We have to admit that President Obama’s line about not being consumed by personal ambition was pretty good. He should save it for volume three of his memoirs.
To the extent President Obama’s State of the Union address had a theme, it was an implicit one: that federal spending, debt, and the size of government generally should be of less concern to voters than all the ways that government can supposedly help them. The government can, on his telling, reduce tuition by nudging colleges to ignore the incentives that federal higher-education policies produce. It can help a small number of people stay in their homes by reducing their interest payments (which will do little for people who owe more than their houses are worth). It can strike a symbolic blow for fairness by making a very small and unrepresentative group of rich people pay extra taxes. It can bribe manufacturers into producing things here even when the economic fundamentals counsel against it. Obama wrapped up the speech by insisting that his is a lean and market-oriented vision of government. It would be more honest to say that the government of his speech is too hidebound to question its existing commitments and too overextended to promise attractive new ones.
President Obama began and ended the address by invoking the killing of Osama bin Laden, and rightly so: It was a great deed, and the man at the helm when it was done gets bragging rights. But note the moral he drew from it: “At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, [the armed forces] exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. . . . This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.” It’s as though Obama were cribbing Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, under the impression that it was a how-to manual. The patriotism and discipline of the armed forces deserve all praise, but they fight to protect higher ideals. These are not secret: “inalienable rights,” “blessings of liberty.” Could the president give the documents that invoke them a look? (They are how-to manuals.)
Pressure from his rivals and the press prompted Mitt Romney to release his last tax return, which confirmed things we already knew: He has a lot of money, he has given a lot of it to his church, and he pays a lower average tax rate than do some people who make less than he does. This last fact is a result of the features of our tax code: The payroll tax is capped, as are the Social Security benefits it is supposed to be linked to; and returns to capital are taxed more lightly than labor income, although not as lightly as other countries tax them. Romney also has assets in the Cayman Islands, and until recently had some in a Swiss bank account, though in neither case avoiding U.S. taxes. When Romney dismissed his labor income as a trivial amount and it turned out to be $374,000, we also learned, once again, that he has a tin ear about the politics of wealth. Romney has done nothing wrong, but if he is the Republican nominee he will need to buy himself a robust set of working defenses against demagoguery.
Gingrich has wrapped himself in Reaganism, referring to “the Reagan-Gingrich model” of government, and saying, in essence, that he and the Gipper won the Cold War together. By one count, Gingrich mentioned Reagan 55 times in the first 17 debates. (The other candidates combined for 51 mentions.) This has not sat well with many people, including Elliott Abrams, who was a State Department official in the Reagan years. For National Review Online, he wrote a piece pointing out that at a critical time for Nicaragua policy, Gingrich trashed Reagan’s approach from the right, calling his foreign policy a “pathetic” failure. Reacting to Abrams’s critique and others, Sarah Palin decried a “Stalin-esque rewriting of history” and “Alinsky tactics at their worst.” Look, Gingrich’s accomplishments — particularly his leadership of the Republican takeover of the House — are impressive enough on their own. He does not need to gild the lily quite so heavily.
“By the end of my second term,” Gingrich told a cheering crowd of supporters on Florida’s Space Coast, “we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American.” He added that when the colony’s population reaches 13,000, they should apply for statehood. In the face of such inspirational romantic uplift, it may seem churlish to inquire as to means and ends, but we’ll inquire anyway. How much will this colony cost? The Apollo program, which put twelve astronauts on the lunar surface for an aggregate of less than 300 hours, cost $170 billion in 2005 dollars — say around $50 million per astronaut-hour in current dollars. A colony would cost far more, even allowing for technical advances. Apollo did not require any of the major civil-engineering works that a colony would call for — to house the colonists well underground for protection against solar radiation, for instance. Disinterested cost estimates for a colony start at a quarter-trillion dollars. Newt insists that private enterprise would help with this gargantuan tab. Why? For what return on its investment? What, if it is not impertinent to ask, would the colonists do?
Although our economic situation has been glacially improving, the recovery has been much slower than the Keynesians in the Obama administration promised. According to their calculations, the massive stimulus was supposed to produce a miraculous free lunch, with every dollar of government spending generating an additional 50 cents of GDP growth in the private sector.
While devout Keynesians such as Paul Krugman have argued that the slow recovery is due to the insufficient size of Obama’s plan, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research provides the strongest evidence yet that the Obama stimulus was doomed to failure.
In the study, economist Valerie Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, has explored the links between government spending and private activity. Her goal was to estimate the output multiplier — that is, the factor by which government spending increases total economic activity — by precisely assessing both the direct and the indirect effects of stimulus.
Government can increase GDP directly by driving up demand but at the same time reduce it indirectly — either by discouraging consumption and investment, as private-sector participants hunker down in anticipation of future tax hikes to finance the stimulus, or because an increase in government spending can divert workers and capital from the productive private sector. The question Ramey seeks to answer is which effect predominates, the positive or the negative.
The nearby chart summarizes Ramey’s results, which use data from 1939 to 2008 and a sophisticated statistical method that allows her to control for a number of other factors. The red line is a composite that depicts the course of a typical spending shock (i.e., an increase in government expenditures). It has been normalized to peak at 1 percent of GDP. As the line indicates, spending shocks typically take a while to work through the system (in part because some projects are not really shovel-ready), peaking around the fourth quarter after the adoption of higher spending.
The green line, another composite summarizing Ramey’s results, shows the effect of this stimulus on private spending. It does not depict all changes in private spending, just the changes that are attributable to the stimulus. It mirrors the red line — decreasing immediately, finding a trough around the fourth quarter, and dissipating by the 14th quarter. When government goes up, the rest of us go down.
Ramey finds that the reduction in private activity does not completely offset the positive immediate effects of higher government spending, but the total impact is far lower than stimulus advocates assumed. On balance, an extra dollar of government spending increases total GDP by only about 50 cents, because of the private spending it destroys. In other words, the multiplier is .50, where 1.00 would mean the stimulus had no effect on private spending; 1.50 was the Keynesians’ rosy free-lunch prediction.
Ramey also studied the impact of higher spending on employment, finding that Keynesian stimulus does tend to create government jobs, but does not create any private-sector jobs. She summarizes: “I thus conclude that on balance government spending does not appear to stimulate private activity.”
Interestingly, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.8 percent in the last quarter of 2011, an improvement over the 1.8 percent increase in the third quarter. Private spending rose in the fourth quarter through increases in personal consumption, exports, and private inventory investment, while government spending fell by 7.3 percent.
This is exactly the pattern we would expect if our recent history were driven by the forces evident in the chart. Applying Ramey’s results, we should now be in that glorious moment when government spending falls, private spending increases, and the economy returns to normal. That pattern will continue if we have the sense to ignore calls for more stimulus.
During a debate in Tampa, Fla., Romney argued that if employment laws are tightened to make it difficult for illegal immigrants to get work, the illegals will “self-deport.” This proposal was greeted with howls of outrage and hoots of derision by commentators and politicians who plainly had never heard it before, in spite of its having been a staple of immigration-restrictionist arguments for at least two decades. Gingrich told Spanish-language TV network Univision that “I think you have to live in worlds of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million–a–year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality.” How is it a fantasy to suppose that persons present illegally in the U.S. will go back to their home countries if they cannot find work? Is this notion more fantastic than, say, that of a 13,000-member moon colony’s applying for statehood?
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently gave shape to $487 billion in military cuts, necessitated because Washington could not find a way to reduce the deficit by trimming the federal government’s amoebic periphery and so elected to gut its core instead. Under the cuts, the Army will shrink by 80,000 members and the Marine Corps by 20,000, bringing our fighting force to pre-9/11 levels. Our historically undersized Navy will shrink more, as seven cruisers will be retired early and the acquisition of next-generation nuclear submarines will be delayed. Purchases of the multi-service F-35 aircraft platform, a single basket into which the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have placed many an egg, will be slowed as well. This is in addition to a spate of potential base closings at home and a net disaggregation of American military power abroad. Decline is indeed a choice, and it appears that the elected class has made its decision.
The Constitution places a “wall of separation” between church and state, and politicians who breach this are theocrats. Right? Evidently not if you’re a Democrat. Obama aide Valerie Jarrett took to the pulpit in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in January to warn the congregation that the jobs of teachers, police, and firefighters “are now in jeopardy because [of] Congress — well, let me be specific — because [of] the Republicans in Congress.” Having issued the warning, Jarrett then used the church to host a voter-registration drive. In doing so, she likely caused the church to violate IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations from hosting activities that favor one candidate or party over another, or explicitly engaging in politics. IRS enforcement of these rules is skewed in the extreme, and there is a fair debate over whether they should exist at all — but oh, why bother? The lady is a Democrat, and that’s the last you’re ever going to hear about this.
Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for the Senate against Scott Brown in Massachusetts, is fond of Occupy Wall Street rhetoric and promises to be the scourge of the hated “1 percent.” During a recent interview on MSNBC, she declared that she is not a “wealthy individual” with “a lot of stock portfolios.” Pity the poor lady from Harvard, which pays her only $429,000 a year, forcing her to the extremity of earning a few extra bucks on the side by helping Travelers Insurance avoid making settlement payments in its ongoing asbestos-liability litigation. We can’t blame her: Somebody has to make the payments on the $5 million house in which she lives and pay the professionals to manage her $14.5 million net worth. But she spoke the plain truth when she said she doesn’t own a lot of stocks: Most of her millions are in mutual funds. Because that’s how the 99 percent does things.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie made two nominations to the state supreme court, stressing that they would enhance its diversity: One is Asian, the other black and homosexual. Christie said zilch in his announcement about the legal philosophy of these nominees. The second nominee is on record as a supporter of same-sex marriage, appears to favor the judicial extension of the legal incidents of marriage to same-sex couples, and believes that legislators whose religious convictions inform their political positions are violating the U.S. Constitution. So it seems fair to count him as a “No” vote on originalism. Christie is also trying to avoid having to veto a law establishing same-sex marriage by putting the issue to a referendum. Ducking leadership on marriage is disappointing enough; leading in the wrong direction on the rule of law is worse.
Much of the Obamacare law, lengthy as it is, practically consists of “details TBD by the bureaucracy.” Kathleen Sebelius’s Department of Health and Human Services has now determined one of those details: Organizations that offer health insurance will have to cover contraception, including abortifacients, the moral or religious qualms of those organizations notwithstanding. Churches narrowly defined are exempt from the requirement, but hospitals, universities, and other organizations with a religious character must comply with it. It would be no great hardship for those of Notre Dame’s employees who disagree with the historic Christian proscription of contraception to pay out of pocket for it. As Michael Gerson notes, the decision to allow no exemptions partakes of both radicalism and malice. Obama has also betrayed those liberal Catholics who supported, or gave cover for, him and his health-care law. The Reverend John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, is among those liberals upset by the administration’s action. Gerson goes too far, however, when he complains that “Obama has made Jenkins — and other progressive Catholic allies — look easily duped.” It is not Obama who is primarily responsible for that perception.
President Obama, cowering before the environmentalist Left, has “delayed” (read: “attempted to kill”) the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have connected Canadian oil producers with American refineries. There are many good reasons that Canadian pipes are preferable to Arab ships as a source of crude, but Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is a bitter opponent of the project, while the Natural Resources Defense Council lobbied Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to block the pipeline on the grounds that it “undermines the U.S. commitment to a clean-energy economy.” Republicans had been pressing the White House to get the pipeline moving, but the president protested that he needed more time to study the project — which has been in development since he was Senator Obama. The project he is studying is his reelection, and he has calculated that his prospects would be considerably diminished if he were to lose even a part of the green vote. Meanwhile, the United States, held hostage by these parochial concerns, is denied a new and nearby source of energy, thousands of pipeline-construction jobs, and billions of dollars in infrastructure investments — real investments, not Solyndra-style “investments.” Republicans should not let this matter drop, and indeed should make a portfolio of energy issues central to their critique of the Obama administration.
A handful of left-wing House Democrats have introduced the Gas Price Spike Act, under which oil companies would be taxed at 50 to 100 percent on profits deemed to be higher than reasonable (with the receipts spent on “green” energy). What does that mean, exactly? In prose that sounds like a saxophone solo, the act explains: “The term ‘reasonable profit’ means the amount determined by the Reasonable Profits Board to be a reasonable profit.” Okay, nothing to worry about there. The problem is that oil is a boom-and-bust business, with wildly fluctuating prices governed by fast-changing international events. Will the board give oil companies a refund when the price suddenly drops? No, that would make sense. Fortunately, the bill stands no chance of passage in a Republican-run House, but if the Democrats regain control, don’t count it out; President Obama has made clear that no one is entitled to any profits he finds excessive. But surely its sponsors realize that the bill would defeat its own purpose, because with the profit outlook dimmed, oil companies would reduce production and exploration, which would make gas more expensive at the pump, and . . . hey, wait a minute! You don’t think that was the point all along, do you?
White House memos recently published in The New Yorker reveal that the Obama administration leaned on economists, including James K. Galbraith, to monkey with their numbers and call for a larger stimulus in 2009. Which is to say that the president, a lawyer, and his chief of staff sought to overrule their pet economists on a technical economic question for purely political reasons. There is much else of interest in the memos, including the fact that the president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, doubted the plan’s efficacy and did not believe that it was even logistically possible for the federal government to spend the $1 trillion that the most aggressive stimulators wanted to see moved out the door. What remains unknown is just how many of the economists the administration contacted were willing to pick up their shovels for Obama.
The debate over SOPA and PIPA, two bills intended to combat online piracy, was in the main an intra-Californian dispute: Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley won. (The pictures have indeed got small, Miss Desmond, at least compared with Google.) The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act were well intended but defective pieces of legislation, investing federal functionaries with broad discretionary powers to block websites and disrupt online commerce while doing relatively little to police the thievery of films, music, and other intellectual property. Those conservatives who oppose the legislation, Paul Ryan among them, are right to do so, and the bills, having stalled in Congress, should be quietly euthanized.
The national unemployment rate fell from 9.0 percent last September to 8.5 percent in December. Some states did better than the national rate: Alabama, for example, which went from 9.8 percent to 8.1 percent — a drop three times the national average. What accounts for Alabama’s sudden success in reducing unemployment? State officials are crediting Alabama HB 56, the nation’s toughest state law targeting activity by or on behalf of illegal immigrants. In spite of numerous legal challenges, including a full-court press by the Department of Justice, most provisions of the law went into effect at the end of September. Illegal immigrants have been leaving Alabama ever since — self-deporting, you might say — to the benefit of lawfully resident Alabamians. Not to worry, though: Tom Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, continues to pursue action intended to annul or gut HB 56. With any luck, he will soon have Alabama’s unemployment rate back up above 9 percent again.
It doesn’t have the frenzied extravagance of the stimulus, or the obsessive control-freakdom of Obamacare. But in its way, the president’s proposal that all states make school attendance mandatory until a student graduates or turns 18 is a perfect example of the strain of grand-gesture liberalism he embodies: profligacy in the service of bossiness, with the fig leaf of technocracy and the real purpose of rewarding loyal Democratic interest groups — in this case, the teachers’ unions. It also exemplifies the liberal axiom that if X is good, more X is always better. In this case, however, more education would be worse, since it would keep unmotivated students in school to burden their teachers and classmates, not to mention the steep personnel costs involved. But a problem has been identified, and once laws are passed to address it and people are hired to put them into effect, the problem will ipso facto be solved. Or so the slow learners of Washington think.
The Obama administration and the countries of the European Union no doubt would like to stop the Iranian nuclear program, since it evidently has military purposes, but they cannot be accused of urgency. They are imposing new sanctions on banking and on the export of oil, Iran’s one economic prop. But these sanctions are to come into force only in July. In some quarters of the year, the EU accounts for 25 percent of Iranian oil sales. Greece and Italy, both sending economic distress signals, have favorable contracts with Iran. The oil minister in Tehran at once exploited this weakness, promising to stop the export of crude to “some” countries. Western and Iranian sanctions are therefore supposed to collide. He may permit himself the diplomatic equivalent of a belly laugh because India and China have made it plain that sanctions are of no concern to them. Together they buy about a third of Iran’s oil exports, rather more than Europe does.
Egypt’s current political arrangements are impenetrable. Protesters got rid of military rule a year ago, only to find that an identical military council holds power. This military council decreed elections that look like a fix because they were staggered, and truly complex in a country where half the population is illiterate. The majority of seats in a lower house have been decided by proportional representation on closed party lists. This arrangement has been an ideal opportunity for Islamists, long suppressed by the military and all the more popular for it. An Egyptian movement originally, the Muslim Brothers won virtually half the seats. The Al-Nour party, based on the even more extreme Islam of Saudi Arabia, won another quarter. Taken together, these Islamists are in a position to stack the parliamentary committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. This will determine the composition of the upper house, and the terms of the election for the presidency due in June. The various liberal or democratic parties have too few seats to carry weight. It’s a poor omen that the police have been cracking down on pro-democracy and –human rights groups. Hit with a travel ban, and fearing that arrest is the next step, six Americans working in this field have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy. The billion-dollar aid Washington gives the Egyptian military should perhaps be on the table.
Paul Krugman, the New York Times ranter who used to be an economist, is a sworn foe of “austerity,” and wrote in January that the United Kingdom is suffering economically because of an ill-considered austerity regime. “The infuriating thing about this tragedy,” he wrote, “is that it was completely unnecessary. Half a century ago, any economist — or for that matter any undergraduate who had read Paul Samuelson’s textbook Economics — could have told you that austerity in the face of depression was a very bad idea. But policy makers, pundits and, I’m sorry to say, many economists decided, largely for political reasons, to forget what they used to know. And millions of workers are paying the price for their willful amnesia.” Any economist — or undergraduate with an Internet connection, for that matter — might also have bothered to do what economist Scott Sumner did and look up the data, which inform us that the United Kingdom currently is running the third-largest budget deficit in the world, behind only Egypt and Greece: not exactly indicative of “austerity.” Its deficit is twice Italy’s, nearly twice France’s, and nine times Germany’s. And even though the United Kingdom wisely stayed out of the euro, it is being outperformed by neighbors with much more modest deficits, euro-afflicted Germany among them. The Swiss, being the Swiss, are running a small surplus. Any economist could have told you that — if he were not writing New York Times op-eds.
Another hunger striker has died in Cuba. He was Wilmar Villar Mendoza, a prisoner of conscience who was just 31. On hunger strike, he lasted 50 days. He leaves a wife and two young daughters. His widow, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, is a member of the Ladies in White, the group composed of wives and other relatives of political prisoners. The authorities are threatening to take away her daughters if she does not cease her activities. Hunger striking is a tricky phenomenon, morally (although virtually everyone hailed Mohandas Gandhi). But people with a benign view of the Castro regime should ponder what drives men under that regime to kill themselves in so agonizing a fashion, and with what would seem so much to live for.
The 2010 Irish documentary Pyjama Girls shows underclass Dublin teen females finding such color and companionship as they can in lives made dreary by educational failure, street violence, and drug-addled parents. One feature of these girls’ lifestyle is pajamas (in the transatlantic spelling) worn all day, in and out of the home. This fashion statement seems to have caught on in the Emerald Isle, to the degree that a welfare office in Dublin has had to ban applicants from wearing PJs to interviews. We applaud this attention to sartorial etiquette, and hope that Walmart stores will follow suit.
NPR reports that the employees of Hôpital Vaugirard, a Paris hospital, have accumulated more than 2 million vacation days since 2001. That’s on top of the five weeks of annual paid leave that each worker may take. Unsurprisingly, the hospital is facing bankruptcy. The culprit is France’s government-mandated 35-hour work week (anyone exceeding that limit gets an equal amount of paid comp time), along with the retirement age of 60 (which has the added bonus of creating pension-funding problems). The French, who invented dirigisme, would just as soon trade their baguettes for Wonder Bread as adopt Anglo-Saxon free markets. But not only are these policies based on the “lump of labor” fallacy (in which the amount of work in an economy is erroneously considered a fixed resource to be parceled out among the labor force), they also ignore the fact that some jobs, notably in health care, require long hours and flexible schedules. President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to undo these laws, but his unpopularity and the upcoming election makes it unlikely. He is running out of time to heal his country, which makes him very much like his country’s hospitals.
Fidel Castro, wearing his hat as pundit, called the Republican campaign “the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been.” When he ran in primaries, you remember, the politicking was far more elevated. Evidently, another pundit, Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, was much taken with Castro’s observation. Citing it, he said, “When Marxists are complaining that your party’s candidates are disconnected from today’s global realities, it’s generally not a good sign.” Nor is it one when journalists in free societies respond so cozily to a monster’s mischief.
The Spectator in Britain published a column by Sir Harold Evans that contained some stunning lines. Evans wrote that Mitt Romney had “assailed Ambassador Jon Huntsman, the sanest in the Republican asylum, for being able to speak Mandarin.” He went on to say, “This is double treason by the lights of Romney and his xenophobic Tea Party chorus in their tricky tricorne hats.” Needless to say, Romney has never assailed Huntsman for being able to speak Chinese, or even criticized him for it. The charge that the Tea Party is xenophobic is anyway merely wishful thinking on the part of people such as Evans. Also, the idea that the Tea Party is chorusing for Romney would be news to both Romney and the Tea Party. According to Evans’s official bio, “in 2001 British journalists voted him the all-time greatest British newspaper editor.” Just imagine what the second-greatest editor would have said.
Occupy Wall Street appears to have found the appropriate place for its death rattle: Oakland, Calif. The combination of a sympathetic, liberal population, an incompetent city government, and a severely depressed economy made Oakland a focal point throughout last fall. The hardcore leftists who remain lack a large encampment but continue to engage in illegal and violent demonstrations. Recently, Occupiers broke into City Hall and burned flags, bringing the cumulative damage from their rioting to $5 million. Nearly 400 of them were arrested. Rather than offering an effective police response, Mayor Jean Quan has put her trust in calling for the national Occupy Wall Street movement to renounce the rioters in Oakland, which they haven’t deigned to do. Always long on fanciful ideas and indolence but short on other options, the Occupiers may unfortunately be tormenting Oakland for some time to come.
TV actress Cynthia Nixon, who is engaged to another woman, wrote in the New York Times that her homosexuality was a conscious choice, though she conceded that for many people it was not. Her remarks stirred anger in what we are supposed to call “the LGBT community,” who cleave to the strictest genetic determinism in regard to human sexual orientation (although, that community being mainly liberals, in regard to absolutely no other behavioral or psychological traits). “We are born this way!” rose the cry. If Ms. Nixon was born homosexual, it took her a long time to realize it. She left her college-sweetheart boyfriend only at age 37, after presenting him with two children. In fact this trajectory is not uncommon among lesbians. Asked when they realized they were homosexual, males are far more likely than females to reply: “I’ve always known.” In this respect, as in many others, lesbianism and male gayness are very different phenomena — as different, in fact, as women and men. Human nature continues to resist simple-minded analysis.
Poking fun at Mitt Romney’s wealth, late-night comic Jay Leno showed pictures of the actual homes of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Then he announced a slide of Romney’s summer home, and up came an image of the huge and magnificent Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Viewers and studio audience laughed appreciatively; but Leno had apparently forgotten that, one, the Golden Temple is a holy place in the Sikh religion, and two, taking offense at trivial slights is now the U.S. national pastime, swiftly and eagerly embraced by all incoming groups. Sikh leader Dalbeg Singh has demanded an apology from Leno; India’s foreign ministry has lodged a complaint with the State Department; and Randeep Dhillon of Bakersfield, Calif., has filed suit against Leno and his network in Los Angeles Superior Court, on behalf of himself and a local Sikh community organization. With luck and strenuous diplomatic efforts, war may yet be averted.
When presidents invite American Stanley Cup winners (if you’ll pardon the redundancy) to the White House, the proceedings rival the dreaded Thanksgiving-turkey pardon for predictability: The president praises the champions, makes a few scripted jokes he probably doesn’t understand, tries not to stumble over the French names (Romney would have no trouble with this, while Newt would mispronounce them on purpose), and accepts a uniform sweater with his name on it. But this year the Bruins’ goaltender, Tim Thomas — the Cup MVP and an outspoken Boston tea partier — shook things up by boycotting the White House visit to protest big government, stressing that he blames both parties. Some critics called him a sorehead, but we think the Framers were wise to omit sports congratulation from the executive branch’s list of assigned duties. Thomas’s cause easily justifies any hint of rudeness; after all, if only for a day, he got the statistics-mad sports fans of two countries to switch their focus from shots on goal to trillions of dollars. And if a president can use his office to horn in on athletic glory, then surely athletes, who endure battles even more bruising than presidential primaries, can dabble in politics.
Joe Paterno became a football coach at Penn State in 1950, head coach in 1966. His stats were astounding: 409 wins, 136 losses, 3 ties; two No. 1 rankings; five undefeated, untied seasons; 37 bowl games, 24 of them victorious. But he was equally celebrated for his sportsmanship, an ethos that could sound almost Greek: “Victory is contained within defeat, and defeat is contained within victory,” he wrote in 1989. “That’s the way it is in the best of games. What counts in sports is not the victory but the magnificence of the struggle.” A high percentage of Paterno’s athletes graduated; money did not slosh around the margins of his program, as it does in so many others. But even the best fall short. The exposure of a pedophile ex-coach, who used Penn State facilities as the scene of his rapes, resulted in Paterno’s being fired at the end of last season. Paterno’s wrong was to have reported an eyewitness account to his higher-ups, not to the cops. Could he not believe ill of a former associate? Did his own devotion to the team persuade him that the team would take care of the matter properly? Athletics is a behemoth attached, somewhat incongruously, to higher education. Snobs disdain it, often for bad reasons, but its supporters can equally be besotted. Dead at 85, R.I.P.
The Sound and Fury
After a tumultuous and bilious few weeks, the race for the Republican nomination is pretty much in the same place it was before South Carolina and Florida voted. In the first state, Mitt Romney saw a large initial lead in the polls turn into a landslide for Newt Gingrich. The same thing happened in reverse in the second. Romney is again the favorite to win the nomination
Some of the attacks on each side have lacked merit. Pro-Romney ads have distorted Gingrich’s position on abortion and insinuated, falsely, that ethical failings drove Gingrich out of office. A pro-Gingrich PAC notoriously produced a film full of untruths about Romney’s business record, and Gingrich closed the Florida campaign inventing a bizarre tale about Romney’s insensitivity to Holocaust survivors. In the main, though, the candidates’ arguments against each other have been perfectly reasonable ones, having to do with their records, temperaments, and electability.
All of the remaining candidates say they will keep going until the convention, and they may mean it. (Rick Perry dropped out and endorsed Gingrich before the South Carolina vote.) We are not among those who fear that the continuing battle is going to leave deep wounds that weaken the eventual nominee. The Republican party is not seriously split over any major ideological issue: Nobody on any of the debate stages has been making the case for Obamacare, or social liberalism. In this respect its divisions resemble those between the Obama and Clinton factions in 2008, which mainly concerned who would be the most successful champion of liberalism rather than what that liberalism should do.
Romney, once again the front-runner, devoted his remarks on the night of his victory in Florida to a sharp critique of President Obama. What he has not yet done is find a conservative cause to make his own and fight for, as Santorum has with the defense of blue-collar families. Romney’s short-term imperative was to tear down Gingrich, but his larger challenge is to slowly build conservative enthusiasm for himself.