NR Digital

The Week

by

If Congress wants to prosecute those who accept foreign money, Tim Geithner had better keep a suitcase packed.

At his White House farewell, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s departing chief of staff, told his boss: “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.” The second half of that statement is self-evidently ridiculous, though entirely in keeping with Emanuel’s baby-boomer myopia. But “toughest leader”? The man whose first legislative triumph was persuading Congress to vote itself $800 billion worth of pork? Whose greatest achievement was leading his party off a cliff with a widely detested health-care bill? Who dithered for half a year before sending more troops to Afghanistan, and then told every cave dweller in the Hindu Kush when they would be leaving? Who says he has to consult a panel of experts to figure out whose ass to kick? Let’s hope the good people of Chicago, whose next mayor Emanuel seeks to become, will be spared such notions of leadership.

The final jobs report before the election was a bad one for Democrats: The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.6 percent, and the economy lost 95,000 jobs. Most of these losses were attributable to government layoffs, and liberal economists seized upon that fact in an attempt to bolster their economic spin du jour, which is that the stimulus was not big enough. According to them, the federal government should have borrowed even more money to give to state and local governments, most of which cannot engage in similarly reckless borrowing. A little perspective is in order: Since the summer of 2007, when the subprime-mortgage meltdown began, state and local governments have shed around 70,000 net jobs, while the private sector has shed over 7,700,000. The new spin is a tacit admission that the administration’s policies have failed to jump-start the private economy: The Democrats’ fallback position is that we should allow the public sector to remain insulated from the effects of the recession. The correct policy — shrinking the government so that the productive sector may expand — continues to elude them.

The Federal Reserve said that it would keep interest rates low for “an extended period” and signaled its willingness to engage in further “quantitative easing” — expanding the Fed’s balance sheet — should the economy slow. It is coming under pressure to provide more monetary stimulus. Outgoing Obama adviser Christina Romer says, “If fiscal policy makers won’t act, I think monetary policy makers must act.” Thomas Hoenig, president of the Kansas City Fed, is a dissenter, worrying about “long-run inflation issues that are not immediate but are out there.” The good news is that with a trillion dollars in excess reserves already in the banking system, quantitative easing should not do much to increase inflation. (It may also be pointless, for the same reason.) The better news is that the economy might not need stimulus: It is growing, albeit slowly. We will not strengthen our recovery by having Ben Bernanke devalue our dollars, any more than we will by having Nancy Pelosi burn through them.

The New York Times recently uncovered another curious fact about tea partiers: They reach to “dusty bookshelves” for “once-obscure texts by dead writers.” The writers, including Friedrich Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat, are indeed dead, although it seems a little strange to call a work by the Nobel Prize–winning Hayek “obscure.” By bravely plunging into this kooky book-reading, the Times discovered such “out there” concepts as the “rule of law,” which it explains is “Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of ‘personal ends and desires.’” We bet it would be news to Hayek that he had come up with an idea invoked by Aristotle and John Locke, or that he believed that the best way to ensure predictable and fair treatment of citizens by the law was to have an unwritten code. Will the next newsflash be that Keynesian Democrats too read books by the dead? (Or is literacy exclusive to the Tea Party?)

While the Tea Party has been reading Atlas Shrugged and The Road to Serfdom, Alaska’s Joe Miller and West Virginia’s John Raese, Senate candidates both, apparently have been boning up on their Milton Friedman: Each has had intelligent and sober things to say about the minimum wage, which decades of economic analysis has shown to increase unemployment among the poor and unskilled, and which Friedman called “the most anti-black law on the books,” noting its exacerbation of joblessness among African Americans. Their Democratic opponents are howling, of course, never having quite got their heads around the fact that in their elementary economics textbooks, demand curves slope downward: The higher the price of x, the less x is demanded. Mr. Miller, a Yale law graduate who takes a narrow view of federal power, believes that Washington lacks the legitimate authority to impose a minimum wage on the states, while Mr. Raese has made the economically obvious point that an artificial wage floor will foreclose job opportunities for certain workers. American public policy is currently in the grip of three lifelong politicians without a milligram of business experience or economic acumen between them — lawyer Barack Obama, lawyer Harry Reid, and congressional heiress Nancy Pelosi — and it shows. When it comes to economics, Democrats are as reliably anti-science as flat-earthers trying to explain away evolution, and their dinosaur policies are long overdue for extinction.

The Democrats probably would have attacked their Republican adversaries on Social Security even if they weren’t desperate, but the cornered-animal fear coursing through their veins is causing them to attack more fiercely than usual. In South Carolina, the Democrats are running an ad against GOP House candidate Mick Mulvaney that depicts a granny in a pink gingham dress posing for a mug shot, then sitting forlornly in a jail cell with a sign that says, “Help!” “If he could,” a narrator intones, Mulvaney would make Social Security “illegal.” Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent running for Senate in Florida, recently accused his Republican opponent Marco Rubio of wanting to “balance the budget on the backs of seniors.” To the best of our knowledge, none of the Republicans running this year has advocated any proposal that alters arrangements for anyone above the age of 55. Some, such as Rubio, have spoken honestly about the bad and worse options facing younger contributors to the system. That is the mark of a serious candidate. The critics are compounding irresponsibility with dishonesty.

Suppose you threw a party and only 200,000 people showed up. That’s what happened to the organized Left at its “One Nation” rally on the Washington Mall early in October. The 200K figure was the upper end of the organizers’ own estimates; aerial photos showed that their crowd was a good deal smaller than the one at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August. “One Nation” consisted largely of two groups, union members — AFL-CIO, SEIU, NEA — and black liberals. The assembled heard from MSNBC rhapsode Ed Schultz, Marxist truther Van Jones, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Reps. Charlie Rangel and John Conyers. With a few tweaks, it could have been a Mondale campaign rally in 1984. The prospects of “One Nation” seem rather similar about now.

Liberal activist Gloria Allred recently put on display an illegal alien who had worked as a maid for California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. The obvious goal was to derail Whitman’s run against Jerry Brown, just as similar charges in the past have hurt Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, and Linda Chavez. But this time no full-blown nannygate scandal developed, for the simple reason that Whitman appears to have acted lawfully. She filled out the required paperwork, using the authentic-looking documents presented by Nicky Diaz Santillan; when Santillan finally acknowledged that she was illegal, Whitman promptly let her go. Whitman had received a no-match letter from Social Security about Santillan, to which Allred pointed as evidence of the candidate’s perfidy. But that letter specifically forbade Whitman to fire Santillan, warning that doing so could “subject you to legal consequences.” An indicator of the attack’s failure came when Saturday Night Live mocked Allred rather than Whitman. Nonetheless, this was a lost opportunity. By leaving the revelation to her opponents, she permitted them to paint a story of the billionaire vs. the hapless little guy (or gal). Instead, Whitman should have used the example to show how honest employers are in a bind — employees lie to them, but they can be punished for trying too hard to learn the truth and act on it.

Ahmed Ghailani, who has admitted his crucial role in al-Qaeda’s 1998 American-embassy bombings, was cherry-picked by the Obama administration to prove that civilian trials are the best way to deal with terrorism — no need for such Bush-era overreactions as military commissions. To distance itself still further from Bush policies, the Justice Department forswore any reliance on Ghailani’s confession, even though he had later repeated his admissions during gentler FBI questioning. But now, with jury selection under way, a federal judge has excluded the government’s key witness, who sold Ghailani the explosives, because his identity was revealed during Ghailani’s interrogation. So civilian due-process rules have left the prosecution with no confession and no witness tying the bomber to the bomb. Under military-commission rules, the case against the murderer of 224 people might have remained intact. But DOJ has opted not to appeal the exclusion. Obama rolls the dice.

The Party of ‘Shut Up’

I had to chuckle at a lengthy post on The New Republic’s website by a guest blogger named Sara Robinson:

Every American over the age of ten knows what the GOP and the conservative movement stand for. Sing it with me now: low taxes, small government, strong defense, traditional families. See? You know the tune, and the harmony line, too. OK, now: What do Democrats and progressives stand for? Take your time. It’s a tough question. Give up? So have most progressives. Even the movement’s most deeply committed members often have a hard time answering this one. And that’s a problem. Specifically, it’s a branding problem. Conservatives have worked hard for the past 40 years to create a long-term brand identity for their ideas. Progressives haven’t. And that has made all the difference.

Robinson goes on and on in this vein, as if hers were a new observation. The reality is that this is one of liberalism’s mossier clichés. Whenever liberals get in trouble, it’s not because they’re wrong, it’s because they haven’t communicated their rightness sufficiently. A few years ago, this claim was best reflected in the writings of George Lakoff, the linguist who thinks everyone will love trial lawyers if we just call them “public-protection attorneys.” The idea has great and obvious appeal to liberals because it places the real blame on the public, for failing to appreciate just how right they are, while offering them a backdoor compliment: We’re just too smart to talk at the hoi polloi’s level.

That said, I think Robinson is right about one thing. Progressives do have a branding problem. But it stems from the nature of progressivism. What progressivism stands for is having progressives be in charge. Period. Progressivism, stripped of all its pretensions and its many good intentions (and it does have many good intentions), is at its core the dogmatic belief that the familiar band of technocratic, egalitarian statists should be calling the shots.

This is the upshot of liberalism’s much vaunted “empiricism” and hostility to “labels,” “ideology,” etc. When liberals claim they don’t believe in labels, what they are saying is that they don’t want to be locked into a view, an idea, a principle, that will constrain them later.

This view is what defined FDR’s “experimentalism” and JFK’s “cool pragmatism.” JFK argued that “political labels and ideological approaches are irrelevant to the solution” of contemporary challenges. “Most of the problems . . . that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems.” These problems “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men” and therefore should be left to the experts. These days, if you hear a liberal invoke pragmatism, you can reliably translate his statement into “Shut up, we know what to do.” This has more or less defined Obama’s “pragmatism” since he took office.

Even where progressives claim to be laissez-faire — say, in matters of sexuality or abortion — there’s always an implied expiration date (does anyone believe that progressives will remain so dogmatically pro-choice the day homosexuality can be prevented in utero?). It’s very hard to find an area where liberals claim to be truly liberal (by which I mean libertarian) and their love of freedom isn’t conducive to their preferred outcome. Personal liberty is awesome, so long as you eat the right food and smoke fashionable plants. They’re for free speech in principle, but would define away disagreement as a “hate crime.” Dissent is the highest form of patriotism when it’s liberal dissent, while the dissenting tea partiers are plain old racists.

This arrogant, double-dealing mindset is what creates progressivism’s branding problem. They can’t admit to their real slogan: “Shut up, we’re in charge.”

In the final presidential debate two years ago, Barack Obama said, “If I’m interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden, or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or Gen. Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.” Jones has been national security adviser since Obama’s swearing-in; he is on his way out now, to be replaced by Tom Donilon. Donilon is a career-long Democratic politico: an aide to Carter, Mondale, Biden, Dukakis, Clinton, all of them. He was key behind the scenes in bringing Robert Bork down, when Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court. From 1999 to 2005, he was a top executive at Fannie Mae. In the Obama administration, he has been deputy national security adviser. And now he is to have the top job. In Bob Woodward’s new book, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, is quoted as saying that Donilon would be a “complete disaster” in that job. In any case, we remember where the buck stops. Foreign policy will be determined by Barack Obama, whether his national security adviser is Jones, Donilon, Smith, or Brown.

Middle East studies is one of the most absurd and offensive academic fields in America, at a time when it is critically needed. The field is dominated by apologists for Middle Eastern extremism, primitivism, and irreconcilability. No institution exemplifies these tendencies more than Columbia University, home of the late Edward Said. And Columbia seems to have gotten worse: with the opening of the Center for Palestine Studies, dedicated to the legacy of Said. The center’s co-director is Rashid Khalidi, the PLO man who is President Obama’s old friend. What a pity Yasser Arafat wasn’t available.

A new wave of financial uncertainty is washing over the already unsteady housing market as questions about faulty legal documentation bring foreclosures to a standstill. After August saw a record 95,364 of them, Bank of America announced a total foreclosure freeze, while J. P. Morgan and GMAC froze foreclosures in dozens of states. At issue are thousands of legal documents that were signed and filed without being properly vetted for accuracy. But that’s only part of the mess: As foreclosure-defense attorneys across the country have discovered to their delight, the process of securitizing mortgages has made it difficult and time-consuming to establish exactly who owns a mortgage — and who therefore has the right to sue for foreclosure. The bulk of securitized mortgages are technically owned by Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), the electronic exchange set up to allow investors to trade mortgages without having to trek down to the county courthouse and update the public records every time a loan changes hands. But courts have found that since MERS loans no money and accepts no payments from homeowners, it does not have standing to sue. The MERS system has created conflicts between public records and the ownership claims of the foreclosing parties — meaning that unwinding who owes what to whom is going to be a really nasty furball to pick apart. The bright side is that it will create a lot of jobs — for lawyers and auditors. But at this point the Obama administration will take what it can get.

The South Fulton, Tenn., fire department drew national attention when it let a man’s house burn down because he had not paid the fee it requires for services outside the city’s jurisdiction. (The department suggested that it would have acted if the blaze had threatened to spread or to take anyone’s life.) The burnt-out family said it had forgotten to pay the fee — just as it had forgotten to pay three years earlier, when the department put out a chimney fire — and would have paid after the fact, as it did on that occasion. Liberals seized on the story to criticize libertarianism, but the department is a government agency. Paul Krugman asked, “Do you want to live in the kind of society in which this happens?” Answer: It depends on the alternative. Should the city pay for services outside its jurisdiction, or take over its surroundings to levy the appropriate taxes, or send the bill to Krugman in Princeton, N.J.? The department erred, but not in noticing that all good things come at a cost.

Most members of Congress appear to know two things about China’s relationship with the United States: We buy a lot of their stuff, and they buy a lot of our debt. But most members of the House either don’t understand the connection or don’t care about its consequences, because they just passed a bill that would allow President Obama to slap tariffs on the products we buy from China. Their theory is that this would bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. It wouldn’t. What we buy from China and what we sell to China are very different things. A crackdown on China would be a full-employment program for other developing countries where lower costs vis-à-vis U.S. manufacturers offer a comparative advantage: It would probably not create a single low-skill job here. This is to say nothing of what would happen to the U.S. government’s borrowing costs if China stopped lending us our own money back. Having discovered that America cannot borrow and spend its way out of its past mistakes, policymakers are searching for another magic bullet. Now would be a good time to remind them that trade wars tend to backfire on their initiators.

When Chris Christie promised to bring his state back from the fiscal brink, he forthrightly warned that this would involve painful cuts to worthy programs. Christie’s recent decision to kill the over-budget ARC tunnel project — barring last-minute concessions from the federal government — is just such a case. The project, which would alleviate the Hudson River bottleneck and dramatically increase rail capacity into New York over the next ten years, has merit. But it also depends on the continued raiding of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund to meet an open-ended obligation. Over the last ten years, the TTF has annually taken in $900 million in revenue from gas taxes and other sources, yet Trenton has spent $1.4 billion on infrastructure projects — filling the gap with debt that, combined beginning next year, will cost every single dollar of annual revenue to service. We applaud Christie’s wisdom in seeing that a quicker commute is of limited value to a state heading in the wrong direction.

Michael Kinsley famously defined a gaffe as when a politician tells the truth. What do we call an activist’s telling too much truth? Richard Curtis, Brit filmmaker (Four Weddings and a Funeral), was asked to write a short film to celebrate 10:10, a campaign to reduce the developed world’s carbon emissions by 10 percent in 2010. Curtis’s filmlet, “No Pressure,” involved no weddings, lots of funerals. Those deficient in carbon awareness — children, office workers — were summarily blown to bits by hectoring teachers and bosses; their red remains splashed over the survivors. 10:10 pulled the film, without repudiating it: “10:10 would like to apologize to everybody who was offended . . .” This is the mental world of Goebbels or Beria: We will destroy our enemies and laugh at their destruction. The eco-freak hates humanity: skeptics first of all; all of us, at the end of the day.

The American Postal Workers Union’s officer elections have been delayed because too many members’ ballots were lost in the mail, which we suppose is like the American Meteorological Society’s summer picnic getting rained out. This is the same APWU whose current contract requires the Postal Service to keep all existing retail offices open, even though four out of five locations lose money; the same APWU whose president, William Burrus, wants the next contract to “reflect the entitlement to more . . . more control over activities at work, more money, better benefits — we want more.” Negotiations with the APWU are under way now — send a letter to your congressman about it. On second thought, better make it an e-mail.

The proofreader’s life is a lonely one, with its greatest triumphs going unnoticed, while the smallest mistake sits on the page in unchanging black print, ineluctably drawing the reader’s eye for eternity. Yet every typo hound’s soul aches to mark up a bigger canvas, and while lying awake at night, or lunching with fellow proofers at the Caret Club, he must sometimes allow himself to muse: “What if I could write ‘WRONG FONT’ on the entire world?” As it happens, the Federal Highway Administration has done just that, directing that all street signs must be printed in a typeface called Clearview, and in upper and lower case instead of all caps. This upper-case ukase does not apply just to new signs; all non-complying ones must be replaced by 2018, a rule that will cost New York City $27 million. Supposedly Clearview is the easiest font for drivers to read, but the gain in legibility is quite modest, and in any case, local authorities will know best how to decrease accidents with limited funds. Yet none of these considerations deters the power-mad proofreaders of the Potomac, and weary citizens can only console themselves by reflecting that things could be worse: It could have been Comic Sans.

Geert Wilders has made his career in the Netherlands on a group of related propositions: There are more than enough Muslims in the country, their Koran is a fascist book like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and the time has come to protect Dutch culture. A lot of Dutch people share these opinions. Five years ago Wilders founded the Freedom party, and in the recent general elections the party won 24 seats in a parliament of 150. Dutch politics are splintered. Two other conservative parties need the support of Wilders if they are to form a coalition government. Discussions are continuing while Wilders stands trial on the grounds that he has been “inciting hatred” against Muslims. He could be fined and sent to prison. Jan Moors, one of the judges in the case, has accused him of being “good at making statements, but then you avoid the discussion.” Critics, and Muslims among them, make out that Wilders is some sort of fascist, and he replies that he is an elected parliamentarian speaking for all his fellow citizens and exercising his right of free speech. What’s at issue is whether Muslims are to have special privileges enshrined in law, and it is no exaggeration to say that the future far beyond the Netherlands hangs on it.

In the last many years, the Nobel committees for peace and literature have not exactly covered themselves in glory. The peace committee, in particular, has produced a rogues’ gallery. Kofi Annan. Jimmy Carter. Mohamed ElBaradei. Al Gore. Barack Obama. Some of us said, “Why not Michael Moore?” The literature committee has not done much better. A low point occurred in 2005, when they gave the prize to Harold Pinter, the British playwright, then at the height of his anti-Americanism. It said a lot that he devoted his Nobel lecture not to literature, but to a gross attack on America as a criminal nation. This year, the committees chose humanely and wisely. The laureate in literature is Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the best writers of our time — and, as a bonus, a liberal democrat. He has defended freedom, including economic freedom, and done so in Latin America: a region that has had too few friends of freedom. The peace laureate is Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese democrat and dissident who sits in prison. Liu is an incredibly brave man, an example to us all, as are his many brother dissidents. As Jay Nordlinger says in his article on the peace prize (see page 26), just when you’re ready to write that prize off, the committee goes and does something valuable. The same can be said of the literature committee.

British biologist Robert Edwards, now 85, received a Nobel Prize for his work in human in vitro fertilization. The technical achievement deserves the recognition. Its social impact has been mixed. Many people owe their existence to IVF, and others much of their happiness. But IVF has also spawned an industry, especially in the U.S., that too often destroys human life. And social acceptance of IVF has made it easier to produce children outside of the context of marriage. Most disturbingly, it has abetted a eugenics mentality that is willing to treat children as products to which “quality controls” may be applied. We see this in the increasingly common IVF practice of “screening” newly conceived embryonic human beings and discarding those judged to be inferior. The advance of knowledge is wonderful, but wisdom rarely keeps pace.

A Canadian couple pressured their surrogate into having an abortion when it was discovered that the child would probably be born with Down syndrome. The surrogate was reluctant at first; the couple told her that she could go through with the pregnancy if she wanted, but the adoption would be off and the child would be hers to raise. The surrogate, a mother of two, acquiesced and had the abortion. Sally Rhoads of Surrogacy in Canada Online is on the biological parents’ side: “The baby that’s being carried is their baby. . . . Why should the intended parents be forced to raise a child they didn’t want? It’s not fair.” It’s not fair to punish the innocent — yes, exactly.

If President Obama is “out of Afghanistan psychologically,” as Bob Woodward reports in his new book, one can only imagine how detached he is from Iraq. He should pay some attention. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, desperate to stay in power after a muddled election earlier this year, cut a deal with anti-American radical Moqtada al-Sadr that is a major step toward forming a governing coalition. If a Maliki-Sadr alliance excludes the Sunnis — who voted for the Iraqi party that won a bare plurality in the election — the resulting political discord will put the country’s fragile stability at risk. There are obviously limits to our influence over Iraqi politics, but our mad rush to draw down to 50,000 troops and our diplomatic passivity over the last year have decreased our leverage. The political situation in Iraq deserves the administration’s full engagement, lest we have to read in Woodward’s next book how it let the country slip away.

History’s only Communist monarchy has a new dauphin. The son of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was appointed to several key posts, including vice chairman of North Korea’s military commission with the rank of four-star general. Never mind that the twenty-something Kim Jong Un has never held any significant post of any kind: Regents are now in place to protect him until he can say “L’état c’est moi” on his own. In the meantime, North Korea is running out of benefactors (which is to say, countries to extort money from). It has alienated both Japan and South Korea; only China remains as a source of support for the decrepit relic of Stalinism. That spells bad news for Pyongyang. Globalization, which has become the organizing principle of China’s political economy, is pure poison to North Korea’s “fortress of socialism,” which seeks desperately to stifle contact with the outside world. Armed with nuclear weapons, the North will likely resort to another round of extortion. But now the dauphin will have to learn how to rattle a cage without overly annoying the great dragon that feeds him — and humility does not come easily to the Kim dynasty.

Do good neighbors make good fences? Depends on which end of Mexico you look at. On the north, Mexicans complain bitterly about the slowly lengthening fence meant to keep them from entering the U.S. illegally. But on the south, Mexico has started building a fence of its own, to keep illegal aliens from entering through Guatemala. After all, the Mexicans believe strongly in equal opportunity, human rights, the dignity of the individual, and the free movement of people, but let’s not get carried away here. And while the Obama administration is scathing in its condemnation of Arizona’s immigration law, it remains silent about Mexico’s fence, perhaps because the fence will also reduce the flow of those migrants into the U.S. (though Mexico could easily pick up the slack). This is the kind of infrastructure project conservatives can support.

The saga of the 33 men trapped in the San Jose mine in northern Chile had been an Edgar Allan Poe story — two months of live burial, 2,000 feet down. As we go to press, it is becoming a David McCullough saga, as the men are rescued by knowhow and valorous exertion. At dawn on October 13, the first miners took the 20-minute ride to the surface, one by one, in an escape chamber winched up through a specially dug tunnel. Now will begin their longest, and perhaps their roughest ordeal — trial by media, in the moral wilderness mapped by George Trow. They will be plied with money, exposure, and questions questions questions. The Chilean government, which has coordinated their physical rescue, has also given thought to their reentry. St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners, will have her work cut out for her.

We all know how much trouble a cartoonist can get into by drawing Mohammed. Now we have a case of a cartoonist’s getting into trouble for pointedly not drawing Mohammed. Wiley Miller is the creator of the widely syndicated “Non Sequitur” strip. His work falls in the clever-ironic category of cartoon, with light satire and some intellectual allusions to tickle the fancy of the educated urban reader. It doesn’t deal much with politics beyond a reflexive mild liberalism. For his October 3 syndication, though, Miller penned a one-frame cartoon titled “Where’s Mohammed?” In the style of the popular series of “Where’s Waldo?” children’s books, the frame showed a busy park scene, 30 or so adults, children, and animals doing various things. None bore the slightest resemblance to Mohammed. (Whatever he looked like. We don’t know!) The satire here was so gentle that even a CAIR spokesman could summon up no outrage for once. Several newspapers, including the Washington Post, pulled the cartoon anyway. The Post’s Style editor whimpered that “it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” The trembling cowardice of our media executives, by contrast, sends all too clear a message.

Remember Kids, the controversial 1995 movie showing adolescent New Yorkers wallowing in sex and drugs? Larry Clark, who directed that movie, went on to produce three more on closely related themes. Some of his scenes are unscripted, as when, to quote from a review of Wassup Rockers, two 15-year-olds “sit on a bed in their underwear and talk about themselves.” Well, Mr. Clark started out as a photographer, and Paris’s Museum of Modern Art is holding a retrospective exhibition covering his 40 years of work in that art, if art it can be called. Quelle surprise! — the photographs on display feature lots of young teenagers wearing little or nothing, and busy — often very explicitly so — in sex’n’drug-related activities. This was too much for the Paris city authorities, who have banned under-18s from attending the exhibition. That in turn was too much for the guardians of artistic freedom. “A staggering reversal of truth,” shrieked the leftist newspaper Libération, as if the mayor of Paris had declared the earth to be flat. Unstaggered, we support the authorities’ decision, and urge Mr. Clark to try his hand at some new subject matter — still lifes or landscapes, perhaps. Or how about adults?

POLITICS
Criminalizing Politics, Again

The Democrats, getting beaten badly in the midterm campaign, are turning their wrath on those who have had the temerity to organize against them.

Their latest target is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which President Obama recently accused of using foreign money to influence U.S. elections. The liberal advocacy group from which he borrowed the charge did not provide any evidence to back up its accusation — notice a theme here? — so the administration put the burden of proof on the Chamber. When Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer pressed the issue, Obama adviser David Axelrod could only muster, “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

This is also the method being deployed against a conservative group called Crossroads GPS, which Karl Rove advises. “Karl Rove is at it again,” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers recently told a gathering of left-wing activists. Conyers continued: “While we were deciding what to do with him” — a reference to the fact that the Judiciary Committee under Conyers has hounded Rove for years, fruitlessly, over picayune matters — “he was out doing more mischief. And so I think that calls for a reinvestigation of him.”

Democratic officials, liberal “good government” groups, and the Obama White House have accused Crossroads GPS of abusing its tax-exempt status to protect the identities of donors while engaging in prohibited campaign-finance activities. The group’s accusers have not presented any credible evidence that it failed to follow the rules governing organizations of its type. What they have are mere insinuations — and that is why some, such as Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, are asking the IRS to deploy the vast investigatory resources of the federal government to substantiate them.

Baucus’s request that the IRS get involved comes on the heels of a similar one from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which last August tried to set the IRS against the libertarian-leaning Americans for Prosperity. AFP was founded and nurtured by the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who play the role of evil conservative overlords in the Left’s imagination when Karl Rove is not available. The application of this kind of political pressure to the IRS would have Democrats howling if the investigatory targets were liberal and the pressure came from Republicans.

While we’re on the subject of the Kochs and the IRS: The White House has never sufficiently explained how its political operatives came to possess such a suspiciously high degree of knowledge about the Kochs’ tax returns — a knowledge they revealed in repeated attacks on Koch Industries. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax matters is now looking into whether Obama’s political appointees improperly divulged private taxpayer information.

The administration and its allies are trying to mobilize liberal voters and intimidate conservative donors by making accusations they must know are false. If Mr. Axelrod has any evidence to the contrary, we would love to hear it.

OBITUARY
Joseph Sobran, R.I.P.

He came to us when he was still a graduate student. Professors at his school, Eastern Michigan University, had protested a campus visit by Bill Buckley. Joe had taken them on, demolishing their arguments with what we would learn was his customary panache. A conservative professor sent the ripostes to WFB, who brought the young author to New York and to NR.

Have these pages ever been graced by a smoother stylist? Light but forceful, sweet but strong, funny without descending to bitchery on one hand or cuteness on the other: Joe’s voice was unmistakable and inimitable. Matt Scully’s tribute (page 35) quotes many examples. There could be hundreds more. When Joe had written a particularly good line, he would take his copy from office to office, grinning, to share it and show off. Well he might.

He was a typical NR conservative of the Seventies and early Eighties — for small government and traditional values, against Communism — but he showed the life in these sometimes rote categories. He had a dog’s sharp ear for liberal pretension, and mocked it suavely. He was a doughty defender of the right to life, and a critic of the culture of stimulation (the Human Life Review anthologized his contributions). He was a peerless book reviewer, who could find something important in a witless celebrity memoir, or timely in a philosopher’s argument.

Seemingly his only lack was an inability to put it all together for the long haul. What he did without effort, he did surpassingly well. But the important book eluded him; his time at NR was littered with false starts.

The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union made a profound impression on him. The United States had created a military-industrial complex to fight the menace; now that it was gone, maybe the state could follow. Who could resist such a vision? Unfortunately, Joe had an answer: Jews would drag us into new wars, to serve their particularist ends. His parting with us followed the first Gulf War, and it was bitter. Even WFB, patience himself, did not have entirely clean hands: He dismissed one Parthian shot of Joe’s as “perhaps medical” in origin. A low blow, and untrue. Joe chose his anti-Semitic poison wittingly.

In Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness,” the poet agonizes about “That one talent which is death to hide / Lodged with me useless.” Milton feared that his loss of sight would prevent him from writing the great works he had planned. In fact, he learned to write with his affliction, composing in his head and dictating. Joe’s talent was much like Milton’s (Milton was greater, though Joe was funnier). Joe’s blindness was moral, and he could not continue to write under its spell. His new preoccupations shrunk first his audience, then his abilities. He ended up preaching to Holocaust deniers, “soft” truthers (we had it coming), and Shakespeare-was-Oxford cranks.

Milton’s sonnet ends in an astonishing reversal: God does not need writers. “Who best / Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.” There was nothing mild about the yoke of Joe’s last years; diabetes took a fearful toll on him, before taking his life. But at the end he bore that, and poverty, with the great virtue of patience. We hope he is now with WFB and all the other writers he so admired (not the 17th Earl of Oxford, the real one).

R.I.P.

Send a letter to the editor.

Get the NR Magazine App
iPad/iPhone   |   Android