‐ Vladimir Putin can count himself lucky that there are no tortoises in Crimea.
‐ A heated showdown between the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy cooled several degrees when the BLM vowed to resolve the matter “administratively and judicially.” Bundy’s family has been grazing federal land for over a century; his troubles began in 1993 with new rules to protect wild desert tortoises. He denies Washington’s power to promulgate them, acknowledging only the authority of his county and state. Suits and countersuits proliferated; by now Bundy’s back fees are over a million bucks. The BLM began confiscating his cattle, which brought a gaggle of soi-disant militia members to his side. The art of government is often the exercise of prudence, a virtue especially to be prized in standoffs in which the parties are armed. But just government must be ruled by laws. No man can pick which laws or which branches of government he chooses to obey. If the federal government owned less of Nevada and the American West, there would be fewer flashpoints. A point to remember at the polls — not on the range.
‐ In 2008 and 2009, Rand Paul gave speeches suggesting that Dick Cheney had pushed for war in Iraq because of his connection to Halliburton. After the remarks came to light, Paul, now a senator, backtracked without renouncing them. In the first Bush administration, Cheney had favored leaving Saddam Hussein in power after extruding him from Kuwait; in the second, he wanted him deposed. What else could explain his change of views about Middle Eastern politics but his corporate paycheck? What Paul’s reasoning excludes is an event that took place in September 2001 and changed the way a lot of people thought about foreign policy. Certain minds have an unhealthy attraction to conspiracy theories, and the Kentucky senator appears to be one of them.
‐ Thomas Friedman, interviewing Hillary Clinton in a friendly manner, asked what her proudest accomplishment at the State Department was. Her answer: Leadership is “a relay race”; she represented us around the world while the president was preoccupied with the economy (he was?); and by bringing back economic growth, “we really restored American leadership.” Our former colleague Byron York made the point in the Washington Examiner that none of this amounted to a specific accomplishment, and got called sexist as a result. So in case you were wondering what the 2016 campaign would be like, now you know.
‐ In a speech at his father’s presidential library, Jeb Bush said that many illegal immigrants come to this country to better the lot of their families: “It’s an act of love.” So it often is, and enforcement should weigh more heavily on gangsters or terrorists than on the aspiring. But there are many kinds of love. Love of one’s country includes honoring its laws; breaking the laws of a new country in order to get in it is a bad way to begin. There is also the love that citizens owe each other: Employers, from tech giants to farmers, might employ more of their fellow countrymen. The profit motive inclines them toward loose immigration laws. But “the love of money,” as Saint Paul remarked, “is a root of all kinds of evil.”
‐ Speaking to an audience in New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee decried what he regards as infringements on freedom of speech and ill-conceived airport-security policies. He said, “My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there is more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.” North Korea is a wicked state, a psychotic state, an Orwellian state. People are tortured to death there routinely. The entire population is enslaved to an ideological cult. The resemblance between us and North Korea is absolutely zero. Huckabee, a professional talker, should talk better.
‐ George H. W. Bush will get the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s “Profile in Courage” award, given to politicians for having done something of which liberals approve (in the case of the award to Gerald Ford for pardoning Richard Nixon, it was something they were able to approve long after the fact). Bush will get it for breaking his promise not to raise taxes as president. Rewind the tape to appreciate just what is being honored. Bush attacked tax cuts as “voodoo economics” in his failed 1980 run for president. In his successful 1988 run he pledged in his convention speech to veto tax increases: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Then he signed a tax increase. Then, running for reelection in 1992, he apologized for it (“I regret it”) and approved a party platform that called the tax increase “recessionary” and urged its repeal. If he accepts the award, Bush will be taking his fifth position on this issue. Bush is a decent, civil, public-spirited, and in many respects exemplary man. His record on taxes is nothing to celebrate.
‐ We know that any political party, and especially one without accomplishments, needs villains, and so Harry Reid has anointed libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch. But isn’t abuse supposed to be amusing? Once upon a time Representative Charles Ogle (Whig, Pa.) accused President Martin Van Buren of sculpting the White House lawn into breast-shaped hillocks and fitting out the presidential dinner table with “green finger cups . . . to wash his pretty tapering, soft, white, lily fingers.” Now we have the majority leader, looking like a cross between an undertaker and his products, speaking in his flat-as-a-manhole-cover monotone, delivering catch phrases co-authored by Jim Messina focus groups and a random word generator. Come on, senator: The Steyer brothers can buy you better than that.
#page#‐ Team Tolerance has taken the scalp of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who was forced out of the company he helped launch for having made a donation in support of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Eich witch-hunt did violence not just against fairness but against the English language: One angry Mozilla employee explained that Eich must be cast out and excluded because the firm maintains a “culture of openness and inclusion.” Eich’s views were shared not only by the majority of California voters, who approved Proposition 8, but by such monsters of homophobia as Barack Obama, who opposed Proposition 8 but repeatedly affirmed his commitment to its definition of marriage. Mozilla should be free to dismiss its CEO for his political views (although California civil-rights law seems to frown on the practice), and there are circumstances under which doing so would be proper. But endorsing a millennia-old view of marriage isn’t exactly “Heil, Hitler,” and the scalping of Eich comes at a time when the IRS is being used as a weapon against conservatives. A “culture of openness” would be a welcome thing, indeed. Where to find one?
‐ The House Oversight Committee has voted to hold former IRS operative Lois Lerner in contempt. Lerner, formerly in charge of the IRS branch tasked with policing tax-exempt nonprofits, is at the center of the investigation of the agency’s targeting and harassment of conservative groups before the 2012 election. She has refused to answer Congress’s questions but now could be compelled to testify or face incarceration. A separate congressional action has referred her case to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, though Eric Holder has shown no inclination to put duty over politics. The evidence suggests that Lerner both abused her power for political purposes and misled investigators about the case. She is not the only one: Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Oversight, previously denied having encouraged the IRS to target certain conservative groups, but IRS records show that his staff was in regular contact with the agency regarding True the Vote, a Texas-based group that targeted voter fraud and was in turn targeted by the IRS. Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and other Democrats also pressed the IRS to target tea-party outfits and other conservative organizations. Meanwhile, IRS agents in at least three offices are on the hook for misusing agency resources for political purposes, which violates the Hatch Act. The Democrats are maintaining party-line opposition to investigating these crimes, so “Cui bono?” is no mystery.
‐ The Supreme Court struck down a campaign-finance regulation in April: the aggregate limit on the amount that individuals may donate to candidates for federal office. The Court has held that campaign-finance regulation is compatible with the First Amendment if it prevents corruption or its appearance. But it reasoned that if contributing the maximum allowed to an individual candidate could not corrupt him, contributing that maximum to many candidates could not corrupt all of them. The aggregate limit simply made no sense except as an expression of animus against money in politics, which is what pays for political speech. Justice Breyer, in dissent, accused the conservative justices of insufficient realism about the corrupting effects of donations. Breyer also warned of the “grave problems of democratic legitimacy” that would develop if incumbent politicians were not allowed more leeway in regulating political contributions. Which seems much the less realistic point of view.
‐ To make the case for the twice-stalled election-year sop known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, President Obama and congressional Democrats are again trumpeting the factoid that the average working American woman earns 77 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. As the president surely understands, and his economic advisers have admitted, most of this wage gap is due to the occupational choices women make: to work fewer hours than men, take more time off from their careers, and enter lower-paying fields. Studies that correct for these factors find an unexplained male advantage of 5 to 7 percent. The proposed bill — which would require employers to report detailed pay data by sex, race, and national origin to the government, and make it easier for trial lawyers to reap benefits from class-action discrimination suits — would do virtually nothing to close the gap. The president is betting that his spurious embrace of “equal pay for equal work” will be a winning campaign issue. What the proposal would mostly mean is extra work for employers and extra pay for trial lawyers.
‐ Kathleen Sebelius surprised nearly everyone by announcing she would step down as HHS secretary. She picked a moment when she was getting her first good press in months. The number of Americans with insurance seems to be increasing, and the exchanges sort of hit their enrollment targets. The press largely ignored the questions of how many of the enrollees will actually pay their premiums and how sick the exchange population is, to say nothing of larger questions about the cost-benefit ratio of the law. Republicans should be preparing a long list of questions for Obama’s nominee to succeed her: Sylvia Burwell, who has been serving in his budget office. Columnist Marc Thiessen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, notes that she would have been consulted before the president’s many comments about how people would be able to keep their insurance plans if they liked them. Should make for an interesting hearing.
‐ The House narrowly passed Paul Ryan’s 2015 budget this month, a budget that is largely the same as the one he introduced last year. As before, the plan balances the budget in ten years. It continues to tweak Ryan’s Medicare reform, his most important idea, and attempts to reverse the devastating defense cuts of the last couple of years. The plan has its flaws: Ryan relies too much on discretionary spending cuts to achieve balance, and Republicans need a plan to fix Social Security. The whole budget can be dismissed as theater since it is going nowhere. But having a majority of the House vote year after year to reform a third rail of American politics is a virtuous habit. Senate Democrats aren’t expected to introduce a budget. We have counseled that Republicans make an affirmative case for themselves in this fall’s elections, offering ideas rather than just running against the disastrous Obama presidency. Ryan has repeatedly shown he knows this better than almost anyone.
‐ Addressing the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Attorney General Eric Holder said that no attorney general or president had been treated as harshly as he and Obama have been by the House GOP. (Holder should have a chat with Alberto Gonzales or Ed Meese.) Then Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, in commenting on Holder’s comment, that the GOP base “to a significant extent . . . does have elements that are animated by racism.” And finally Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opined that “race has something to do” with Republican reluctance to bring up an immigration bill. Race certainly has everything to do with the Democratic campaign strategy this year.
‐ The idea that a gunman might run amok on a military base seems, on first inspection, to be preposterous; that such a thing might happen twice in the same place doubly so. And yet, in April, Texas’s Fort Hood came under attack for the second time in five years — a lone shooter killing four and injuring 16 before turning his gun on himself. Along with last year’s massacre at Washington’s Navy Yard, the incident finally prompted some good questions: Why aren’t our soldiers armed? Why are the nation’s finest forced to shelter behind tables and wait for the police to arrive when their lives are put in danger? The surprise expressed by the public and the media alike suggested that few were aware that the permissive concealed-carry regimes that now obtain across most of the country do not extend to the nation’s military bases. A rule issued during the George H. W. Bush administration established the national standard that all military personnel must be disarmed while on base, and it has never been updated. The military being a risk-averse sort of institution, this arrangement seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
#page#That 1950s Show
‘Most Americans, consciously or unconsciously, use the post–World War II era as their baseline when analyzing the state of the nation. Conservatives may pine for an era of Ozzie and Harriet domesticity, but social scientists (mostly liberal) are much more locked into the view that the United States from 1945 to 1965 was ‘normal’ and that any deviation from its standards represents an alarming deterioration in the conditions of American life.”
So writes Walter Russell Mead in the Winter 2013/14 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. I think this is right. But, if I may, I’d like to take a step back, a big step, and start from the fundament. In the metaphysical hierarchy of things, when always struck me as more important, or at least more interesting, than what.
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle holds that on an atomic scale, you can determine the position of a thing (e.g., a particle) fairly precisely, but doing so means you can’t know its momentum with much precision (and vice versa). It’s like when you have a really good camera and can take a sharp picture of a car barreling by, but you can’t say very much about how fast the car is going, and know virtually nothing about what its final destination may be. At least metaphorically, something similar happens in life. Think about historic figures. You could learn a lot about Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, or Winston Churchill if you could somehow talk to them, via time travel or a discovered diary, when they were 16 years old. But we can all agree that such snapshots don’t tell the whole story.
Mead’s point about social scientists’ locking in assumptions about what constitutes “normal” America is well taken. But I think it goes broader and deeper than that — as, I should say, does Mead. His essay is about Michael Barone’s new book on immigration, in which Barone notes that the recent — and possibly ebbing — wave of Mexican immigration is not so unique a thing in American history. But that’s a topic for elsewhere.
The social scientists didn’t merely take over higher education; they took over the government itself. Sure, that process began a generation earlier, but by the 1950s they had the raw numbers to occupy the commanding heights and the lower ranks of every bureaucratic tower. Still, let’s not pin it all on the eggheads. TV came of age in the 1950s and early 1960s. That, too, was a kind of Polaroid image of America at a particular moment. If TV had been in wide use in the 1930s (as Joe Biden thinks it was), or even the 1830s, our collective assumptions about America’s progress would be profoundly different. Conservatives may pine for Ozzie and Harriet, but that’s in no small part because The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was a kind of cultural snapshot of a specific moment. Imagine if the Nelson family lived in a tenement, or had a dirt floor and the kids had to work in the mill. Frankly, I’d watch that sitcom, but you get the point.
About five years ago, Brink Lindsey, then with the Cato Institute, wrote a wonderful little book called “Nostalgianomics” in which he argued that liberalism’s assumptions about economics are stuck in the 1950s (and conservatism’s assumptions about culture are stuck there as well). Liberal complaints about economic inequality, corporate power, etc. were all hitched to a 1950s-snapshot understanding of what America is, without any historical context. Lindsey is persuasive as far as he goes, but I would go farther. The postwar snapshot that liberals remember so fondly was the time when their ideas were ascendant and their authority was largely unquestioned. That’s no longer the case, and I suspect that’s why they miss the good times of that 1950s show.
#page#‐ “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive!” So boasted Joe Biden at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. A true survivor, GM’s having a better run of it than a baker’s dozen of its customers, who were smashed to death as a consequence of the government-supported automaker’s engineering incompetence. GM was aware of hundreds of complaints about its faulty ignition switches, with reports going back to 2004, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was aware of problems going back to 2007, but no recall was ordered until a decade after the first problems were seen. It is not insignificant that for a period of time in the intervening years, the majority shareholder in General Motors was none other than the U.S. government, which managed to lose billions of dollars on that investment while largely protecting the entrenched company management from the consequences of its ineptitude. The GM bailout ensures that the federal government has a political stake in seeing the firm succeed, and thus the automaker’s scandal has been handled rather more gently than, say, the BP spill was. The formal bailout may be over, but we’ll be living with its consequences for a long time.
‐ The Export-Import Bank is crony capitalism in action. Unlike the Obama-era innovations in this industry, it doesn’t even have a particular social purpose (not that that would be redeeming). It just offers subsidized loans and credit insurance to companies that wish to buy products made by U.S. firms, on the assumption that boosting U.S. exports is an unalloyed good. Year after year, the Government Accountability Office has reminded Congress that the bank has a negligible effect on American exports. But it has a non-negligible effect on, for instance, the prices foreign airlines have to pay for their aircraft. With subsidized Ex-Im loans, they can buy more Washington (State)–made Boeings than American carriers can for the same amount of money, and that’s just the most obvious of the manifold distortions an institution like the Ex-Im Bank creates. Its accounting is a mess, too: Rather than reporting its loans’ default rates every year, it just ballparks the numbers using industry figures. The bank’s balance sheet is more befitting a Chinese property developer than a taxpayer-funded institution. Senator Mike Lee (Utah) has made a rousing call for a debate within the GOP on the matter — and on the issue of crony capitalism more generally. No doubt many Republicans, like most politicians, prize certain kinds of corporate welfare. But they are wrong, and Lee’s team should triumph.
‐ It turns out that in New York State, tanning salons and restaurants are subject to more stringent health-inspection regimes than are abortion clinics. Documents released in April by the state department of health showed that only 25 of 225 abortion providers are regulated by New York and that, of those, eight had been inspected not at all and five were inspected just once over the last twelve years. At the clinics the state did inspect, numerous violations were found, such as the reuse of disposable suction tubes to perform abortions and the failure to monitor patients during and after medical abortions. The heavily redacted information was unwillingly divulged by the department in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the pro-life Chiaroscuro Foundation. One of the incidental revelations of the grand-jury report in the murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell was that Pennsylvania had ceased to inspect abortion clinics in 1993 “for political reasons.” If any Gosnells exist in New York, it seems that the pro-abortion establishment there would likewise rather not know about it.
‐ Liberals love single-payer health care: It allows tremendous centralization of power, usually at someone else’s expense, with some real pecuniary benefit. At the cost of freedom and access, systems like the ones set up in Europe and Canada tend to hold down health expenditures in a way the U.S. has never managed to. Thus, Vermont decided three years ago to adopt its own single-payer system. As implementation moves along, reality has proven less than encouraging: It will cost taxpayers $2 billion a year in a state that collected $2.7 billion in revenue last year. It should save on paperwork, but not as much as one hopes, since Green Mountain hospitals will still want to take out-of-state patients. It won’t have nearly the bargaining power a national health-care system does. That’s all pessimism, liberals say — Canada, you know, started its single-payer health-care system in one province, Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, though, Vermont has been essentially incapable of setting up its Obamacare exchange, let alone constructing a fully public payment system. It’s almost enough to ask if they’re in their right mind.
‐ “Poof, that was sort of the moment.” Secretary of State John Kerry was telling the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that Israel’s approval of settlements had removed the possibility of successful negotiations to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Actually it was never a possibility. Engaged in low-level fighting among themselves, Palestinian leaders one and all refuse to acknowledge the right of a Jewish state to exist. Engaged in high-level political power struggles between themselves, Israeli leaders refuse to accept the imposition of anything like future risk for the nation. Right now, besides, there are immediate crises to the north in Syria, to the south in Egypt, and to the east in Iran. All that Kerry was able to bring to negotiations on which he’s staked his reputation and indeed his career is the insistence that Israelis and Palestinians trust him and the administration. “Poof” is the word.
#page#‐ The Palestinians threatened to leave the current talks if the Israelis didn’t release even more prisoners, something the latter were loath to do. So the White House dangled the release of Jonathan Pollard, a traitor convicted of spying for Israel in one of the most serious espionage operations in modern American history and sentenced to a fitting punishment. Pollard should be left to rot indefinitely — until, let’s say, the peace process finally succeeds.
‐ April’s elections in Afghanistan were a happy occasion for a country that has had few such moments of late. While violence has been rising in the capital, and the Taliban issued plenty of threats, millions of Afghans made it safely to the polls in defiance of their medieval wannabe overlords. Fraud appears to have been relatively subdued, and the results are encouraging. All of the top candidates have rejected Hamid Karzai’s cheap anti-Americanism and eagerly pledged to sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S.; Karzai’s successor candidate, who repudiated Karzai’s position, seems to have foundered, and the opposition leader and a former World Bank official will be the runoff contestants. A peaceful transition of power is an exceedingly rare thing in the Muslim world and in the developing world. Afghanistan has beaten the odds, for now, but one election hardly proves that democracy there will be durable. Given what we have invested in the country, though, and the bravery the people there have shown, we owe them the continuing support we failed to provide in Iraq.
‐ Most of us have, one year or another, gone to work, church, or an appointment at the wrong hour due to daylight-saving time. But few of us have suffered for it as severely as the Dublin gangster who was planting a car bomb on the day Ireland moved its clocks forward. He set the timer for 11:00 p.m., not realizing it was already just a few minutes short of that hour, and the next thing you know he was covered in blood and the Volvo SUV that had been his target was on fire. The non-detail-oriented perp was last seen getting into a taxi at New and Clanbrassil Streets, dripping gore all over the seat and no doubt invoking bitter imprecations on the head of Benjamin Franklin.
‐ The Pulitzer board styles its prize as the recognition of journalistic achievement. Increasingly, it is a circling of wagons around left-wing crusades and the progressive reporters who break news about them. This year’s prizes for “public service” have been awarded to the Washington Post and the U.K.’s Guardian for stories based on the classified documents stolen by Edward Snowden, that champion of liberty who found a soft place to land in Putin’s Russia. Snowden purloined well over a million national-defense secrets. He has incalculably damaged our country, compromising the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering methods and sources, while blinding the intelligence community to the hostile activities of terrorists and other enemies of America, and poisoning relations between the U.S. and nations that cooperate in our security efforts at great risk to themselves. Is it really journalistic achievement to render the nation less defensible?
‐ “Too much suffering, not enough hope. That is France’s situation,” Manuel Valls, the country’s new prime minister, tells the National Assembly. He should know. Previously interior minister, he’s been a stalwart supporter of President François Hollande, whose Socialist government has brought about the imbalance between suffering and hope that he’s complaining about. In landslide local elections, the Socialists have just lost control of 150 towns. Valls is now cutting taxes for the low-paid. More extraordinary, he is freeing companies from employment costs and other charges worth billions of euros, and also reducing government expenditure. This French socialist might not fit in Obama’s cabinet: too right-wing.
‐ In February 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article titled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” in which “the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” In Canada, hundreds of babies born alive during attempted abortions were left to die on the table, a practice that Planned Parenthood has defended in the U.S. context, with one of its lobbyists testifying that the question of whether a newborn lives or dies “should be left up to the woman.” So why the fuss over the case of Utah’s Megan Huntsman, who killed six of the seven babies she gave birth to over a decade (one was stillborn) and stacked the little bodies up like cords of wood in her garage? She strangled and suffocated her newborns on her own rather than having them hacked to pieces in utero, but, given the moral tenor of the times, what, exactly, is her crime? Practicing medicine without a license? Huntsman’s unsanctioned killings are no different in kind from the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of state-sanctioned killings that are carried out by duly licensed physicians every year in these United States, and all those who endorse the current moral framework of our abortion regime have a hand in this. Buy the ticket, take the ride. But you may not like where it goes.
‐ It took a long time for the media to work up an interest in Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s crimes. The details of his case — such as severing babies’ spinal cords with scissors and keeping the feet of aborted fetuses in jars — were harrowing and reporters didn’t want to touch them, lest they reflect badly on the abortion industry as a whole. Thus, a year after his conviction for murdering three babies, many Americans still don’t know who he is. Filmmakers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer want to change that and are crowdfunding a made-for-TV movie about the Gosnell trial. After being asked by the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter to make the project’s language less graphic (removing the phrase “thousands of babies stabbed to death” and similar descriptions), McElhinney and McAleer claimed censorship and moved the project elsewhere — to Kickstarter’s rival site, Indiegogo. At press time, the project had accumulated over 9,000 supporters who have pledged almost $800,000 of its $2.1 million goal. If the full $2.1 million is raised by May 12, the film will go into production and will be testament that Hollywood and the mainstream media don’t have all the decision-making rights about which stories get told.
#page#‐Honor Diaries is a documentary about the brutalization women face in Muslim-majority countries. The production features Muslim women discussing their struggle for basic civil rights, with additional commentary from executive producer Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others seeking to empower them. Though blunt about “honor” killings, female genital mutilation, and arranged child marriages, the film pulls punches about Islam, finding root causes in “culture” and lack of education rather than aspects of Muslim scripture and law that many influential sharia jurists construe to endorse these misogynistic practices. Yet, as night follows day, professionally aggrieved Islamists, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have succeeded in shutting down screenings of Honor Diaries on American campuses. CAIR, which arose out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas support network (uncovered in the Justice Department’s 2008 Holy Land Foundation prosecution), acknowledged that the film fairly treats a vital subject but claimed it should not be seen because “Islamophobes” support it. Real change happens only when ugliness is exposed, not enabled.
‐ Ayaan Hirsi Ali has faced a lot worse than a slap in the face by Brandeis University. Somalia-born, she has been genitally mutilated, beaten, and hounded from one country to another by Muslims, which has made her a fierce critic of Islam. In Holland, she made a film with Theo van Gogh, about the treatment of women in the Muslim world. Van Gogh was murdered. The killer impaled a note to van Gogh’s chest, warning Hirsi Ali that she was next. She has since devoted her life to the cause of girls and women in repressive societies. It was for this reason that Brandeis decided to award her an honorary degree. But then the “Muslim community” made its objection clear, and, whaddaya know? Brandeis decided that an award to Hirsi Ali was not in line with the university’s “core values.” Those values, by the way, have allowed Brandeis to honor Harry Belafonte, a fervent supporter of the Castro dictatorship and other brutal regimes. Add appeasement to the list of those core values.
‐ Professors at Rutgers have protested the scheduling of Condoleezza Rice as this year’s commencement speaker. Professors at the University of Minnesota have protested the scheduling of Rice for another speech. These professors, at both institutions, object to her participation in the George W. Bush administration and do not wish to honor her. They need not worry; their approval is no honor.
‐ Students at Dartmouth College occupied the office of the president, Phil Hanlon, in April and confronted him about the 72 demands they had issued back in February. Ever the liberal, the college president invited the radicals to reason together with him, and they for their part also stuck to the script. What do they want? Racial quotas in admissions and faculty appointments. When do they want it? Now. Also, coverage of sex-change operations under the campus health plan and, while they’re at it, “gender-neutral bathrooms” and locker rooms. After an hour of appearing to take the protesters seriously, Hanlon left. They stayed and camped out overnight. “Their grievance, in short, is that they don’t feel like Dartmouth is fostering a welcoming environment,” Hanlon said the next day in a statement. “I deeply empathize with them.” Reenactments of the springtime campus revolts of the 1960s are a tradition across college campuses this time of year. It is just about the only conservatism they have left.
‐ Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the lead in a television series called Veep, portraying a vice-president much like Joe Biden except for being female and smart. To promote the series, she posed naked for the cover of Rolling Stone with the start of the Constitution Photoshopped on her back. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the text was the signature of John Hancock, who never signed the real Constitution and in fact didn’t like it very much. We would suspect the error was done intentionally for publicity if we thought anyone at Rolling Stone knew the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
‐ The actress Kirsten Dunst shared some thoughts about femininity and relationships in the May issue of the U.K. edition of Harper’s Bazaar. “I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” she said, expressing appreciation for the “valuable thing” created by her stay-at-home mother. She added: “Sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work.” Dunst’s comments were immediately met with mockery and derision on feminist blogs and Twitter. A blogger for Jezebel wrote that Dunst, an “actress and blonde who looks good in clothes,” is “not paid to write gender theory so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s kind of dumb about it.” True, Dunst did not major in women’s studies. Obviously she’s the dumb one.
#page#‐ North Dakotans have long been proud of their state university’s hockey team, the Fighting Sioux. At least, that’s what the team used to be called, until UND reluctantly abandoned its monicker and Indian-head logo in 2012 under threat of NCAA sanctions. Competing without a nickname, the team made this year’s college championship, and as part of a university-sponsored contest to support the anonymous icemen, a UND sorority hung out a banner that read, “You can take away our mascot, but you can’t take away our pride!” The banner did not include the offending nickname, nor did it contain any Indian iconography, yet this innocuous message caused university officials to reprimand the sorority, order the banner’s removal, and issue the standard “we strongly support the First Amendment, but . . .” statement. (To be fair, this sorority was a repeat offender: In 2007 it shocked the nation’s conscience by holding a cowboys-and-Indians party, which earned it a year’s suspension.) Just as has happened with same-sex marriage, what yesterday was a vigorous controversy is today unmentionable, or in this case not even alludable.
‐ Best of luck to Stephen Colbert as he replaces David Letterman as host of CBS’s perennial 11:30 p.m. runner-up The Late Show. The Tiffany Network’s announcement that Colbert would compete with newly minted Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon caused some political controversy — Rush Limbaugh called the choice of the longtime Bill O’Reilly parodist with the French-sounding surname a declaration of war on the heartland — but the move continues a 20-year tradition: Just as in the long war between Letterman and Jay Leno, CBS will pit an “edgy” hipster favorite against an affable, eager-to-please everyman (though a remarkably talented one in Fallon). If anything, the political import of CBS’s move is toward moderation: Colbert is less left-leaning than Letterman, whose dreary Connecticut-limousine-liberal politics took center stage as he shed the punkish anti-comedy that made his Eighties late-late show great. The competition will most likely be a sideshow in the ever-more-crowded field of late-night talkers.
‐ Fergus Reid Buckley, the youngest brother of our founder, is best known to longtime readers as the face in the advertisement of the Buckley School of Public Speaking. But many will also remember him, and rightly so, as a fine writer, in these pages and those of other conservative magazines. Often mistaken for Bill in appearance and polysyllabicism, Reid was fun, and as charming a man as you could meet, brandishing joy, a thousand-watt smile, and exotic duds — you learned not to be surprised when he showed up at NR’s offices in a cape and lederhosen, carrying a walking stick, and donning an Alpine hat adorned by a big feather. As nephew Christopher Buckley put it, “Reid is . . . Reid.” A Yale grad and, like brother Bill, a debate phenom, he left the U.S. after a stint in the Air Force, trying the life of a writer (and a pal of Ava Gardner) in Spain. He returned after a decade and a half as the expatriate to set up camp in Camden, S.C., at his parents’ old winter estate, thrilled to embrace their Southern roots, and to train mumbling, slouching, and “uhh”-ing out of Fortune 500 executives who attended the school, which is just what one would expect of the author of the acclaimed Speaking in Public. When he wasn’t teaching, he was writing. His final years were a health struggle — emphysema (again, so like Bill) — that eventually claimed him. He leaves his love, his wife, Tasa, their ten children and many grandchildren, and many more nieces and nephews and friends, including those of us at NR, to whom he will be ever beloved. R.I.P.
‐ Mickey Rooney first hit the silver screen in 1927, and 85 years later was still applying the greasepaint, in a seemingly endless and iconic career that entertained many millions. If movies are the way generations from Topeka to Timbuktu have learned, for better or worse, what America is, then few have educated as many as has Rooney. The sawed-off, multi-married, Oscar-nominated (four times) actor was America’s top box-office draw in the late Thirties and early Forties; his dozen-plus Andy Hardy movies and Judy Garland–sidekickings celebrated an America where folks were honest, responsible, hard-working, patriotic, hopeful, happy, respectful, and fun, where home was indeed sweet home, where aw-shucks girl-crazy teens thrilled to steal a kiss from Polly. Rooney could be a ham, but he could also be brilliant: His performances in The Human Comedy and Requiem for a Heavyweight were exquisite. He’ll be rightly remembered as a hard-working and talented man who played a central role in forming America’s most prominent cultural product. Dead at 93. R.I.P.
Ukraine and the Crisis of the West
‘In a drop of rain can be seen all the colors of the rainbow.” This remark of the historian Lewis Namier is apposite to the current international crisis: Ukraine is the raindrop, and the colors of the rainbow are a spectrum of crises in Russia, NATO, and the American Right. The apparent stability of the post–Cold War world has been shattered by President Putin’s annexation of Crimea and subversion of Ukraine. We now live in a world determined by military force and economic competition. And it will take at least a decade to put Humpty Dumpty together again — if that is even possible.
Though Putin’s Russia seems at present to be the victor, Russia’s crisis is in fact the deepest and most toxic one. Russia’s government is an authoritarian kleptocracy that has failed to use the lavish energy revenues of the last 20 years to reform and diversify its economy. Its population declined over the past few decades because of, among other things, its diminished life expectancy, which itself can be traced to rampant alcoholism. And its justifying ideology is a semi-czarist combination of Great Russian chauvinism and Orthodoxy.
Some Western conservatives find that ideology attractive, but it is largely a fraudulent one. Russia is a Chekist state owned by its intelligence services, which manipulate ideologies to suit the audience and occasion. And the appeal and longevity of the current ideology are dependent on continued successful expansion. That may well suit Putin for the moment, but his problem is that this strategy is failing. Until a few months ago, he seemed to have conscripted Ukraine into his proposed Eurasian Union. Today, having lost Ukraine, he has chosen a second-best strategy of annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine.
Putin still has a short-term tactical advantage in a region where Russia is the local superpower. But those shortsighted Western commentators who see him as the victor ignore several important facts: that Putin has lost most of Ukraine; that a Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine outside Crimea is fraught with massive risks for Moscow; that prospective members of his Eurasian Union, such as Kazakhstan, now show a marked reluctance to join; and that Russia is facing the serious threat of a gradual Western economic decoupling from its needy economy. How long will an authoritarian kleptocracy remain popular as these trends play themselves out?
Compared with Putin’s crisis, the others are modest. NATO is divided: The Franco-German-Italian bloc, risk-averse and unwilling to spend more on defense, resists the more proactive approach of the U.S., the U.K., and other states that seem prepared to consider bolder measures. This is a situation tailor-made for bold American leadership; unfortunately, it was U.S. policy since 2009 — the pivot to Asia — that created the power vacuum that Putin has exploited. Since the crisis began, moreover, Washington has seemed schizophrenic, making strong assertions of principle but proposing what are as yet only cautious responses and hinting that Kiev might have to concede ground to Russian demands. These contradictions may be defensible diplomatic maneuvers, but they give little confidence to the Ukrainians and little anxiety to the Kremlin.
Unfortunately, American conservatives too are divided between those who favor a bold response and those who fear being drawn into a conflict. This conflict, however, is one that will determine whether the West’s victory in the Cold War remains standing. America must therefore adopt a policy aimed at defeating Putin’s ambitious revanchism even if it takes a long time to succeed. Such a policy would have two arms. Its military-strategic arm would include such policies as reviving the placement of anti-missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic; placing NATO infrastructure and personnel in Central and Eastern European countries and the Baltic states; and in general raising the potential costs of Russian military adventurism. The second arm would be to make it clear that the U.S. will accelerate the process whereby Europe is gradually reducing its dependence on Russian energy supplies.
The crises afflicting Europe and America are largely self-inflicted; Putin’s crises are presented to him by history. He is dealing with them boldly and ruthlessly; we are hesitating and debating. If he wins, we will have given him the victory.