‐ The only Justice Department consultations Al Sharpton should be involved in concern state’s evidence.
‐ NBC New York reported that after nine months, the Justice Department investigation into those lane closings on the New Jersey approach to the George Washington Bridge has found no evidence that Governor Chris Christie ordered them, or even knew of them beforehand. Supplying context, NBC interviewed a former federal prosecutor, unconnected to the case, who said that in such investigations, “if you don’t have [evidence of wrongdoing] within nine months or so, you’re not likely to ever get it.” Was Christie’s exoneration given the same treatment as the initial story — that is, as if Martians had landed in New Jersey? No indeed. And since the federal investigation is ongoing (Christie is not the only person involved — or, in his case, not involved), and since the (Democrat-dominated) New Jersey assembly is conducting an investigation of its own, expect more dribs and drabs. Until, say, November 2016.
‐ Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a lengthy interview with the fashion magazine Elle, which is not noted for its jurisprudential analysis, has returned to the theme of eugenics, which seems to be a favorite of hers. Some time back, she explained Roe v. Wade in terms of population control, “particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” and now she has told Elle that insufficient resources are being put to use in the cause of aborting the children of poor people — or, as she put it, “the impact of all these restrictions is on poor women.” Her view: “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.” Possibly it has not occurred to the justice that a national policy promoting or discouraging birth among any group of people is problematic in and of itself, and that a government that takes it upon itself to classify mothers and children as desirable and undesirable is by definition an inhumane one. But then abortion is an inhumane act that brings out the inhumanity in its partisans, and Justice Ginsburg is nothing if not one of them.
‐ True to most enterprises that have the word “People’s” up front, the People’s Climate March in New York City — along with the subsequent Flood Wall Street protests — was a sustained assault not only on free enterprise but also on the idea of constitutionally ordered liberty itself. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., echoing calls from the academic Left and such scholarly journals as Gawker, called for the trial and imprisonment of Charles and David Koch — on charges of treason — for having the gall to operate energy companies and to oppose Mr. Kennedy politically. At Flood Wall Street, hardly a word was said about global warming: The rising tide of capitalism, not the oceans, was the focus. The irony is that care for the environment, which is both necessary and desirable, is functionally a luxury good, something that societies start to pay attention to once capitalism has provided an adequately high standard of living. And what happened to the environment the last time radical anti-capitalists held power? See the Aral Sea, Semipalatinsk, Chernobyl, or the current condition of any given “People’s Republic.”
‐ In a deep bow to political fashion, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it is divesting from fossil-fuel-energy companies. The announcement was timed to coincide with two splashy Manhattan events: the anti-climate-change march; and climate-change talks over on First Avenue, at the U.N., a few long blocks from the foundation’s Fifth Avenue offices, whose electricity is not, to our knowledge, generated by windmills. Its $860 million in holdings has its source in the great wealth generated from the refineries of the Standard Oil Co., co-founded by the foundation’s patriarch, John D. Rockefeller Sr. The developing world clamors for more cheap energy; the developed world loftily denounces it, exaggerating its likely environmental cost while offering no realistic alternative either for itself or for those it would leave impoverished. And the Rockefeller Foundation calls itself a philanthropy.
‐ Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, announced in an NPR interview that the company would no longer fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that promotes conservative policies in state legislatures. Schmidt said that, by denying climate change, ALEC was “really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people. They’re just literally lying.” He provided no evidence to back up this heated charge, nor did interviewer Diane Rehm ask for it. ALEC does not, in truth, deny climate change. Instead it makes statements such as this one: “Unilateral efforts by the United States or regions within the United States will not significantly decrease carbon emissions globally.” Google has no obligation to fund such efforts. If Schmidt was aware of the organization’s actual views, though, it is he who was “literally lying.” If he was unaware, may we suggest a handy search engine he can use to look things up?
‐ Alton Nolen, acting as a one-man Islamic State of Oklahoma, beheaded Colleen Hufford, a former co-worker, and tried to behead Traci Johnson, another, before their employer shot and disabled him. Nolen, 30, had been fired from the food-processing plant in Moore, Okla., where he ran amok, so this was a case of workplace rage. But Nolen was inspired to channel his rage into jihadism. He had converted to Islam while serving time for a drug bust, renamed himself Jah’keem Yisrael, and decorated his Facebook page with images of Taliban fighters and Osama bin Laden. Obviously the recent spate of ISIS beheadings impressed him (where else, since the Reign of Terror, has decapitation been so prominent?). Al-Qaeda was fascinated with hijacking airliners, which required careful preparation, but later jihadists have encouraged do-it-yourself mayhem (the Boston bombers were inspired by an online article, “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom”). There are more than enough homicidal losers in the world to supply them with acolytes.
‐ Barbara Comstock, a Republican running for Congress in northern Virginia, is one of the Democrats’ top targets this fall. You can see why. The three-term Virginia delegate, who has served as a House staffer, as a member of the George W. Bush Justice Department, and as a campaign consultant, is a talented, creative legislator who has worked tirelessly for conservative reform throughout her career. She recently helped to secure tax credits for high-tech industries and telework, and backed legislation that opened the Virginia coast to offshore drilling. Her legislation increasing penalties for human trafficking received near-unanimous support in the Virginia general assembly. Opponents have fixated on her work as chief investigative counsel and senior counsel for the House Committee on Government Reform from 1995 to 1999, in the so-called Clinton Wars of the Nineties. But Comstock should be proud of that work. She was a dogged investigator — with much to investigate. The tenacity, creativity, and bipartisan amicability that she has demonstrated throughout her career will serve her well in Congress. National Review is supporting Barbara Comstock enthusiastically, and we hope you will, too.
‐ People who have only heard of Ezekiel Emanuel’s Atlantic article headlined “Why I Hope to Die at 75” may get a misleading impression of what he is saying. The bioethicist and former Obama-administration adviser opposes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and he denies that he is arguing for rationing. Rather, he notes that people’s faculties decline with age (a rather banal point on which he elaborates needlessly) and argues that they should not strive to prolong life when its quality has decreased. He makes two related policy prescriptions, both of them reasonable: We should redirect research dollars from making old age longer to making it more pleasant, and we should not use life expectancy, past around the age of 75, as a way of judging countries’ health systems and practices. As carefully as Emanuel wishes to circumscribe his argument, however, he still goes too far. He suggests that people older than 75 or so should not go to the doctor unless they have a really good reason, not including extending their lives. Worse, he makes it sound as though life is not worth living unless one is at the height of one’s powers. He thus inadvertently strengthens the case for euthanasia — and undermines that for human equality. His argument may not be as bad as it sounds, but people are right to be nervous.
‐ Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona representative who was shot in the head by a lunatic in 2011, has been running ads promoting gun control. In September, the middle-of-the-road Arizona Republic condemned a political advertisement to which Giffords had lent her name, describing the spot as “base and vile.” The commercial suggested that a Republican congressional candidate was guilty of murder for opposing new firearms regulations aimed at stalkers. After the commercial gained negative attention, and it was revealed that the Republican had been a victim of stalking herself, it was pulled. Gabby Giffords has been through a terrible ordeal, and her passion for gun control is understandable. But the bounds of taste remain in force, and spurious accusations of murder are a bridge too far — even when they are uttered by a beloved survivor of violence.
‐ Neil deGrasse Tyson, the celebrity scientist, turns out to have a penchant for making things up — and these things tend to make him look good and people who he would have you know are very unlike him look bad. Sean Davis has been checking Tyson’s facts for The Federalist, a conservative website. The worst example: Tyson claimed that shortly after the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush had invidiously compared the God of Christianity and Judaism with that of Islam. Davis pointed out that there is no evidence Bush ever said the words Tyson attributed to him. A few of those words appeared in another Bush quote, long after September 11 and not remotely in the context Tyson claimed. After days in which Tyson’s defenders circled the wagons — Wikipedia editors tried to squelch all mention of the controversy and even to delete the website’s entry about it — Tyson said that he stood by his recollection but had no evidence for it, and would apologize. Tyson likes to present himself as a voice for science against unreasoning faith. This episode suggests that the gullible can be found in every flock, and a trace of buffoonery in all sorts of evangelists.
‐ Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has announced that the IRS will change its rules regarding “tax inversions,” deals in which American corporations acquire or merge with foreign businesses for tax purposes. The new rules won’t make such deals illegal, but they will make them less profitable, or harder to profit from. Treasury has a good deal of leeway in how it interprets the ambiguities of tax law, but this decision is clearly a political usurpation. The administration says that inversions may be eroding the tax base, but the amount of federal revenue involved in such deals is tiny. The changes will affect only future deals — congressional Democrats wanted an ex post facto change that would affect deals going back many years — but it will cost companies considering the deals millions if not billions in what are called “breakup fees.” There’s only one way to make American companies stop fleeing the tax code: create a tax code they don’t want to flee.
Connecting the Fed Dots
The Federal Reserve has an enormous role in determining the path of our country, yet for the longest time, its deliberations were clouded in near-Mithraic mystery. In 1999, for example, the thickness of Alan Greenspan’s briefcase was, at least in jest, the focus of discussion. If his case was thicker than usual, the story goes, he was going to lift interest rates. Today, markets are inundated by Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) communications, from detailed press releases and economic forecasts to live Q&A press conferences with the chairperson. But is the Fed really more transparent today?
The center of the new transparency is occupied by the so-called dots. Every three months, the FOMC publishes its members’ projections for the federal-funds rate, their key short-term policy instrument. The members write down their explicit projections for the coming few years. The projections are released in the form of dot plots, in which each dot represents the individual forecast of one FOMC member. Reading the dot plots provides a sense of when and to what level FOMC members expect to raise interest rates. When the dots move higher or lower in a new release, it means the individual committee members have changed their views about policy.
Financial markets pay close attention to the dots because they indicate a likely path for the federal-funds rate. A change in the expected path of the federal-funds rate has a large effect on interest rates for everything from mortgages to student loans. In addition, the dot plots provide additional clues as to whether the FOMC is optimistic or pessimistic about the strength of the economy and how its members’ views have changed over time. But the transparency is useful, of course, only if the dots provide, in retrospect, useful information about future Fed actions. If the Fed promises to increase interest rates but then fails to do so, then it is not clear that the promise should be scored as an increase in transparency.
The nearby graph summarizes the evolution of the average of the dots since their first release in January 2012. Each point shows the federal-funds rate expected at the end of a future calendar year, expressed as a mean of the predictions of the 19 committee members. The horizontal axis marks the date of the forecast and the colors of the line refer to the different forecasts for the ends of different calendar years. For example, in January 2012, FOMC forecasts predicted the federal-funds rate would stand at about 0.25 percent at the end of 2012, about 0.5 percent by the end of 2013, and about 1 percent by the end of 2014. In the long run, the Fed members expected to lift the rate up to about 4.2 percent. Alternatively, each line indicates how the Fed members’ views of future interest-rate policy changed over time. The purple line indicates how the forecast for the end of 2015 has evolved.
So how did they do? While the Fed indicated in 2012 that it would likely increase interest rates in 2013, it did not do so, presumably because the economy was so weak. In January 2013, the members again suggested that they would begin lifting interest rates by the end of 2014. Again, it looks like they have not. If you look at the forecast from the latest meeting, they now assure us that rates will be steady for the rest of the year, but members on average expect the rate to climb to about 1.25 percent by the end of next year.
So is this an increase in transparency? The Fed has suggested that rates will begin going up in the future, but these indications have turned out to be false signals in the past. If, once again, Fed members promise to tighten policy in the future but then fail to do so when the future arrives, then market watchers might well find themselves wishing for the return of Chairman Greenspan’s storied briefcase.
‐ The University of Chicago has done something bold and wonderful — may it be a precedent. The university canceled its Confucius Institute. Confucius Institutes are learning centers that are funded, staffed, and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The institutes are on hundreds of campuses in free countries around the world. The institutes exist to advance the CCP’s interests — they are its “soft power.” Earlier this year, more than 100 faculty members at Chicago signed a petition objecting to the Confucius Institute on their campus. The university’s administration apparently reassured the Chinese officials responsible. The officials then boasted that they had brought Chicago to heel. This must have been awkward for the administration. Now Chicago has broken, saying that Chinese authorities made it impossible to have an “equal partnership.” That is true of Confucius Institutes in every place. Again, may Chicago, in its boldness, have set a precedent.
‐ In the aftermath of the 2008–09 financial crisis, the New York Fed engaged in some self-evaluation. As a regulator, it had failed, and its president, William Dudley, commissioned a report on those failures. Columbia finance professor David Beim was brought in, and he advised the Fed that its problem was a culture of submission, that its regulatory posture was supine. The report was filed, hands were shaken, and nothing else happened. Well, not quite nothing else: Congress, in its wisdom, gave the Fed even more regulatory responsibilities, though there was little in the way of internal reform. A recent joint investigation by ProPublica and the radio show This American Life, inspired by secret recordings made by Carmen Segarra, a Fed inspector fired seven months after being embedded at Goldman Sachs, suggests that Professor Beim’s report had precisely as much influence as that of any other blue-ribbon commission: none. Goldman Sachs pointed out that Ms. Segarra had unsuccessfully sought employment at the bank on at least three occasions; ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein says that she had “applied for jobs at most of the top banks on Wall Street multiple times over the course of her career.” None of that is surprising: Our regulatory agencies tend to be staffed by people who failed to get the jobs they wanted in the fields they are expected to regulate. That is a structural problem without an obvious solution.
‐ James McClain, the Atlantic County, N.J., prosecutor and anti-gun zealot who had sought to make a grave example out of a black single mother of two, has relented in the face of public pressure. McClain had been threatening 27-year-old Shaneen Allen with up to eleven years in prison for the high crime of having brought a concealed handgun into New Jersey. Allen, a medical practitioner with no criminal record, had been operating under the mistaken impression that her Pennsylvania carry license was universally accepted. Pulled over in Atlantic County for a routine traffic offense, she soon discovered this was not the case. For almost a year, the error looked as if it would destroy her life. In September, however, McClain changed his mind, permitting Allen to enroll in a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program designed to keep nonviolent first-time offenders out of prison and free of felony convictions. Simultaneously, the state’s attorney general took action to help future Shaneen Allens, clarifying the rules governing PTI to make it clear that those in a similar position should be absorbed into the program as a matter of course. All that remains now is for New Jersey to amend its draconian laws, the better to fit a free country.
‐ After being released into the United States by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more than 70 percent of Central Americans who illegally crossed the U.S.–Mexican border since last October have failed to report to federal agents as instructed, according to the Associated Press. The source for that figure is an audio recording of a confidential meeting of ICE officials in Washington. Earlier, when administration officials familiar with the issue were asked what the numbers were, they dodged the question repeatedly, as did the public-affairs office of the Department of Homeland Security. The administration’s effort to withhold this information was both understandable and deplorable, just like its immigration policy.
‐ The teachers’ union in Jefferson County, Colo., has been fighting with a “hostile” school board for months, over the usual issues: Teachers want more money and less accountability, and the school board wants to offer them the opposite. That is a difficult position for the unions to market to the public, and so a cultural issue has been invented: Teachers are holding a “sick-out” to protest the allegedly heavy-handed interference of the school board with the curriculum. The board, charged by law with reviewing curricular changes, wishes to review the new Advanced Placement U.S. History program, a controversial set of recommendations shaped in part by far-left academics. The College Board itself has on several occasions insisted that final details are in the hands of local school boards. The school board’s determination to do its duty has led to reckless cries of censorship and — irony of ironies — complaints about politicizing the curriculum. Students have joined the teachers in walking out. In a great many high-school curricula, the history of these United States begins with the Middle Passage and ends with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and it’s not unreasonable for a Colorado school-board member to voice concern that the AP standards downplay the “positive aspects” of U.S. history (liberty, democracy, prosperity, saving the world from fascism once or twice). But this is really a protest about bank accounts, not historical accounts, and the students are being suckered.
‐ Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) gave a major defense speech that was brave, perspicacious, and refreshing. He unapologetically made the case for more investment in the Pentagon, highlighting the findings of the bipartisan National Defense Panel. As threats increase around the world, the military is deferring training and maintenance, laying off soldiers, and retiring weapons systems. Post-sequestration military budgets are unlikely to be adequate to accomplish America’s already diminished national-defense strategy. Rubio was right to call for spending what’s necessary to undo this reckless damage. Fiscal restraint is important, but the first federal responsibility is national defense. Senator Rubio made it clear he knows this — we hope other 2016 hopefuls do too.
‐ Rubio also, in a recent op-ed piece, noted and attacked China’s one-child policy: “one of the most disastrous and immoral social policies ever imagined in human history.” Relatedly, he described his new bill, dubbed the “Girls Count Act.” Its purpose is to provide aid to groups working abroad to register girls: to get them on the rolls, acknowledge their existence, and make them less vulnerable to trafficking and a host of other ills. There are real limits to how much we can advance freedom in China, but what we can do we should.
‐ Vladimir Putin does what he can to commemorate the Soviet Union. Communist nostalgia comes easily and often to him. In those good old days, a secret policeman like him could get on with the job, and no questions asked. Felix Dzerzhinsky was the old-timer who, after the Bolshevik Revolution, made the secret police the real power in the land. “We represent in ourselves organized terror,” Iron Felix boasted as he ordered the summary execution of tens of thousands of victims. After his death, the Dzerzhinsky Division was an elite police unit named in his honor with the wide remit of keeping public order. In 1994, the reforming Boris Yeltsin tried to drop grim historical associations by giving the unit a cumbersome identity as the Independent Operational Purpose Division. It’s an irony that Yeltsin chose Putin as his successor, and Putin has restored the former name of this unit. The clock goes back a little.
‐ In his speech to the United Nations, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of waging “a new war of genocide” against the Palestinian people. Maybe we should just give up and redefine genocide: “An action taken by Israel to defend itself from murder and annihilation.”
‐ Danièle Watts may be an actress, but no one was fooled by the show she put on when confronted by Los Angeles police in mid September. According to the Django Unchained star, she was merely “making out” with her boyfriend, Brian Lucas, in Lucas’s vehicle when LAPD sergeant Jim Parker accosted them. The couple claimed that Parker profiled Watts as a prostitute, since she is black and Lucas is white. Pictures released by the gossip site TMZ make clear that Watts and Lucas were doing more than innocently expressing their affection. Workers in a nearby office building called the police when they spotted Watts straddling her boyfriend, the couple apparently having sex in the front seat of the vehicle, the passenger door and sunroof of which were open. Since the pictures became public, even Watts’s onetime defenders have backtracked. “It’s like crying wolf,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, who had initially supported Watts. Indeed. Perhaps Watts should reserve her theatrics for the screen.
‐ Just as the U.S. Constitution has a secret clause requiring the president to pardon a turkey every Thanksgiving, New York’s mayor must manhandle a groundhog each February 2. This year the ritual went horribly wrong when Bill de Blasio visited the Staten Island Zoo (after being told where Staten Island was, presumably) and, amid the obligatory stilted banter, lost his grip on a squirming groundhog named Chuck. Now the New York Post has broken the news that Chuck died soon after of internal injuries “consistent with a fall” of “nearly 6 feet” (de Blasio is six-foot-five; Chuck’s last thoughts were probably a wish that LaGuardia was still mayor). Moreover, “Chuck” was actually a female named Charlotte, chosen because the available males were all too hostile (yo, these are New York groundhogs). So now the mayor can expect outrage over his marginalization of the transgendered, and since Chuck/Charlotte’s final prediction was for six more weeks of winter, he/she will no doubt be labeled a global-warming denier as well.
‐ Derek Jeter ended his career appropriately. In his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium, he used his characteristic inside-out swing to punch a clutch hit through the right side for a walk-off win against the Orioles. In the last at-bat of his career, a few days later at Fenway Park, he reached on an infield single, hustling to the last. The Yankee shortstop compiled some magnificent numbers over his career — sixth on the all-time hit list, between Tris Speaker and Honus Wagner — but what made him so special can’t be captured by the Baseball Almanac: He was a leader and a winner. In a low, dishonest period in the history of the game, Jeter exemplified the dignity and class of a bygone era. Well done, Captain, well done.
‐ With advanced degrees from Yale Medical School and Harvard’s School of Public Health, Elizabeth Whelan was an unlikely member of the conservative movement. Her research led her to challenge the legitimacy of the Delaney Clause of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, in an article published in this magazine in December 1973. There ensued her book, co-authored with Harvard professor Fredrick J. Stare, Panic in the Pantry: Food Facts, Fads, and Fallacies, which mounted a broad attack on many other federal food regulations. In 1978, along with Dr. Stare and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, she founded the American Council on Science and Health, then as now dedicated to injecting sound science into personal and public-policy decisions on such matters as e-cigarettes, hydraulic fracking, and pesticides. She served on two presidential advisory councils in the first Reagan administration but declined overtures to become FDA commissioner, lest ACSH not survive her departure while in its infancy. Dead at 70. R.I.P.
‐ In 2002, Representative James A. Traficant Jr., an Ohio Democrat, was expelled from Congress. He was only the second person to be expelled since the Civil War. He had been convicted for bribery. He was a colorful guy, with his wild hair and floor rants. He had the habit of ending his rants, or other speeches, with a Star Trek line, “Beam me up.” He was conservative in some respects — for instance, in his hostility to government regulations. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, the Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. U.S. regulations on the sale of cabbage — that’s right, cabbage — is 27,000 words.” The hair was a toupee: He had to take it off while being booked. He ran for office from prison (losing). He ran again when he was out (again losing). Traficant might as well have been from Louisiana, not Ohio. To a degree, he was fun. But he was still a crook. And crooks ought to be drummed out of public life, as this one was. He has now been beamed up, or somewhere, at 73. R.I.P.
‐ The Mitford girls, all six of them, lived their lives in public. Blessed with good looks, brains, and a title, they seemed to be playing parts as Communists or Nazis or writers in an ongoing British aristocratic cabaret. Deborah was the youngest. Mr. Right would not do, she confided; she would wait for the Duke of Right — and she got him in the person of Andrew, eleventh Duke of Devonshire. Looking after a great estate, a social ornament, a rider, and even author of a book, she added the role of duchess to the family cabaret. Dead at 94. R.I.P.
Learning in Office
Some presidents — Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan — come into office knowing what faces them and having some idea of what they must do. Others — Jefferson, Wilson, Truman, George W. Bush — are surprised by history and must improvise.
If speech is the man, Barack Obama has been reborn in recent weeks. The combination of Muslim terrorists ingesting one-third of Iraq and the Soviet Union 2.0 ingesting as much as it can of Ukraine seems first to have shocked, then to have sobered him.
His big event was his address to the U.N. General Assembly, where he presented two issues — observing and enforcing international norms, and rejecting “the cancer of violent extremism.”
The first was aimed squarely at Putin’s Russia, which he scored for invading Ukraine with proxy separatists and its own troops, annexing Crimea, and enabling the shooting of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. He pledged to support the victims, impose costs on the aggressors, and tell the truth about their respective actions.
His second point — “the cancer of violent extremism” — was addressed to the Islamic State and, importantly, its backers. ISIS, he said, “must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed. . . . There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil.” He also hit Muslim terror-funding fat cats: “those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.” Another welcome touch: There was no equating, in the manner beloved of the U.N., the jihadist menace with Israel.
Equally striking was Obama’s tone. Gone was the manner of the teacher’s pet stepping forward to be honored at high-school commencement. The president was serious, stern, just the polite side of grim. He was the principal reading out summonses for detention.
Obama spoke in a similar vein before and after his U.N. lecture. In remarks to the Clinton Global Initiative, he praised dissidents in Russia, China, and Cuba (singling out Berta Soler and the Ladies in White, “who endure harassment and arrest in order to win freedom for their loved ones and for the Cuban people”). In an interview on 60 Minutes, he told Steve Kroft, “America leads. We are the indispensable nation,” and added a reassurance for the Baltic nations, next on Russia’s hit list: “Article Five of the NATO treaty means what it says.”
Conservatives could legitimately fault him on various points — he seemed, on 60 Minutes, to blame his failure to foresee the metastasis of the Islamic State on faulty intelligence. These were not, perhaps, remarks that George Patton or Old Hickory would give at CPAC. But considering the venues, and considering the speaker, they were impressive performances. Obama came to office spouting the clichés of post-colonial lit and post-graduate Marxism. Now he is speaking like an American president.
Will his actions follow his words? The way forward from surprise can be long and tortuous. Jimmy Carter, smacked by the takeover of our Tehran embassy and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, never found his stride convincingly. All Obama’s instincts will lead him back to his past. He must remember that following his instincts helped create his messy present.
Great Britain, for Now
Scotland’s rejection of national independence has been greeted with deep relief by the current cross-party establishment in Westminster, in accord with Churchill’s maxim that there is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result. But though an eleven-point margin of victory in the referendum on September 18 is a better-than-expected result, it is not the unqualified show of support that a healthy nation-state should command. And it has opened more of Pandora’s constitutional boxes than it has closed.
That a referendum on withdrawing Scotland from a stable and prosperous U.K. was held at all is an unacknowledged tribute to the power of the national idea. In Europe, only ten days after the Scottish vote, the regional parliament in Catalonia approved a referendum, though it was quickly shot down by Madrid, on independence from Spain, while similar movements for independence — in Veneto (from Italy), in Flanders (from Belgium), in the Faroe Islands (from Denmark), and elsewhere — continue to percolate.
In Scotland’s case, nationalism was allied to the strong appeal of socialism. Leftist nationalism drew on a disaffection from Westminster’s central government, a disaffection that spans the U.K. and, in England, swells support for Nigel Farage’s conservative UKIP. And it roused Scotland’s working class, especially its young men, from a political apathy that has now lasted a generation.
The cocktail of passions and discontents was powerful and explains why the referendum reached the point of being held. It failed in the end in part because the case for independence made by the Scottish National party was incoherent. If Scotland were to survive and prosper as an independent state without England’s subsidy to its public spending, it would need to turn itself into a low-tax, low-regulation economy on the free-market model of, say, Singapore. But the SNP promised that an independent Scotland would be an even more egalitarian welfare and regulatory state than the U.K. The European Union, even if it were to have admitted Scotland, would not have played the role of sugar daddy to Scottish socialism, and the SNP could never explain how it would pay the bills for a Scottish socialist utopia that ran up against the lingering power of Scotland’s thrifty mentality.
Up to now, the English have always ended up paying the bill, with only minor complaints. In the aftermath of the referendum, it is uncertain that they will continue to do so. The slumbering British nationalism that awoke in Scotland risks sparking an angry English nationalism south of the border if the Labour party continues its fight to preserve the right of Scottish MPs to vote on legislation for England. English MPs enjoy no such authority over Scottish laws.
Such a contradiction poses a great logical difficulty. England is more conservative, more free-market in economics, more robust in foreign policy, more defined by the “muscular liberalism” of the English-speaking world than the other constituent countries of the U.K. Scotland, meanwhile, is protected from English free-market policies by the U.K.’s devolution of power to Scotland, which makes its own laws affecting a broad range of domestic policy.
Since the referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has qualified his “vow” to expedite further devolution to the Scottish parliament. He now proposes to link that step to a removal of the ability of Scottish MPs in Westminster to vote on matters affecting only England. UKIP, which is increasingly the party of English nationalism, opposed the vow to begin with. Labour supported the vow but now opposes the proposal to make the principle of non-interference a two-way street between England and Scotland.
Division on this question of fairness to England notwithstanding, the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats — Britain’s political establishment — have all issued what Gandhi reportedly once called “a postdated cheque on a failing bank.” Scotland and England will both try to cash it.
Scottish independence may not be on the ballot again for a lifetime, but the fight isn’t over. The margin was not a whisker, but it was too close for younger nationalists to abandon for the next 40 years a cause they think sacred. No long-term outcome — not even Scottish independence — can be ruled out. That realization should temper our relief at the wisdom of Scottish crowds.