We trust that Hugo Chávez is now at an endless Politburo meeting.
In a press conference on sequestration, President Obama said this about alleged Republican intransigence: “I am not a dictator, I’m the president. Ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner” doesn’t want to deal, “I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway.” Obama is not a dictator: Well, yes, but why say so? Let us dismiss the crazy explanation: The would-be tyrant has tipped his hand! That leaves three others. First, Obama suffers from Thomas Friedmanism: By gum, those dictators do get things done. What they get done is misallocation of resources and oppression, but this is a common wistful delusion among those inclined toward economic planning. Second, McConnell and Boehner really get under Obama’s skin. Wouldn’t it be nice to call the Secret Service and [fill in the fantasy]? Let us stipulate that every president has thought such a thing. Yet every other president (certainly, since Nixon) has known not to say it, even to himself. Third, more than four years after Bush left office, Obama is having to find a new explanation for the world’s stubborn refusal to meet his expectations. The nominees are Naïveté, Pique, and Excuse-Making. The envelope, please.
Speaking of which: Should Michelle Obama have opened the envelope for Best Picture during the Academy Awards ceremony? Presidents and their families engage in a variety of apolitical ceremonies: FDR (via radio) and Laura Bush appeared at earlier Oscar nights, and presidents since Taft have thrown out Opening Day pitches. The fitness of doing so is probably in inverse proportion to the cheesy glitz of the occasion (could someone deep-six the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?). But there is a second question here: Are the Obamas too much with us? The demands of a fragmented media market, and the Obamas’ own appetite for exposure, have made them a 24/7 presence. Benjamin Rush said that any European king would look like a valet de chambre alongside George Washington. Washington’s successors must take care not to look like reality-show guests.
When Bob Woodward criticized the White House’s handling of the sequestration showdown, he got a 30-minute phone call from the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, plus an e-mail from Sperling saying he would “regret” his reporting — a line Woodward characterized as “a veiled threat.” Then it got nasty, as reporters took to Twitter to assail Woodward (“lost it” and “senile” were among the endearments thrown his way). Once the dinosaur fight from Fantasia ended, it became clear that there was a lot of blame to go around: The administration had been thin-skinned, Woodward had not actually been threatened, Woodward’s critics were trigger-happy. Not to be lost in the shuffle: the clumsiness of Obama’s sequestration-standoff tactics. Because of defense cuts, the president has to withdraw a carrier from the Persian Gulf? That is, as Woodward correctly said, “a kind of madness.”
It seems like only yesterday that President Obama was condemning “the corrosive influence of money on politics” and admonishing Supreme Court justices seated at his feet for “opening the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit” in American elections. The president’s conversion of his reelection machinery into Organizing for America, a “grassroots” fundraising juggernaut newly unencumbered by campaign law and designed to rally support to the president’s policies in his second term and in perpetuity, would serve as a perverse counterpoint to this self-righteous rhetoric under any circumstances. But it is especially grotesque in light of reports, by the New York Times no less, of a quid pro quo by which high-rolling donors are rewarded with quarterly meetings of the group’s “national advisory board” — at the White House. This “disturbing” practice, the Times’ editors conclude, “is nothing more than a fancy way of setting a price for access to Mr. Obama.” Confronted with the reports, White House press secretary Jay Carney fumbled through long and lawyerly answers but never outright disputed the truth of the story. He might just as well have used the opportunity for free advertising: White House access, $500,000 a pop. Enter through the floodgates.
The organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are of course entitled to advocate conservative causes as they see fit, including by controlling who is invited to participate in the conference. But we nevertheless regret that they have excluded the gay conservative group GOProud and declined to invite New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Conservative opinion on the intersection of homosexuality and politics is not monolithic, and GOProud has participated in past conferences with no discernible ill effects. Inviting GOProud to participate again would not now, as it did not at earlier conferences, imply a CPAC endorsement of any particular policies regarding gays, but rather a commitment to represent the overlapping gamut of views inside the conservative movement. The matter of Chris Christie is somewhat different. The governor is certainly not entitled to speak at the conference, but we fear the decision not to invite him to do so is illustrative of a potentially unhealthy trend. We share CPAC’s apparent concerns about the governor’s views on guns — and on other issues — but those concerns are tempered by our respect for his handling of New Jersey’s finances and his reining in of the public-sector unions. Our approach has been to praise those of Christie’s policies that we think judicious and wise, and to criticize those that we think provocative and unwise. We do not think the latter requires reading him out of the conservative movement or the Republican party. As with GOProud, merely giving space to Christie’s views would not amount to an endorsement of them. But it could help move the intra-conservative conversation in productive new directions. And that, as we understand it, is what CPAC is supposed to be about.
In recent days, President Obama gave Sharpton an interview. Lest we forget, in the late 1980s, Al Sharpton accused a man named Steven Pagones of raping a girl named Tawana Brawley. Pagones was an assistant district attorney in Dutchess County, N.Y. He did not rape Brawley, and no one did: It was a hoax, one that brought racial tension in New York and elsewhere to a boil. Sharpton made Pagones’s life a living hell. Pagones got death threats, became ill, lost his marriage — the works. After he was cleared, he held a press conference, which Sharpton crashed: “Your accuser has arrived!” Sharpton bellowed. Pagones later said, “I know that Sharpton doesn’t care how I feel,” which is certainly true. Sharpton has now achieved fame and glory. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. He is a star of MSNBC. Sharpton has never apologized for his evil and destructive lies about Pagones. He is proud not to apologize. He is a Christian minister, apparently, whom people call “Reverend” or “Rev,” but he isn’t in the repenting business.
Progress Kentucky, a liberal super PAC, attempted to advance the cause of defeating Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in his 2014 reelection bid by targeting his wife, former secretary of labor Elaine Chao, in a series of crude tweets highlighting her ethnicity. “This woman has the ear of @mcconnellpress — she’s his #wife. May explain why your job moved to #China!” read one. Another alleged that her “Chinese” money was buying elections in Kentucky. The organization’s leaders initially defended their line of attack. “We’re not after anybody because they are an immigrant, but I think it’s fair to question whether or not there’s a conflict of interest,” said a spokesman. The executive director called criticism of the tweets “an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Mitch McConnell has engaged in the selling of the American middle class overseas for decades.” Following pushback from McConnell, national media attention, and some half-hearted denunciations from Democratic groups — “These kinds of comments are . . . just the kind of divisive politics that Sen. McConnell himself has used for too long,” said the Kentucky Democratic party — Progress Kentucky issued a mea culpa insisting that its “key goal is to elevate the conversation about Senator McConnell’s record.” Going out of business would be a start.
In a Friday-afternoon news dump in March, the State Department released yet another environmental-impact report on the projected construction of the Keystone pipeline: a $7 billion project initially proposed in 2008 that would transport roughly 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Canadian oil sands to refineries in the U.S., in addition to creating thousands of jobs. The 2,000-page report arrived at essentially the same conclusion as the ostensibly final review issued by the department in August 2011: “There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed project route,” and “approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.” In response to pressure from environmentalists, President Obama had postponed a decision on the project until after the election, citing concerns about supposed risks to an aquifer in Nebraska. Now that Nebraska has signed off on an alternative route for the pipeline and the State Department has reiterated its findings, there would now seem to be little reason not to move forward with the project — but then again, there never was.
In his first days as secretary of state, John Kerry said: “Iran is a country with a government that was elected and that sits in the United Nations.” It sits in the United Nations, all right. But if it was elected, it was elected fraudulently. After the fraud in June 2009, demonstrators massed in the streets, chanting, “Obama, Obama! Either you’re with them or you’re with us!” Our president was passive during this Iranian tumult. Later, Natan Sharansky called Obama’s posture “maybe one of the biggest betrayals of people’s freedom in modern history.” The president seemed to want to engage with the regime more than anything else. Now his secretary of state has reopened the wound. A remark like Kerry’s is extremely disheartening to oppositionists, dissidents, and political prisoners. They are struggling against a dictatorship, and suffering mightily. The American secretary of state apparently doesn’t care.
The Wages of Gamesmanship
President Obama employed an old weapon against Republicans in his State of the Union address: the minimum wage. The president’s humble objective was to make sure that “no one who works full time [has] to live in poverty.” That goal is very appealing, and likely explains why a majority of Americans support higher minimum wages.
But they should not. Indeed, President Obama’s own statement helps illustrate why. He begins with the phrase “no one who works full time” — giving the impression that the minimum wage will affect only full-time workers, whose lives will be improved by the increase. This phrase deflects listeners’ attention from the true economic consequences of the minimum wage by excluding from view those who lose their jobs because of the minimum wage, fail to be hired because of the minimum wage, or have their hours cut back because of the minimum wage.
The president was intentionally reinforcing the myth that minimum-wage workers are predominantly parents living close to poverty. But let’s look at the facts. In 2012, almost two-thirds of workers making the minimum wage or less were part-time workers, and a bit over half of all minimum-wage-or-lower workers were under the age of 25, many of them students living at home with their parents.
Those two pieces of information suggest that common political rhetoric about the minimum wage is misleading. An analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, represented in the nearby chart, gives a fuller picture of how an increase in the minimum wage would affect workers in the U.S.
In 2013, the U.S. federal poverty line, which varies according to family size, was $23,550 for a family of four and $11,490 for an individual. In the EPI analysis of workers who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage to $9, only 25.7 percent live in households making under $20,000. Almost half belong to households making over $40,000, and almost 30 percent of workers who would be affected live in families with incomes above $60,000.
Source: Economic Policy Institute Blog, “Who Would Be Affected by President Obama’s Proposed Minimum Wage Increase?”
Simple economic logic, supported by most of the available research, suggests that the minimum wage reduces employment significantly. The wage increases take-home pay for those who do not lose their jobs, but reduces it to zero for those who do. In other words, it takes money away from some poor people (those who lose their jobs), gives money to some poor people (those who don’t), and gives money to some better-off people, too.
How does it all balance out? A separate study by economists Joseph Sabia of San Diego State University and Robert Nielsen of the University of Georgia explored the impact of the minimum wage on the welfare of the poor. They concluded that the minimum wage is spread out so far up into the income distribution that there is “no statistically significant evidence that a higher minimum wage has helped reduce financial, housing, health, or food insecurity.” The authors couldn’t find a beneficial effect of the wage on the welfare even of those most likely to benefit from it.
If a higher minimum wage reduced poverty, one might still question the wisdom of asking some poor people to give up their jobs so that others may have their lot improved. Although that seems like an odd trade, there might be some defense of it. But since the higher minimum wage doesn’t reduce poverty, President Obama’s proposal is indefensible, and even a little bit sinister. He apparently thinks the increased suffering of those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs as the wage jumps is a small price to pay to make Republicans look heartless.
President Obama continues to evolve in the direction of greater candor on same-sex marriage. Until last May he claimed to oppose it. Then he said he had changed his mind and now supported it, but continued to believe that states should be able to go their own way on the issue. Now his administration has filed a legal brief saying that the Supreme Court should strike down the California law, ratified by referendum in 2008, that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The position Obama took until the end of February 2013, in other words, he now holds to be unconstitutional. The theory is that California’s definition of marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating against gays and lesbians. Governments recognize marriage, however, because of their interest in stabilizing those relationships that can generate children. Many other kinds of relationships, whatever the sexual orientations of the participants, receive no official recognition. It is certainly possible to hold that marriage should be seen as an emotional union with a sexual element but no intrinsic link to procreation. In that case the exclusion of same-sex couples would be arbitrary. The Fourteenth Amendment, however, does not mandate that view. That’s why nobody claimed that it did for almost its entire history, and not even the Obama administration did until late February.
Justice Antonin Scalia was roundly criticized for saying during oral arguments that the Voting Rights Act had been reauthorized with almost no debate because it had become a “racial entitlement.” He had at the very least committed a faux pas, according to the coverage, and at worst said something offensive. The law requires legislative districts to be drawn so as to maximize the likely number of black and Hispanic elected officials, which is to say that it entitles racial groups to seats. A desire to let the act expire or to modify it substantially is treated as an attack on blacks and Hispanics, which is to say that as racial groups they are entitled to its continuation. None of this, of course, establishes the unconstitutionality of the legislation (and Scalia did not say it did). Scalia’s point about the climate of debate surrounding the issue was amply demonstrated by the reaction to his making it.
Ben Bernanke testified before Congress, and Republicans grilled him for what Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) called his “dovish” policies on inflation. Bernanke pointed out that inflation has run at an average of 2 percent on his watch, lower than that under almost any postwar Fed chairman. Not since the mid-1960s have prices been more stable. The Republicans should have adopted a different line of criticism. The Fed had it within its power to keep nominal spending growing at a stable rate, which would have helped to steady the economy. Instead, over the last five years, it first let nominal spending drop at the fastest rate since 1938 and then kept it growing very slowly. The results have been a sharp recession, a weak recovery, and a lack of certainty about the path of monetary policy. Inflation is not the only way a central bank can fail.
The Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by Amnesty International and an array of attorneys, journalists, labor leaders, and, of course, “human-rights activists,” who claimed to be harmed by the mere possibility that their communications with suspected terrorists might be monitored under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA, you may recall, was amended in 2008 after a fierce debate over the Bush administration’s warrantless-surveillance program, about which the Left squawked despite considerable precedent supporting its constitutionality. (This was back in the pre-Obama days, before leftists realized that warrantless killing was kosher.) The justices threw out the suit on the grounds that FISA, which requires court approval for the surveillance of foreign agents, satisfies Fourth Amendment concerns, and that the activists lacked standing to object to classified surveillance they could only speculate might be happening. The disturbing part of the decision is that it should have been a slam dunk, not the 5–4 cliffhanger it became when the Court’s bloc of four left-wing jurists sided with Amnesty International. We are that close to an Obama Court.
From Aaron Burr to Dick Cheney, vice presidents and firearms have never been a good combination. The latest example is Joseph Biden, who sees shotguns as a universal solution for personal defense the same way government spending is for social woes. First he told a woman to use a double-barreled shotgun instead of an AR-15 to protect her home, since it’s supposedly easier to aim (though, as the woman pointed out, it can also fire only two rounds). Later Biden recalled telling his wife that if their family home was menaced by an intruder, she should go out on the balcony and fire two shotgun blasts in the air — which, besides being of questionable effectiveness, is illegal in Delaware. The vice president’s advice would be potentially hazardous if anyone listened to him, but we have a better idea: Let Americans defend themselves and their homes as they see fit, and sign Mr. Biden up for a refresher course in firearm safety.
In their rush not to let a tragedy go to waste, several states moved forward with questionable gun-control bills — bills that not only are unlikely to work but also contain drafting errors that could lead to unintended effects. New York State initially failed to exempt police officers and guns used on movie sets. And a Colorado bill that has already passed the state house contains language that could be read to ban common pump-action shotguns — the ammunition in such guns is stored in a tube that can easily be extended to hold a forbidden number of rounds. Passing bills to find out what’s in them is becoming a liberal motif.
It would be nice if America could get over the peculiar idea that the victims of gun violence should be privileged in our conversation about gun control. But if it is not able to do so, some balance in the coverage would be welcome. Evan Todd, a survivor of the Columbine massacre, seems to agree. In February, Todd wrote an open letter to the president, in which he argued against “universal background checks,” against an “assault weapons” ban, and against limiting magazine size. “In theory,” he wrote, “your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy.” But in reality? “Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others. . . . There is no dictate, law, or regulation that will stop bad things from happening — and you know that. Yet you continue to push the rhetoric. Why?” This is a good question. As Todd observes, no law made a difference in Columbine. He should know: He was one of the first people to be shot.
Detroit is a mess: Its finances are backward, its population has been halved, its bonds are unsellable junk, its crime is uncontrolled, its landscape is dominated by abandoned buildings, and its politics are such that the voters chose a retired Pistons combo guard as mayor when the incumbent was carted off to jail. Michigan governor Rick Snyder has announced his intention to appoint an emergency financial manager for the city to oversee its reorganization, and Detroit’s comfortable ruling junta is howling: It’s unconstitutional, or a violation of the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act, or something. Cries of racism are in the air, as they always are in Detroit: When Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lied in court about sleeping with his chief of staff and then fired the police officers investigating him, he too said the issue was racism. Detroit Democrats charge that the financial manager will be an “overseer” — note the plantation language — while the Reverend Wendell Anthony demands: “Has Michigan become the new Mississippi of our day?” (Detroit should be so lucky as to have leaders like Mississippi’s sober governor, Phil Bryant.) Governor Snyder has a moral obligation to save Detroit, even if Detroit does not wish to be saved.
Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, liked to present himself as a revolutionary, a socialist for the 21st century. Many members of the American Left presented him this way too. In reality he was the latest in the long line of caudillos, a reactionary throwback to the strongmen who have been the scourge of Spanish America. As a junior army officer, Chávez did not hesitate to mount a coup, and once in power he devised a constitution that made him leader for life. Violence was his medium, and under his rule murders, disappearances, and thefts exploded, making Venezuela more dangerous than even the narco-states Mexico and Colombia. He militarized his supporters, putting them into red shirts and red berets. He drove thousands into exile, expropriating their land and property, and nationalized Venezuela’s oil companies to secure the funds with which to buy popularity. Rumor has it that Chávez and his family amassed a fortune of $2 billion. Hostility to the United States is the caudillo’s favored expedient, and Chávez did what he could to obstruct her foreign policy (while continuing to sell her oil). Fidel Castro was the model he deferred to obsequiously, and he counted among his friends and allies Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe, Moammar Qaddafi, and Bashar Assad. In front of the UN General Assembly he referred to George W. Bush as the devil and claimed to smell sulfur, and in front of a media pack he shamed Barack Obama with a book-length polemic against Yankee imperialism. Years may have to pass before the dire consequences of such misrule can be righted. Like other caudillos before him, Chávez has left the world a more brutal place than he found it. Dead at 58, R.I.P.
Raúl Castro, who succeeded his elder brother as president of Cuba in 2008, was elected to a second five-year term, whereupon he announced that it would be his last. A two-term limit — just like George Washington. Who could fail to be reminded of the last sentence of the Farewell Address? “I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow Citizens, the benign influence of good Laws under a free Government, the ever favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours and dangers.”
Yoani Sánchez is a well-known Cuban dissident and blogger. The dictatorship has recently done something remarkable: let her out for a tour. The first country she went to was Brazil, where she was met by, among others, Castro supporters. They screamed at her, called her a CIA stooge, threw Xeroxed dollar bills at her. One of them got close enough to pull her hair. They shut down the screening of a documentary that features Sánchez — a screening that Sánchez herself was to attend. She said, “Even before leaving Cuba I knew this could happen. It’s sad, because I’ve been waiting one year for this. I really wanted to see the film.” Castro backers wanted to see her hounded and humiliated, even outside Cuba.
The Alliance of Civilizations is a shadowy program of international togetherness under the auspices of the United Nations. In practice, the Alliance rounds up a mixed bag of self-selected busybodies and assembles them in a five-star hotel in some pleasant city. An indifferent public usually neither knows nor cares about such freebies. The latest Alliance gathering in Vienna has been different, because Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, chose this venue to play politics. “The time has come,” he said, “to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity just like Zionism, just like anti-Semitism, just like fascism.” Would it be another crime against humanity to note how dispiriting it is that this sort of thing makes for an effective tactic in ascending to the leadership of the Arab world? Arriving in Turkey on his first trip abroad since confirmation in office, Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have had frosty meetings with Erdogan and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Objectionable” was the adjective Kerry applied to Erdogan’s Vienna attack. President Obama has singled out Erdogan as one of the five leaders with whom he enjoys effective working relations. Illusion, what follies are committed in thy name.
Italians have a genius for finding a way through intractable difficulties, and they will have to make use of it, urgently. The country has a debt of 2 trillion euros, the highest in the euro zone (relative to GDP) after Greece. This year alone, it will need to borrow 420 billion euros to service this debt. Over a year ago, Germany offered help on condition that Mario Monti become prime minister. Italians resented becoming a German protectorate and disliked Monti’s tax increases. A general election has left Monti and his party almost invisible. There’s a stand-off in numbers between the Left under Pier Luigi Bersani, an old Communist, and the Right under a Silvio Berlusconi reviving from political death. Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement have polled enough votes to be on the same footing as the two main parties. Sixty-four and also an old Communist, Grillo is a comedian by profession. He looks, dresses, and behaves like an aging hippie. A natural demagogue, he knows how to touch a public nerve and air a prejudice. The incompetence and corruption of the entire political class is one of his favorite themes, and the pacifism of Iran is another. He recommends that Italy, in a clean sweep, break with the euro and return to the old lira. So he has one good idea, which may be enough.
George Galloway is a renegade British MP who has managed the startling feat of becoming the most boorish and obnoxious man in England while belonging to a political party with “Respect” in its title. In February, Galloway visited Christ Church College at the University of Oxford, at which he was supposed to debate a third-year student on the motion “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank.” The event didn’t last long. A few sentences into the opening speech, it became clear to Galloway that his opponent was an Israeli. Visibly upset, he stormed out. “I don’t debate with Israelis. I’ve been misled,” he shouted while throwing on his coat. This prompted disbelieving calls of “Racism!” from the crowd, but Galloway would not be moved. “Respect,” the party claims, stands for “Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade Unionism.” Perhaps they couldn’t think of an acronym that included “Anti-Semitism”?
In Canada in February, a black police officer was charged under a law called the Police Act for, as the Toronto Star dryly reported it, “not investigating racial taunts against himself.” Constable Dameian Muirhead was presented with “three counts of misconduct” for taking no action against drunk partygoers who allegedly insulted him for the color of his skin and told him that they’d “love to see [him] hanging from a tree.” York Regional Police had initially announced that it would seek Muirhead’s “dismissal or demotion” if he was found guilty on any of the charges. It has now changed its mind.
Former NBA great Dennis Rodman and three Harlem Globetrotters went on a basketball jaunt to North Korea, where they put on an exhibition for First Fan Kim Jong Un. Kim “had a blast at the game,” said Shane Smith, the American media exec who promoted the trip. “He invited them back to his home for a party [afterwards] and they had a grand old time.” Rodman, who watched the game from the sidelines, told Kim, “You have a friend for life,” and when he got back to America, he added that Kim is “a great guy.” After all the smiles over all the years, and all the corpses in all the graves, is there anyone who is such a rube that he does not know that there are despots in this sad world, and that they can put on a happy face when they want to? The answer is (and, it seems, always will be) yes.
The story has the makings of a Newbery Medal winner: Once upon a time there was a six-year-old boy named Coy who wanted to be a girl, so he started wearing pretty dresses and playing with dolls, and suddenly, through the magic of 21st-century political correctness, he was one! Everybody called Coy “she,” and treated Coy as a girl, and Coy lived happily ever after. Well, except when Coy had to go potty — because this is not a fairy tale but a real-life story, and all the magic and make-believe and diversity training in the world couldn’t change the fact that the girls at Eagleside Elementary School in Colorado were disturbed by sharing a bathroom with him. So Coy was barred from their bathroom. There are several gender-neutral bathrooms in the school that he is allowed to use. Since this is America, Coy’s parents have pulled Coy out of school and, inevitably, filed a civil-rights lawsuit.
Eating a breakfast pastry, Josh Welch chewed off bits of its perimeter with definite purpose, attempting to sculpt his food into the shape of a mountain, “but it didn’t look like a mountain, really,” the seven-year-old pupil at Park Elementary School in Baltimore later commented. “It turned out to be a gun, kinda.” The form that his failure to execute his artistic vision took was deemed an “inappropriate gesture” by school officials, who suspended him. Over in Montgomery County, Md., Rodney Lynch, six, was suspended from school for pointing his fingers at a female classmate, who “did the pow sound,” Lynch explained. “And then I got sent to the office again.” America’s teachers and principals won’t rest until the country is safe from harmless tomfoolery.
Our brother Human Events has been publishing since 1944. It will publish still, but on the Internet, only. Human Events has nurtured many a conservative, most prominently Ronald Reagan. His less-conservative aides used to hide it from him in the White House. Reagan managed to lay his hands on it anyway. We wish Human Events long life, whatever form it takes. And has any American publication ever had a better name?
So admired and popular did Dr. C. Everett Koop become, it’s hard to remember how hated he was by the liberal establishment when Ronald Reagan nominated him for surgeon general in 1981. “Dr. Unqualified,” the New York Times called him. “Dr. Kook,” said others. His confirmation took almost a year. Koop was an evangelical Christian, a pediatric surgeon, and a staunch opponent of abortion. Liberals said he would bring night down upon the country. Once in office, he wore a uniform, with braids and epaulets. He had a beard, and was routinely called “scary” by liberals. (What is it about a beard? Liberals were similarly spooked by Judge Bork’s beard.) They liked him a lot better, though, when he proved a crusader against smoking, which elites had begun to turn against. And his crusade against AIDS silenced the critics. Koop may have gone too far when he called himself “the health conscience of the country” — he was sometimes unable to resist grandiosity — but he was an excellent doctor, an excellent public servant, and an excellent man. His whole career, he said, was “dedicated to prolonging lives,” especially those of the “weak and powerless,” including the unborn. Koop has died at 96. R.I.P.
Van Cliburn was a rarity, namely, a celebrity from the world of classical music. He was also a figure in the Cold War. The pianist was famous early: at age 23, in fact, when he won the Gold Medal at the inaugural Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The year was 1958. The jury made sure to get Khrushchev’s approval before giving the top prize to this American. Back home, Cliburn received a hero’s welcome, including a ticker-tape parade up Broadway — the first-ever such parade accorded a musician. He was always famous, but his career was short-lived: He lost his nerve, in a way, and withdrew from concertizing. He played little after the 1960s. But he played very well, always. He was a brilliant musician, both instinctual and well trained. His first and most important teacher was his mother, to whom he was touchingly devoted. (He lived with her in his middle age.) He was especially good in Romantic music, to which he often lent a Classical sensibility. The Van Cliburn Competition, held in Fort Worth, is one of the most important piano competitions. After he won the Tchaikovsky, there was a reception at the Kremlin. Khrushchev gave him a hug and said, “Why are you so tall?” Cliburn answered, “Because I’m from Texas.” The tall, superb pianist from Texas has died, age 78. R.I.P.
In return for raising the debt ceiling in 2011, congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts. President Obama insisted that the spending cuts be across-the-board reductions weighted toward defense. Now those reductions in planned spending are finally happening.
It would have been much better to reduce the size of government in a considered and intelligent way. The portion of the budget most in need of reining in — the entitlement programs — is left untouched by the sequestration now under way. The president, however, refused to consider more sensible spending cuts unless the Republicans agreed to another tax increase just months after one had taken effect. Managers of government agencies could have been given discretion over which portions of their spending would be trimmed over the next few months, as an interim measure until Congress draws up a new budget. President Obama and congressional Democrats resisted any such measure in order to keep up the pressure for tax increases.
Those managers could have prepared for the sequestration by gradually reducing spending over the last few months. The administration twice ordered them not to plan ahead in this fashion, perhaps on the theory that Republicans would buckle and allow higher spending. Because of all of these decisions, the spending reductions, while mild as a percentage of the budget, will have an outsized impact on national defense.
Republicans have at times been unsure of what to say about sequestration, with some of them emphasizing that Obama is to blame for it and others saying it is a good thing. For now, though, the Republicans seem to have prevailed: Spending will not be raised above its post-sequestration levels — President Obama has conceded the point with respect to the “continuing resolution” to fund the government through September — and taxes will go no higher either. The president could regain the initiative during the debate over the resolution, but only if Republicans are foolish enough to give him the opportunity to blame them for a government shutdown.
Conservatives were right to resist increases in taxes and spending. They must not lose sight of the more important objective: reforming the welfare state to make it a better fit with the country’s needs and the Constitution’s design. Sequestration does not seriously advance this objective, and Democratic control of the White House and Senate places tight limits on how much progress can be made toward it.
What conservatives should do now is offer modest first steps on entitlement reform. A well-designed reduction in benefits for the highest earners could make a real dent in the debt projections, cause no hardship, and establish the precedent for bolder reforms in the future. If the administration balks, Republicans will have exposed its obduracy at no cost to themselves.