Even his economic advisers can’t hold on to their jobs.
Obama supporters are in a classic midterm funk. The ideologues are baffled to find that enacting their agenda has not brought the New Jerusalem, and can only conclude that Obama hasn’t pushed hard enough. The ordinary core supporter, left of center and moderately political, waits with less hope for change. Susan Madrak, lefty blogger, spoke for the first group, chiding David Axelrod in a conference call. She accused the administration of “hippie punching” — trying not to appear far-out — and added, “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day.” Velma Hart, a black CFO from suburban Maryland who questioned Obama at a town meeting, gave an eloquent face to the second group: “I’m exhausted. Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.” Equally notable were the responses: Axelrod pulled rank; Obama, expecting a softball, went stiff and superior. The third portion of the Obama coalition — the outliers, in this case young people, notoriously feckless — have lost the buzz. Season of mists ahead; not much mellow fruitfulness.
Taxes are scheduled to rise at the start of next year. Democrats claim to want to shield the middle class from these tax increases. Republicans, and a growing minority of Democrats, want to prevent or at least postpone all the tax increases. Since Democratic leaders cannot get their way, and do not want to pass the Republican plan, they have decided to just leave town to campaign without resolving the issue. So broad-based tax increases are just a few months away. It is almost as though Pelosi, Reid, and Obama don’t mind.
Republicans are likely to make large gains in the Senate, yet the head of the party’s Senate campaign committee, Texas senator John Cornyn, has managed to cover himself in — well, whatever the opposite of glory is. He has backed the losing candidate in primaries in Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. In Delaware, at least, Cornyn could make a plausible case that the candidate he backed could have won the November election and that the primary winner will not. But even in that race, Cornyn’s committee behaved without wit or grace, first ostentatiously announcing that it would not give money to the primary winner and then backtracking. Then Senator Cornyn opined that social issues hurt the Republican party and cheered their allegedly declining importance. This remark came just days after two of his pro-choice favorites lost primaries to pro-lifers. We know that predicting how elections will go is tricky, but could Cornyn at least pay attention to the ones that are over?
When Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost the Alaska GOP primary to Joe Miller, announced that she was launching a write-in candidacy, initial reports said that she would be stripped of her leadership position on the Energy Committee. She should have been: Republicans ought to make a united stand behind primary winners, not establishment favorites. Instead, in a secret vote, Senate Republicans chose cronyism over principles, and let Murkowski retain her leadership position. Their decision was cowardly, and a slap to the will of Alaskan Republican voters. It was also foolish: The Tea Party has played fairly and within the system, seeking to win GOP primaries rather than launch third-party runs that would split right-leaning voters. They might question that approach if even primary winners cannot win full support from Washington Republicans. And more immediately, they might question how Senate Republicans will enact conservative principles if they do not have enough backbone to stand up to Lisa Murkowski.
Leftward and Downward
President Obama’s popularity has dropped like a stone over the past two years. If you listen to him, there is a very simple explanation for this: “For all the [economic] progress we’ve made, we’re not there yet. And that means that people are frustrated and that means people are angry. And since I’m the president and Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate, it’s understandable that people are saying, ‘What have you done?’”
It is certainly true that the academic literature suggests that the state of the economy has a large impact on presidential approval. Yale economist Ray Fair, for example, has used a simple econometric model to successfully predict almost every post-war presidential election (his only miss was Bill Clinton in 1992). When the economy is bad, the incumbent president loses.
But the dramatic Obama change is something of a puzzle. The economy has climbed quite a ways over the time during which Obama’s popularity has plummeted. For example, real GDP grew 3.3 percent in the second half of 2009, but the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the president, according to Gallup, increased from 33 percent to a high of 44 percent in late December.
High unemployment certainly is on the minds of voters, but the nearby chart suggests there is something else at work. As Obama’s disapproval has climbed, so has the percentage of Americans who think he is too liberal. In March 2009, only 36 percent of Americans thought that was true of the president. Today, the number has climbed to 46 percent.
It is probably bad for a politician if voters think he is “too” anything, and the fact that Americans have decided Obama is too liberal is the most plausible story explaining the Republican surge and the Tea Party. The fact that policies such as the nationalization of the automakers and the health-care bill place Obama far to the left of past presidents suggests that the American people are on to something.
The most interesting thing, however, is what comes next. If Obama truly believes his rhetoric, he can continue to push far-left policies, and his popularity will resurge when the economy inevitably turns around.
But if he thinks the surge in disapproval is explained by the perception that he is too liberal, then one can expect him to veer sharply toward the middle in a desperate act of self-preservation. If Republicans capture Congress, he might have a lot of help pursuing that strategy.
Charlie Crist is the Gumby of Florida politics. In a new act of contortion, he uses National Review against Marco Rubio — dishonestly, of course. A new Crist ad attributes a line questioning Rubio’s ethics to NR, when we merely quoted it from a St. Petersburg Times story in the course of noting Rubio’s rebuttal. Crist is a desperate man, spiraling toward third in a three-man Senate race. That’s all to the good, so long as he leaves us out of it.
Having helped the Obama administration thoroughly botch economic policy, National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers is beating the retreat to his posh job-for-life at Harvard. He is preceded in this strategy by outgoing chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer, whose job-for-life is a similar tenured perch at Berkeley, and former OMB chief Peter Orszag, the poor junior partner who must presently make ends meet with a visiting fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, a gig at the New York Times, and his enviable talent for attracting rich women. Meanwhile, millions of Americans outside of the lordly classes, who do not enjoy sinecures protected by the medieval institution of tenure, are left to deal with the wreckage that Summers and his colleagues have wrought — and the only member of Obama’s economics dream team left standing is the unbeloved tax scofflaw Timothy Geithner, who must surely be wishing he’d stayed on at Johns Hopkins to finish his Ph.D.
President Obama apparently wants to appoint Elizabeth Warren — lawyer, Dr. Phil acolyte, Harvard professor, Michael Moore collaborator, author of hokey self-help books (All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan), and all-purpose progressive scold — to manage the new “consumer protection” bureau created by the Democrats’ financial-reform bill. Unhappily for Professor Warren and Professor Obama, this would subject her to the Senate-confirmation process, which would highlight the many shortcomings of her tenure as chairman of the TARP-watchdog committee, and so the president has made an end-run around the Constitution by giving her the same job with a different title — “assistant to the president and special adviser to the secretary of the treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” — under the theory that he has not de jure appointed her to the position to which he has appointed her de facto. As fellow professors of law — constitutional law, famously, in the case of the president — these two do not need a remedial course in the separation of powers or checks and balances, and so we must conclude that this is a premeditated act of executive arrogation. If there is a Republican majority in the House come January, its members should decline to appropriate funds for Warren’s agency until their colleagues in the Senate have had the chance to offer their advice and consent to her appointment.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is a textbook case for the law of unintended consequences: American businesses were forced to take billions of dollars in write-downs because of new liabilities inflicted on them by the law, a development that had Democrats such as Rep. Henry Waxman fuming in pique; and Obamacare’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts barrage of new fees, new taxes, and regulatory mandates already is driving up the cost of health care and health insurance while reducing the choices available to consumers. The law’s impact is being felt in such far-flung corners of the economy as real estate (Obamacare levies a 3.8 percent tax on profits from many home sales). Struggling small businesses will be required to file IRS paperwork on every transaction exceeding $600 — a requirement that the IRS itself confesses it lacks sufficient manpower to process. Some of Obamacare’s provisions, such as the Community Living Assistance program, already are projected to far exceed the budgets calculated for them. The most recent casualty is the relatively small market for child-only health-insurance policies. New rules have made such policies unprofitable, and so health-insurance giants Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, CoventryOne, Humana, and UnitedHealthCare have stopped offering them in many states. Higher costs, fewer choices: The consequences of Obamacare may have been unintended, but they were neither unforeseeable nor unforeseen.
“The Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, trying to take away this seat,” warned Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California in an appearance on Univision. Well, shut the barn door. If it’s Vietnamese hostile seizures that Sanchez wants to talk about, she should have a word with her Republican opponent, Van Tran, who knows a thing or two about the subject; he was evacuated from Saigon the week it fell, at the age of ten. Hard to believe he’s as “muy anti-inmigrante” as Sanchez says he is, or that, if elected, he would claim his seat for the Vietnamese, or Hispanics, or anyone other than the citizens of California’s 47th congressional district.
Election Night 1980 was a great night for America, but not a perfect one: Barney Frank won a seat in Congress. And he is, of course, still there, having done much damage. As he goes for his 16th term, he has a strong challenger: Sean Bielat, a 35-year-old Marine reservist who is Tea Party–esque. Frank is worried enough to have had Bill Clinton come up to campaign for him. In the Taunton High School gym, the former president said, “The only thing that really matters is, What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now, and who’s more likely to do it? If those were the questions the voters in this congressional district asked, Barney Frank would get 85 percent of the vote and we wouldn’t be here” — meaning, there would not even be a competitive race; there would be no need for a rally featuring the former president, who must indeed be dismayed at having to campaign in Massachusetts.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.) left an embarrassing voicemail the other day. But we should be more precise. The “chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management” — as she described herself — called a lobbyist who had given to her “other colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” but not to her. And she was puzzled. “I was, frankly, uh, uh, surprised to see that we don’t have a record, so far as I can tell, of your having given to me despite my, uh, long and deep, uh, work,” Norton cooed. “In fact . . . my major work . . . it’s been essentially in your sector.” Better write a check, the tacit logic ran. We understand that a senior Democrat like Norton has “obligations to raise, uh, funds.” But could she do so, uh, legally?
By the time Sen. Harry Reid added the amnesty-lite DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act to the defense-policy bill, it already included a Christmas-worthy stash of liberal goodies. There was a provision that would overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy and an amendment that would end the abortion ban at military hospitals. Reid’s decision to add the DREAM Act — which would give legal status to illegal immigrants who arrived before they were 16 if they agreed to spend two years in college or in the military — made the bill even more ludicrously partisan. To the shock of few, the bill was filibustered. Reid added the DREAM Act to the defense bill as a ploy to gain Hispanic voters; he may wish to remember that voters also like politicians who refuse to turn a bipartisan matter into an ideological morass.
Comedian Stephen Colbert testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, at the invitation of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.). Colbert was to talk on the plight of farm workers, but he appeared in his winger-blowhard character, calling for, among other things, crops that “pick themselves.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was not amused: “What he had to say, I think, was not the way it should have been said.” Hoyer added that the stunt was “an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House.” Wrong, Mr. Majority Leader. Colbert was doing his job, reaching for laughs. It’s time to change channels in Congress.
Two left-wing television hosts will hold rallies on the National Mall on October 30. These are in response to Glenn Beck’s very successful rally, dubbed “Restoring Honor,” on the same spot. Beck should be pleased that his rivals are (merely) copying him. Jon Stewart will preside over what he calls a “Rally to Restore Sanity.” Colbert will lead a “March to Keep Fear Alive.” Stewart says that his “Restore Sanity” event will be a “Million Moderate March.” So he and his like are moderates now? Who then qualifies as a liberal, or left-winger? Angela Davis only? Colbert sneers, “Need I point out that ‘reason’ is one letter away from ‘treason’?” His and Stewart’s big conceit is that the Left is sober, moderate, and decently motivated, while the Right is the opposite. “Conceit” is definitely the word.
Ron Chernow, whose writing has enriched our understanding of the Founding Fathers, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times to publicize his latest, Washington: A Life. Alas, Mr. Chernow chose the Tea Party movement for his hook, attacking it in two ways. The Founders should not be “tampered with for partisan purposes,” because they “form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans.” The Founders also should not be summoned for partisan purposes because they spoke with different voices: “Hamilton and Madison, the principal co-authors of the Federalist, sparred savagely over the Constitution’s provisions for years.” Both statements are true, but Chernow puts them together in a way that stifles public life. We honor the Founders for their intelligent willingness to take on each other and the powers that be, in the name of justice. We can judge among them as Americans did over 200 years ago. The Tea Party shows the proper spirit, both respectful and combative. When historians join the establishment in sitting on them, they embalm their subject.
Defying the department’s sedulous efforts to prevent his testimony, decorated Justice Department attorney Christopher Coates became the second whistleblower to describe its civil-rights philosophy under Attorney General Eric Holder: Enforcement actions are not to be brought for the benefit of white victims against minority offenders. Like J. Christian Adams, another accomplished attorney who resigned from Justice to circumvent Holder’s efforts to prevent his talking to the civil-rights commission investigating the matter, Coates related that the department’s stunning dismissal of the voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party — after Justice had already won — was ordered by top Obama political appointees. The testimony indicates that the department has made false representations to the commission. It is the tribute that lawlessness pays to the Constitution.
Davis Guggenheim, famed for An Inconvenient Truth and Obama’s 2008 DNC bio-infomercial, just released something more palatable: a stabbing indictment of teachers’ unions and a plea for more charter schools, titled Waiting for “Superman.” It follows five children trying to escape public schools as administrators waltz their “lemons” (ne’er-do-well teachers who can’t be fired) from school to school, or put them in “rubber rooms” where they collect full pay and pensions with their heads on desks. Michelle Rhee, as-of-now chancellor of D.C. schools, is the heroine, and Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, is the villainess. Rhee boldly fires incompetent educators. Weingarten defensively avoids substantive debates, and accuses school-choice advocates of being super-mean to teachers, who are super-nice people, and whose union representatives must therefore be obeyed, and their political adversaries crushed — for the children. Weingarten’s successful $1 million push to defeat D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty — who appointed and supported Rhee, and whose victorious opponent effectively promised to neuter her — in the Democratic primary is a fitting backdrop to the movie.
Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has pledged $100 million to support reform of the troubled schools of Newark, N.J. Times being what they are, he announced the gift on Oprah. When she asked, “Why Newark?” he said he believes that New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Newark mayor Cory Booker can make the city a “symbol of educational excellence.” That’s a tall order. Newark already spends more per student than any other city in the country (more than $22,000 a year), has been the subject of 40 years of court-ordered reform, and has been under state control since 1995 — yet it graduates fewer than half its students. Christie and Booker are impressive, but history is full of earnest leaders who broke their pick trying to refashion urban school bureaucracies. And the gift isn’t big enough to make much difference. As generous as it is, it amounts to barely 10 percent of the $940 million that Newark schools will spend this year. Mr. Zuckerberg has managed some remarkable successes; now we’ll likely see how this well-intentioned young man handles disappointment.
Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward’s latest, has enough asides, eruptions, inside dope, and dopes to keep talk shows talking for weeks, and to give historians a primary source. Everyone has reservations about Woodward, yet everyone reads him. Details aside, the big picture that emerges is of a president who campaigned on the urgent need to get out of Iraq in part to focus on Afghanistan, but who, once in office, focused on looking for ways to end that war too. Obama has his reasons: His left-wing base was insincere in wanting to fix Afghanistan in the first place, and the American people will not accept an endless full-throttle commitment. The tension recalls earlier American wars — Iraq, at least until the surge; Vietnam; Korea; the War of 1812. A mixed bag, to say the least. We support the president in his efforts to cripple the Taliban and deny the jihad an Afghan base. His predecessor was less fortunate in his political opponents.
Army captain Dan Luckett, a native of Norcross, Ga., performs regular patrols with his unit in rough country west of Kandahar, Afghanistan, carrying 50 pounds of equipment, supplies, and body armor. This is pretty remarkable considering that Captain Luckett is a double amputee, having lost his left foot and much of his right to an IED in Iraq two years ago. His return to duty testifies to the wonders of modern prosthetic technology, and the Pentagon tells us that 40 other amputee soldiers are serving in combat zones worldwide. The technology would count for nothing, though, without the spirit and determination of the human beings attached to it. To qualify for his Expert Infantryman’s Badge and subsequent deployment to Afghanistan, Captain Luckett had to run twelve miles in under three hours with a 35-pound pack on his back — an achievement many men with two feet might balk at. Our thanks to Captain Luckett and his comrades, and may they come home safe.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly, telling the delegates that 9/11 had been “orchestrated” by the U.S. government, to boost the American economy and prop up Israel. The American delegation led an exodus of Europeans and at least one South American (Uruguay) from the hall, and President Obama, speaking on the BBC’s Persian service, called the speech “offensive,” “hateful,” and “inexcusable.” Not too hateful for 13 Yale students and their professor, Hillary Mann Leverett, who sat down with the conspiracy theorist afterward in a New York hotel. Ahmadinejad is “not a crazy, irrational leader,” said Leverett; “it will take a lot more from the U.S. if we want to have a real policy of engagement.” Crazy is probably overused as a term of abuse. Would we think differently of Ahmadinejad if we saw his Rorschach? He puts his nation at the service of his clerical allies, who demonize the U.S. and Israel and work to weaken the former and destroy the latter. This may be delusional, but it is a strategy. “Delusion” better describes Leverett and Obama, who think there is some way of engaging this man.
On September 7, a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese coast-guard ships after venturing into disputed waters and refusing to allow an onboard inspection. The incident took place in the East China Sea, near an island chain controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. The Chinese captain and crew were detained, prompting outrage in China and leading to a tense standoff. Within less than a week, the crew members had been released, but Japanese authorities continued to hold the skipper. Demanding his return, Beijing launched an aggressive campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure, even suspending Japan-bound exports of certain rare minerals. Tokyo eventually relented, allowing the captain to fly home but rejecting Chinese calls for an official apology. Japanese conservatives have blasted the decision as an unfortunate concession to Chinese bullying. But the real loser here is China, which once again reminded East Asian countries why they have good reason to fear its intentions and strengthen security relations with the United States. Beijing probably did not intend to boost the U.S.-Japan alliance, but that’s exactly what it has done.
Liu Xiaobo is one of the more stirring Chinese dissidents, the leader of the Charter 08 movement. It was modeled on Charter 77, Vaclav Havel’s movement in Czechoslovakia. Like most stirring Chinese dissidents, Liu is in prison. And many people are pushing for him to win the Nobel peace prize, whose 2010 winner will be announced on October 8. No Chinese dissident has ever won the peace prize, though many have been nominated and campaigned for. The committee came close in 1989, when they gave the prize to the Dalai Lama. A group of more than 120 intellectuals in China has now signed an open letter, urging the prize for Liu. And Havel himself is strongly behind him. The Nobel committee could make a much worse selection — it has in the past (as recently as last year, when Barack Obama won), and it will in the future.
The nation of Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, sent a team to the World Chess Olympiad in Russia. As luck would have it, the Yemenis drew Israel in the first round of play. Rather than sit at tables with Israelis, the Yemenis forfeited the match, giving Israel a 4–0 win by default. There followed a confusing series of dispatches from the Yemeni government. On September 22, the Yemeni news agency SABA announced that the nation’s minister of youth and sports had sacked the board of directors of the Yemeni Chess Union and “all chess players who met with Israelis.” A September 25 report by the Yemen Observer, however, denied any sackings and insisted that the team was still playing. The default win by Israel was, the deputy youth and sports minister declared, a “Jewish trick that aims to ruin the reputation of Yemen and Yemeni sport.” Given that Israel ranks fifth in the world in chess, while Yemen ranks 89th, there may be an element of cheap grace at work here — grace, in the Arab world, being won by petulant displays of anti-Semitism.
In New Zealand, the only good possum is a dead one. Like the islands’ European settlers, possums (“four-legged squirrel-like marsupials,” as the BBC helpfully notes) are not indigenous, and with no natural predators, they wreak havoc on local plants and animals. Hence the popular rural Kiwi custom of possum tossing, in which the offending critters are hunted down, shot, and then thrown, with prizes for the greatest distance. After one such recent contest at a grade school, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals objected to the tossing, even as the principal “said the event helped children engage with the outdoors and learn about humane ways of killing possums.” He might have added that the concept of cruelty does not apply squarely to an already-deceased marsupial. The N.Z. government took bold and decisive action, in the manner of education bureaucrats everywhere: “The Ministry of Education says it doesn’t have a position on possum carcass tossing, but encourages every school board to work within its community in deciding what is appropriate.”
In a fleeting moment of defiance against the global Islamo-mob’s rioting over the Danish publication of cartoon caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris called for a show of solidarity: “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.” She quickly disavowed the exhibition, but that did not stop the threats of murder and mayhem. Now comes word that Norris has gone into hiding under a new name. Worse, it was the FBI — a top pitchman for government’s “religion of peace” narrative — that advised her to “go ghost” because she could not be protected. Far from condemnation, journalists and writers have gone silent. “There is no more Molly,” her paper, the Seattle Weekly, insipidly announced. If this pattern continues, at some point there will be no more freedom of speech either.
Just as Norris finds herself alone, so does Derek Fenton, an eleven-year veteran of New Jersey Transit. Fenton was fired for participating — on his own time and unrelated to his employment — in a demonstration against the Ground Zero mosque, during which he was caught on videotape burning pages from the Koran. One need not endorse this method of protest in order to observe that it is clearly legal. Indeed, while many seem prepared to endow Islamist thugs with a heckler’s (or rioter’s) veto, the Supreme Court has reasoned that the “high purpose” of free speech is often best served when it “stirs people to anger.” One would think our cognoscenti would be encouraging Muslims to join the modern world, where offense comes with the territory. Instead the official message from government — including the Obama administration, which has joined Muslim nations in a U.N. resolution that would bar criticism of religion — is that offending Muslims is worse than offending our principles of free expression.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, showed off his 900-acre Gloucestershire estate and its gardens for a BBC-TV documentary. The estate is sometimes opened to the public for a $25 entrance fee. The prince confessed to the BBC man that when his subjects are passing by under his windows, he eavesdrops on their conversations, lying on the floor to do so. He further revealed that “I happily talk to the plants and trees, and listen to them.” After all these years, the prince has apparently run out of people to bore.
Love and fame to nothingness do sink, warned the poet. Apparently this applies even to one who never ceased to assure us that he loved us, and whose fame was so great he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world of his time. Alas, that time is now long past, and the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas has announced that it will close its doors October 17. Citizens with a yearning to gaze on ostrich-feather capes, rhinestone-encrusted Rolls-Royces, or a piano-shaped wristwatch studded with rubies may not be entirely bereft: Some of the collection will go on tour. And while the kitschiness of the Liberace phenomenon is easily mocked, it should not be forgotten that the Liberace Foundation’s endowment has given millions of dollars in scholarships to young music students nationwide, nor that the man himself was a proud political conservative.
National Review got an advance copy of the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” and published, online, the first editorial reaction to it — a favorable one. Tucker Carlson’s publication, the Daily Caller, treated our speed as evidence of a conspiracy. Supposedly Republican aides had “pre-arranged” a positive editorial. There was never any truth to the story, the details of which Carlson’s publication kept surreptitiously changing. Other publications, left and right, have either mocked Carlson or ignored his accusations. Carlson promises to continue “investigating” our journalistic practices. We regret the decline of his.
College writers, bloggers, tweeters, podcasters, and videographers now have an important new ally: the Student Free Press Association, founded by NR’s John J. Miller and New York journalist Joseph P. Lindsley. The organization seeks to support college students who want to improve campus journalism, explore careers in the media, and commit themselves to the principles of a free society. Its website (www.studentfreepress.net) features higher-education news drawn from student reporters around the country as well as everything from story ideas to internship opportunities. A panel of mentors includes Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow, William McGurn, and others. We expect that as the next generation of conservative writers and editors rises, many of them will come through the ranks of the SFPA.
There is much that is objectionable in Jimmy Carter’s newly published White House Diary, because there is much that is objectionable in its author. But one line stands out for particular obnoxiousness. On Nov. 21, 1980, shortly after his loss to Reagan, the president wrote, “Muskie told me about plans to invite President Chun from South Korea to the inauguration. It’s unbelievable to me, but I suspect that dictators around the world are rejoicing because of the outcome of the election.” As Richard V. Allen, Reagan’s national-security adviser, has explained, the Reagan transition team — in the person of Allen — dealt with the Korean government for one purpose: to spare the life of dissident Kim Dae Jung, who was scheduled for execution. Reagan & Co. succeeded. Almost 20 years later, KDJ became president of South Korea. Chun was never invited to Reagan’s inauguration, although the Korean government asked for that: Foreign leaders are never invited to inaugurations. As for dictators and their joy over Reagan’s electoral victory: His presidency put paid to a lot of dictators, particularly behind the Iron Curtain. If you seek the differences between a great, large-hearted man and a small, petty one, you could do worse than to compare the diaries of the 40th and 39th presidents.
When House Republicans presented their “Pledge to America,” we editorialized online that it was bolder than the Contract with America of 1994. Our point was that the Contract had merely promised that votes on conservative legislation would be held within the first weeks of a Republican Congress, while the Pledge commits Republicans to work over a longer period to enact a conservative agenda. That agenda includes cuts in discretionary spending, the repeal of Obamacare, the extension of tax cuts, a prohibition on federal funding of abortion, legal protection for states that want to fight illegal immigration in the Arizonan manner, a federal hiring freeze, and the end of federal support for Fannie and Freddie.
Most conservatives have, like us, viewed the Pledge as a good start on the road to conservative governance. We wish the Republicans had gone farther in some areas. The Pledge should have included a ban on earmarks, a cause that is of great symbolic importance to many conservatives. If House Republicans believe they can resume the practice (they have observed a moratorium this year) without an uproar from their supporters, they are mistaken. The Pledge should also have called for modest first steps on the reform of entitlements and the tax code.
A few conservatives have called the Pledge inadequate because of these and other omissions. But the proper (and natural) comparison is, again, with the Contract with America — and not with some more comprehensive document such as the party’s quadrennial platform or a presidential candidate’s agenda. The Pledge is more modest than that, and appropriately so. It recognizes both that the country cannot be governed from Capitol Hill over the opposition of a president — a lesson Republicans learned from the Clinton–Gingrich showdown — and that the public has had quite enough upheaval directed from Washington, D.C., already. Judged against a sensible standard, the Pledge comes out pretty well.
Liberals have directed their fire at the Pledge’s fiscal provisions. They say that extending the Bush tax cuts on high earners will cause the deficit to be higher over the next decade — which is true, although the effect over the decade is still smaller than the bill for Obama’s stimulus. The solution to this problem, to our mind, is more spending cuts. About this issue, liberals are unconvincing, calling the budget cuts already in the Pledge both vague and dangerous. (Any day now, we expect Robert Gibbs to label it “dangerously vague,” or maybe “vaguely dangerous.”) They are neither. The Pledge commits Republicans to bringing domestic discretionary spending back to the levels of a few years ago, with flexibility on how the money is allocated. Returning to those levels will require a political battle, but there is no reason to think the mission impossible or its success frightening.
The main liberal talking point is that the Pledge represents a return to the failed policies of the past. Connoisseurs of political history will recall that the Clinton Democrats said exactly the same thing about the Contract. Obama is falling back on the failed political strategies of the past. Advantage Pledge-takers.
Our recent editorial making the case for preserving the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman has drawn predictably indignant responses from Andrew Sullivan, Amy Davidson (a writer for The New Yorker), and Jonathan Rauch. The last of these writers, when not sputtering, comes close to making a counterargument. The editorial, he writes, “is a mass of non sequiturs. It assumes that if marriage is ‘for’ something — regulating procreative sex — then using it for anything else must be ‘against’ marriage, which is like saying that if mouths are ‘for’ eating, we mustn’t use them for talking or breathing. . . . It proceeds as if ‘gay marriage is bad’ follows obviously from ‘straight marriage is good.’”
Our actual point was and is that same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms that undermines the logic of the institution. There is a governmental interest in ensuring that as many children as possible are raised in a home by biological parents who are committed to each other and to them for the long term. There is no governmental interest in recognizing other types of adult relationships, and proponents of same-sex marriage hardly bother to try explaining what that interest could be. Sooner or later their case always falls back on the alleged unfairness of not treating committed same-sex couples as though they were married.
Imagine two brothers who, after some family tragedy, try to provide a loving household to a child. What they are doing is certainly praiseworthy, and may even deserve some forms of governmental support. But their relationship is not a marriage, and treating it as such furthers no intelligible purpose. That conclusion would not change if the men were unrelated and having sex with each other. In neither of these cases would governmental recognition of the relationship as a marriage serve either the purpose of regulating procreative sex or any other legitimate governmental purpose. Still less is there a justification for treating one of these hypothetical pairs as married but not the other.
If our critics are right, then the fact that infertile couples have always been considered eligible for marriage means that the institution has never had procreative sex at its heart, and only prejudice against homosexuals can explain why it has historically been restricted to heterosexual couples. (As for why it has in the Western tradition been restricted to groups of two, or should be so restricted now, they have no convincing answer at all and barely try to devise one.) This implicit account of the history of marriage is deeply implausible. The critics could try to argue that modern circumstances justify loosening or eliminating the link between marriage and procreation. Not, we think, convincingly: The disarray of the modern family, to our mind, argues for strengthening those links in both the law and the culture. But the critics cannot even begin to make the argument for change because they resolutely refuse to acknowledge why marriage has the form it does in the first place. They exhibit a kind of willed forgetting of basic social realities. We should decline to join them even at the price of their ignorant mockery.