Just a few weeks into the race, and Rick Perry has already accomplished the impossible: making liberals miss George W. Bush.
Jimmy Carter wasn’t the only hapless one-term president, but he was the most hapless recently. What makes a Carter? It is more than falling poll numbers and a grim economy. The president himself must seem incapable of addressing these woes. An air of rigidity and stubbornness embodies his incapacity. Check, check, and check. But there is one great difference between Obama and Carter: Having no liberal or fantasy alternative (Ted Kennedy, John Anderson) and being invested in his role as racial history maker, the major media will not harp on his shortcomings, as they did with Carter. The world of media, on the other hand, is a lot bigger than it was in 1979.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas entered the Republican presidential race and instantly displaced Mitt Romney as the frontrunner. Perry is a strong conservative, his state has had an impressive record of job creation, and he drives liberals batty: all assets in the primaries. If he wins the nomination, he may test whether Americans are ready to elect a conservative who makes almost no gestures toward the views and sensibilities of moderate voters. Depending on the answer, the result could be either conservatism’s best election ever or a version of 1964.
Asked on the campaign trail about Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Perry said, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.” He added that “printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion.” Much commentary ensued about whether Perry had spoken too hyperbolically or uncivilly, and about monetary policy. Almost nobody remarked on Perry’s premise: that Bernanke is knowingly pursuing a policy that will hurt the United States in the long run to help President Obama. None of Bernanke’s mainstream critics have advanced that theory, and their arguments generally assume that Bernanke’s policies hurt the economy in the short run too. Perry has issued a grave attack on a public servant’s motives without any evidence at all, and he ought to apologize.
Perry called evolution “a theory that’s out there” but which has “some gaps in it.” A federal government returned to its constitutional dimensions, as Perry wants, would have little influence over the advancement of science or the content of high-school biology textbooks, so his position on this question is in itself unimportant. But critics, most of them liberal, said that his remarks suggested a troubling unwillingness to accept the findings of science. We suspect that Perry is reluctant to accept evolution by natural selection as an explanation for the diversity of life on earth because he believes in God, and both some theists and some atheists have claimed, mistakenly, that evolution is incompatible with a Creator. We have yet to see any evidence that Perry harbors a generalized suspicion of science that leads him astray on questions of policy. His opposition to cap-and-trade shows a better practical grasp of cost-benefit analysis than many people with Ph.D.’s possess.
President Obama, seeing a challenge on the horizon, dispatched the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, to attack Texas’s education record as a proxy for Rick Perry. “I feel very, very badly for the children there,” Secretary Duncan said, compounding illiteracy with innumeracy: Building on an earlier observation by the blogger Iowahawk, AEI scholar Andrew Biggs ran the numbers and found that Texas students’ test scores run at about the national average. But the white students, black students, Hispanic students, Asian students, and Native American students in Texas outperform their counterparts in most other states. In Texas, as in most states, black and Hispanic students lag their white and Asian peers, and the fact that Texas scores about average rather than well above average is largely a result of its demographic mix, which includes a lot of poor immigrants whose first language is not English. Texas’s race-weighted test scores are in the 71st percentile nationally, Biggs calculated, but its per-pupil spending is only in the 36th percentile. Better-than-average outcomes, lower-than-average spending: Secretary Duncan cannot say as much of the Chicago schools he once supervised. He should be asking Perry for tips.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, having come in a distant third in Iowa’s straw poll, dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Pawlenty had brought a strong record to the race. While he had to bend on some issues to govern a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate in nearly four decades, he succeeded in controlling spending, enacting pro-life legislation, holding the line on income taxes, and appointing conservative judges. But as a presidential candidate, Pawlenty made politically damaging missteps — especially by attacking Romney over his health-care plan, backing off, and then apologizing for backing off. His deeper problem may have been that there was no room in the race for a candidate a little bit to Romney’s right but more establishment-oriented than Rep. Michele Bachmann. You can’t unite the party if you don’t excite any part of it.
Newsweek put a photo of Rep. Michele Bachmann on its cover that made her look crazy and stupid. A less flattering photo would be hard to imagine. You can imagine the glee of Newsweek editors when they saw it — like that of high-school-yearbook editors, when they see a nutty picture of a student they hate. But at the high school, there’s an adult supervisor to say, “No, you can’t publish that.” No such adult exists at Newsweek, apparently. Around the same time, David Gregory grilled Bachmann about religion on Meet the Press. He said, “Would God guide your decisions that you would make as president of the United States?” Bachmann answered, quite sensibly, “Well, as president of the United States, I would pray. I would pray and ask the Lord for guidance. That’s what presidents have done throughout history. George Washington did. Abraham Lincoln did.” This seemed to irk Gregory. He retorted, “There’s a difference between God as a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration, and God telling you to take a particular action.” The Meet the Press host seemed to be lecturing — preaching — to the candidate about the limits of religious belief and practice. In trying to illuminate a subject, journalists often illuminate themselves, most of all.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, argued in a column that reporters should demand more specific answers from the Republican presidential candidates about how their faith informs their political views. But the questions are comically tendentious: He asks nothing of the incumbent president, and asks the Republicans about tenuous associations when his newspaper showed no comparable curiosity about Bill Ayers et al. Indeed, the whole set-up is tendentious: “I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon . . . or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country.” And we’d want to know if Keller beats his wife — if we weren’t sure it would only be with red herrings. The Times itself has long demanded that presidents place Scripture above the Constitution, so long as the holy words in question were written by Justice Harry Blackmun.
For once it is Democrats who want to keep a tax from rising and Republicans who are prepared to let it rise. At the end of 2010, President Obama made a deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years. As part of the deal, the “employee side” of the payroll tax was cut from 6.2 to 4.2 percent for one year. Democrats now want to extend that tax cut. Republicans are uninterested. They say that temporary tax cuts do not improve long-term incentives to work, save, and invest, and that cutting the payroll tax will either endanger the financing of Social Security and Medicare or force those programs to rely on general revenue rather than the dedicated payroll tax. But the idea that the payroll tax is dedicated to the entitlements is a fiction designed to keep these programs from ever being reformed. The payroll tax and the income tax are simply sources of revenue for the federal government, and Medicare and Social Security are simply spending programs — and the sooner everyone understands these facts, the more likely we will be to have rational budget policies. Extending the payroll-tax cut, meanwhile, is no more temporary than extending the income-tax cuts. In both cases, the answer is permanence.
Under the long-established “ministerial exception” to federal employment-discrimination laws, religious organizations have broad freedom to hire and fire their religious leaders. The federal courts of appeals have uniformly recognized the ministerial exception, and they have also agreed that its protection extends beyond formally ordained pastors. They have divided only on the outer boundaries of whom the exception covers. So when the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to agree to review a lower court’s decision that the ministerial exception did not extend to a particular teacher at a religious school, the stage was set for the Court to define those outer boundaries. But in a remarkable brief filed in August, President Obama’s Department of Justice dramatically raised the stakes in the case by contesting the general existence of the ministerial exception. The DOJ brief puts the Obama administration at war with its usual allies on the religious Left (as well as with many other religious groups), but surely pleases gay-rights groups, which value anti-discrimination laws above religious liberty.
Alabama has passed a law against illegal immigration that, among other things, makes it a crime to “conceal, harbor, or shield an alien from detection . . . if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien” is here illegally. Religious leaders have denounced the law, and gone to court against it, making the claim that they could not perform their religious duties to aid the poor and suffering without breaking it. But all of this language already exists in federal law, and it has not been used to prosecute social-service providers. One would hope that these litigants, of all people, would know better than to go to court bearing false witness.
In A Man for All Seasons, when Sir Thomas More asks, “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” William Roper answers, “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” This White House is working hard at cutting down our immigration laws to achieve its political goals. The administration recently announced that the 300,000 illegal immigrants in the deportation pipeline would have their cases reviewed, and that those not involved in violent crimes would be released and allowed to apply for work authorization. This comes on the heels of an earlier instruction to agents in the field to exercise their “discretion” in not arresting such illegals in the first place. The descriptions of this policy as an amnesty are correct, but it’s much worse than that. An amnesty duly approved by Congress would be bad policy, but at least defensible on constitutional grounds. An amnesty implemented through executive fiat would be a lawless act and an abuse of power by the president, and should be opposed even by those who support his policy goals. Unfortunately, reverence for the law is not a defining characteristic of immigration expansionists in general, or this administration in particular.
Divorce has been declining since the 1980s, which is good news for children — but only for those children whose parents bother to marry in the first place. A new study by the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia shows that a growing threat to marriage and children’s well-being is cohabitation, which has increased 14-fold since 1970, with 40 percent of American children experiencing it by age twelve. W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the authors of the report, explains that “children in cohabiting relationships are more likely to do poorly in school, to use drugs, to have emotional problems, and to be abused, compared with children in intact, married families.” What makes the trend particularly worrisome is its adoption by the working and lower-middle classes, even as marriage seems to have strengthened as a norm among members of the college-educated upper-middle class. It’s a tale of two Americas you aren’t likely to hear about on the campaign trail.
The Long Gray Unemployment Line
Since World War II, high unemployment has been extraordinarily rare in the United States. Between 1948 and 1982, the unemployment rate never climbed above 9 percent. The deep recession of 1982 pushed the rate as high as 10.8 percent, but by the end of 1983, Reaganomics had pushed it back below 9.
The unemployment rate was only 6.8 percent the month Barack Obama was elected president, but it climbed sharply as the aftereffects of the crash played out and Obama’s policies were put into effect. It has stayed high ever since, with the July 2011 number stubbornly holding on at 9.1 percent. It is remarkable how terrible the Obama record is in historical perspective. Looking back to 1948, more than half of all months with an unemployment rate above 9 percent have passed on Obama’s watch.
If the unemployment rate is high for a long time, there will be lots of workers who are unemployed for longer than usual. This fact is especially troubling because the longer workers remain unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to reenter the workforce. If a job candidate shows up in your office and hasn’t had a job in two years, you will be reluctant to hire him.
New research by Richard W. Johnson and Janice S. Park of the Urban Institute provides a chilling glimpse of the challenge. Johnson and Park have discovered a nuance in the data that suggests that reversing current trends will be especially difficult: While younger workers are much more likely to be fired, they get rehired faster. That means that the long-term unemployed are much grayer than unemployed workers in general.
The nearby chart, taken from the Urban Institute study, reveals how striking this trend has been. It documents the cumulative probability of reemployment by age group for the years 2008 and 2009. About 10 percent of young unemployed people (ages 18â€’24) found a new job within four months, about 40 percent within a year, and about 65 percent within 20 months. This contrasts sharply with the experience of more senior workers. Among those aged 62 and above, barely any found jobs in the first four months, and only about 30 percent found jobs by the 20th month. The outlook for those between 50 and 61 was only a little better.
Putting Americans back to work will require finding jobs for the long-term unemployed, but doing this for older workers can be quite a bit more difficult. Older workers have a shorter remaining career, which makes investments in job training harder to justify, and they often find themselves in situations where their existing skills are simply wasted. The typical man over 62 who is reemployed, the authors report, had to take a 36 percent pay cut. The pay cut for workers in their 30s and 40s was only 4 percent. Older workers may also have deeper roots in specific communities, making them less likely to move to a part of the country (such as Texas) that is growing faster.
The long-term unemployment problem is partly Washington’s creation, since the extension of unemployment-insurance benefits to 99 weeks effectively subsidized the creation of a structural problem. Fixing it will be the toughest job our next president faces.
Who says there is no such thing as a free lunch? Beginning with school year 2011–12, all students in Detroit public schools will receive free breakfast, lunch, and snacks. This is a consequence of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, signed into federal law by the president last December. Obama apparently shares his wife’s conviction that American parents are the very last people who should be entrusted with feeding American children. There is of course an egalitarian angle too: The chief operating officer of the Detroit school system tells us that the program will “eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch.” Is there really, this deep into the age of welfare, a stigma attached to receiving benefits? Is it beyond the capabilities of Detroit parents to pack a PB&J sandwich and an apple for their kids? And to give them breakfast at home? We see that the Detroit measure is part of a project to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federal power grows: Powerful lobbies are appeased: Independence and self-support dwindle.
Is the Earth currently in a warming phase? If so, is that a bad thing? And if it’s a bad thing, what should we do about it? Former vice president Al Gore says yes, the Earth is warming; it’s a terribly, unprecedentedly bad thing (“the very existence of our civilization is threatened”); and massive government action is called for, something akin to war socialism. When speaking of those holding contrary opinions, Gore can barely contain himself. At an Aspen conference in early August he dismissed them with a string of expletives. At the other end of the month he went at climate-change doubters again, this time eschewing the cuss words but linking climate denial to what, for an unimaginative liberal, are the darkest depths of moral turpitude. One day, Gore promised viewers of a webcasting service, doubters will be looked on like racists. What, are the doubters burning crosses on climatologists’ lawns? No, no: What the ex-veep means is, this is an opinion that good citizens should not have. One day, we hope, we will look back at this shabby use of the civil-rights struggle with embarrassment.
A group of scientists at Penn State — including one who does work for NASA — have published a paper in the journal of the International Academy of Astronautics, speculating on the conditions under which we might make first contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, and outlining the scenarios that could play out in its aftermath. It reads like pulp sci-fi written by Al Gore. The paper’s authors posit, for instance, that aliens could be out there even now, waiting until we’ve reached a “societal benchmark such as sustainable development or international unity” to reach out and touch us. Or, on a darker note, an advanced alien race (and, ipso facto, a progressive-liberal one) might detect man-made climate change from afar, and, seeking to “maximize” galactic “diversity,” could wipe us out, seeing our “rapid and destructive expansion on Earth” as a precursor to similar destructiveness on the cosmic scale. Talk about little Green men.
The New York Times carried a report on mothers of twins who decide to abort one and keep the other. The story opened with the words of a woman who became pregnant with twins at 45 after six years of intensive fertility treatment: “Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure. If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.” If Pope Paul VI had put that quote into Humanae Vitae, as an illustration of the horror of the instrumental view of human life, it would have sounded potted. But it’s the New York Times, so it must be true.
John King owns an electrical-contracting business near the Michigan–Ohio border — a non-union electrical-contracting business, to be precise. For years, the fact that his employees are not organized has grated on the area’s unions, and some of their sympathizers have taken matters into their own hands, vandalizing his property and stalking him and his employees. Most recently, an assailant drove to King’s house late at night, began painting the word “scab” on his vehicle, and fired a shot at him when he came outside, injuring him. All too often, union solidarity comes with an implied “or else.”
It is becoming less and less clear that the U.S. Navy will be capable of keeping the peace in the Far East in perpetuity. The dwindling size of its fleet (already fewer than 300 ships) is lower than it was during the interwar years — hardly an auspicious period for those concerned about deterring aggression abroad. With Chinese maritime power growing in the Pacific, you might think it reasonable to grant Taiwan’s request for 66 advanced F-16 jet fighters without delay. China, refusing to recognize the democratic island as anything but a mutinous province, robustly opposes the sale. Appallingly, some in the Obama administration threaten to scuttle it for the anxiety it is liable to cause in Beijing. No course short of allowing Taiwan to be “reunified” with the mainland will prevent that anxiety. And in any case a little anxiety in Beijing isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Vice President Biden, in a discussion of entitlement spending and debt at Sichuan University in Chengdu, touched on the one-child policy of his hosts. “I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing,” he said. But the policy, as a matter of demographics, is “not sustainable.” When one engages in diplomacy, especially with a creditor, one is obliged to be diplomatic. And Biden, in the best of cases, has no way with words. The takeaway here should not be Biden’s bumbling, but China’s barbarity. The one-child policy is compulsory abortion on an industrial scale. Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese rights activist, revealed that 130,000 forced abortions were performed in one county alone in 2005 (he was imprisoned for revealing it). Second children who escape the abortion maw are refused schooling and medical care. The one-child policy is not just unsustainable, it is un-human — and all too revealing of the high-rolling oligarchs who uphold it.
Few Islamist terrorists are well enough known to be referred to only by their first names, but Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was one of them. As a youth he had volunteered to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden had then picked him out and promoted him to his headquarters. Atiyah’s job was to communicate with al-Qaeda commanders everywhere in the field. His importance in the hierarchy was noted when a letter of his to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was intercepted. A reward of $1 million was placed on his head. After bin Laden’s death in May, Atiyah became deputy leader of al-Qaeda. But files recovered from bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad made it possible to track down Atiyah in the Pakistani tribal territory of Waziristan. A CIA drone did the rest.
Ali Farzat is one of the most valuable people in the Arab world. A Syrian, he is the region’s best-known cartoonist. He made particular sport of Saddam Hussein, and Hussein threatened to kill him. He was banned in Baathist Iraq (of course), Jordan, and Libya. In 2001, he started a satirical magazine in Syria, the first independent magazine since the Baath party seized power in 1963. Its initial run of 50,000 copies sold out immediately. The magazine lasted only until 2003, when government pressure got too great. In the last several months, Farzat has been a huge inspiration to the freedom protesters in his country. He has poked fun at the dictatorship and provided ordinary people with a kind of voice. In recent days, he drew a cartoon of Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad, trying desperately to hitch a ride with Moammar Qaddafi, who is driving a getaway car. Cartoons like that proved too much for the dictatorship: They beat Farzat to a pulp, breaking both of his hands. Earlier, they had killed the popular singer Ibrahim Kashush, ripping out his vocal cords. They often send specific messages, the Baathists.
Sometimes a national apology is in order, and Sweden’s apology to the Baltic nations was honorable. It came through the conservative prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt. He made it on the 20th anniversary of Baltic independence. As he noted, Sweden was one of the first countries to recognize the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1944. The next year, Stockholm sent back about 170 Baltic soldiers who had sought refuge in Sweden; the Red Army was waiting for them. “The extradition of the Balts is a dark moment” in Swedish history, said Reinfeldt. As he spoke, he held in his hand a Swedish textbook, used in the 1980s. The Baltic states were invisible in it. “This was the reality when I went to school,” said Reinfeldt. In truth, the Free World as a whole did badly by the Balts. Fredrik Reinfeldt’s stance is somewhat redemptive for all.
Not content merely to enforce the absurdly strict gun laws that have already driven the national Olympic shooting team to practice in France, British authorities decided in late August that children would be banned from obtaining tickets to shooting events at the summer games — lest they be subjected to the glorification of firearms and peremptorily join those responsible for the crime wave sweeping London. A backlash quickly forced the reversal of the decision, but not before British Shooting Sports Council chairman David Penn had acidly noted that “there is no link between Olympic-level shooting and crime,” and contended that to posit such is “like saying that a thief would use a Formula One car as a getaway car.”
There is a mighty host of functionaries whose mission it is to uncover ever more subtle, ever more minuscule varieties of racism, and their scope is worldwide. In the little town of Wakefield, in England’s West Yorkshire, there is a modest engineering company named TEi Ltd., specializing in boilers, condensers, and the like. Good to know Britain’s great industrial tradition is still alive. The seeking-out of racism trumps any kind of enterprise or social utility, though. Adrian Ruda, an immigrant engineer from Poland, was ribbed by a TEi co-worker, who called him “Borat,” after the character in Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic movie of that name. Mr. Ruda got lawyered up, the witch-hunters descended on the firm, and Mr. Ruda was found by a judge to have been “the subject of direct race discrimination.” He was awarded $3,600. Now, instead of attending to their proper business, the firm’s managers must, as well as paying considerable legal costs, put in place a “workplace harassment and bullying policy,” and subject their employees to workplace training. The good news is that maintaining a sense of proportion is not yet actually illegal.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall comes with its share of mischance and controversy. Hurricane Irene delayed the dedication. The King family grotesquely charged $800,000 for permission to quote his words. The competition to sculpt King was won by Lei Yixin, a Chinese national, who created a Maoist Ozymandias, thick and glowering. Lei also used Chinese laborers, whose meager wages were withheld from them. While many of the King quotations chosen to adorn a nearby wall are eloquent — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” — a few are contradictory: King opposes (1967) the Vietnam War after saying (1963) that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (what was just about a Communist anschluss?). Familiarity will coat the ugliness, and time will let historians assess the more glaring contradictions. King was a seer at a pivotal moment of American history. He made one of his great efforts at the Mall, and it is fitting that he stand there.
Steve Jobs’s resignation as CEO of Apple prompted an outpouring of adulation for his truly marvelous successes. It would do us all better to focus on his failures. Jobs failed better than anyone in corporate America and did what only the greatest entrepreneurs can do: learn from one’s mistakes. While everyone today thinks of Jobs as the genius who gave us the iPhone and the iPad, Jobs also brought us the Apple I, which sold in the mere hundreds. Jobs was the architect of Lisa, which cost tens of millions of dollars to develop and also failed epically. Jobs founded NeXT Computer, a now-forgotten firm whose highest-profile success was its purchase by Apple. This acquisition paved the way for the serial failure Jobs to return to his natural home — and thrive. There’s a moral here for a Washington culture that fears (private-sector) failure too much. In today’s Washington, large banks aren’t permitted to fail; nor are large auto firms. Next up will be too-big-to-fail hospital systems. Steve Jobs is a reminder that failure is a good and necessary thing. And that sometimes the greatest glories are born of catastrophe.
The state of Illinois spends $750 million a year providing state-subsidized babysitting for poor people. But Illinois, as we all know, isn’t much for fastidious background checks, and it turns out that the state was paying rapists, child molesters, and other violent criminals to spend time alone with the children of the poor. From the government, here to help, etc.
When Ross Dundas Mackenzie wrote his final newspaper column in May, he chose not to bid his readers a nostalgic farewell. Instead, he launched into one of his snappy attacks on “contemporary liberalism — all bogus, all baloney, all bilge.” It was a fitting valedictory for a principled writer who never sought to curry anyone’s favor. Half a century ago, Mackenzie was a Chicago-born student at Yale who spent a summer as William F. Buckley Jr.’s intern at National Review. Then he settled into his long career as a conservative controversialist in the seat of the former Confederacy, first at the Richmond News Leader and later at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. By one estimate, he produced more than 22,000 editorials and columns. “You want the reader to either say, ‘Wow, I agree with that’ or ‘What is he thinking?’” said Mackenzie in 2007. “Either of those is preferable to the reader setting his paper down and saying, ‘Martha, what’s for dinner?’” With his retirement, America’s editorial pages have lost one of their most distinct and acerbic voices. Dinner-table conversations will miss him.
A king has just been deposed, to widespread apathy on the part of his subjects. The monarch in question is Burger King, the crown-and-ermine-wearing character who was used to market this most plebeian of restaurants. In typical 21st-century fashion, this latest incarnation of the King (he had been dropped before) debuted in 2004 as 1980s nostalgia, then had his creepiness played up in pursuit of campy irony, became an Internet meme, and appeared in video games. It is a singular feature of the hamburger industry that every chain’s mascot is scary: Do you know any child who isn’t freaked out by Ronald McDonald? Jack-in-the-Box looks like a serial killer wearing his work outfit, while Big Boy could be the star of a 1970s spawn-of-Satan film. Worst of all, Wendy’s mascot is a redhead. Now the King is being phased out in favor of a new ad campaign that will emphasize health and fresh ingredients. If that doesn’t scare away the customers, nothing will.
As the world that was forged at Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, Normandy, and Hiroshima endures through each decade’s challenges, the band of men who fought and won World War II continues to dwindle in numbers, though not in glory. Last month brought the passing of Albert Brown, America’s oldest WWII vet, who survived the Bataan Death March to find that it was just the beginning. During his three years in captivity, Brown endured constant beatings as his six-foot frame wasted away to 90 pounds. After liberation, he spent two years in an Army hospital; unable to work at his pre-war trade of dentistry, he became prosperous in California real estate. Dead at 105. R.I.P. Also leaving us was Charles Murray Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient. At one desperate juncture during the Battle of the Bulge, he encountered a group of 200 German troops who had pinned down an American battalion. Murray tried to call in air support, but when his radio went dead, he singlehandedly fought off the entire detachment — killing 20, capturing ten, wounding many others, and taking shrapnel in his legs from a grenade before reinforcements arrived. Dead at 89. R.I.P.
Joey Vento lived the American dream. Raised in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood, he grew rich and famous selling cheesesteaks, which rank second only to the Constitution among that city’s contributions to American life. In 1966 he opened Geno’s, at 9th and Passyunk, and it soon became a mecca for food lovers. Four decades later it acquired a different sort of fame when Vento posted a sign saying, “This is America: When ordering please speak English.” For this modest request he faced an inquisition from not one but two municipal “human rights” panels, finally achieving exoneration after two years of untold aggravation and expense. Vento always maintained that his sign was meant to encourage assimilation and prevent mistakes in filling orders. The sign has been taken down, but the long lines of ravenous natives and rapturous tourists remain to this day. Dead at 71. R.I.P.
Ten Years Later
‘For in one hour so great riches is come to naught” (Revelation 18:17).
There were hours, ten years ago, when the Bible’s vision of the destruction of Babylon seemed to be reenacted: the World Trade Towers brought low, the Pentagon burning; one airliner crashed in Pennsylvania, others temporarily unaccounted for; President Bush at an Air Force base somewhere, congressmen singing “God Bless America” uncertainly on the Capitol steps. That is one of the purposes of terrorism: to instill the sense of confusion that is the accompaniment of terror.
Other American disasters became collective psychic touchstones: the Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor. What the national mind remembered, whenever it could, was the heroism of Americans on the spot. 9/11 produced a plethora of heroes. The passengers of Flight 93, who struggled valiantly with their hijackers; the firemen and cops who rushed into the burning Trade Towers; emergency responders, professional and ad hoc, of all kinds. The front lines of the new millennium’s first war are everywhere, and time and again ordinary Americans rose to their duty.
9/11, like earlier icons of catastrophe, also became a pledge of just retaliation. The Taliban regime that harbored al-Qaeda was blown away in months; Saddam Hussein, omnibus patron of terrorists and enabler of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, was hanged, and Baathism overthrown. Osama bin Laden was tracked down, shot, and sunk in the ocean earlier this year; we kill al-Qaeda Number Twos as often as new ones pop up.
The security measures put in place by the Bush administration kept America safe for a decade. When al-Qaeda struck again, it was in Bali, London, and Madrid. Muslim freelancers, such as Major Hasan, staged spree killings. But the second big strike, so devoutly sought by bin Laden and his minions and admirers, never happened here.
Moments of trial flush out defeatists. First out of the gate was Michael Moore, chiding the 9/11 hijackers for attacking blue states. Normal media did their bit to sow shame and self-doubt, as every misstep or crime committed by an American was trumpeted to the world. This is nothing new. World Wars I and II produced an illusion of home-front consensus, but the post-9/11 world more closely resembles the rancor engendered by Vietnam, the Civil War, and the War of 1812.
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, in an eloquent statement of foreign-policy realism, declared that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” But when the monsters come here, we cannot hunker down to ward off their blows. Most American wars have been short; the war against jihadist extremism won’t be. Early victories are ambiguous — the Taliban is still in the field, Iraq might slip back — and there will be more battles ahead, as well as years of patient maneuvering.
The right word for 9/11 is not Revelation, but Ulysses Grant after the first grim day of the Battle of Shiloh. William Tecumseh Sherman, his second in command, sought him out to arrange the retreat that surely must follow. “Well, Grant,” Sherman said, “we’ve had the devil’s own day.” “Yes,” said Grant, preoccupied, chewing a cigar. “Lick ’em tomorrow though.”
Farewell to Qaddafi
With Libya’s rebels in possession of Tripoli, the Qaddafi regime has collapsed. Moammar Qaddafi had his proverbial boot on the face of the Libyan people for four decades and is responsible for the murder of nearly 200 Americans. The end of his government is a rough, belated justice for his crimes. He never truly accepted the norms of the international system and always would have been a threat to return to terrorism.
The end of Qaddafi’s rule does not mean the end of the war. Remnants of Qaddafi’s forces and pro-Qaddafi tribes could well wage an insurgency of their own. It is possible that the rebels may fracture and fight one another. In Iraq we saw the dangerous vacuum that can develop in a tribal country after its government and security forces are destroyed, and, in Libya, we do not have tens of thousands of troops on the ground to quell the violence.
The rebels would not have advanced to Tripoli without our support in the air and — according to press reports of allied special forces’ guiding the final offensive — on the ground. But the Obama administration’s experiment in leading from behind was not a happy one. It delayed the rebel victory, sowed distrust within NATO, and likely led to more deaths and suffering than would have happened if we had prosecuted the war vigorously from the beginning.
Post-Qaddafi Libya will face formidable challenges, and we will — and should — have only a limited role in navigating them. We have an interest in the establishment of order on a decent political basis in Libya, but not nearly enough of one to justify deploying ground troops. We should have an active embassy and offer the transitional national council advice on how to forge a new government (it is particularly important that it disband the militias, if it can). We should establish intelligence links with the new authorities and offer military aid. We should be willing to help them institute a new constitution, build political parties, and rewrite the school curriculum. But we should resist any temptation to pour massive amounts of foreign aid into a country that does not need it, given its oil wealth.
We should have realistic expectations for what comes next. The transitional national council is talking a good game about its vision for a democratic, pluralist future. We hope that this intention is genuine and that the council musters the wherewithal to make it happen. At the very least, it will have to contend with forces within its midst who have a darker vision for the country.
It may be possible to do worse than Qaddafi, but it will take some doing. Even if he had stayed in power, he would have ruled a fragmented country wracked by an ongoing insurgency that he would not have been able to snuff out completely. And he would have ruled — true to his 40 years in power — brutally. Given the accounts we had never entirely settled with him, it was the right thing to give him a good hard shove toward the exits when we had the opportunity. Good riddance.