Reading the papers, it looks like Republicans are running the most lowdown, dishonest campaign since the last time they won.
In his speech to the Democratic convention, President Obama said he merely wanted the top tax rate “we had when Bill Clinton was president; the same rate we had when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs.” Clinton himself assured us that reelecting Obama would yield “a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining.” In the 1990s, however, the country was benefiting from favorable circumstances — technological, demographic, and geopolitical — that cannot now be replicated. Clinton’s tax rates, higher than those before or since, did not prevent us from reaping those benefits but did not help either. (The Clintonite argument at the time was that the tax increases would lower interest rates, but interest rates actually fell only after Republicans took Congress.) Obama has not governed much as Clinton did: There’s no bipartisan achievement on the scale of welfare reform. What Obama has done is apply the worst Clinton policies in less auspicious times.
The Democrats have decided to become the bailout party, and their convention in Charlotte was a florid valentine to the government takeover of General Motors, which they believe to be a great success. What do Democrats know that the stock market doesn’t? GM’s stock price has lost nearly half its value since January 2011. Most of the automakers have seen substantial recovery in their sales volumes since the passing of the recession, but GM’s 10 percent growth has been anemic compared with that of competitors such as Kia (up 21 percent) and Volkswagen (up 37 percent). It is still estimated to be losing about $50,000 on every Volt it sells, a testament to the frivolous, wishful thinking behind the so-called green economy of Barack Obama’s imagination. What about jobs? The industry has indeed added workers since the recession’s nadir — about 2 percent of the industry total. Democrats celebrate the GM bailout, an exercise in crony capitalism if ever there was one, based on the fiction that it saved the entire U.S. auto industry, which is preposterous. There were many possible ways to handle the situation at GM, and a government takeover that turned the normal bankruptcy process on its head, strong-armed bondholders, and shortchanged non-union affiliates in order to preserve the inflated paychecks and perks of the United Auto Workers union was only one of them.
Rush Limbaugh was wrong to call Sandra Fluke a slut, and he was right to apologize for it — but it is the best thing that ever has happened to her. Miss Fluke, who just finished up law school at the sprightly age of 31, has become a minor celebrity and was invited to bang her spoon on her high chair in a prominent slot at the Democratic convention. Her speech was a cavalcade of inanity: The republic faces many real problems, including economic stagnation at home and atomic ayatollahs abroad. But the Democrats chose to make the unwillingness of adult women such as Miss Fluke to pay for their own contraception, and thereby to spare the conscience of nominally Catholic institutions, the headline act at its dog-and-pony show in Charlotte. Georgetown Law graduates earn an average first-year salary of about $160,000, and even in a time when the law mandates that “children” be allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26, it is difficult to make a coherent argument that a woman approaching early middle age ought to be a ward either of her college or of the state. Miss Fluke claims to speak for the nation’s women. It would be a tragedy if she were correct.
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland did violence against Scripture, taste, and logic in his vulgar jeremiad at the Democratic convention. Citing the Gospel According to Matthew (“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), he accused Mitt Romney of lacking patriotism because he has investments abroad and accounts at overseas banks. “Any man who aspires to be our president should keep both his treasure and his heart in the United States of America,” Strickland declared. The cheap appeal to envy and xenophobia is of course standard Democratic stuff these days, but Strickland made the remarks in the course of defending the GM bailout, conveniently ignoring the fact that GM, like Bain Capital, like Mitt Romney, has complex multinational business interests, which means that it maintains facilities, investments, and (inevitably) bank accounts in any number of jurisdictions. Strickland’s repeated use of variants on the phrase “economic patriotism” calls to mind any number of very bad ideas from the 1930s. Strickland denounced profits earned offshore, apparently unaware that GM’s operation in China is among its strongest performers. Romney can of course expect a good deal more of this from the Democrats, but we are pretty sure that the Lord was talking about laying up treasure in heaven, not in Detroit.
When the Democratic convention opened, the delegates were greeted with a video from the host committee declaring that “government is the only thing that we all belong to.” That is true of some governments, usually called totalitarian (“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state,” as Mussolini put it). But in America, it is still the case that there are other things we all belong to (our society; humanity; and, for believers, the family of God’s children), while the many things that we belong to or not as we choose are as important as or more important than government: marriages, places of residence, stations in life. Americans can also join or leave political parties. Might be time for lovers of freedom to leave the Democratic party, if any are left there.
During the convention, at least three leading Democrats tarred Republicans with the Nazi brush. The chairman of the California Democratic party said that Paul Ryan practiced “the big lie”: “That was Goebbels, the big lie.” The dean of the Kansas delegation said the same thing about Mitt Romney: “It’s like Hitler said . . .” The chairman of the South Carolina party likened Governor Nikki Haley to Eva Braun. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown ran an ad calling his challenger, Josh Mandel, “the candidate of the big lie.” (Mandel is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.) The Democrats often claim to be the party of “civility.” To live up to this claim, they might want to cool it with the Nazi stuff.
After their platform was published, the Democrats had a problem. People noticed a couple of things: In 2008, the platform had spoken of people and their “God-given potential”; in 2012, the name of God was removed. In 2008, the platform had called Jerusalem the capital of Israel; in 2012, that was removed. There was a hue and cry from the Republican side, a hue and cry that struck a nerve. America is a religious nation; Jerusalem is important both to Israeli security and to Israeli identity. So the Democrats did some fast dancing. They reinstated their old language in the platform — but the reinstatement was messy. The convention chairman, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, asked for a voice vote on the amended language. About half the delegates said aye, about half said no. He asked for another voice vote — and then a third. Each time, the arena seemed equally divided. Villaraigosa then declared, in Caesar-like style, that the ayes had the necessary two-thirds majority. Nice to know the Democrats regard their convention rules with the same fastidiousness as the Constitution.
At the GOP’s Tampa convention, Paul Ryan said that “our rights come from nature and God, not from government.” This irked the name-deprived MSNBC commentator Touré, who called it “offensive . . . for black people, Hispanic people, and women; our rights do not come from God or nature” but “from legislation that happens in relatively recent history in America.” But the legislation was held to be in fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal” — which claimed to be expounding rights “endowed by [the] Creator,” a.k.a. “Nature’s God.” Touré may feel he has only to legislate and all will be well. But men less brilliant look for reasons and reinforcements. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?”
Such luminaries in the Democratic brain trust as Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Chris Matthews have decided that criticizing the president for loosening work requirements in welfare programs is an instance of racism. But that isn’t all. Mentioning that Barack Obama began his political career in Chicago, a city whose name is a byword for cronyism and political dysfunction? Racism. Poking fun at his love of golf? Racism. That last one may strike you as a bit odd, but where there’s a will to find racism, there’s a way: Senator Mitch McConnell joked that the president seems more concerned with earning a spot on the PGA Tour than with addressing our national economic concerns, and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell immediately pounced, arguing that the gentleman from Kentucky was subtly trying to associate the president (who is of mixed racial ancestry) with Tiger Woods (who is of mixed racial ancestry) and what he called the golf champion’s “lifestyle,” which we take to mean his prodigious sexual infidelity. But of course Tiger Woods is perhaps the American whom Barack Obama least resembles: Whatever his vices, Mr. Woods is very good at his job; whatever his virtues, Barack Obama isn’t.
The apparent function of media “fact-checkers” is to reinforce the media’s existing proclivities toward inaccuracy and bias. PolitiFact, perhaps the fact-checker most given to grandiosity (it has an app it calls an “argument ender”), issued a series of tendentious rulings about the candidates’ Medicare arguments. Mitt Romney was faulted for saying that Obama had “robbed Medicare to pay for Obamacare.” What Romney actually did was pile an opinion atop an accurate claim, but PolitiFact dinged him because — to cite the most comic of its arguments — “the money was not robbed in any literal sense of the word.” During the Republican convention, fact-checkers went after Paul Ryan for his alleged misrepresentations. Ryan, for example, denounced Obama for walking away from his own debt-fighting commission’s recommendations and then offering no alternatives. The fact-checkers said Ryan himself had voted against the recommendations. That’s true: But he hadn’t established the commission, and he did follow up his vote with alternative proposals. (You may have heard of them.) Ryan’s facts were right. His critics, to follow truth in labeling, should rename themselves “argument-misunderstanders.”
You would expect a former secretary of state, speaking at a political convention, to talk about foreign policy. Condoleezza Rice did. But she talked about a lot more than that. She said, for example, that “ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement. We have not believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well.” She further said, “We have to have high standards for our kids. Self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise.” She went on to call school choice “the civil-rights struggle of our day.” Our standards for convention speakers are not lax, and our praise for her is entirely sincere.
Clint Eastwood’s leisurely rap to the GOP convention on its final night has been analyzed to death. It took the form it did thanks, in no small part, to Hollywood amour-propre: Sure I can do the spur of the moment for eleven minutes — I’ve won Oscars! For convention geeks, it recalled a time when these airless extravaganzas had some drama — floor fights, credentials challenges, gallery-packing, riots in the streets. Since most Americans probably encountered it in the form of highlights, Eastwood’s strongest lines stood out: “We own this country. . . . Politicians are employees of ours. . . . When somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.” Spoken like a true producer.
Shut Up and Campaign
‘What’s my motivation?”
This clichéd question is a staple of the acting profession. “What drove me to hobble James Caan?” Kathy Bates surely asked about her character in Misery. “How come I eat everybody?” is a good question for Anthony Hopkins to ask about Hannibal Lecter. And these questions have answers: The shut-in woman wants Caan all to herself; Hannibal Lecter apparently had a rough childhood.
That’s all fine for thespians, but politics is different. Don’t tell that to the GOP, though. Every few years — pretty much with every election — I write a column on one of my biggest peeves with Republicans: They read their stage directions, they explain their motives. And it drives me crazy.
George H. W. Bush remains the poster boy for this malady. In 1991, after David Duke became the Republican candidate for governor of Louisiana, then-President Bush went to the cameras and said, “We have — I have — want to be positioned in that I could not possibly support David Duke because of the racism and because of the very recent statements that are very troubling in terms of bigotry and all of this.” And of course there was the classic: “Message: I care.”
Bob Dole, who petulantly told conservatives, “If that’s what you want, I’ll be another Ronald Reagan,” turned his entire 1996 bid into an open debate over the question: “Should I go negative?” His advisers often told the press that Dole’s goal was to “act presidential.”
There are plenty of other examples. It’s a wonder John McCain’s campaign plane could ever take off, weighted down as it was with the ballast of blue-blazered bozos who liked to read their playbook aloud to the gang from Newsweek, Time, and MSNBC. And remember Mitch McConnell telling everyone his top priority was to defeat Obama? You can defend the sentiment and the strategy, but he didn’t need to air his internal monologue like that.
But the Romney campaign is shaping up to be something special. It seems to be part of their strategy never to miss a chance to tell the press why they’re doing what they’re doing. His adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, to take an infamous example, waved away objections to Romney’s move to the right during the primaries by saying that in the general election, the campaign could erase Romney’s primary performance and remake it, as though shaking an Etch A Sketch. And of late, the campaign seems to be run entirely by “unnamed sources” obsessed with telling everything and showing nothing. Recently, one of them said, “This is an economy election and if he gets off on foreign policy or war policy, he’s playing on the president’s turf.”
Now, I don’t think that’s correct, but even if it were, why on earth would they say it? The Romney campaign is so careful not to distract the voters with actual ideas and arguments — or, heaven forbid, ideology — that it seems at times determined to run on stage directions alone.
There is a defense to be made of this infuriating tendency: The Right doesn’t take politics as seriously as the Left. For the Left, politics is life. For the Right, or at least the old Bush-Nixon wing of the GOP, politics is a hobby at worst and a call to service at best. George H. W. Bush won in 1988 by dancing for the rubes, but once in office, he governed as the establishment stalwart he was. In 1992, he and his advisers couldn’t keep the act up. Politics, for him, was the price you pay for the privilege of governing.
But you still have to win. What worries me about Mitt Romney is that while he seems to want to run like the ’88 Bush, he’s filled his campaign with strategists who are so eager to please and so devoid of a governing philosophy that they make the ’92 Bush look like Barry Goldwater.
Chicago teachers work the shortest school day of any major district in the country and were recently offered a 16 percent raise. The obvious thing to do was to go on strike, which they did, putting President Obama’s former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at odds with one of President Obama’s most important political constituencies, teachers’ unions. The teachers had been asking for a 30 percent raise instead, but it isn’t just money: There’s a lavish benefit system, too, and the teachers objected to a proposal to evaluate their effectiveness. That last is no surprise: Seventy-nine percent of Chicago’s eighth-graders cannot read proficiently, and educational outcomes are dire indeed across the district — not the sort of outcomes the unions want measured with any precision. So the upside is that a little bit of Chicago classroom time forgone may not be any great loss to the 350,000 students affected by the strike. Interestingly enough, not too many of those students are the children of Chicago public-school teachers, about 40 percent of whom choose to send their own children to private schools, according to a 2004 study. Mr. Emanuel called the action a “strike of choice,” and everybody of course has a choice about this mess, except students, their parents, and taxpayers.
Behold the harvest of the Arab Spring: attacks — contemporaneous if not coordinated — on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the anniversary of September 11. In the former, the American colors were hoisted down, desecrated, and burned, and the black flag of Islamism raised in their place. In the latter, the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three members of his staff were murdered in a rocket attack as they attempted to evacuate the facility. Whether both acts of terrorism were committed in protest of a low-budget American film allegedly insulting to the Prophet Mohammed or, as reports suggest at this writing, the Libyan attack was a planned response to the killing of al-Qaeda’s number two in Yemen, the portent is equally disturbing. The sacrosanctity of diplomats and their missions is among the oldest and most basic axioms of intercourse between civilized nations, and the fact that neither the Egyptian nor the Libyan government acted to prevent these assaults suggests that barbarity is alive and well in Arab North Africa. Egypt’s failure is especially conspicuous because that country is commonly supposed to be farther along in its route toward stable self-government. Nearly as disturbing was the response, both preemptive and cowardly, of the U.S. mission in Cairo, which went out of its way to condemn, not its besiegers, but citizens of the West who may or may not have “hurt the religious feelings” of riotous Muslims. Americans are murdered by Islamists, sovereign American soil is violated on the anniversary of September 11, and the administration’s first instinct is to apologize. We hope its next will be to bring the terrorists to justice.
There’s no more telling symbol of our declining sway in Iraq, after heart-rending sacrifices for years, than the fact that Iran is using the country’s airspace to ferry supplies to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. We are urging Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to get them to stop, so far with no effect. Since our troops left, the Shiite Maliki has brilliantly and ruthlessly maneuvered to consolidate his power through undemocratic means, disregarding a power-sharing agreement we forged prior to our departure to placate all sectarian and ethnic factions. Now Maliki’s former Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, is in exile and was just sentenced to death in absentia by an Iraqi court. Sectarian tensions are on the rise, and so are the operational capabilities of al-Qaeda in Iraq. If we had managed to keep some troops in Iraq, Maliki would inevitably have had to accommodate us as a power broker, we could have buttressed the Iraqi fight against al-Qaeda, and Iran wouldn’t be using the country as a staging area in pursuit of its regional interests. President Obama was always careful not to use the word “victory” about the Iraq War. Now we know why.
It’s not enough for the Chinese Communist Party to boss people at home; they have to boss people abroad too. In Corvallis, Ore., a Taiwanese-American businessman, David Lin, commissioned a mural on a building he owns. The mural depicts CCP brutality in Tibet and portrays Taiwan as an island of freedom. It also advocates independence for both Tibet and Taiwan. The Chinese consulate in San Francisco heard about the mural and fired off a letter to Corvallis’s mayor, Julie Manning: They said that Tibet and Taiwan were irrevocably parts of China, and asked that the mural be removed. They also suggested that mayoral cooperation would be good for business relations between China and Oregon. Mayor Manning sent back a letter explaining about the U.S. Constitution, in particular the First Amendment. Not satisfied, Chinese consular officials flew to Corvallis, to press their case in person. Again, Mayor Manning, along with the city manager, Jim Patterson, explained about the Constitution. The Chinese Communist Party, unfortunately, can get its way in every corner of vast China. So far, at least, not in Corvallis, Ore.
China’s economy is sometimes described as a house of cards, and in the case of the nation’s breakneck infrastructure boom, the image is grimly appropriate. The website Strategy Page recently reported from China on “the growing number of new bridges that simply collapse in regular use. There have been seven such collapses in the last year alone and people have died from these incidents.” In China as elsewhere, infrastructure spending is popular because it creates employment, allows for generous amounts of graft, and makes the government look useful. But in a nation with endemic corruption, no recent tradition of honest work for honest pay, and no accountable government at any level, incentives to do a good job are few. Bridge collapses are just one of China’s manifold problems, at home and abroad, but they are emblematic: The nation that supplies technology to the world cannot keep its own bridges from falling down. Crony capitalism works even less well when you’ve never had legit capitalism.
French president François Hollande rode a populist path to victory in April’s presidential election, with a promise to roll back Nicolas Sarkozy’s market reforms and to impose a 75 percent tax rate on incomes of €1 million and above. The latter commitment appeared to be made ad hoc at the Paris International Agricultural Show earlier in the year, when Hollande told a surprised press corps, “It is not possible to have that level of income. How can we accept it?” Having looked at the numbers again, however, Hollande may well end up accepting it. Now that he is in power and faced with a potential exodus of high-earners — including one Johnny Depp, who explained that he was returning to America because “France wanted a piece of me. . . . They just want . . . dough, money” — Hollande has implied that all non-salaried income could be exempt from the rate, and that couples could double their threshold to €2m. Defending the principle this week, Hollande said, “It’s symbolic, it will show an example.” If history is anything to go by, it will not show the example he seeks.
Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, a Brazilian notary, has recognized a “civil union” of two women and a man. The triple has lived together in Rio for three years. “We are only recognizing what has always existed,” Domingues said; “we are not inventing anything.” Coming soon to a country near you.
Criminal justice in Britain has a way of confusing perpetrator and victim. A few years ago, a farmer in Norfolk was sent to prison for shooting at burglars who had broken into his house. The government accepted that this was a scandalous miscarriage and the law had to be changed. Nothing happened. Now Andy Ferrie and his wife, Tracey, have just been through a rerun of injustice allowed to stand. They live in a remote cottage in rural Leicestershire, where they have been burgled three times. The police have made no arrests. A four-man gang broke into the cottage at midnight, but this fourth time Andy had his shotgun ready. He wounded two of the burglars, and all of them fled, whereupon he called the police. They promptly arrested him and his wife, handcuffed them, and kept them in separate cells for three days and nights. Andy was held guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, perhaps with intent to murder. The two who had been shot emerged from the hospital after 24 hours, and all four burglars are in custody. The incident enrages Lincolnshire. One neighbor spoke for everyone about Andy and Tracey: “They are not criminals, they were just defending their property. They were doing what anyone in their right mind would do.” It so happens that in the recent reshuffling of the cabinet, Prime Minister Cameron has appointed a new minister of justice with a reputation for being able to distinguish between perpetrator and victim. He has work to do.
YBA: Everyone in the swim knows we’re speaking about Young British Artists. They’re the geniuses famous for exhibiting things like unmade beds, sliced and pickled sheep, tanks of sump oil, and deformed mannequins. Charles Saatchi is the man who made all this happen. Sixty-nine now, he’s been truly famous as the founder with his brother Maurice of Saatchi and Saatchi, one of the world’s most successful advertising agencies. Mrs.Thatcher in her heyday was a client. The YBA are just as big a tribute to Charles Saatchi’s marketing skills. Clever enough to describe himself in print as “a self-serving narcissistic show-off,” he has aroused the sort of hoo-ha that sends prices soaring in the art world. To cap this achievement, a couple of years ago he offered to present the nation with his collection of 200 YBA items, estimated to be worth £30 million, or $47 million. Shock, horror! The nation isn’t grateful. The natural home for stuff like this is either the Tate Gallery or the Arts Council, a government agency. Both bodies have hummed and hawed. Saatchi is said to be “extremely disappointed.” It could be that the times they are a-changing, and even big shots in the art world are now prepared to recognize what’s bogus.
Paging Dudley Do-Right! Quebeckers were shocked by news reports that their province’s strategic maple-syrup reserve had been burglarized. Some were amazed at the audacity of the crime, in which more than a million gallons, with a street value of $30 million, were siphoned off. Others were more amazed to learn that there is a strategic maple-syrup reserve. But fluctuations in the syrup supply have global implications; that’s why there’s an “I” in “IHOP.” So where a lesser statesman might have whined, “Can’t I just eat my waffle?” provincial officials ordered a full police investigation. We like to think that, as in many nations, the contraband is being sold to fund rebel groups: Can it be mere coincidence that the separatist Parti Québécois has just gained control for the first time in nearly a decade?
A bill recently passed by the California assembly would allow a child to have multiple adults certified as parents — not just his biological or adoptive parents, but anyone who supports the child “financially and emotionally.” The idea has superficial appeal: If the original parents split up, and one or more of the new partners take on parental roles, why not certify everyone involved as parents? The problem is that being a parent should be a commitment, not a contribution; a permanent responsibility, not something you do on and off, or discard when circumstances change. To be sure, stepparents and others can be extremely important in shaping children’s lives, and laws regarding adoption and guardianship can formalize relationships. Yet granting legal parenthood to these others would only multiply disputes and litigation; if you’ve seen how two parents can fight, imagine three or four. Children growing up in turbulent circumstances deserve help and sympathy; but parenthood by committee, with overburdened courts intervening constantly to referee, would only make matters worse for everyone concerned — and by diluting the importance of the parent-child bond, it would end up harming all families.
John Robinson, the State Department’s “chief diversity officer,” wrote a column cautioning department employees to avoid certain words and phrases that have offensive “back stories” (i.e., etymologies). The only problem was that in almost every case, the purported “back story” was spurious. Robinson dredged up the old canard about “rule of thumb,” purportedly indicating the thickness of a paddle that a man could legally beat his wife with. This tale has been repeatedly debunked, as Robinson could have found out in 30 seconds on the Internet. The same goes for “handicap” (falsely said to refer to a beggar with cap in hand), “hold down the fort” (considered by Robinson a slur against American Indians, though it has been used for centuries in numerous wars, in America and elsewhere), and “going Dutch” (an obscure reference to Germans’ reputation for thrift, and not considered offensive by any Germans we can find). Hypersensitivity founded on nonsense is distressing enough, but even worse is learning that our State Department actually has a chief diversity officer — and one without much to do, if articles like this one are any indication.
Lance Armstrong’s roaring comeback as a world-beating cyclist after his draining bout with testicular cancer, which he also beat, has been widely hailed as a miracle of human willpower, but now his accomplishment appears to have been tainted with an element of fraud. Like many elite athletes, he cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs, or so says the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In August, after a brief legal battle and about 15 years of denying rumors, Armstrong said that’s that. He’ll fight the charges no longer. The USADA has banned him from competition, for life, and stripped him of his many records and titles dating back to 1998. He’d won the Tour de France seven consecutive years beginning in 1999. Many, particularly cancer patients, found encouragement in his example. His foundation has raised nearly half a billion dollars for cancer research. Dishonesty in the pursuit of excellence is a moral failing that sometimes originates only in a tragic flaw, a single-mindedness taken too far: Rules become just another obstacle to be either hurdled or mowed over. If Armstrong wasn’t clean, he should come clean. It would be a moral victory greater and more enduring than any of his athletic victories, which have already wilted.
For the past two years, Arthur S. Brisbane has been the “public editor,” or ombudsman, of the New York Times. He penned a final column, in which he said some interesting things. Referring to the paper’s headquarters, he said “the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.” He also said that “a kind of political and cultural progressivism . . . virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.” Developments such as the Occupy movement and gay marriage are treated “more like causes than news subjects.” The Times’s chief editor, Jill Abramson, objected to all this, as you might expect. But it would be better if she would say, “Yes, the paper has a bias, and we have a right to it. People are welcome to buy other papers.” Or she could say, “Yes, we have a bias, and we’ll see what we can do to curb it.” She has instead picked the path of denial. In America, part of being an elite journalist is denying what everyone else knows to be true.
Almost anyone who was alive then remembers it: the glare of the sunlight; the bulky figure descending the ladder; the scratchy voice: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Then, for two hours, Neil Armstrong and the second man on the Moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, set up a plaque and a flag, collected rock samples, bounced about in the low gravity. The white eye, which had glared over cavemen and inspired poets, had human footprints on it. Armstrong’s path to the Moon led through an archetypal American career as engineer/pilot: flying in the Korean War, testing supersonic aircraft, a prep mission as a Gemini astronaut. Perhaps he was also an instinctive dramatist: After he made history, he kept mostly quiet, working briefly for NASA, teaching, holding some corporate directorships. How do you follow such an achievement, except by letting it speak for itself? Dead at 82. R.I.P.
When Sun Myung Moon, a Korean, was 15, Jesus came to him in a vision. In the 1940s he began to preach, but since he lived in the Communist north, he was jailed, freed only by American troops during the Korean War. Moon earned footnotes in the history of religion, and of American conservatism. His creed was a Christian-ish mishmash, with a dose of megalomania: Jesus had failed, Moon would be the successful Messiah. But his personal history impelled him to fight Communism. In 1982 he founded the Washington Times as a conservative alternative in a capital dominated by the Washington Post. The Times scooped the Post on occasion, and forced it to cover local news, hitherto neglected; it provided a roost for D.C. conservatives. But that roost was too clubby, and the paper never had enough daylight between it and its peculiar owner. Moon’s faith suffered the succession crises of most sects, even before the founder died, age 92. R.I.P.
The political conventions ended with Obama ahead of Romney. The Obama campaign and the press intensified their yearlong effort to convince the world that the race is now over. Obama might well win, but the spin is nonetheless preposterous.
The president might win because the public understands he inherited a rough economy, because it has unhappy memories of the Bush administration, and because the Democratic-base vote is strong and growing. The Democrats also made better use of public attention at their convention.
Their speakers treated abortion as an unalloyed good, to be sure, and talked about it more often than Democrats have usually done — but they kept that talk out of prime time. During the crucial hours, viewers heard of Obama as a good family man (from Michelle Obama), war leader (from John Kerry and Joe Biden), rescuer of the auto industry (Biden again), and protector of Medicare and Social Security (Obama himself).
These speeches were otherworldly: Listening to Obama, you would have no idea that our welfare state is becoming unsustainable as now configured, and you would think that the Republicans want to abolish it altogether to finance tax cuts for the rich. They were also dishonest: Obama pretended that Romney’s Medicare reform would expose senior citizens to thousands of dollars in extra costs, which even some liberal journalists have admitted is untrue. (The reform has been carefully designed to guarantee that seniors would have to pay no more to cover basic Medicare services than they would under Obama’s policies.)
The Republican speeches proceeded on the correct assumption that the key task is to get disappointed Obama voters to reject him. They made the further assumption, which seems to us more dubious, that what they want from Romney is expressions of sympathy for middle-class struggles and for women specifically. Testimonials about Romney’s many extraordinary acts of charity were effective in convincing any fair-minded person that he is not the callous Master of the Universe of Democratic caricature. But our guess is that what voters actually want is some sense of how Romney as president would address their economic concerns — something the Republicans did not really give them. Romney also erred, both politically and morally, in saying nothing in his convention address about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once Obama’s convention bounce dissipates, we will probably be where we were before the conventions: with Obama holding a slight lead, but also running below 50 percent, in the polls nationally and in key swing states. The country is unhappy with its direction. It dislikes Obama’s major initiatives. (He hardly said a word at his convention about his health-care law or about the stimulus.) Republicans have achieved rough financial parity with the Democrats, and Romney is starting to spend his general-election money.
And while the Democrats got a bounce out of their convention, they did not explain, or even try to explain, why anyone should expect more robust job growth in a second term. They hardly acknowledged that it had not been robust. There is an opening for Romney here. We don’t have to accept the inevitability of American stagnation, or of Obama’s reelection.