‐ The Iowa contest came down to a choice between representatives of three exotic religions: Mormonism, Catholicism, and libertarianism.
‐ The Gingrich campaign issued a paper on the historical and constitutional weakness of the Supreme Court’s claim to supremacy in matters of constitutional interpretation, on the dangerous consequences of that claim for self-governance, national security, and human rights, and on how to cut the Court down to size. This last portion of the paper mixed good ideas — such as legislation to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts where appropriate — with half-baked ones. Summoning judges to explain their decisions to Congress, for example, is an idea both pointless (judges already explain their reasoning) and noxious (congressmen have no constitutional power to browbeat judges). Abolishing liberal courts and replacing them with conservative ones is an attempt to do an end run around the Constitution’s grant of life tenure for federal judges. Liberals, naturally, threw out the good with the bad, convinced as they are that any check on judicial power is a deadly threat to judicial independence and the Constitution (or, more plausibly, to their Constitution). The paper reflected the mixture of elements in the candidate. On one hand he has the boldness and intellectual independence to raise a question that does not occur to many politicians. On the other his lack of judgment makes the raising of that question seem discreditable.
‐ Proverbs 26:11 speaks of the dog that returns to his vomit. Ron Paul’s vomit recently returned to him, in the form of newsletters he issued in the late Eighties and early Nineties (they bore his name with a shifting set of descriptions: Investment Letter, Freedom Report, Survival Report). They purveyed some pretty out-there stuff. After the Los Angeles riots, one letter noted, order was restored only “when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.” Another referred to black congresswoman Barbara Jordan as “Barbara Morondon.” They represented an effort, on the part of some libertarians, to proselytize the disaffected Right — Pat Buchanan supporters, survivalists. Paul says he didn’t write any of the letters — though he signed them — and he claims not to know who did. His innocence in the matter of low-rent race jibes thus depends on his incompetence. Paul is a man who has been warning that hyperinflation is around the corner for 30 years; who believes that America has no enemies not created by its own actions; who deliberately walks right up to the line of 9/11 Trutherism; and who has no plan to curb entitlement spending because he claims slashing foreign aid and the military will balance the budget. He is a crank with cunning enough to appeal opportunistically to the fringes of larger bodies of opinion. Whatever he wrote or didn’t write 20 years ago does not alter Paul’s dog’s breakfast.
‐ A left-wing blog said that Mitt Romney was mouthing an old Klan slogan, “Keep America American.” This charge was mouthed by the Washington Post and MSNBC. It transpired that Romney had used the phrase “keep America America.” And he was referring to entrepreneurship, opportunity, and other savory things. He was not advocating the lynching of blacks and Catholics. The Post and MSNBC apologized for, essentially, pulling a white sheet over the Republican candidate.
‐ Rep. Paul Ryan does not seem to be the wily type, but he sneaked a last-minute gift under conservatives’ Christmas tree while leaving a lump of coal in Democrats’ stocking with Wyden-Ryan, the bipartisan effort in which he is joined by liberal Democratic senator Ron Wyden (Ore.) to seek market-oriented Medicare reform. Wyden-Ryan would convert Medicare into a premium-support program, in which seniors would receive help purchasing private health insurance in the marketplace. The level of premium support would be capped, and those who sought more generous benefits whose costs exceeded the cap would pay the difference — helping to create real market mechanisms to control health-care costs. The plan is in one respect a retreat from the budget Ryan persuaded House Republicans to vote for, since it would allow seniors to stay in the traditional government-run Medicare program. It is an advance in another respect, though, since the growth rate of Medicare spending would be set by competitive bidding rather than determined by a congressional formula. The more immediately relevant point is that Wyden-Ryan will blunt the Democratic campaign to present Republicans as savagers of the elderly. We suspect that where Democratic politicos meet, “Wyden” is becoming a dirty word.
#page#‐ Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) has announced that he will retire from the Senate. It is very likely that the voters of Nebraska would have retired him anyway: President Obama won only 42 percent of the vote in the increasingly conservative state, and many political analysts foresaw a difficult race for the incumbent. Senator Nelson presented himself as a moderate, but in action he was a vote for Harry Reid, for Obamacare, and for the stimulus — with moderates like that, who needs liberals? Absent Nelson, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post writes, the seat “verges on unwinnable for Democrats.” Lacking local talent, Nebraska’s Democrats are hoping that Bob Kerrey, currently living in New York City, will seek to claim his old Senate seat. But Kerrey may already have found the secret to success for Democrats in the Obama years: head for the coasts.
‐ Rep. Laura Richardson (D., Calif.) is under investigation by the Ethics Committee. The public did not know this until Richardson accused the committee of investigating her because she is black. The question before the committee is whether Richardson used her congressional staff for campaign purposes, which is not allowed. The Associated Press did a racial, ethnic, and sexual analysis of the Ethics Committee: who is black, who is Hispanic, who is white, who’s a man, who’s a woman. You may ask, “Did the congresswoman, in fact, violate the rules?” But AP knows what the important issues are.
‐ The Nation, which has never quite reconciled itself to the fact that its side lost the Cold War, has published a symposium marking 20 years since the fall of the USSR. The flagship essay, titled “Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union?,” was written by Mikhail Gorbachev, the others by an obscure blogger and a left-wing historian. Oddly, no representative from Ukraine, Poland, or any of the Soviet Union’s other captive nations was asked whether his world was safer without the handiwork of someone like Stalin, Lenin, et al. Gorbachev has been transformed from Communist apparatchik to bundle of New Age clichés, in which respect he resembles The Nation. He proclaims the 2008 financial crisis an indictment of the Western model of political organization, calls for a “new world order” of “global governance,” bemoans “hyperprofits and excessive consumption that grinds down the earth’s resources and ruins nature,” etc. He never gets around to demonstrating how the survival of the USSR would have prevented the American housing bubble, though presumably it would have kept global consumption down a great deal by impoverishing many millions of people. It is true that the Soviet Union was not replaced, at least in Russia, with a decent, democratic, liberal state — which is an indictment of Russian institutions and habits, not Western ones. After World War II, Nazi dominance in Eastern Europe was displaced largely by Communist dominance; and yet — to forestall the next symposium — the world was safer without Hitler.
‐ President Obama signed the $662 billion defense authorization bill, which had been mired in a phony controversy over the treatment of detainees. Congress tried to insert language directing that enemy combatants be detained and tried under military law, before pulling back; Ron Paul’s followers — led by Sen. Rand Paul, the candidate’s son — hysterically countered that our modern-day Reich would soon commence rounding up any American citizen deemed an enemy of the state; and the Obama administration dutifully shrieked for its base over the prospect of being barred from giving our wartime enemies gold-plated civilian due process. The final version of the bill did nothing to alter what the government has been doing for a decade: Military capture (or kill) has been the rule for enemy combatants since Congress authorized combat operations in 2001. This rule has affected only four American citizens in ten years (three detained, one killed), because only terrorists specifically tied to 9/11, al-Qaeda, or the Taliban qualify as enemy combatants, and these were the only four Americans who met that standard. In a final absurdity, Obama issued a Bush-like signing statement (his 20th) insisting that American-citizen enemy combatants would not be indefinitely detained. Presumably he was referring to the ones he has not ordered killed.
#page#‐ There is a school of thought on the left, exemplified by Paul Krugman, that the “Bush tax cuts” are what is mainly responsible for the fiscal straits of the United States, and that they represent the triumph of plutocratic interests over those of the middle class. Recent studies from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Congressional Budget Office put paid to that theory: After the Bush tax cuts, federal income taxes became, in the CBO study’s words, “slightly more progressive.” U.S. taxes are about as redistributive as those of Sweden or Denmark. As National Review has reported, tax rates on millionaires could be raised to 100 percent without generating revenue sufficient to balance the federal budget. Those who are concerned about deficits should be looking mainly at entitlement spending. Those who are concerned about economic inequality should be looking at primary and secondary education, health-care costs, trade policy, and the investment climate. What the poor lack is good jobs, and raising taxes on the rich will not provide them.
‐ Congressional Republicans rightly overcame their resistance to extending a payroll-tax cut and thus keeping the payroll tax from rising. The Senate reached a bipartisan agreement to extend the tax cut for two months, then skipped town. House Republicans insisted that it return to pass a one-year extension. The Democrats and the press hammered them for courting the risk of a tax increase should an agreement not be reached. Finally they caved and passed the two-month extension, and Democrats and the press celebrated a great political victory. The Republican disarray was dismaying, but the effects may not be long-lasting. Since nobody’s taxes have risen, there’s no reason to expect voters to hold a grudge against Republicans. If this is the sort of victory Democrats are now reduced to lauding — dragging Republicans to cut taxes — the republic could survive a few more like it.
‐ Overly aggressive antidiscrimination law has made hiring harder than it should be. It is already exceedingly difficult for a company to give prospective employees a written test: If too many blacks or Hispanics fail, the employer can be hit with a “disparate impact” lawsuit. And an “informal discussion letter” recently posted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hints that federal officials plan to crack down on employers who require high-school diplomas: That requirement discriminates against those with learning disabilities, and therefore is illegal unless a diploma is demonstrably “job-related” (whatever that means). If the Obama administration wants hiring to pick back up, perhaps it should make the process less of a minefield.
‐ For all the harmful subsidies the farm lobby has secured, one positive contribution it has made is to keep farms exempt from many of our most burdensome child-labor laws. But that might be drawing to a close: The Obama administration’s Labor Department has proposed a variety of new rules with the aim of creating “parity” between agricultural and non-agricultural work — for example, under the proposal, children under the age of 16 may not operate “power-driven equipment.” The department is correct that there is no logical reason for treating farms differently than other businesses, and the new rules would not apply to children working on their parents’ farms. But there is also no reason for the federal government to prevent children from learning valuable skills, which is all too often a result of child-labor laws.
#page# Stealth Redistribution
The government’s response to the Great Recession has been characterized as a bailout for the rich and a cold shoulder for the poor. This perception has been magnified by the media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The story would present future historians with a puzzle if it were true. How could the most liberal president in American history, accompanied for his first two years by an equally liberal Congress, be so uncharitable?
The answer is, they weren’t. Since 2007, and apparently well below the radar, the safety net has expanded radically. The benefits available to those who do not work are sharply higher, and likely explain a good deal of the high unemployment we still see today. Staying home and collecting a government check has never been so attractive.
The stark numbers have been highlighted in recent research by University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan. It is very easy to believe that overall spending on social programs has increased following the recession, since the program’s automatic stabilizers are always triggered during an economic slump. Mulligan points out that spending increased not only due to the recession, but because the eligibility requirements for most programs were expanded, and their benefits increased. Spending per person has gone up, not just total spending.
Source: Casey B. Mulligan, “The Expanding Social Safety Net.” NBER Working paper. December 2011.
The nearby chart taken from the study provides a concise glimpse of his main results. It represents the average amount of assistance (inflation-adjusted) that an unemployed or underemployed individual under the age of 65 received from the beginning of 2006 to the end of 2010. The benefit of not working increased sharply over that time, from about $10,000 to $15,000 per year — a 50 percent increase. And remember that the chart does not show the overall increase in spending. Clearly those in need have not been abandoned.
What has constituted the increase? The average monthly unemployment-insurance payment received was $834 at the beginning of 2006, while by the end of 2010 it was $2,667. Home retention actions (mortgage modifications) were almost nonexistent in 2006 but increased sharply due to pressure from Uncle Sam. Consumer loan charge-offs (commercial banks’ declaring that a debt — usually credit-card debt — is unlikely to be collected) increased significantly over the four-year period, for the same reason. Other transfers, such as food assistance, increased as well.
Yes, unemployment is high, but is it any wonder?
#page#‐ The spending bill for next year includes a provision giving a nine-month reprieve to the incandescent light bulb. The Department of Energy will not be allowed to spend money implementing rules that would effectively ban it. Without this last-minute switch, the feds would have cast the pale pall and dreary buzz of compact fluorescence over every home in America. Democrats inserted language forcing the recipients of DOE grants over $1 million to meet the mothballed standards. Such grants should continue to be targets for conservative cuts. The branches have been pruned; next up, the roots. The obvious joke here is, “How many bureaucrats does it take to screw up the light bulb?” Thanks to this small victory, we will have to wait at least until September to hear the punch line.
‐ Fisker is a maker of hybrid high-performance sports cars. Because its products are “green,” it received a $529 million loan guarantee as part of the Obama stimulus — and then announced that it would be making the cars at a facility in Finland instead of in the U.S. And now it has announced a recall of its Karma luxury sedan, because the batteries are a fire hazard. It appears the company has worked quickly to replace the defective battery packs, but then, the battery packs are not the most defective part of this story.
‐ Just before Christmas, New York City witnessed what is known as a “culture clash.” A woman named Meredith Graves visited the 9/11 memorial. She had driven up from Tennessee. At the memorial, she noticed a sign that said “No Guns Allowed.” She remembered that she had her usual pistol in her purse. So, as a polite and conscientious Tennessean would, she asked a security guard where she could check it. The guard directed her to a policeman. She asked the cop the same question. He then arrested her. Graves is due in court on March 19, to be tried for illegal gun possession. New York is not like Tennessee. If convicted, she could get three and a half years in prison. Her mother-in-law, who lives in New Jersey, was quoted as saying, “Everyone down there [in Tennessee] carries. . . . She was being honest, and this is the treatment they give innocent people.” But if gun laws distinguished between dangerous and peaceable people, then they wouldn’t be gun laws, would they?
‐ As CEO and chairman of international derivatives brokerage MF Global, Jon Corzine was handsomely remunerated. When he was hired in March 2010, his base salary was $1.5 million. That is not to speak of sign-on bonus (another $1.5m), annual bonuses ($2m guaranteed for the first year), stock options (on shares worth $18m at the time), and expense deals (around $200,000 worth). All that for a part-time position! Corzine remained a partner at private-equity firm J. C. Flowers & Co., and also held a visiting professorship at Princeton. Alas, MF Global filed for bankruptcy a year and a half later, and Corzine has been trying to explain to the House Financial Services Committee what happened to $1.2 billion in customer funds that’s missing from the firm’s accounts. Corzine blamed the little people: “The back office in Chicago explicitly confirmed to me that the funds were appropriately transferred,” he weaseled to the lawmakers. That back office has a lot of responsibility. Maybe it should get a raise?
‐ Faced with a deepening budget crisis and an unemployment rate hovering intractably around 11 percent, California legislators busied themselves by passing some 760 new laws in 2011, many of which are now beginning to take effect. One of these requires children to ride in car seats until attaining eight years of age or 4 feet 9 inches. An estimated 1.1 million six- and seven-year-olds who had graduated to boosterless travel under the previous law will undergo the humiliation of returning to their car seats in the New Year, or their parents will risk a minimum fine of $475. Public officials expressed sympathy for the inevitable tearful resistance parents will encounter, and one proponent of the mandate recommended they explain to their children that “it’s not Mommy and Daddy’s decision, it’s the law, it’s the police.” Perhaps someone might explain to public officials that they shouldn’t be acting like Mommy and Daddy.
#page#‐ Immediately after U.S. troops departed, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against Sunni officials in his coalition government in a naked sectarian power play. Definitely emboldened by our departure, and perhaps by President Obama’s otherworldly happy talk about political conditions in Iraq during their recent meeting in Washington, Maliki could be creating the conditions for a return to civil war. The targeted officials are from Iraqiya, the heavily Sunni party of secular nationalists. Its leaders accused Maliki in the New York Times of “attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create an authoritarian one-party state.” The Obama administration needs to use every remaining lever of our influence to pull Maliki back — if, that is, it cares at all about the fate of Iraq.
‐ The North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il died at age 69. He has been succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, aged either 27 or 28. It is not likely that young Kim is capable of wielding much real power. The nation’s affairs have probably passed into some kind of regency under Kim’s uncle, Jang Sung Taek, and his clique of military leaders. For U.S. policymakers, the transition offers opportunities. North Korea is an international pest, trading in narcotics, counterfeit currency, and WMD expertise. The nation is also a totalitarian horror show blighted with vast labor camps and periodic famines. Regime collapse would be a blessing for international order and for civilized values. That outcome is, however, undesirable to China and South Korea, which will therefore strive to keep the odious Kim despotism in business. While they are maneuvering to do so, the U.S. should make it plain that ours is the opposite aim. We should step up surveillance, respond forcefully to provocations, and set our face firmly against any deals that benefit the regime. If we cannot bring down the appalling Kimocracy, we should at least impose some price on its future misbehavior.
‐ The United States, the European Union, and even the United Nations finally look set to apply real sanctions to prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil. So the ayatollahs of Iran are suddenly dropping their habitual air of injured innocence and instead baring their teeth. Any such sanctions, several military and civilian spokesmen in Tehran have declared, will be countered by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for oil tankers for all Gulf producers, including Iran. Over a ten-day period, the Iranian navy has been conducting exercises, and test-firing what are said to be new types of missiles and torpedoes. At the same moment, according to the Associated Press, Iranian scientists have announced that they have overcome international sanctions and made the rods that fuel nuclear reactors. Iran depends wholly on oil for its income, so closure of the strait would be economic suicide on its part. The regime is thought quite widely to be bluffing, but if not, the U.S. Fifth Fleet, with its 20 or more ships and its combat aircraft, is in those waters.
‐ Five separate attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day left at least 50 dead. The worst attack, on St. Theresa Catholic Church in Abuja, the nation’s capital, killed 37. An Islamist sect named Boko Haram (“Western things forbidden”) claimed responsibility. The group has killed more than 500 people in terrorist acts these past two years, with the pace increasing in recent months. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency and promised “decisive measures.” His task is daunting, however. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the eighth most populous in the world. It is also an oil exporter, ranked seventh in the world. For all that, the nation is miserably poor and sensationally corrupt. The security services are venal and shambolic. Half the population — living mainly in the north — is Muslim. Religious divisions in a nation are challenging enough; when one of the religions is Islam, they are doubly so; add in widespread dire poverty and rampant corruption, and the prognosis for Nigeria cannot be good.
#page#‐ The Institute of Egypt is no more, a victim of the Arab Spring, set on fire in the latest protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Institute dated back to 1798, when the French invaded. Napoleon Bonaparte, the army’s commander and someone always pursuing knowledge for its own sake, had brought with him a team of experts to classify and catalogue everything they could find in the country from the pharaohs to the present. These researches lasted 20 years. Their handwritten Description de l’Egypte was in 24 volumes, a monument to orientalist scholarship. Four handwritten copies exist, but most of the original is now burnt, probably beyond repair. During the two subsequent centuries, the Institute collected close to 200,000 books, documents, maps, and manuscripts. Staff and volunteers tried to salvage what they could after the fire, and truckloads of damaged items were taken away. What was left on the pavements, it is reported, was little more than charcoal debris. The loss is irreplaceable, and civilization is the poorer.
‐ Sometimes the Chinese government sends bureaucrats to enforce its one-child policy, telling expectant mothers that second children result in heavy fines. And sometimes it sends thugs, heavy sedatives, and an abortionist. Either way, it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up for that particular freedom — as Chinese women have been doing in greater numbers and with greater publicity lately. One of them, Wu Weiping, recently told a reporter that she carried a knife when she left home towards the end of her second pregnancy because “I was going to fight to the death if they found me.” Who could condemn the children of such a mother as that?
‐ Chen Guangcheng is a great man. He’s the blind “peasant lawyer” who blew the whistle on forced abortion and sterilization in his area of Shandong Province. For the last six years, he has been brutalized by the dictatorship. He is now out of prison, but is enduring a torturous kind of house arrest. A variety of brave souls have trooped to his village, Dongshigu, in an effort to see him. For their troubles, they have been beaten, robbed, detained, and “disappeared.” Last month, the movie star Christian Bale made the same journey to Dongshigu. Like the others, he was denied access, and he was even roughed up. Let it be remembered, however, that a Hollywood actor performed a noble act.
‐ Because this was not said about a Republican president, perhaps the tastemakers will take note. Matt Damon told Elle magazine that “a one-term president with some [manhood]” would be better than the incumbent. Damon did not say “manhood,” but an anatomical plural. This was not the first time Damon tackled Obama. He expressed disappointment with him as early as last March, prompting the president to zing Damon with a joke at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in May. It’s a free country, and Matt Damon may say what he likes. But why we, or the president of the United States, should pay attention is a mystery. Vulgarity, it seems, it simply a modern accompaniment of holding forth. Toads make a racket, and they breed in swamps.
‐ In 2009, President Obama demonstrated his knack for diplomacy by returning a bust of Winston Churchill to the United Kingdom. The U.K. had loaned the bronze from its art collection to Pres. George W. Bush after September 11, and the 43rd president displayed it with pride in the Oval Office. But Obama, ever anxious to alienate our friends and to assuage our enemies, decided to spurn this symbol of the not-so-special relationship. Last month, House Speaker John Boehner introduced a resolution recognizing that the Capitol “does not currently appropriately recognize the contributions of Sir Winston Churchill or that of the United Kingdom” and instructing the architect of the Capitol to procure an “appropriate statue or bust” of the former prime minister for the building. The resolution passed by voice vote. Now the Senate needs to act, and it shouldn’t have too much to discuss. We even have a bust in mind.
#page#‐ The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary was published in November. Among other new coinages it recorded the expression “anchor baby,” defined as: “A child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of their family.” This bland objectivity ignited the wrath of the Immigration Policy Center, an open-borders lobbying group. Mary Giovagnoli, director of the IPC, stirred up a mighty fuss on the Internet. The American Heritage Dictionary quickly came to heel, posting a revised definition on its website in early December. “Anchor baby” is now flagged as “offensive” and defined to be “a disparaging term.” Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of the dictionary, groveled that he had “rectified” an “error” — the error, presumably, of having insufficiently politicized a work of reference.
‐ On hearing that the Environmental Protection Agency awarded $25,000 to a Utah modern-dance troupe, our first reaction was: At least the EPA is harming the economy less than usual. Using avant-garde choreography to reduce pollution may seem as logical as using synchronized swimming to teach Hungarian, but as a representative of the dance troupe explains: “Kinesthetic learning will be used to examine air quality issues and encourage youth and their families to adopt healthy living practices.” An EPA spokeswoman gamely suggests that dance is “uniquely capable of providing environmental education and awareness in a multicultural and multi-lingual community” (such as famously diverse Utah). “Unique” is indeed the mot juste to describe a program that uses pliés and arabesques to tell kids that pollution is bad.
‐ A while back, the Toronto Zoo made news with its pair of gay penguins, Pedro and Buddy. The two were inseparable, catching fish together while nuzzling and attempting to mate; observers fancied that their tuxedos always seemed impeccably pressed. Eventually, though, the zookeepers decided to split them up, much to the fury of gay activists. Canada, being slightly warmer than Antarctica, needs to breed its penguins in captivity, so each one was separately turned loose among the females. The good news, from a family perspective, is that Buddy (the older of the two) has already found a lady friend. Pedro has yet to settle down, though not (as zoo officials mysteriously note) “for lack of trying.” So have Pedro and Buddy suddenly gone straight, or were they just very close friends before? With penguins, not everything is black and white.
‐ Fans of the original Tarzan movies were distressed to hear of the December 24 death of Cheetah the Chimp, who had co-starred with Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller in those memorable productions. Distressed and also surprised, since the dates of the movies — early 1930s — required Cheetah to be an octogenarian. The death announcement was issued by the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Florida, which claimed to have received Cheetah around 1960 when Weissmuller’s estate was dispersed. Primatologists were soon expressing skepticism, noting that the normal lifespan of chimps in captivity is 35 to 45 years, and that the documentation on the deceased’s actually being Cheetah was sketchy at best. Suncoast Sanctuary, however, is vigorously defending its claim, and promises to release photographic evidence. We expect this controversy to continue for at least another 80 years, perhaps eventually joining such evergreens as the fate of D. B. Cooper and the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.
‐ In a historic moment in 1989, hundreds of thousands of Czechs gathered in the center of Prague to call on Václav Havel to be their president. There and then, a democratic Czechoslovakia was freed from the Soviet bloc. It was the triumph of an individual. All his life, Havel had behaved as if Communism was not worth the attention of a free man. No firebrand by temperament, no revolutionary, he was an artist who became a dissident by writing plays to defend freedom and to mock its enemies. Rising international fame could not protect him from persecution. First he was condemned to stacking barrels in a brewery, then he had to serve various spells in prison, sometimes doing hard labor. This hardened his determination to do what he thought right. In later writings, and speeches as president, he could attest from experience that Communism had made everyone morally ill, spiritually impoverished. One more service to his country remained. Early in the course of his presidency, Slovak nationalists said that they wanted independence from the Czechs. Havel preferred to maintain unity, but for the sake of peace and yet again freedom he conceded separation of Czechs and Slovaks into two states, sparing them both what might have been Yugoslav-style violence. R.I.P.
‐ As befit a man so voluble and so headstrong, Christopher Hitchens left a mixed legacy. His books, except for his charming memoir, Hitch-22, were slapdash affairs (what he didn’t know about Thomas Jefferson would fill a book). His criticism relied on the Oxbridge hauteur that makes Americans reach for their forelocks. He shone at polemics and controversy; unfortunately, many of his causes were terrible. He came out of the totalitarian Left and he remained a snake-handling atheist all his days. His hatred of Bill Clinton, which first won him conservative plaudits, seemed merely mischievous. But life in America and the spectacle of violent jihad had an effect on him. He came to appreciate the benefits of a free society and some of the virtues of a free people. 9/11 galvanized him: He saw immediately that it was an act of war, and turned in fury on its captains, cheerleaders, and enablers. He took the oath of citizenship at the Jefferson Memorial. His struggle with the cancer that finally killed him was notably gallant. Dead at 62. Could he ever enjoy R., or P.? Let us pray.
‐ She was a highly regarded child actress gone . . . right. Susan Gordon appeared in numerous movies and classic TV shows (Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, My Three Sons) from the late Fifties to mid-Sixties, and then she grew up. Not to a life of misfortune and rehab, but to marriage, motherhood (she had six children), faith, and happiness. A real role model, she passed away last month, at 62. R.I.P.
The top two vote-getters in the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, are intelligent, knowledgeable, and politically experienced men who have taken conservative positions on the issues. But their political situations are very different.
Senator Santorum, widely regarded as not a serious candidate mere weeks ago, gets a bigger boost from the results even though Romney received a handful more votes than he did. His near-victory speech was tremendously affecting as well as savvy, highlighting subtle but important differences between him and other Republicans, differences that might be attractive to voters. It was addressed squarely to middle-class voters, and emphasized that while Santorum supports tax cuts for people in the top income brackets, he does not believe they would be sufficient to restore broad-based growth. And it tied Santorum’s policies and personality together with the theme of dignity: the dignity of each life, including those of the unborn; the dignity of each person, whatever his economic station.
Santorum’s heady victory will be followed by daunting challenges. He must raise money and then convert it into organizational capacity in multiple states — and do both of these things quickly. He must also survive press scrutiny that is likely to be more intense and hostile than any he has yet received during this campaign. Expect to hear a lot about his remark that as president he would explain the evils of contraception to the nation. Even people who share his convictions might balk at this most quixotic use of the bully pulpit. If Republicans come to believe that Santorum’s priorities are not their own, they will reject him
Romney has never had a commanding lead in the polls and has not inspired much enthusiasm among Republican voters. His rather complacent speech following the caucuses will not inspire more. He may well believe that he faces no serious challenge for the nomination. But the more he shows that he believes this, the less it will be true. He has also won a potentially effective enemy in Newt Gingrich, who seems likely to become a de facto ally of Santorum. On the other hand, Romney might easily counter Gingrich’s petulant complaints about negative campaigning by promising to be just as tough on Obama
Romney should be careful in his attacks on Santorum. If he disagrees with Santorum’s approach to winning over blue-collar voters — and some of the policies Santorum recommends in that regard deserve criticism — he will nonetheless have to express that disagreement in a way that does not deepen his own difficulty in appealing to them. Romney would be well within his rights to stress his business and executive credentials, and implicitly or explicitly Santorum’s lack thereof, and to make the case that he is a stronger general-election candidate. But if he appears to cooperate in a media campaign to portray social conservatism as extreme, he will weaken himself severely.
Rep. Michele Bachmann recognized that her campaign is over. As she has said time and again on the trail, she has been a leading rhetorical opponent of the Obama agenda in the House — and it is to that urgent work she should return.
On caucus night it seemed likely that Gov. Rick Perry, too, would quit the race after a dismal showing. Instead he is apparently betting that this race still has more turbulence left in it. If before Iowa he had to prove that he would make a winning nominee, after it he must also prove that he still has a shot at the nomination.
Gov. Jon Huntsman has the same burden. He must make the case that his record and agenda should yield conservative support at a time when most attention will be on the Santorum–Romney duel. If he fails, then after New Hampshire he will face the same choice as Congresswoman Bachmann.