At least now, when the president blames the guy in his job four years ago, he’ll be right.
That was a thumping, make no mistake. A failed president earns another four years; his party cements its hold on the Senate; there will be no legislative repeal of Obamacare, little chance to block left-wing judicial nominees . . . Shall we list the next 20 or 30 bad things Election Day brought us? But cheer up. Liberals will have their own travails (the curse of second terms, the back-loaded weight of their policies). We have lived through worse (the Seventies: the fall of Nixon, the fall of Saigon, bad hair). “A stout heart, a clear conscience, and never despair” — John Quincy Adams to Charles Francis Adams, January 1, 1848.
The Benghazi debacle slid into bedroom farce with David Petraeus’s resignation as director of the CIA. A week before he was scheduled to testify before Congress, Petraeus stepped down, admitting an affair with Paula Broadwell, his (ahem, over-enthusiastic) biographer. Broadwell was under investigation by the FBI for sending harassing e-mails to another woman who knew Petraeus. There is still much to learn that isn’t merely titillating. When did Attorney General Holder — the FBI’s boss — know? When did the president? David Petraeus performed prodigies with the Iraq surge; his fall is shameful for him and a shame for his country. But it must not obscure the still-unanswered questions about Benghazi. Why were Ambassador Stevens’s requests for increased security ignored? Why, during an hours-long firefight, did the only reinforcements come from Tripoli, not (in force) from Sicily? The press will obsess over the sex scandal, but it will be up to the House, if not the Senate, to dig into the important questions.
With taxes set to go up across the board at the start of the year, the politicians are bargaining. Speaker John Boehner says that while he opposes raising tax rates because it would hurt the economy, he is willing to accept a tax reform that raises revenue from high earners if it is coupled with entitlement reform. Some Democrats have talked about letting all the tax rates go up, introducing tax cuts for the middle class alone, and then daring the Republicans to block them. This scenario should not frighten Republicans: The Republican House will surely pass a bill blocking tax increases on anyone, including the middle class. If middle-class taxes go up, voters may well blame the man in the White House, especially since he is part of the party usually associated with higher taxes. Republicans should negotiate in the confidence that they have the power to walk away from the table.
One thing Republicans have to do in the wake of the election is step up their technical game. It wasn’t just naïfs who believed Dick Morris, who expected a victorious GOP surge; Republican-campaign pollsters themselves thought they were doing well, or well enough. This myopia covered the popular vote and the swing states, the presidential election and numerous Senate and House races. The pollsters assumed that there would be fewer minority and young voters than in 2008, when in fact the no-shows were working-class whites. Time, evidently, for new pollsters. Another shortfall is cultural: President Obama was mocked for appearing with The View’s ladies and the Pimp with the Limp (a Miami rapper/DJ), but that’s how you reach the public this millennium. James Madison wrote Federalist papers; he also hawked subscriptions for friendly newspapers, spoke in open-air debates, and married a wife who threw great parties for fellow pols. Go, and sulk no more.
The election results mean that Obamacare will not be repealed in the next four years. Conservatives should not conclude that it will therefore be a permanent feature of American life. State governments should refuse to establish the exchanges the law envisions: Thanks to a flaw in the law’s design, the federal government can establish exchanges itself but cannot legally put its taxes and subsidies into effect without the states’ cooperation. (States should also join Oklahoma in its fight to keep the IRS from flouting the law.) Even if the law goes into full effect, its many perversities could require congressional attention. If that happens, Republicans will have major leverage — at least if they offer serious alternative proposals to make insurance affordable, as they should long ago have done.
Most American presidents have been well-off, many have been filthy rich, but none like to say so. Wealthy presidents have hid their silver spoons in various ways. Some used military service: James Monroe (Trenton), Zachary Taylor (Buena Vista), TR (San Juan Hill), JFK (PT-109). Some lied: William Henry Harrison’s supporters said he lived in a log cabin (he actually had a comfortable Ohio estate). Mitt Romney wouldn’t lie, nor could he. His biography and his C.V. were dramatically plain: He was a rich man’s son who had made his own fortune; indeed his business competence was one of his main selling points as a potential chief executive. The cult of the common man enables its own deceptions — what is so common about career Beltway hacks? — but it seems to be inseparable from the democratic model, and it has produced enough good men not to have disgraced that model. Mitt Romney was a good man laboring under a great weight.
Four states approved same-sex marriage by referendum — the first time any state had done so — albeit by narrow margins and in blue states. Public opinion has been moving rapidly in favor of the idea. It’s still not a good one. The only good reason for public policy to take an interest in marriage is that the institution channels the behavior that creates children into responsible child-rearing. (Channels it imperfectly, of course, and more and more imperfectly in recent decades.) We have already moved too far away from that understanding of marriage, and same-sex marriage moves us farther. The shift in opinion makes a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman a pipe dream. Conservatives should, however, continue to resist judicial attempts to force governments to accept the new progressive definition of marriage, to defend the rights of the dissenters from the new orthodoxy, and to make the case, both firmly and charitably, for marriage properly understood.
The voters of Massachusetts narrowly rejected a ballot initiative to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Proponents of the measure, which would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients diagnosed as terminally ill, argued that individuals should be able to choose “death with dignity.” A coalition of disability-rights groups, medical professionals, and religious leaders pointed out that it is almost impossible to ensure that such a choice would be free from coercion, and that allowing doctors to help their patients end their lives turns the Hippocratic Oath on its head. Sean Cardinal O’Malley expressed the hope that “the citizens of the commonwealth will not be seduced by the language ‘dignity, mercy, compassion,’ which [is] used to disguise the sheer brutality of helping someone to kill themselves.” That they were not was a hopeful sign in a bleak election season.
Voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures that legalized marijuana for recreational use, making them the first two states in the country to do so and putting them on a collision course with the feds. Notwithstanding his past with the “Choom Gang,” Barack Obama has been something of a drug warrior, taking on the 16 states in which medical marijuana is legal and describing dispensaries as “drug kingpins and cartels.” No sooner were the returns in from the two votes than federal officials had announced plans to fight back. “This is a symbolic victory for [legalization] advocates, but it will be short-lived,” Kevin Sabet, a former adviser to the Obama administration’s “drug czar,” told curious reporters. Congress should revisit federal law with attention to the message sent by the voters of two states: “Dude, relax.”
Proponents of school choice celebrated a pair of victories on Election Night. In Washington State, an initiative to allow the creation of up to 40 charter schools passed by a slim margin. Washington is one of nine states without charter schools, and measures to allow them had been rejected three times since 1996. Georgia voters resoundingly approved a measure allowing the creation of a state commission to authorize charter schools, breaking the stranglehold that union-controlled local school boards currently have on the approval process. The teachers’ unions continue to make the case that their opposition to educational choice is “for the children,” but it seems that parents increasingly see who it’s really for.
Asked during a debate about whether abortion should be banned in cases of rape, the Republican Senate candidate for Indiana, Richard Mourdock, did not reply that the issue is almost entirely academic, or stress that we should work against the 98 percent of abortions that take place for other reasons before debating these cases. Instead he said that when women become pregnant as a result of rape, it is God’s will that the babies be born. It was bad enough that his answer highlighted an issue where most people strongly disagree with his view; worse that it could easily be distorted into the claim that Mourdock thinks that rape is sometimes God’s will. The resulting controversy, late in the campaign, sank Mourdock. The Democratic candidate won the seat. After the Todd Akin flap, Mourdock should have known to weigh any words in the vicinity of “rape” carefully. It’s still good advice for pro-lifers going forward.
Smiling Through the 2012 Nakba
I know I’ve told this story somewhere in NR’s pages before, perhaps even in this space. But I’ll tell it again. A friend of mine lived in Costa Rica for a while. While there, she went to the movies. She saw the first Wayne’s World movie in English, but with Spanish subtitles. Fluent in both languages, she liked following the translated dialogue. In one scene, Wayne (played by Mike Myers) says, “Yeah, when monkeys fly out of my butt!”
The translation on the bottom of the screen? “Yes, when Judgment Day comes.”
In short, something was lost in translation.
This was Mitt Romney’s problem in a nutshell. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to shovel all of the blame onto Mitt Romney for what shall henceforth be known as the conservative nakba (an Arabic term meaning “disaster” or “calamity,” usually used in the Middle East to describe Israel’s creation in 1948).
But there’s no escaping the fact that “candidates matter.” I put that phrase in quotation marks because it is already gelling into a kind-hearted euphemism among conservative pundits for “Romney was a bad candidate.” Indeed, a LexisNexis search reveals that I was the first person to point out that Romney speaks conservatism as a second language. He’s a smart and decent man — smarter and more decent than yours truly or most people you’ll ever meet. Nonetheless, he came to conservatism very late. It is axiomatic: The man who ran to Ted Kennedy’s left on the issue of abortion in Massachusetts was not a lifelong conservative.
That in itself isn’t damning. Ronald Reagan was a relatively late convert to conservatism (as were a great many of the first editors of this magazine). But Reagan came to conservatism organically, and he learned to speak its language both through immersion and through conviction. He was also, in the best sense of the word, a great politician.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, seemed to learn the language by rote, memorizing phrases the way a committed tourist studies a Berlitz phrasebook on the flight across the pond. Add in the man’s utterly authentic stiffness and you can see where his “47 percent” comments came from. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, he told the audience he was “severely conservative” — a phrase that not even severe conservatives have ever thought to use.
Conservatism, and the Republican party it largely controls, faces deep and complicated challenges, to be sure. There are myriad debates to be had over policy, philosophy, branding, what have you. As I write this, there’s a lot of chatter about how Republicans should find some grand bargain on immigration to put the issue behind us. I would like that myself, if it were possible. It vexes me no end that the Left has managed to co-opt the immigrant success story as one of its talking points. But even if some grand amnesty worked beyond our wildest dreams, there’s little evidence that Hispanics would suddenly become Republicans. That still takes persuasion. And the plain truth is that voters won’t buy even the best conservative ideas if the guy hawking them doesn’t speak the language — in English or Spanish. It won’t happen if he keeps talking until Judgment Day, or even until monkeys fly out of his butt, whichever comes first.
Was it really less than two years ago that President Obama looked down from his lectern in the House chamber and scolded the justices of the Supreme Court for ruling, in Citizens United v. F.E.C., to “open the floodgates” and allow elections to be “bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests”? It seems a different age. All the “dark money” (why not cut to the chase and call it “evil money” next time around?) of the mighty conservative PACs and crusading millionaires has been discharged, without result. The Obama campaign, the Democratic party, and Priorities USA outraised their Republican counterparts and outspent them by some $100 million. The president’s fundraising machinery was terrible to behold. Relentless and unbound by tact, it emblazoned the slogans and signifiers of the Obama brand on every bit of mass-producible material culture with a printable surface. It insinuated itself, with open palms, into wedding registries and graduation parties and estate plannings. Worst of all, it worked. The corrosive influence of money in politics, indeed.
Except for the Bronx, New York City is a collection of islands — Manhattan, Staten Island, western Long Island (Brooklyn and Queens), and a few more in the harbor and along the Atlantic shore. Every low-lying tract was hammered by Hurricane Sandy; much of what wasn’t flooded was plunged into darkness by power failures. So how did Mayor Michael Bloomberg do? He gave incoherent and inaccurate warnings on Saturday, two days before landfall, saying there would be a gradual storm surge (there is no such thing — surges begin slowly, then always speed up); he delayed an evacuation order until late Sunday morning; he proposed to hold the New York City Marathon six days after the hurricane hit, until the protests of cold, hungry, and homeless New Yorkers, and of embarrassed marathoners themselves, made him recant. Bloomberg is the typical big-city big-government mayor: He can insert himself in photo-ops and beg for after-the-fact handouts; otherwise he hectors his constituents about cigarettes and Big Gulps. One more year, then good riddance.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey will spend a long time trying to live down his post-hurricane embrace of President Obama. It was one thing for the governor to welcome the president to his state in the wake of a natural disaster. It was another to praise him fulsomely in the waning days of a hard-fought presidential campaign. Romney’s advisers concluded that Christie did not particularly care about their candidate’s fortunes when he refused to attend — even briefly — a Romney event in the Philadelphia suburbs not far from Trenton. Christie is a talented man and an impressive public servant, with an abiding love of New Jersey, but his choices in the waning days of the presidential campaign will not soon be forgotten.
The case for being worried about climate change, formerly known as global warming, begins with the unobjectionable and escalates to the absurd. The least plausible claim is that specific events, such as the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy, are attributable to specific U.S. public-policy decisions. That this assertion stands in contravention of the best scientific analysis has not stopped the most unhinged climate alarmists from making it. The more reasonable argument holds that warmer oceans lead to more-intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events. But Sandy was not an unusually powerful hurricane — it inflicted so much damage because it arrived at the confluence of a nor’easter and a high-pressure system and plowed into densely populated urban areas at high tide. In fact, the arrival of powerful hurricanes on our shores is somewhat diminished of late: The last Category 3 hurricane to make landfall was seven years ago, the longest such interval in a century. As Professor Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado points out, 1954–55 saw three back-to-back hurricanes more destructive than Sandy — two in the same month — crashing onto our shores. As so often, the science is complex while the politics are simpleminded. Global-warming hysteria is a fashion, and it is exciting to some people. It would not be accurate to say that it serves no one, but Al Gore’s fortune is not in obvious need of supplementation, and we did not believe Barack Obama’s promise of halting the oceans’ rise the first time around.
At 3 a.m. on Election Night, MSNBC host Chris Matthews said, of Hurricane Sandy, “I’m so glad we had that storm last week.” When co-host Rachel Maddow gasped, Matthews added: “Not in terms of hurting people. The storm brought in possibilities for good politics,” whereupon Maddow did a prompt outro. The next night a refreshed and rested Matthews apologized: “It was a terrible thing to say, period. I can say it was because I was tired but the fact is I wasn’t thinking of the horrible mess this storm has made of people’s lives.” Matthews apologized because he is basically a decent man. But there is also professional competence to consider. Matthews has been in journalism for a quarter of a century. Journalists were once drilled never to say certain things (e.g., of casualties, however unexpectedly low, that there were “only” so many). Maybe Matthews needs a much longer rest — say, from here on out.
When Hurricane Sandy hit and the power went out, Occupy rejoiced. On Twitter, the outfit gleefully wrote: “No subways. No electricity. No chains.” Somewhere, the Earl of Shaftesbury smiled at Hobbes. The return-to-Eden instincts of the Occupy movement’s would-be savages synthesize the penchant for aimless revolution explored so graphically in the most recent Batman movie and the heady disdain for the modern world best expressed by Paul Ehrlich. Occupy types may disdain electricity — and take to the Internet to do it, no less — but the millions to whom modernity has brought heat and light and transportation do not have such luxuries. Indeed, one can only presume that “No hospitals. No water purification. No air-traffic control. No chains” didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
House majority leader Eric Cantor, inspired in part by our own Ramesh Ponnuru’s recent article on President Obama’s lawlessness, compiled a grim list of the president’s acts of dubious legality. The pattern that emerges from his report is of a president who rewrites laws to suit an ideological agenda, and in many cases does not even bother to advance any argument that he has the legal authority to do so. Reelected, and continuing to face a Republican House, he will surely continue in the same vein. Hide the women, children, and constitutional lawyers.
Remember that cute hippieish girl who stood in front of the arts building seeking contributions for Amnesty International? Oh, come on, you remember her. Now, did you know that she won a Nobel Peace Prize? Well, sort of: AI won the prize in 1977, and she was involved with AI, so she earned the right to call herself a Nobel Prize winner. Sound far-fetched? No more so than the climate scientist Michael Mann’s claim, put forth in a press release and a lawsuit against NR (more about that in due course), to have been “awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” You see, the International Panel on Climate Change won the prize in 2007, and Mann, who devised the “hockey stick” global-warming graph, reviewed some papers for the IPCC that year. So he gets a participation certificate! Unfortunately for him, the Nobel Prize committee says categorically that Michael Mann has never won a Nobel Prize. We’re not surprised to learn that Professor Mann is not exactly a stickler for accuracy.
The troubled Anglican Communion will soon have a new leader. The Right Reverend Justin Welby, currently bishop of Durham, will take office as archbishop of Canterbury in March 2013, succeeding Rowan Williams, whose unfortunate excursions into left-wing politics have caused much heartburn to conservatives both in England and abroad. On strictly religious matters, Welby is from the Church of England’s evangelical (as opposed to high-church) wing. On the current hot-button issues, he is a something of a mixed bag (or, perhaps more appropriately in this context, a curate’s egg): against same-sex marriage, in favor of women bishops. He inherits a global Communion that is ferociously divided on these and other issues — always seemingly on the brink of schism, never quite getting there. We wish him well; as Americans, we find the idea of a “Dr. Welby” being in charge during a tough situation rather reassuring.
After winning power this spring, French president François Hollande and his Socialist party began enacting a standard left-wing fiscal package, including 75 percent income-tax rates on the rich, an expanded wealth tax, and even a heavy new tax on beer. But now liberté, fraternité, and égalité have been joined by réalité, as both the IMF and a panel appointed by Hollande’s own party have warned that high taxes are severely reducing the competitiveness of French industry. In response, Hollande has announced a plan to slash payroll taxes (which can make companies reluctant to hire new employees). It took Hollande and his fellow Socialists only half a year to figure out that excessive taxation is a severe drag on the economy. What’s Obama’s excuse?
Now cracks a less-than-noble effort: A tax on saturated fats in Denmark has been repealed by that country’s center-left government. The levy of 16 kroner per kilogram of fats was having little effect on eating habits, and drove consumers across the border to make their sinful purchases. Prices of basic foods, including butter, cheese, and cream, substantially increased; perhaps most appallingly, the nation’s largest dairy producer noted that Danish consumers were resorting to lower-quality cheeses. The law’s repeal will put an end to one other odd occurrence: shoppers’ traveling to Sweden for the lower taxes and cheaper prices.
It seems that Paul Revere’s apocryphal cry of “The British are coming!” was a popular one. An analysis, published in September, showed that, at one point or another, the British invaded almost 90 percent of the world’s countries, with only 22 countries escaping a visit. Only a few of the invaded states were ever officially a part of the Empire, with the remainder being subjected to military presence, threat of force, or sponsored piracy. “Other countries could write similar books,” the author drily quipped, “but they would be much shorter. I don’t think anyone could match this, although the Americans had a later start and have been working hard on it in the twentieth century.” With the exception of Sweden and Vatican City, many of the nations that escaped British attention could perhaps have benefited from an invasion — or at least from losing a war or two. “The real trick,” as an Italian character in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 says, “lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless.” Come to think of it, that may be the strategic insight behind Obama’s defense budget.
Religious liberty scored a win when the Israeli government approved aliya, or immigration to Israel, for 275 members of the Bnei Menashe, a community of about 7,000 in northeastern India. The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “children of Manasseh”) claim descent from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. In the past two decades, about 1,700 of them have settled in what they regard as their ancestral home, but the move has been controversial in both India and Israel, and the flow of Bnei Menashe into Gaza and the West Bank has been constricted since 2007. Now their advocates, who include prominent rabbis, expect the entire community to settle in Israel eventually, in increments. Some researchers dispute the historicity of the community’s belief that their ancestors were expelled from the Northern Kingdom during the Assyrian exile, but no one doubts the sincerity of their self-identification as Israelites. Around 1951, they say, a few of them set out for Israel on foot before the hilly jungles forced them back. Sixty years later, their children and grandchildren are flying there on El Al, their one-way tickets paid for by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Academic freedom is, as Jonathan Lynn might have written, “one of those irregular verbs”: I honestly explore ideas, you are needlessly provocative, she is a seditious creep. So determined the president of Fordham University in November, when he slammed the College Republicans for inviting Ann Coulter to speak. President Joseph McShane announced that he was “disappointed with the [group’s] judgment and maturity.” The authorities stopped short of banning Coulter from the campus, but brought enough pressure to bear on the student group that it saw fit to “regret the controversy” and to “question our decision.” Funnily enough, on closer examination, the group found some of Coulter’s past statements disagreeable and promptly disinvited her (which they say they would have done even without the president’s criticism). For this, McShane congratulated the club. They had passed the test with “flying colors,” he exclaimed. “There can,” he added, “be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.” At least if thinking for themselves is not a desired mark of them.
There are many ways to victimize vulnerable youngsters, usually in the guise of helping them. Ria Cooper, originally named Brad, became Britain’s youngest transsexual at age 17 when she underwent a year’s worth of hormone treatment, grew breasts, and started living as a girl. Cooper’s medical and psychological treatment (at public expense, of course) was justified as necessary for the patient’s mental health, but since anyone could see that Cooper was undergoing an adolescence even more mercurial than that of most teens, the sequel is sadly unsurprising: After dabbling in prostitution and twice attempting suicide, he/she has decided not to have surgery and now wants to be a “trendy gay man.” What would have been wrong with having him wait until adulthood before making this decision? It’s hard to see Cooper as anything but a victim of doctors who, in the interests of ideological crusading or surgical vanity, have taken a teen’s troubled adolescence and made it immeasurably worse.
Philip Roth told a French interviewer that he will be writing no more novels. Quoting Joe Louis, the 79-year-old said, “I did the best I could with what I had.” His best was very good indeed. “Goodbye, Columbus” and the short stories printed with it were a terrific debut — acute, perfectly controlled. Portnoy’s Complaint was something else — obsessed, narcissistic, hideously unfair; also hilarious. If it is not a masterpiece of literature, it is a masterpiece of stand-up. American Pastoral was Roth’s great American novel — a portrait of a place (Newark), a community (Jewish), and an era (from World War II to the Sixties); a tragedy of striving, of laying up treasure in this beautiful, corruptible world. Early or late, Roth deployed the best American prose voice in 70 years — clear and supple, without the tics of so many of his peers (Bellow, Mailer, Updike, Wolfe, Didion, David Foster Wallace . . .). Make that would-be peers. The Nobel Prize givers would honor themselves by acknowledging his achievement.
Jacques Barzun was one of the great ornaments of American intellectual life in the 20th century: He had an interest in, and wrote fluently about, topics from baseball to Berlioz to Charles Darwin. His small-“c” catholic approach to the life of the mind is hinted at in something he was quoted as saying about his taste in music: “I look for delight and find it variously in the music of all periods, classes, or lands, not excluding the new musics of John Cage, Harry Partch, and Edgard Varèse.” He served Columbia University for almost 50 years, in various capacities ranging from professor of history to provost and dean of the graduate school. He published more than 40 books, but produced one of his very best at the age of 93: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000) was a titanic work of cultural history and became a surprise bestseller. Jacques Barzun has died at 104. R.I.P.
Elliott Carter will be known as one of the longest-lived composers ever: He lived from 1908 to 2012, dying at 103. He worked and produced right to the end. An American, Carter was born in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. He was eight when the U.S. entered World War I, and remembered it well. He died the day before Obama’s reelection. But there is more to Carter than longevity. He was in the forefront of modernism, taking music in ever more abstract and dissonant directions. He had no use for “neo-Romantics,” considering their attachment to melody, harmony, and so on “deplorable.” Our music critic, Jay Nordlinger, interviewed Carter just before his hundredth birthday. He does not regard Carter’s contributions to music as entirely salutary. Neither does he think they will endure. But he counts Carter one of the smartest and most interesting people he has ever encountered. An amazing mind has passed from the scene. And he proved that there is work to be done after 90, 95, and 100. R.I.P.
In New York City it used to be said that simply by looking at someone you could tell what newspaper he read. By the 1970s, with just three papers remaining, the task was simple: The Daily News was for the masses, the Times was radical chic, and the Post was mainstream liberal. Then, in 1976, Rupert Murdoch bought the Post and installed Roger Wood, a veteran of Britain’s lively tabloids and Australia’s even livelier ones, as editor. Wood brought in the Page Six gossip column, easily New York’s best; a generous helping of cheesecake; a one-sentence-per-paragraph style; hard-hitting, earthy editorial cartoons; and attention-grabbing headlines, often in red type. Most daring of all, Wood brought conservatism to famously liberal New York — not just Daily News–style working-class populism, but thoughtful essays by authors such as Norman Podhoretz, Thomas Sowell, and George Will. Under Wood’s stewardship, the paper’s circulation more than doubled, to nearly a million. In recent years, the Post has moved upmarket, but it still remains a conservative bastion, and when a juicy story like the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal comes along, people still say, as they did in Wood’s day, “I wonder what tomorrow’s Post headline will be.” Dead at 87. R.I.P.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. In the l940s and 1950s, Joe Ginsberg, a journeyman catcher, achieved, if not greatness, at least steadiness as a reliable backup for six American League teams. He ended his career by playing two games for the comprehensively inept 1962 Mets, and there can be no greater anticlimax than that. But not long afterwards he had greatness, perhaps even a modest sort of immortality, thrust upon him. For several decades, the “How to Keep Score” page in the Mets’ game program used the lineup from the Mets’ first home game as an example, and as it happened, Ginsberg started that game. So generations of Mets fans knew his name, and many came to imagine him as a mainstay of the team instead of a scrub. Casey Stengel, the Mets’ wise old manager, had foreseen exactly that when he made out the lineup card: “You’ve had 13 years in the big leagues, and I want you to catch the first game in New York. You’ll get more credit for that than for anything else in those 13 years.” Dead at 86, R.I.P.
Learning from Defeat
Conservatives suffered a terrible defeat on November 6, and there is no point pretending otherwise. President Obama won with an improving but still weak economy, and while running a campaign that was quite liberal by historical standards. His plan for the economy was almost entirely built on government-directed investment and government-based employment, and he supported abortion more strongly than any previous Democratic presidential candidate had. Republicans lost two Senate seats, even in a cycle with far more liberal than conservative seats contested. The House was the only bright spot, and that largely because of a favorable redistricting.
Blame for this debacle is widely shared. Mitt Romney made many mistakes in this campaign. Yet with the exception of his failure to press the case against Obamacare — a failure partly explained but not excused by his own record on health care — those mistakes reflected party-wide decisions. The party hasn’t kept up with the political technologies Democrats are using. More important, Republicans from the top to the bottom of the ticket did little to make the case that conservative policies would make the broad mass of the public better off. It wasn’t a theme of the convention in Tampa, for example, or a consistent theme in Republican ads.
Most of the post-election discussion has dwelt on the predictable demographic divides of sex, race, and age. Most of this conversation will be unproductive. Until conservatives devise a domestic agenda, and a way to sell it, that links small-government principles to attractive results, they are going to have a hard time improving their standing with women, Latinos, white men, or young people. And conservatives would be deeply unwise to count on the mere availability of charismatic young conservative officials to make up for that problem.
Social conservatives usually get unfairly blamed for Republican electoral defeats. There is certainly no reason for Republicans to stop defending the right to life, and little prospect that they will. Too many social conservatives have, however, embraced a self-defeating approach to politics — falling, to take a painful example, for Todd Akin’s line that his withdrawal from the Missouri Senate race would be a defeat for their causes. It would have been an advance.
Conservatives are going to have to do all of their rethinking under pressure, because liberalism will not rest. If the president offers a serious reform of entitlements, or some other worthwhile policy, conservatives should be willing to bargain with him. If he continues on the path of his first term — and why would he not, after this election? — we should feel duty-bound to oppose him. We will have to do it more effectively, while articulating better alternatives, than we have so far.
The Amnesty Delusion
Republicans are in danger of embracing “comprehensive” immigration reform — which is to say, amnesty — out of panic. The GOP does need to do better among Hispanics and other voters, but amnesty is not the way to achieve it. Our immigration system is in need of deep reform, but amnesty is not the first item on intelligent reformers’ to-do list, if indeed it belongs on the list at all.
All decent people have a measure of sympathy for those who, driven by desperation, come illegally to the United States seeking work to provide for themselves and their families. That they so frequently work at low wages in miserable conditions and that they are vulnerable to every kind of abuse is reason for deeper sympathy still. But the solution to their plight is not to abandon the law, any more than the solution to the plight of the poor in Les Misérables is to legalize the theft of bread. The rule of law exists to alleviate misery, not to mandate it.
We know from history that immigration amnesties encourage yet more illegal immigration, and the suffering and disorder that go along with it. The growth of an illegal underclass is in the long-term interest of neither the citizens of the United States nor those immigrants who aspire to citizenship. Stopgap measures such as “temporary guest worker” programs simply convert that underclass from de facto to de jure.
There are many steps we can and should take toward improving our national immigration regime. It should be easier for those with job offers — particularly highly skilled, English-speaking professionals — to gain long-term residency in the United States and to embark on a path to citizenship if they so choose. For those who are here illegally, especially those who were brought here as young children, our policy options are not restricted to amnesty or round-ups and mass deportations. Our most effective and most humane option is steady, consistent, judicious workplace enforcement. We do not lack the means to enforce the law, only the political will to do so. And even if our immigration system is broadly liberalized, the law still will need to be enforced. Non-enforcement simply is not a viable permanent state of affairs. Law enforcement would be as necessary after an amnesty as it is today.
Republicans who believe that amnesty would buy them an electoral advantage with Hispanics are deluding themselves. That Hispanics are a natural Republican constituency because of their Catholic and family-oriented traditions is wishful thinking. Hispanics are not uniformly in favor of amnesty for illegals — polls have shown that a segment of the Hispanic population ranging from a large minority to a small majority opposes the policy. Polls also show that a substantial majority of Hispanics support Obamacare, and that Hispanics voted accordingly on Tuesday. Those who see in Hispanics a potential bloc of socially conservative voters should consider that polls consistently find blacks to be slightly more anti-abortion than whites, but they are not exactly lining up behind Rick Santorum. There is very little reason to believe that Hispanic Catholics are any more likely to vote like social conservatives than non-Hispanic Catholics. For that matter, the majority of Hispanic evangelicals voted for Obama in 2008.
The amnesty signed into law by the charismatic and popular President Reagan did not bring Hispanic voters into the Republican party; Republican congressional leaders who believe that sending one to President Obama would redound to their benefit are engaged in a defective political calculus. Nor are Hispanics the only group of voters to consider. Blue-collar whites do not appear to have turned out for Republicans in the expected numbers on Election Day. Support for amnesty will not bring them back. If the policy advanced the national interest, that consideration might not matter. It does when supposed political advantage is the argument for the policy.
The Republican party and the conservative movement simply are not constituted for ethnic pandering, and certainly will not out-pander the party of amnesty and affirmative action. Republicans’ challenge is to convince Hispanics, blacks, women, gays, etc., that the policies of the Obama administration are inimical to their interests as Americans, not as members of any collegium of grievance. That they have consistently failed to do so suggests that Republican leadership is at least as much in need of reform as our immigration code.