There is no God but Allah, and Imam Rauf is his slumlord.
In the Obama era, “end” is the new victory. President Obama declared the end of combat operations in an Oval Office speech in which the notion of winning hardly figured. If Obama had fine words for our troops and pledged we’d be a partner for the Iraqis in the future, the emotional emphasis of the speech was on “turning the page” so we can devote ourselves more fully to spending ourselves into the ground here at home. But we can’t truly turn the page on Iraq without risking all that we achieved — we must work to forge a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, and it will need a U.S. troop presence beyond the deadline for a total withdrawal at the end of 2011, currently enshrined in an agreement between our governments. The war needn’t merely “end,” so long as we give Iraq the continued attention it needs to survive as a democratic ally of the United States.
Glenn Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial filled the mall (check the aerial photos) and filled the afternoon with the spirit of a patriotic camp meeting. Beck assembled a big tent: Sarah Palin spoke, not in overt campaign mode; the crowd of tea-party types, usually economic protesters, heard a lot about God and faith; the assembled conservatives praised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the spot 47 years earlier. This made some black leftists spit tacks; Al Sharpton, addressing a tiny counter-rally across town, said the Beck people “want to disgrace this day.” When historical figures enter the pantheon along with Washington, Lincoln, and Father Christmas, everyone gets a piece. And they enter only if they have a piece to offer everyone. “If my uncle Martin was here,” said Alveda King, MLK’s niece, “he would . . . focus on the content of character.” Liberalism has no patent on that — nor on rallies, activism, or public spirit.
Two conservative insurgents met different fates on the same day. In Alaska, Joe Miller challenged Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s reelection and narrowly beat her. In Arizona, former congressman J. D. Hayworth was buried by Sen. John McCain’s reelection bid. One reason for the divergent outcomes: McCain took the challenge seriously. He moved right, especially on immigration, while pouncing on Hayworth for having a weaker record than his on federal spending. News of an infomercial in which Hayworth advertised opportunities to collect “free federal money” combined McCain’s two critiques — Hayworth as spender and buffoon — in one story. Murkowski, meanwhile, was as complacent and entitled as one might expect of a senator appointed to her position by her father. Miller ran to her right not only on spending but on abortion: A pro-life ballot initiative boosted his turnout. The lessons of these primaries for Republican establishmentarians: Conservatives will give you a second chance if you earn it. For tea partiers: Choose your champions wisely.
Spread the Pain
Most politicians think about the labor market as if a job were similar to a traditional marriage. The happy worker finds the perfect spouse and then stays married for life.
This misconception has a terrible effect on policy. If we notice that there are many lonely grooms and unwilling brides, then the policy choice is to cut the groom a check to make him feel better (unemployment insurance) and cut young ladies a check if they agree to marry (a jobs credit).
The problem is, the right conceptual model of the labor market is Grand Central Terminal. People arrive and depart all the time. If a crowd is accumulating in the station, it’s because arrivals are greater than departures. The change in the size of the crowd at Grand Central could be many times smaller than the gross flow of people in and out. If 1,000 people arrive one minute while 900 people depart, then there are an extra 100 people in the terminal.
Similarly, in the U.S. labor market in July — the latest month for which we have data on flows in and out of the labor market — 5.86 million jobs were created, and 6 million jobs were destroyed, so the net change was a loss of 140,000 jobs.
The nearby chart plots the recent history of the underlying employment flows for the U.S. economy. (Since the data are quite jumpy, it depicts the three-month moving average of both series.) As the recession developed, job destruction soared to its highest level on record, while job creation collapsed. Interestingly, both started to recover in early 2009, and job creation finally passed job destruction around the beginning of this year. The progress began to unwind, however, right around March, when Obamacare became law.
While the evidence is far from decisive that heightened regulation and taxation associated with the March passage of the bill caused the backtracking in the jobs market, it does suggest that current policy is pushing both creation and destruction in the wrong direction.
First, hiring may be depressed by extremely long unemployment insurance, which currently stretches to 99 weeks. The academic literature suggests that workers tend to be unwilling to take on a job until their unemployment-insurance benefits run out.
Second, if firms want to reduce their labor costs but care about the welfare of their workers, then current policy provides an incentive to destroy jobs. If a firm fires a person, then he is eligible for insurance. If a firm reduces the hours of five people by 20 percent, then no government assistance is available.
It is standard practice in a number of European countries to give firms an incentive to spread out the pain of cost reduction proportionally among workers during a recession. So if five workers see their hours reduced 20 percent, each can get something like 20 percent of his unemployment insurance. These programs can have a big effect on job destruction, which is why unemployment in countries like Germany has not skyrocketed as it has in the U.S. Such a program holds tremendous promise here. Six million jobs were destroyed in July, and if that number were 10 percent lower, the economy would have created on net about 460,000 jobs.
If Congress really wants the economy to create more jobs, it should wake up to the way the labor market works, returning unemployment benefits to their normal duration of 26 weeks but allowing benefits to be fractional. This would send many more trains into Grand Central Terminal while closing some of the exits.
The saga of the Ground Zero mosque continued to move on parallel tracks. Liberaldom fumed over the protesters: Time asked, “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” while Nancy Pelosi wanted to know “How is this being ginned up?” The questions rang hollow, however, as some notable liberals questioned the mosque themselves (Harry Reid; Howard Dean; Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York assembly). An anti-Muslim hate crime, ostensibly spurred by the protests — the stabbing of Ahmed Sharif, a Bangladesh-born cabbie — turned out to be the work of Michael Enright, an unstable film student who is employed by a charity that supports the mosque. Meanwhile, the mosque’s backers seem ever dodgier. Imam Feisal Rauf, the visionary behind the project, has trouble running low-income apartments in New Jersey, for which he has gotten more than $2 million in public financing; his developer, Sharif El-Gamal, owes a quarter-million dollars in back taxes on the proposed site. Liberal zeal meets clownish bunglers: a perverse interfaith memorial for 9/11.
After several weeks of disturbing news suggesting that our weak recovery is getting weaker still, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech explaining that the Fed stands ready to undertake additional stimulative action if necessary but will not, as some economists urge, deliberately engineer inflation. A policy of increasing inflation, he suggested, would be appropriate only after “a prolonged period of deflation” — which, he notes, we have not had. Markets rallied, perhaps thrilled to hear sensible remarks from a Washington policymaker.
The economy may not have double-dipped, but the housing market has — with a vengeance. After rallying earlier this year in response to a tax credit that subsidized home purchases to the tune of $8,000, it has plunged again with the expiration of the credit, and plunged much faster and farther than expected: July’s numbers for new and existing home sales were some of the worst ever recorded. The easy explanation for this is that the tax credit pulled forward summer demand into spring, and the homebuyers who would have bought this summer have already bought homes. This explanation is true as far as it goes, but it comes with an unpleasant addendum: The bubble sent housing prices into the stratosphere, and they still look artificially high. The administration’s misguided policies benefited the Democrats, at least in the short run, and also helped banks that needed a break from foreclosures. But they have delayed the market’s recovery.
The health-care law exemplifies everything voters dislike about the reigning party: its zeal for government, its subordination of economic to ideological objectives, its conviction that it knows better than voters who balk at the imposition of sweeping and ill-considered change. It ought, therefore, to be the Republicans’ top issue this year. Worried Democratic strategists are advising their candidates not to gush about the new health-care law — and not to try to persuade voters that it will reduce the deficit or health-care costs. Instead, Democrats are urged to say that the law “is not perfect” but “does good things” and “we’ll work to improve it.” Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee through which the bill passed, tried out the new line: “Mark my words, several years from now you’re going to look back and say, ‘Eh, maybe it isn’t so bad.’” By Election Day, Democrats may have retreated to the claim that it wasn’t the worst bill Congress has ever passed. (Our suggestion for Democrats: Bone up on the Fugitive Slave Law.)
College kids were pretty well sold on Obamacare, and it’s not hard to imagine why: Most probably concluded on some level that they could reap the psychic rewards of supporting, like, more health care for everyone without having actually to sacrifice anything, because college kids do not pay taxes. But someone should have taught them the law of unintended consequences, because universities are now saying they will be forced either to discontinue their student health plans or to raise premiums significantly unless they are granted an exemption from the new law’s strict coverage standards. The bill outlawed cheap, bare-minimum plans for healthy people with the goal of moving toward a one-size-fits-all system in which the young subsidize the old by paying for features that young people don’t need but older people do. We say: No exemptions for the experientially challenged! Forcing young people to live with the consequences of this legislation will provide them with a crash course in economics, while getting them to join the ranks of those calling for the law’s repeal will give them hands-on political-science training. At least they’ll learn something in college.
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich faces retrial in January after a federal jury failed to reach a verdict on 23 of 24 corruption charges, including allegations that he attempted to sell a Senate seat, cashing in on his power to name a successor when Barack Obama was elected president. He was convicted on the less serious offense of lying to the FBI during the investigation. The outcome was an embarrassment for Chicago U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who announced the indictment with great fanfare. Along with his failure in high-profile prosecutions of Scooter Libby and Conrad Black to deliver cases that matched his hype, the Blago verdict bespeaks a disturbing tendency. On the other hand, claims that Blagojevich has been “vindicated” are greatly exaggerated. Post-trial comments indicate that the jury was overwhelmingly in favor of conviction (11–1 on the charges involving the Senate seat), and the evidence — regardless of whether sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — showed Blagojevich to be unworthy of public office — even in Illinois.
The Justice Department notified former House majority leader Tom DeLay that he is no longer under investigation in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. The exoneration is significant: Both of the DeLay aides who pled guilty to corruption charges were said to be cooperating fully with the investigation, which, if it has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on DeLay’s part, indicates that he was guilty only of being inexcusably in the dark with regard to the illegal activities taking place in his office. DeLay still must go to trial in Texas to face state charges that he engaged in illegal campaign-finance activities. The state charges are flimsy, brought by a politically motivated district attorney with a history of similar shenanigans. DeLay deserved his day in court years ago. Instead, his political enemies dragged things out to make sure the punishment came first. The New York Times editorial board summed up the philosophy that has guided his persecution: “Many of Mr. DeLay’s actions remain legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize them.” Guilty by tautology.
The Dickey-Wicker amendment, passed by Congress in 1996 and re-passed every year since, bans federal financing for research “in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.” In 1999 the Clinton administration argued that the feds could fund research on cells from destroyed embryos so long as it did not do the destroying. George W. Bush announced a compromise in August 2001, whereby research on lines of cells derived from already-destroyed embryos could be funded, but not any on cells from embryos that were newly destroyed. Barack Obama revived the Clinton policy — until a federal district-court judge, Royce Lamberth, ruled that destruction anywhere down the line precludes “the entire project . . . from receiving federal funding.” Embryos are pre-born human beings in their least human-seeming form, yet left to themselves they will eat pray love like the rest of us. The Dickey-Wicker amendment meant to get taxpayers out of the business of destroying them, and the Clinton/Obama gambit is a weaselly end-run. The Bush compromise at least ended the incentive for new destruction. Judge Lamberth was right to reconcile policy with the law, and restart the debate on these terms.
The Washington Post reports that “some legal experts” are worried about an effort to defeat the reelection bids of three justices of the Iowa supreme court for foisting same-sex marriage on the state. They call the campaign “inappropriate,” “wrong,” “a challenge to judicial independence.” Voters are not to concern themselves with basic questions of governance; and if a justice has invaded the rightful domain of voters and legislators, amending the constitution on the fly, a voter tasked with passing judgment on the justice’s fitness for the bench should disregard it. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor is reportedly going to involve herself in the controversy — as she involved herself in so many local matters while on the bench. She says that judicial elections create “politicians in robes.” Is the prospect of emperors in robes supposed to be more attractive?
It is lucky for political arguments that they have no feelings; otherwise they would grow bitter at how cruelly they are abandoned when they become inconvenient. Only six years ago the op-ed pages were full of criticism of the Federal Marriage Amendment, President Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The leading complaints: The amendment would infringe on the historic right of the states to set marriage policy, and Bush’s fear that federal judges would set marriage policy was a fantasy. Now two federal courts have ruled that the Constitution requires same-sex marriage — the clear implication being that no state may balk. The defenders of marital federalism have suddenly grown very quiet. Turns out same-sex marriage was their true love all along.
Every four years, all U.N. members must submit a human-rights self-assessment to the international body’s Human Rights Council — which includes such leaders in the field as China, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba, and which the U.S. just rejoined in 2009. Normally, these reports say more about the leaders of a country than about the country itself — as the Cato Institute’s Roger Pilon noted on NRO, the Saudis recently boasted of their sparkling, sharia-compliant human-rights record — and the United States’ addition to this literature is no exception: The Obama State Department spent 29 pages complaining about everything from the Arizona immigration law to the fact that Asian-American males suffer disproportionately from stomach cancer. The executive summary should have read: Lacking enough real human-rights abuses to fill a report, we will come up with ways to abase ourselves.
Call him “Bobby Bailouts.” Sen. Robert Casey (D., Pa.) is working to use taxpayers’ money to bail out mismanaged Teamster pension funds. Under a bill backed by Casey and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D., N.D.), the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a pension-insurance fund run by the federal government, would be able to receive tax dollars to bail out so-called orphan pensions — pensions for which employers have ceased making contributions, usually for reasons of insolvency. Under normal circumstances, PBGC does not use taxpayer money to bail out pensions; it charges an insurance premium to the funds it covers and uses that money to make good on pension obligations if a particular pension fund goes bankrupt. Federal law carefully specifies that PBGC obligations are not obligations of the U.S. government. Casey-Pomeroy would reverse that, creating a new bailout fund and making the obligations it finances “obligations of the United States.” Worse still, money can be transferred from fund to fund within the PBGC system, so this bill would unlock the possibility of a backdoor bailout for any pension fund with sufficient clout to wring one out of Casey and his colleagues. PBGC is already flat busted — it will be looking for a $34 billion bailout of its own by 2019 — which makes adding more billions for more bailouts particularly unattractive, as is Casey’s crass politics.
The Race to the Top program is supposed to improve education: The federal government pays states to reward them for instituting teacher-accountability schemes, standardized assessments of student progress, laws enabling charter schools, and other reforms. The first round of awards went to two states that had made serious efforts to improve their education systems. Unfortunately, the powers that be were not so selective in Round Two, doling out grants to nine states and the District of Columbia. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick M. Hess noted on NRO, the winners did not include “heralded education-reform states Colorado and Louisiana,” yet did include Ohio, Maryland, New York, and Hawaii, which have ranked poorly in evaluations of student-data systems, charter-school laws, and teacher quality. Initially, we disliked the fact that Race to the Top further centralized American education, but hoped it could push states in the right direction. Now we’re frustrated with yet another federal boondoggle.
Ousted New Jersey education commissioner Bret Schundler is an incisive small-government conservative whose passion for education reform convinced William F. Buckley Jr. he was cut of presidential timber. But Schundler is now a casualty of the Race to the Top. First, he overstepped his authority in negotiating a compromise with teachers’ unions on the terms of the application, prompting an irate Gov. Chris Christie to order an eleventh-hour rewrite. Then, in haste to make a deadline, a page of key figures was omitted from the final product, costing New Jersey precious points and, in the end, $400 million. Schundler apparently compounded the error by telling Christie that federal overseers had rejected his offer to provide the missing data during the state’s application presentation, a claim belied by videotape. Schundler has long been a tireless advocate of conservative education policy, and we hope he will continue to beat that drum outside of the statehouse. But his actions in this instance were wrong, and the governor was right to let him go.
Employees of the three major broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS — made over $1 million in political contributions in 2008, and 88 percent of it went to Democrats. For context: That’s approximately the same party split found in early 2007 when an internal survey of employee contributions was conducted by . . . MSNBC.
“Liberaltarians” may constitute the world’s smallest political movement. There seem to be two full-blooded species of the genus roaming the earth: Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, both of whom in August were released back into the wild from their former preserve, the Cato Institute. Liberaltarians seek to pry American libertarians away from their traditional alliance with the conservative movement and conjoin them to the Left; they are motivated almost entirely by venomous disdain for social conservatives. The duo’s departure from Cato has given rise to talk of a “liberaltarian purge,” a phrase that establishes a benchmark for insignificance. Libertarianism is a pretty small sandbox to begin with, and the liberaltarians never really learned to play nice. Mr. Lindsey, who is a smart man, is particularly intolerant of the faintest whiff of religious or cultural traditionalism — he denounced Ron Paul as a xenophobic Christian fundamentalist. He has joined the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he will research entrepreneurial innovation and the conditions that make it possible — a more fruitful use of his time than denouncing libertarians who wish to extend the law’s protection of individual rights to individuals unborn. Mr. Wilkinson, who without detectable irony advertises himself as a “public intellectual,” is an online columnist for The Week. The two men will jointly publish a book in the near future, the title of which — The Free-Market Progressive — suggests it may be a work of political economy, exotic anthropology, or possibly mythology.
Among the jobs created or saved by this administration: ebonics translator. The Drug Enforcement Administration is looking to hire nine of them to help catch drug dealers in the Southeast. Special Agent Michael Sanders hears where the skeptics are coming from, but “you have to understand that this has to hold up in court. You need someone to say, ‘I know what they mean when they say ballin’ or pinching pennies.’” We speak bureaucrat: He is saying that what the DEA really needs are people familiar with drug slang. Is the cast of The Wire not available?
Khaled Abu Toameh is an invaluable Palestinian journalist who writes primarily for the Jerusalem Post, and has also written for NR. One of his career-long themes is, “The Western media have no interest in reporting what Arab governments do to Arab citizens. They are particularly uninterested in reporting what the Palestinian Authority does to Palestinian citizens. They are interested only in perceived Israeli oppression of Palestinians.” His latest example is the arrest of seven university lecturers on the West Bank — who, according to their own accounts, were promptly tortured. The Palestinian Authority warned Palestinian journalists not to report about this case. But what was the Western media’s excuse? They ignored the story, as they regularly do. They are on the hunt for Israeli injustice, and anything else is a distraction or irrelevance. Some Western journalists explain that they are afraid of reporting persecution by Arab authorities: afraid of repercussions to themselves. Toameh had a blunt, tart message for them recently. He wrote, “If you are scared, why don’t you stop writing about the conflict and start reporting about the weather or environment?”
Bread and circuses, so the scornful poet Juvenal said in classical times, was what the Romans wanted. The irruption into Rome of Moammar Qaddafi shows that things have not changed much. The Libyan dictator built a big tent in his ambassador’s garden, the perfect arena for playing the clown in the fancy robes and headgear he reserves for the part. For the animal number, he brought with him 30 well-trained horses. Presumably he wanted the show to celebrate friendship with Silvio Berlusconi, himself a ringmaster, and of course the oil contracts and bank business being processed out of sight. Bring on the girls, then. An agency bused in hundreds of pretty models, actresses, and what have you. Gaddafi lectured them about Islam and handed out Korans. Only three in that multitude of swingers are thought to have converted on the spot — there might have been more if alcohol had been served at the buffet and the girls had received the 70 euros they had been promised. Hugh Hefner need not fear the competition.
The oldest principle in jurisprudence is lex talionis: retaliatory justice — “an eye for an eye.” In sharia law the aggrieved party may, as an act of charity, accept compensation in lieu of precise retaliation; but he is not required to do so, and in the stricter Islamic states lex talionis is sometimes enforced to the letter. Two years ago in Iran, for example, a court ruled that a man who had blinded a woman with acid should himself be blinded with acid. The latest such case concerns Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi of Saudi Arabia, who was attacked with a meat cleaver and left paralyzed, his spine severed. Mr. al-Mutairi insisted on his retaliatory rights. Judge Sheikh Saud al-Yousef agreed and asked several Saudi hospitals whether they would be willing to sever the convicted assailant’s spine. To their credit, the hospitals all seem to have refused. The story got out, there was an international fuss, and the plaintiff is now being pressed to accept monetary compensation. In fairness it should be said that King Abdullah’s government is trying to modernize the nation’s legal code and prevent these barbarous rulings. Judge al-Yousef’s decision suggests there is still some way to go.
Jennifer Keeton believes that people are born male or female, and that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle and not a “state of being.” That got her into hot water at Augusta State University, in Georgia — a public institution, please note — where Keeton is enrolled in a master’s-degree program in school counseling. Learning of her views, the college authorities insisted that she submit to a “remediation plan” they developed for her — that she participate in “workshops,” read homosexualist propaganda, write reports on what she had learned, and even attend the local gay-pride parade. They told Keeton she would be expelled if she did not fulfill the requirements of the program. She sued in federal court, arguing that her First Amendment rights were being assaulted. The latest news we have on the case is that the court has denied Keeton a temporary order preventing her expulsion. Should the college get its way, our advice to her would be that she convert to Islam. Then she could happily advocate stoning homosexuals to death, and none would dare call it intolerance. Multiculturalism must be fought on its own ground.
For several decades, until a recent challenge ended the practice, the schools of Nettleton, Miss., used a race-based system for allocating student-government offices: The senior-class president, for example, would be white one year and black the next. A similar plan governs homecoming elections. Like most quotas and set-asides, this system was adopted with good intentions, to overcome racial bloc voting in the majority-white school; and, again like most such schemes, it created racial friction, institutionalized unfairness, and remained in place long after changing demographics made the simple black/white division meaningless. Any system that designates certain offices for certain classes of people is noxious to the spirit of democracy, but the larger lesson is that if you tell blacks and whites that they can’t get along unless the government protects them from each other, they will learn the lesson well.
In his 34 years at the UCLA School of Public Health, epidemiologist James Enstrom turned out an impressive body of work, studying everything from why Mormons are less susceptible to cancer to the effects of secondhand smoke. But he was recently fired. Why? His work “is not aligned with the academic mission” of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. What’s that mission? To “explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment.” As various observers, ranging from Reason magazine’s Jacob Sullum to epidemiologist Carl Phillips, have concluded, this is bunk: The problem is not Enstrom’s research focus but his results, and also the fact that he’s made some enemies among UCLA’s lefty faculty. He disputes the environmental Left’s claim that “fine particulate matter” (soot, basically) has been proven to harm human beings and should be regulated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). His making trouble with CARB itself — he noted that a key staffer had falsified his credentials, and also that UCLA prof John Froines had advised CARB for a quarter century without being reappointed every three years as required — hasn’t helped matters. Froines, meanwhile, a former member of the Chicago Seven, participated in the vote that produced a recommendation for Enstrom’s firing. Since that recommendation was acted on, Enstrom has been reinstated, but only temporarily. UCLA should make that permanent, immediately.
Though chronically unable to cut taxes, New York State has at least found a way to tax cuts. Cuts of bagels, that is: The trademark New York breakfast item is cut equatorially before eating, and when thus cut is considered a “prepared food item,” subject to the state’s 8.875 percent sales tax. Uncut, the bagel is tax-free. Desperate for revenue, state tax authorities have launched a drive to enforce the cut-bagel tax. Will Manhattanites rebel by dumping bagels into the harbor? Will tea partiers become tea-and-bagels partiers? Perhaps lox and cream cheese should be served at the next Glenn Beck rally.
This issue’s Carrie Prejean Award, for astute political commentary by a beauty queen, is shared by two lovely and spirited ladies. Venezuela’s Stefania Fernández, whose reign as Miss Universe ended at this year’s pageant, defiantly held up the seven-star flag of pre-Chávez Venezuela on her final walk down the runway (the dictator added an eighth star several years ago, and the old flag has become a symbol of resistance to his regime). Meanwhile, Rima Fakih, a Lebanese Muslim from Michigan who is currently Miss USA, said of the Ground Zero mosque that, while she supports religious freedom, “it shouldn’t be so close to the World Trade Center.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Johnny Rotten, former leader of the Sex Pistols, recently played Tel Aviv with his band, Public Image Ltd. Several other performers have canceled concerts in Israel, but as Mr. Rotten told Britain’s Independent with typical candor, “I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi Jews. If Elvis-****ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But . . . until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.” Even more of a neocon is Harold, guitarist for the hardcore band Mehkago NT, who grew up in Cuba. He told Maximum RocknRoll: “Human rights are being violated all the time in Cuba and most people could give a flying ****! If anything, I hope punks are aware of this and don’t sympathize with that bull**** mentality! For example, people wearing a shirt with Che Guevara’s face on it — do you know what that stands for? Do your ****ing homework!” When you’ve lost the hardcore punks, you’ve lost America.
“You ask what we need to win this war. I will tell you,” Gen. John J. Pershing wrote Washington in 1918. “We need tobacco, more tobacco — even more than food.” It does not take a man of Pershing’s insight to figure that, in a combat zone, a cigarette can be a welcome friend. Imagine then the scandal when military families were told in early August that their care packages could no longer contain cartons of smokes, thanks to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act newly in effect; it requires that tobacco products be sent via Express Mail, which won’t deliver to most overseas military addresses. An error and an oversight, cried the Postal Service as it rushed to carve out a regulatory exception. Thank goodness; American troops have more than enough to worry about without being harassed by congressional nannies.
“A little after 8 o’clock on the evening of Tuesday, July 11, John W. McCormack came before the Democratic Convention of 1972. He stood at the rostrum like an aging heron on a cypress stump, white-haired, gaunt-eyed. Behind him, at eighty, were sixty years of distinguished service to his party; before him, a sea of indifference. So might the last of the pterodactyls have surveyed the primeval swamps” (NR, Aug. 4, 1972). So might lede grafs be written, if all of us were as graced as James Jackson Kilpatrick. Kilpo, as WFB called him, had a long career: at the Richmond News Leader (marred, alas, by support for segregation); on 60 Minutes, debating Nicholas von Hoffman and Shana Alexander; in his columns and books on politics and writing. NR most treasures the pieces he wrote for us, of which his campaign-coverage pieces in the Sixties and Seventies were the jewels. In person, he was a model of politeness and fun. Dead at 89. R.I.P. “The old gentleman spoke for maybe ten minutes, competing hoarsely against a swelling babble of conversation in the hall. There came a pattering of perfunctory applause, and when we looked up the stump was vacant and the heron was gone.”
Ted Stevens, Army Air Corps vet, winner of two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and Republican senator from Alaska for forty years (1968–2008), died at age 86 in a plane crash in his home state. His political record was mixed: Scrappiest of the Old Bulls — he did not lose his temper, he said, he knew right where it was — he voted a broadly conservative line, while shoveling the pork into Alaska (decades from now, the Bridge to Nowhere will be a political trivia question, like vicuña coats). His last election, though, was a disgrace. In October 2008 Stevens was convicted on seven counts of not reporting gifts from Bill Allen, a businessman crony. Eight days later he lost narrowly to Democrat Mark Begich. In April 2009, however, Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the conviction be thrown out: Prosecutors had withheld from the defense interview notes in which Allen contradicted his testimony. Maybe Stevens deserved a voter rebuke, but not on a falsified charge. R.I.P.
As a boy, Manuel Ayau earned the nickname “Muso” — short for Mussolini — on account of his abundant confidence. It was ironic because no man was more important to the spread of classical liberalism in his native Guatemala. In 1971, he founded the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, which today hosts 2,700 students, who are required to study classical liberals like Friedrich A. Hayek. When the university started, Marxist assassins targeted Ayau because of his beliefs. But the confident “Muso” braved the risks; he equipped his car with a remote-control starter to check for bombs. A friend of Milton Friedman, he popularized the economist’s ideas in Spanish-language books and in contributions to the Wall Street Journal and other publications. He once explained his reasoning: “I learned that freedom must triumph in people’s minds and hearts before it can make any headway in politics.” Well said. Dead at 84. R.I.P.
The 1st Special Service Brigade of the British Army landed under enemy fire at Sword Beach, Normandy, on June 6, 1944. Their commander, Lord Lovat, was not only a distinguished soldier, but also a Scottish clan chief. Naturally he had a piper with him: 21-year-old Bill Millin, son of a Glasgow policeman. “Give us a tune, piper,” ordered the commander as they waded up the beach. Millin pointed out that it would be against army regulations. His Lordship replied that those were English regulations, and so did not apply to Scotsmen. Millin wound up his pipes and played, walking up and down the beach as corpses rolled against his legs in the surf and enemy mortar fire thumped around him. He continued to play, advancing inland with his brigade, until four days later when the pipes, which he had momentarily laid down in the grass, took a direct hit from shrapnel. German snipers had held their fire from him in sympathy, assuming the poor fellow had gone crazy from battle fatigue. Bill Millin died August 17 in Devon, England, aged 88. R.I.P.
The Case for Marriage
If it is true, as we are constantly told, that American law will soon redefine marriage to accommodate same-sex partnerships, the proximate cause for this development will not be that public opinion favors it, although it appears to be moving in that direction. It will be that the most influential Americans, particularly those in law and the media, have been coming increasingly to regard opposition to same-sex marriage as irrational at best and bigoted at worst. They therefore dismiss expressions of that opposition, even when voiced by a majority in a progressive state, as illegitimate. Judges who believe that same-sex marriage is obviously just and right can easily find ways to read their views into constitutions, to the applause of the like-minded.
The emerging elite consensus in favor of same-sex marriage has an element of self-delusion about it. It denies that same-sex marriage would work a radical change in American law or society, insisting to the contrary that within a few years of its triumph everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about. But its simultaneous insistence that opponents are the moral equivalent of the white supremacists of yesteryear belies these bland assurances. Our tolerance for racism is quite limited: The government, while it generally respects the relevant constitutional limits, is active in the cause of marginalizing racists and eradicating racist beliefs and behaviors. Moreover, social sanctions against racism, both overt and implied, are robust. If our society is truly to regard opposition to same-sex marriage as equivalent to racism, it will have to undergo change both dramatic and extensive. Churches that object, for example, will have to be put in the same cultural position as Bob Jones University was in the days when it banned interracial dating, until they too join the consensus.
If proponents of same-sex marriage thought through these implications, their confidence might evaporate, for it seems highly unlikely that this project will succeed at all, and impossible that it will do so without decades of arduous and divisive social “reform.” That is no reason to shrink from the task, if it is truly a just one. But we should first consider whether the historic and cross-cultural understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman really has so little to be said for it.
We think that there is quite a bit to be said for it: that it is true, vitally true. But it is a truth so long accepted that it is no longer well understood. Both the fact that we are debating same-sex marriage and the way that debate has progressed suggest that many of us have lost sight of why marriage exists in the first place as a social institution and a matter of public policy. One prominent supporter of same-sex marriage says that the purpose of marriage is to express and safeguard an emotional union of adults; another says that its purpose is to make it more likely that people will have others to give them care in sickness and old age.
So at the risk of awkwardness, we must talk about the facts of life. It is true that marriage is, in part, an emotional union, and it is also true that spouses often take care of each other and thereby reduce the caregiving burden on other people. But neither of these truths is the fundamental reason for marriage. The reason marriage exists is that the sexual intercourse of men and women regularly produces children. If it did not produce children, neither society nor the government would have much reason, let alone a valid reason, to regulate people’s emotional unions. (The government does not regulate non-marital friendships, no matter how intense they are.) If mutual caregiving were the purpose of marriage, there would be no reason to exclude adult incestuous unions from marriage. What the institution and policy of marriage aims to regulate is sex, not love or commitment. These days, marriage regulates sex (to the extent it does regulate it) in a wholly non-coercive manner, sex outside of marriage no longer being a crime.
Marriage exists, in other words, to solve a problem that arises from sex between men and women but not from sex between partners of the same gender: what to do about its generativity. It has always been the union of a man and a woman (even in polygamous marriages in which a spouse has a marriage with each of two or more persons of the opposite sex) for the same reason that there are two sexes: It takes one of each type in our species to perform the act that produces children. That does not mean that marriage is worthwhile only insofar as it yields children. (The law has never taken that view.) But the institution is oriented toward child-rearing. (The law has taken exactly that view.) What a healthy marriage culture does is encourage adults to arrange their lives so that as many children as possible are raised and nurtured by their biological parents in a common household.
That is also what a sound law of marriage does. Although it is still a radical position without much purchase in public opinion, one increasingly hears the opinion that government should get out of the marriage business: Let individuals make whatever contracts they want, and receive the blessing of whatever church agrees to give it, but confine the government’s role to enforcing contracts. This policy is not so much unwise as it is impossible. The government cannot simply declare itself uninterested in the welfare of children. Nor can it leave it to prearranged contract to determine who will have responsibility for raising children. (It’s not as though people can be expected to work out potential custody arrangements every time they have sex; and any such contracts would look disturbingly like provisions for ownership of a commodity.)
When a marriage involving children breaks down, or a marriage culture weakens, government has to get more involved, not less. Courts may well end up deciding on which days of the month each parent will see a child. We have already gone some distance in separating marriage and state, in a sense: The law no longer ties rights and responsibilities over children to marriage, does little to support a marriage culture, and in some ways subsidizes non-marriage. In consequence government must involve itself more directly in caring for children than it did under the old marriage regime — with worse results.
Thoughtful proponents of same-sex marriage raise three objections to this conception of marriage. The first is that law and society have always let infertile couples marry; why not treat same-sex couples the same way? The question can be tackled philosophically or practically. The philosophical answer boils down to the observation that it is mating that gives marriage its orientation toward children. An infertile couple can mate even if it cannot procreate. Two men or two women literally cannot mate. To put it another way: A child fulfills the marital relationship by revealing what it is, a complete union, including a biological union. A man and a woman who unite biologically may or may not have children depending on factors beyond their control; a same-sex couple cannot thus unite.
The practical problems with using fertility as a criterion for marriage should be obvious. Some couples that believe themselves to be infertile (or even intend not to have children) end up having children. Government could not filter out those marriage applicants who are certain not to be able to have children without extreme intrusiveness. Note that we do not generally expect the eligibility criteria and purposes of marriage to exhibit a rigorous fitness in other respects. This is true about those aspects of marriage about which proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage alike agree. Nobody believes that people should have to persuade the government that they really are capable of a deep emotional union or that they are likely to stick around to take care of an ill partner before getting legally married, because that would be absurd. Nobody would try to devise a test to bar couples with no intention of practicing sexual exclusivity from getting married. It does not follow that marriage is therefore pointless or has nothing to do with monogamy, emotional union, or caregiving. (Those are indeed goods that marriage advances; but if sex did not make children, they would not be a reason to have the institution of marriage.)
The second objection proponents of same-sex marriage raise is that the idea that marriage is importantly linked to procreation is outdated. In our law and culture, the ties between sex, marriage, and child-rearing have been getting weaker thanks to contraception, divorce and remarriage, artificial reproduction, and the rise of single motherhood. Yet those ties still exist. Pregnancy still prompts some couples to get married. People are more likely to ask nosy questions about whether and when children are coming to couples that have gotten married. And we have not at all outgrown the need to channel adult sexual behavior in ways conducive to the well-being of children: The rising percentage of children who are not being raised by their parents, and the negative outcomes associated with this trend, suggest that this need is as urgent as ever. Our culture already lays too much stress on marriage as an emotional union of adults and too little on it as the right environment for children. Same-sex marriage would not only sever the tie between marriage and procreation; it would, at least in our present cultural circumstances, place the law behind the proposition that believing that tie should exist is bigoted.
The third objection is that it is unfair to same-sex couples to tie marriage to procreation, as the traditional conception of marriage does. Harm, if any, to the feelings of same-sex couples is unintentional: Marriage, and its tie to procreation, did not arise as a way of slighting them. (In the tradition we are defending, the conviction that marriage is the union of a man and a woman is logically prior to any judgment about the morality of homosexual relationships.)
And does marriage really need to be redefined? The legal “benefits” of marriage — such as the right to pay extra taxes, and to go through a legal process to sever the relationship? — are overstated. Almost all the benefits that the law still grants could easily be extended to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, without redefining marriage. The campaign for same-sex marriage is primarily motivated by one specific benefit: the symbolic statement by the government that committed same-sex relationships are equivalent to marriages. But with respect to the purposes of marriages, they’re not equivalent; and so this psychic benefit cannot be granted without telling a lie about what marriage is and why a society and legal system should recognize and support it.
Same-sex marriage is often likened to interracial marriage, which the law once proscribed. But the reason governments refused to recognize (and even criminalized) interracial marriages was not that they did not believe that such marriages were possible; it is that they wanted to discourage them from happening, in the interests of white supremacy. Sexual complementarity is a legitimate condition of marriage because of the institution’s orientation toward children; racial homogeneity has nothing to do with that orientation. Laws against interracial marriage thus violated the right to form an actual marriage in a way that laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman do not violate it. The argument about what the equal rights of all citizens entail for marriage laws turns, in other words, on what marriage is. If marriage just is by its nature oriented toward procreation, the refusal to redefine it to accommodate same-sex partners unjustly discriminates against them no more than the military does against the flat-footed.
Same-sex marriage would introduce a new, less justifiable distinction into the law. This new version of marriage would exclude pairs of people who qualify for it in every way except for their lack of a sexual relationship. Elderly brothers who take care of each other; two friends who share a house and bills and even help raise a child after one loses a spouse: Why shouldn’t their relationships, too, be recognized by the government? The traditional conception of marriage holds that however valuable those relationships may be, the fact that they are not oriented toward procreation makes them non-marital. (Note that this is true even if those relationships involve caring for children: We do not treat a grandmother and widowed daughter raising a child together as married because their relationship is not part of an institution oriented toward procreation.) On what possible basis can the revisionists’ conception of marriage justify discriminating against couples simply because they do not have sex?
How, for that matter, can it justify discriminating against groups of more than two involved in overlapping sexual relationships? The argument that same-sex marriage cannot be justified without also, in principle, justifying polygamy and polyamory infuriates many advocates of the former. There is, however, no good answer to the charge; and the arguments and especially the rhetoric of same-sex marriage proponents clearly apply with equal force to polygamy and polyamory. How does it affect your marriage if two women decide to wed? goes the question from same-sex marriage advocates; you don’t have to enter a same-sex union yourself. They might just as accurately be told that they would still be free to have two-person marriages if other people wed in groups.
We cannot say with any confidence that legal recognition of same-sex marriage would cause infidelity or illegitimacy to increase; we can say that it would make the countervailing norms, and the public policy of marriage itself, incoherent. The symbolic message of inclusion for same-sex couples — in an institution that makes no sense for them — would be coupled with another message: that marriage is about the desires of adults rather than the interests of children.
It may be that the conventional wisdom is correct, and legal recognition of same-sex marriage really is our inevitable future. Perhaps it will even become an unquestioned policy and all who resisted it will be universally seen as bigots. We doubt it, but cannot exclude the possibility. If our understanding of marriage changes in this way, so much the worse for the future.