‐ If Bernie Sanders is tired of hearing about Clinton scandals now, he should just wait till she’s president.
‐ Hillary Clinton came out against the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration. What was interesting about her decision was not that she took it in order to mollify the Democratic party’s anti-free-trade Left, nor that she took it cynically, having praised the TPP as it was being negotiated (and while she was secretary of state) as “the gold standard in trade agreements.” No, what was most interesting was that almost the entire political world assumed her cynicism: not just us-folks on the right, eager to see her shame herself, and political opponents (“I did not come out against TPP yesterday,” said Bernie Sanders), but liberal media outlets (CNN counted, and announced that she had praised the TPP 45 times). That leaves, among her admirers, those who are too cynical to care about cynicism, and those who are so cynical that they admire it in others.
– junking its individual and employer mandates, its federal definition of essential benefits, and so on — while removing a lot of the distortions that federal policy has imposed on health markets since decades before Obamacare. Health-savings accounts would be expanded. States would be freed to convert much of Medicaid into cash help for poor people seeking to buy health insurance on the private market. The last two Republican presidential nominees both handicapped themselves on health care: John McCain by presenting a plan that threatened the employer coverage most Americans have, Mitt Romney by refusing to explain how he would replace Obamacare. Bush avoids both pitfalls — as the next Republican nominee, whether Bush or someone else, should.
‐ John Kasich likes to describe, in his presidential-campaign speeches, people “yelling at me” for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare as governor of Ohio: “I tell them . . . there’s a book. It’s got a new part and an old part. They put it together. It’s a remarkable book. If you don’t have one, I’ll buy you one. And it talks about how we treat the poor.” There is also a playbook, much shorter than the volume Kasich refers to. It has only one part and is also remarkable in its way. It tells politicians how to use cherry-picked quotations and sanctimony to distract critics, slap a little veneer on their images, and advance their ambitions. No need to buy one for John Kasich, he already has a copy.
‐ Ben Carson caused something of a stir in October when he suggested that, had the Jews of Europe been armed during World War II, the Holocaust might have been “greatly diminished” in scale. This claim is almost certainly overstated. The German war machine was a model of ruthless and all-encompassing efficiency that was capable of carving through well-equipped armies. So there seems to have been little chance that it could have been overthrown or seriously resisted by a relatively small group that, tragically, was unaware of its fate until it was too late. Nevertheless, the vehemence with which Carson has been denounced should give us pause. All men possess an unalienable right to defend themselves, and that right is not contingent upon their likelihood of success. Moreover, if the lesson of history is that ostensibly civilized nations are capable of the unimaginable, there seems little reason for free men to relinquish their arms. Carson understands this, even if he has overstated his justifications. One cannot help but suspect that the anger we have seen directed at him is intended not for his historical hyperbole, but at his eminently reasonable, if politically inconvenient, conclusion.
‐ Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, detailed a tax-reform plan as part of his presidential bid. He would cut taxes a lot: The Tax Foundation estimates that revenues would fall by $9 trillion even if the plan stimulated a lot of economic growth. Our coming debt crisis is so near that Jindal would have to outline spending cuts of the same specificity and magnitude for a tax cut so large to be worth pursuing. As large as the tax cut is, however, people in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution would see a tax increase. Jindal believes that it’s important for everyone to have “skin in the game” so that they do not think they can vote for big government for free, and so he makes sure that everyone pays something in income tax. But most people already pay payroll taxes, and it’s not clear that they distinguish between them and income taxes. If Jindal’s theory is correct, however, he has given roughly 40 percent of the electorate an excellent reason to vote against him. Good luck winning the requisite 84 percent of everyone left.
‐ Major Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve, spent ten months as an investigator for the House Select Committee on Benghazi before being fired in June. He says that he was being pressured by committee members to focus exclusively on Clinton, and that he was punished for taking a leave of absence to fulfill his military-service obligations. Chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) says otherwise: “It’s a damn lie,” he told NBC News. Gowdy says that, before turning to CNN to air his grievances, Podliska never mentioned them — during a period of counseling for deficient performance, when he was terminated, or during a months-long period of post-termination legal mediation. That mediation was scheduled to end October 13, which probably accounts for Podliska’s timing. Unfortunately, the timing, and not the accuracy, of Podliska’s claims is what will matter to Democrats and a sympathetic media, who, combining this latest news with House majority leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent Benghazi-related gaffe, are eager to dismiss the legitimacy of the select committee. Representative Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) has already filed a motion to disband it. But investigating Benghazi has always faced Democratic pushback. The more effective the investigation is, the louder the wailing will be.
‐ Like a real-life Carmen Sandiego, Sidney Blumenthal has a knack for turning up in hot spots — Libya, for example, where he apparently served as Hillary Clinton’s de facto political adviser, according to a new batch of e-mails recovered by the House Select Committee on Benghazi. This was no patriotic mission. The e-mails reveal that Blumenthal had business interests in Libya and stood to profit, literally, from a post-Qaddafi government. Furthermore, evidently as unconcerned about national security as his boss, Blumenthal sent Clinton classified information, including the name of a CIA operative — which Hillary then forwarded from her private e-mail address. And at no time during these activities was Blumenthal a State Department employee or an employee of the federal government; in fact, the White House had explicitly prohibited then-secretary Clinton from hiring him. So: A private citizen was advising the secretary of state, profiteering from war, and exposing highly sensitive intelligence information that he should not have had access to in the first place, all under the auspices of Hillary Clinton. Gosh, maybe somebody should investigate this!
went to work digging for dirt on Chaffetz. It doesn’t seem to have found any, but the intent was made clear by assistant director Ed Lowery, who wrote to his fellow assistant director Faron Paramore: “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out.” Some 45 Secret Service agents illegally accessed Chaffetz’s records, including 18 higher-ups who failed to report the violation. Accessing protected records without authorization is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to ten years in prison; Lowery and Paramore should do every day of that time for their role in what looks for all the world like a conspiracy to blackmail a member of Congress, or, at the very least, a conspiracy to obstruct his investigation.
‐ The House Oversight Committee held hearings about Planned Parenthood that fizzled. The job of Cecile Richards, the group’s president, is to defend the indefensible, and Republicans on the committee made it easier by focusing on Planned Parenthood’s finances rather than its morally grotesque practices. The questioning, varying greatly in tone and focus from one member to the next, was disjointed, and Richards escaped with nary a scratch (although Planned Parenthood announced shortly afterward that it would stop selling baby body parts and start giving them away for free — how humane). If Republicans want to get serious about such hearings, they should have a legal counselor doing the questioning who can develop a sustained line of inquiry. It will mean less air time for members but more effective oversight.
‐ Deportations are at a ten-year low, according to preliminary internal statistics obtained by the Associated Press. That can come as no surprise. Despite efforts to cast itself as tough on border security (for instance, by manipulating deportation statistics, counting among “deported” illegal immigrants those caught at the border and turned around), the Obama administration’s lack of interest in enforcing federal immigration law has been evident. In fact, after two executive orders granting amnesty to some 7 million illegal immigrants, and, as Katie Steinle’s death revealed, a disinclination to expel even repeat felons, it’s extraordinary that they can find anyone to deport.
‐ Remember Wendy Davis? She captured the heart of the national media in 2013 with her pink-shoed stand in defense of grisly late-term abortions in Texas. Voters were rather less enamored of her performance: She received a drubbing in the governor’s race a year later. Now, it seems, her star is rising again among her core constituency: NBC executives have announced that she’s the inspiration for a new TV drama in development. The show will center on an imagined post-political career in which “she goes to work in the law firm of her best friend — a black male Republican — and discovers that with no political future to protect, she can unshackle her inner badass.” It sounds almost as plausible and compelling as her erstwhile candidacy.
‐ Arne Duncan became secretary of education in 2009 at a moment of bipartisan support for education reform. Promise has given way to bitterness since then, and Duncan bears more responsibility for it than anyone else. He is a true believer in the delusion that centralizing education policy in Washington, D.C., will improve the schools, and he was in a position to act on that belief. He offered states relief from the federal government’s unrealistic regulations in return for their adoption of his favored policies. He moved to oversee schools’ disciplinary policies, and to make colleges lower their standards of proof in sexual-misconduct cases. These power grabs were bound to create a backlash, as they should have, and they have. Duncan is stepping down, and Congress should forthwith pass legislation that reduces the power of his successors.
Stocks and the Clinton Effect
Financial markets look to the future when pricing assets. If a 50 percent chance emerges that a company will be worthless tomorrow, the price drops 50 percent today. Accordingly, elections can be a time of great valuation stress for those in the crosshairs of candidates. If a candidate with a real chance of victory announces a policy harmful to a specific set of companies, the damage can be significant.
Drug companies research drugs for many years, and occasionally find a winner that can be marketed to consumers. The prices for the few drugs that are ultimately sold to the public are high, as they must be to provide a positive return for all research and development (including the many cases in which it leads to failure). This approach has been an astonishing success in the U.S., and new and innovative drugs for HIV, cancer, and other significant maladies have emerged from the for-profit sector in recent decades.
The high prices of the drugs that make it to market are nonetheless a regular target of progressives, who seem to presume either that private companies will spend billions on drug discovery without a profit incentive or that academic researchers are responsible for all the major breakthroughs. Neither presumption is correct.
On September 21, the Clinton campaign rolled out a plan to “hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable and rein in drug costs.” “This isn’t a new fight for her. She fought against special interests for affordable health coverage in the 1990s,” her campaign website asserts. Indeed, then as now, the Clintons took aim at the pricing of pharmaceutical drugs. For instance, in December 1992, the New York Times wrote that then-president-elect Bill Clinton pledged to “stop drug price gouging” by eliminating tax breaks for companies that raised drug prices by more than inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
In just the five days following her September 21 announcement of her renewed interest in putting a ceiling over the price of pharmaceutical drugs, the S&P Pharmaceutical Industry Index tumbled as much as 6.4 percent. Media accounts widely linked the decline to Clinton’s proposal.
The Clintons’ first pass at bashing this industry attracted the attention of the peer-reviewed economics literature. An April 2001 article in the Journal of Law and Economics, “Gradual Incorporation of Information: Pharmaceutical Stocks and the Evolution of President Clinton’s Health Care Reform,” used sophisticated statistical techniques to assess the impact of the first Clinton effort. Its authors, Sarah Ellison and Wallace Mullin, attribute market-adjusted pharmaceutical-share-price declines of over 50 percent to the Clinton policy push.
You do not need sophisticated analysis, however, to see the negative effect that the Clintons’ 1990s campaign had on pharmaceutical share prices. The nearby chart shows the cumulative decline in the S&P Pharmaceutical Industry Index for every day of U.S. stock-market trading between what Ellison and Mullin identify as the “opening round” of the Clinton pharmaceutical push on January 19, 1992, and the death of the Clinton health-care-reform bill in Congress on July 21, 1994. The cumulative decline during the period is measured relative to the index price on January 17, 1992, the last day of U.S. stock trading before Clinton’s initial announcement. The first day of U.S. stock trading after that announcement — January 20 — is day “0” on the chart, which on its horizontal axis shows the number of trading days that have elapsed since January 19. For context, the dotted bar marks the start of the Democratic national convention that would nominate Bill Clinton for the presidency, and the solid bar marks the Election Day that would make him president.
As you can see, the “Clinton effect” on the pricing of pharmaceutical shares is enormous. It reached a whopping –34.8 percent in August 1993. Meanwhile, the S&P was up about 7 percent over the same period. Even by the saga’s end in July 1994, the cumulative effect was –28.8 percent, compared with the S&P’s +8.1 percent. It wasn’t the whole market that tanked — it was the sector that the president of the United States and his wife had in their sights. The S&P pharmaceutical index didn’t regain its value until May 3, 1995. The Clintons’ chatter removed billions of dollars from innovative companies, and probably significantly reduced progress towards cures for numerous diseases.
The S&P pharmaceuticals index has for the moment recovered the losses it suffered after Hillary’s statement this September. But the Nineties episode happened when a “New Democrat” was trying to wean his party from its insistence that the era of big government should continue. One can only wonder how bad it will get this time, as Mrs. Clinton proposes anti-corporate policies in an attempt to compete with socialist Bernie Sanders.
‐ Compared with the range of milder mental illnesses on which federal mental-health policies have long been focused, serious mental illnesses directly affect a relatively small number of Americans: less than 5 percent of the total population. But the consequences are evident in our prisons and on our streets — as well as in those instances when untreated serious mental illness expresses itself in mass violence, as appears to have been the case in Oregon recently. One proposal that could help is available to Congress right now: psychologist and Pennsylvania Republican representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), which has garnered broad, bipartisan support and would do much to overhaul our ineffective, oft-corrupt mental-health bureaucracy. Murphy would replace the failed Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with an assistant secretary of health and human services for mental health, charged with shifting federal dollars away from useless, often duplicative programs and those that focus on mild forms of mental illness and toward those that concentrate on the most seriously ill. Murphy’s bill would also modestly modify privacy laws so that family members of people with serious mental illness can finally be involved in the care of their loved ones. There is no panacea for the problems occasioned by serious mental illness, but the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is a strong step in the right direction.
‐ Trinity Health Corporation, which owns and operates 86 Catholic hospitals in 21 states, has been sued, again, by the American Civil Liberties Union for not performing abortions. In June, a federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit that the ACLU filed against a Trinity subsidiary. Trinity follows “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. An attorney for the ACLU objects that “Catholic bishops are not licensed medical professionals and have no place dictating how doctors practice medicine.” But the ACLU is not a licensed medical ethicist. It may think it’s more qualified to dictate the ethics that doctors and the hospitals that employ them should observe, but they remain free to treat unborn children as human beings and to honor the women who trust them to do just that. Patients at Trinity hospitals “think they are getting medical advice but in fact are getting religious advice,” an abortion-rights advocate chimes in from the sidelines. In fact, they are getting medical advice informed by the original version of the Hippocratic oath.
‐ Pope Francis has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage many times. On his flight leaving the United States, he told journalists that, leaving aside the details of any particular case, public officials should be able to exercise religious freedom in the course of their duties. So it should not have been shocking when it turned out that while he was here Francis had met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky official who refused to let marriage licenses go out under her name because she opposes same-sex marriage. Liberals nonetheless were appalled, apparently having been under the impression that Francis secretly approves of same-sex marriage. They then decided that the pope must have been manipulated into the meeting. The Vatican press office, eager to stop the bad press it had begun to get, did what it could to downplay the meeting. That was ignoble: The press office is supposed to be a ministry, not a spin shop. Davis was asked to keep the meeting secret until after the pope left the country because Church officials feared it would overshadow everything else he said. Judging from the hysterical reaction of the press when it came out, they got that right.
‐ Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in California, saying that he did so because he would want to have that option if he faced dying in excruciating pain. Under the new law, however, physicians may assist suicides in the absence of pain, and may not do so if the patient is in great and chronic pain but not terminally ill. Nor may a physician kill a patient who is unable to take the prescribed life-ending drug — however much Governor Brown might want to have that assistance in that situation. We fear that successive sessions of the California legislature will address these anomalies. A week after signing the bill, Brown vetoed a bill to enable terminally ill patients to try potentially lifesaving drugs and treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In matters of life and death, the State of California seems to be putting its thumb on the scale, and on the wrong side.
‐ Owing to budget constraints, the State of Alabama has decided to close 31 part-time, satellite Department of Motor Vehicles offices. Predictably, this has caused an uproar. Why? Because Alabama last year implemented a voter-ID law. According to Jesse Jackson, the closures are evidence of an effort to “suppress the vote” of black Alabamans. “This new Jim Crow isn’t subtle,” Jackson opined. What Jackson and other agitators have ignored is that (free) voter IDs are available in every county in the state through the local election registrar and that the closed satellite-DMV offices were typically located in the same buildings as registrars. So the dark cloud of voter suppression amounts to . . . visiting a different bureaucrat’s office in the same building, but down the hall.
‐ President Obama’s Syria policy is in shambles. Bashar al-Assad, the dictator who crossed Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons, still rules the country’s coast, openly backed by his ally Russia. A $500 million effort to train non-jihadist rebels has been abandoned, after producing only a handful; we will now dump weapons on rebels, so long as they are not ISIS. ISIS meanwhile thrives, crucifying Christians and blowing up pre-Muslim monuments. Robert Gates, Obama’s former secretary of defense, outlined the bleak picture in a scathing Washington Post op-ed, co-authored with Condoleezza Rice. But the Syrian failure is only one facet of a larger failure. Obama won office by running against the Iraq War. He has extended that policy by drawing down our efforts and influence generally. Iraq and Afghanistan are nearly failed states; Libya has been ushered into chaos. His one achievement is a deal slow-walking Iran toward nuclear weapons, which will goad the Saudis to procure their own nukes. Even as Obama believed that he himself was the answer to America’s racial problems, he believed that he himself (son of a Muslim, partly raised in a Muslim country) was the answer to our relations with Arabs and Muslims generally. But the answer turns out to be: Try again in 2017, this hasn’t worked.
‐ Eighteen hundred years ago, the Roman emperor Septimius Severus had a triple triumphal arch put up at Palmyra to mark his successful military campaigning in Syria. Long abandoned, classical Palmyra was a wonderfully evocative site, the masonry preserved in the dry desert climate. Capturing Palmyra some months ago, Islamic State jihadis have been destroying the past piecemeal. The huge Triumphal Arch had no religious significance, but that has not saved it from destruction. ISIS has dynamited this noble monument. Cultural carnage, say shocked Syrians. The barbarians of ISIS carry out this pointless vandalism because they want the world to believe that they will stop at nothing. In this goal, they succeed.
‐ From 1979 to 1981, there were dozens of American hostages in Iran: our embassy personnel. Today, there are four American hostages. One of them is Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post. He has been kept in Tehran’s infamous, torturous Evin Prison for a year and two months. Some of those months have been spent in solitary confinement. Rezaian is evidently in bad shape, physically and mentally. He has now been convicted and sentenced — of what and to what, we don’t know. The dictatorship has not said. Meanwhile, we are doing deals with the dictatorship, and our president is shaking hands with the Iranian foreign minister at the U.N. We understand the case for ignoring this Iranian outrage in the interest of our broader policy toward the country. We just wish that broader policy didn’t seem to consist of ignoring Iranian outrages.
‐ A lunchtime peace demonstration consisting mostly of youngsters was unfolding in Ankara when two powerful bombs exploded within seconds of each other. According to one estimate, 97 people were killed and over 400 wounded. Those who commit murderous onslaughts of this kind take care to remain in the shadows, and that’s the case here. Suicide bombers are suspected, but whom were they acting for? Due to be held in three weeks, national elections are political sleight-of-hand on the part of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, determined to become president for life. Plenty of people are equally determined to prevent that outcome. Placards at the demonstration read “Thief, murderer Erdogan.” The government has been quick with accusations against either the Kurds, who are fighting for independence; or the Islamic State, angered by Turkish opposition; or, yet again, hard-core Marxists, who have waged previous terror campaigns. Also as usual in these anonymous crimes, those accused in turn accuse the state of being the perpetrator — it’s a conspiracy theory but not absolutely impossible.
‐ Carlos Manuel Figueroa is a Cuban dissident, a former political prisoner, and a member of the Movement for a New Republic. He is apparently a political prisoner once more. He jumped the fence at our new embassy in Havana and shouted, “Down with Raúl!” We, the Americans, immediately turned him over to state security agents, who beat him severely and dragged him off. He has not been seen or heard from since. Some of Figueroa’s fellow democracy activists say that he is, in fact, a U.S. citizen. In any event, we have this sad word of advice for Cuban dissidents: Don’t expect any help from the United States of America.
‐ For his birthday, Vladimir Putin organized and played in a hockey game, in which he scored seven goals and received a trophy afterwards. (No truth to the rumor that Barack Obama coached the other team.) Sharing the ice with Putin in the nationally televised contest were a number of former professional stars, along with a sprinkling of industrialists and bureaucrats. Presumably the other team’s goalie came from the latter group. Putin’s double-ushanka-trick accounted for nearly half of his team’s goals in the 15–10 barn-burner; we haven’t seen such lax hockey defense since the last NHL All-Star Game. On the ever-lengthening list of Putin’s macho stunts, being named MVP of a rigged hockey game ranks somewhere between sleeping with a 25-year-old gymnast and invading Ukraine; but, to be fair, he displayed significantly greater accuracy on the ice than our president has shown when shooting basketballs and throwing out first pitches. And this time, thankfully, at least Putin kept his shirt on.
‐ There is no Deaton school of economics, no Deaton’s law or famous Deaton model or Deaton’s theory of this or that, but Angus Deaton of Princeton, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, is no less highly regarded by his peers for that. Deaton, who describes his approach as “carefulness of measurement,” has spent more of his career gutting sweeping claims and broad theories than producing them. Best known for his work on refining data about consumption, Deaton has emphasized that economic actors are not homogeneous and that particularities matter, e.g., that rising incomes have a large effect on the nutrition of very poor households but the effect diminishes rapidly as incomes rise, and that agriculture subsidies and foreign aid don’t necessarily have their intended or expected consequences. Working with the World Bank, Deaton helped construct vast sets of data related to consumption and well-being (everything from calories consumed to life expectancy and education) with an eye toward helping those with theories about economic development and welfare answer the question: Does that actually work? His recent popular book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, chronicles the radical improvements in the material condition of human beings over the past 250 years and suggests avenues for bringing along those left behind. Progress, too, is in the details.
‐ On the economic front, it is literally the best news ever: For the first time in the history of the human species, fewer than 10 percent of us are living in extreme poverty, currently defined as subsistence on the equivalent of $1.90 a day or less. This is a remarkable, momentous, humane achievement: In 1990, that figure was 37.1 percent. In East Asia and the Pacific, extreme poverty has been reduced from 60 percent to 4 percent in a mere 25 years. Economic reforms in India and China, and those in smaller economies, have been critical, as has been globalization, which is held up as the world’s great villain by the Sanders Left and the Trumpkin Right. No change comes without discomfiture, but this is the golden age of worldwide human cooperation, a fact that has allowed prosperity to emerge in places where it never had been expected. Where does misery persist? Where the economy is run by central planners, where there are no property rights, where there is no rule of law, where there is no capitalism. Economic progress is not the only kind of progress — 1.3 billion better-fed Chinese still live under totalitarian rule — but it is a necessary condition for other kinds.
‐ Jewel Shuping, 30, of Raleigh, N.C., recently spoke to media about body-integrity identity disorder, or BIID, from which she used to suffer. She explained that nine years ago she found a psychologist willing to help her achieve her lifelong dream of becoming blind. The psychologist poured drain cleaner into Shuping’s eyes. Shuping, now blind, lost an eye in the process and says she is finally happy and fulfilled. Her case is a logical extension of the idea that a doctor’s relation to a patient’s body is like a mechanic’s to a customer’s car: an idea that has also contributed to the movements for rights to physician-assisted suicide and to sex-reassignment surgery. Increasingly it is the medical profession that has an integrity identity disorder.
‐ The latest thing in educational administration is “recess consultants.” Officials have noticed that the only part of grade-schoolers’ days that is not organized and structured and dictated by the authorities is recess, and they have evidently resolved to put a stop to it. Hence the consultants. These Michelle Obamas of the playground ban competitive games, like soccer or tag, and replace them with cooperative activities that are as popular as tofu. The consultants draw up a weekly list of approved games, explain the rules to the bewildered pre-teens, and enforce them vigilantly to make sure that every stray comment is encouraging and every activity is “inclusive.” The results are about what you’d expect. It brings to mind Mark Twain’s maxim that “work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do [and] play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do,” though we will admit this: Over-regulated, authoritarian playground activities will give kids excellent preparation for life in post-Obama America.
– especially on September 1, 1939. In a hotel in Katowice on the Polish border, she heard a noise outside, and looking out of the window saw the German tanks. “The Second World War has started,” she was able to break the news. Are you sure? her editor asked. She settled his doubts by holding the receiver out of the window so he could for himself hear the massive armored rumble on its way east. And then she was in Beirut, when a Russian ship left with a full complement of crew but also leaving one sailor on shore. Clare brilliantly worked out that the KGB was smuggling the Soviet arch-spy Kim Philby to safety in Moscow. Be your age, Claire, a disbelieving editor said this time, agreeing only after she threatened to resign to publish a story that would enter the history books. In retirement in Hong Kong, this living legend has just celebrated her 104th birthday.
‐ On March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, John Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan, in office only ten weeks. At Reagan’s side was Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, who pushed him into the presidential limousine and onto the floor, and told the driver to take them back to the White House. Reagan’s breathing was labored, and blood formed at his mouth. Parr quickly redirected the driver to George Washington University Hospital. “Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will try to serve him every way I can,” Reagan wrote in his diary eleven days later. Parr, too, saw Providence at work, both in the president’s survival and in his own ability to help. He retired from the Secret Service in 1985 and entered the ministry, receiving a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola University in Baltimore and working as co-pastor of a non-denominational church in Washington. He helped save one man’s life and hoped to save souls. He exemplified resourcefulness, an American virtue. Dead at 85. R.I.P.
Sometimes duty calls.
Paul Ryan long has told people that he has no interest in being speaker of the House, and he has been completely sincere. He wants to be a legislator and truly prizes his perch as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where he can craft tax and entitlement legislation, and get it signed into law if a Republican is elected president next year.
But his party needs Ryan in a different role. With Speaker John Boehner stepping down and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bowing out of the race to be his successor, no one is better equipped to build a working Republican majority than Ryan is.
House Republicans are angrily divided, and no faction is blameless. Too many Republicans have been content with an agenda that merely attempts to get business done on time, and to please business lobbies. (Those lobbies are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but conservatism is not reducible to their preferences.) Too many other Republicans think that leadership consists of unrealistic demands combined with strong rhetoric.
More than any other prominent House Republican, Ryan has pushed back against both tendencies. He has instead outlined a practical agenda and done the hard work of building support for it from all corners of the party. Although he has sided with leadership in tactical disputes in recent years, he has consistently pushed the envelope on substance, understanding that the party needs a serious policy agenda to counter that of the Democrats. He is a knowledgeable and effective defender of conservative policy. Sometimes we think he is wrong on both substantive and tactical matters, but we never doubt that he is wrong for honorable reasons. This is why Ryan is trusted by most House Republicans, whatever their opinion of the Boehner era.
For Ryan to lead House Republicans would require some accommodations. He would have to commit to keeping immigration legislation that most Republicans oppose off the floor, whatever his own opinion of it. He would have to receive assurances from many of the Republicans who vexed Boehner that they will stay with the party on procedural votes, in return for assurances that he will not ride roughshod over them. (Note that “many” is not the same as “all”: Republicans need a working majority, not unanimity.) And with pre-teens at home, Ryan would surely want to remold the responsibilities of the speakership to involve less fundraising travel.
With those provisos, though, Ryan ought to run for speaker, and his colleagues ought to support him. To be an effective force in moving public policy in a conservative direction, House Republicans need both unity and direction. Ryan can supply more of each than they have had for some time. Ryan is understandably chary to potentially take on an office that made John Boehner so miserable. But the stakes are larger than his qualms.
The massacre at Umpqua Community College in Oregon proceeded along lines that are by now all too familiar: the socially and romantically frustrated young man, almost certainly mentally disturbed; the channeling of that mental perturbation into various political and ideological enthusiasms, in this case ranging from admiration for Irish Republican Army terrorists to what turned out to be a homicidal antipathy toward Christians; the disorganized family; people familiar with the young man and his family being not entirely surprised by the rampage.
Also familiar were the political reactions: the gun-control advocates rushing to the microphones before the blood had even cooled; the president’s cheap moral preening and his threat of unilateral executive action; Hillary Rodham Clinton attempting to reinvigorate her stagnating presidential campaign with talk of holding firearms manufacturers responsible for the crimes of people with whom they have no relationship whatsoever; Senator Bernie Sanders executing a brisk about-face on the same question; a hundred thousand fundraising appeals.
And, of course, nothing at all that has anything to do with the reality of murder in America.
Spectaculars like the killing spree in Oregon are in the main failures of the mental-health system rather than failures of firearms regulation. In very few of those killings would any of the proposals under consideration by Barack Obama et al. have made any difference. Many of the killers could and did pass background checks; others simply took guns from their parents or other legal owners. In many of those cases, the killers had been flagged for mental-health problems by their families and schools, and what happened next was — approximately nothing.
But even assuming vast improvements in the efficacy of our mental-health system, preventing Oregon-style killing sprees would have very little aggregate effect on homicides in the United States, because those episodes are, despite the excited wall-to-wall media coverage they inspire, exceedingly rare. Most American murders are the result of ordinary criminals’ going about ordinary criminal business; in some jurisdictions, more than 90 percent of murders are committed by people with prior criminal records — which is to say, this isn’t a failure of gun control but a failure of our criminal-justice, probation, and parole systems. (And a failure of families and communities and individuals.) It takes a special kind of foolishness to call for more gun control when a murder is committed by a man out on parole for aggravated assault with a firearm. It takes another kind of foolishness to call for new straw-purchase rules when Illinois, California, and — notably — Oregon generally fail to prosecute the straw-buyers they identify.
Most gun deaths in the United States are suicides. We have fewer than half of the murders we had as recently as the 1990s. Practically none of the murders we do have are committed with so-called assault weapons, and vanishingly few of them are committed by spree killers shooting up schools or movie theaters. President Obama’s moral theater isn’t going to change any of that — and he has never lifted so much as a pinky finger to address the real murder problem in the United States, which is much better represented in Chicago than at Umpqua Community College. If the president wants to get serious about crime, he will find Republicans eager to make common cause. But he isn’t serious about it, and neither is Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders.