Magazine September 10, 2012, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ When Harry Reid said the candidate was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” who knew he was talking about Biden?

‐ You want to hear more about Mitt Romney’s tax returns? The Obama campaign wants you to. Just release three more years of returns, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina suggested in a letter to the Romney camp, and we won’t ask for more. Not that pro-Obama PACs wouldn’t ask for more, or that they and the Obama campaign wouldn’t wring every droplet they could out of the data dump. NR advised Romney to go the whole nine yards on his tax returns; he didn’t. Businessmen often feel proprietary about fortunes that they have built. Obama’s minions keep chewing at the issue because they have nothing else to run on: three-plus years of a flatlined economy, three years without a budget from Senate Democrats, an asphyxiating health-care reform. Romney has Obama’s number: As he put it in a blazing speech in Chillicothe, Ohio, the president is “intellectually exhausted, out of ideas, and out of energy. And so his campaign has resorted to diversions and distractions, to demagoguing and defaming others. . . . This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like.”

‐ During the Republican primaries, Romney released a simple sketch of his tax plan: Lower all income-tax rates (by 20 percent) and broaden the tax base by eliminating most tax deductions while preserving those for savings and investment. He also promised that his tax reform would maintain the current code’s level of progressivity. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center crunched the numbers and concluded that there was no way to keep all these promises. The Obama campaign has taken this analysis as evidence that President Romney “would raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans,” even going so far as to offer a calculator on its website to show you how much “your taxes” would rise. The Tax Policy Center denied that it had shown that Romney would raise anyone’s taxes. It also reran the numbers with slightly different assumptions — it had thought that Romney would leave the tax exemption for interest on municipal bonds untouched, but his advisers denied this — and found that the numbers came much closer to working. Romney seems to us much more likely to scale back his tax cut or add to the deficit than to raise middle-class taxes. The chief real threat to middle-class taxpayers is the runaway growth of entitlements, which President Obama will not stop.

‐ The Romney campaign ran an ad saying that Obama had “announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” Democrats and the press — we really need a shortcut key for that phrase — said the ad was dishonest, even racist. Obama ran a rebuttal ad citing Democrats and the press. (See?) The welfare-reform law requires states to make nearly half of their welfare recipients work, get on-the-job training, look for work, or perform similar activities for at least 30 hours a week. Obama’s bureaucracy has recently claimed that it can waive this rule for states. It cited Nevada’s request to exempt “hard-to-employ” people from work requirements. (Are they really more than half the caseload?) These people “wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” as the Romney ad says, to get checks. Now it’s true that Obama’s administration has not yet handed out any waivers. Whether what it has done amounts to a plan to gut welfare reform turns on its intent. As a follow-up Romney ad says, Obama has a history of hostility to welfare reform. The claim that he is trying to move us back to the bad old days of pre-reform welfare is at least defensible. Liberals certainly seem prepared to move us back to the days when legitimate differences over policy were dismissed as racist.

#page#‐ Vice President Joe Biden, who has a remarkable knack for the crude and the boneheaded, told a largely black audience in Virginia that, if elected, Mitt Romney was “gonna put y’all back in chains.” He said this in an affected African-American accent, but Democrats swear up and down that the declaration has nothing to do with race — it’s all about financial regulation. (Biden had just said that Republicans wanted to unchain Wall Street.) In the eccentric mind of Joe Biden, repealing Dodd-Frank and replacing it with a set of regulations that might actually end “too big to fail” is precisely equivalent to chattel slavery: If the vice president believes this, he is not intellectually fit for office; if he does not believe it, then his cynical deployment of the slavery trope suggests he is morally unfit for office.

‐ Early in August, Priorities USA Action, an Obama super PAC, ran an ad featuring Joe Soptic, a former steelworker, who said his plant was shut by Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, after which his wife died, uninsured, of cancer. You draw the conclusion: Romney = death. The fuller story: Bain and other investors bought Soptic’s plant in Kansas City in 1993. Romney left Bain to run the Salt Lake City Olympics in 1999. The Kansas City plant closed in 2001. Mrs. Soptic had insurance from her job, at a thrift store, until she quit after an injury in 2003. She was diagnosed and died in 2006. A more truthful conclusion would be, Priorities USA Action = lies. There’s more: When questioned about the ad, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said she “didn’t know the facts” about Mrs. Soptic’s illness (those wacky super PACs — can’t control ’em!). Yet Cutter was on an Obama for America conference call with Joe Soptic in May, when he told the same story. Note that Obama for America is the official Obama campaign, which seems to be more closely connected to Priorities USA Action than Mitt Romney ever was to the death of Mrs. Soptic.

‐ Remarkably, President Obama took a little heat for not answering questions from the White House press corps. He had not taken a question from them in months. He indulged some local reporters, and sat down for softballs from Entertainment Tonight and People. To the White House press corps, he was deaf. At last, under pressure, he relented and took a few questions from them. It is a weak politician who fears being grilled by his core constituency.

‐ The Justice Department announced that Jon Corzine, the former New Jersey senator and governor and CEO of Goldman Sachs, will not face federal charges for misplacing $1 billion of customers’ money at the commodities broker MF Global in 2011. His defense in the case was that he was unfamiliar with the workings of the operation he headed and had no idea what became of the money in its treasury. Anyone who lives in New Jersey could have seen that one coming.

‐ Soon after winning a plurality in the primary to take on Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), Representative Todd Akin took a question on TV about his opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest. He said that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body has defense mechanisms to prevent pregnancy; he then said that the innocent child should not be killed regardless. Only about a fifth of Americans hold that position about the 1 percent of abortions that occur because of rape, but it is a position that deserves respect. Akin’s medical musings — a poor thought poorly expressed — do not. Nearly every Republican in the country quickly realized that Akin was throwing away a chance to win a Senate seat, and quite possibly to take the Senate for the Republicans, and called on him to withdraw from the race in time for someone else to enter. Social-conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council stuck by Akin, in the apparent conviction that defending a pro-life politician under criticism is more important than actually electing someone who would cast pro-life votes. Akin said he would stay in the race, expressing the misunderstanding that he was being criticized only for saying the word “legitimate.” He reportedly sees his run as providential. Perhaps; but sometimes what Providence wants to show us is the folly of pride.

#page#‐ Floyd Corkins II, a 28-year-old unemployed man, walked into the Washington headquarters of the socially conservative Family Research Council and shot Leonardo Johnson, the building’s guard, in the arm. Corkins said, as he and Johnson struggled, “I don’t like your politics.” Corkins, who was a volunteer at a local gay-rights center, was also carrying a backpack filled with Chick-fil-A sandwiches — amulets of evil, apparently. Imagine the furor if the FRC were on the left and Corkins on the right. Still, conservatives should not make a counter-furor of their own. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council slammed the Southern Poverty Law Center for “inciting this environment of hostility” toward his group. The SPLC has indeed branded the FRC a “hate group” — a grotesque designation. But polemicists of all persuasions routinely seek to incite environments of hostility; it is one of the tools of controversy. America has laws and mores that keep controversy within bounds. When the evil or the unbalanced cross those bounds they should be punished. Let the controversy continue, and may the right prevail.

‐ James Hayes has filed an interesting lawsuit. He is the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in New York, and his lawsuit is against Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, and the Department of Homeland Security itself. He claims that he and other men have faced a “hostile work environment,” an “atmosphere that is targeted to humiliate and intimidate male employees.” He also maintains that he was passed over for promotion in favor of Napolitano’s female friends, and that he was demoted to make way for one. Hayes’s claims are supported by many of his colleagues. His specific allegations make for nauseating reading. One of the women he has accused, Suzanne Barr, has placed herself on voluntary leave. If Hayes were a Democratic woman, filing suit against Republican male officials, the story would be a big one, nationally. As it is, the story is worth keeping an eye on. Goose, gander.

‐ America’s breadbasket is enduring one of the worst droughts in recent history. President Obama didn’t let this crisis go to waste, using it as an opportunity to demagogue to farmers in Iowa. Obama called out Paul Ryan for being “one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way” of disaster relief contained in the long-contested farm bill, even though Ryan voted for, and the House passed, a narrow $383 million emergency-relief measure and sent it to the Senate. But instead of passing the measure themselves, President Obama and his Democratic allies are holding the Midwest hostage in the name of a $1 trillion big-government goodie bag laden with useless, Dust Bowl–relic subsidies to agribusiness and unprecedented welfare spending. The bill spends fully $800 billion over ten years on food stamps. Already the nation’s second-largest welfare program behind Medicaid, food stamps have seen their rolls explode in recent years, to the point that one in seven Americans is now on the dole. Reformers in the House, including Ryan, want to return food-stamp spending to what it was before 2008 (hardly an epoch without a safety net) and disburse funds as block grants to the states. If the president and Democrats in the Senate oppose this, let them fight on the merits. Instead, the president is blaming Paul Ryan for obstructionism, when it is the White House’s commitment to expanding (corporate and individual) welfare that has left Iowa high, and dry.

‐ In a recent column for Time magazine, Fareed Zakaria argued that America’s high rate of gun ownership was the cause of America’s high murder rate. It was quickly discovered that Zakaria had borrowed parts of the column from an article in The New Yorker without attribution, an infraction that earned Zakaria a suspension from both Time and CNN. Unfortunately, the plagiarism scandal eclipsed the debate about gun control, which is far more consequential. Zakaria’s argument was incredibly weak, as are most arguments based on international comparisons: It failed to mention that America had a higher murder rate than Europe even before European countries began enacting strict gun control, and it failed to take into account demographic differences between America and other countries. Even one of the arguments Zakaria borrowed from The New Yorker — that, according to a 1939 Supreme Court decision, people who are not in an officially sanctioned militia do not have Second Amendment rights — is simply false. The next time he borrows someone’s words, he should check for quality.


Obama’s Smoke and Mirrors

When a Republican is in the White House, the mainstream media pore over every nuance of the economic outlook of the president’s team, and any hint of optimism is ridiculed as voodoo economics or supply-side fantasy. The worst crime a Republican administration can commit is to propose a forecast that is different from that of the “nonpartisan” Congressional Budget Office. When that happens, the Krugmans of the world howl about Republican lies.

Perhaps the most memorable of these moments occurred back in 1981, when Ronald Reagan proposed his budget for fiscal year 1982. Critics decried his optimistic economic forecasts, which called for GNP growth of 5 percent in 1983. These forecasts were, the media reminded us, an average of two points higher than CBO forecasts. Reagan was accused of using his “Rosy Scenario” forecasts to hide the massive deficits that his tax cuts would produce.

The assumptions that presidents make in their budget proposals are certainly important. After all, they affect all the other calculations. If a president assumes growth will be high, that will give him lots of revenue to play with, helping him justify spending increases or tax cuts. So it’s more than a small technicality when a budget calls for much larger or smaller growth than the economy ends up experiencing.

In the case of Reagan, despite all the howling, the Rosy Scenario’s forecasts for 1983 through 1985 turned out to be much closer to actual economic growth than the CBO’s. Reagan’s economic team correctly anticipated growth effects from tax cuts. But today we have witnessed presidential budgets that have been as inconsistent with CBO forecasts as any in history. When one looks at GDP growth forecasts, or those for unemployment, there has never been a president and an economic team with the temerity to mislead as much as Obama and his advisers have done.

The nearby chart shows the average difference between the assumptions in the past five presidents’ budgets and the projections that the CBO made for the same years as those budgets. Since projections can be difficult to make for the more distant future, and we wanted to compare Obama’s record to actual history as well, we looked at predictions in each budget for the subsequent two years, for both GDP growth and unemployment. As the chart shows, most of the presidents, on average, assumed slightly more positive outcomes than the CBO, perhaps because of the desire to understate deficits. President Obama’s budgets, however, differed from the CBO’s projections in a much more dramatic way than those of any of the previous four presidents, and especially those of his two immediate predecessors.


President Obama’s predictions have not proved especially accurate over the past three years either: In 2010, his economic team projected growth this year to reach 4.6 percent; instead, it has been slogging along in the twos. Even when it became clearer in 2010 and 2011 that the recovery from the recession could drag on, his assumptions continued to call for high growth in the near future.

When one considers the myriad ways the mainstream media have failed to critically inspect the activities of this president, his economic forecasts take the cake. Obama and his economic team have consistently overstated growth in an attempt to misrepresent the massive deficits their policies will produce. While pitching the propaganda that they will stabilize the debt, they have posted growth forecasts that are shockingly out of sync with the CBO.

They do this because they know that the mainstream media will let them get away with it. If a Republican disagrees with the CBO, it is malpractice.

If a Democrat does it, it’s not worth a mention.

#page#‐ The City of Baltimore, from which residents are fleeing as refugees from the slow-motion catastrophe of eternal Democratic misgovernance, is rolling out the red carpet for illegal immigrants:Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hopes to attract 10,000 immigrant families to the city, and has instructed police and social-services agencies to ignore the legal status of new residents, in effect converting Baltimore into a very prominent “sanctuary city.” Baltimore is in fact going a step further, prohibiting the use of city funds to arrest, investigate, or even question suspected immigration-law violators. Maryland already has the nation’s tenth-largest population of illegal immigrants, while the state is hemorrhaging population to nearby Virginia, where the local political authorities are slightly less insane and the taxes marginally lower. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has had similar thoughts, suggesting that immigrants from around the world who cannot otherwise get permission to settle in the United States be allowed to do so on the condition that they spend five to ten years living in Detroit, which the mayor of New York apparently thinks has nothing to lose. Converting Baltimore into an urban Van Diemen’s Land for illegals is an almost perfect expression of the contemporary urban Democratic mind: If the policies of your elected officials drive the people away, elect a new people.

‐ What is it about Massachusetts Democrats and inappropriate vehicles? We’ve seen Dukakis in the tank, Kerry windsurfing, and of course Ted Kennedy driving a car. The latest photo-op disaster comes from senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, who gingerly straddled a Harley for the cameras and looked about as comfortable as Barack Obama at a tractor pull (though to be fair, Elizabeth Warren probably looks just as uncomfortable standing on line at the grocery store). The tailored pink wool jacket is a dead giveaway, unless there’s a HELL’S TAX COLLECTORS logo on the back. Yet the image is oddly fascinating. We can hear her theme song now: “Get the motor running / head out on the publicly funded highway / looking to give back to the community / for whatever’s come our way . . .”

‐ The world let out a bit of a sigh of relief when Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt. A Muslim Brother, he was nonetheless considered “moderate”; he was politically inexperienced; he had spent time in the U.S. and his two sons were American citizens. The army, led by Field Marshal Tantawi — the wily minister of defense and a holdover from the regime of the deposed Hosni Mubarak — would know how to contain this novice. The test of strength arrived unexpectedly soon. Islamists attacked Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai and killed 16 of them with the ultimate purpose of making the peace treaty with Israel unworkable. Tantawi claimed to have had foreknowledge of this incident, but he did nothing to prevent it. This was Morsi’s chance to stage a coup. He fired Tantawi and appointed senior officers friendly to the Muslim Brothers to replace the old guard. He has also forced about 50 editors and publishers to retire, and is in the process of purging the judiciary. In breach of the peace treaty with Israel, he has unilaterally moved troops, armor, and missiles into the Sinai. He is due to visit Tehran shortly. Fearing the Islamist future taking shape, 100,000 Christians have already fled from Egypt. In the continued absence of parliament and a constitution, this supposed novice has accumulated such power that many now refer to him as King Morsi the First. 

#page#‐ A Russian feminist punk-rock band that calls itself Pussy Riot evidently hopes to shock. Three of the girls, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich — more simply Nadia, Masha, and Katya — caught the public eye some months ago by rushing up to the altar in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and briefly performing the can-can and a “punk prayer” with the words, “Mother of God, drive out Putin!” They were objecting, they said, to the mutually supportive relationship of President Putin, lately of the KGB, and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, lately an institution collaborating with the KGB. Arrested, the three Rioters were accused of hooliganism and blasphemy. Putin is on record saying that the punishment should be light. In Russian trials, the verdict is still reached before the case is heard. Playing her part, Judge Maria Syrova sentenced the three Rioters to two years in a penal colony; she had presided previously over 179 cases and found just one defendant not guilty. Protests erupted in some 40 cities around the world, and in Moscow several leading anti-Putin activists were arrested — one of them Garry Kasparov, on a charge of biting a policeman. These girls go the way of Madonna or Lady Gaga; Putin prefers to have Stalin as his model.

‐ WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent his recent years undermining the intelligence and diplomatic efforts of the West while masquerading as a freedom fighter, has found a friend: the dictatorship in Ecuador. In order to escape extradition to Sweden, in which country he is wanted on suspicion of rape, Assange has been hiding inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June. In August, Ecuadorian authorities granted him asylum. A furious British Foreign Office insisted that Britain has a “legal obligation” to extradite Assange to Sweden and established a police presence to monitor the exits, even threatening to enter the embassy if need be. There could be no more perfect illustration that Assange’s ostensible commitment to free speech and government transparency is a fraud than that he is palling around with strongman Rafael Correa’s repressive, anti-American regime.

‐ This won’t be hard to believe: Another United Nations program has backfired. In 2005, the U.N. began giving credits to developing-world firms that reduced emissions of greenhouse gases or destroyed the chemicals themselves. The value of the credits, which could then be sold on existing climate exchanges like the EU’s, was determined by a chemical’s greenhouse-gas potency. Carbon dioxide was rated 1, methane 21, etc. One number caught the eye of some savvy Indian and Chinese manufacturers: 11,700, the value of destroying one ton of HFC-23, a waste gas created in the production of HFC-22, a common coolant. They decided to increase HFC-22 production solely in order to churn out HFC-23, one of the world’s worst greenhouse gases (and an ozone depleter, too), and then destroy it, with the U.N. and environmentally conscious countries’ carbon markets paying the way. Nineteen factories across the developing world got into the game; several of them would actually stop producing the coolant when they’d maxed out their HFC-23 credits for the year. Regulations can turn out to be green in more than one sense.

‐ In August, RedState co-founder and former George W. Bush speechwriter Joshua Treviño was hired as a columnist by the Guardian. In response, a group of left-wing and pro-Palestinian actors, politicians, and academics expressed their “shock and dismay.” The signatories, who included British peer Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was expelled from the Liberal Democrats in early 2012 for fantasizing in public that Israelis would “reap what they have sown,” described Treviño as an “extremist” who would damage the Guardian’s reputation as a “serious newspaper.” Treviño’s crime? Serving on the board of advocacy group Act for Israel, being “a staunch digital advocate of Israel,” and holding “one-sided political views.” The critics’ views, on the other hand, are nicely two-sided: They inveigh against “the suppression of debate” when people choose not to pay attention to them, and demand that their opponents be silenced.

‐ In stonemasonry as in government, Barack Obama does not think small. While running for president, he delivered speeches in Berlin and Denver before towering, monumental columns, and now, in a Chicago shopping center, the site of his and Michelle’s first kiss is marked with “a 3,000-pound granite boulder [at] the corner of Dorchester and 53rd Street . . . bearing a quote about the couple’s first date.” The date took place in 1989 at Baskin-Robbins (with its 31 flavors, a model of diversity), where Barack bought Michelle a chocolate cone, and we can only wish that every two dollars he has spent could yield such splendid results.

#page#‐ The Cobb County school system in Georgia says that two of its high-school choruses were denied the chance to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra because those choruses weren’t “diverse enough.” The president of the orchestra said, “We want the stages of the Atlanta Symphony . . . to reflect the diversity of Atlanta.” But can an orchestra always mirror the community in which it plays? Can a sports team? Should they? Parents of the choral students say that what the orchestra has done is unfair: The kids just wanted to make music — and why should color enter into it? Years ago, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra approached James DePreist about being its music director. It seemed clear to him that the orchestra was interested in him because he was black. He told them to get lost. “People mean well, but you fight for years to make race irrelevant, and now they are making race an issue.” In every imaginable venue.

‐ She is very old now, and had to be tugged out into Boston harbor, then tugged back. But the USSConstitution sailed unassisted for ten minutes and fired her guns, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle that gave her her nickname. On August 19, early in the War of 1812, she met the HMSGuerriere in the western Atlantic, south of Newfoundland. In half an hour the Guerriere had lost its rigging and was forced to surrender. When a cannonball dropped, harmless, off the Constitution’s hull, a sailor cried that she was made of iron — hence “Old Ironsides.” An American frigate had beaten a frigate of the greatest navy afloat. “The echo of those guns,” wrote historian Henry Adams, “startled the world.” Sixty years later, “Old Ironsides” was saved from decommissioning and destruction by a stirring poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. “Her thunders shook the mighty deep.” Even so. Long may she ride at anchor.

‐ Baseball without Yale would still be baseball, but not as we know it. In 1910, an Eli, William Howard Taft, became the first president to toss the first pitch on opening day. He played third for the Bulldogs in his student days, according to legend or, as A. Bartlett Giamatti might have said, in poetic truth. Another Republican president, George H. W. Bush, played first for them in prosaic truth. His Yalie son, part owner of the Texas Rangers in the 1990s, might have become commissioner of baseball, but his career took a different turn. Smoky Joe Wood, Ron Darling — the list goes on. Now add to it Craig Breslow and Ryan Lavarnway, pitcher and catcher, respectively, for the Boston Red Sox. They recently became the first two Yalies to play together on the winning side of a major-league game. “I got a lot smarter having them out there,” Sox manager Bobby Valentine said afterward, in a nod to the value that Yale-caliber intelligence brings to the game, which, in Yogi Berra’s widely accepted formulation, is 90 percent mental, the other half physical.

‐ Does a bear drink in the woods? In Norway it does. And bears are mean drunks, or at least rowdy ones, if a recent incident in Finnmark, the country’s northernmost province, is any guide. When a family arrived at its summer cabin there, it found that a gang of bears had broken a window, climbed inside, consumed approximately 100 beers, eaten most of the stored food — honey, jam, marshmallows, and chocolate were particular favorites — and smashed the furniture, leaving footprints on the walls and floors and a bed in disarray, presumably after being used to sleep off the hangover. Wildlife officials believe they have identified the culprits as a local mama grizzly (somewhat derelict in her maternal duty, if you ask us) and three cubs. The cabin owner told a newspaper, “It was almost like the fairy tale about Goldilocks and the three bears.” Last time we read that story, we somehow missed the hundred cans of beer.

#page#‐ When Nellie Gray organized the first March for Life from her living room in the fall of 1973, she expected that “Congress would certainly pay attention to 20,000 people” converging on the capital to protest the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision’s inventing a constitutional right to abortion. Her response to Congress’s inaction was to retire from her job as a lawyer at the Department of Labor and dedicate her life to fighting against what she saw as a moral horror equal to the Holocaust or slavery. “No exceptions, no compromise” was her motto. “On a fundamental issue, you can’t strike a bargain,” she told Newsweek in 1978. “You are either for killing babies or you’re not. You can’t be for a little bit of killing babies.” A generation of pro-life activists was galvanized by her annual March, which she led until the end of her life in the hope that “someday we shall succeed for our beloved country.” Dead at 88. R.I.P.

‐ Robert Hughes, art critic, documentarian, and historian, had the pugnacity of his native Australia and the sweeping rhetoric of his adopted America. Hughes was a modernist — which means he was an elitist and, at bottom, a traditionalist (the modernist rebels knew and respected the conventions they overturned). He abhorred anything flashy or cheap; one Hughesian blast arraigned “the image scavengers and recyclers who infest the wretchedly stylish woods of an already decayed, pulped-out postmodernism.” His works surveyed Australia, Lucian Freud, Barcelona, political correctness, American art, his near-fatal car crash, Goya, and Rome. Dead at 74. Museums and galleries are quieter places now. R.I.P.

‐ There was no more important feminist than Helen Gurley Brown. Her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl (written at the suggestion of her husband) sold a million copies, and for three decades she edited Cosmopolitan as a breathless lifestyle oracle. Eschewing the Marxism and lesbianism of other feminists, she instead offered Samuel Smiles for women, plus sex — lots of it. The Cosmo girl had clothes, a job, a husband, and orgasms, in no particular order. Children were not part of the mix (Brown herself was childless). As Joe Sobran noted in NR, Brown’s Cosmopolitan gave advice openly, unlike Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, which taught by implication (breasts and John Updike — cool!). Driven by memories of a poor childhood in Arkansas and Los Angeles, she worked hard and saved every nickel. Her many facelifts ultimately left her mummified. She bequeathed millions for grants and fellowships in journalism. Dead at 90. R.I.P.

‐ There’s a new memorial on Capitol Hill, and it came together overnight. Under the tree outside the Exxon at the corner of 2nd and Massachusetts, there’s a pile of memorabilia — bundles of flowers, empty coffee cups, a picture of Princess Diana — that could commemorate only one person: Peter Bis, a ponytailed homeless man and D.C. icon who died of a heart attack on August 16. Pete spent his time under that tree, telling passersby how many days away the weekend was and warning them against skinny-dipping. He never called himself “homeless,” preferring the term “political refugee,” and he never asked for money. Sometimes he’d offer cigarettes to fellow smokers, and if you weren’t in too much of a hurry, he’d regale you with theories about CIA activity, the Clinton administration, and, above all else, the death of Princess Diana, who he said was a former love interest. He might not have had the best grasp of geopolitics, but he had a few friends in high places; when the D.C. city government threatened to make him move a pile of belongings he kept under the tree, two dozen of those friends (including congressional staffers and lobbyists) signed a petition protesting — and his stuff stayed put. Without his colorful theories and warm greetings, the Hill won’t be the same. R.I.P.


Just the Ticket

Mitt Romney has made an inspired choice. Paul Ryan will make an excellent running mate and, if elected, vice president. What is most gratifying about the decision is, however, what it says about Romney himself.

Romney could have decided to run a vague and vacuous campaign based on the idea that the public would default to the out party in a bad economy. By selecting Ryan, he has ensured that the campaign will instead to a significant degree be about a conservative governing agenda.

Romney could have rested his argument against Obama on the poor economic results of his time in office. Paul Ryan is the Republican who has made the most pointed critique of the philosophy that underlies Obama’s economic policies: the notion that government can direct resources toward rising industries. Solyndra is not just a scandal, Ryan notes: It is the kind of crony-capitalist fiasco to which Obama’s view inevitably leads.

Romney could have gone into a defensive crouch about entitlements, changing the subject whenever Democrats brought it up. With Ryan on the ticket, he will have to forthrightly defend the plan to put Medicare on a sound financial footing — and he had to know that while making his decision.

Romney could have played down the Obamacare question. His own record on health care as governor makes it a somewhat awkward issue; Republicans have been divided about how to replace the legislation and even whether to advance a replacement; getting repeal through Congress would consume much of the capital of a Republican president’s first year. Romney has nonetheless selected as his running mate the Republican most identified with replacing Obamacare with a free-market alternative.

Romney could have kept his options open for the presidency. Many candidates before him have run in order to be someone rather than to do something, and the many virtues his own career has demonstrated have not included deep philosophical conviction. Ryan would never have agreed to join a ticket that was not serious about enacting and implementing conservative policies, and Romney must have known that he was committing to precisely that by picking him.

While Ryan has a national reputation as a budget cutter, he is a full-spectrum conservative. One strength he brings to the ticket is a grounding in the social teaching of the Catholic Church, to which he belongs, and a willingness to engage with those who thoughtlessly equate this teaching with support for an ever-expanding welfare state. These traits could have more than parochial interest this year, because a disproportionate number of Catholic voters are up for grabs.

Conservatives, and not just the Romney campaign and the Republican apparatus, will have to stand ready to fight back against the distortions that began even as Romney and Ryan were announcing the ticket. Democrats say that Romney-Ryan is a ticket committed to “dismantling” Medicare (by ensuring its solvency); that they would leave the poor to fend for themselves (by extending the successful principles of welfare reform); that their only interest is to comfort the rich (whose tax breaks they wish to pare back). These are debates worth winning, and they can be won.

The first question any vice-presidential pick must answer is whether he is ready to become president should disaster strike. Fiscal disaster is striking. A mark of statesmanship is to face reality and make hard choices in its light. Romney has chosen a running mate who is more presidential than the incumbent.


Mediscare, Again

Democrats believed that Romney’s selection of Ryan would make it possible for them to hammer the Republicans for “ending Medicare as we know it.” Their attack on Romney’s plan is false through and through, and it is proving less politically effective than they had hoped.

Obama strategist David Axelrod was one of many Democrats to say that Ryan’s plan “would raise costs on seniors by thousands of dollars.” The actual worst-case scenario for how much more it could make beneficiaries pay: $0. The Axelrod attack is based on a hostile interpretation of an earlier version of Ryan’s proposal. Ryan has changed the proposal over the last year, however, and Romney has endorsed the new version. The Democratic criticism, applied to the new plan, is indisputably false.

The Romney-Ryan proposal — which has the support of liberal Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — would let senior citizens choose a coverage plan provided either by the federal government or by a private company. The government would defray the cost of purchasing the plan selected. The providers would submit bids showing the premiums they would charge to cover the benefits Medicare has traditionally offered. The second-lowest bid would set the amount the government would provide for each beneficiary.

Seniors who picked the second-cheapest provider would have their entire premium paid by the government, and seniors who picked the cheapest would get a check for the difference. Seniors who picked a more expensive plan would have to pay the difference out of pocket.

We have reason to be confident that this arrangement would restrain the growth of costs. A study has just shown that applying the second-cheapest-bidder approach to even the much less robust form of competition in Medicare Advantage would have resulted in a 9 percent reduction in Medicare costs in one year alone. The savings from years of real competition could be enormous.

If, however, competition does not restrain costs, the growth of government spending per beneficiary will be capped at a level a bit above the growth rate of the economy plus inflation. That is the exact level that the Obama administration envisions as well. The administration, however, hopes to reach the target by setting low prices for medical providers and otherwise micromanaging medical markets. There have been many past efforts along these lines, and they have always failed.

Under a worst-case scenario, then, the Romney-Ryan plan costs senior citizens no more than current law. It offers the hope of doing considerably better: of reining in the costs of Medicare, the principal cause of long-term debt disaster, without sacrificing patient choice, the quality of health care, or medical innovation.

The Democrats’ political problem is that their own precious health-care law cuts Medicare by hundreds of billions of dollars — and in the next few years, not starting a decade from now. It imposes these cuts in the worst possible way, by squeezing providers without reforming the system. Our preference would be to find other ways to make these near-term savings, as Ryan’s budgets envision. Romney has, however, pledged to undo the cuts. That may make more sense than implementing the cuts the way Obama favors, and is especially worth doing if it makes it easier for Romney to gain support for the free-market reforms he favors. His stance makes the Democratic defense of Obama false.

The truth of the matter, then, is this: Obama is cutting Medicare in a particularly ham-handed way, and his plans will lead to bureaucratic rationing of care for future seniors. Romney would stay these cuts and avert that threat. Instead he would implement a promising strategy to stave off national bankruptcy while improving senior citizens’ health care. If Obama and his aides persist in claiming that the Romney-Ryan plan will increase costs for senior citizens or shift risks to them, Republicans and fair-minded observers should not hesitate to call these charges what they are: lies.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Regime Change

Sometime in 2007, a documentary filmmaker named Lauren Greenfield insinuated herself into the lives of David and Jackie Siegel, a septuagenarian time-share tycoon and his middle-aged, much-augmented wife. At the ...
City Desk


People are not the only immigrants in the world. The age of discovery began a transatlantic exchange of animals, plants, and germs. Most of us know about the devastating effects ...
Politics & Policy

Rubio Rising

Immediately after Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination in May, we political analysts found ourselves immersed in the veepstakes. This is essentially a gussied-up form of entrail reading, and the ...


Politics & Policy


The Iraqi Rotary Yuval Levin hit the nail on the head with “The Hollow Republic” (August 13). I was reminded of a speech I heard in 2004 by an administrator in ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ When Harry Reid said the candidate was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” who knew he was talking about Biden? ‐ You want to ...
Politics & Policy


MEMORIES OF ENGLAND So, having tackled most of Churchill’s History, Surfed the net for tickets and a book, Hopped a jet and, spellbound by the mystery Of dynasty and tomb, gulped with a look The ...

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