‐ The Left predicted that Jon Stewart’s succession by a biracial foreigner would be greeted with hate and fear from paranoid, partisan zealots. And they were right.
‐ Clean as a hound’s tooth, or a Hillary server. Representative Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), head of the House Benghazi probe, was told by Clinton lawyer David Kendall (of impeachment fame) that the private server on which Mrs. Clinton conducted business during her tenure as secretary of state was now blank, because she had wiped it after turning her job-related e-mails over to the State Department. She turned them over years after she left office and only when the House asked for them, and she herself decided what was job-related and what was not. Assume there was nothing — Benghazi-related, Clinton Foundation–related, anything-related — that might now embarrass Mrs. Clinton. The fact remains that she operates, by preference, secretly and outside regular channels. She did so as first lady, she does so still, she would do so as president. That may be the norm in jerkwater countries like Kazakhstan or the Congo, but it should not be the norm in the United States.
‐ Senator Ted Cruz is the first Republican to formally announce that he is running for president next year. We heartily welcome his candidacy. This publication is a longstanding fan of his, dating back to before he was the longshot conservative candidate facing down Texas’s political establishment in 2012. (He had a distinguished legal career before he entered national politics.) Since joining the Senate, he has been a relentless scourge of the Left and, frequently, of the leadership of his own party. This has made him a hated figure, not just in the Democratic cloakroom and the media, but also among elements within his own party’s establishment. Often, the criticisms made of Cruz are unfair at best, and completely unhinged at worst. The legitimate critique is that he has shown more interest in rhetorical flourish and tactical maximalism than in prudent strategy and policy entrepreneurship. Cruz is fearless, but some of that courage should be devoted to pushing a novel, positive conservative agenda. (Senators such as Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have outshone Cruz in this regard.) If Cruz does so, it will be good for his candidacy, and the country.
‐ Where does Scott Walker stand on immigration? He and his spokesman have, intentionally or not, clouded the issue. Walker, March 1: “My view has changed. I’m flat-out saying it.” Spokesman, March 26: “His position has not changed.” We know that he used to support “comprehensive immigration reform,” including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; now Walker opposes that path and his spokesman calls it “amnesty.” Near as we can tell, he remains open to offering illegal immigrants legal status. The questions Republican voters should now ask: What does it mean for enforcement to come “first”? It ought to preclude handing out visas to illegal immigrants before we see whether new enforcement methods work (and are allowed by courts to work). Is Walker still for increasing low-skilled immigration, as the legislation he once backed would do? If Walker has crossed the border into the hawkish camp, we are happy to welcome him to put down roots here.
‐ James Baker has been a virtual member of the Bush clan since he managed Bush 41’s presidential campaign in 1980. He is one of Jeb Bush’s foreign-policy advisers now. In March he gave the keynote speech to the fifth annual conference of J Street, the liberal lobbying group on Middle East policy, saying predictably liberal things: “The chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer,” which Baker blamed on Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric. Those lines could have come from the Obama White House, and Republicans reacted with scorn. In the aftermath, a Jeb spokesman stated that her boss thinks J Street is “wrong,” while Jeb himself condemned (on our website) “diplomatic scolding of Israel.” More cannot reasonably be expected: Jeb is not going to repudiate directly an 84-year-old family friend, even one who on this occasion has shown poor judgment.
‐ Senator Harry Reid (D., Nev.), not long ago the Senate majority leader, is retiring. Senatorial collegiality is the father of a million happy-mouthed lies, so allow us to say what the senators won’t: Harry Reid will not be much missed. He is the personification of much of what is distasteful and dishonorable about American public life, an intellectually cheap and fundamentally dishonest huckster who has grown wealthy in office, a man with the audacity to grandstand for campaign-finance reform at the very moment he was diverting campaign funds to his family members and taking dubious steps to cover up those transactions. Reid’s longtime friend and associate Harvey Whittemore was recently convicted of a fistful of felonies for making illegal donations to Senator Reid’s campaign. Reid used the Senate floor to demonize private citizens for holding political opinions at variance with his own, and when the Supreme Court stopped Democrats from punishing people for advocating political positions incommodious to Harry Reid, he led every Democrat in the Senate into voting to gut the First Amendment in order to enable the suppression of political speech. He lied shamelessly in 2012 when he fabricated a story that Mitt Romney had failed to pay taxes for a decade. He cynically bemoaned “obstruction” while he himself was the primary obstacle to most congressional action for years. Nevada should replace him with a better senator, and then spend some years atoning.
‐ It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know, they say. And it’s especially helpful if you know a Democrat. That is the finding of the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who reported in March that the former head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency, Alejandro Mayorkas, intervened to obtain visas for foreign investors with close ties to top Democrats. Investors in a Nevada casino project with ties to Senate minority leader Harry Reid, an investor in an electric-car-manufacturing scheme in Virginia with ties to Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Hillary Clinton’s brother all received Mayorkas’s special attention between 2009 and 2013. Although the report did not accuse Mayorkas of wrongdoing, it noted that he “communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders. Mr. Mayorkas’s conduct led many [CIS] employees to reasonably believe that specific individuals or groups were being given special access or consideration in the EB-5 program.” Mayorkas is no longer at CIS. In 2013 he was promoted — to DHS deputy secretary, the department’s No. 2 job. Reid pushed through his nomination over Republican opposition. It’s whom you know, indeed.
‐ “Boycott Indiana!” goes the latest hashtag-activism battle cry, though soybean futures and the Indy 500 do not seem to have much taken notice. The ritual denunciation of Indiana follows Republican governor Mike Pence’s signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making Indiana one of 20 states to have enacted their own versions of the federal statute, signed by President Bill Clinton 20-odd years ago, that requires government to proceed in the least invasive mode when its actions put citizens into conflict with their own religious beliefs. Among those calling for a boycott of Indiana is Connecticut’s Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy — whose state has an RFRA of its own, one that is slightly stronger than Indiana’s. RFRAs and equivalent legal doctrines have long been used to negotiate how to handle Indians’ peyote use in religious ceremonies and Amish buggy-drivers’ compliance with traffic laws. Critics fear that Indiana’s statute will be used to enable discrimination against homosexuals, and, indeed, protecting bakers and florists who do not wish to participate in same-sex weddings is part of the intent. Governor Pence, under pressure, has called for a clarifying amendment. But the law is a good one, unless the official coercion of midwestern wedding-cake artists is the great civil-rights crusade of our time.
‐ Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was released by the Taliban in 2014 in return for five high-ranking prisoners from Gitmo, has been charged by the army with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl walked away from his unit in Afghanistan in 2009. His defense is now arguing that he left to report misconduct directly to another unit, though his then-comrades call that preposterous. Bergdahl deserves his day in the military’s legal system. Even if he is guilty as charged, there was reason to want him back: Ideally we should punish our own miscreants, not leave them to the mercies or manipulations of enemies. But the Obama administration paid too high a price and coated the exchange with a sheen of misplaced triumph: a Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents, Susan Rice telling the Sunday talk shows that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” Whatever Bergdahl was thinking, we know how the Obama administration was acting — imprudently, and with poor judgment.
‐ Bipartisanship is nice, but when a bill passes Congress overwhelmingly, as did the recent Medicare bill that the House approved by a margin of 392–37, it’s generally a good idea to wonder why. In this case, the bill is a fiscally irresponsible effort that pleases most of the powerful interests involved in the issue. It aims to permanently replace something called the “doc fix,” a legislative patch passed every year for the past couple of decades to avert automatic cuts to Medicare reimbursements. Hospitals and doctors have long wanted a permanent fix, and they don’t want to have to pay for the cuts at all. The plan the House just passed is only partly paid for. Given the leverage the doc-fix situation provides, Republicans should have held out for a fully paid-for fix and real reforms to Medicare. Instead, they got only one good reform — cuts to Medicare benefits for wealthier Americans — along with a variety of other “reforms” that look likely to reinforce Medicare’s dysfunction, not fix it. Conservatives should oppose this bill in the Senate. It is not a disaster, but it is a missed opportunity, and a bad sign for how serious congressional Republicans are about entitlement reform.
‐ An equally bad sign is that the Senate Republicans are running away from Medicare reform. In previous years they have voted, most of them, for the same changes that House Republican budgets have included. Those changes would allow seniors to choose either the traditional Medicare program or a private plan, in either case supported by taxpayer funding but with incentives to shop for value. But the first budget from Senate Republicans since they took control of the chamber omits those reforms and, pathetically, says Republicans will accept President Obama’s targets for Medicare savings and seek to find them in different, unspecified ways. There is no evidence that Republicans paid a political price in either 2012 or 2014 for supporting Medicare reform. What appears to be on display here is cowardice as a reflex.
‐ The Republican Congress is raising defense spending over President Obama’s plans by . . . 0.2 percent. It took an uproar by defense hawks to get us that far: The initial GOP budget would have cut defense spending further than Obama’s. And the reversal of those cuts comes from an expansion of funding for “overseas contingency operations” rather than of the Pentagon’s base budget. Sequestration continues to squeeze defense, and will squeeze it more in future years. Sequestration was adopted, remember, as a political maneuver to force a bipartisan budget agreement on taxes and entitlements. That was a reckless way to treat defense, and it still is.
‐ The Interior Department has issued new regulations governing certain oil-and-gas drilling techniques — hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — on federal land. The rules themselves are largely redundant, though some provisions, including the mandatory disclosure of proprietary information, are troubling. What is most troubling is the source of the regulation: the federal government. In 2005, Congress passed a law explicitly reserving the regulation of fracking to the states, which have long taken the lead in governing energy production. But the Left, particularly the faction within the environmental movement dedicated to undermining domestic energy infrastructure (call it the Andrew Cuomo wing), is unsatisfied with that state of affairs, because the states, being more directly accountable than federal bureaucracies, are in the progressive view insufficiently hostile to natural-gas exploration. The hope is that if the federal camel can gets its nose under the tent in the form of Interior or EPA regulations, then these can be effectively converted into a national standard. The online publication Vox voices the conventional progressive view when it denounces the current regime as “patchy and inconsistent” with rules that “vary from state to state.” Other things vary from state to state, too, for example geology and hydrology, which is why a single national regulatory regime is irrational. From Pennsylvania to Texas, the states have shown themselves more than able to regulate gas extraction in a responsible fashion. Washington has not.
‐ Speaking at the City Club of Cleveland, President Obama suggested that all Americans eligible to vote should be compelled to vote. “It would be transformative,” he said. He mused that it would reduce the influence of money on elections. Maybe. But it would increase the number of uninformed and weakly committed voters, and could thus encourage candidates to stress image over substance even more than they do now. Not voting can be a kind of political position too, a reflection of satisfaction or disdain that the government should respect. It is with regard to the relations between the federal government and the individual that this idea would be “transformative,” and not for the better.
‐ A team of Justice Department lawyers discovered last month that, contrary to the proverb, hell hath no fury like a federal judge misled. Judge Andrew Hanen, of the Southern District of Texas, who in February issued an injunction temporarily blocking President Obama’s November immigration amnesty, was visibly upset as he demanded to know why DOJ lawyers had repeatedly assured the court that the Department of Homeland Security would not be accepting requests for deferred action under the challenged November order until mid February — only to reveal in early March that DHS had been accepting, and granting, applications (approximately 100,000 of them) all along. Did the government’s lawyers lie? Or did they make a months-long mistake? It was clear what Hanen thought: “When I asked you what would happen and you said nothing, I took it to heart. I was made to look like an idiot.” The administration, in short, is handling the litigation with the same respect for the rule of law as it did the policy.
‐ A bill to provide services to victims of human trafficking — people, most of them women, who have been kept in domestic servitude and sex slavery — and to fund new anti-trafficking police units, is being blocked by Senate Democrats, who object that the legislation will not permit public funds to be diverted to the coffers of Planned Parenthood: Moloch, too, is a jealous god, as is whatever deity watches over Democrats’ campaign coffers as abortionists fill them. Democrats first objected that they’d been blindsided by the bill’s inclusion of Hyde-amendment language, a common legislative prohibition on the public funding of abortions. When that excuse didn’t stick, Democrats protested that the use of the Hyde language was inappropriate here in that the funds for trafficking victims will be raised not through taxes but through fines paid by traffickers — as if funds in government accounts were not fungible, and as if public money and public funding were not public money and public funding regardless of whether the funds are raised through taxes or fines. Democrats are desperately looking for a culture-war issue to invigorate their dispirited foot soldiers and donors, but the politics — to say nothing of the policy — here favors Republicans, inasmuch as the public has consistently favored keeping the government out of the grisly business of underwriting abortions. But as the politics play themselves out, spare a thought for the trafficking victims, too, slaves in the land of the free.
‐ We’ve long known that Planned Parenthood and several other abortion providers and advocates are federally subsidized. Just how much money is being funneled to them through various federal agencies, grant programs, and Medicaid is not easy to find out. A report from the Government Accountability Office released in March at the request of several dozen Republican congressmen revealed the numbers: Planned Parenthood and its affiliates alone received $345 million from the federal government between 2010 and 2012. Counting state Medicaid payments brings the total to $1.5 billion. Representative Chris Smith (R., N.J.) found the right word: “unconscionable.”
‐ In Colorado, a woman attacked a pregnant woman, cutting the unborn child from the womb and killing her — the baby, but not the mother. The killer has been charged with attempted murder (of the mother). She has not been charged with murder of the baby — because the baby does not count as a person under Colorado law. The baby’s father said he had seen the girl gasp for breath as she died, but the coroner said her “lungs had never inflated,” in the words of a news report. So, the child was never a person (according to the law). How do you tell a mother, “Don’t worry, ma’am: Your child was never a human being in the first place”? The girl had already had a name, by the way: Aurora.
‐Cosmopolitan magazine recently reported the findings of British researchers who studied the reactions of unborn babies to cigarette smoke inhaled by their mothers. The smoke agitated the babies, providing “further confirmation that nicotine is terrible for unborn children,” reporter Tess Koman explained. The findings themselves are significant — but not surprising, in light of our increasing awareness of fetal pain. Astonishingly, given the venue, the phrase “unborn children” made an appearance. Mostly, they were “babies.” In the headline, they were “unborn babies.” Twenty years ago, that was the language of sentimentalizing anti-abortion zealots, as they were characterized. It’s now mainstream, and an eloquent refutation of the conceit that history moves only leftward on social issues.
‐ Yemen, that remote and mountainous country, is suddenly the stage for events that give ominous shape to the future. Cunning and unscrupulous as ever, Iran is extending its reach by means of local proxies, the Houthis, who can put into the field perhaps as many as 10,000 guerrillas. Like their Iranian sponsors, Houthis are Shiites, so this is sectarian warfare against the Sunnis, not a tribal issue. Storming Sana’a, the capital, the Houthis drove President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Sunni, into exile. American diplomats and Special Forces immediately cut and ran, abandoning valuable military equipment. Chief representatives of the two divisions of Islam, Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been engaged in a cold war. Recently enthroned and widely written off as too old and unwell, King Salman of Saudi Arabia interpreted the capture of Sana’a as a declaration of open warfare on the part of the Shiites. He has formed a coalition of ten Sunni-majority countries, including Egypt and nuclear-armed Pakistan, moved an invasion force of 150,000 to the frontier, joined battle with the Houthis in the southern harbor of Aden, and started bombing, all ostensibly to restore President Hadi to office. According to Saudi spokesmen, Iran is embarking on imperial conquest in the belief that current negotiations over its nuclear program already establish that it is the main regional power. It takes real effort to alarm Saudi Arabia and Israel simultaneously, but current U.S. policy is managing it.
‐ President Obama has decided to delay a planned reduction in the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. We have roughly 10,000 troops there now, and Obama had wanted to withdraw half of them in the coming months, toward the goal of a complete withdrawal by the end of his presidency. Instead, we will maintain 10,000 troops until the end of the year. The change was announced during the visit of new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who is both more grateful to the U.S. and more rational than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. Obama’s move shows at least a little flexibility in his otherwise fixed objective of “ending” the war in Afghanistan just as he “ended” the war in Iraq, with disastrous consequences.
‐ Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist from China, made a daring run to the U.S. embassy in 2012. Soon, he was allowed to fly to the United States, where he is in exile. In her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton cites the Chen matter as one of the human-rights achievements of her tenure as secretary of state. She and her staff did “what Chen said he wanted every step of the way,” she writes. That’s interesting. In his new memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer, Chen says that U.S. officials were extremely nervous about upsetting their Chinese counterparts: There was an important summit coming up. U.S. officials pressured him to leave the embassy and return to the arms of the Chinese government, says Chen. He was supposed to trust that all would be well. “Negotiating with a government run by hooligans,” he writes, “the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in.” It was only pressure from the U.S. Congress and public, says Chen, that won his trip to America. Perspectives on events vary, of course — but it seems clear that someone isn’t telling the truth here: Chen or Hillary. Even David Brock can’t make that a tough choice.
‐ Prime Minister David Cameron has kicked off Britain’s parliamentary campaign (voters will go to the polls on May 7). Cameron, who currently heads a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, is looking for a more tractable coalition partner, or a plurality large enough to sustain a minority government, or an outright majority. The last of these will be hard to find in a splintered field, contested by left-wing Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish nationalists (emboldened, not discouraged, by their loss in last year’s independence referendum), Greens, and UKIP. Buoyed by the defections of two Tory MPs, UKIP promises to leave the European Union; Cameron will hold a referendum if he wins but campaign to stay in; and Labour pledges to stay in the EU at all events (so do the Liberal Democrats, which would complicate the formation of any new coalition). Cameron believed the Tories needed “detoxifying,” that is, ridding of their associations with hard-edged conservatism, and his stance on the EU has been suspiciously mush-mouthed. But he has steered Britain capably through a recession and instituted real reforms, particularly in education. Everything that ails the country will only get worse under Labour or a Left coalition.
‐ “No substantive basis.” That is as far as the police in Charlottesville, Va., are willing to go in characterizing claims of a purported gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, breathlessly reported by Rolling Stone, that turns out to be a fabrication. The police, and most media accounts, have gone out of their way to avoid stating the obvious: that this was a hoax, one that Rolling Stone and others in the press were all too eager to believe.
‐ Three persons of the Left, two of them professors, assail the fog of prudery that has settled over the nation’s campuses, where it is not only forbidden to be offensive, but increasingly forbidden to discuss being offensive, or doing any other harmful act. Judith Shulevitz, in an essay in the New York Times, asks why students are “so eager to self-infantilize.” “Universities are not fallout shelters,” argues Columbia professor Todd Gitlin in the online magazine Tablet. “Deal with it. You’re at school to be disturbed.” Bluntest of all is a professor who blogs under the name “White Hot Harlots.” “I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs,” she writes, but “liberal students scare the sh** out of me. . . . All it takes is one slip . . . even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery — and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.” Like the cavalry in the last reel, love of one’s own mind comes perhaps to the rescue. Perpetual fear can breed only solidarity, not thought. May the lesson stick.
‐National Review has decided to go non-profit. When we’ve talked about this transition to people over the last several months, the reaction we’ve usually gotten is: “You’re not already a non-profit?” And: “What took you so long?” (What can we say? We’re conservatives — we hate change.) As everyone who has read one of our fundraising pitches knows, we have always functionally operated as a not-for-profit — we’ve never made money and have always depended on donations for support — although we have never had technical not-for-profit status. What we’re doing here is recognizing what has always been the case: We’re a mission and a cause, not a profit-making business. The advantage of the move is that all the generous people who give us their support every year will now be able to make tax-deductible contributions, and we will be able to do more fundraising, in keeping with our goals to continue growing in the years ahead. We are going to merge with our non-profit sister organization National Review Institute in the coming weeks, and after a few months will emerge as a unified National Review that is a non-profit. Thanks, as always, for reading, and for the amazing support so many of you give us.
‐ At Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic premiered a work by John Adams, who is arguably the most famous and important classical composer of today. The new work was Scheherazade.2, a “dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra.” Before the performance, Adams himself took a microphone and spoke to the audience about the work. He described its origins. The composer had seen an exhibition about Scheherazade. Then he read Arabian Nights, and was appalled by the “casual brutality toward women” depicted therein. At the same time, he was reading of brutality toward women around the world: in Egypt, Afghanistan, and India, for example. He made it clear, however, that we were not to think America exempt from this evil: You can “find it on Rush Limbaugh.” To this shocking defamation, much of the audience responded with robust and sustained applause — a one-minute hate, if not quite a two-minute one. There are Saudi madrassas with more open-mindedness.
‐ Archaeologists and geneticists at Oxford have found that a surprising number of genetically similar Brits live in narrowly defined regions that correspond to the tribal kingdoms that occupied the British Isles around the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the seventh century, after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Romans who once ruled Britannia left no genetic trace, though that may not be a meaningful statement, as one blogger astutely pointed out, Rome being so highly cosmopolitan and difficult to associate with a single ethnicity. By “Roman,” the authors of the study, published in Nature, seem to have meant, roughly, Italian or at any rate Mediterranean. In any case, the typical Briton, it turns out, is almost a thoroughbred, with DNA from no farther than Britain’s Anglo and Saxon neighbors across the North Sea. He is also the son of a people who went on to rule an empire and to establish their native tongue as the lingua franca of the civilized world. The nation’s dynamism over the course of its history is matched only by its rootedness and stability.
‐ In March, feminism descended once again into self-parody. At Britain’s National Union of Students Women’s Campaign conference, attendees attempted to work out how they might show approval without making any noise. When a delegation from Oxford tweeted, “please can we ask people to stop clapping but do feminist jazz hands? it’s triggering some peoples’ anxiety,” organizers fell over themselves to acquiesce to the demand. Alas, this remarkable concession to self-indulgence was not enough to stem the panic, and, before long, concern had moved from hands to mouths. “Whooping is fun for some,” scolded the leadership, “but can be super inaccessible for others, so please try not to whoop! Jazz hands work just as well.” We can only applaud the feminist movement’s attempt to bring more mutes into its fold.
‐ The question is: “Yeah, can I get a double espresso, a grande cappuccino, and . . . uh, one of those lemon bars?” Is the correct answer (a) “Coming right up!”; (b) a silent, sullen nod delivered with a palpable air of world-weariness; or (c) “Have you read Cornel West’s Prophetic Fragments?” Only Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, would choose (c), and unite the country in one bright shining moment of ridicule.
‐ The religion that is liberalism has come up with its own version of infant damnation. During the legislative debate over Indiana’s religious-freedom bill, one black Democratic representative said that a white Republican colleague’s son was “scared of me because of my color.” The child in question is 18 months old. Earlier that day, the baby bigot had toddled up to the Democrat and then run away in tears, and it’s possible that he was indeed spooked by her color, or something else in her appearance, or her voice; maybe his father had told the boy about the Democrats’ budget policies; or perhaps the youngster just started screaming and crying on general principles. Eighteen-month-olds are like that. And some progressives are like that about crying “racism.”
‐ David Piccioli worked one day as a substitute teacher, and it may have earned him $36,000 — a year, for life. Piccioli was a state legislative aide and then a lobbyist for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and he is now receiving pensions from both those jobs. But under a rule sneaked into a 2007 bill, if he spent any time as a classroom teacher, all his years working for the union could be made to count as years of teaching for pension purposes. Hence his one-day sinecure, which makes Michelle Obama’s hospital gig look like the labors of Hercules in comparison. One-quarter of Illinois’s state budget is currently being spent on pensions. And Democrats wonder why a Republican is now governor of Illinois.
‐ “Dog or Jew?” That is a pop quiz not from the Ayatollah Khamenei but from Lena Dunham writing in The New Yorker. Dunham, the gifted young basket case who writes and acts in the television series Girls, took to the pages of that esteemed magazine to trot out some vintage Catskills-worthy ethnic humor about Jews — they don’t tip, the men are ruined by their overbearing mothers — and asked readers to guess whether she was talking about her Jewish boyfriend or her dog. Big laughs, to be sure. Critics suggested that maybe a moment in history in which Islamic extremists planning the extermination of the Jewish people while comparing them to dogs (and monkeys and pigs) is not the best time to be trafficking in Jewish stereotypes while deploying canine comparisons. Some went so far as to call the piece anti-Semitic. Dunham can plea-bargain down to feloniously bad taste, in which she is a repeat offender.
‐ It’s a paradox of politics that it sometimes takes an honorable man to make a corrupt system last. Lee Kuan Yew was devoted to Singapore, and over three decades as prime minister plus two more of influential retirement, he worked ceaselessly to lift the city-state to a position of global economic leadership. That he did so with a strict brand of authoritarianism that banned chewing gum and homosexuality, punished graffiti with caning, fined or banished publications that ran critical articles, and allowed only a token opposition on a very short leash may have seemed necessary at first in a backward nation riven by ethnic divisions and great inequality; but it could never have been sustained for half a century without Lee’s personal popularity and his insistence on an honest civil service and markets that were thriving and competitive (though certainly not free from crony capitalism). Managing a transition to genuine democracy and civil rights will be difficult for Lee’s son, the current prime minister, if that’s what he wants; but in the long run it will be even harder to maintain the senior Lee’s mix of social repression and economic freedom without his charisma and genuine, if sometimes suffocating, love of Singapore and its people. Dead at 91. R.I.P.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Obama’s Manufactured Rift with Israel
The relationship between the United States and Israel is in crisis, and there is one person to thank: President Barack Obama. Upset by the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu, he has tried to use the Israeli prime minister’s tough election-week rhetoric to justify a dramatic diplomatic break from Israel, even threatening to abandon the country to the anti-Semitic mob that populates a good chunk of the seats in the U.N. General Assembly.
Netanyahu did tack right rhetorically: He warned his party’s supporters that liberal NGOs were turning out Arab voters in droves, and he said he did not see a Palestinian state emerging during his prime ministership. These are both reasonable statements, but Netanyahu was tone-deaf in talking about Arab citizens, and right to apologize afterwards.
President Obama absurdly said Netanyahu’s rhetoric about Arab turnout threatened Israel’s democracy. Never mind that Israel is the only country in the entire region that has democratic traditions, or that no one stopped a single Arab from voting, and in fact, the Arab bloc in the Knesset will be larger than it had been.
As for Netanyahu’s supposedly throwing the two-state solution overboard, as the administration has charged, that, too, is nonsense. His 2009 endorsement of a Palestinian state was premised on certain essential security conditions’ being met, and no one serious in Israel expects that to happen any time soon. The bitter fruit of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is a Hamas mini-state devoted to terror and the destruction of Israel, while the entire region is sinking into chaos and bitter warfare between Sunni and Shia radicals. No responsible Israeli leader would pull out of the West Bank in these circumstances.
Never before has the U.S. used a few words spoken by a foreign leader on the cusp of a highly contested election to blow up a longstanding alliance. But there is a much deeper cause of the split. Forging an opening to Iran is the Middle East goal to which President Obama has been devoted above all others, and it is much more important to him than the relationship with Israel. The terms of the deal have steadily gotten worse for the West — now we are essentially bargaining over how close Iran should be allowed to get to an inevitable nuclear weapon — but the administration still considers Netanyahu’s criticisms of the deal intolerable (even though members of the president’s own party are increasingly skeptical of the prospective deal, as well).
A bad Iran deal will be much worse than anything Obama has done to the U.S.–Israel relationship to this point. But the president’s manufactured crisis in the relationship still presents a serious problem for Israel, and for Israel’s supporters. It risks loosening the Democratic party’s attachment to Israel (at a time when the Left is increasingly hostile to the Jewish state), and if the U.S. goes along with an anti-Israel resolution at the U.N., it will be the most effective blow yet in the continued effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.
The upshot of Obama’s Middle Eastern diplomacy could be the taking of an enormous step toward normalizing a rogue state on the one hand, and toward making a rogue state out of a normal country on the other. It is perverse, but not surprising.