‐ Mismanaged and lacking strategic direction, the Gingrich campaign may be in need of a leveraged buyout.
‐ After the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney is much closer to getting the nomination than any of his competitors. This is so even though few people have voted, few delegates have been awarded, and conservatives continue to have serious misgivings about him. He is rising in the national polls, which also show that many Republicans who do not list him as their first choice find him acceptable. All of his rivals (their continued multiplicity is another boon for him) have lower ceilings. Rep. Ron Paul’s foreign policy and general crankery preclude his victory. Gov. Rick Perry has flatlined. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s recent performance — alternately attacking Bain, saying his attacks went too far, and pretending that bailouts are all he attacked — has reminded voters of his petulance and indiscipline. Former senator Rick Santorum is running a valiant, honorable campaign, but lacks both cash and organization. We would prefer a longer primary season to sharpen the nominee’s game and to get more conservatives across the country to register to vote. But with the outcome in less and less doubt, voters may decide to skip to the end.
‐ Liberals taking note of Santorum’s boomlet wondered whether the guy was some sort of papist freak. Item one: the Santorums’ treatment of their son Gabriel, who died two hours after a premature birth. The Santorums took him home so that his siblings could see the brother they had lost, a choice Alan Colmes (Fox) called “crazy,” and Eugene Robinson (MSNBC) “weird.” Item two: The Heights, a boys’ school in suburban D.C., where Santorum sent two sons. Ten to 15 of the 70 faculty members belong to Opus Dei, reported the New York Times. A candidate’s background is relevant to his philosophy, and these early probes of Santorum’s are not yet a full-blown assault: Under pressure (from Rich Lowry, among others), Colmes apologized and Robinson semi-apologized, while the Times story was rather good-natured. But Santorum has gotten a taste of what he can expect as a socially conservative and religiously traditionalist Catholic if he goes the distance. He will have to be both well prepared and relaxed, and not give any unnecessary hostages to fortune. (Hint: Begins with contra, rhymes with perception.)
‐ Senator Santorum has a tax plan that, among other things, triples the personal deduction for children. Other candidates, such as Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry, have similar provisions in their plans, but for some reason our friends at the Wall Street Journal have been particularly troubled by Santorum, zinging him in both an editorial and a Kimberley Strassel column. The Journal is hazy on the details — it has three times mistakenly claimed that Santorum seeks to triple the child credit — but its objection does not turn on them. Making it easier for families to raise children is a mere “hobbyhorse” of Christian conservatives, in their view, and provisions of the tax code that recognize the costs of parental investment in children amount to special favors for those “Americans fortunate enough to have a child” (as Strassel puts it). The Journal does not treat low taxes on capital gains as special favors for those fortunate enough to have investment portfolios, even though they too look like preferential treatment to the untutored eye. It is right not to: Treating capital-gains income like labor income would create a bias in favor of consumption. For the tax code to treat parental investments in children like consumption would, likewise, create a bias against parents — whose financial sacrifices swell the future coffers of Social Security and Medicare while earning them no additional benefits from those programs. Expanding the child credit, or increasing the child deduction, is not a special favor but the reduction of an unfair tax. All conservatives should ride that hobbyhorse.
‐ One of the minor mysteries of the 2012 cycle is why Jon Huntsman, a conservative former governor of deep-red Utah, ran as if he were auditioning to play John Anderson in some future Oliver Stone movie. Maybe his two years as ambassador to Beijing under President Obama rusted his people skills; on the stump, he came off as a fan of progressive rock, a speaker of Mandarin, and an admirer of Jon Huntsman. After finishing third in New Hampshire, he withdrew, saying that it was time for the GOP to unite behind Mitt Romney. The planets moved still in their courses.
#page#‐ Ron Paul, having been criticized for tolerating bigotry, has apparently decided to respond with some left-wing demagoguery on race. He portrays the “war on drugs” and our overseas “empire building” as discriminatory exercises in which blacks are disproportionately imprisoned, executed, and pressed into military service. The critique is repulsive. The drug laws, however unwise they may be, are race-neutral. High rates of black imprisonment are explained by high rates of black crime commission — indeed, while black Americans account for more than half of murder convictions, they are statistically less likely than white convicts to receive the death penalty. Paul also shares the media’s historical amnesia about the much-maligned ramping-up of federal crack-cocaine penalties, which was originally championed by black lawmakers concerned about the devastation of urban communities. And last we checked, it’s an all-volunteer military. Paul appeals to a small but devoted niche of libertarian extremists, and he seems determined to keep it that way.
‐ The DNC paid TV comic Stephen Colbert $500,000 to run in the South Carolina Republican primary. No, they didn’t. He was paid by the Koch brothers, who assumed that his campaign against super PACs would actually rally Republican support for political free speech. No, actually, they didn’t do it either. He really sat down with Jon Stewart to figure out some way to boost ratings, since three years of Obama has strained his anti-right-wing shtick. Closer. But do you care? Colbert can be an amusing performer in the little box, and he follows a long line of American jokesters, back to Mr. Dooley and Petroleum V. Nasby, who commented on politics from beneath a layer of irony. But none of them broke the fourth wall to run for president. Politics, believe it or not, is serious business. Colbert — not “Colbert” — would say that he agrees, and that his outside-the-box antics are meant to improve the process. But they do not. Really.
‐ The editorial-page editor of the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, recently wrote that “there has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years.” Exhibit A was Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting at the president, “You lie!” Exhibit B was Speaker John Boehner’s asking the president to address a joint session of Congress a day later than he, the president, wanted. If you thought these things had nothing to do with the color of Obama’s skin, you’re unfit to edit the New York Times. Rosenthal wrote, “Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 was a triumph of American democracy and tolerance.” So what would Obama’s defeat in 2012 be? You got it.
‐ The president has appointed Cecilia Muñoz head of his Domestic Policy Council, which supervises the execution of domestic policy (other than economic) from the White House. This is disturbing from at least two points of view. First, before joining the administration as a senior presidential aide in 2009, Muñoz was for 20 years a principal lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza (“The Race”), a left-wing ethnic-identity group for Hispanics. La Raza has been fiercely hostile to the enforcement of immigration laws. Second, as a presidential adviser since 2009, Muñoz seems to have been instrumental in doubling the flow of taxpayer funds to La Raza and similar organizations, in violation of an administration promise that lobbyists brought into government would not operate to the financial advantage of their former employers. Muñoz’s connections are obnoxious in themselves, and her continued dealings with them are venal.
‐ In late October 2009, as the nation struggled with a fierce recession and the Democrats faced two tough gubernatorial elections just days away, the Obama White House hosted an elaborate Halloween party as decadent as it was opulent. A new book on the Obamas by Jodi Kantor detailed the affair. The theme was Alice in Wonderland; Johnny Depp was there, portraying the Mad Hatter, and he brought along the director Tim Burton, who sported a heart-shaped eyepatch and carefully tousled hair. George Lucas sent an actor dressed as either Chewbacca or Helen Thomas, and scattered through the ballroom were antique linens, giant stuffed animals, and even a dwarf in a superhero suit. Mrs. Obama wore a leopard outfit, while the president was somewhat more implausibly costumed as a regular guy in a sweater. Refreshments included bone-shaped cookies and fruit punch served in blood vials. Conversation, one can only assume, turned on the iniquity of the 1 percent.
#page#‐ The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that religious groups have a broad freedom to hire and fire ministers and other personnel who transmit religious beliefs, and that anti-discrimination laws do not grant governments the authority to second-guess their decisions. No justice agreed with the Obama administration, which had argued that religious groups have no greater claim to autonomy than labor unions or other organizations — a position with no support even in the lower courts. It often seems that in the modern liberal view, being explicitly mentioned in the Constitution counts against the status of a right.
‐ A strong case can be made that the president’s power to make appointments while Congress is in recess was originally understood to be quite limited: to apply only to vacancies that arose during the long adjournment between congressional sessions. Modern practice has enlarged the power: Presidents can make appointments whenever Congress schedules a break, even if the vacancy was of long standing. During the Bush administration, Democrats began to hold pro forma sessions even when most congressmen were out of town, to prevent Bush from having a formal “recess” during which he could make appointments. Senate Republicans have prevented formal recess for the same reason. Among the appointments they wished to block was that of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new agency to which Republicans have both policy and constitutional objections. The administration declared that in its judgment Congress was in recess, and appointed Cordray anyway. Holding up appointees to force policy changes is a questionable tactic, but the president’s claim that he can judge better than Congress when the latter is in session is a breathtaking power grab. Republicans should treat Cordray as illegitimate, and any decisions he makes should be challenged in court on that basis.
‐ Four Marines of the Third Battalion, Second Marines, were filmed urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Pres. Hamid Karzai, triangulating to save himself as America withdraws, denounced the deed, as did the Taliban, with whom we are proposing to negotiate. Their motives are opportunistic and, in the case of the Taliban, grossly hypocritical: The Afghan jihadists routinely behead and mutilate the Afghans they kill. Americans should not do this kind of thing because it evinces a lack of discipline, and because in the digital age images are potential ammunition, and because it is wrong. The offending Marines should be punished, and our official expressions of regret should be stern, formal, and terse.
‐ Faced with an enormous budget deficit, Californians will have a choice on the 2012 ballot between tax increases and tax increases. Gov. Jerry Brown, who has fallen far and fast from his days as an Arthur Laffer–inspired flat-tax advocate, is pushing to add an income-tax surcharge to the swollen tax bills already paid by higher earners while raising the state sales tax as well. Tax-hike advocates have unleashed ads targeting reality television star Kim Kardashian, as though she were typical of California’s high earners. Another proposal comes from a union-dominated coalition for which the California Democratic party is not sufficiently left-wing, and it would increase sales and income taxes even more. A business group had planned to offer a different tax hike, applying the sales tax to services excluding health care and education, but has bumped back its plans to 2014. California’s problem is spending: It spends substantially more per capita than do most U.S. states, and a recent report from California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office suggests that even Governor Brown’s massive tax increase would not cover the shortfall. This is remarkable for a state that already enjoys the privilege of collecting taxes on Silicon Valley IPOs. Unfortunately for the Golden State, Chris Christie is otherwise engaged.
Conservatism is a distant cousin of cynicism.
The traditional conservative believes that man is fallen, sinful, flawed. Hence we understand that man cannot leap out of history, cannot begin at Year Zero, cannot create a heaven on earth. This does not mean conservatives cannot be idealists; it simply means we cannot be utopians.
Our political system is decidedly anti-utopian, which is one reason conservatives love it so. It assumes that even the most decent men will act out of self-interest. The Constitution doesn’t deny men’s flaws, but relies upon them. It sets ambition against ambition, faction against faction, in the hope that negatives will cancel out and leave room for wisdom. So while no informed person would call our Constitution cynical, most would agree that its idealism is tempered by the sometimes lamentable constraints of reality.
The Left’s problem is that it has no limiting principle to its idealism. It may deny that it is utopian, and some liberals even recognize the folly of utopianism in the abstract. But those same liberals will not tell their idealistic cohorts to abandon utopianism. It is too useful in motivating those who do not so much think their way through politics as feel.
(The White House/Pete Souza)
For instance, Barack Obama ran for president insisting that his chief opponent “is not other candidates. It’s cynicism.” He affirmed, “I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on earth.” Upon securing the nomination he declared that his triumph proved that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” and that we would look back on the moment as the time “when we came together to remake this great nation.”
How’s that working out?
President Obama and his defenders claim that he has failed in his efforts to begin an era of new politics solely because his opponents refused to grant him everything he wanted. The hubris of the argument is breathtaking. The president’s expectation that in a properly functioning constitutional democracy he would win every battle bespeaks an ignorance and an arrogance the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Oval Office for a century.
And now our president has become a champion of cynicism. His triangulating proposals are designed entirely to conceal his desires and priorities. He’s streamlining government, promising savings that amount to 0.0081 percent of the 2012 budget. He once campaigned on unity and idealism, and is now in every breath spitting the bile of demonization and disunity.
Conservatives know better. Because we never dreamed of making a perfect society, we’ve come to appreciate a good society. The utopian protesters occupying thither and yon look at this good society and curse it. President Obama plays them for fools, telling them that all that stands between them and their objective is his political “enemies.” The bacchanalia of idealism has given way to the hangover of cynicism, and the president instructs us to alleviate our suffering by making the perfect the enemy of the good.
#page#‐ A state-appointed panel has confirmed, in exhaustive detail, what anyone not blinded by the romance of fast trains could have seen: Building a high-speed-rail network in California would be an expensive boondoggle that would quickly turn into a white elephant. The panel estimates that the project would cost almost $100 billion and would make at best a small reduction in the state’s automobile traffic, yet Governor Brown is determined to see it through. In the twilight of his career, it seems, even Mr. Small Is Beautiful wants a giant monument he can be remembered by, and we’re sure his union buddies don’t object. But in a state facing multibillion-dollar deficits, where thousands of criminals are set free for lack of jail space, where the vaunted university and parks systems are enduring huge cuts, and where medical services and law enforcement have been severely slashed and face further reductions, surely Governor Brown can find something better to do with $100 billion.
‐ General Motors has achieved a noteworthy feat by recalling all 8,000 of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volts that it has managed to sell thus far. The immediate problem is a battery that tends to catch fire — which is more than you can say for the vehicle’s sales, despite federal subsidies totaling about $7,000 per vehicle (just be glad there isn’t a Cadillac Volt). The bigger problem is that even if the Volt worked, it wouldn’t work: Its high cost (about $45,000), limited range on electricity, and cumbersome recharging requirements make it suitable only for pretentious greens (preens, if you will) — especially since it doesn’t even reduce carbon emissions, just shifts them from car to power plant. Any rational private company would have terminated the Volt program by now, but as long as GM remains Government Motors, it’s unlikely ever to pull the plug.
‐ The Environmental Protection Agency has fined oil refiners nearly $7 million for disobeying an EPA mandate to blend cellulosic ethanol — made from grass, wood chips, corn stalks, and other plant wastes — into their fuel. Fair enough, except for one thing: Cellulosic ethanol does not exist, at least not as a commercial product. It is hard to make, and nobody has yet figured out how to produce it cheaply enough. Not that the EPA cares about such details; its mandate was not met, so somebody has to pay. It’s almost touching how the EPA has greater faith in markets than most conservatives. We favor free markets because, in most cases, barring interference that distorts them, they tend to come closest to an optimum allotment of resources. But the EPA, dismissing such niceties, views the marketplace as a philosopher’s stone: Given sufficient incentives, in the form of subsidies, and disincentives, in the form of fines, the market will magically produce the technology necessary to meet any arbitrary target. After all, it worked with the catalytic converter, back in the Nixon administration; and if they keep trying often enough, it’s bound to work again someday.
‐ Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was a nuclear scientist specializing in uranium enrichment at Natanz, a facility believed to be vital in the production of an Iranian nuclear weapon. He was being driven to work when two men on a motorbike drew up alongside, checked his identity, stuck a magnetic bomb on the car, and roared away into the anonymous traffic. A few seconds later, the bomb was exploded by remote control, making Ahmadi-Roshan the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed in this way in the last two years. Officials blamed “Zionists” and mustered the usual crowd to shout “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” but they were evidently bewildered. And well might they be. In the habit of promising to wipe Israel off the map, they are meanwhile unable to protect in their own capital the men providing the requisite big bomb. A team of professionals is on the loose in Tehran, picking off targets of choice and leaving no trace. These operations seem to bear the signature of Mossad, the legendary Israeli secret service. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton categorically denies U.S. involvement. The chief Israeli military spokesman let drop that he doesn’t know who did it, but “I am not shedding a tear.” Covert war like this shows how high the stakes already are. À la guerre comme à la guerre — which is French for “no holds barred.”
#page#‐ President Obama has announced that the U.S., for the first time in 20 years, will send an ambassador to Burma (indigenously styled by the military junta as “Myanmar”). U.S. sanctions continue, but this is a second olive branch in a short time, following Hillary Clinton’s friendly visit in December. Such legitimacy should be granted to Burma only in return for credible promises of democratization. The announcement of a rebel ceasefire and the release of political prisoners do not suffice. Opposition hero Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to contest the next elections, but remains unable to leave Burma and return. Unless more reforms are coming, this may be another unrequited attempt at engagement by President Obama.
‐ Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit ratings of nine European sovereign borrowers, with France’s loss of its AAA rating the headline. It was not a surprising move: In the past five years, France’s national debt has soared from €1.1 trillion to €1.7 trillion, or from 65 percent of GDP to 85 percent. France’s problem is not only for the French: The European Financial Stability Facility — the euro-zone bailout bank — has been able to issue AAA-rated bonds only because its debt was guaranteed mostly by AAA-rated European governments. With France having been shown the door out of that elite club, only 35 percent of the fund’s guarantee is from AAA countries, of which it now enjoys the support of only four: Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and Luxembourg. Practically speaking, that means that Germany alone now bears most of the responsibility for guaranteeing the pan-European stability fund and maintaining its AA+ rating (just reduced from AAA). The finance minister of Denmark remarked that France’s downgrade should be a wake-up call for all of Europe, and noted that his country, which had the wisdom to stay out of the euro and thereby maintain a measure of monetary independence, remains highly rated “because we have made sure that we have order in our own house.” Now the Germans will be doing the housekeeping for France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal . . .
‐ The photos seem dreamlike, unreal: a luxury cruise ship resting almost on its side, like a discarded bath toy. As we go to press, eleven of the Costa Concordia’s 4,000-plus passengers and crew are known to be dead, and 28 are missing. The disaster was a perfect storm of incompetence, indiscipline, and unprofessionalism. Capt. Francesco Schettino allegedly took the ship close to the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast, to wave to a friend. A spur of submerged rock gashed the hull. No lifeboat drill had been conducted; officers and crew grabbed the boats for themselves, leaving passengers uninformed and undirected. Many, after hours of confusion, simply jumped off and swam to shore. Civilized nations have learned, through painful experience of maritime disasters, how to save lives and keep order, but rules and experience count for nothing in the face of such fecklessness.
‐ On January 7, a photograph of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky appeared in a pro-Kremlin newspaper. Within hours, Navalny was able to prove the photo was a forgery. The actual photographer, tracked down over the Internet, emerged with the original photo. The incident became a coup for Navalny, with Russian bloggers posting their own versions of the photo featuring him with either an alien, Stalin, Putin, or others. It appears old Soviet habits die hard, but the freedom of the Internet proved too strong this time.
‐ The chairman of Mercedes-Benz announced a new initiative under a huge portrait of Che Guevara. The company had put its logo on Guevara’s beret. If you thought that Mercedes would be especially sensitive to an association with totalitarian killers, you were wrong. After some fussing by National Review types, the company apologized — to “those who took offense.” A news report said, “Many political conservatives and Cuban-Americans consider [Guevara] a mass murderer who helped subjugate Cuba.” Yes, and many political conservatives and Cuban Americans believe that there are twelve months in a year.
#page#‐ Australian politician Teresa Gambaro, who is spokesperson on citizenship issues for the opposition parties in Australia’s parliament, opened up new territory for immigration restrictionists by urging that immigrants be taught, among other things, the use of deodorant. Said the lady: “Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers.” We await with keen interest news of remarks made by Mrs. Gambaro when she is trying to be offensive.
‐ Sarah Dawn McKinley was at home in rural Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve when two men began pounding on her door. The 18-year-old had lost her husband to lung cancer on Christmas and was alone with her infant son. She barricaded the door with a sofa, popped a bottle in her baby’s mouth, grabbed a pistol and a shotgun, and dialed 9-1-1. “Is it okay to shoot him if he comes in the door?” she asked. “Do what you have to do to protect your baby,” the dispatcher told her. After she had spent a harrowing 21 minutes on the line, with no help in sight, one of the men, armed with a knife, kicked down the door. She did what she had to do: She shot and killed the intruder. Thanks to Oklahoma’s “castle doctrine” law, she was unambiguously within her rights to do so. If only all gun laws were as sensible.
‐ There has recently been a rash of stories about out-of-state visitors to New York City politely asking security personnel where they should check their handguns, then being arrested for their trouble. The tourists in question all have carry permits from their home states, but these permits are not recognized in anti-gun New York City. The most heartening of these stories concerns 28-year-old Ryan Jerome of Indiana, a jeweler carrying $15,000 worth of gold, who tried to check his .45-caliber Ruger with guards at the Empire State Building. Jerome spent two days in jail and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years if found guilty at trial. Before taking up his present profession, Jerome served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Now his fellow Marines are rallying to his aid. A letter and e-mail campaign organized by the website leatherneck.com is being directed at District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Mayor Bloomberg, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (himself a Marine veteran). We recommend New York City drop the charges against Jerome if it doesn’t want to see landing craft coming ashore on the beach at Coney Island.
‐ Eastman Kodak may seek bankruptcy protection; anyone with an album of prints held in place on stiff paper by triangular photo corners will feel a twinge. George Eastman began making photographic dry plates in Rochester, N.Y., in 1880. He coined the word “Kodak” in 1888, based on his fondness for the letter “k”: “It seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” His innovations and his marketing savvy — “You press the button, we do the rest” — created mass amateur photography. Commemorative imagery was no longer the preserve of royalty, the rich, or the press; ordinary people could record their faces, their perceptions, their daily milestones. Eastman made a fortune and gave a lot of it away (e.g., to the Eastman School of Music). In the late 20th century, Kodak faltered as Polaroid captured the instant-camera market and Xerox developed copiers. The digital camera, which Kodak invented in 1975 but never exploited, finally did the company in. Rochester, the city that Kodak long sustained, is actually doing rather well, thanks to a host of small businesses. In dead leaves, new shoots.
#page#‐ It might seem difficult to go bankrupt selling sugary snacks to American consumers, but Hostess Brands Inc., maker of Twinkies, Suzy Q’s, Donettes, and other tasty confections, looks set to do just that, having filed for reorganization under Chapter 11. How can the company be saved? Ron Paul would no doubt suggest legalizing pot brownies, while Michelle Obama would require it to start selling fresh fruit. Now, here’s a thought: What would Mitt Romney do with Hostess if he were back at Bain Capital? Probably declare strategic bankruptcy, just like the current management, because the company’s biggest problem is not the price of flour or shifting market trends, but a pension plan that is underfunded by some $2 billion. Just like Uncle Sam, Hostess made rashly generous promises during flush times and now can’t pay the bill; and, just like Hostess, the government needs to get a handle on out-of-control entitlements. Without that, neither one has a Sno-Ball’s chance in hell.
‐ Thus far, government efforts to fight obesity have not been particularly effective. One might think that the nation’s health nannies, faced with this fact, would find a new pastime. One would be wrong; instead, they have concluded that their efforts must not have been intrusive enough. Their latest plan? To force schoolchildren to wear bracelets around the clock that monitor physical activity, and that transmit their data to a website that teachers can access. Schools in Bay Ridge, N.Y., have procured ten of these monitors at a cost of $90 apiece, and the devices are already in use in at least two other American school districts, one of which bases physical-education grades in part on the monitors’ results. One wonders when Big Brother became so brazen — and, more important, why parents have not put an end to this.
‐ Wealthy Marin County, Calif., is the beating heart of limousine liberalism. Not surprising, then, to find that the county is at the forefront of the war against smoking. The board of supervisors for Marin has been trying to pass an ordinance that would outlaw smoking of “tobacco, weed, spices, herbal or other plant life” in “private indoor spaces including balconies, carports, decks and common areas,” with minor exceptions for designated smoking areas in existing apartment complexes. The board’s efforts have run into difficulties. What about marijuana, a favorite recreational drug among the aging flower children of California? Without some clarifying language, warned counsel for the county, “marijuana smoke would be illegal.” Heaven forbid! The ordinance is now being revised to exclude pot from its scope.
‐ Talking casually to some people back home, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican, said that Michelle Obama had no business lecturing others about eating, given the size of her derrière. When the remark became public, Sensenbrenner apologized to the first lady. He evidently acknowledged that he was the bigger butt. There are many things wrong with Michelle Obama — mainly the grad-student leftism she shares with her husband. Her physique is far from one of them.
‐ Tony Blankley was born in London and always retained a trace of a British accent. His father was an accountant for Winston Churchill. When Tony was a year old, the family moved to California, where Tony became a child actor. He appeared on Lassie, for example, and Highway Patrol. Grown up, he became a prosecutor. And then he had a career in Washington politics. He was press secretary to Newt Gingrich during those momentous years when the Republicans took the House for the first time in four decades. Later, he was a columnist, editor, and television presence. He was knowledgeable and smooth, one of our most effective advocates. He became a favorite of National Review cruisers. Many of us have described him as a prince — a prince in a democratic country. He died, age 62, at the beginning of this year, and we are so glad we knew him. R.I.P.
The Attack on Bain
As chief executive of the private-equity firm Bain Capital, Mitt Romney invested in struggling businesses, made money, and never asked for a bailout. His rivals for the Republican presidential nomination apparently expect conservative primary voters to regard that as a liability.
Newt Gingrich’s super-PAC factotum has gone to the length of producing a feverish little film about Romney’s career as a “corporate raider.” Rick Perry, for his part, told a Republican audience: “If you are the victim of Bain Capital’s downsizing, it is the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain — because he caused it.” To appropriate Governor Perry’s favorite adjective, that is the ultimate in populist pandering, or something close to it.
Gingrich and Perry have between them about eleven minutes of relevant private-sector experience — Perry having been subsidized by the federal government to farm cotton, Gingrich having subsidized himself by farming his political connections — and therefore may not know (or care) what a private-equity firm such as Bain does. (Gingrich might consider asking his friends at leveraged-buyout firm Forstmann Little, where he was on the board.) Among other things, the firm and its investors borrow money from banks to acquire companies, usually firms that are in trouble but believed to be salvageable. If the firms are publicly traded, they often are taken private, their stocks delisted from the exchanges, and then reorganized. Once the company has been returned to profitability, it is taken public again or sold to a private buyer.
As you can imagine, companies that are buyout targets often are in very poor shape, and reviving them is no small thing. Many of them go into bankruptcy. Product lines are discontinued, retail locations are closed, assets are sold off, and, almost inevitably, jobs are lost. Some companies never recover. When the restructuring is successful, reinvigorated firms expand, add locations, develop new products, and create jobs. That is the creative destruction of capitalism. Staples has 2,000 stores instead of one because of a Bain investment. And, as Herman Cain is well positioned to appreciate, Burger King was severely underperforming when Bain and a group of franchise owners acquired it from corporate parent Diageo in 2002. The restructured burger chain, which went public a few years back, is now valued at more than $3 billion. Household names from Dunkin’ Donuts to Guitar Center have been among Bain’s projects.
Romney has erred by suggesting that the social contribution of his work was to “create jobs,” which has led to a methodologically problematic and analytically pointless dispute about just how many jobs he is responsible for creating, on net. Creating jobs was clearly not Romney’s goal, nor should it have been. The main contribution Staples makes to the common good is not that it employs many people but that it provides needed products at affordable prices. By pursuing their self-interest, Bain and Staples contribute to the social process of creating wealth. If Romney believed that argument was too complicated for the campaign trail, he should have said that his work fattened the pension funds of many teachers, among others.
Romney has also sometimes made overblown claims about the extent to which his private-sector experience qualifies him for the presidency. The government cannot be run like a business because it is not one. Romney should have contented himself to make the point that he has a deeper understanding than other politicians of what businesses need to succeed, and what kinds of government policies impede them.
It is certainly a deeper understanding than his critics have shown. Some conservatives have muddied the issues by distinguishing between Bain’s business practices in particular and free markets generally, arguing that an attack on the former need not amount to an attack on the latter. This point is true in theory but irrelevant in practice. Gingrich, for example, is saying that “the rich guy” should not be “taking all the money” while “the working guy is being left an unemployment check.” In a free market, executives are sometimes going to be rewarded for cutting personnel. To reject this is to reject markets.
Wall Street has its share of miscreants, and they should be recognized as such. But to abominate Mitt Romney for having been a success at the business of investing in struggling companies, connecting entrepreneurs with capital and producers with markets, is foolish and destructive. Republicans ought to know better, and the fact that Gingrich et al. apparently do not is the most disturbing commentary on the state of the primary field so far.
In outlining his new defense strategy, President Obama became the first commander-in-chief to speak from the Pentagon’s pressroom. Unfortunately, he used the occasion to introduce at least $487 billion in cuts that are likely to weaken national security.
The remarks by the president and his defense team contained much vague talk of a “smarter,” more “agile” military that would “evolve” to meet its existing commitments across the globe. These are euphemisms for retreat. The problem with the country’s warriors is not that they lack technological sophistication, but that they are too few. Yet the president’s plan would cut some 27,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines from active duty, taking force levels to roughly where they were at the end of the Clinton administration. When the president calls this retrenchment “turning the page on a decade of war,” he says more than he knows. The decision is proof that the administration learned nothing from the 9/11 decade.
Our combat mission in Iraq may be over, but the peace is fragile and violence continues. In Afghanistan, an accelerated withdrawal and negotiated peace with the Taliban are likely to create more national-security threats than they dispatch. The Arab world remains a giant powder keg, and a destabilized North Korea, a radicalized Pakistan, a nuclear Iran, and even a suddenly unpredictable Russia could also pose serious threats.
At its Cold War peak, U.S. military strategy called for the peacetime ability to simultaneously fight and win two major theater wars and a “brushfire” conflict. The years after the Soviet collapse saw that capability pared down in the name of the “peace dividend,” just in time for the 9/11 decade to deliver . . . two major theater wars and a series of “brushfire” conflicts, from counterterrorism ops in Yemen to air support in Libya, that stretched our forces thin even as we increased them.
The new strategy calls for a military that can defeat one adversary while merely disrupting another, a move from a “win-win” plan to a “win-spoil” plan. This can only be interpreted as an aggregate disengagement of U.S. power, and it will cause global actors to think and act differently. It will change the way we think and act as well, since a nation with decreased capability tends to change its behavior to match that capability.
And all this in the name of what, exactly? Fiscal rectitude? Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was right to note that debt is a national-security issue. And there is room for cuts in any bureaucracy as large as the Pentagon. But a bank looking to reduce overhead does not often start by firing guards and cutting corners on vaults.
Neither the president’s strategy nor his expected budget for next year takes into account the additional $500 billion in defense sequestrations and spending caps wired into the infamous “trigger” in last year’s debt deal. If Congress fails to avoid or disarm the trigger, Obama’s cuts will become gashes.
After the president announced the cuts, it fell to Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to field press questions from the tiny corner into which the White House plan had just backed them. Unable to explain how the United States would carry on as the world’s great power with a military incommensurate to that role, General Dempsey was at one point reduced to merely asserting that it would be so. “This is not the strategy of a military in decline,” he said.
He could have fooled us.