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Soon the Republicans may be able to claim the first nonwhite Speaker of the House.

President Obama’s long-stated view is that his predecessor’s tax cuts for the middle class should be extended while his tax cuts for high earners should be allowed to lapse. Notwithstanding Obama’s huge majorities in Congress, he has done, literally, nothing to extend the middle-class tax cuts, and as a result we are now a few months away from a major tax increase on nearly everyone who pays income taxes. Naturally the Democrats’ new tactic is to accuse the Republicans of holding up middle-class tax relief in order to get upper-income tax cuts. The tactic has not worked: More and more Democrats are calling for an extension of all the tax cuts. Even a fumble by House Republican leader John Boehner, who said on Face the Nation that he would vote for extending the middle-class tax cuts alone if he had no other choice, does not seem to have changed the dynamic. (Boehner has since reiterated that he favors extending all the tax cuts.) If middle-class taxes go up, the public is going to blame liberals — and an increasing number of Democrats grasp this point even if not all Republicans do.

Conservatives in Delaware have decided that they would rather have yet another Democratic senator than a moderate Republican. Unfortunately, that is the practical effect of their voting for marketing consultant Christine O’Donnell over Rep. Mike Castle in the primary — unless Delaware, which last voted for a Republican president 22 years ago, is aching to elect a senator who is well to the right of any senator from Tennessee or Alabama and who has a history of shady ethics. The distaste for Castle among conservative primary voters was understandable. He’s a northeastern moderate out of central casting. But he voted against Obamacare and against federal funding of abortion, favored extending the Bush tax cuts, and would have been more likely than not to support a conservative Supreme Court nominee. Those positions put him, on balance, to the right of every Senate Democrat. The tea parties have been a vast force for good in American life, but their support for O’Donnell was an error.

President Obama, responding to a report about how his health-care law will add to costs, said that we knew all along that covering additional people would not be free. Funny, we don’t recall hearing that in his speeches. We do recall his promising a $2,500 reduction in premiums for the typical family. Instead insurers are explaining that premiums are going up as a result of Obamacare. Kathleen Sebelius, head of the Health and Human Services Department, has written a letter demanding that insurers stop saying that — and strongly implying that insurers who keep talking will be excluded from the new health exchanges that Obamacare sets up. (There will be “zero tolerance” for disagreement with the administration’s favored experts, she warned.) Meanwhile, Congress took up legislation to eliminate or weaken the bill’s onerous reporting requirements on small businesses. We guess everyone always knew Obamacare would have to be amended a few months after passing, too. Here’s hoping that in a few years all the smartest Democrats are explaining that everyone always knew that the law was going to be repealed.

Newt Gingrich, having read a Forbes cover story by Dinesh D’Souza, told NRO that President Obama’s policies can be explained by reference to the “Kenyan, anti-colonialist” mindset Obama adopted in homage to his absent father. D’Souza has a new book on the subject. The article is not persuasive. Obama’s family drama is all very interesting — he got a bestseller out of it, after all. But Obama’s policies are no more mysterious than the voting preferences in a faculty lounge. Before the search for explanations there must be something to explain.

After losing to Joe Miller in the Republican Senate primary in Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as of press time, was considering an independent run. Unlike Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who ran as an independent in 2006 after his staunch support for the Iraq War cost him the Democratic primary, Murkowski does not appear to be fighting for any worthwhile principle. Her inability to accept her defeat is extreme: She first considered running as a Libertarian (a move the state party ultimately rejected — a wise decision, since Murkowski’s voting record indicates no libertarian leanings, latent or otherwise) and is still contemplating a write-in candidacy, which could deliver the seat to Democratic candidate Scott McAdams. Both Murkowski and the Senate, we trust, will be able to find a way to thrive without each other.

Obama has asked for $50 billion to fund a new “infrastructure bank” that would make loans for transportation projects. Keep in mind that the government can’t pay for the transportation projects it already has. The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent, and the Democrats are not willing to raise the gas tax that funds it, even though they have tried every other way they can think of to make fossil fuels more expensive. It isn’t clear where the administration would get the money to fund the government’s share in this new bank, nor is it clear how the bank would attract private capital. Toll roads and other revenue-generating projects might be attractive to investors, but these kinds of projects aren’t exactly political winners. The worst-case scenario, which we can easily imagine, would involve giving private investors an incentive to bring their money to the table by insuring them against losses and letting them keep most of the profits — an arrangement that would require taxpayers to shoulder all of the risk. Haven’t we seen this movie before? Remind us: How did it end when the main characters were named Fannie and Freddie?

Senate Democrats (plus Republican George Voinovich) looked ready at press time to pass a bill that would push another TARP-like infusion of capital into the banking system, on the theory that the banks do not have enough money to lend, or, if they do have enough, that they are not making enough loans to small businesses and need to be given better incentives to do so. To that end, the Small Business Lending Fund would allow the Treasury Department to make up to $30 billion in credit available to small community banks at varying rates of interest: The more politically conforming loans the banks make, the less interest they pay. Banks that “plan to provide linguistically and culturally appropriate outreach” would receive special consideration, of course. The fund is a bad idea. Those community banks that are most eager to borrow from the fund are more interested in political protection than in making sound loans, while those community banks that have responded to the weak economy with an appropriate and measured reluctance to lend are unlikely to take the money anyway. There is the administration’s economic policy in a nutshell: reckless borrowing to finance reckless lending.

In a renewed effort to promote homeownership, the Home Affordable Modification Program now instructs mortgage servicers to identify all applicants by race, even if they balk. The program’s new guidebook stipulates that if the borrower declines to provide a racial affiliation, “the servicer should . . . provide the information based on visual observation, information learned from the borrower or surname.” It gets creepier. Servicers are advised to provide employees with “training and job aids (e.g. desk references)” to help them racially inspect clients with clinical expertise and up-to-date stereotypes. The purpose, naturally, is to fight racial bias.

The Oval Office had a makeover while the Obamas were away on vacation in August. The modal color is taupe — “a brownish gray” (Webster’s Third). There’s a new rug, too — oval, of course, with the presidential seal at center and, woven around the perimeter, five quotes described in the White House pool report as being “of meaning” to Obama. Four of the quotes are from former presidents; the fifth, the White House tells us, is from Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The nation was barely through admiring all this tastefulness when an impertinent reporter, Jamie Stiehm of the Washington Post, pointed out that while King did indeed use those words, he was quoting Theodore Parker, a 19th-century reformer. Stiehm further noted that Lincoln’s famous description of democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was also cribbed from Parker. We presume there were red faces — though not, we hope, taupe ones — in the White House press office. By way of making amends, perhaps they could start calling it the Parker rug.

Virginia A. Phillips, a federal judge in California, struck down the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, ruling that it has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services. How would she know? The president is commander-in-chief, and Congress raises and regulates armies. They, and their relevant subordinates, take into account the good of the state, public opinion, and their own judgment of military matters. Barack Obama campaigned against “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but clearly hopes the courts will relieve him of the responsibility of acting (the Justice Department, as Judge Phillips noted, called no witnesses and made no affirmative case in support of the law). Time and change may make gays invisible and fungible in the services. It is up to the political branches to make that call.

The Washington Post recently reported that about 4 percent of Capitol Hill staffers owe back taxes — $9.3 million in total. Among the more unconcerned are White House staffers, whose average owed per delinquent ($20,270) is higher than that of their Senate and House counterparts ($12,787 and $15,498). Best able to separate work from personal life are the three employees at the Office of Government Ethics who collectively racked up a $75,304 bill. Looking for a change of culture? Don’t hold your breath. After earlier revelations that federal employees owe nearly $1 billion to the IRS, Utah GOP congressman Jason Chaffetz proposed legislation that would mandate that all delinquent federal employees either pay back taxes on an arranged schedule or be fired. The bill has gained a handful of Republican sponsors and no interest from the other side of the aisle. It’s Washington’s version of the division of labor: They raise the taxes and you pay them.

Every few years, some enterprising journalist decides to write an exposé of the Koch brothers and the libertarian network they help finance and guide. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker is the most recent chronicler of what must be the best-publicized secret cabal since the Illuminati. National Review knows something about this journalistic genre, having established it in 1979 under the headline “Strange Alliance: Anarchists, Backed by Corporate Big Money, Infiltrate the Freedom Movement.” Our Carter-era report described the establishment of a shadowy new enterprise “rapturous about the free-enterprise and limited-government ideas of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.” What could be more respectable — or more boring? “Too dull?” our writer asked. “Then change the name of the outfit from something ponderous like the Charles Koch Foundation of Wichita, Kansas, to something cerebral-sounding like the Cato Institute.” This was back in the day when Murray Rothbard and the libertarians had unilateral U.S. disarmament at the top of their wish list. The movement has since moved on to more fruitful pursuits, like defending what remains of free-market capitalism — which is sure to annoy The New Yorker. Mayer hits all the familiar notes — the “Kochtopus,” environmental regulation, “the Standard Oil of our times” — and suggests that the Kochs are somehow behind the tea-party phenomenon. What she gets wrong — what most people get wrong about Charles and David Koch — is that she thinks this is all a front for narrow financial self-interest. But the Kochs are true believers, putting their considerable fortunes behind the idea that freedom is not only worth fighting for, but also worth investing in.

Richard M. Daley was first elected mayor of Chicago in 1989; his father, Richard J. Daley, was first elected mayor in 1955. Both of them were repeatedly reelected. And now the junior Daley is stepping down, after these two decades–plus. Conservatives in Chicago are divided over Daley’s tenure. Some say he has done a good job: He has kept crime down; he has kept the streets clean; he has been competent, reliable, and non-ideological. Others say baloney: He has been a massive overspender, a friend of corruption, and a patsy for the unions. We say, let’s hope Chicago does as well, or no worse, in its next mayor — whether it is President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, or someone else. Incidentally, it’s been since the Hoover administration that Chicago had a Republican mayor. Maybe the city could try one.

Blazing Suras

Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Bill Maher said something stupid. I know it’s sort of silly to put a timestamp on that. It’d be much more of a man-bites-dog story if I could give you the date and time when Maher said something that wasn’t stupid.

What distinguished this nugget of Maherian stupidity was a response from Ari Fleischer, then the press secretary for President Bush. Actually, Fleischer responded to two statements. The first was from Rep. John Cooksey, who said, “If I see someone come in and he’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt around that diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over and checked.”

The second comment, from Maher, was that American armed forces who fired missiles instead of personally hijacking planes were the real “cowards” in the then-embryonic War on Terror.

Funny how the congressman was actually funnier than the comedian.

After tendentious goading from the press, Fleischer said in response: “Assuming the press reports are right, it’s a terrible thing to say, and it’s unfortunate. And that’s why — there was an earlier question about has the president said anything to people in his own party — they’re reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.” 

For nearly the next seven years, this was the day America lost its soul. The in-house tribune of lost liberties, Frank Rich, invoked this dark moment numerous times over the years. In 2006, he wrote: “Fear itself — the fear that ‘paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,’ as FDR had it — was already being wielded as a weapon against Americans by their own government.” A year earlier, Rich claimed that Fleischer’s statement was as significant an event as 9/11 itself in terms of our cultural freedom. “Even as we’re constantly told we’re in a war for ‘freedom’ abroad, freedom in our culture at home has been under attack ever since.”

Now you can argue that Fleischer chose his words poorly, though I’ve never been able to take much offense at them. But if you do take the Rich position that Fleischer delivered a mortal wound to freedom of expression in America, what are you supposed to make of the Obama administration’s all-out war on Koran-burning?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Koran-burning is stupid and offensive (I also think building an Islamic Epcot Center near Ground Zero is stupid and offensive). But if Fleischer’s entirely off-the-cuff comments, made while corpses were still being pulled from the rubble, were inexcusable, why is it okay for Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the president of the United States to come down like a ton of bricks on Reverend Jones — or any other Koran burner?

Indeed, if you think burning the American flag is a treasured right of free expression, why isn’t Koran-burning too? The FBI visited Jones at his church and, allegedly, tried to get him to call off his stunt. Imagine if the FBI did that with some post-modern performance artist who wanted to burn, say, the Christian Bible? Oh, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that would ensue among the lovers of liberty.

Not being a regular reader of Frank Rich, I hurried to his column archives to find a stirring defense of the “right to offend” he spent so much time eulogizing during the Bush years.

Strangely, I found nothing. 

Why did President Obama adopt a deadline for the Afghan surge? He feared the political effects of an open-ended commitment, according to a former adviser quoted in the New York Times: “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics. He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health-insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.” Another aide says Obama sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as “problems that need managing” while he concentrates on transforming America at home. If only the War in Afghanistan were about socializing medicine in the Hindu Kush, it might command President Obama’s passion and full attention.

Afghanistan is now the second-most-corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. The Karzai government has been working hard to secure the No. 1 spot, but was edged out by Somalia, which in all fairness probably should not even be counted as a country. No doubt there are dark whisperings in Kabul that the fix was in.

Intelligence reports have long been making it clear that Iran provides weapons, training, and hospital treatment to the Taliban. Whatever the ethnic, religious, or political differences between the two, hatred of the United States brings them together. The Sunday Times of London has uncovered startling first-hand evidence that Iran is directly financing the Taliban. It is all carried out with brilliant craftiness under cover of Iranian companies set up in Kabul to obtain construction contracts from foreign investors. That money comes in legitimately, and the investors have no idea that it is then laundered across the country. There is a whole team of Taliban runners and bagmen, and the Sunday Times reporter had an interview with one of them. He described how he picks up cash from one or another of these companies, puts it in a sack, and goes into the field to distribute it in his particular district. In the last six months this man has received around $75,000 and paid something like $200 a month for expenses and family support to each of the 200 Taliban in his district. This is a sum larger than an Afghan soldier or policeman earns. According to this source, Iran is also paying a bonus of $1,000 for killing an American soldier and $6,000 for destroying a military vehicle. The money is clean, he likes to think, because this is jihad.

Human Rights Watch used to do good work drawing attention to abuses practiced in non-democratic countries. More recently its thrust has been instead to use “human rights” to promote anti-Israel agitprop. Senior HRW personnel have been attacking Zionism and American “imperialism” and promoting the very undemocratic Palestinians of the PLO and Hamas. In the gathering scandal, Richard Bernstein, HRW’s founder but since retired, warned in the New York Times that the group had to return to its original mission. Donors have fallen away. George Soros, commonly described as a billionaire investor and philanthropist, has stepped in with a gift of $100 million. Soros’s motivation? “I’m afraid the United States has lost the moral high ground under the Bush administration.” HRW, he thinks, “has to be seen as more international, less an American organization.” He’s someone who takes advantage of capitalist speculation to promote radical-chic ideology. Billionaire investor, yes; philanthropist, no.

Each time the dying embers of the peace process with the Palestinians rekindle, some Israelis are sure to lose their lives. So while Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington doing his best to dance to President Obama’s tune and reach some accord with Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinians, gunmen on a highway in the West Bank were ready to ambush Israelis. They shot and killed Talia and Yitzhak Ames, parents of six children with a seventh near to term, and two people they were giving a lift to: Kochava Even-Haim, a nursery-school teacher, and Avishai Schindler, a student. Hamas claimed responsibility, but who knows, other Palestinian factions may have done it, including those nominally loyal to Abbas. The gunmen have got a lock on the situation. If they force Netanyahu to break off negotiations, they have achieved what they want, and if he plows on regardless, he looks desperately weak. And either way, there’s another reason for them to celebrate more dead Israelis.

Cubans have had many complaints for the last 50 years, because a totalitarian dictatorship will give a person many things to complain about — at least privately. One of those complaints is quite small, but still significant: People in the Free World have the habit of referring to the dictator as “Fidel.” They would never refer to Pinochet as “Augusto,” or “Gus.” They didn’t call Ceausescu “Nicolae,” or “Nick.” They don’t even call President Obama “Barack.” But Castro gets that affectionate, pop-star-like “Fidel.” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic just had an interview with him, and wrote him up as “Fidel.” If you would like to distinguish him from his brother, the junior dictator, there are other ways of doing it. As for us, we’ll call him Castro — or worse.

Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, went on sale in Britain early this month and sold over 90,000 copies in four days, but there were no cries of “Author! Author!” A book signing in Dublin was disrupted by 200 protesters throwing bottles and shoes, and a launch party at the Tate Modern in London was canceled. “It shows he is running scared,” one protest organizer crowed. Britain will suffer from some aspects of Blair’s rule — a welfare class entrenched by the tax receipts of a bubble of prosperity — for years. It may suffer from others — Scottish devolution, Euro-drift, turning the House of Lords into a hack refuge — forever. But these are not drawing protests. Blair earned his odium for his two greatest accomplishments — supporting the United States after 9/11, and deciding to take Britain into Iraq. These are anathema to the Left; and these anathemas have become the lazy thought crutches of biens pensants across the spectrum, from Blair’s own Labour party to (shamefully) many Tories. Cross the ocean, Mr. Blair, and sign your books in peace.

The media everywhere are well-known practitioners of the adversarial stance to society, and few, even none, have practiced it more smoothly and senatorially than the British Broadcasting Corporation. These many years, Conservatives have been pointing out that the BBC is really a closed left-wing party. Everyone from director general down to the humblest broadcaster has always repudiated the charge, gravely preaching about dedication to objectivity, balance, impartiality, both-sides-of-the-question, etc., etc. Mark Thompson, today’s director general, suddenly confesses that the BBC has been guilty of “massive” left-wing bias, which nowadays has about the same quotient of surprise as saying that the pope is Catholic. Staff, for instance, “were quite mystified by the early years of Thatcher.” He reassures the country that there’s now “an honourable tradition of journalists from the right,” but nobody knows who these might be or on what wavelengths they can be found.

A recent Time magazine had a shocking cover. It showed the Star of David, formed with flowers, and said, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Actually, its history largely consists of offering peace and being spurned. In 1947, the U.N. proposed a partition of British Palestine: a homeland for the Jews, a homeland for the Arabs. The Jews said hooray, the Arabs said no way: and launched a war of annihilation against the Jews. There would be three more wars. After the fourth one, Egypt offered peace: which Israel accepted with alacrity and jubilation. Since then, the late ’70s, only one other Arab nation has offered peace: That was Jordan, in 1994. In the following years, the Palestinians, represented by Yasser Arafat and the PLO, refused to come to terms with Israel; they instead waged an “intifada,” killing over a thousand. Now Israel is facing a nuclearizing Iran whose president has vowed to wipe Israel off the map. Contrary to Time, Israel cares very much about peace: wants it, and needs it, as much as any nation. What about its neighbors? That is the pertinent question.

You certainly know who Lady Gaga is. (Tribesmen in Papua New Guinea wearing penis sheaths know; in fact, they are probably her wardrobe consultants.) Now Camille Paglia, roving cultural critic, has taken her on in the London Sunday Times. “Corporate,” “calculated and artificial,” “diva of déjà vu,” and “asexual” are just some of the items of her indictment. Paglia is a true contrarian, and a feisty pop journalist, and what she says might almost make sense if the true god she was defending from Lady Gaga’s blasphemous competition were not . . . Madonna. Her again? Hadn’t we escaped the huckster with the chipmunk voice? N.B.: All three ladies are Italian-American (Germanotta, Ciccone, Paglia), though only the last uses her surname. Perhaps this is some dark in-group takedown, like a feud in the ’Ndrangheta. Lady Gaga, like Madonna before her, will sell a billion records. But Paglia knows her Faerie Queen. Place your bets.

For the first time since the Vietnam War, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to a serviceman who did not die while earning it. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, of Hiawatha, Iowa, achieved the nation’s highest military honor with his actions during an enemy ambush of his company in Afghanistan in October 2007. As the official citation states, first “he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover,” then later he “noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier [and] immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade.” Sergeant Giunta’s reaction has been subdued, since unfortunately the men he rescued later died of their wounds. Yet his bravery — like that of the seven Medal of Honor recipients in the War on Terror who received their awards posthumously — needs no elaboration, and speaks eloquently of the qualities with which courageous men going above and beyond the call of duty have kept America safe and secure since George Washington’s day.

James Jay Lee was shot dead by a police sniper while waving a handgun at hostages he’d taken at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters building, which is in Silver Spring, Md. Lee left behind an online manifesto expressing a crazed mix of environmentalism, pacifism, and extreme misanthropy — “The planet does not need humans” — and demanding that Discovery broadcast daily programs based on his favorite novel, which concerns a telepathic gorilla. Extreme restraint is appropriate when drawing large conclusions from the ravings of a lunatic. (Recall that Charles Manson was inspired by a Beatles song about a fairground attraction.) Thus conservatives largely refrained from linking Lee to the sane Left. Would it be too much to hope for the same forbearance when someone loosely affiliated with the Right commits an outrage? Yes, it would be.

After all those years promoting rainbows, Jesse Jackson has settled on a color he really likes: green. The green, that is, of environmental faddism, as in “green jobs.” Writing on CNN.com recently, Jackson expressed the hope that America will “get serious about energy savings and independence from oil. . . . A green economy is not an abstract concept.” A few days later he took this message to a jobs rally in Detroit organized by Bob King, militant president of the United Auto Workers union. Alas, the day after the rally Jackson’s vehicle went missing from a parking lot near his hotel. It was a 2009 Cadillac Escalade SUV — twelve miles per gallon in city driving. So much for the Rev’s dedication to greenery. Police later found the vehicle abandoned and stripped — as Detroit itself has been by decades of solidly Democratic government, and as the domestic auto industry has been by the ever-escalating demands of the UAW.

The incandescent light bulb may be America’s greatest invention: laboriously refined by Thomas Edison; not much changed since early last century, when it embodied the notion of progress for rural dwellers; and still instantly recognizable as the graphic symbol of a good idea. But now the nation’s last major incandescent-light-bulb factory, in Winchester, Va., has shut down, a victim of the enforced switch to more efficient twisted fluorescent bulbs. It’s bad enough that Congress is telling Americans what to light their houses with, but compounding the indignity it is also sending jobs overseas: Manufacture of the new bulbs cannot be automated as easily as that of the old kind, so production has moved to China, where hand labor is cheap. So much for green jobs. Perhaps future cartoonists will use a twisted light bulb to symbolize a poorly thought-out idea with unintended consequences.

When in the past we have criticized college courses for catering to students’ tastes, we were speaking metaphorically. Not anymore. Earlier this month, 600 students crammed into a 350-seat lecture hall at Harvard University for a new class, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.” The course, which fulfills a core-curriculum requirement, promises to “discuss concepts from the physical sciences that underpin . . . everyday cooking.” It will feature guest lectures by world-famous chefs, such as Enric Rovira on “his chocolate delicacies.” Here’s a sampling of the required reading: On Food and Cooking, Kitchen Mysteries, and The Science of Ice Cream. When asked by the Harvard Crimson why he was taking the class, one knowledge-hungry student responded: “I think the fact that you can eat your lab is pretty much the coolest thing ever.” Given tuition, it had better be five-star.

CULTURE WATCH
Bonfires and Vanities

Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., called off his plan to commemorate 9/11 by burning Korans. Imam Feisal Rauf, returning from a two-week junket to the Gulf, announced that he would continue to raise money for his mosque and cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero. So the Christian clerical self-promoter called off his stunt; the Muslim clerical self-promoter is going full speed ahead.

Burning a book hardly rises to the level of criticism. The doughtiest public scourges of Islam, from Ibn Warraq to Christopher Hitchens, parse the texts they dispute; they attempt to destroy its ideas, not the paper on which those ideas appear. Pastor Jones wanted a spotlight on himself and his 50-member operation; having gotten it, he decided to skip the combustion.

But look at the pile-up that occurred before he gave in. Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and President Obama called Jones or criticized him publicly. The job should have been Obama’s alone. He nicely invoked Lincoln, urging Jones to heed the “better angels” of his nature. He might also have said that a free country allows its citizens to do any number of stupid things, and made a double point about liberty and prudence.

The Jones affair played into the self-defense of the shifty Imam Rauf. Returning to America, in part to answer charges brought by Union City, N.J., that he is a negligent slumlord, Rauf took to the media to defend his $100 million mega-mosque. The “good” Imam wrote in the New York Times and spoke on CNN about sensitivity and peace. His double game keeps biting him, however. He warned Soledad O’Brien that if his mosque is moved, “anger will explode in the Muslim world. . . . This crisis could become much bigger than the Danish-cartoon crisis.” Americans are familiar with race hustlers, real (Al Sharpton) and fictional (Tom Wolfe’s Reverend Bacon), who threaten violence if they don’t get what they want. The Muslim mob is a versatile thing. Yesterday, it rioted over Danish cartoons. Today, it stood ready to riot over Pastor Jones’s cook-out. Tomorrow, it will riot if Imam Rauf does not get his pleasure dome.

Americans should do the right thing because we respect law, justice, decency, and common sense. That Jones’s prospective stunt inspired fears of widespread violence is a more stinging indictment of the Islamic world than anything he could have done.

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