The case for Newt is that he’s nothing like that guy who used to be governor of Massachusetts. The case for Romney is very similar.
After having been written off last summer when most of his aides quit, Newt Gingrich is rising in the polls and has won the Manchester Union Leader’s endorsement. If he goes on to win the nomination, the parallel to John McCain’s 2008 campaign will be uncanny. The Union Leader argued that Republicans should look not just for a candidate who can beat Obama but for one who has innovative ideas. Primary voters may place more weight on electability. But it’s certainly true that Gingrich does not need to prove that he is a creative thinker. What he needs to prove is that he is capable of a maturity and steadiness that he did not show either in his time as Speaker or in the early days of this campaign. Admirers of his intellect and energy must certainly hope so.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, among others, has assailed Gingrich for saying that the only “humane” policy toward illegal immigrants is to give legal status to those with deep roots in their communities — those who have been here “25 years,” he said illustratively. But none of the candidates has categorically excluded offering a limited amnesty after we are sure that the inflow of illegal immigrants has largely stopped. Bachmann herself has been open to the idea. The real flaws of Gingrich’s policy lie elsewhere. His proposal for a program to import “temporary workers” assumes, implausibly, that we will not grant U.S. citizenship to their children and that we will maintain a large legal labor force with no right to vote. His amnesty would be administered, he says, by local community boards deciding which of 11 million illegal immigrants should stay. We await the day when Gingrich’s thoughts turn as serious as his instincts are humane.
When Bachmann walked onstage to greet Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s Late Night, the house band played a 26-year-old pop song whose title suggested that she was a spiteful or lewd woman, dishonest to her fundament. Memo to conservatives: They hate you, and this will happen forever — not every time, maybe, but every so often. We have four options: Avoiding their shows is self-ghettoization; appearing and saying nothing is self-dhimmitude; fighting snark with snark is the high-wire act, perfected by WFB but open to few of us. Option four is to do what Bachmann did: protest, which prompted apologies from Fallon and an NBC veep. N.B.: Kudos to Bachmann colleague Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.), who called the musical ambush “insulting and inappropriate.”
Barney Frank will be remembered as the first House member to reveal voluntarily that he was gay, as the man who demanded that we “roll the dice” on the housing-market shenanigans of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and as one half of the defective duo behind the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation. If they were seeking a symbol of normality, gay Americans could have done better: Representative Frank was reprimanded by the House after it was discovered that a male prostitute he patronized was running a prostitution ring from congressman’s home. But Representative Frank’s sexual shenanigans cost the nation little; his role in protecting the government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the restraint and oversight they so obviously needed contributed to a financial meltdown and recession that have cost us trillions. (The fact that he was dating a Fannie Mae executive while enabling the agency does not look good, either.) His last hurrah in the House was the Dodd-Frank bill, which meddles with the pettiest of issues but does little or nothing to address the underlying causes of the mortgage bubble, meaning that the same congressman who played a role in creating the last financial crisis may end up playing a role in the next one. His retirement is welcome.
Occupy Wall Street was cleaned out of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, not with a bang, but with a whiff. “I pick up garbage” for a living, one sanitation man told the New York Post, “and these were some of the worst smells I’ve ever experienced.” But the aroma followed the encampment into memory. The Occupiers were becoming a drag on their own movement, hence their tacit willingness to be moved along. The gropes, the disease, and the disorder will linger in the minds of the impressionable as rites of passage, like the brown acid at Woodstock. The hard Left enjoyed a national two-minute drill (remember the shutdown of the Port of Oakland, and the sit-in at the Israeli consulate in Boston). After two years of casting about, liberals finally have a tea party of their own: unsatisfactory in many respects, but capable of being revived as the unions or the 2012 election require. And underlying all is America’s economic malaise, which Obama doesn’t understand, congressional Republicans alone can’t fix, and drumming or ending the Fed won’t solve.
The day after a Republican debate, CNN reporter Dan Lothian had a question for President Obama: Are the Republicans “uninformed, out of touch, or irresponsible?” Funny, that’s our question about the mainstream media.
Correlating the Candidates
For months, pundits have been eyeballing poll numbers and spinning the story that Mitt Romney has a solid, unchanging base of support, and that the other candidates are taking turns being the “Non-Romney” of the day. This consensus view is based on a faulty premise. If eyeballing of the data were enough, God would not have given us econometricians.
To an econometrician, the consensus is testable. If it is correct, then changes in poll numbers should be highly negatively correlated among the Non-Romneys: If Newt Gingrich goes up, Rick Perry goes down. But the changes should be uncorrelated with movements in Romney’s poll numbers.
The nearby chart explores these links. It is based on every poll reported by the website RealClearPolitics since the beginning of June 2011, and analyzes how the ups and downs of the different candidates correlate. To make the large amount of information digestible, the chart identifies for each candidate the relationship between changes in his poll numbers and changes in those of his competitors. A negative and statistically significant relationship is denoted by an arrow, and no significant relationship by a zero. There were no cases of a statistically significant positive correlation between two candidates.
For example, the first row of the table reveals (reading across) that Gingrich’s support has come at the expense of Romney, Cain, Perry, and Bachmann, but is not related to the swings for Paul, Santorum, and Huntsman.
Source: RealClearPolitics 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination Polling Data.
1 A “↓” denotes A negative and statistically significant relationship; no significant relationship is denoted by “0”.
The table is filled with interesting information. Perhaps most interesting, the data suggest that support for Romney is related to support for Perry and Gingrich but not to support for the others. Romney is not on an island: His voters seem willing to jump to other candidates, provided that the alternative has ample political experience.
Among the Non-Romneys there does appear to be a bit of a game of musical chairs going on. Bachmann, for example, rises and falls at the expense of Perry, Cain, and Gingrich, but not of Romney. The chart also suggests that a number of candidates live in an alternative reality, far removed from the real action. Support for Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum is uncorrelated with support for anyone else.
There are currently two frontrunners, and the correlations help clarify the likely future scenarios.
First, if Gingrich and Romney stay strong, and others drop out, then it looks as if Gingrich would gain the most support, since Romney stands to gain only from Perry, who barely has a pulse.
In the second scenario, Gingrich goes down in the polls, and his supporters spread out to many candidates. This would redound to Romney’s benefit, but not necessarily decisively. Finally, if Romney goes down, most of his supporters will fan out between Gingrich and Perry. Given his large lead over Perry, that could be enough to put Gingrich over the top quickly.
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide several constitutional questions concerning Obamacare. Justice Elena Kagan ought to recuse herself from the case. As a member of the Obama administration, Kagan was involved in planning the legal defense of the law, even if we do not know, thanks to administration stonewalling, just how involved. As Carrie Severino notes in a memorandum for the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, what we already know requires recusal under existing case law — and, we would add, requires it for good reason. Her impartiality is in doubt. Worse, it appears quite possible that Obama nominated her in part because her involvement in the case made it likely she would uphold the law. Liberals have responded to calls for her recusal by saying that Justice Clarence Thomas is obliged to recuse himself as well because his wife, a conservative activist, has opposed the law. But Mrs. Thomas is not involved in the case, as the recusal standards require. Liberals have not found a real parallel, just a way to sidestep the question of judicial integrity.
The science of climatology has always involved a considerable amount of art. To determine temperature trends over a period of decades or centuries, raw data (in many cases deduced from ice cores, tree rings, and the like) must be adjusted to account for assorted variables and run through computer models. Even small differences in the relevant parameters can affect the results greatly, so they must be chosen with scrupulous impartiality — but scientists wouldn’t slant their data to prove a point, would they? Sorry, stupid question. The latest batch of leaked e-mail exchanges among climatologists, dubbed Climategate 2.0, shows members of the discipline’s inner circle discussing how to fudge calculations to achieve the desired results by, for example, selecting the most favorable time periods for comparison and adding correction factors to smooth over inconvenient results. When some researchers expressed uneasiness (“the figure you sent is very deceptive,” “the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it”), they were shouted down or threatened. Real progress on climate science requires that charlatans feel a little heat.
Housing interests are cheering a bill passed by Congress that would empower the Federal Housing Administration to insure mortgages as high as $729,750, up more than a hundred grand from the current level. The Obama administration, per usual, is talking out of both sides of its mouth on the issue: first saying that the government should ease back from such loan guarantees, and then protesting that, because the housing market remains weak, it may go along with the increase. We prefer the first side of the administration’s mouth: The decision to finance a house costing nearly three-quarters of a million dollars should turn on the value of the property and the borrower’s ability to repay the loan, not on a federal guarantee. And what is true of a house costing $729,750 is true of a house costing $72,975 or $7.29: The federal government is not a bank and ought not to insert itself in the consumer-finance business. The ineducable classes in Washington helped to create a worldwide financial calamity with their attempts to manage the American real-estate and mortgage markets but remain convinced that, if we will only increase their credit limit, they’ll get it right this time. Somebody should send the FHA the telephone number for Gamblers Anonymous; admitting you have a problem is the first step.
As Robert VerBruggen has written in these pages, the National Labor Relations Board is a systemic force for instability and endless litigation in dealings between unions and management. It writes and interprets rules for union organization and collective bargaining — supposedly a technical function, but one that can give great advantages to one side or the other. So NLRB members are chosen for naked political reasons (e.g. Craig Becker, a former SEIU and AFL-CIO lawyer who was recess-appointed by Obama), and policy swings back and forth with each new president. Under George W. Bush, the five-member board dwindled to two, as the Democratic Senate refused to consider his nominees. While it now has a bare quorum of three, Republican member Brian Hayes has threatened to resign in order to keep it from enacting new rules easing the path for unions to be certified; at press time, at least a temporary compromise appeared to be in the works. Such tactics show that the NLRB is often merely a shortcut for the dominant party to write its labor wish list into law, often to be undone when the White House changes hands. A better solution would be to leave these important decisions to the people’s elected representatives.
Robert and Patricia Haynes of Macomb Township, Mich., receive monthly Medicaid payments to help them provide in-home care for their adult son and daughter, who have cerebral palsy. As far as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its Democratic allies are concerned, that is sufficient to classify the Hayneses as “government workers.” Accordingly, the Hayneses and others like them are forced to cough up $30 a month in “dues” to the SEIU, one of the largest public-employee unions in the country, even if they have no interest in joining. This special arrangement, which began in 2006 under former governor Jennifer Granholm (D.), has allowed the SEIU to rake in an extra $6 million to its coffers annually, which it uses to help elect labor-friendly Democrats eager to enact policies like this one. Before we know it, the SEIU will be insisting that the millions of Americans who receive the child tax credit are merely “government child-care providers.”
If the Solyndra scandal showed that the Obama administration values the chimera of “green energy” more than it values taxpayers’ money, the Keystone XL Pipeline scandal shows that, for the administration, environmentalist fantasies trump even American jobs and energy security. The State Department was expected to okay a permit for the pipeline — a $7 billion project that would bring in 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada, in addition to creating about 20,000 jobs in the U.S. — by the end of 2011. Instead, the department delayed the permitting decision until 2013, conveniently after the elections, ostensibly to give itself time to evaluate a route for the pipeline that avoids a major aquifer in Nebraska. Never mind that an environmental report commissioned by the State Department itself downplayed the risks to the aquifer, estimating (based on a 1979 oil spill into an aquifer in Minnesota) that even if a spill occurred in Nebraska, it “would affect a limited area of the aquifer around the spill site. In no spill incident scenario would the entire Northern High Plains Aquifer system be adversely affected.” But the report did not cover the spillover effect on the president’s reelection, which is clearly what was uppermost in the administration’s mind.
While Congress was busy parceling out a measly $700 billion for the 2008–09 bank bailouts, the Fed was acting on its own, on an even larger scale. This has been known for some time, but documents recently released after a Freedom of Information Act request show the true scale of the intervention: The cash infusions, guarantees, and other support proffered by the Fed add up to $7.77 trillion — half of the country’s GDP. A single infusion on Dec. 5, 2008, totaled $1.2 trillion — nearly twice what was put up under TARP. While we are inclined to believe that an independent Fed is preferable to a Fed under congressional management, the scale of the Fed’s freelance operations during the financial crisis is troubling. Even more troubling is the secrecy with which these operations were conducted, and the Fed’s attempt to keep them secret — the Bloomberg news service had to fight in court to get the documents. The Fed should remain independent of political management in its role as the executor of monetary policy, but both democratic values and prudent oversight require a significantly greater level of transparency in its operations. We simply cannot have Ben Bernanke betting 50 percent of GDP on struggling banks without openness and accountability.
John Kitzhaber, the Democratic governor of Oregon, granted a temporary reprieve to a death-row prisoner for the duration of his term in office, and said he would do the same for everyone else on death row, based on his “personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment.” Those convictions seem to us, as to most Americans, to be mistaken. But even if they are correct, the governor’s actions are improper. The governor of Oregon, like most American executives, has an unreviewable power to exercise clemency at his discretion. But he also has a duty to faithfully execute the laws. To use the power of clemency to nullify the law is to abuse it. Opposition to capital punishment loses its honorable character when it is allied to lawlessness.
In a provocation that once would have brought British gunboats steaming up the Iranian equivalent of the Yangtze River, thugs stormed the British embassy in Tehran. These “students” must be pursuing advanced studies in international incidents, courtesy of the Basij militia. The regime wanted to take revenge for the new sanctions London just instituted on Tehran’s central bank, and besides, Iranians tend to harbor quaint fantasies about how their former colonial master still controls the world order. A week before the embassy attack, French president Nicolas Sarkozy called for further sanctions, freezing the assets of the Iranian central bank and ceasing the importation of Iranian oil. These are measures that would significantly increase the economic pressure on Tehran, and we should be urging their adoption forthwith. The action against the embassy is more evidence that the Iranian regime stands outside of and opposed to the international order — if we needed any.
We have long been in a state of quasi-war with our quasi-ally Pakistan. It harbors our enemies and works to undermine our goal of a reasonably stable and decently governed Afghanistan. In the latest flare-up in a relationship that has been increasingly tense since the bin Laden raid, U.S. troops called in an air strike on a Pakistani military post near the border — almost certainly because they were being fired upon. In response to the incident, which killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers, the Pakistanis forced us to shut down a base on their territory that we were using to fly drones, and cut off our supply route into Afghanistan. In public, we’ll have to be contrite; in private, we should tell the Pakistanis that such accidents are the inevitable consequence of their perfidy. Pakistan is a bad seed of a country, built on grievance from the beginning and deeply dysfunctional. We don’t have much choice but to stay engaged with it, since the alternatives to the current government are even worse. But we should have no illusions about the treachery and malevolence of our so-called friend.
During the president’s Asia trip, the administration managed to tweak Beijing on its territorial disputes, deepen security ties with Jakarta and Manila, announce the deployment of Marines in northern Australia, and advance an Asian free-trade deal including Japan. These moves have left the Chinese leadership flat-footed, and convincingly demonstrated to the region that we have no intention of letting China become a hemispheric hegemon. Most of Asia’s fence-sitters have little desire to see an unbound China, but they will not risk coming into the U.S. fold if our regional commitment is half-hearted. President Obama’s diplomats seem to grasp this clearly. Credit where due.
A German bond auction failed in November, meaning that investors simply do not want new debt issued by the government of the country with Europe’s most productive economy unless yields go up significantly. Elsewhere in Europe, the situation is as bad or worse: A few days after the failed German bond auction, Italy was forced to pay record yields on an issue of new bonds: 7.56 percent on the ten-year bond, up from 6 percent just a month before. Three-year Italian bonds are going for 7.89 percent. Europe’s problems are compounded by the presence of the unwieldy single currency, which necessitates that a highly productive exporter such as Germany share a monetary policy with low-productivity Greece, to the ultimate advantage of neither. They also are compounded by the undemocratic, unaccountable regime in Brussels, which has been eating away at the sovereignty of Europe’s nations for many years. But Europe’s present problems otherwise are very much like those that the United States will be forced to confront soon enough: spendthrift governments, large deficits, and increased competition from emerging global competitors disturbing the present economic order. And with the national debt at $15 trillion and rising, the United States cannot afford to be paying Italian rates on its bonds.
The Arab League has taken a long time to follow the United States and the European Union in imposing economic and travel sanctions on Syria. The Arab League was ostensibly founded to promote Arab nationalism, but in reality it is a forum in which the separate interests of the 22 Arab states clash and no common position can emerge. Extraordinarily, the Arab League gave its approval to the campaign against Libya. The brutality of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad is far worse than Moammar Qaddafi’s, and more flagrant. In the course of this year, Syrian security and military forces have killed at the very least 3,500 people (about 250 of them children) and arrested some 30,000, many of whom have disappeared and some of whom survive to testify of the extreme physical torture they have suffered. The Arabs had plans to send observers to Syria and to devise a political solution for what is becoming civil war. Sanctions followed the flat rejection of all such proposals. Syria is considered the center of Arab nationalism, but its barbarities are converting pride in this identity into shame. Members of the Arab League are also fearful that the West might intervene. Even so, the sanctions are pro forma. Once again, the verbiage of the Arab League outweighs its deeds.
Spain’s conservatives, after almost eight years in the wilderness, beat the socialists. They not only beat them, they crushed them: It was the conservatives’ best showing, and the socialists’ worst, since the return of democracy to Spain in the late 1970s. The conservatives now have unchallenged control of the government. And they have some serious work to do: The Spanish economy is a mess, with unemployment over 21 percent. Voters, in their distress, turned to the conservatives, while delivering a “punishing verdict” on the socialists. (The words come from the New York Times.) Margaret Thatcher liked to say, “The facts of life are conservative.” The facts of life seem to have pushed the Spanish wearily home.
Elections to parliament and the presidency have begun in Egypt, and will be repeated at intervals in a complex process until next June. There are dozens of parties, thousands of candidates, and millions of voters, whose inky fingers are evidence that they are responsible citizens. The variety and the novelty notwithstanding, the likely winners have always been the Freedom and Justice party, recruited from the Muslim Brothers, a political body of Islamist militants hostile to everyone else. Controlling the whole electoral experiment, however, is the council of senior army officers that got rid of the former authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak and took his place. This council claims to be willing to devolve power to the people, but in the days prior to the election many voters became suspicious. The young, the secular, the educated, and the activists went to protest in central Cairo, suspecting that the army council and the Freedom and Justice party had reached some agreement to keep power between them. In violent scenes, at least 40 people were then shot, and hundreds wounded. The council’s top officer, Field Marshal Tantawi, declared that “the position of the armed forces will remain as it is — it will not change in any new constitution.” In that case, the new parliament may have no more legitimacy than previous parliaments in Egypt, all of them rigged. Whether it proves politically skillful, popular, or merely intimidating, the Freedom and Justice party could plunge the country into the Islamist wave now sweeping the Muslim world.
In Moscow, a Russian badly beat an American in “mixed martial arts,” a fancy phrase for fighting without rules. Hardly was the bout over when someone jumped into the ring and began speechifying about Russian strength. Vladimir Putin! He loves to play the sportsman, out hunting bears or deep-sea diving, in a display of biceps and pecs. Perhaps this Russian victory made him proud to have suspended Russia’s participation in the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, an arms-limitation treaty that had stabilized the continent up to 2007. But what is this? Boos and whistling and catcalls greeted Putin in the ring, and this put-down was shown that evening on national television. Everyone already knows that his party has won the upcoming parliamentary elections, and many are saying that the ringside crowd of 22,000 was showing what it thinks of this fix.
Ali Abdullah Saleh has been president of Yemen these 33 years, and what a mess that country has become. Saudi Arabia and Iran, otherwise Sunni and Shiite, have been fighting a proxy war in the mountains, with al-Qaeda and the late Anwar al-Awlaki mobilized alongside. The tribes are at each other’s throats. The Arab Spring caught on. Huge protests calling for Saleh to step down were answered with gunfire. Last June a bomb in Saleh’s palace almost killed him, and he had to go abroad for treatment. (To give a bit of local color: Anyone walking up the street toward that palace will be shot.) Three times Saleh agreed to sign a deal to abdicate, and three times he revoked it. Expected to stay abroad, perhaps in New York, he returned to Sanaa, the capital, and agreed yet again to step down. The vice president is supposed to take his place. (More local color: The two men are relations from the same tribe.) Saleh has granted himself immunity from prosecution for ordering the killing of hundreds of demonstrators. Thousands are now out in the streets demanding the prosecution of this wily and tenacious old dictator.
The Pakistani government is on top of what seems to be the country’s No. 1 peril: rogue texters. The communications ministry has told cellphone providers that they will be expected to filter words and phrases deemed indecent out of all text messages. According to an unofficial list being circulated, the banned lexicon includes numerous anatomical, sexual, and excretory terms (in English and Urdu), as well as “Jesus,” exotica such as “monkey crotch” (why anyone wants to ban this is as mysterious as why anyone wants to text it), and puzzlers such as “mango,” “taxi,” “hobo,” and “athlete’s foot.” Also on the forbidden list is “Wu-Tang Clan,” a rap group that seems to have gotten on the regime’s bad side with its lyric “Terrorize the jam / Like troops in Pakistan,” though whether the objection is to Inspectah Deck’s geopolitical views or his slant rhyming is unclear.
That glow is no pep-rally bonfire — it’s the Penn State football program incinerating. Reports that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted boys, including an eyewitness account of a shower-room rape, were minimized by coaches and administrators alike. When the story went public, the trustees fired the morally obtuse, including the university president and longtime head coach Joe Paterno. Students rioted in the streets of State College after Paterno’s dismissal; the new regime at Penn State should expel all the rioters it can identify. The football program should also be suspended for a year. (Accusations have also been leveled at Bernie Fine, a Syracuse basketball coach; they seem as of this writing to have been better investigated.) College football had a near-death experience a century ago, when Pres. Theodore Roosevelt purged it of brutish violence and defended it against puritanical critics. A new intervention may be needed. Big-ticket college sports field professional teams of unpaid underage players, who learn no more than they would at an OWS drum circle. Could it be a job for former president George W. Bush?
On the last Sunday in November, English-speaking Catholics heard something new and refreshing: a revised Mass translation that is more literal in its fidelity to the original Latin texts. The change was greeted by predictable squawking from church liberals: The new translation is “awkward,” suffers from the “linguistic infelicities” of “alien verbal flatulence,” represents a “slap in the face of the people of God,” etc. etc. On literary matters, de gustibus est, in fact, disputandum. What is more significant is that the new translation amounts to nothing less than a reassertion of one of the central tenets of Roman Catholicism: that the popes and their advisers have a distinct charism of leadership. From this premise follows the idea that it is desirable that worship throughout the Catholic world strive to be faithful to the thinking of these leaders. The new translation, therefore, offers welcome encouragement to those Catholics who strive to “think with the Church” on these essential matters.
When Karen Royce signed up for a course in human sexuality at Western Nevada College, she knew the content would get a bit racy, but she never thought she would be ordered to masturbate. In fact, the professor assigned enrollees to double their normal masturbation frequency (when did they ever find time to study?), take notes, and then turn in a journal documenting it all. Royce, age 60, explained that this was not one of her hobbies, and begged off the assignment on the grounds that twice zero is zero — whereupon the instructor demanded that she give it the old college try and report to him on the results. Now she has filed a federal complaint, and while just dropping the class might have been a simpler option, the larger question remains: In what way does pursuing a voyeuristic obsession with students’ sex lives benefit the taxpayers and further the college’s stated mission to “cultivate creativity, intellectual growth and technological excellence”? Nevada’s leaders should work instead on reducing the nation’s highest unemployment rate; then the state’s residents would not have so many idle hours to fill.
Readers of this magazine will not have to be persuaded that the 1980s were a critical time for America and the world. And a critical player in the Reagan administration was Fred Iklé, an official in the Pentagon. He was both a thinker and a doer, a strategist and an implementer. Like many great Americans, he was an immigrant, coming to this country from Switzerland after the war. He was in his early twenties. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago, and held a string of positions in academia and government. Like Reagan, he thought that we could do better than détente: that we could actually push back the Soviet Union and free large portions of the world. Like Reagan, he hated MAD, which is to say “mutual assured destruction.” He wrote that this concept “rests on a form of warfare universally condemned since the dark ages — the mass killing of hostages.” Therefore, he supported anti-missile defenses, derided by Ted Kennedy and the rest of the Left as “Star Wars.” Iklé did all he could to help Central Americans and others who were struggling against tyranny. This Cold Warrior, and warrior for liberty, died last month at 87. What a valuable life. R.I.P.
Tom Wicker was the archetypal white southern liberal, using the sins of his region and race as the fuel of his own righteous indignation. Born in a small town in North Carolina, he served in World War II, studied journalism in college, and worked for state newspapers, when the Sixties gave him two breaks: being hired by the New York Times in 1960, and being the only Times man in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He made his name thereafter as an opinionator and a holder forth: writing an op-ed column, attempting to mediate the Attica prison riot, flaying Richard Nixon. As blacks represented holiness, so Nixon incarnated corruption; Watergate, wrote Wicker, was the “beginnings of a police state.” Tell that to the Syrians. A 1991 book offered a two-edged reassessment of his nemesis: Nixon was, as the title declared, One of Us — which also meant, we’re all like him. Dead at 85. R.I.P.
In an age like ours, when every part of life is thoroughly suffused with irony, the only thing that’s stronger is sincerity. No one proved this better than Bil Keane, who drew the Family Circus comic strip. His oval-headed scamps made Dennis the Menace seem edgy, yet the strip (actually just a panel), now drawn by Keane’s son Jeff, has hung on for more than half a century and is still going strong, having achieved the ultimate ironic accolade by becoming a favorite target for hipster parodies. He was a leader in the National Cartoonists Society and maintained warm personal friendships with such sardonic artists as Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead), and Scott Adams (Dilbert). William Aloysius Keane was also a devout Catholic who gave generously to religious schools, institutions, and causes and, according to one obituary, “illustrated the 1992 book ‘Holy Hilarity’ from the Fellowship of Merry Christians.” He often recalled how Sister Ann, in the sixth grade at St. William School in Philadelphia, launched him on his career path by starting a class newspaper, making him the cartoonist, and praying for his success. Dead at 89. R.I.P.
The Real Tax Fanatics
In a development that surprised nobody but was treated by the Washington media as a grave crisis, the congressional “supercommittee” has failed to identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction that could gain bipartisan support. In the absence of such an agreement, automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect starting in January 2013, half in defense and half in domestic discretionary programs.
In another development that stuns no one, the parties are blaming each other’s rigidity for the deadlock. The Democrats claim that Republicans’ refusal to contemplate tax increases on the wealthy prevented any compromise. But the available facts contradict this claim. Republicans apparently offered to scale back tax breaks that disproportionately benefit high earners in order to get pro-growth tax reforms and spending cuts. The effect would have been a net tax increase.
Democrats refused to take yes for an answer. They wanted a larger tax increase. The Republicans say, and the Democrats do not deny, that the Democrats wanted $1 trillion in tax increases — the vast majority of the deficit reduction that the supercommittee was charged with finding. Democrats also wanted the tax increase to take the form of increased tax rates rather than just decreased tax breaks. So it did not matter that revenues would increase, or that most of the increase would come from higher payments by high earners. The top tax rate had to increase as well: the type of tax increase most likely to harm incentives to work, save, and invest, and therefore undermine long-term prospects for growth. This position makes no sense except as the stroking of an ideological totem.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) distinguished himself on the committee through his patient negotiation, displaying just the right mixture of flexibility and firmness and explaining the Republican position in the media with clarity and calm. Republicans should now work to promote growth, reform entitlements, and make sure that any reductions in defense spending are consistent with an intelligent national-security strategy. If the supercommittee could not accept a center-right proposal, perhaps the electorate of 2012 will.