We con’t care what they say about him, Al Gore is still boring.
Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana, says that the next president — some conservatives hope it will be Daniels himself — will have to call a “truce” on social issues in order to address the national debt and the economy. If by that he means that social issues will be a lower priority than economic ones, as they were for Reagan and both Bushes, he is almost certainly correct. If, on the other hand, he means that the next president should make no moves to end the abortion subsidies in Obamacare, or should refrain from appointing judges who will allow policies on social issues to be set democratically, or should decline on principle to ask Congress to send him legislation on social issues — well, then, social conservatives might reasonably hope for a different president. Since the governor’s record on social issues is impeccably conservative, we incline toward the former interpretation. Social conservatives, notably Mike Huckabee, have been criticizing Daniels for the remark. If Daniels clarifies that he does not mean to abandon the social issues, we would recommend that the critics call a truce.
Pro-life women may be the most underrepresented group in American politics. They make up about a quarter of the population, but 0 percent of senators, 2 percent of governors, and 3 percent of House members. Those numbers are likely to improve this year. Four pro-life women, all Republicans, have serious shots at winning Senate seats; three are making credible bids for governorships. Their success will help explode the myth that most American women are pro-choice. As a bonus, one of these women — Carly Fiorina — may unseat the Senate’s most dedicated supporter of abortion, Barbara Boxer, who won election in what the media called “the year of the woman” (1992). May this be a year of better women.
South Carolina politics are often dominated by a Republican establishment that dishes out favors to its friends: unwritten speeding tickets, personal drivers, jobs, a byzantine list of sales-tax exemptions. Large bills are passed on voice votes so no written record can show how each lawmaker voted. In the state’s house of representatives, Nikki Haley made ending that last practice her crusade, and took on the old-boys’ network in a fight to establish accountability. When they succeeded in blocking her efforts, she decided to run for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination. You may hear an echo of Sarah Palin’s career in this story, and so did Palin, who endorsed Haley and attended a heavily publicized rally for her. The establishment’s response to Haley’s sudden momentum was ugly. Its candidate was Lt. Gov. André Bauer. One of his allies claimed a one-night stand with Haley but offered no evidence; another dismissed her as a “raghead” (she is Indian-American). In the end, Bauer took 13 percent, roughly the same share of the GOP electorate that believed the affair claims. Haley finished with roughly 49 percent of the vote, just short of the threshold to avoid a runoff. Palmetto State Republicans who are not party insiders can breathe a little easier.
Former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle came out of nowhere to win the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Harry Reid. The Democratic line on her is that she is a kook. She has made some questionable judgments, such as advocating massage therapy for prisoners. Much of what the Democrats want to stigmatize is, however, mainstream conservatism: Angle wants to downsize the federal government by, for example, shutting down the Department of Education. She would also abolish Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as against the establishment’s sensible, pragmatic preference for letting them contribute to another financial crisis. Angle’s election could not possibly lead to all the dire consequences the Democrats are suggesting. If we had to choose, though, we would take taxpayer-funded massage therapy in return for the Senate majority leader’s retirement.
The Left is 0 for 3 in its big political battles with Democrats it dislikes. First it had to eat its previous threats and support Obamacare with no public option. Then in early June it lost two primaries. Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) beat back a challenger supported by Howard Dean and the netroots, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) survived a union-funded primary opponent. Our advice to Democrats: Ignore the Left’s bark — there will be no bite.
Once upon a time, Florida governor Charlie Crist was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. And once upon a time, he had a section on his website touting his pro-life credentials. But then he fell behind in the polls to upstart Marco Rubio — and declared that he was an independent candidate for the Senate. And he has scrubbed his website clean of references to any pro-life views. Who is Charlie Crist, and what does he believe? Those are increasingly boring questions: and Florida voters can make them moot in November, by defeating Crist and electing Rubio.
Helen Thomas was a fixture — a reporter for 40 years, a columnist for ten — always a plus in Washington. She was a left-wing scold: another plus. Then she told a blogger with a videocamera (a rabbi, no less) that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” — to “Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else.” It is fashionable to be tough on Israel, and increasingly acceptable to say that Israel’s supporters in this country — begins with J, rhymes with news — control American policy in the Middle East. The first is an old left-wing position, the second is soft anti-Semitism. Thomas’s vision of a judenrein Palestine showed American Israel-bashers a disturbing midpoint between their views and the exterminationist agenda of Hamas and Hezbollah. To their credit as men, they drew back, appalled. To their discredit as thinkers, they still do not see how short the intervening distances are becoming. Thomas has given up her column. Good riddance.
Putting His Foot in It
The other day on The Corner (National Review Online’s addictive, indispensable, world-shaking, all-powerful group blog, in case you didn’t know; then again, if you didn’t know that, you probably don’t know what a blog is either), I called attention to a particularly idiotic screed from a writer at The Nation, reprinted on National Public Radio’s website. The author, Dave Zirin, was explaining “Why the Far Right Hates Soccer.”
After wondering whether we hate soccer because of our “racism and imperial arrogance,” he speculates that a more “shallow” motivation may be the culprit: envy. The racist nativists dislike soccer because America isn’t good at it, and anything that contradicts American exceptionalism must be bad. But if, as the president might put it, we kicked ass at the sport, then the Glenn Becks and G. Gordon Liddys would come around. And what a laugh riot that would be, cackled Zirin. The conservatives would be “caught in a vice [sic] between their patriotic fervor and their nativist fear.”
To say this is all nonsense is to slander the nonsensical. It’s bigoted, sophomoric claptrap. Zirin overlooks the much-documented racism of soccer fans across fair Europa (where black players are heckled with monkey sounds) as well as the remarkable colorblindness of American devotees of baseball, basketball, and football. And what of the soccer-boosting regimes that practice ethnic cleansing and official bigotry? What of the fact that black Americans surely swell the ranks of the soccerphobic — are they racists too?
There’s something in Zirin’s smug jackassery that comports with a broader, if more civil, liberal campaign to make soccer into the Next Big Thing. I don’t much care about the substance of the underlying debate. Is soccer boring? Yes, absolutely — except to the people who find it exciting. In a world where biracial-dwarf porn has a dedicated fan base, it seems absurd to argue — outside of the orbit of bars, watercoolers, and sports-radio call-in shows — that a billion soccer fans are wrong. Besides, we all know that cricket is the official pastime of masochists and the brain-dead.
What I find vexatious is the failure to give America the benefit of the doubt that so many of these soccer proselytizers extend to every Third World backwater or totalitarian garrison state. When South American tribes stand athwart globalization, when Muslims cover their daughters in tarps, when Iranian ayatollahs suppress democracy, you can be sure to find some liberal defending their stance on the grounds of “diversity.” “Why can’t you understand that [Fill In the Blank] simply don’t share our values?” Every exotic taste is celebrated, every rejection of Western values, American norms, or bourgeois whatever is seen as something wonderful and joyous. (And, to be fair, the liberals are sometimes right about this — no conservative should want a global monoculture. We simply don’t have to be idiots about it. Wife-burning is wrong no matter whose wife it is.)
But whenever it’s America that refuses to join, whenever the damn Yankees don’t want to knuckle under to some homogenized monoculture, it can’t be that there’s something special and worth preserving here. It’s got to be because we are racists, imperialists, etc.
Rush Limbaugh is still America’s civics teacher (a Pew survey documents that Rush’s audience is better informed about public events than is CNN’s or the PBS NewsHour’s) but Glenn Beck is now in charge of the reading list: F. A. Hayek’s 1944 classic The Road to Serfdom has hit the No. 1 spot on Amazon thanks to Beck’s dedicating an entire show to the book. Hayek argued that attempts at central planning of the economy lead to totalitarianism, and one can appreciate the appeal of that critique for Beck, who has made the sweeping ambitions of progressivism a major theme of his program. The Democrats (and some wayward Republicans) are eager to dismiss Beck and his audience, and the tea-party movement with which they overlap, as unlettered rubes and yokels, though in fact they are of above-average education and income. Mr. Beck is putting his showman’s gifts to serious and important work in promoting The Road to Serfdom. Read it and weep.
Paul McCartney, one of the two remaining Beatles, received the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. So President and Mrs. Obama threw a party in the White House in his honor. At the end of it, McCartney gave the crowd this pearl: “After the last eight years, it’s good to have a president that knows what a library is.” They laughed like hyenas, because Bush, you know, is like so dum!! In following days, some people pointed out that Bush is married to a librarian, and that they have made libraries a particular cause for many years. But the Bush-dum line is impervious to reason. And the Obama White House sometimes seems impervious to a sense of honor and decorum. As JFK once put down Nixon, “No class.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Nomad, will surely displease the Islamists who have already called for her murder. It is an unsparing analysis of Muslim child-rearing and family dynamics,which she says subjugate women and instill violence. It also earned a brush-off from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, whose review was both hostile — “overheated,” “overstated,” “potentially feeding religious bigotry” — and patronizing — “she never quite outgrew her rebellious teenager phase.” Kristof himself campaigns against phenomena that brutalize women, specifically the sex trade. But, like too many liberals, he is made uncomfortable by the claim that there could be an Other that systematically degrades and oppresses. Greed may ruin lives; societies or religions never, unless they are his own (there is corporal punishment, he notes, in Texas schools). Hirsi Ali challenges the evacuated inner world of liberals — which is why so many of them disdain her.
Former president George W. Bush defended his enhanced-interrogation program for top al-Qaeda detainees: “Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.” For all their posturing, Obama and the Democratic Congress have not enacted any specific criminal prohibition against waterboarding, and Attorney General Eric Holder has conceded that, absent specific intent to commit torture, waterboarding is not actionable. The technique was used only against KSM and two others, and the intelligence it yielded led to the capture of jihadists and the prevention of mass-murder attacks. As the pace of attempted attacks against the homeland has picked up in the last 18 months, there is more public support for waterboarding terrorists than for Mirandizing them. Common sense is on Bush’s side, and history is likely to follow.
President Obama spent more than a year telling Americans that if they liked their health-insurance arrangements, they could keep them under his reforms. His administration has just drafted regulations following the passage of Obamacare, and the fine print is coming into view. Most Americans get their health coverage through their employers. According to the administration’s own estimates, half of all employer-based plans will be subject to onerous new regulations. Union-negotiated plans get a sweeter deal, naturally. The message from conservatives to the voters should be: If you don’t like your elected officials, you don’t have to keep them.
Former Supreme Court justice David Souter, speaking at Harvard’s commencement, criticized those unnamed folks who believe that constitutional interpretation is always easy — unnamed, presumably, because there are none. Beyond attacking straw men, he argued that judges must apply value judgments because the Constitution advances several goals that sometimes conflict. This is a non sequitur. It is true, for example, that the Constitution aims both to create a limited federal government and one strong enough to keep states from interfering with national commerce. But that does not mean that judges should, or may, substitute their own answers about how to balance these goals for the Constitution’s. And if the Constitution does not provide clear guidance, it is hard to see why judges rather than legislators should fill in the blanks. Anyone seeking a plausible answer to this question will not find it in Justice Souter’s remarks, or his career.
As though the issue of gays in the military were not sufficiently fraught, Roland Burris, the man who replaced Barack Obama in the Senate, has conjoined to it the even more charged issue of abortion. A bill to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is before the Senate, and Senator Burris has inserted a provision that would allow abortions to be performed at military hospitals. While the abortionists’ fees would be paid privately, the procedures would be performed in facilities supported by American taxpayers, who will thereby be implicated in an unconscionable evil. Whatever our concerns about the main bill, gay soldiers do not seem especially likely to exacerbate the problem of unwanted pregnancies. What Burris has brought together, let somebody please put asunder.
Sen. Lindsey Graham is a man of fashion — political fashion. And global warming is so five minutes ago. Senator Graham was the Republican most enthusiastic about climate-change legislation, but now he’s making himself over as a skeptic: “The science about global warming has changed. . . . I think the science is in question.” The science has not much changed; what has changed is that the tangle of fraud and malfeasance known as Climategate has left last season’s trendy green looking a bit dingy. And it’s not clear that Senator Graham is super solid on the science, in any case. “There’s a reason I don’t hang out in traffic jams,” Graham said, explaining his continued concern about carbon emissions. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the stuff floating around in the Gulf doesn’t get better for you when you burn it. If you don’t want to go swimming in that stuff, why would you want to breathe it?” Given that the climate-change debate is largely concerned with emissions of carbon dioxide — the stuff you do, in fact, breathe out — Graham’s statement makes no rational sense, only political fashion sense.
Republican senator Lisa Murkowski hails from Alaska, where they know about oil spills. The president claims that the BP spill demonstrates the need for more restrictions on the use of fossil fuels; Murkowski is leading an effort to stop Obama’s EPA from imposing such restrictions. The EPA has decided, based on a sloppy and questionable U.N. climate report, that greenhouse gases represent the kind of threat to human health the agency is authorized to regulate. A congressional resolution of disapproval can stop the agency from acting. Murkowski introduced such a resolution in the Senate, where it failed. But the final vote of 47 to 53, with six Democrats and all 41 Republicans in favor, offered the resolution’s supporters some hope. For one thing, the vote indicates that Democrats lack the support to pass cap-and-trade-style carbon restrictions through the Senate this year. For another, it shows that the Republicans are only a few votes away from having a Senate majority on this issue. If present trends hold, those votes should be available after November.
Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst, is accused of leaking classified video of a military engagement in Iraq in which two Reuters cameramen were killed. Of greater concern, Manning claims to have provided over a quarter-million highly classified State Department cables — intelligence that, if revealed, could badly compromise military operations — to Wikileaks, an online enterprise strategically based in Sweden, where impregnable confidentiality laws help it encourage the betrayal of U.S. national secrets. To wage war and protect its citizens in such an environment, a serious nation must be willing to play diplomatic hardball with the world’s Swedens and throw the book at our own Bradley Mannings; it must be deaf to the inevitable caterwauling of media adolescents for whom classified leaks are a game, not life-and-death. Are we still serious?
It is not often this magazine endorses the creation of a new government bureaucracy, but gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback has got onto a good idea with his proposal to bless the good people of Kansas with a State Office of the Repealer. The new agency’s mandate would be to disestablish archaic, cumbrous, and outdated laws and regulations. “People just love this idea,” Senator Brownback tells the New York Times. “They feel like they’re getting their brains regulated out of them.” He cites the general rejoicing that followed the repeal of an especially restrictive fireworks law as evidence supporting his proposal. Alas, there are constitutional barriers to enacting it at the national level — we’ll have to eliminate the Department of Education the hard way — but repealer still has a nice ring to it: Populist Republicans will be running on the repeal of Obamacare this season, and Washington presents a target-rich environment for an ambitious repealer-general. If ever Ron Paul were perfectly suited for an office . . .
Public-sector workers make, on average, more than their private-sector counterparts, and have suffered far less during this recession: According to an analysis from Bloomberg News, the private sector has shed 7.4 percent of its work force since the last peak while local governments have cut less than 1 percent. There appears to be no limit to the amount Barack Obama is willing to spend to spare government employees from sharing in the cutbacks. In a letter to lawmakers, the president urged Congress to approve another $50 billion in aid to state and local governments, so that they will not have to engage in the same kind of belt-tightening that private businesses have been forced to undertake. The aid is essential if we are to “build momentum toward recovery, even as we establish a path to long-term fiscal discipline,” Obama said. The best way out of any hole, according to our president, is first to dig another $50 billion deeper.
The Federal Trade Commission is looking into numerous ways that the government could help the struggling newspaper industry. It seems unlikely to back the most troubling measures — those that involve subsidizing the industry directly. It should also reject special loan programs for media outlets that promote the “public good”; the government should not decide which media outlets are good and which are not. One idea it should seriously consider, however, is making an exception to antitrust regulations so that newspapers can simultaneously stop offering their content online for free. (If one stopped on its own, it would be sunk by the remaining free online competitors; hence the need for coordination, and the snag on current regulation.) Given how little ad revenue online readers bring in relative to print subscribers, we think it likely that local papers’ decision to offer their core product for free was a bad one. An antitrust exception would give them a chance to get back on their feet in the free market without the need of a bailout or excessive government entanglement in the press — both of which Americans should strongly resist.
SPECIAL BOX #2:
Video Review in Baseball?
YES: The case for video review in baseball is obvious. So obvious in fact that baseball already uses it to adjudicate controversial home-run calls. According to baseball romantics, this should already have ruined the “imperfection” and the “rhythm” of the game. By their way of thinking, Game 3 of last year’s World Series must have been irredeemably soiled by taking the time to find out whether an Alex Rodriguez shot that hit a camera jutting over the outfield wall was a home run (it was). Fans less besotted with abstractions were simply grateful for the correct call. Conservatism is not mindless nostalgia. We must adapt institutions to changing circumstances in order to preserve what’s best in them. If Armando Galarraga had thrown his near-perfect game in 1920, it would have occasioned a timeless debate on whether the 27th batter was really safe or not. Now we all know instantly that it was a blown call. Expanded video review might slow down games, but their pace can be increased by taking measures to rein in the effects of the other innovations (e.g., batters constantly leaving the batter’s box between pitches). Will this “perfect” baseball? Of course not. It will only improve it. Edmund Burke would approve. — RICH LOWRY
NO: After Galarraga’s near-perfect game, the adoption of video review is as inevitable as Barney Frank’s getting reelected, and as desirable. But in the interests of standing athwart history, here are a few objections. What if a game ends with a runner being called out, and then two minutes later the officials decide he was safe? Endless reviews will only make games longer, and reversals in baseball can create more problems than they solve: If the umpire calls a ball foul and then video shows it was fair, how can anyone know what would have happened? Video will not resolve all questions; instead, it will just create new controversy about whether the reversal or non-reversal was correct. And standards like “indisputable visual evidence” are meaningless, because there is no bright line between “probable” and “definite.” Simply put, video review is not conservative. Its support rests on a handful of dramatic cases, while ignoring the wider problems it would create; it relies on experts and rules to eliminate all difficulties; and it seeks to immanentize the eschaton with new layers of bureaucracy and fancy techno-fixes. In other words, video review is the Obamacare of baseball. — FRED SCHWARZ
For 70 years, Turkey hewed to the reforms of Kemal Ataturk, a post-Ottoman, post-caliphate secularist and Westernizer. That template had become increasingly rusty, so when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in the last decade, it was reasonable to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. The AKP claimed to be moderate Muslims and free-marketeers — Thatcherites with headscarves. But they have shown themselves to be anti-American — they bridled at the Iraq War, and spread vicious anti-American propaganda — and Islamist, tilting toward Syria and Iran. Now Turkey has sponsored the Gaza flotilla (most of the nine armed activists killed by Israeli commandos were Turks), with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling the Israeli raid “state terrorism.” (Andrew C. McCarthy looks more closely at the situation on page 32.) Oddities of the Turkish electoral system inflate the AKP’s power, but if Turks choose to fall back into the Muslim world, which gave the Ottomans a few centuries of power, and a few more of corruption and impotence, the loss will be mainly theirs.
The U.N. Security Council passed another sanctions resolution — its fourth — against Iran, which did its best not to care, announcing a few days later that it would begin construction of a new uranium-enrichment plant by March of next year. The latest sanctions are but a modest escalation of their predecessors, and no serious observer expects them to alter Iranian conduct. Sanctions that would truly cripple the regime, by targeting its energy sector, will never win the blessing of Security Council veto-wielders Russia and China, both major trading partners of Iran (the latter its largest). The United States has unilaterally done much, and could do more, to make pariahs of Iran’s banks, but these efforts too will likely prove insufficient. The danger now is more of the status quo, in which the West substitutes gesture for resolve, Iran defies the gesture, and our diplomats then distract themselves readying their next piece of choreography. This approach both grants time to the mullahs and dissipates our feeling that a crisis requiring urgent action is upon us. One is. Obama should signal that we have reached the end of the sanctions road, and that what lies beyond it is up to Tehran; but he is not that kind of president.
The regime of Iranian “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei and his hatchet man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is well aware that it stole the presidential election a year ago, and that the first anniversary of its duplicity would be dangerous to it. Representing the millions who resent the regime and its ways, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been leading the so-called Green Movement, and they planned a monster demonstration for this anniversary. The regime of course saw what was coming, and prepared for the occasion with brutality and cunning. Key figures in the Green Movement were imprisoned after show trials. Five thousand people at least have been arrested in the course of the year, and 115 executed. Prison involves sexual abuse and even murder. At least 80 people are reported to have died in street clashes and in detention; the real number is probably significantly higher. Around 4,000 Iranians have fled to Turkey. In these circumstances, Mousavi and Karroubi understandably called off demonstrations, to save their supporters from certain bloody repression. In all likelihood, both men wish to overthrow the regime but cannot see quite how to do so. The anniversary of the stolen election therefore did little more than intensify the atmosphere of official intimidation versus popular explosion that now envelops the regime.
Call it The Sea Lane to Serfdom: Even as food becomes scarce in its state-run groceries, the government of Venezuela, under the bumblingly autocratic misrule of Hugo Chávez, has abandoned many thousands of tons of food to rot in shipping containers. How much? Estimates range from 30,000 tons to 75,000 tons, the latter figure representing about 20 percent of the annual imports taken by the Venezuelan food soviet, PDVAL. Boss Hugo is undeterred, declaring, “This will not divert us from our route toward our main goal — socialism!” Note to Chávez: You’re already there, and the food rotting in your warehouses while Venezuelans hunger proves it.
General elections in the Netherlands have long been exercises in confusion, and this latest is no exception. It has been decades since any one party had a majority in the parliament of 150 seats. Mark Rutte’s Liberal party has 31 seats, enough for him to explore some possible coalition. His opening choice is Geert Wilders’s Freedom party. Pre-election polls gave no indication that the Freedom party would increase its representation from nine seats to 24. The surge proves that Wilders has been saying what voters want to hear, in the aftermath of the shock caused when an Islamist fanatic butchered the well-known filmmaker Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street. Wilders sees Islam as the country’s “biggest problem,” and he wants to stop further Muslim immigration. He himself made a short film to promote these views and for the six years since has needed police protection from death threats. The previous government charged him with inciting racial hatred, and it will be piquant, if not downright unconstitutional, should he really have to stand trial this October for putting forward a program that — as now seems the likely outcome — won him a place in the cabinet. Opponents habitually demonize him as “far right,” but whether he enters the coalition or not, he is already obliging his countrymen to question the limits of their famous national tolerance.
Sitting on the U.N. Human Rights Council are some of the darkest regimes on earth — Cuba’s, China’s, Libya’s: You get the picture. George W. Bush detached the United States from this council, considering it a farce, and a body basically dedicated to defaming Israel. As soon as Obama came to office, he had the U.S. join the council. The other day, the Syrian representative said, “Let me quote a song that a group of children on a school bus in Israel sing merrily as they go to school: ‘With my teeth I will rip your flesh, with my mouth I will suck your blood.’” We would not call them bloodsuckers, but the Human Rights Council does get much of its funding from American taxpayers.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, gave a speech titled “Islam and the Environment.” As our Mark Steyn observed, thus did he bring together the two great religions of our time. The prince said that Islam knows how to respect the environment, unlike the rapacious West. In related news, Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 84th birthday, looking the picture of pink-cheeked health. Long live the Queen.
St. Andrew’s Church, in Collingbourne Ducis, England, was erected in the reign of Henry II, but not until this spring did parishioners finally get around to installing its first toilet. The Rev. Mary Edwards was stumped for an appropriate way to celebrate the event; you would be too, probably. Then she remembered an act of Parliament from the time of Agincourt, under which priests could compel the men in their parishes to assemble for archery practice. The act had never been repealed, it was said, and although that seems not to be true, Edwards invoked it anyway. On a fine day in June, the citizens of Collingbourne Ducis and neighboring Everleigh (male and female, young and old) picked up bows and dispatched some arrows in the general direction of the targets, amid widespread jubilation. Now, with the church’s brand-new loo in place, sermons can last longer without testing the congregation’s patience (a mixed blessing, perhaps), and although the archery practice uncovered no budding Robin Hood, eastern Wiltshire is quite safe from invading Frenchmen — at least until Britain’s meddlesome safety bureaucrats decide to confiscate its dangerous military equipment.
In Malawi, southern Africa, two homosexual men who had celebrated their “engagement” were given 14-year prison sentences, with hard labor, by a judge who said that their actions went “against the order of nature.” Then U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon came on a visit to Malawi, words were exchanged at high diplomatic levels, and the two lovers were granted a presidential reprieve. They are not to suppose, however, that “they can keep doing whatever you keep doing.” They could be rearrested if they “continue doing that.” Those quotes come from Patricia Kaliati, Malawi’s Minister of Gender and Children. How blessed the land whose economic, diplomatic, military, and administrative problems are so thoroughly tamed it can afford a Minister of Gender and Children!
The National D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, Va., has just added a bust of Joseph Stalin to its assemblage of sculptures. Officials explain that while the USSR did not participate in D-Day, the memorial seeks to place that event within the war’s larger context, which is why there are busts of Chiang Kai-shek, Harry Truman, and Clement Attlee along with Roosevelt, Churchill, and numerous military figures (oddly for a memorial devoted to D-Day, there is no bust of any Canadian leader). Yet amid these heroes and statesmen, Stalin is the only one who encouraged Hitler before the war started, neglected the Nazi threat afterwards, and enslaved the nations that his troops liberated — all this while killing tens of millions of his own people. The unimaginable carnage on the Eastern Front certainly deserves mention in any account of World War II, but to place a murderer at least as great as Hitler alongside genuine fighters for freedom is a desecration of the cause for which so many brave men fought and died on the beaches of Normandy.
If there’s a David Souter of linguistic analysis, it would have to be the philosopher Stanley Fish, a leader of the meaning-is-meaningless camp who rejects the concept of universal morals and thinks everything must be considered in relation to everything else — relatively speaking, of course. You won’t be surprised to learn that Fish has spent most of his life on college campuses, where such ethereal ideas still have some currency. Yet in a recent article, he looked back fondly and approvingly on his days at Providence, R.I.’s no-nonsense Classical High School, where “offerings and requirements included four years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German, physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, English, history, civics . . .” Fish says grade-school education boils down to a few simple rules: “Get knowledgeable and well-trained teachers, equip them with a carefully calibrated curriculum and a syllabus filled with challenging texts and materials, and put them in a room with students who are told where they are going and how they are going to get there.” Assuming that we’ve managed to extract the proper meaning from his words, that sounds like a good plan to us.
Breaking with many decades of tradition, the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League have changed the name of their batting-practice sessions to “hitting rehearsal” (something the Manatees could use plenty of, judging by their last-place record). The reason is that baseball slang for batting practice is “BP,” an abbreviation that has recently become odious. As a club official explained, “Changing the term ‘batting practice’ and ‘BP’ to ‘hitting rehearsal’ shows that we are deeply concerned and hurt by the disaster on the Gulf Coast” (though for what it’s worth, Brevard County is on the Atlantic coast). That statement comes from Kyle Smith, who is the club’s general manager — a position customarily referred to as “GM.” No word on whether he will change his job title as well, to avoid arousing animosity in bailout-weary taxpayers.
In the early 1980s, the idea that the Soviet-dominated Communist regimes in Eastern Europe could be toppled anytime soon was harbored by only a handful of visionaries. The collapse of the tyrannies, so obviously inevitable in retrospect, was a distant dream. To stand up to such immense power — with such a minuscule prospect of success — requires that one have in one’s character the level of courage and commitment associated with saints. In Poland of the early 1980s, Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko demonstrated that precise sort of character. He told the truth about the regime, uncompromisingly; and paid the price in martyrdom, murdered by the police in 1984. On June 6, in a ceremony in Warsaw, he was beatified — declared a Blessed of the Catholic Church. He did not live to see Poland free, but he lives on: in the presence of the Almighty, and in the hearts of people, from Iran to Cuba, from China to Sudan, who dare to take on evil powers even when they seem insurmountable.
We don’t know what John Wooden’s political views were, but whatever his affiliation, he was a conservative in the broadest sense. While coaching UCLA to ten NCAA basketball championships in twelve years, he stressed individual perseverance and self-reliance within a team framework, and unlike today’s film-obsessed coaches, he rarely bothered to scout the opponents, telling his players to play their own game and make the other team adjust. Over time he distilled his philosophy into a collection of “Woodenisms,” many of which have application far beyond the world of sports (“Ability is a poor man’s wealth,” “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights,” “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out”). An All-American for Purdue in the early 1930s, when two-handed set shots were the norm and there was still a jump ball after every basket, he coached into the era of skyhooks and dunks. Decades after his 1975 retirement, coaches still sought his wisdom, which he always dispensed generously. The Wizard of Westwood, dead at 99. R.I.P.
As the Gulf oil spill approached the end of its second month, President Obama said an interesting thing to Politico columnist Roger Simon: “The overwhelming majority of the American people” expect “the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.” Us here was not the royal we, but a shift from Obama himself to all modern presidents.
For the moment perhaps he is right. Obama’s approval ratings have hung steady since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon well exploded. “It’s hard to make the case that the BP oil spill” has had “a substantial impact,” said pollster Bill McInturff.
Yet Obama’s claim defies recent history. As the federal government has taken control of more and more aspects of national life, the executive has been given a host of powers, including ineffectual ones, in an effort to manage the beast. In the Gulf today, BP drills for oil on “land” a mile underwater owned by the federal government. Government inspectors certified the safety of its operations. Now that disaster has struck, the administration leads the effort to contain on-shore damage.
At the same time, the attorney general has opened criminal and civil investigations of BP. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani, no shrinking violet when it comes to executive action, spotted the flaw in that: “I particularly don’t understand why you’d continue to have BP solely in charge [of plugging the spill] when you’re investigating them for a crime.” The administration has also banned deep-water drilling for six months on the 30-plus rigs that have not exploded. Several thousand people will be thrown out of work when the Gulf’s economy is already reeling. Such exercises of power may be counterproductive, but the powers exist, so the temptation is almost irresistible to use them. Far better would be to impose order on the bureaucratically tangled response on shore.
Beyond the realm of action, the modern president is also a magical being — elected royalty, almost divinity. No one has clutched that mantle more than Obama. “This was the moment,” he claimed in 2008, after securing the Democratic nomination, “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Tell that to the pelicans. It must be especially bitter for him now that his loudest critics are the liberal pundits who invested most heavily in his myth.
What can the magical president do in such a disaster? Since leadership of this kind is an art, and each disaster is different, there is no one answer. A president has to go with the strengths of his own personality, and hope they fit the occasion. Obama’s cool has not worked so well; still less have his unfortunate attempts to “kick ass.”
Speaking from the Oval Office, he combined both aspects: making a wonkish pitch for green energy, vowing to make BP pay for the damages it has caused. Will this hybrid of the two Obamas carry more conviction? He and we will soon find out.
An Extension for Afghanistan
Afghans are masters of hedging their bets, and Pres. Hamid Karzai is hedging his. Who can blame him? After an agonizingly long period of deliberation, President Obama approved an Afghan troop surge with an expiration date of July 2011 attached.
That’s when Obama said we’d “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan.” For Obama, stuffed full of cautionary tales about LBJ and Vietnam, that was a clever way to limit his commitment and to placate his anti-war base. For the region, it was a disastrous signal communicating a lack of resolve and staying power. It gave the Taliban yet more reason to believe that they can outlast us, and Karzai more reason to consider his options if we leave precipitately.
President Obama needs to walk back his deadline by making it clear that next July is the date for a review of the current strategy rather than its necessary endpoint. In his West Point speech, Obama said he’d take account of “conditions on the ground.” If he does that now, he’ll realize the folly of July as the hard deadline for the beginning of the transition to the Afghans.
There’s no rushing a war of counterinsurgency, especially in the difficult circumstances of Afghanistan. In Marjah, the Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province that became a kind of early showcase for the surge, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has learned that there is no such thing as a “government in a box,” his unfortunately glib phrase for the Afghan government he hoped to import into the city after clearing it of the enemy. But Marjah isn’t remotely as important as Kandahar, the country’s second-biggest city and the spiritual home of the Taliban.
The timeframe for our move into Kandahar has been delayed. The power wielded by Karzai’s corrupt half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, makes Kandahar a hideously difficult political problem. We have to decide how aggressively to take on his network, the depredations of which fuel the insurgency. That will take time, and McChrystal shouldn’t have to make his decisions with an eye to a looming artificial deadline.
We’ll also need a much shrewder diplomatic team. The ham-handed handling of Karzai by Obama’s envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, and our ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, has played into his worst tendencies. General McChrystal has the best relationship with the Afghan leader, but shouldn’t have to be top general and top diplomat. Whatever this is, it isn’t “smart power.”
Along with all the troubling news out of Afghanistan, there was a ray of light: the discovery that it may sit atop $1 trillion in mineral wealth. This offers Afghanistan the promise of eventually supporting itself, if these resources can be successfully exploited and aren’t stolen by a kleptocratic government. All the more reason to take the time to get our Afghan campaign right.