You know, we miss the days when he was anonymous, too.
President Obama officially launched his reelection bid. He owed his win in 2008 to five factors. He was not Bush. He was historic (i.e. black). He would end global warming, and stop the rising of the seas (in the hopes of his most fervid supporters). He seemed politically unclassifiable (to independent — i.e., inattentive — voters). The economy was bad. Where does he stand on each point today? He is still not Bush, but Bush himself is off the table, enjoying retirement. He is still black, but he has already made history; the political dividends of that feat began to diminish the moment he took the oath of office. The globe and the seas maintain their courses; the children who stormed to the polls hoping to change them have either grown up some or lost heart. He has revealed himself, for all his compromises (staying in Afghanistan, keeping Gitmo open), to be a dogmatic domestic liberal, willing to sink congressional Democrats in order to saddle America with a social-democratic health-care system. The economy is still bad. Many things could reelect him: an improving economy, Republican mistakes, some unifying national disaster, the sheer power of incumbency. But he cannot rerun his first game plan. The votes just aren’t there — because the 2008 Barack Obama isn’t there either.
After Wisconsin’s state government curtailed public-union power, attention shifted to an election for the state supreme court. The justice up for reelection was David Prosser, who votes with the court’s 4–3 conservative majority. Unions poured resources into the campaign of his liberal challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, and the left-wing carnival that had made Madison a big tent while the public-union law was under discussion took to the streets. Conservatives feared that an organized minority could swamp an oddball judicial election and upend the law on appeal. A million and a half voters turned out, almost double the normal number; a lead of a few hundred votes shifted from Prosser to Kloppenburg on election night and the morning after. Then Waukesha County announced that thousands of votes had been excluded from its unofficial tally, giving Prosser a lead of over 7,000. The Left sometimes owns the streets, but people who have day jobs vote too. Rally and tally them all. The conservative resurgence may have the staying power it needs to undo years of misgovernment.
Charles Murray gave the 2011 Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute. “The State of White America” highlighted one of the main themes of his 1994 book The Bell Curve, while avoiding the race issue it evoked. America is splitting into classes that are behavioral, as well as economic (as behavior diverges, the economic consequences increase). The white upper middle class — the top 20 percent — marries, works, and to a great extent practices some sort of faith. The white working class — the bottom 30 percent — reproduces without marrying, is unemployed, and stays home on Sundays. How can the lowers improve? Not through the force of good example, since the upper middles “will not preach what they practice.” Murray calls this “non-judgmentalism.” The upper middles do judge the lowers, however: They have increasingly less to do with them as they bond and mate in associational purdah. That is what college is about these days (it certainly isn’t about learning). Benjamin Disraeli subtitled one of his novels “The Two Nations.” Murray is the modern Disraeli, employing statistics rather than Victorian plots.
As I write this, the president is poised to give a speech on tackling the deficit. Speculation on what he is going to say runs the gamut from the usual unserious “We need a serious discussion but I won’t mention any specifics” to “Tax hikes for everybody!”
To listen to liberals, we are through the looking glass now. I heard E. J. Dionne on the radio the other day bemoaning how the terms of the debate had changed in Washington. He’s still part of that old “consensus” that says the government should be regurgitating cash on the American public the way a mommy bird feeds its young. That we’ve suddenly abandoned the “more stimulus” era in favor of the “more cuts” era has liberals like Dionne complaining like the kid who upon arrival at the Twine Ball Museum shouts, “But you said we were going to Disney World!”
One of the amusing things about all this is that the same liberals used to say that Ronald Reagan’s “massive” deficits — which paid for victory in the Cold War, which in turn begat the “peace dividend” that fueled Bill Clinton’s deficit reduction — were the main reason why historians will view Ronald Reagan as a failure. At the end of the PBS “American Experience” documentary on Reagan, a saddened Anthony Lewis whines that we “paid a terrible price” for the victory in the Cold War, those huge deficits: “And we are continuing to pay for it, and our children are going to pay for it.”
In 1988, when E. J. Dionne was a reporter for the New York Times (please — it was just a coincidence that they picked someone with Dionne’s views to be their national correspondent; no liberal bias here), he penned an essay explaining how Reagan’s deficits were a fiendish plot to keep government from pursuing progressive goals. “President Reagan killed the golden goose,” the head of a group called KidsPac told Dionne.
And of course, under George W. Bush the deficit went up again and, again, we were told that this was a crisis of biblical proportions by the same people who today champion a deficit X times larger than George W. Bush’s. How many times did we hear how outrageous it was to pay for two wars with deficit spending? Now we’re paying for three and that’s just fine.
This whole “starve the beast” thing turned out to be wrong. The beast, it seems, can get all the nutrients it needs from Chinese food. Second, the assumption that liberals would feel constrained in their statist ambitions by a deficit was wildly optimistic. Barack Obama’s first budget deficit was nearly as large as the entire budget of 2000.
There’s hypocrisy on the right, too, of course. Conservatives have been on every side of the deficit question. But there’s an important caveat to be made on this point. To say that small deficits aren’t that great a problem doesn’t make you inconsistent when you say that massive deficits are a problem. Having a few too many beers at a barbecue isn’t a red flag. Waking up, with no memory of how you got there, in a flophouse with a toothless prostitute named Kandiii (“that’s the classy way to spell it!”) is more of a concern. But if you once said that even a few too many beers is a grave problem, but now don’t have any objection to a Fleet Week getaway with Kandiii, well, hypocrisy barely covers it.
– JONAH GOLDBERG
#page# President Obama has compared his political skills to the basketball moves of LeBron James. But sometimes his political skills look more like the basketball moves of a nerd on The Big Bang Theory. Speaking at a factory in Pennsylvania, Obama told a questioner who asked about rising gas prices that he should change his life. “I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs. . . . If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon, you may have a big family, but it’s probably not that big.” Then something — good sense, possibly — made Obama ask how many children his questioner had. The man answered, ten. Obama laughed, then added, “You definitely need a hybrid van.” Rude, clueless, mocking, patronizing: Obama incarnated a Republican attack ad on himself. All he didn’t do was ask whether the poor voter clings to his God and his guns.
On the same day President Obama announced his reelection bid, Attorney General Holder completed the administration’s most blatant national-security reversal, announcing that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 plotters will be tried by military commission. The White House had previously said that the commission trials would resume, but had not given a straightforward answer when families of the victims asked about the plans for these terrorists. Obama was trying to thread a needle: a nod to convince the national-security Right that commissions were a viable option, and a wink to assure his antiwar base that civilian trials would take all the big cases — in the hope of tucking the issue under the radar until after the 2012 election. But then defense lawyers for the 9/11 plotters complained publicly that the Defense Department had denied them funds to resume their preparation because, regardless of what the administration was claiming, the commission remained suspended. Obama chose to cut his losses. How happy was Holder about all this? We’ve seen defendants plead out with more grace.
The Rev. Terry Jones burned a Koran in Florida. Twelve days later, rioters killed U.N. staff workers and Nepalese guards in Mazar-e-Sharif. In the wake of the Afghan violence, Sen. Lindsey Graham expressed his disapproval of free speech in wartime, in which he was echoed by Gen. David Petraeus (who has at least the excuse of being on the firing line). Meanwhile many on the right saw the riots as one more manifestation of Islam’s bloody essence. Lost in the shuffle is a cardinal fact: The riots, like the worldwide protests over the Mohammed cartoons, were ginned up by political actors. In Afghanistan, the guilty politician was Pres. Hamid Karzai, who condemned Jones’s Koran burning in order to shore up his Islamist flank against the day the Americans leave. Muslim societies are often described as theocratic. They might equally be called caesaropapist. The mullahs, so far from running the state, are run by it, to keep the faction of the day in power. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, as another religion has it.
Conservatives who complain about the liberal media’s habit of treating similar incidents differently for political reasons have an a fortiori case with the Kill Team. This was a rogue group of American soldiers who in 2010 murdered Afghan civilians, mutilated their corpses, and took photos of it all. Now, recall the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 — which, terrible as it was, involved enemy combatants already in custody, who were abused but not killed. It inspired not just months of front-page coverage and op-ed fulmination but art exhibits, plays, novels, academic conferences, and the whole panoply of leftist outrage, along with angry demands for resignations and impeachments. One would have expected the Kill Team to cause an even stronger reaction, but after it broke in late March, it was a modest one-day story in most media outlets; the New York Times gave it 700 words on page A4 and then let the distasteful matter drop. Whatever could explain the difference?
#page# All praise the House Progressive Caucus, which intends to release an alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal program. They’re calling it “the People’s Budget.” (Strange how progressives continue to claim the mandate of “the people,” when the people continue to not elect many of them.) Don’t like the Ryan plan? Maybe you’ll prefer what’s in the People’s Budget: massive, massive tax increases, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth. Top income-tax rates are raised to 47 percent, taxes on capital gains are increased, taxes on dividends are increased, the tax on death is increased, and, perhaps most destructive, the tax on work is increased: Both the employer and the employee sides of the payroll tax are raised substantially — an enormous tax hike on everybody fortunate enough to be employed and a significant disincentive to future hiring. More new taxes on businesses of all kinds — from banks to investment firms to manufacturers — round out the agenda. As for spending cuts: National defense is gutted. And that’s about it. Instead of putting the brakes on our out-of-control entitlement spending, the People’s Budget spends even more. Rather than repealing Obamacare, as Ryan would, the People’s Budget complements it with a health-care system directly run by the federal government. Our sincere thanks to Representatives Nadler, Fattah, Rangel, and Frank, Senator Sanders, et al., for helping to spell out the options to the American people.
Every so often the Supreme Court uses a good method to reach a good result. Such was the case when the Court dismissed a recent challenge to an Arizona law that offered tax credits for donations to organizations that provide private-school scholarships. The plaintiffs claimed that letting people receive a tax break in return for donations that help students attend religious schools violates the First Amendment. A 5–4 majority of the Court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case: In other words, even if they were right, they had not suffered a harm that the Constitution empowers federal courts to remedy. In her dissent, the newest justice, Elena Kagan, demonstrated that she has mastered the misleading diction of modern judicial activism. The Court, she wrote, “damages one of this Nation’s defining constitutional commitments,” said commitment to lax standing rules having been made in a 1968 case. A win for judicial restraint, and for school choice.
President Obama concluded a free-trade agreement with Colombia — you know, the one Pres. George W. Bush negotiated more than four years ago? If passed, the pact would eliminate most Colombian tariffs on U.S. goods and, one estimate predicts, boost our exports by $1 billion per year. In 2008, Obama swore to oppose the deal because of “violence against unions” in that country. But Colombia was in a civil war; there was violence against everybody. Now, Pres. Juan Manuel Santos has promised to implement a labor-rights “action plan” — a sop to Obama’s disgruntled union buddies. As is so often the case, Obama’s performance cannot truly have pleased anyone.
The useful term “anarcho-tyranny” describes that stage of governmental dysfunction in which the state is anarchically hopeless at coping with large matters but ruthlessly tyrannical in the enforcement of small ones. An example recently turned up in San Gabriel, a middle-middle-class, mostly Asian suburb of Los Angeles. Following complaints from neighbors about noise, police and building inspectors entered a row of connected townhouses and found a large “birthing center” filled with women from mainland China. The women were “obstetric tourists” who had flown in from China to give birth, thereby securing the advantages of U.S. citizenship for their children. One Chinese website advertising such services enumerates those advantages: tuition-free public schools, student loans, consular protection, “preferential treatment in assuming significant leadership positions in the US . . . access to all American social welfare measures and medical facilities . . .” It was not this flagrant hawking of U.S. citizenship that caused San Gabriel to shut down the birthing center, though. Nor was it the shameless appeal to foreigners to come leech off our welfare and public-education systems. No: The proprietors had removed interior walls in violation of building codes. Some challenges to the rule of law the authorities cannot abide.
#page# Jimmy Carter put on quite a performance in Cuba. Many were hoping he would return with Alan Gross, the American aid worker who has been a hostage and prisoner since December 2009. He did not. After visiting Gross, Carter said, “He still seems to be in good spirits, professing his innocence.” That was unusual wording. Carter met with Fidel Castro, referring to him as an “old friend.” He said that Castro “seems to be in good health,” for those who were worrying. Carter also had the decency to meet with democrats. But, in a gratuitous twist, he called for the release of the “Cuban Five.” These are Cuban spies, held in American prisons, after their convictions for espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Unlike Alan Gross, they have been afforded every legal protection. One of them was convicted for his role in the Castro government’s shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996. Those planes were in international airspace, and three U.S. citizens, and one permanent resident, were killed. While in Cuba, Carter met with Raúl Castro for six hours. Afterward, this Castro said, “Carter is an honest man.” He is something.
Maybe the Obama administration was right to avoid saying we’re at war in Libya, since it’s not treating our military engagement with any strategic seriousness. The U.S. has backed out of much of the military operation and NATO is struggling to keep up the intensity of its strikes in our absence. If we are to have any hope of cracking Qaddafi’s government or forcing a favorable diplomatic settlement, we have to keep up the pressure on the ground and continue to destroy Qaddafi’s military. The rebels are a shambolic lot in the best of circumstances, and are utterly hopeless without relentless strikes against the pro-Qaddafi forces arrayed against them. President Obama seems intent on maintaining multilateral form over function, putting U.S. non-leadership above our ultimate goal of ousting Qaddafi. It’s no way to fight a war, or even a kinetic military action.
For decades Syria has been a fiefdom of the Assad family. Bashar, the current president, learned how to be a tyrant at the knee of his father Hafez, the previous president. Specializing in war and terror, they turned the country into an agency of Iran. Dissidents real and imaginary are murdered or disappear into underground prison cells for most of their lives. When the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes fell, Bashar assured the world that he was a true representative of the Syrian people and therefore safely in power for as long as he liked. A sort of rolling wave of protest is breaking over Damascus, Latakia, Banias, and numerous smaller towns. Foreign journalists have been thrown out or refused entry, and facts are hard to come by. The security forces are reported to have shot dead 170 demonstrators, a figure that is almost surely too low, and to have ringed several towns with tanks and mortars. Bashar’s apologists put forward the standard conspiracy nonsense that foreign agents and saboteurs (read: Americans and Israelis) are behind everything. Syrians are showing exemplary courage in their determination to be rid of a dictator who has no hesitation about having them shot, if need be, by the thousands as his father used to order.
Richard Goldstone is the former South African judge who wrote a report for the United Nations Human Rights Council on the fighting in the Gaza Strip that began in December 2008. The report was a travesty, laughable except that it has raised the campaign to ostracize and delegitimize Israel to a higher level. Elementary legal principles were ignored. Such investigation as there was served to blacken Israel. The report reached the conclusion that Israeli troops had deliberately killed civilians and were guilty of war crimes. Goldstone was thus endorsing the main plank of Hamas propaganda — that Israel’s self-defense against terrorism is actually aggression. After an exhaustive Israeli inquiry into the conduct of its armed forces, Goldstone has been obliged to reverse himself. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he accepted that civilians in Gaza were not targeted intentionally. More than that, he wrote that if he had known then what he knows now, his report would have been very different. Where does a country go to get its reputation back?
#page# Call it multilateral mission creep. Mere weeks after it succeeded in getting a no-fly zone established under U.N. auspices to protect rebels in Benghazi, the Arab League has made a similar plea to the Security Council vis-à-vis Gaza. What events have transpired in that prison strip to justify a similar “humanitarian intervention”? Israeli aircraft have targeted the agents of Hamas and the tunnels through which they smuggle Qassam rockets. Recently, more than 100 of these rockets were launched into southern Israel, and one of them struck a school bus. If a truly humanitarian intervention were launched in Gaza, we doubt it would be to the Arab League’s liking.
The Chinese Communists are cracking down more intensely than they have for many years. The Middle East unrest has spooked them, because it has inspired restless Chinese: Maybe they, too, can once more challenge their rulers? Ai Weiwei is one of the people who have been cracked down on. He is not yet another anonymous dissenter. He is one of the country’s most famous artists, the designer of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium, for example. In recent years, he has been detained and beaten, beaten so badly that his brain has hemorrhaged. As of this writing, he has been “disappeared.” He was in Beijing Airport, about to fly to Hong Kong, when he was dragged off. He has not been heard from since. The Chinese government is awfully bold, to “disappear” such a well-known personage. Then again, they have the current Nobel peace laureate in prison.
The ever-enthusiastic Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy has promoted a new law in France regulating the niqab, the veil that covers a woman’s face except the eyes. He thinks the veil makes them “prisoners.” It’s to be allowed at home, in hotel rooms, and in cars, but not in any “public space,” though freedom of worship might permit wearing it near a mosque. A policeman, or better a policewoman, may invite a veiled woman to show her face for purposes of identification but it is forbidden to pull the veil off in any circumstances. And much more small print besides. The ministry of the interior judges that a mere 2,000 women are affected, and most commentators think the law is only a gesture on the part of a state proud to be secular. A handful of Muslim women hurried to be the first to be arrested, and the fact that the police did almost nothing suggests that the law starts out as a dead letter. Someone of Algerian origin, Abderrahmane Dahmane, gloried in the title of Sarkozy’s diversity adviser until he was fired. The current niqab to-do coincided with a government-inspired debate on the role of Islam in France. A vengeful Dahmane condemned Sarkozy and his party as the “plague of Muslims.” He calls on Muslims to wear a green star, a reference to the yellow star the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Whether this should be sewn on the niqab he does not say.
Dalil Boubakeur, France’s most prominent Muslim leader and head of the Grand Mosque in Paris, wants the taxpayer to fund a major mosque-building program. Sixteen other Muslim notables have a simpler proposal: They have signed a joint petition asking for empty Catholic churches to be made over to them. As things stand, every Friday thousands of Muslims take over streets to hold their prayers in the open. They close local businesses, block traffic, and intimidate residents, trapping them in their homes. Marine Le Pen, the new head of the far-right National Front party, compares Muslims praying in the streets to the wartime Nazi occupation “without tanks or soldiers.” A shocked public seems to believe that churches converted into mosques would never be allowed to revert to Christianity, while in a Muslim country Christians could never hope to convert a mosque into a church. Marine Le Pen is expecting that same public to vote for her in the next presidential election — and they well might.
#page# The classic Tour de France bicycle race is famously grueling, pitting rider and bike against Alpine gradients and Mediterranean heat. Cyclists seeking an even greater challenge might consider the Tour de Pakistan, a 1,000-mile race from Karachi in the south to Abbottabad in the north, up by the border with Kashmir. Competitors face atrocious road surfaces, makeshift accommodations, and Islamic disapproval of their bare limbs and tight shorts, along with the everyday hazards of just being in a nation as riotous as Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, the organizers’ main problem is attracting foreign competitors. This year’s event hosted just one team from another nation: Afghanistan. The Afghans were, however, mighty happy to be taking part. Their team leader, 24-year-old Hashmatullah Tookhy, said to the Wall Street Journal: “In Afghanistan the situation is not good, and the security is not good. In Pakistan, the whole time we relax.” Just as your mother told you: There’s always someone worse off than you.
The U.S. Army’s former marketing slogan, “An Army of One,” was justly derided, but one British soldier comes close to embodying it. The British Army has awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to Sgt. Dipprasad Pun, a Gurkha warrior from Nepal, who singlehandedly dispersed some 30 Taliban attackers besieging his guard post in Afghanistan last fall. When the mujahideen appeared, he hauled a 50-pound machine gun off its mount and fired 400 rounds, then threw the gun’s mount at the attackers, tossed 17 grenades, and finally screamed “I will kill you” in Nepali while fending the survivors off with a sandbag. That plus a Claymore mine that he set off were enough to disperse the Taliban. On the other hand, readers of The Week may recall a recent item about a Gurkha soldier on a train in India who fended off three dozen armed robbers using only his sword. In view of that, it hardly seems cricket to equip Sergeant Pun with WWII-level weapons.
John Steinbeck at his best — Of Mice and Men — was a force. At his worst — The Grapes of Wrath — he was the liberals’ Ayn Rand, minus the fun parts. He also made up a lot of nonsense that he presented as fact, including a good deal of his celebrated Travels with Charley: In Search of America. As the writer Bill Steigerwald has discovered, the heart of that story — Steinbeck’s solitary travels in 1960, sleeping in a cramped camper-truck bed accompanied only by his faithful mutt — are a load of it. Mr. Steinbeck seems to have been one of the original champagne radicals, staying in expensive hotels accompanied by his actress wife, consorting with the high-and-mighty rather than the down-and-out. (During one stop, Steigerwald reports, Steinbeck had to be loaned a jacket and tie by the hotel management, in order to satisfy the dining room’s dress code.) Travels with Charley is partly an indictment of America — for racism, pollution, materialism, etc. — meaning that what Steinbeck is most guilty of is not just literary malpractice but fabricating evidence.
In early April, Bob Dylan gave concerts in Beijing and Shanghai. The performances included neither of his two signature political-protest numbers, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Coming as China’s Communist authorities were conducting their latest crackdown on dissent, this raised eyebrows, notably those belonging to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times op-ed page. Dylan had allowed the Chinese government to pre-approve his sets, Dowd alleged, on what evidence we do not know. Dylan’s defenders riposted that the man cut loose from his folk/protest roots in 1965 and revisits them rarely and reluctantly. On a schedule of around 100 concerts a year, Dylan last performed “Blowin’” in July 2010, “Times” in August 2009. Dylan has long been sunk in apolitical solipsism. It would have been gratifying, but astounding, to hear him emulate Icelandic singer Björk, who called for Tibetan independence from the stage of a 2008 concert in Shanghai. In any case Miss Dowd, if she wants to attack people for kowtowing to Chinese tyrants, might turn her gaze across the page to Thomas Friedman.
#page# “Snooki” is the stage name of 23-year-old Miss Nicole Polizzi, who shares a beach house with seven coevals in the reality-TV show Jersey Shore. Cast members in the show live the vacation lifestyle of young white-ethnic working-class Americans — clubbing, drinking, sunbathing, gossiping, fighting, and “hooking up.” For reasons unfathomable to us, Jersey Shore has colossal viewing figures: 8.45 million for the 2011 season premiere. Snooki’s extramural activities have included participation in a tag-team bout on Wrestlemania (her team won) and a minor conviction (fine, community service) for being, in the words of the judge, “rude, profane, obnoxious, and self-indulgent” on a public beach when drunk. This résumé so commended Miss Polizzi to the Programming Association of Rutgers University that they paid her $32,000 to appear in person for two Q&A sessions with students. Over 2,000 people showed up at the events, to their everlasting shame. They heard such pearls of scholarship as: “When you’re tan, you feel better about yourself,” and: “Study hard, but party harder.” Annual tuition fees at Rutgers are $23,466.
One of the lesser transient sensations of early April was the “gay caveman” story, as follows. From the late Stone Age to the early Bronze Age (2900 to 2400 b.c.) northern and eastern Europe was dominated by peoples known collectively to archeologists as the Corded Ware culture. These folk were very particular about proper burials. A male was customarily buried lying on his right side facing west, with weapons and tools around him; a woman was buried lying on her left side facing east, surrounded by necklaces, earrings, and household pots. Imagine, therefore, the bewilderment of archeologists in the Czech Republic on finding a Corded Ware male skeleton buried female-style. “The man was probably homosexual or transsexual,” archeologist Katerina Semeradova told an April 5 news conference. Two British newspapers picked up the story and within hours the Internet was alive with commentary about the gay caveman. In vain did more conservative archeologists point out that Corded Ware peoples were pastoralists and early farmers, several millennia removed from paleolithic cave dwellers, and that determination of sex from skeletal remains is an approximate science. The story was “too good to check,” and offered too many opportunities for tasteless humor.
Frank Lampl was born in 1926 in Brno, in Czechoslovakia, the son of a landowner. He was still a teenager when the Germans deported him first to Auschwitz and then as a slave laborer to Dachau. He was the only member of his family to survive. After the war, he was a “bourgeois undesirable” in the eyes of the Czech Communists, and they condemned him to more slave labor in the mines. In the Prague Spring of 1968 he escaped to England, where he rose eventually to become chairman of Bovis, turning it into a huge international construction company. An extraordinary triumph in itself, this was also fitting revenge for so much earlier injustice and evil. Dead at 84, R.I.P.
Mike Campbell was a farmer and a proud African — and no less so because he was white. Robert Mugabe saw things differently. In 2000, Zimbabwe’s dictator began a “land-reform program” — the seizure of farmland possessed by white Zimbabweans and expulsion of its owners. The seized land was awarded to Mugabe loyalists who lacked the ability to farm or the inclination to learn how. Resisting Mugabe is tempting death, so most white Zimbabweans resigned to fate. But Campbell wouldn’t cede his edenic Mount Carmel. He appealed to Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court, and was dismissed. So he appealed to the Southern African Development Community — and Mugabe loyalists kidnapped, savagely beat, and retained in indoctrination camps him, his wife, and his son-in-law — an ordeal that Campbell barely survived. Improbably, on Nov. 28, 2008, the SADC ruled in Campbell’s favor, though his head injuries prevented him from understanding the ruling. An African court declared Mugabe’s land seizure racist: an important symbolic victory, but only symbolic — law alone could not restrain Mugabe. In April, the Campbells were beaten again; in September their house was burned, and the intimidation became too much. They moved away, effectively dispossessed, though the son-in-law promises more litigation. Mike Campbell never fully recovered from his beatings. He died on April 6, at age 78, of brain injuries tracing to his kidnappings — a life sacrificed to the exposure of a tyrant. R.I.P.
#page#THE BUDGET I
A Conflict of Fiscal Visions
Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for next year is the most ambitious conservative initiative since — well, actually, since ever. It includes more than $6 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, as compared with Pres. Barack Obama’s budgets. If implemented, the plan would rapidly stabilize the national debt and then pay it down. Ryan proposes to repeal Obamacare, take on the massive health-care entitlements, privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, pare back agriculture subsidies, build on the success of welfare reform, and overhaul the tax code.
Not even a small fraction of this agenda can be achieved while President Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid retain their positions. The purpose of Ryan’s plan is to raise a standard to which Republicans can aspire in 2012. In the best-case scenario, their presidential candidate runs on most of these ideas, the party wins a mandate in the next election, and the work of making the government leaner and more sober can begin in earnest in 2013.
People over 55 have spent their working lives in the expectation that the government would fund Medicare at a certain level, and Ryan would keep that implicit promise. People under that age would get a new deal. When they retire, they would be allowed to choose among health-care plans, with the government pitching in to help them make their premiums. No longer would the federal government attempt to micromanage the price of medical services; no longer would it encourage providers to perform more procedures regardless of patient outcomes.
The Ryan budget fixes the budgetary incentives in Medicaid, too. At the moment, the power to make funding promises is divorced from the responsibility to pay for them: The states set eligibility and benefit levels, and the federal government foots half the bill. Republicans would instead give the states a fixed amount of money to spend on the medical needs of the poor. By itself this reform would not make Medicaid a less crummy program for its beneficiaries. (The program’s patient outcomes are indistinguishable from those of people with no insurance at all.) But it would at least enable state-level reforms and stop the fiscal bleeding.
The fights over the continuing resolutions to fund the government through the end of September were just skirmishes. Ryan’s budget begins a battle that will continue through the 2012 elections. The lines of attack on the Ryan plan are as predictable as they are spurious. We will hear ad nauseam that Republicans are savaging the poor and the middle class for the fun of it — as though the spiraling interest rates, currency crash, and slower growth that are the real alternative would advance the interests of the bulk of the population. We will be told simultaneously that the Medicare proposal is heartless and that Republicans will never follow up on it. The pro-growth tax reforms contemplated in the bill will come in for attack for favoring the rich.
Demagoguery isn’t the only obstacle. Americans do not know much about the federal budget, overestimating how much of it goes to foreign aid and how easily waste and fraud can be rooted out from it. The fiscal crisis Ryan means to preempt is not, for most people, a palpable reality.
If the political risks are big, though, so are the potential rewards for the country. We have reservations about the Ryan budget, as is only to be expected in such a far-ranging document. We would like to see the details of the tax-reform plan that emerges from the Ways and Means Committee before making a final judgment. But on the whole, the Ryan plan puts the Republican party on record for a government that is more modest in its goals, more able to match means to ends, and more respectful of the initiative of the citizens it serves. The last two years have been a forced march toward European social democracy. Ryan is pointing the way back toward a republic, and we are pleased to join his advance.
#page#THE BUDGET II
Cut Now, Cut Later
On April 8, when Republicans and Democrats announced a deal to keep the government open through the end of September, our initial reaction was to hail it as a modest victory. True, the announced $38 billion in cuts fell short of the $61 billion House Republicans had earlier voted for. Yes, the deal did not include all of the policy “riders” we wanted to see, such as a funding cutoff for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s biggest abortionist. But the deal included a ban on the funding of abortion in the nation’s capital, renewed the school-choice program there, and reversed the sharp upward trajectory of federal spending in the preceding years. The political risks a shutdown posed to the conservative cause, the relative puniness of the figures involved compared with the size of the overall budget, and the limits imposed by the Democratic Senate and White House all inclined us to give Speaker John Boehner the benefit of the doubt.
As details emerged, the doubts began to dissolve, and not to Boehner’s benefit. It appears that roughly half the cuts aren’t true cuts in discretionary spending, the rest being one-time savings and gimmickry. Even the best deals have some fakery. We were not born yesterday. But this much? In the new Tea Party–infused Congress? Republican congressmen were put in a very difficult situation. If they voted no, the costs of a shutdown would be magnified by the public perception that they had reneged on a deal. If they voted yes, they would be ratifying the business-as-usual that many of them had campaigned against. Republican leaders responded to the turmoil by continuing to trumpet the “historic” nature of the deal. Just three months into his speakership, Boehner has put a black mark on his record.
Conservatives should demand that Republicans do much better in their next test: the vote on raising the federal debt ceiling. Any congressman or senator who has not proposed a plan to bring the deficit to zero immediately this spring has, we think, a responsibility to vote yes. But it would be irresponsible not to couple that increase in the debt limit with reforms to put us on a sounder course. An updated version of the Gramm-Rudman spending caps that worked until Congress eliminated them; a cap on Medicaid spending; an end to the practice of automatically increasing discretionary spending every year: Republicans should push for these reforms, and more. And while they may not get all they ask for, they should not settle for fake reforms — or fake leadership.