Vice President Biden said, twice, that conservatives have spent $200 billion on political ads. He meant $200 million. Explains a lot about the last two years.
Barack Obama is a thoughtful man. One thing he gives a lot of thought to is why not everyone loves him. During the Democratic primaries in 2008, he came up with this reason: Where “jobs have been gone now for 25 years,” people “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” Two years later, he has given this thought a scientific basis: “Facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day . . . because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.” There is a speck of sympathy here for people in economic trouble, but look at the pearl of self-infatuation that coats it: Fear produced by hard-wiring blocks out facts and science and argument (e.g., the words of Obama). And this guy is stumping to help candidates? Democrats should send him on a state visit to Papua.
Late in October, NPR (formerly National Public Radio) senior news analyst Juan Williams appeared on The O’Reilly Factor. Williams began his segment by saying, “When I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb . . . I get worried, I get nervous.” He went on to critique his own nervousness. “Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, [Fred Phelps’s anti-gay cult] . . . you don’t say [of them] we got a problem with Christians.” Two days later Williams got a phone call telling him he was canned. NPR pretended it had booted Williams because he mixed punditry with analysis, but down-the-line liberals at NPR — Nina Totenberg — do it frequently without sanction. Williams was fired for violating the new unwritten blasphemy law — thou shalt not offend Muslims (even as a set-up to not offending them). In Liberal-land, black has been the ace of trumps forever. Now it’s the king; Islam is the new ace. Williams got a $2 million contract from Fox, which showed the quick, headstrong moves of a private news organization. Since NPR behaves in the same freewheeling style, let it become a private news organization and march on as a higher-quality Air America. This wouldn’t take a nick off the deficit, but it would clear the airwaves.
The Obama administration has whispered darkly that “foreign corporations” are attempting to use their filthy lucre to hijack American elections, but it turns out the biggest spenders this time around are the president’s familiar allies: government-employees’ unions. The No. 1 spender in this election cycle is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), i.e. Bureaucrats Inc., whose boss informed the Wall Street Journal in no uncertain terms: “We’re the big dog.” The National Education Association, a teachers’ union, is another big dog, kicking in $40 million. That money is not going to Republicans or Tea Party hell-raisers, in case you’re wondering. While the nation teeters on the brink of cascading fiscal crises at the local, state, and federal levels, the most powerful financial force in American politics is the union dues of the tax-consumer class, whose union bosses are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of their members’ money to ensure that no bureaucrat is left behind. Meanwhile, the president is libeling the Chamber of Commerce for criticizing his plans to tax and regulate its members out of existence. We’re generally in favor of low unemployment, but AFSCME’s members could use a couple hundred thousand pink slips.
Christine O’Donnell’s Delaware Senate campaign got an undeserved jolt when she debated Democratic opponent Chris Coons at Widener University Law School in Wilmington. “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him, drawing gasps and laughter from the crowd. But it was Coons and the crowd, not O’Donnell, who made a common mistake: conflating Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (Jan. 1, 1802) with the First Amendment. The former speaks of “a wall of separation between church and state”; the latter says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Some Founders, such as Jefferson, thought the First Amendment implied a wall of separation; others did not. Washington’s Farewell Address (written with Alexander Hamilton) called “religion and morality . . . indispensable supports” to “political prosperity.” If O’Donnell loses, maybe she can give a course at Widener.
At a Tea Party Express rally in mid-October, Sarah Palin cautioned the audience that it wasn’t time yet to “party like it’s 1773.” A swarm of Twitter commentators immediately pounced on her glaring historical gaffe. “WTF happened in 1773?” sneered one liberal expert (who normally blogs about wine). “She’s so smart,” mocked Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos. Gwen Ifill of PBS simply reposted Palin’s remark followed by “ummm.” The only problem was that, as someone eventually pointed out, Palin had the year right: The original Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. That quickly stifled the meme. As Palin might say, there is no sweeter sound than when dead silence replaces the cackle of rads.
As a grassroots movement, the Tea Party hasn’t relied much on celebrity endorsements, but former Velvet Underground drummer Maureen “Moe” Tucker offered one in an interview with the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis alternative newsweekly. She expressed sympathy for the poor (she herself grew up in poverty on Long Island) but explained the perils of economic intervention: “No country can provide all things for all citizens. There comes a point where it just isn’t possible, and it’s proven to be a failure everywhere it’s been tried.” Well said — especially for a 60-something veteran of a notoriously drug-addled band.
Republican Senate hopeful Rand Paul of Kentucky is not shy about taking controversial positions, but his Democratic opponent is more interested in a campus prank club Paul belonged to while a teenaged undergraduate at Baylor University. “Aqua Buddha” has injected a good bit of levity into the campaign, but Democrats’ subsequent demagogic advertising efforts to paint Dr. Paul as anti-Christian are shameful and dishonorable, to say nothing of implausible — the lowest kind of hate politics. Democrats apparently believe that Kentuckians are hillbillies who can be misled with religious attacks as easily as county-fair hucksters hypnotize chickens.
A moment of prayer, please, for the Empire State. Since Nelson Rockefeller (first elected in 1958), and with only a brief hiatus under Hugh Carey (1975–82), New York has been governed by a bipartisan high-tax party. The state legislature was in on the half-century-long potlatch. The local GOP, after decades of me-too politics, has withered to a vestigial condition. The 2010 Democratic nominees should be weak in this climate, or are just plain weak: gubernatorial pick Andrew Cuomo, political gentry with the personality of heavy machinery; tyro Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a chirpy nonentity. Yet Republicans could field only Carl Paladino, a Tea Party grotesque who makes Christine O’Donnell look like Solon, and Joe DioGuardi, a decent sort who hasn’t held office for 20 years. So attention drifts to freaks: Kristin Davis, a former madam; rhyming Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent Is Too Damn High party. Republicans could pick up a few House seats (they hold only two of 29). New York’s wilderness years will stretch out like the view from Mt. Marcy.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger was first elected in California’s tumultuous 2003 recall election, hopes were high that the governator would terminate the state’s fiscal woes. Instead, after voters defeated several propositions in 2004 and 2005 designed to temper California Democrats’ control of the state and cap state spending, Schwarzenegger increasingly started governing from the left. His legacy is hiked taxes, a state on the verge of financial failure, and a state unemployment rate that is the third-highest in the nation. It’s not just the illegal-immigrant former maid who is keeping GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman down in the polls.
Who’s Really on the March?
In this election cycle, the mainstream media have had an awful time wrestling with the causes of Republican momentum. The notion that President Obama might be unpopular because his policies are too far to the left is inadmissible, of course.
Alternative explanations for the Republican surge include the natural response of voters to the weak economy (which would supposedly have been far weaker absent Obama’s heroic efforts) and the notion that we are witnessing a possibly racist paleoconservative backlash fed by the Tea Party that, in movie form, might have the title March of the Nutcases.
In this climate, the storyline almost writes itself, depending on where one shines the spotlight. If you look at the Alaska Republican Senate candidate, for example, you see Joe Miller, a Bronze Star–winning soldier with a Yale Law degree who exudes common sense. If you look at Delaware, on the other hand, you see Christine O’Donnell, whose statements are, even her most avid supporters must concede, so colorful that they provide ample fodder for those wishing to portray Republicans in a negative light.
In this Senate election cycle, there are three candidates other than O’Donnell who indisputably qualify as “colorful” in this regard: Linda McMahon, the Connecticut candidate who was previously CEO of the nation’s most successful professional-wrestling organization; Rand Paul, the free-speaking libertarian; and Sharron Angle, the Nevada challenger to Harry Reid whose hard-right rhetoric has made her the darling of the anti-Washington movement.
The nearby chart shows that the media have clearly decided to focus their attention on the candidates who play better to its preferred storyline. The red bar in the chart plots the number of television hits for each of the “colorful” candidates, and for the average of all the other candidates. Clearly, the former are garnering all of the attention.
It might seem like a novel notion, but one way to learn about Republican success might be to study those Republicans who are successful. The blue bar in the chart reveals that the media have not followed this logic. It plots the extent to which each candidate is ahead or behind in the polls. Clearly, the more controversial candidates have a much more difficult path to victory, despite the massive media attention.
The liberal bias of the mainstream media is revealed both in the manner in which news is covered and in the choice of stories. The chart also reveals the big risk that the mainstream media have taken with their March of the Nutcases storyline. Christine O’Donnell will have a hard time being the metaphor for this election if she loses.
The latest WikiLeaks dump has backfired on the Left, which had expected confirmation of its fevered speculation about the Iraq War, including the preposterous tale that 1.4 million Iraqi civilians died in it. The WikiLeaked data suggest that the figure is about 8 percent of that. Other “revelations”: It is far more pleasant to be a prisoner of the United States than of Iraq, our drones sometimes crash, and other equipment performed imperfectly. Much of the material was ho-hum stuff about widely reported events, but the wholesale exposure of classified documents remains troubling. The most damaging information — the names of 300 Iraqis who cooperated with Coalition forces — was, thankfully, redacted, though their lives remain in danger so long as they are vulnerable to exposure, a fact that will make it harder for the U.S. to secure cooperation in the future. Pfc. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst behind some of the leaks, faces 52 years in prison; if convicted, he should serve every day of it — and the spooks should rethink allowing a private access to such a trove of data. It is not clear that the government has any recourse against WikiLeaks’ oddball boss, Julian Assange. He has a rape case against him in Sweden and stands accused of another sex crime; one hopes that if he should be caught jaywalking, our allies would throw every available book at him for the needless danger in which he has placed our troops and those who have aided them.
The debt commission established by President Obama will issue recommendations in December, and is reportedly eyeing “tax expenditures” it would like to scale back, such as the deduction for mortgage interest and the child tax credit. Conservative organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform say that any reduction in those tax breaks should be accompanied by reduced tax rates, and otherwise should be opposed as a tax increase. We would urge Republicans to keep five points in mind. First, the commission is not the legislature, and its suggestions need not be adopted in total. Republicans can pick and choose the ones with merit. Second, spending cuts are preferable to tax increases, and any deficit-closing deal should be weighted as much toward the former as possible. Third, some tax increases are worse than others. If tax increases are inevitable, or are deemed to be a price worth paying in order to get a deal that includes big spending reductions, those tax increases should move in the direction of a sensible tax code. Paring back the mortgage deduction would be such a step. Fourth, not everything called a tax break deserves the label. The child credit is a partial corrective to the tax code’s overtaxation of parenting. A reformed code should keep and expand it, and Republicans should oppose its reduction as vigorously as they oppose increases in capital-gains taxes. Fifth, beware preemptive concessions. Until President Obama comes out for slowing the growth of Social Security or capping Medicaid spending, Republicans would be foolish to give up any ground at all on taxes.
The kennel bill for Rep. Barney Frank’s two favorite pets, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is adding up in a most awful fashion: The cost of bailing out the giant government-backed mortgage companies is now projected to hit at least $150 billion (the cost of President Bush’s Iraq reconstruction program) and could climb as high as $260 billion (more than the government will spend on Medicaid this year or on paying interest on the national debt). The companies continue to bleed value, and their shares, already demoted to penny stocks, are tanking. Fannie and Freddie for years provided a multimillion-dollar gravy train to a largely Democratic procession of political hacks — Clinton White House budget director Franklin Raines and Herb Moses, the former paramour of Mr. Frank who used to describe himself as the congressman’s “spouse,” prominent among them. The Obama administration has promised to deliver a plan to reform the politically connected enterprises — but not until after the elections. Financial analysts have suggested that the firms lack adequate capital reserves, a worrisome fact considering that they have an unlimited line of credit at the U.S. Treasury. The time to act — with a plan to end taxpayer involvement in Fannie and Freddie — is now, not months from now when it is politically convenient for the Obama administration to get around to it.
In what is becoming a familiar pattern in the Obama years, it was left to a European official to suggest that U.S. policy is becoming too dirigiste. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged international cooperation to cap trade deficits and surpluses at 4 percent of GDP, leading German economy minister Rainer Bruderle to criticize “planned-economy thinking.” In any case, international cooperation is not likely to be forthcoming while our trading partners are convinced that the U.S. is devaluing its currency to get an advantage in trade. We should revamp our tax and regulatory policies to promote growth, cut federal spending, make a credible commitment to a stable and low-inflation monetary policy — and let the trade balance take care of itself.
Federal judge Virginia Phillips ordered the military to begin accepting openly homosexual applicants, but a three-judge panel has stayed her decision pending appeal. On past form, the Obama administration will defend the constitutionality of the law excluding homosexual soldiers — but do so as unconvincingly as possible. The administration’s actions so far are consistent with wanting the courts to strike down the policy but seeking deniability. As Judge Phillips noted in her initial decision, Obama’s Justice Department “called no witnesses, put on no affirmative case, and only entered into evidence the legislative history of the Act.” One result of this courtroom gamesmanship is that the military is unsure how to proceed. Where does the administration truly stand? “Don’t ask, don’t tell” could be its motto.
Having seized for itself, with the help of the courts, the authority to regulate greenhouse gases without the consent of Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama has aggressively proceeded to do so. There shall be a 20 percent reduction in emissions from heavy trucks and buses by 2018, the agency decreed — this following similar declarations regarding cars and light trucks. The idea of setting up a cap-and-trade system of emissions permits has lost favor in Congress, partly because a major scientific scandal diminished the credibility of cap-and-trade advocates, and partly because making energy more costly in a weak economy is politically as well as economically crazy. But the administration has proven that it is determined to unilaterally impose these unpopular caps, and there is little Congress can do to stop it. Unless the opponents of energy restrictions can win a difficult battle against the White House between now and 2012, we’re getting cap but no trade.
In 2006, then–secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff announced “a solution which we believe is going to do the job” of securing our nation’s borders. The centerpiece of that grand solution was to be a high-tech “virtual fence” composed of automatic cameras, radar scanners, ground sensors, and heat and motion detectors. The system would be in place along both northern and southern borders by 2009, at a cost of roughly $4 billion. Boeing would be the principal contractor, subcontracting as necessary. Four years on, with $850 million spent by Boeing, the project is an expensive fiasco. A 53-mile pilot project has been completed — that’s $253 per inch (and real dollars, not virtual ones) — but it works only erratically. A Government Accountability Office report released October 18 fingered sloppy oversight by the DHS, poor reporting by Boeing, and equipment failures. Now the DHS seems to be positioning itself to drop the whole idea. They have declared they will not exercise a one-year option for Boeing to continue work. Apparently there’s nothing more “virtual” than not having a fence at all.
It is hard not to feel for seniors in this economy. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s long-term zero-percent interest-rate policy is making life miserable for people who rely on income from their savings, as so many seniors do. However, one problem that seniors do not have is inflation — in fact, a little inflation is what Bernanke is trying to create. Inflation has averaged near-zero for the past two years, but President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are nevertheless pretending, in order to justify a bribe for seniors right before an election, that inflation is a big problem, and that each Social Security recipient needs a $250 supplemental payment to deal with it (total cost to the grandkids: $15 billion). It is impossible to justify such a large spending commitment to Social Security recipients when they are by their nature shielded from the very worst effects of economic downturns and got a 5.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment two years ago and a $250 supplemental payment last year. Raise your hand if you work in the private sector and you’ve seen anything like that kind of payoff from this administration’s policies. Okay, put your hand down, Rush.
California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize the consumption of marijuana and possession of it in small amounts, is running close to the wire. The most recent poll as of this writing has support for the measure dropping just under 50 percent, though backers remained cautiously optimistic about its passage. As the editors of this magazine have argued for decades, the prohibition of marijuana is a piece of bad public policy, its costs far outweighing its benefits. “Marijuana is not harmless, and its use should be discouraged, but in the same way, say, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day should be discouraged,” Richard Lowry wrote in 2005. “The criminal-justice system should stay out of it.” While the decriminalization movement suffers from exaggerated claims about the benefits of its project — it’s going to take more than a weed tax to balance California’s nightmare of a budget — the preponderance of evidence supports forbearance. Beyond the benefits of the measure itself, which include fewer people in prison and better-deployed police resources, Prop 19 serves as a useful reminder that state governments are under no obligation to help the federal government pursue its harebrained schemes.
Anthony Pitre, a guest of the Louisiana state penitentiary system, had a crafty plan to get out of his “hard labor” requirement: He would stop taking his HIV medication, thereby rendering himself too weak to work. The boys at Phelps Correctional Center would have none of this, and Pitre was forced to work anyway, which twice put him in the emergency room. Pitre’s Eighth Amendment suit found its way to the Supreme Court, where eight justices, in denying cert., evidently agreed with the lower court’s opinion of the case: “patently frivolous.” But Justice Sonia Sotomayor drew upon her deep reserves of empathy and found merit in Pitre’s complaint. Lesson learned: She’s not the kind of judge who forces criminals to take their medicine.
Hamid Karzai admits that his chief of staff has been accepting bags of cash from the Iranians, but in a “transparent” manner. It must be Kabul’s answer to honest graft. It’s not news that the Iranians are playing in Afghanistan (they are also funding the Taliban), nor is it news that people around Karzai are on the take. But the blatancy of this bag operation is stunning. Karzai is partly hedging his bets. No one is going to believe that Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal has no meaning until it’s well past July 2011 and we’re still in Afghanistan in force. Meantime, we need to act in accord with an amended version of the old adage: “Keep your friends close; keep your unreliable allies even closer.”
The Conservative–Liberal Democrat alliance ruling the United Kingdom unveiled a new budget that is being hailed by most center-right commentators for its steep spending cuts and political savvy. Those cuts envision the government’s share of the economy falling by 2015 all the way to its 2008 level. That is certainly progress. But the details of the budget are less appealing. It cuts defense and raises both the value-added tax and the capital-gains tax, while adding funding for such exotica as a “Green Investment Bank.” It also cuts the child allowance for middle-class and affluent households, which was already a meager corrective to the government’s bias against child-rearing. If David Cameron and company continue on this course, the previous spendthrift Labour government will have worked a permanent change in British budget priorities.
It’s not the done thing in Germany to utter anything that could be taken as derogatory of other people — for obvious reasons, one might add. The presence of 2.5 million Turks and perhaps another million and a half Muslims from elsewhere has therefore been tidily swept out of sight under the word multikulti. According to this construct of the progressive mind, immigrants from anywhere and everywhere have been encouraged to keep to their culture, language, and customs, as though integration were not an alternative. The several million Muslims in Germany are living as though back in their home countries. Thilo Sarrazin, a senior official of the Bundesbank, a true national institution, was the first to wonder whether multikulti might not be a fantasy when he pointed to the high level of crime and welfare benefits among Muslim immigrants. His book on the subject has sold a staggering 600,000 copies. He has had to resign, but other heavyweight politicians repeated what he had been saying. The new German president, Christian Wulff, took the different and completely unhistorical line that Islam is “part of Germany.” This was too much for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Multikulti, she said at a political meeting, “has failed, utterly failed.” What’s to be done about it, though, she carefully left unsaid.
“Anatolian Eagle” is the code term given to exercises that Turkey conducts annually with its allies. In recent years, America and Israel participated in these exercises. No more. China has replaced them. This fall, Sukhoi fighter aircraft, actually built in China or Russia, flew via Iran and Pakistan to Turkey. While Chinese troops are garrisoned in several African countries, nominally to protect resources in which China has invested, this was the first time Communist China’s air force has conducted any kind of joint operations with a NATO country, one moreover equipped with F-16s and other armaments unavailable to China. The Turks had previously been cool, if not hostile, because the Chinese have been brutally suppressing the Turkic Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang. That’s no longer a factor either. A new and unforeseen anti-American front is taking shape.
The trial of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders has collapsed in proceedings that swing between the farcical and the deadly serious. The decision to prosecute him for inciting hatred by comparing Islam to Nazism and the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf was supposed to lead to a show trial that would make an example of him. As leader of a party with 24 seats in the Dutch parliament and a partner in a coalition government, Wilders instead explained to the court that he had not just a right but a duty to speak the truth as he saw it. The judges continued to display evident and inexplicable bias, first objecting to Wilders’s silence in court, and then refusing to recall one of his witnesses, an Arabist professor named Hans Jansen. Astonishingly, when one of the judges met Jansen at a dinner party, he put pressure on him by insisting in ill-mannered language that it was right to prosecute Wilders. When this became public knowledge, a judicial appeals panel ruled to appoint new judges. Prosecution has had the effect of making Wilders popular in the Netherlands, and far beyond, as a politician honest enough to say what he really thinks, whatever the consequences. The attempt to enforce political correctness by means of the law has backfired spectacularly.
Nicolas Sarkozy proposes to raise the minimum retirement age in France from 60 to 62, and the age for a full pension from 65 to 67. Not the most dramatic move, but the French are responding as though he were condemning them to intolerable hardship. Demonstrations have erupted in several hundred cities and towns. The unions are calling for more strikes. Marseilles is particularly hit, as an armada of ships is prevented from entering the port and refuse has been piling up in the streets for weeks. In what seems a traditional festival, lorries block roads, service stations run out of fuel, flights are suspended, cars are set on fire. Les casseurs, hooligans or anarchists who love to smash things up, seem to be a small minority this time. The young, many of them schoolchildren, are taking the lead, here and there wrecking their schools. Revolutionaries of the older generation like Daniel Cohn-Bendit must find it surreal that already-privileged children are ready for violent protest about what the state is to give them in half a century’s time.
When Canada was denied a seat on the U.N.’s Security Council, most of its citizens were disappointed. Yet the rejection is actually worthy of praise, because it resulted from prime minister Stephen Harper’s principled refusal to go along with the U.N.’s horse-trading business as usual. According to The Economist, Harper’s offenses were as follows: “outspoken support of Israel’s hardline government, alienating the Muslim countries that make up a third of the U.N.’s membership”; a “feeble policy on climate change”; being “skeptical of Canada’s traditional multilateralism”; failing to expand Canada’s “commitment to U.N. peacekeeping missions”; and, worst of all, “choosing to inaugurate a doughnut-innovation centre rather than attend the U.N. General Assembly.” All of these policy decisions are admirable, to be sure — but how awesome was blowing off the Turtle Bay windbags to score some doughnuts? That may have been Canada’s finest moment since Juno Beach.
Among the woes afflicting the nation of Zimbabwe these past few years has been a dire shortage of fuel for trucks. Enter Ms. Nomatter Tagarira, who claimed to be a spirit medium gifted with the power to bring forth diesel fuel from a certain large rock. Robert Mugabe’s government sent a delegation of ministers and top military brass to check. Sure enough, when Ms. Tagarira struck the rock, fuel gushed forth. She became a celebrity. Helicopters and a 50-vehicle convoy were placed at her disposal. She was awarded $3 million of government cash and a farm (confiscated, of course, from a white farmer). Ms. Tagarira kept the scam going for a year. When the fakery — a hidden oil tank, some piping, and a concealed assistant — were exposed at last, she went into hiding. Now, three years later, she has been found, arrested, and sentenced to 39 months in prison. Meanwhile Zimbabwe descends ever further into disorder.
“I was anti-gun, until I got stalked.” That’s the title of a recent piece that Jennifer Willis, a Portland, Ore., freelance writer who often writes about “sustainable living,” penned for the liberal Web magazine Salon. Willis tells of receiving “letters, a phone call, a few packages and several e-mails from [an] unbalanced stranger who’d read a few newspaper stories I’d written and taken a shine to me.” Her solution? She took the advice that both her boyfriend and a police officer gave her, and bought a firearm — even though “the idea of owning a gun made me sick to my stomach.” Situations like Willis’s illustrate why gun ownership is such an important right — and why even seemingly innocuous gun-control policies, such as waiting periods, can keep people from having firearms when they need them most.
After Sony announced it was ceasing production of the Walkman, the general reaction was surprise that they were still being . . . Oh, sorry, the Walkman? It was a clunky device you could hang from your belt, with earphones for listening to music. Trouble was, it played only cassettes, so by the early ’90s . . . Right, should have explained that. A cassette was a flat rectangular thing about the size of a playing card that contained a little reel of audiotape, which turned . . . um, audiotape? It was this beige plastic stuff that sort of looked like — well, you’ve seen videotape, right? . . . You haven’t? Okay, never mind.
It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. The 2008 prostitution scandal that brought down New York governor Eliot Spitzer has been a career booster for all concerned. Spitzer is now co-host of a TV talk show; Ashley Dupré, the party of the second part in the Spitzer case, is gainfully employed as sex columnist for the New York Post; and Kristin Davis, a Manhattan procuress who claims she also provided services for Spitzer, is running for governor. While the culture has been busy transmuting notoriety into fame, though, at least one bastion of rectitude has resisted the trend. New York City’s Harvard Club has rejected Spitzer’s application for membership. The ex-governor is a Harvard Law School graduate (1984) and his daughter is an undergraduate, but apparently the admissions committee felt that a person known to his panders, and now the world, as “Client 9” would not add luster to their establishment.
The strangest ballot proposal of this election season is surely the city of Denver’s Initiative 300, which instructs the city to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. The initiative’s website explains: “It’s a BIG universe but we need to share it with others who are not from Earth.” That’s a multiculturalism too far in our opinion, though we’ll allow that if the thing has to be done anywhere, Denver’s the place. The Mile High City is, after all, closer to outer space than any other metropolis in the U.S.
When Mildred Jefferson graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1951 — the first black woman to do so — she took the Hippocratic Oath. Jefferson believed in it, and believed it prohibited the taking of life, so two decades later, when the American Medical Association declared that physicians could ethically perform abortions, she became one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee. She remained active in NRLC and other pro-life groups until her death on October 15. A surgeon, she was renowned for her energy, her stirring oratory, and her tireless dedication to the cause. Perhaps her most concise explanation of why she felt so strongly came in a 2003 article: “I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have the right to live.” Dead at 84, R.I.P.
Bob Guccione, founder and publisher of Penthouse, took mainstream girlie pix the next step in explicitness beyond Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, and made a ton of money doing so, before losing it all to bad investments and online competition. Guccione had lifelong aesthetic aspirations: He started off trying to be an artist, and at his peak he collected El Greco, Degas, Matisse. He thought his craft as a pornographer was underappreciated. A Penthouse model, he once explained, never looked at the camera. “To see her as if she doesn’t know she’s being seen. That was the sexy part.” Another way of putting it is that what most interested Guccione looked right at the camera; a woman’s face by comparison was inconsiderable to him. Dead at 79. R.I.P.
Tea Party Truths
Whatever happens on November 2, it is clear who has set the tone for this election cycle. Rick Santelli sang his Tea Party aria on CNBC in February 2009; since then, impressive numbers of Americans have been partying like it was 1773.
The Tea Party caught on because the two-word moniker evoked an episode of American history both rebellious and libertarian. But another word, also beginning with the letter T, was essential to its rise: trillion. Even more than TARP, the near-trillion-dollar stimulus package brought out the Gadsden flags. Obamacare, and the way it was plowed through Congress, did nothing to furl them.
Misconceptions have attended the movement almost since its birth. (We will leave aside Anderson Cooper’s gross sexual jibe.) Like many misconceptions, they travel in matched pairs. The Tea Partiers are accused of being unwashed rabble; the latest incarnation of this charge is that they resent “elite education” — the phrase of the usually sensible Anne Applebaum — from which they have been excluded. At the same time, they are said to be disproportionately wealthy — retirees, fearful that increased government spending might crowd out their benefits.
They are accused of being GOP sock puppets, even though they have thrown out a closetful of old Republican shoes — Sen. Bob Bennett, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Mike Castle, former Rep. Rick Lazio. And yet they are also supposed to be the Astroturf of fringy and reclusive right-wing moneymen, the main villains in this scenario being the libertarian Koch brothers. Former Rep. Dick Armey of FreedomWorks figures in both stories, the GOP story because he was a Republican congressman, the fringy story because he is no longer a Republican congressman (and therefore must now be a Son of Anarchy).
A thread that winds through all accusations is that the Tea Party is racist. Barack Obama is a black man, the Tea Party dislikes him, therefore the Tea Party dislikes all black men. The Calvary of this narrative was the march of three black congressmen through a Tea Party crowd outside the Capitol in March as the health-care debate was winding up, during which they were alleged (by themselves) to have been bombarded by the –igger word. In this day of ubiquitous cellphones, not one recording of this shower of abuse has surfaced. It would be sad to think that Rep. John Lewis, a civil-rights icon, lied for partisan advantage, but it is hard not to.
A final Tea Party misconception is one cherished by conservatives: Vox populi vox dei. It becomes seductive whenever views that we approve are riding a wave of approval. In the early Eighties and the mid-Nineties many conservatives became likewise enthusiastic about their fellow men.
Upholders of republican government believe that it is right for men to rule themselves; as a psychological necessity they also tend to believe that over the long haul popular rule is for the better (or at least that alternatives would be for the worse). The people make many a blunder along the way, however. They are fallen men; how could they not? The country that seems poised to heed Tea Party complaints elected Barack Obama by a near-landslide two years ago. Russell Kirk used to say, wisely (quoting T. S. Eliot), there are no lost causes because there are no gained causes. Shoulders to the wheel; we have work ahead of us.