‐ A prisoner took 40 percent of the vote in a Democratic presidential primary against Obama. We see the makings of a John Edwards comeback.
‐ President Obama has renewed his attacks on Mitt Romney’s investing career at Bain Capital, going so far as to avow that such attacks are “what this campaign’s going to be about.” The president’s anti-business rhetoric dismayed, among others, Newark mayor Cory Booker, who pronounced himself “nauseated” by the assault — and who then promptly released a hostage video from the Pakistani school of cinematography, declaring his allegiance to the president and his crusade. It is clear that the president intends to make this election an exercise in class-warfare politics, and that Romney intends to cover much of the same ground in his own way, portraying himself as a successful private-sector executive with a portfolio of successful investment and turnarounds on his résumé. This should redound to the benefit of Romney: If we are to spend the next several months talking about business practices, we should be inclined to listen to the man who has practiced business.
‐ In 1806, after he encountered Napoleon riding to the Battle of Jena, the German philosopher Hegel wrote that he had seen a “world soul” incarnate. Two centuries later, American liberals saw their own world soul: Barack Obama, the post-racial, post-national transformer. It takes a lot of transformation to become a transformer — witness the latest discovery by the folks at Breitbart News. A 1991 authors’ catalogue, sent out by Acton & Dystel, young Barack Obama’s literary agents, described their new client thus: “the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review . . . born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.” Breitbart has not gone birther. What they see in this story is yet one more instance of the uncritical enthusiasm with which a certain kind of American greeted Obama’s unusual biography: He’s lived everywhere, think what he can tell us. It was an enthusiasm encouraged by the ambitious young man himself. If our national binge ends this November, Obama had better not seek work as a copy editor.
‐ Say a conservative Republican president had a controversial minister in his background. Then say that the minister granted a former editor of The New York Times Magazine a lengthy interview. In that interview, he said that, in the previous campaign, a close friend of the president had offered him $150,000 to keep quiet until after Election Day. Would not this disclosure, or allegation, be a huge story, pursued by every media outlet in America, night and day, until there were no more questions about it? “What did the president know,” they would be saying, “and when did he know it?” In real life, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright gave an interview to Edward Klein about President Obama. Wright said he had indeed been offered $150,000 by an Obama pal (Eric Whitaker). The response of the mainstream media has been — silence, except for annoyance at Republicans’ continuing interest in Wright.
#page#‐ It was old news, but big news: The Washington Post reported that, in 1965, Mitt Romney, a senior at Cranbrook Schools, a tony prep school north of Detroit, led a posse of students in cutting the long, dyed locks of John Lauber, another student. Romney’s fellow bullies were quoted expressing remorse at their misdeed. The story prompted a quick and generically contrite response from Romney — “I did some dumb things. . . . Obviously, I apologize” — coupled with a denial that he remembered this specific incident. It also prompted some pushback: Lauber’s sisters attacked the Post for using their brother — who is dead — to “further a political agenda,” and it turned out that Obama pushed a plump black girl when he was a lad (source: Dreams from My Father, the gift that keeps on giving). What the Post is really reporting is that it will be a long slog to November.
‐ One thing Team Obama turns out to be good at: snooping on its enemies. Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal laid out the case of Frank VanderSloot, CEO of a green-cleaning and health-care-products company in Idaho. Last summer he gave a cool million to Romney’s super PAC. Now an Obama-campaign website has fingered him and seven other Romney donors as “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.” An opp-research gnome has trolled Idaho courthouses for dirt on VanderSloot’s business and his divorces. Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, doing the president’s work, have attacked him. Politics is a contact sport, especially as played in Chicago (that, by the way, is the best proof that Barack Obama is a 100 percent American). Memo to the Obama campaign: There was another presidential reelection effort, 40-some years ago, that dug deep for dirt. It did not end well.
‐ President Obama visited the ladies of The View on a recent campaign swing, and Sherri Shepherd asked him how tight he thought the election might be. “When your name is Barack Obama,” he said, “it’s always tight.” What was interesting here was the disjunction between sound and sense. The meaning of Obama’s riposte was that a half-African politician must always overcome the resistance of those who cling to prejudice, as to God and guns. A solemn thought, which prompted Joy Behar to interject “Barack Hussein Obama” for the slowpokes in the audience. But Obama’s manner was jaunty, almost comic. Which either means he wasn’t thinking; or, he has played the race game so often that he can do it without breaking a sweat; or, he knows the Behars of the world will do the heavy lifting for him. We hope for his sake that the first is true, though the arc of his career and the nation’s response to him suggests some combination of two and three.
‐ Obama is not shy about saying “I” and “me” — except on the rarest of occasions. At the end of 2009, he said he would give himself “a good, solid B-plus” for his performance in office. But asked recently to grade his handling of the economy, he said, “You know, I won’t give us a letter grade. I think it’s still incomplete.” “Us”! And if the economy were roaring, or even perking, would it still be “us”?
#page#Cut to Grow
Austerity measures in Europe have been the topic of a heated and mostly confused debate in the economic world. During the May summit of the leading industrial nations at Camp David, German chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders pushed for continued European austerity. Keynesian critics argue that these policies destroy economic growth.
Economist Alan Blinder recently stated the Keynesian case concisely in the Wall Street Journal, writing that “in the short run — let’s say within a year or so — a larger deficit, whether achieved by spending more or taxing less, boosts economic growth by increasing aggregate demand.”
Supporters of austerity do not deny that government spending can have this impact on GDP growth, but they emphasize another effect that the Keynesians tend to ignore: the expectational effect. This term refers to the positive effect on consumption and investment that occurs when unsustainable government spending policies have been curtailed. Cutting government spending reduces government activity, but this change might be offset by an increase in private activity, since, no longer expecting a dramatic future tax hike, consumers and investors might be willing to spend more. The traditional Keynesian effect is the short-term negative impact that reduced government spending irrefutably has on GDP growth. If austerity measures cut spending dramatically, the question is: Which effect dominates, the expectational one or the Keynesian one? Opinions vary widely. But what do the data say?
The nearby chart is a scatter plot of data concerning changes in government spending and GDP growth in the United States and the European members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Since, as Professor Blinder notes, the impact of government spending on GDP growth might be spread out over a year or so, the chart plots (on the X-axis) the percentage-point change in government spending between 2009 and 2010, and (on the Y-axis) the percent-point change in GDP from 2010 to 2011. Data for 2012 are not provided because they are not available yet; Greece and Ireland are excluded because they are extreme outliers.
The green regression line highlights the most important takeaway from this chart: that there is no obvious relationship between a decrease in government spending and a decrease in GDP. Keynesians would expect the line to slope upward; in fact, it slopes slightly downward. But the slope of the line is not significantly different from zero (in fact, this is true whether or not the analysis includes the two outliers, Greece and Ireland).
A possible explanation is that the two effects mentioned earlier — the expectational one and the Keynesian one — cancel each other out. GDP is lower as a result of government-spending cuts, but GDP hasn’t plummeted (except in Greece, which is a story of its own) because of the positive expectational effect, the hope of better days to come.
The chart has two policy implications. First, austerity has not caused even near-term harm to countries that have undertaken it. Second, austerity is something of a free lunch. This is because, as studies (such as a 2010 paper by economists Andreas Bergh and Martin Karlsson) show, longer-run growth is higher in countries with smaller governments. Nations that reduce spending today can do so without fearing that the longer-run growth is being purchased with a costly near-term recession.
#page#‐ WhiteHouse.gov features a set of short presidential bios, compiled by Hugh Sidey and Michael Beschloss. Seth Mandel at Commentary noticed that many of the recent ones now end with a fun fact linking a past president to . . . President Obama (e.g., “On Feb. 22, 1924, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to make a public radio address. . . . President Obama became the first president to hold virtual gatherings and town halls using Twitter”). The RNC had a field day, with an “Obama in History” website, showing Obama with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and crossing the Delaware with George Washington. Here’s another parallel: Martin Van Buren, Herbert Hoover, and George H. W. Bush were one-term presidents who compounded policy failures with campaign missteps . . .
‐ You know you’ve been inside the Beltway too long when living the lifestyle of a senator instead of a lobbyist makes you feel middle-class. That’s as near as we can figure out to what our Sancho Panza–esque vice president meant when he said, “I get tired of being called ‘Middle Class Joe,’” a complaint that would almost make sense except that (1) the only person on record as calling him that is himself and (2) he immediately went on to embrace the label: “We’re like the rich guys — we have dreams, we have aspirations.” Like any Washington-establishment figure, Biden — who, with his wife, owns a home worth $2.8 million (in Delaware, yet) and makes nearly $400,000 a year — is nowhere near being part of the middle class; he merely visits it from time to time, like a college kid vacationing in Europe. It’s said that in America everyone thinks he’s middle class. Does the vice president suffer from this delusion, or is he embarrassed to be rich, or is he just making a spectacularly clumsy political appeal? With Joe Biden, it’s always hard to tell.
‐ Elizabeth Warren has been thoroughly embarrassed by the fiasco of her undocumented claim of being part Cherokee. But Harvard Law should be embarrassed, too, having bragged that Professor Paleface was its first tenured “woman of color.” (By “color,” they did not mean “ivory.”) One would think that Harvard’s law school and one of its most prominent professors might have some interest in the question of evidence, and there is no evidence that Professor Warren is even a smidgen Cherokee. But there is evidence she has profiteered from that phony claim: Harvard used her to burnish its diversity credentials, while Professor Warren repeatedly listed herself as a minority in the law-faculty directory and was even associated with a hokey cookbook called “Pow Wow Chow,” which featured recipes apparently plagiarized from Le Pavillon (which was located in the famous Cherokee territory of Fifth Avenue, across from the St. Regis Hotel — happy hunting grounds, indeed). Such dishonest exploitation is an inevitable outgrowth of academia’s racial spoils system (the controversial leftist academic Ward Churchill was another phony Indian), and another bit of documentation that it is the so-called progressives who are obsessed with racial bloodlines.
‐ In Wisconsin, the recall election against Governor Scott Walker took an unexpected turn when the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, endorsed Walker’s retention. Walker has held a solid five-point lead in almost every poll leading up to the June 5 election, which appears not to have gone unnoticed by the Democratic National Committee, which reportedly denied the Democratic party of Wisconsin’s request for $500,000 to aid in its recall efforts. A handful of public-sector unions have begun spending millions of dollars in order to salvage the recall effort, but polls show only about 2 percent of Wisconsin’s electorate to be undecided, with only days left before the election. Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, has begun focusing on criminal charges brought against some of Walker’s former county-executive staffers. But these charges have been around for months, while Walker’s lead has only increased. Barrett’s reliance on ancillary issues demonstrates how weak the public unions’ argument to recall Walker was in the first place. Reining in their privileges was horrific enough to merit a recall, but not enough to merit mentioning during the recall campaign.
#page#‐ Most national political observers had hardly heard of Nebraska state senator Deb Fischer when she surged from a distant third place to win an upset victory in the GOP Senate primary on May 15. Until the final weeks of the campaign, the race had been a contest between front-runner state attorney general Jon Bruning and state treasurer Don Stenberg, who was backed by the Club for Growth and Senator Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund. Her opponents’ bruising ad war, as well as key last-minute endorsements from Sarah Palin and Representative Jeff Fortenberry, helped catapult Fischer to a surprising win over Bruning. Though Fischer has never held statewide office, by all accounts she is an experienced and tough legislator (“one of the most talented and effective senators in the body,” according to a Democratic colleague). She has supported the Keystone XL pipeline, voted consistently for pro-life measures, and pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare. She now faces a fight with former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator Bob Kerrey, who has spent the last ten years ensconced in liberal academia as the president of New York City’s New School. If a recent poll showing Fischer with an 18-point lead in the match-up is any indication, a lot more Washingtonians are going to be making her acquaintance.
‐ An imprisoned felon took 40 percent of the Democratic-primary vote against President Obama in West Virginia. Liberals quickly intimated that the protest vote, and the increasingly Republican tilt of the state in presidential politics, is a reflection of racism. But the state has been moving toward the Republicans since well before Obama. One of its sharpest turns came between 1996 and 2000, two years when both major parties had two white men on their tickets and racial issues were not prominent. Our guess is that what explains the timing of the state’s shift is not black skin but black coal, or rather the Democrats’ growing hostility to it. American party realignment is in any case more interesting than liberal morality tales allow.
‐ Americans Elect was all set to be a resounding success, replacing the “tired” two-party system with an online national primary. Just ask Tom Friedman. “What Amazon.com did to books,” the New York Times columnist predicted, “what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music . . . Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.” Instead, the group dissolved in May after failing to choose a candidate for this year’s presidential election. Americans, it seems, will have to elect the old-fashioned way.
‐ Will Dennis Kucinich, squeezed out by redistricting in Ohio, run for Congress from Washington State? No, he finally told supporters there in May, after months of speculation. Cleveland’s former “boy mayor” has long felt the allure of the West. In the 1980s it sent him to California, where he befriended Shirley MacLaine, and then to New Mexico, where he sought “meaning.” He had already mastered the language of the Left Coast when in 2003 he began running for president. Taking the national stage, he tried to shed his longstanding identity as a midwestern pro-life Democrat, whose instinct to defend the weak had situated him squarely in the anti-abortion camp. He renounced the principle that had made his political message coherent. Now he looks to “serve from outside Congress.” Far outside, please.
‐ And so it begins: Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and Ave Maria University near Naples, Fla., have decided to drop their student health-insurance plans rather than bend to the recent HHS mandate requiring religious employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. “We will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life,” states Franciscan’s new Campus Health Insurance Policy. But while these universities’ moral message is compelling, their economic considerations may be more revealing. In addition to the HHS mandate, both schools cited as a reason for their decision the economic burden of new Obamacare provisions increasing the mandated maximum coverage amount for student insurance policies to $100,000. Student premiums for the 2012–13 academic year would double at Franciscan and increase by 66 percent at Ave Maria, with further increases expected in years to come. That the HHS mandate is an egregious overextension of federal power was already apparent. What these universities’ financial plight confirms is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, just as so many predicted, will neither protect patients nor reduce costs.
#page#‐ Speaker of the House John Boehner gave a speech noting that he would support an increase to the debt limit only in return for dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. It’s the right stand. Because nobody has a workable plan to bring the deficit to zero next year, the limit will have to rise. While recognizing this unfortunate reality, we should address the problem that gave rise to it. Liberals are in their highest dudgeon, accusing the Republicans of threatening the country’s economic health, or taking it “hostage,” to get their way. They should calm themselves. President Obama is equally insistent on attaching a condition to a debt-ceiling increase: in his case, that it come with no spending cuts. But his condition is less sensible. Last year, Speaker Boehner held out for spending cuts combined with a debt-ceiling increase. Having gotten them, how can he ask for less this time? And how can President Obama, having then acquiesced to them, credibly label the idea outrageous now?
‐ Just two weeks after President Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage, the NAACP board of directors voted 62–2 to endorse same-sex marriage as a “civil right.” While this is not the first time NAACP top brass have weighed in on the issue — the previous chairman declared that, “like race, our sexuality isn’t a preference” and testified in favor of gay-marriage legislation in New Jersey — the group had been grappling with the issue for years, and polls continue to show low levels of support for gay marriage among black Americans. The day before the NAACP vote, a dozen pastors from the Coalition of African-American Pastors met in Memphis to protest the “hijacking” of the civil-rights movement and called on President Obama to reconsider his new stance. Blacks voted overwhelmingly (70 percent) in favor of Proposition 8 in California, and last month North Carolina blacks voted by a 2–1 margin for an amendment reaffirming marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Last election cycle, the NAACP condemned the Tea Party as “explicitly racist”; now it risks calling black Americans bigots.
‐ The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article called “Black Studies: ‘Swaggering into the Future.’” It had a sidebar, describing some of the dissertations being written by the best and brightest students. Naomi Schaefer Riley, who was a blogger for the Chronicle’s website, had a biting post about these dissertations. “What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.” A sadly apt characterization. The Left, with predictable fury, came down on Riley (an alumna of NR and the Wall Street Journal). MSNBC attacked. Some 6,500 people, many of them professors and grad students, signed a petition calling for her firing. The Chronicle first stuck with her, then complied with the mob, having received its own higher education.
‐ California is in desperate fiscal straits, facing a nearly unbridgeable deficit of $16 billion, the result of the welfare-state model of governance in its full maturity. Intransigent public-employee unions use the collective-bargaining process to maintain their inflated compensation packages, while poorly administered programs for the elderly and indigent have produced a permanent dependent class with attendant expenses that are difficult or impossible to reduce. When Governor Jerry Brown attempted to impose co-pays on some recipients of medical benefits, the Obama administration blocked him. Governor Brown’s attempts to cut spending on health care by lowering some physicians’ reimbursements and subsidies for low-income Californians were blocked by the federal courts. Governor Brown has demonstrated very little that might be called fiscal responsibility, but such attempts as he has made at spending discipline have been blocked by federal authorities when they have not been blocked by Democrats in the state legislature. California, like many states, is facing a crisis in unfunded liabilities for public employees’ pensions, and businesses are fleeing the state for friendlier climes. Sacramento has hiked taxes, but California’s already high tax burdens and its untenable long-term position have depleted the state’s tax base, so receipts are falling. Its distressed debt means borrowing costs are rising: one more expense the Golden State cannot afford. As goes California, so goes the nation — unless serious fiscal reform begins in all 50 states and, especially, in Washington.
#page#‐ What is the value of being an American? This question arose in early May when, in anticipation of Facebook’s IPO, co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship and settled permanently in Singapore. That a successful entrepreneur such as Saverin felt it prudent to leave is certainly an indictment of a tax code under which America is struggling to compete. But while pointing to his departure to make such an argument, one should be careful not to relegate discussion of what it means to be an American solely to the economic sphere. His life in danger as a child, Saverin fled here from his native Brazil and was afforded the opportunity to attend Harvard and become a billionaire. While Chuck Schumer’s kneejerk proposal to ban anyone who renounces his citizenship from ever entering the United States again reflects a vindictiveness beneath our country, the widespread condemnation of Saverin as an ingrate is just.
‐ As we’ve noted in this space previously, the prosecutor’s affidavit in the Trayvon Martin case was less than convincing: While the prosecutor charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder, the evidence in the affidavit does nothing to prove that Zimmerman pulled the trigger out of spite rather than fear, which is a key ingredient of that charge. Now, a trove of documents bolsters key aspects of Zimmerman’s story: Zimmerman was found injured and bleeding, Martin had injuries on his knuckles, witnesses reported having seen Martin on top of Zimmerman, and there were traces of marijuana in Martin’s blood. Most of this merely confirms information that was released shortly after the incident, and none of it proves how the fight got started in the first place, which will be a key issue. There is also still plenty of evidence that has not yet been released to the public, such as Zimmerman’s statements to the police. But unless the prosecution is sitting on a key piece of evidence that completely changes the case, it should downgrade its charge.
‐ Non-Hispanic whites now represent only a minority of births in the U.S. Breathless reports augured the coming of a majority-minority America. But by the standards of the past, we have been a majority-minority country for a long time. Irishmen, Italians, Slavs, and many others came here and became Americans through their efforts and those of the natives. The long pause in mass immigration from 1924 to 1965 aided the process of assimilation. If we recommit ourselves to that process, in no important sense will we become a majority-minority country — whatever our future racial make-up.
‐ House Republicans voted to abolish the Census Bureau’s detailed American Community Survey based on concerns about intrusiveness. Participation is mandatory for citizens selected to take part. We sympathize with the abolitionists, but cannot endorse the cause. Perhaps there would be no need for such a survey if we had a minimal state. Given the governments we actually have, however, it is important to have data that bear on which states’ policies are working best, where population shifts will require more road-building dollars to move, and whether public-sector employees tend to be overpaid. The alternative in many cases would be policy by anecdote, which often generates stupid results. The survey comes, as it should, with pretty strict privacy protections: Disclosure of personal information by government agents is to be punished with jail time. We’ve got the right policy now, in other words, and we should leave it in place.
‐ Among their other environmental offenses, windmills chop up birds that have the bad luck to stray into their blades. This tendency pits wildlife lovers in a green-on-green conflict with clean-energy dreamers, and in the latest round, the dreamers have won. Under a proposed rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service, wind-power farms will be granted exemptions from federal laws dating to 1940 that protect bald eagles from being killed. The bald eagle’s comeback has been an inspiring success; from a mere 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963, there are now more than 7,000, and the species is no longer imperiled — was no longer, that is, until the Obama administration decided that propping up wind power was more important. Now hundreds are expected to be dismembered every year. Meanwhile, as NRO columnist Deroy Murdock points out, a federal prosecutor has fined petroleum producers after a couple dozen dead birds of assorted species were found on their sites, and a Wyoming electric utility had to shell out more than $10 million for the 232 birds killed in two and a half years by its power lines. Under Obama, even our national symbol must be sacrificed to tip the scales in favor of wind power.
#page#‐ Chen Guangcheng is one of the bravest and most admirable men in the world. He is the “blind peasant legal activist,” or “barefoot lawyer,” who blew the whistle on China’s forced abortion and sterilization. For his troubles, he was imprisoned by the Chinese government and tortured in the usual, unspeakable ways. With the help of a network of supporters, some of whom have paid dearly for their goodness, he escaped house arrest on April 20. He ran to the U.S. embassy in Beijing — not any of the other 130 embassies in that capital, but the embassy of the United States. Americans should be proud of that, or at least ponder it. After weeks of negotiation between Beijing and Washington, Chen has arrived in New York with his family. He will work with his friend Jerome A. Cohen, a professor at New York University. Cohen is one of the handful of China scholars who are open and friendly to dissidents. Maybe one day China will have a government that does not imprison, torture, and hound its best people.
‐ The prospect of a Greek exit from the euro zone has become so serious that it now has its own shorthand: “Grexit,” a term as unlovely as its real-world unfolding would likely be. The break-up of the euro — at least the currency separation of the euro zone’s core and peripheral economies — may nonetheless be the least-bad option Europe now has. If they stay in the zone, the peripheral countries face years of depression even if they receive lavish transfers from Germany, transfers that are by no means sure to be forthcoming from an increasingly angry German electorate. If the European Central Bank were willing to tolerate more inflation in Germany, terms of trade would improve for the periphery. In effect, they would get an “internal devaluation” within the euro but without having to negotiate wage cuts one company at a time. But future crises would be guaranteed, because it would remain the case that different monetary policies suited different parts of the zone. If the euro is to break up, better for all concerned that it happen soon.
‐ In the lengthy and sad list of atrocities committed by terrorists, the murder of eleven members of the Israeli team at the Olympic Games held in Munich in 1972 stands out as an act of exceptional barbarity. Black September was the work of Palestinians who said they were carrying out the orders of Yasser Arafat, their leader at the time. Eight of them broke into the undefended quarters of the Israeli athletes, killed two of them, and held nine as hostages. In front of a world anticipating the games, German security forces finally bungled an exchange of fire. All the hostages and five Palestinians were killed. Israel does not forget its victims, and at every Olympics has asked for a minute’s silence in memory of the eleven athletes. With the London Olympics coming up, a senior Israeli minister repeated this request to the International Olympic Committee, whose decision is final in all Olympic Games issues. Representatives Eliot L. Engel and Nita M. Lowey, Democrats of New York, made the same request. The president of the OIC, the Swiss Jacques Rogge, has turned it down. He will instead be attending the reception hosted at each Olympics by the Israelis to commemorate the eleven who died. Or in plain words, Israel has to rely on itself — as it often does.
‐ Over the last few years, we at NR have had fun citing stories of Middle Eastern paranoia about Israel and its wily use of animals. You remember how the Israelis sent sharks to Sharm El-Sheikh, to eat German tourists and thereby harm the Egyptian tourism industry? They also used “poison-resistant rats” to drive Arabs from their Jerusalem homes. And sent a team of squirrels to spy on Iran. (The adorable rodents “were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services.”) Switching to birds, the Israelis sent a griffon vulture to Saudi Arabia (“detained” as part of a “Zionist espionage plot”). Etc. The latest is this: “Turkey suspects bird of being Israeli spy: Ankara investigating possibility that bee-eater was ‘implanted with Mossad surveillance device.’” Yes, it’s funny — but it’s also sad, pathetic, and alarming. There is hardly any more urgent business in the world than the sobering up of Middle Eastern societies.
#page#‐ MSNBC’s Chris Matthews made mocking references to how badly Sarah Palin would supposedly do if she competed on Jeopardy. Recently, however, Matthews went on the show himself and turned in a thoroughly embarrassing performance, finishing last overall and, among other gaffes, proposing Istanbul as a “6-Letter World Capital.” By losing so badly, Matthews forfeited the chance to win a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat. He also exposed the emptiness of his condescension.
‐ Davis High School, in Kaysville, Utah, was fined $15,000 for selling soda at the wrong time of day. As the recipient of federal nutrition funds, the school was required to turn its vending machines off during lunch hour. As the school’s bewildered principal explains: “Before lunch you can come and buy a carbonated beverage. You can take it into the cafeteria and eat your lunch, but you can’t first go buy school lunch, then come out in the hallway and buy a drink.” Between the fine and the niggling, school officials decided to pull the plugs on the machines completely, with several consequences: Money from soda sales that used to fund student activities has been lost; students get their sugary drinks anyway, from nearby convenience stores; and federal bureaucrats have, in effect, expanded their authority from running a lunch program to banning soda machines from the school. The discouraging part is that Department of Agriculture honchos consider this outcome a success.
‐ Men and women sang lieder, or German art songs, before Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and they will sing them long after. But Fischer-Dieskau set a standard. He was brainy, understanding what must be understood about the words and the notes. But he also had a golden throat — one of the most beautiful voices we have ever heard. This combination is hard to beat. Fischer-Dieskau, a German baritone, sang many types of music, but it is for lieder that we will most remember him. On a question of German diction, the great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne once cited Fischer-Dieskau in a master class: “He’s the Bible.” The baritone’s career happened to coincide with the burgeoning of the recording industry. As a result, we can hear him in almost everything he ever sang, in perpetuity. Art songs in particular lend themselves to recordings: In their intimacy, they are captured better than are sonatas, symphonies, and operas. But there is nothing like live, and anyone who ever heard Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau glows at the memory. He has died at 86. R.I.P.
‐ At first glance, disco may seem a perfect symbol of the 1970s: synthetic, disposable, easily tired of, a favorite of vacuous celebrities — something to look back on afterwards with embarrassment. In other words, just like Jimmy Carter. With the passage of several decades, though, even the angriest punk rocker can admit that beneath all the strings and lushness and overproduction, and that monotonous beat, the industry at its peak produced some enduring artifacts that can be better appreciated today (unlike Carter). Perhaps the two most successful practitioners of the genre were as unlike as could be: Donna Summer, a sultry, glamorous newcomer with a supple and ethereal voice, and the Bee Gees, shaggy, pudgy Australian retreads whose nasal tones had been familiar on the pop scene for a decade. The usual agitators injected racial politics into disco, as they did into everything else, but no one except rock critics paid them any mind. Now cancer has claimed both Summer and Robin Gibb, second to die of the three brothers who made up the Bee Gees: Summer at 63, Gibb at 62. R.I.P.
The Devolution of Marriage
President Obama is getting credit, even from some critics, for finally being honest and consistent in his position on same-sex marriage now that he has announced his support for it. But he is still being neither honest nor consistent. And his dishonesty is not merely a matter of pretending that he has truly changed his mind about marriage, rather than about the politics of marriage. (Although that species of dishonesty, and the media’s acceptance of it, is breathtaking: We are supposed to believe that Obama thought that American ideals of equality required same-sex marriage, then forgot this insight, then remembered it again.)
His claim that he believes that states should decide marriage policy is also impossible to credit. One of the purposes of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was to block this scenario: A same-sex couple that resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions as marriages goes to a state that does so recognize them, gets married there, returns home, sues in federal court to make the home state recognize the “marriage,” and prevails. Obama has long favored the repeal of the act. He does not truly want states to be able to continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
And really, why should he, given his premises? Does anyone doubt that he believes that the marriage laws of most states are not only wrong but unjust? His spokesmen have repeatedly said as much when registering his opposition to states’ attempts to undo judicial decisions to impose same-sex marriage. If these marriage laws amount to unjust discrimination against certain persons, then it follows that states have no right to enforce them. If Obama’s appointees to the Supreme Court join a majority that requires all states to recognize same-sex marriages, does anyone think that he will do anything but applaud? There is no reason to believe that Obama’s long-advertised “evolution” on marriage is now complete.
All people, whatever their sexual orientation, have equal dignity, worth, and basic rights, by virtue of being human beings. We do not believe that this premise entails the conclusion that the marriage laws should be changed. The only good reason to have marriage laws in the first place — to have the state recognize a class of relationships called “marriage” out of all the possible strong bonds that adults can form — is to link erotic desire to the upbringing of the children it can produce.
We have already gone too far, in both law and culture, in weakening the link between marriage and procreation. To break it altogether would make the institution of marriage unintelligible. What possible governmental interest is there in encouraging long-term commitments with a sexual element, just as such? What reason is there to exclude from recognition caring long-term relationships without such an element? (In previous editorials we have mentioned the case of two brothers who raise a child together following a family tragedy; other hypotheticals are easy to devise.)
Many people who support same-sex marriage sincerely believe that they are merely expanding an institution to a class of people who have been excluded from it rather than redefining it. But this view is simply mistaken. We will not make our society more civilized by detaching one of our central institutions from its civilizing task.