks to come as the candidates continue to make their cases and are, just perhaps, joined by new candidates. At the moment we think it important to urge Republicans to have the good sense to reject a hasty marriage to Gingrich, which would risk dissolving in acrimony.