‐ Obama says you can’t change Washington from the inside — and he wants four more years to finish the job.
‐ Most of the polls show Mitt Romney behind, and Democrats and the press are eager to call the race. Some Republicans are panicking, possibly including those at the Romney campaign, which has been cycling through tactics pretty rapidly. Inside and outside the campaign, Republicans should get a grip. Constructive criticism from outsiders is one thing; premature recriminations another. The race remains tight, and therefore winnable. Romney’s chief liability appears to be that voters trust Obama more than him to look out for middle-class interests. So Romney should aggressively and repeatedly make the case that tax reform, liberating the energy market, and replacing Obamacare will raise wages, cut the cost of living, create jobs, and improve financial security for nearly all Americans. If he does that, the Democrats will be the ones attacking one another after the election.
‐ Romney said something foolish at a fundraiser a few months ago, and the left-wing magazine Mother Jones got it on videotape and released it in September. Romney said that the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income taxes are people who do not take responsibility for their own lives and will vote for Obama no matter what Republicans do. Actually, many of the people who don’t pay income taxes are perfectly responsible people, and Republicans: senior citizens who no longer make taxable income, lower-middle-class parents who receive the child tax credit. Most of them pay payroll taxes, however, and think of themselves, accurately, as taxpayers. For the same reason Romney’s remarks were wrongheaded, they may not be as politically damaging as the pundits immediately concluded: Since many of the people who don’t pay income taxes think of themselves as taxpayers, they won’t take offense. Too many Americans are dependent on the government. But that’s the result of overspending, not insufficient taxation, as Republicans of all people should remember.
‐ Paul Ryan took the Republican case on health care to AARP. He got booed for saying Republicans would repeal Obamacare if elected. AARP is a liberal outfit, of course, and moreover it’s one with a financial interest in liberal policies. Under the Romney-Ryan Medicare plan, it stands to lose the commissions it makes from recommending supplemental-coverage plans. (The reform would give people financial assistance in buying the insurance policy they want: No supplemental policies would be needed.) AARP’s members, on the other hand, are hostile to Obamacare and its cuts to some of Medicare’s most popular, and market-oriented, components. AARP makes money from seniors. What it doesn’t do is speak for them.
‐ On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, protesters stormed the American embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi. The Egyptian assault was vicious theater — the American flag was burned, and the black flag of al-Qaeda hoisted above the walls. The ostensible cause, a no-budget American movie mocking Mohammed, looks in retrospect like a pretext. Did the assailants wish to embarrass Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi? Or did his police let them attack, to strengthen his hand in pressuring President Obama? The Libyan attack was a terrorist operation, conducted with serious weaponry, leaving Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. Many Libyans repudiated the deed, as demonstrators later mobbed the headquarters of various Libyan militias. Libya’s splintered politics gives us some room to maneuver, assuming we know what is happening on the ground. Egypt needs a yank on the chain: We subsidize a country that cannot feed itself, to the tune of $1.5 billion a year (they owe us $3 billion now). As Arab spring molts to fall, we face the same problems we always have — exacerbated by our ongoing regional drawdown.
#page#‐ When he first ran for president, Barack Obama’s main qualification seemed to be that he had written two memoirs by age 45. This was not the jeer of enemies — Obama himself said that his very biography would improve America’s standing in the world. In November 2007, he told New Hampshire Public Radio: “I truly believe that the day I’m inaugurated, not only the country looks at itself differently, but the world looks at America differently. . . . If I’m reaching out to the Muslim world they understand that I’ve lived in a Muslim country and I may be a Christian, but I also understand their point of view. . . . I’m intimately concerned with what happens in these countries and the cultures and perspective these folks have. And those are powerful tools for us to be able to reach out to the world.” Recent events sadly confirm that the jihadis of the world hate America because it is a refutation of and a potential roadblock to their medieval totalitarian worldview, and they don’t care whether Barack Obama’s middle name is “Hussein” or “Hymie.”
‐ The news about Mitt Romney’s taxes is that there is no news about Mitt Romney’s taxes. His recently released summary reveals that most of his income is from long-term capital gains, which are taxed at the long-term-capital-gains rate, and that he gives away millions of dollars to charity, which reduces his taxable income — i.e., exactly what everybody already knew. The predictable result is that his tax rate in a typical year is just under the 15 percent capital-gains rate. The only odd thing is that Romney chose not to take some of his charitable-donation deductions one year in order to increase his tax bill — because he apparently feels the need to defend himself against accusations of selfishness resulting from his giving away millions and millions of dollars to good causes. President Obama likes to talk about compassion; based on their charitable donations, Mitt Romney is 50 percent more compassionate than the president, whose entire career is a reminder that talk is indeed cheap.
‐ The conservative press has had some fun — some indignant fun — taking note of all President Obama has done instead of meeting with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as Netanyahu requested. Obama has given an interview to a Florida DJ known as “the Pimp with the Limp.” He has appeared on Letterman and The View. He has hung out, and raised money, with Jay-Z and Beyoncé. But for Netanyahu, no time. Obviously, an American president is not at the beck and call of an Israeli prime minister. And, obviously, Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other. But today’s problems are far above personality; they are, in fact, an emergency. Israel can’t take its existence for granted: People who want to see it annihilated are driving ever closer to a nuclear weapon. The Israelis are entitled to wonder why they can’t get on the calendar.
#page#‐ The Obama campaign launched a project for young adults, under the moniker “For All” (the “O” being the striped-bottomed Obama “O”). Obama supporters are supposed to write inspiring words on their hands, place them over their hearts, and tweet the pictures. Scarlett Johansson, Jared Leto, and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina posted exemplary shots of themselves (Messina’s hands say “Obama” and “Care”). Messina, alas, grins like the Joker; writing on your hand is something most people stopped doing in grade school; mimicking the gesture of the Pledge is either risible or North Korean, take your pick. We confess, we would read the Physicians’ Desk Reference on Scarlett Johansson’s hands, but the young lady and politics should leave each other alone. All in all, it was the worst campaign idea since . . .
‐ . . . the other brainstorm of the Obama campaign, which was its own flag. The “O” replaced the starry field, in pale blue. The seven red stripes dwindled to five pale red ones. With four alternating white stripes, that shrank the original thirteen states to nine (counting states is a problem with this president: 57 states, nine states, who can keep track?). The image was called “Our Stripes,” and a limited edition was offered for sale on the Obama-campaign website until the backlash against this hipster Old Glory became so sharp that the campaign pulled it. If Obama wants to be president of Obamastan, he should leave his current job to someone more interested in fulfilling its functions. Otherwise, he should rally round the flag we all see at school, the post office, and the football halftime show.
‐ The Federal Reserve announced another round of quantitative easing, this one to last until labor markets improve. Conservatives mostly denounced the move as dangerously inflationary. Inflation remains under the Fed’s 2 percent target, however, and market expectations of inflation over the next five to ten years are also low. The chief merit of the Fed’s move is that it brings a little more predictability to its behavior; the chief defect is that it does not bring enough. The Fed has too much discretion, and uncertainty about its course has weakened the economy. It did a reasonably good job from 1982 through 2007, adjusting the money supply so that spending grew by 5 percent a year. That monetary stability was the crucial precondition for “the great moderation” of that period, in which inflation stayed low and recessions were short and shallow. The Fed should turn its practice then into its rule now, and this time make it explicit.
‐ The Congressional Budget Office has confirmed what most Americans have already suspected: Yes, President Obama’s policies will raise taxes on middle-class families. The penalty for non-compliance with Obamacare’s individual mandate, which survived constitutional scrutiny only as a tax, will be assessed on an estimated 6 million Americans in 2016. Eighty percent of them make below four times the federal poverty line, or $120,000 for a family of four — that is, 4.7 million decidedly middle-class Americans will pay a new tax as a result of the health-care law. The approximately $700 each is going to owe will subsidize those who choose to purchase insurance via state and federal exchanges. Perhaps after he abandons the “47 percent” argument, Mitt Romney should start talking about the 4.7 million.
#page#The Failing Economy May Boost Romney
As economist Ray Fair of Yale University has demonstrated, economic conditions are a crucial factor driving voter sentiment in presidential elections. Throughout history, voters have penalized sitting presidents for a lousy economy. With the election approaching, and the economy in neutral, Fair’s model currently predicts, somewhat unhelpfully, that this election is too close to call.
Ever since his first pioneering paper in 1978, Fair has focused on forecasting the national vote with a measure of how the U.S. economy is doing in the aggregate. The model he came up with accurately predicts 21 of the past 24 presidential elections. In a close race, it might well be that local conditions will be the swing factor that determines the election outcome. If that is the case, then there is significant hope for the Romney team.
While a reliable measure of GDP is unavailable at the state level, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does report state-by-state measures of unemployment. Nate Silver of the New York Times has found that changes in unemployment are highly predictive of voting patterns. If voters see unemployment increasing, they punish incumbents.
With many states solidly in the Republican or Democratic camp, this election will clearly be determined by voters in a few swing states. In the nearby chart, each bar shows the change in unemployment between April and August. The color of the bar illustrates the signal from the most recent polls as calculated by RealClearPolitics.com. Light blue bars are states that are leaning toward President Obama; light red bars lean toward Governor Romney; and grey bars are a toss-up.
The data clearly indicate that a number of key states are in economic free fall. Since April, the unemployment rate in Michigan has increased 1.1 percent, from 8.3 to 9.4. Wisconsin, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have also seen large increases in unemployment. These increases have happened steadily over this time period, and are clearly not a summer blip.
If voting patterns respond to the data as they have in the past, this is very bad news for President Obama.
On the other hand, there are very few paths to the presidency that do not travel through Ohio, and the unemployment rate has dropped in that key state, even while the rest of the nation has suffered, suggesting that Governor Romney will have a heavier lift.
In 2008, President Obama won 15 of these 18 states, losing only South Carolina, Arizona, and Missouri. While his margins were large in some cases, the deteriorating state economies should make such a record extremely difficult to repeat.
#page#‐ In 2008, President George W. Bush’s last attorney general, Michael Mukasey, appointed John Durham a special prosecutor. Durham’s task was to investigate allegations that the CIA had destroyed videotapes it had made of interrogations in the War on Terror. When Eric Holder became attorney general, he expanded Durham’s mandate, over the objections of CIA directors past and present, and over the objections of others with strong national-security sense: He tasked Durham with investigating allegations that the CIA had abused, tortured, or killed as many as 101 detainees. Some of those detainees, it transpired, had never been detainees — had never been in U.S. custody. After three years’ work, Durham has closed his investigation, saying there is nothing to prosecute. This result has not been ballyhooed in the media — which have ballyhooed accusations against the CIA for years. Writing about all this, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens recalled Ray Donovan’s famous plaint in the 1980s: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Since the beginning of the War on Terror, the CIA has been dragged through the mud by die-hard opponents of that war masquerading as champions of civil liberties. No doubt some CIA interrogators have made errors. But they have done hard and lifesaving work — and thankless work. The prevention of mass murder is no small thing. With this little bit of paper and ink, we thank them now.
‐ With the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious, we are one step closer to understanding why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives allowed Mexican drug cartels to buy and traffic American guns. According to the report, the Phoenix Field Division of the ATF and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office wanted to prepare a big case without tipping off the cartels that law enforcement was watching — and so they watched passively, with no consideration of the risk to public safety, as the cartels acquired approximately 2,000 guns. The document also contains a wealth of information about Operation Wide Receiver, a similar program the ATF ran under the Bush administration — though “it happened under Bush too” is not an excuse for the current administration’s continuation of this flawed tactic. Two officials resigned in the wake of the report, and several more were disciplined. This is not the last word — the inspector general was not able to interview everyone he wanted to, he had no access to White House communications, and some of those singled out for criticism claim they’re being scapegoated to protect their superiors. But we now know more, with little thanks to the press corps and none to the White House.
‐ The Obama administration has announced a series of politically timed trade actions against China, and Mitt Romney proposes to one-up the president by labeling China a currency manipulator and imposing sanctions. All of this fretting over China ignores a number of important facts: China has been letting its currency drift closer to market rates; the bulk of our trade deficit is not cheap Chinese goods but crude oil; and many countries, including the United States, have taken steps to depreciate their currencies. The wicked octogenarians who dominate China are indeed manipulators of currency and other trade factors, but this is hardly the worst of their crimes and is, in the larger context, a relatively minor economic issue for the United States. It is also one that should be sorted out far from the heat and drama of a presidential campaign. A destabilizing trade war with China would not serve our national interest, and jobs that have be transferred abroad in search of lower labor costs probably are not going to return to the U.S. in any case: Our comparative advantage is innovation and high-value-added processes, not cheap labor. Beijing’s sins are not trivial, but neither are Washington’s — and those we stand a fighting chance of doing something about.
#page#‐ General Motors sells the electric Volt for $40,000 and loses about $50,000 every time it makes a sale, because that $40,000 car costs $89,000 to build. The solution GM has hit upon (you have to be a government-run enterprise to think this way) is to sell it for $30,000 instead. GM is offering additional $10,000 discounts on a car nobody wants, but the problem is: Nobody wants it. GM should just close the production line — in fact, that is what GM is doing abroad, shutting down factories in Europe because nobody there wants GM’s non-electric cars, either. The Democrats made the GM bailout the centerpiece of their economic case at their convention in Charlotte, boasting that the intervention saved more than a million jobs. This ridiculous claim assumes that without GM every single automotive job in the United States would have been lost: not only those at GM and other U.S. firms pinned down under the morbidly obese autoworkers’ unions, but at Honda, Toyota, BMW, etc. An automaker that cannot sell cars at a profit is not a business, and it is altogether mysterious that it has become a talking point.
‐ Lest the GM debacle have you fearing that no American company can successfully cobble together a motorized vehicle, consider the case of iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. H-D is a business that has been through hell but never been offered a bailout — the motorcycle industry doesn’t have that kind of political clout — and so it has had to do what GM hasn’t: get better. H-D is predicting a 16 percent operating margin this year, which it achieved by investing in robotics and embracing cutting-edge inventory and production techniques to replace an assembly plant that the Wall Street Journal referred to as “an industrial museum.” But to get that done, H-D had to go thermonuclear on its main union, telling the workers at its York, Pa., facility that they were going to make concessions regarding work rules and flexible production or the plant was going to move to Kentucky, where the extortionate power of unions is much lower, a fact that has attracted such manufacturing heavyweights as Toyota. Harley’s employees decided they like building motorcycles, and, though there are 1,000 fewer workers there today than there were three years ago, the company is moving into the future on solid ground, having consigned nostalgia to the design and marketing departments.
‐ Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda put the ball firmly in China’s court over the disputed Senkaku Islands. After protests against Japanese diplomatic missions and businesses rocked 85 of China’s cities, and after major Japanese businesses such as Honda, Toyota, and Japan Airlines either suspended or pared down their operations on the mainland, Noda warned China that its aggressive actions could backfire. He noted that investors may be “scared off” by China’s unwillingness or inability to rein in protesters and that any confrontation with Japan would harm China’s already-weakening economy. Of course, with Japanese coast-guard ships being deployed to protect the islands and confront Chinese patrol vessels in the disputed waters, Noda has a vested interest in trying to avoid conflict while ensuring Japan’s continued control over the strategically important islets. Yet this was the first time that a world leader pointed out that China may have more to lose than other nations in continuing its aggressive path.
‐ The International Atomic Energy Agency is supposed to be the U.N.’s “nuclear watchdog.” Some years ago, critics renamed it the U.N.’s “nuclear watch-puppy.” Led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA seemed more eager to protect the Iranian dictatorship than to report the facts about that dictatorship’s nuclear program. For their troubles, ElBaradei and the IAEA won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. These days, the IAEA is under different leadership, as John Bolton explains on page 28 of this issue. Its director general, Yukiya Amano, is serious about the IAEA’s mandate; IAEA employees are glad to be, at last, doing their jobs. How do we know their jobs are being done? Iran’s nuclear chief denounced the IAEA as a nest of “terrorists and saboteurs.” Tehran never talked this way when ElBaradei was director general.
#page#‐ The United States Agency for International Development has been unceremoniously kicked out of Russia. A dozen or more Americans will have to leave, some 60 Russians will lose their jobs, and millions of dollars will not now be spent as intended on democratic and civic programs. Monitoring elections, USAID-funded groups have been pointing out some of the irregularities that helped Vladimir Putin manipulate himself back into the Kremlin, and its activities stretch to the pursuit of human rights and prisoners’ rights. Putin sees conspiracy and “foreign agents” at work wherever he looks, and it follows that the Russian foreign ministry accuses USAID of meddling in what does not concern it. Sergei Magnitsky was a young human-rights lawyer arrested and murdered in his prison cell, and a bill before Congress proposing to punish Russian officials guilty of human-rights abuses by freezing their U.S. assets may well have pushed Putin to get his punishment of the United States in first. The expulsion of USAID also gives him a little more freedom to suppress dissent at home, and to make it plainer still that President Obama can speak all he likes of “reset” while an indifferent Russia pursues policies such as re-arming the Syrian regime. Putin is a product of the Cold War, and it shows.
‐ The European Parliament in Brussels is a Potemkin façade now and then exposed by lively spirits, one of the liveliest being Nigel Farage. A member of this parliament, he is also leader of the United Kingdom Independence party, which pushes for Britain to regain sovereignty. He tends to treat the goings-on in Brussels as pretty ridiculous, and none more ridiculous than the election a couple of years ago of a Belgian by the name of Herman Van Rompuy to be president of Europe. The 27 heads of state in the European Union had chosen him in secret proceedings behind closed doors. In a memorable speech, Farage said that nobody has ever heard of this man, Belgium is a non-country, and democracy is not popular there. Still more personal in tone: The new president has “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” Uproar. Consternation. Farage was prepared to apologize, but only to bank clerks. So the then parliamentary chief, Jerzy Buzek, once a member of Polish Solidarity, fined him 3,000 euros. Farage appealed, and after this lapse of time he has lost and must also pay legal costs. “They have made themselves a laughingstock,” he says. Polls are showing that voters believe Farage gets it right. Come elections, UKIP may have another good laugh.
‐ Uneasy lies the body that wears no bathing suit, to bring Shakespeare up to date about the travails of royal personages. The House of Windsor has been in the news for nudity. In Las Vegas, young Prince Harry was photographed cavorting with nothing on amid a crowd of maidens — well, that’s one word for them. Now he’s on duty flying a helicopter in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, his elder brother, Prince William, took his wife, Kate, on vacation to the south of France. Sunbathing on a chateau’s balcony, Kate removed her bikini top, evidently forgetting that paparazzi are undercover all around. See the future Queen of England topless! is the sales pitch of sleazy magazines in France, Italy, and Scandinavia. A furious Court reminds the public that paparazzi pursued Lady Diana, Prince William’s mother, to her untimely death. The royals have already sued the French magazine for invasion of privacy and won an injunction. The general view is that a modest and newly married girl shouldn’t have to go through this, but some more crotchety people are advising her in the future to search out and block all possible photo opportunities within range of long-distance shots.
#page#‐ A government in graft-ridden West Africa has taken a stand for cutting government waste: Senegal’s lower house of parliament and the president agreed to abolish the country’s senate, saving the government $15 million a year. More truthfully, the newly elected president, Macky Sall, is consolidating his power base, since the upper house is dominated by supporters of the other party. President Obama tends to like symbolic, ineffective, and politically advantageous stabs at government downsizing too; one hopes he doesn’t start getting any Senegalese ideas about the $1.2 billion cost of the Republican House.
‐ Pity Pakistan’s Abdullah Ismail. On match day at the terrorist academy, all the other guys got assigned suicide bombing, IEDs, and bus massacres, while poor Abdullah was stuck with flag-burning duty. So at a recent demonstration in Lahore against cute-puppy videos — no, check that, it was against Innocence of Muslims — he trotted out his specialty and lit up the Stars and Stripes. But while the Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning may not be punished, its writ does not cover the forces of cosmic justice, and after a few minutes of barbecuing Old Glory, Ismail took ill from inhaling the smoke and was rushed to a hospital, where he died. Not exactly an immortal hero of jihad, perhaps; but his martyr’s death should qualify him for three or four virgins at least, and maybe a small room on the airshaft in paradise.
‐ Meter maids in Palma de Mallorca, a Spanish island city, were replaced by a male work force in September. Muslim men who had been spitting on and otherwise harassing the controladoras led their employer, a private company that manages Palma’s public parking, to remove the five dozen women rather than risk their safety. The incident fits into a larger pattern of efforts by some Spanish Muslims, mostly immigrants, to stamp Islamic values on Spanish civil society. Some of those values, including respect for traditional gender differences, could be sympathetically received by non-Muslim conservatives, in theory. The practice, as on the streets of Palma last summer, is too often a matter of barbarism, at which point men and women of goodwill stop listening.
‐ Public grammar schools in Toronto have been ordered to display a set of posters that, under the all-purpose rubric of “encouraging tolerance,” promote acceptance of polygamy. At least, that seems to be the message of one poster, which depicts groups of stick figures — sometimes two, sometimes three — in various gender combinations, silhouetted against hearts. We say “seems,” because we assume the figures wearing dresses represent women, though another poster in the set shows photographs of elementary-school boys wearing dresses beneath the slogan “There are no rules for being a boy or a girl.” This message, in turn, is undercut by a third poster that amounts to a long list of bossy rules (“Question your assumptions,” “Be sensitive,” “Speak up against sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and heterosexist behavior”). In any case, a news report says the school board “is denying claims it’s promoting polygamy — just illustrating it exists as a family dynamic.” So it would be perfectly all right, then, if one of the stick figures were pictured lighting up a cigarette after celebrating his family dynamics?
‐ Like almost everybody else under the sun, Urban Outfitters sells Che paraphernalia — items glorifying Che Guevara, the Argentinian Communist who was instrumental in setting up the Cuban dictatorship whose cruelty continues today. Thor Halvorssen, the president of the Human Rights Foundation, decided to do something about it. He wrote an open letter to the company’s CEO, protesting one item in particular: a Guevara poster. In this letter — eloquent, powerful, and factual — he explained who Guevara was. Many others added their voices to the protest. The day after Halvorssen penned and publicized his letter, a company spokesman announced that the Guevara poster had “sold through.” Halvorssen then asked a mischievous question: Would the item be restocked, considering how popular it obviously was? The spokesman said, “No comment.” The Che myth is very deeply entrenched. But with the bravura demonstrated by Halvorssen and his foundation, maybe it can be budged.
#page#‐ To the uninitiated, it would seem that a law preventing motorists from smiling while in the New Jersey department of motor vehicles would be superfluous. But wonders never cease. In September, the Garden State’s authorities began to enforce a new rule that prohibited applicants from smiling in their driver’s-license photograph. The change is the product of new face-recognition software that has been implemented statewide. It works by comparing the master license image to subsequently collected shots and ensuring that they match up. Smiling and other exaggerated gestures are problematic, as they render it more difficult for the software to recognize the subject in everyday situations, a complication that inexorably leads one to the conclusion that the powers that be in New Jersey do not expect its citizens to be smiling very much while going about their business.
‐ Also in New Jersey, Democratic assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, whose legislative achievements include co-sponsoring a bill to designate walking “the New Jersey State Exercise,” has introduced a first-in-the-nation measure requiring cats and dogs to wear seatbelts or incur fines for their owners. The widespread failure of pets to buckle up is “a bigger issue than people realize,” according to Spencer. Drivers who refuse to properly restrain their animals would face penalties ranging from $25 in most cases to $1,000 for infractions deemed “inhumane treatment,” such as allowing a dog to ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Bloomberg News reported that Governor Chris Christie has not taken a position on the proposed law. Perhaps the governor should make his opposition known, lest President Romney face impeachment the first time his official limo travels through New Jersey.
‐ Earlier this year, Marion Barry — D.C.’s most famous Democrat after Barack Obama — made a statement glowing with humanity: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.” In response to this statement, a D.C. bar owner, Tony Tomelden, created a drink he called “Marion Berry’s Dirty Asian Summer Punch.” (The spelling alluded to the fact that the drink had fruit in it.) Tomelden wanted to poke fun at the ex-mayor, and current councilman: “He gets away with this stuff continuously.” Tomelden is part Filipino, incidentally. And he advertised his Dirty Asian drink with a sign featuring a crude Asian caricature. In came the D.C. Office of Human Rights, saying, “Take down the sign, and take the drink off the menu, or else.” Tomelden complied. He told a Washington Post reporter, “I have three kids, and I’m just too tired to fight City Hall.” The lesson here: If you want to be a racist in D.C., you have to run for it instead.
‐ Like most people whose writings do great harm, Thomas Szasz started with a plausible-sounding principle, but instead of using it to clarify his thoughts, he made it the center of his worldview, bending everything else to fit while he ratcheted up the overstatement. Szasz’s governing notion was that psychiatry is not just an inexact branch of medicine, not just a discipline subject to misuse, but nothing less than a gigantic fraud, useful only for keeping inconvenient people under control. Mental illness did not exist. It was merely a myth, on par with witchcraft, exploited by those in power to control the masses. By denying the existence of what everyone could see with his own eyes, Szasz threw out the baby with the bathwater, and included the tub and plumbing fixtures for good measure. The 1960s spirit of “only the mad are sane” romanticism, and the 1970s post-civil-rights hangover, gave his pernicious doctrine a long shelf life. With his sharp mind, Szasz could have helped curb psychiatry’s abuses and excesses; instead, his charismatic nihilism led to the usual overreaction (most notably the draconian policy of deinstitutionalization, unfortunately still very much with us) and ensuing counterreaction (nowadays he is widely and correctly considered a crank). Dead at 92. R.I.P.
The Islamist attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic property in Cairo and Benghazi have embroiled us in an international controversy over free speech in which we, under the current administration, have been singularly inept.
The assaults were commemorations of 9/11, the cheerleaders of the terrorists then doing their best again now. But they claimed to be motivated by YouTube trailers for a movie, Innocence of Muslims, produced by Nakoula Nakoula, an Egyptian Copt living in the United States. (The “film” most likely does not exist; the trailer was a bargain-basement affair.) The videos derided Mohammed, to say the least.
Leave aside the deaths and physical damage caused by the initial attacks, vile though they were, and the havoc wreaked by copycat protests throughout the Muslim world, and in places — e.g., Sydney, Australia; prisons in Athens — where unbalanced Muslims are to be found. Consider the moral and intellectual damage the affair has caused.
The U.S. embassy in Cairo, hoping to head off the rioters before they struck, issued a statement condemning “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” “Respect for religious beliefs,” the statement went on, “is a cornerstone of American democracy.” This is doubly wrong. Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution says anything about “respect”: America upholds the free exercise of religion; you earn respect yourself. Our cornerstone laws are equally emphatic about defending freedom of speech, and of the press. Mitt Romney was quite right to be critical.
The kowtow to Muslim rageboys was repeated after the fact. Hillary Clinton called the trailers “disgusting and reprehensible,” designed to “denigrate a great religion.” In his speech to the U.N., Barack Obama said “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Both condemned violence and slipped in a mention of free speech. But who made the secretary of state and the president theologians or chiefs of religious protocol? We live in a free country, and every minute someone is giving it to someone else with the bark off.
The government did worse than speak and think badly. Nakoula Nakoula was hustled to a police station in the middle of the night for questioning on probation violations: a thuggish stunt better suited to a banana republic. Did he make the president’s life harder? That comes with the job, along with the golf dates and appearances on The View.
Americans should understand what we have and what the Muslim world conspicuously lacks. The rationalism of the Enlightenment and a long practice of English common law contributed to our liberties; they found fertile soil in the religious world of early America. Jesus instructed his followers that different things were rendered to Caesar and to God. American Christians, overwhelmingly Protestant, were divided among themselves into different churches, some of which believed as a matter of principle that the conscience is the throne of God in man. This became the understanding of all.
The Muslim world has not developed traditions of contention and inquiry, and decades of Arabian evangelism, fueled by oil money, labor to ensure that it will never happen. As a result a crescent of ignorance stretches from Morocco to Indonesia, with ghetto outposts wherever self-insulted immigrants settle.
There may be a pushback to Islamist bluster and bullying. The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which reprinted the Danish Mohammed cartoons, announced a new set to play off the current storm. But the defense of freedom, mind, and the West cannot be left to games of gotcha. We have to know that we are right, and on the appropriate occasions say so.