John Kerry says that climate change is a weapon of mass destruction. We assume that means that he will support a war against it, then bug out after a few years.
If there is a single lesson that the Obama administration is committed to not learning, it is that economics involves trade-offs. A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office contains what the administration must surely receive as good news: Its plan to raise the minimum wage to the Democrats’ new target of $10.10 could lift as many as 900,000 Americans out of poverty. The bad news is that it would cast 500,000 Americans into joblessness. Just in December, the president claimed that there is “no solid evidence” that raising the minimum wage costs jobs. Now there is. He is not changing his mind. That is because raising the minimum wage is not about raising wages, but about developing a wedge issue for the 2014 election. The scandal of the moment is not that the minimum wage is so low, but that in an Obama economy it is important to millions more people than it should be. The Democrats want to raise the minimum wage; the Republicans should concentrate on raising workers up from it.
Congress voted to raise the debt limit. It was the sensible thing to do, as the deficit cannot immediately be brought to zero in a responsible manner. It would have been better to couple that increase in the debt limit with a plan to scale back the federal programs for the elderly that are driving the federal government’s long-term debt problem. The debt ceiling has never seemed likely to be a way to force such action. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that Republicans have never been more unified in support of entitlement reform. The better news is that we have elections in a few months.
Federal judge Arenda Wright Allen, an Obama appointee, threw out Virginia’s law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In place of legal reasoning the decision contained a lot of editorializing, and not of a very high caliber: “We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.” “We the People,” you will recall, created a lawmaking process that did not involve the perfecting arts of judges. Wright Allen, on the other hand, might not recall that: The opening lines of her decision confused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. It is a fitting error, since the legal crusade for same-sex marriage has never shown the slightest concern for getting the law right.
The Obamacare mandate, which is currently set to kick in when a firm hires its hundredth employee, creates a very strong incentive for businesses with approximately 100 employees to lay off a few of them to avoid the mandate. Unsurprisingly, some businesses are responding to this incentive by laying off a few employees to avoid the mandate. Now the IRS has announced that businesses will be required to certify that they are not responding to economic incentives by laying off a few employees to avoid the mandate. That is the Obama philosophy in a nutshell: design a policy that creates perverse incentives and, when people begin to respond to those perverse incentives, have the IRS issue a decree reading: “There shall be no perverse incentives.” Having their economic interests working at odds with their sense of honesty vis-à-vis an IRS form is surely not a new experience to most American businesses, which is an indictment of sorts in and of itself, but the real tragedy of Obamacare’s perverse incentives is that they will remain regardless of what masterly prose goes out on IRS letterhead.
Matt Bevin, Mitch McConnell’s challenger in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, has the unenviable task of painting the minority leader as a RINO. One item of Bevin’s indictment is that in the disastrous fall of 2008 McConnell supported TARP. But so did Bevin: On October 28, Bevin, who was then president of Veracity Funds, an investment fund, told his investors in a report that TARP was a “positive development.” What both McConnell and, apparently, Bevin grasped in 2008 is that how to respond to a financial panic is a matter of judgment rather than the rigid application of principle. Unfortunately, Bevin seems to have taken the rigid application of principle as his campaign platform, which is why this story is not a positive development for him.
Having caved on everything else that her champions hold dear, Texas gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis went full circle in early February, dissembling even on the position for which she rose so quickly to fame. Expressing a vague antipathy toward abortions after 20 weeks, Davis explained that her “concern, even in the way the 20-week ban was written in this particular bill, was that it didn’t give enough deference between a woman and her doctor making this difficult decision, and instead tried to legislatively define what it was.” This, of course, is sophistry and nonsense, and Davis quickly walked it back. But that she has been reduced to peddling such equivocation demonstrates nicely that being the darling of the Left nationally is not the ticket to electoral success for a Texas Democrat. Since Davis announced her candidacy, she has taken conservative positions on firearms, taxes, education, fracking, and a host of other issues that are certain to upset her base. “Stand with Wendy,” the slogan commands. But that’s hard to do when she’s in motion.
The Obama administration is fond of blaming things on climate change. Among the events that it has falsely attributed to that impressively protean cause are the Central Great Plains drought of 2012, Hurricane Sandy, and the wildfires of the West. The latest crisis to be given the designation is the California drought, which the president and his staff claim is the product of mankind’s behavior, and which John Kerry recently used as an overture to his view that “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Inconveniently, the scientists on whom the White House so flippantly relies for comfort disagree. “I wish I had a really good answer for this,” Daniel Cayan, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told the San Jose Mercury News in January. But he doesn’t, so he’s admitted that California has had similar droughts in its history — including one in 1976–77 — and, like his colleagues and the wide environmental movement, has taken to “scratching his head.” Would that Obama could display such humility.
American labor unions have long relied on violence and intimidation to make dues-paying sheep out of workingmen, and Michigan’s Operating Engineers Local 324 is carrying on that tradition by publishing a hit list of workers who have declined to submit to its tutelage. The workers of Michigan, now a right-to-work state, have a choice about whether to join a union; the unions also have a choice about whether they include those non-members in their collective-bargaining agreements, which of course they always do, because they are attempting to defend a monopoly and do not wish to acknowledge that there are workers outside their jurisdiction. The Michigan union has begun publishing a list of “freeloaders,” as it calls them, non-members who are covered by its negotiations — even though they never asked to be. Which is to say, the union has labeled these men “freeloaders” for the receipt of alleged benefits they never sought, resulting from representation that the union in effect forced on them. It is typical of the modern labor movement that it can use the word “free” only in a pejorative.
Chattanooga-based Volkswagen employees, meanwhile, handily rejected a bid from the United Auto Workers to represent them. Millions of dollars in UAW money and a xenophobic tirade from President Obama, who framed the vote as a contest between the interests of “American workers” and “German shareholders,” could not move them, and the UAW went down in glorious ignominy. Non-union autoworkers in right-to-work states, who build everything from Mercedes SUVs to Japanese economy cars, are paid about what new hires at UAW shops are paid these days, but they are not obliged to tithe to unions, and their productivity is not hobbled by byzantine UAW work rules, a recent volume of which weighed in at 22 pounds. The desperate UAW, which has lost some 75 percent of its membership in recent decades, can be counted on to keep trying to unionize the so-called transplant factories, and without much resistance from the managements, which naïvely believe that their collaborative working relationships with their European and Japanese unions can be replicated with such an organization as the UAW. Unions are the enemies of workers, and, increasingly, vice versa.
Obama has nominated Debo Adegbile to be the assistant attorney general for civil rights. Adegbile is a leftist: a champion of racial quotas, a believer in “customary international law” when American law proves inconvenient, etc. He defended Mumia Abu Jamal, the Left’s favorite cop-killer. (Abu Jamal killed Philadelphia officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.) He will, in short, fit in well at Eric Holder’s Justice Department. Republicans, who are tempted for good reason to campaign against Obamacare this fall, should not neglect to mention the president’s other offenses against sound and constitutional governance — and this nominee is a fine exhibit.
We agree with President Obama that “the killing of innocents is never fulfilling God’s will,” as he declared at the National Prayer Breakfast in February. We wish he agreed with himself. Only a decade ago in the Illinois state legislature he fought legislation to protect the lives of some infants born after attempted abortions. “Freedom of religion matters to national security,” he said, again at the prayer breakfast, seven weeks before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear cases involving the HHS mandate requiring even citizens with religious objections to subsidize abortifacients for their employees. Here too the president’s actions clash with his words, and we agree with his words, as far as they go — freedom of religion is more than a means to an end. It may matter to national security, but it also matters, period.
When he ran for president in 2008, Barack Obama said that President Bush had blown U.S. foreign policy, embarrassing our friends, creating new enemies, and besmirching our good name. He would do things differently. Have you listened to his latest ambassadorial nominees? They are bundlers — big campaign donors — and bunglers. The proposed ambassador to Norway was a laughingstock at his hearing. He has never been to Norway. The proposed ambassador to Iceland has never been to that country, either — which is not so bad, because how many people go to Iceland? But the bundler who is slated for Argentina has never been to Argentina — which has been a fashionable destination for years. Rich kids like to hike in Patagonia, and they also like to hang out in “B.A.” (Buenos Aires). The bundler slated for Hungary was a laughingstock, like the bundler slated for Norway. An unofficial slogan for Obama’s reelection campaign turns out to have been “Binders full of bundlers.”
Senator Rand Paul, represented by former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, filed a lawsuit claiming that the NSA’s collection of telephone “metadata” (usage records but not content of communications) violates the Fourth Amendment. It is a publicity stunt, not a serious constitutional challenge. Paul styles himself a “constitutional conservative” in the Framers’ mold. But the Framers’ Fourth Amendment protects four categories of intimate personal property — one’s person, home, papers, and effects. Phone records are the property of service providers, not Paul and other phone subscribers. Unable to rely on the original Fourth Amendment, Paul claims an “expectation of privacy” in the records. But the same progressive Supreme Court that legislated that addendum to the Fourth Amendment squarely held in 1979 that phone users do not have such an expectation: They knowingly “convey” usage information (e.g., number dialed, time, and duration) to service providers. Besides being legally frivolous, Paul’s suit overstates the NSA’s record collection (it is reportedly about 20 percent of usage, not all 300 million Americans’ records) and concedes that the NSA does not keep names and addresses, just phone numbers. The claimed Constitution-shredding plays better in fundraising letters than it will in court.
In February, Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights to ex-convicts. Predictably, Holder focused on imagined racial antipathy and failed to address his opponents’ actual argument: that societies may reasonably exclude from their lawmaking processes people who have shown that they do not respect the law enough to follow it, and, too, that it is justifiable for polities to require the allegedly redeemed to demonstrate that they have changed. Holder has a point: Too many Americans are denied the vote in perpetuity. But his remedy sweeps too broadly. Rather than simply restore voting to all, a better approach would be to treat the reentry of citizens into society as we treat the naturalization of immigrants: First impose a period of time in which the individual is expected to stay out of trouble, then review the felon’s record in depth, and, finally, hold a formal ceremony in which rights are restored. A missed opportunity.
Obama’s Pyrrhic Stimulus
If it were Kevin Hassett’s turn to occupy this space, it’s a good bet he would be writing about the stimulus, which just turned five years old. He might even have a chart (hopefully a pie, as I like pies). How much did it cost? How was the money spent? How much return did we get on the “investment”? Etc.
The White House has its own, selective, answers to such questions. Five years ago it popularized the locution “saved or created.” With its latest apologia it introduced another novel yardstick: “job years.”
Now of course, measuring employment in units of time is not unheard of, but politicians normally just brag about the jobs, not the job years. When they roll out a new term, you know it’s because the old one was inconvenient. The chief benefit of “created or saved” was that it was unfalsifiable. As I like to say, I do or save 500 push-ups every morning. So it is with job years. By measuring the amount of aggregate work being done, the White House could hide the fact that a lot of it was temporary make-work. Like a plate of chicken wings at a Super Bowl party, one minute the jobs were there and everyone was excited, another and they were gone. Five years on, there’s very little to show for it, save perhaps some liquidation-sale-priced Solyndra coffee mugs and mousepads.
But I will leave the economic value of the stimulus to Hassett and his fellow warlocks. Because the real cost of the stimulus was political, not financial. Indeed, as I’ve been arguing for years now, it cost Barack Obama much of his presidency.
People forget now, but before the stimulus the president had a real mandate to do something about the economic crisis. He was riding high in the polls. The question of whether he was a moderate was a live issue. And many Republicans were either eager to work with him or afraid to be seen opposing the first black president too stridently.
I remember talking to a political consultant back then who — with the sort of cynicism one wants, or at least expects, in assassins and political operatives — fretted that Obama would give the Republicans a slice of the stimulus to do with as they pleased. Let the appropriators and logrollers wet their beaks and they just might sign on to the whole thing. Not all of them, but more than enough to make the thing bipartisan in the eyes of the press and the public. If that had happened, the economy would have been a bipartisan disaster, and the tea parties might well have become a third party before the midterms, possibly leaving Nancy Pelosi in charge.
But the Democrats were greedy and the president naïve. He thought he could claim the stimulus was bipartisan if there were “tax cuts” in it, even if he never consulted with Republicans and the tax cuts were not in fact tax cuts (much like his later insistence that Obamacare was bipartisan because Romneycare had an individual mandate). As a result, the Republican caucus balked, almost unanimously.
As a result, the Democrats kept ownership of the economy and the Republicans learned they could defy the White House without paying a political price (Lyndon Johnson would have co-opted Republican allies upfront or punished dissenters with their favorite horse’s head in their bed the day after the vote). In fact, GOP opposition played well back home, encouraging even more opposition. Washington was poisoned.
And now we’re all looking.
As the cost of college continues to increase, the wage premium enjoyed by degree-holders continues to grow, too. But a new report from Pew finds that this isn’t so reassuring. Holders of today’s pricey college diplomas aged 25 to 32 earn 62 percent more than high-school grads, whereas early Baby Boomers earned just 30 percent more at the same age if they had a degree. Why is it widening? Millennial college graduates are earning more, but just 8 percent more after adjusting for inflation. The bigger difference: Median earnings of twentysomethings with just a high-school degree are 13 percent lower than they were in 1979, when the Boomers were the age the Millennials are now. Worse, spending time at college without getting a degree saddles young adults with debt without giving them much earning power. Sending more kids to college — the typical politician’s response to the college premium — is no solution to this problem. We need growth in the economy more than in college enrollment.
In 1884, Congress passed a law authorizing the Internal Revenue Service to “regulate the practice of representatives of persons before the Department of the Treasury.” It used that authority to enforce standards for lawyers (for example) representing taxpayers in an audit. In 2011, the IRS decided that it could use the language to regulate tax-return preparers as well. Three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals have now struck down the IRS power grab because the preparers are manifestly not representing or acting as agents of their clients, let alone doing so “before the Department of the Treasury.” If the IRS wants to impose these regulations, it will have to get Congress to authorize them — or wait until Obama appoints judges who are less concerned about the separation of powers.
New York City’s new Sandinista mayor, Bill de Blasio, has gotten off to a predictable start: using the machinery of city governance to punish the political enemies of the public-sector unions who put him in power. Those enemies are children — and de Blasio means to ruin their schools. Tens of thousands of New York children attend the city’s nearly 200 charter schools, which are public schools that are administered with some autonomy from the city’s unions. The previous administration had budgeted $210 million to bolster charter-school operations, and de Blasio proposes to seize it. Astoundingly, he also proposes to begin charging these schools — which are, we emphasize, New York City public schools — rent. Because New York real estate is so expensive, most charters are “co-located,” meaning that they are housed in buildings that also house traditional schools, putting unused space to useful ends. New York’s charter schools have excellent records, and parents clamor to get their children into them. But the unions will brook no competition, especially competition that shows them up.
Canadian journalist Tarek Fatah received a note in January from a student at the University of California, Berkeley: “I’ve been told by one of my professors I will be required, as part of my grade, to start a Twitter account and tweet weekly on Islamophobia. I can’t help but feel this is unethical. This is his agenda not mine.” The assignment was for a class titled “Asian American Studies 132AC: Islamophobia,” taught by lecturer Hatem Bazian, the co-founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization that lobbies against Israeli “apartheid” and in favor of divestment. Fatah wrote to Bazian to inquire why he was using students in a “political exercise to propagate a specific message to the Twitterverse.” The lecturer explained that “my course is designated as an American culture community engagement scholarship class.” That “Islamophobia” is a salient feature of American culture is not open to debate, apparently: Fatah notes that “no student I have seen on Twitter has yet posted a tweet saying Islamophobia is a myth, nor has any student challenged the validity of the term.” One suspects such tweets might not earn top marks from Bazian.
As the deadline by which Connecticut residents were required to register their newly redefined “assault weapons” came and went, it began to dawn on politicians of all stripes that they might have pushed their employers a step too far. Explaining that as few as 15 percent of owners may have complied with the rule, Republican state senator Tony Guglielmo told the Hartford Courant: “I honestly thought from my own standpoint that the vast majority would register. If you pass laws that people have no respect for and they don’t follow them, then you have a real problem.” Thus, in a fit of misbegotten passion, has the state of Connecticut created enough felons to run a small city. And why? Because lawmakers became irrationally obsessed with a type of rifle that is used so infrequently in crimes that the FBI doesn’t even bother to keep track of the numbers.
The Olympic movement had a worthy political goal: offering an opportunity for displays of national pride, in a forum of respectful brotherhood. The logistics of sponsorship, however, dictate that when the host country is despotic, despotism infects the proceedings. Contemporary Russia is not Communist China or the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, previous Olympic hosts. But it is a lumbering, ambitious, thuggish state that plunked a winter Olympics in a summer resort, splurged billions on slapdash construction, and confers hosting privileges on Vladimir Putin, the bargain-basement czar. NBC, the television rhapsode of the event, gabbles about Russia’s Soviet past as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments” (which is true — but what of the results?). Western journalists make fun of their lousy hotels, then go back to covering the figure skaters. It is all a little sad, a little sordid, and utterly predictable.
We are only two months into 2014, but we may have the Statement of the Year already. T. J. Oshie starred in a U.S. hockey win over Russia in Sochi. Told he was a hero back home, Oshie responded, “American heroes are wearing camo. That’s not me.”
In the act of criticizing the Vatican for its response to the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child threw the ball away. Here was an opportunity to strengthen the hand of Church leaders who advocate maximum preventative measures, maximum transparency, and maximum solicitude toward victims. Instead, the committee badly confused matters with the report it issued in Geneva last month. Besides including among its recommendations policies that Church spokesmen say have already been instituted, it urged the Holy See to change its teachings on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, this last item offered up, without irony, in a document grounded in a professed concern to protect children. Not noted in much of the coverage of this controversy: The U.N. itself, with its ineffectual response to the sexual abuse of minors by U.N. peacekeepers, has a worse record on this issue than does the institution to which it’s preaching.
Ukraine, which had been edging away from the threat of civil conflict, has jumped headlong into a revolutionary struggle that may mutate into civil war. On February 18, parliament debated a bill to restore constitutional limits to the president’s power, but the measure was killed on procedural grounds by the speaker, who was widely assumed to have acted on instructions from President Viktor Yanukovych, who is in turn widely suspected of doing the bidding of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Demonstrators tried to march to parliament but police blocked them. Clashes erupted, and the day descended into battles and bloodshed. Clashes took place elsewhere in Kiev and around the country. The opposition, both in the streets and in parliament, should have the sympathy of everyone outside the Kremlin. Ukraine is facing a civil war almost solely as a result of Putin’s aggressive determination to regain control of Russia’s most important colony. That must influence the West in dealing with Russia over the whole range of foreign policy. The reset button will have to be reset.
The European Union gets nervous at the thought of too much democracy: Any member that lets its citizens vote on a treaty and gets the wrong answer is bluntly told to try again. This is one reason Switzerland, with its long tradition of binding referenda, has never joined. Now the EU is gearing up to punish the yodel yokels who, by a hair-thin margin, have just voted to greatly restrict immigration into Switzerland. Imagine, letting the people decide for themselves whether they want a huge influx of foreigners! José Manuel Barroso, president of the open-borders-happy European Commission, warned of “severe consequences” for the uppity Swiss, and unamused Eurocrats called off scheduled negotiations on a variety of EU–Swiss agreements. We are not uncritical fans of direct democracy, or of every European nationalist party that took heart from the Swiss result; but it is refreshing to see citizens wresting control of this important issue from the great and the good. If only we could pull off the same trick in this country . . .
As we go to press, Venezuela is imploding, and exploding. There have been massive street demonstrations, in which three have been killed. The so-called president, Nicolás Maduro, has banned further demonstrations. In 1998, Hugo Chávez was elected, legitimately. Then he went about the Castroization of the country. He worked hand in glove with the Castros, and so has his successor, Maduro, who took power when Chávez died last year. Independent media have been strangled. The shelves are bare, as happens when socialist thugs seize power. Maduro, in a gesture intended to deflect blame, has expelled three U.S. diplomats. At this point, the United States should do all it can to support Venezuelans who long for the democratic country they once had.
Belgium’s parliament approved a law making it legal for doctors to kill children. The measure, which extends Belgium’s 2002 euthanasia law to minors, requires that children be experiencing “constant and unbearable suffering” and show a “capacity of discernment” in order to request death at the hands of their physicians. Parents must give written consent, and a psychologist must determine that the child is capable of understanding the consequences of his choice. The Socialist-party senator who sponsored the legislation, and who is a doctor, dismissed the idea that children were not capable of making such a choice by saying that suffering tends to make them more mature than many adults. “This is an act of humanity,” he told the New York Times. No, it is an act of barbarism.
The penniless swindler, the impotent seducer, the despised demagogue — moralists who are jokers (and vice versa) can come up with endless variations on the theme of nemesis, but nothing beats the real-life instance of the jihadist instructor in a camp north of Baghdad who carelessly used live ammunition in a bomb-making class and detonated himself and 21 of his students. The story did not have an entirely happy ending: Fifteen would-be terrorists were merely wounded. Ordinary Iraqis laughed at the mayhem. They should laugh whenever they can: Terrorist violence in Iraq has reached the levels of 2007, as the hard-earned gains of the surge have been frittered away.
Facebook now gives its users 51 genders to choose from, but who’s counting? Sex, in modern argot, refers to biology, but gender is what we pick for ourselves. Man has always been able to cultivate and violate his nature: It is his glory, and his temptation. The revolutions and upheavals of the last century applied that freedom to love and eros. But in the third act came the academy: haven from ordinary life, preserve of niche-making careerists, and pool of willful and impressionable kids. From these materials gender theory has constructed a new scholasticism, replete with terms such as “agender,” “neutrois,” and “two-spirit.” Us, we’ll sing along with Alberta Hunter: I want a two-fisted, double-jointed, rough and ready agender. I want a hard-working, no-shirking, good and steady agender . . .
Back in October, Brian Farnan, a student leader at McGill University in Montreal, sent an e-mail to his classmates to cheer them up during midterms week. “Honestly midterms get out of here,” it read, and included a doctored photo of President Obama kicking a door. Several students complained that the photo was a form of racial microagression — a politically correct term for those “everyday insults, indignities, and demeaning messages sent to people of color.” In January, three months after the incident occurred, Farnan was forced to issue a formal apology, by the Equity Committee of the Students’ Society of McGill University. His punishment was light, really: He could have been suspended and lost his leadership position. “The image in question was an extension of the cultural, historical and living legacy surrounding people of color — particularly young men — being portrayed as violent in contemporary culture in media,” Farnan wrote in his apology e-mail. “I am deeply sorry.” Farnan has nothing to be sorry for, and his punishment is an affront to free speech. On the bright side, perhaps the student complainants have a future at MSNBC?
With the death of the traditional liberal-arts education and the subsequent expansion of acceptable subjects of study to include whatever one can put the word “studies” after, it seems that nowadays just about anything is considered worth learning about. Perhaps it is under this guise of an “expansive” and “well-rounded” education that the University of Michigan, a public institution, hosted a Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, and Masochism class titled “Kink for Beginners” as part of a three-day-long sex-a-palooza on campus, Sexpertise 2014. The kink class promised to teach students about “safety, communication, and other tips” as well as about the basic “concepts” of BDSM. Lesson one: The taxpayers are the masochists.
The women of Wellesley College awoke one recent morning to find, in the middle of a snow-covered campus lawn, a hyper-realistic, eerily banal statue of a nearly naked male sleepwalker: eyes closed, arms outstretched, belly sagging, mouth agape, and, creepiest of all, wearing tighty-whities (boxers with the Harvard seal would have been much less threatening to Wellesley’s impressionable bluestockings). Many of the students at Hillary Clinton’s alma mater said the statue reminded them of an obnoxiously lecherous older man; the campus museum’s director replied that she was glad to see everyone talking about art. A petition to have it removed attracted more than 500 signatures, with the sculptor no doubt mentally converting each one into a hundred-dollar bill; it was the biggest controversy since last fall’s uproar over whether the presence of “transgender nonconforming” students makes it “cis-sexist” to call Wellesley “all-female.” Does Facebook have a category for somnambulistic trans-statues?
Aficionados of 1970s – ’80s Los Angeles punk rock fondly remember bands like the Weirdos, the Urinals, and the Germs, but reigning supreme was the band X, whose early albums still show up on many critics’ best-of lists. Their songs chronicled drug abuse, sex, crime, and betrayal on the fringes of L.A.’s demimonde; but now lead singer Exene Cervenka has put away punkish things and, like the people Troy Senik writes about elsewhere in this issue, is fleeing California — for, of all places, Texas. She explains to Rolling Stone: “When I moved to California in 1976 . . . it was barefoot hippie girls, Hells Angels on the Sunset Strip, East L.A. lowriders, the ocean and nature. It was this fabulous incredible place about freedom. Now when I think about California, I think of a liberal oppressive police state and regulations and taxes and fees. . . . It makes me happy when I see people in Texas open-carrying. It makes me feel safe. I’m not even a gun owner, but I’d like to see a gun rack in every pickup truck, like my boyfriend had when I was fifteen years old in Florida. An armed society is a polite society.” After all these years, punk rockers are still finding ways to outrage conventional sensibilities.
The most famous tree in golf was “Ike’s Tree,” the pine on the 17th hole at Augusta National that made the tee shot on that hole tricky. The tree is no more: It was felled by a rare ice storm in Georgia. Eisenhower would be very pleased. The tree was named for him because he was so frustrated by it. (Ike was a member of Augusta National from 1948 until his death in 1969.) In 1956, when he was president, he proposed having the tree removed. The club fathers said, “Nothing doing.” Augusta National is the last place that some people would consider democratic. But can you imagine anything more democratic than a golf club’s telling the president of the United States, who had won World War II, to stuff it?
Her married name for 55 years was Shirley Temple Black, but she made her name as Shirley Temple, child star of the late Thirties. In the YouTube clips of her hoofing it with the great tap dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson, her precocious professionalism and her spunky personality still shine. When age shoved her out of stardom — she could play a sprite, not a Venus — she did not implode into booze and aimlessness. She raised money to treat multiple sclerosis, competed in a Republican primary for a congressional seat (she lost), and had a useful career as a diplomat, serving as a delegate to the United Nations and ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, taking the last post in 1989. She cheered America in the Depression, and was in at the death of Communism. Dead at 85. R.I.P.
How good was Sid Caesar? Consider the testimony of WFB, who, one night in the very early Fifties, turned on the television (still a newish device) and thought he had lost his senses; there was a man speaking French, but WFB, who was fluent, could not understand a word. Then the penny dropped: It was Sid Caesar, giving one of his arias of doubletalk. Yakking like a furriner was only one of the many routines by which Caesar ruled Saturday night. American popular entertainment has continuities running right back to vaudeville and minstrel shows, yet every new medium needs pioneers who find just the right spin for the old shtick. Caesar was TV’s first funnyman. His middle years were wasted by depression and drink, but he came out of it finally, welcomed back to sanity by the legions of his comic protégés. Dead at 91. R.I.P.
The debate over Obamacare has hit a holding pattern of positive spin and disappointing results. Enrollments in the exchanges are up, supporters crow. That’s true enough, but the administration is not on track to hit its goal of 6 million by the end of March, a goal that has already been revised downward. (At the end of September, Kathleen Sebelius, asked to define what success would look like, said “at least” 7 million.) The exchanges seem to be enrolling a lower percentage of young people than the administration had sought, too.
The administration announced another delay in the employer mandate, this time for businesses with 50 to 99 employees, so long as they swear they have not downsized to that level of employment to escape the mandate. That’s not a sign of health for Obamacare — or for the rule of law. The law sets a date certain for the implementation of the employer mandate, and it makes no distinction between mid-sized and large companies. The administration is rewriting the law as it goes along.
Obamacare seems likely to expand health-insurance coverage by a modest amount but at huge expense. Republican senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch have outlined a proposal that would achieve more for less — including less coercion. Their Republican colleagues should make the case for that alternative. In the meantime, they should again push to delay the employer mandate through legislation rather than presidential edict, to delay the individual mandate as well, and to bar the door against any taxpayer bailout of insurers that lose money in the exchanges.
Conservatives have a relatively simple task: In the short run, limit the damage of Obamacare and weaken the coalition behind it; in the long run, build support for a better way. In the interim, liberals seem likely to speak of Obamacare as though not imploding counts as an achievement. They do not have much else to brag about.
The phrase “Clinton fatigue” entered the political lexicon during the previous century; by this point, we surely must have entered the age of Chronic Clinton-Fatigue Syndrome. But the recent making public of the so-called Hillary Papers — the notes kept by her close friend Diane Blair during Mrs. Clinton’s tumultuous White House years, as reported by the Washington Free Beacon — sheds additional light on the character of the “co-presidents” who just will not go away.
It transpires to nobody’s great surprise that Mrs. Clinton was more than a passive victim in the sexual scandal that preceded her husband’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. She was a callous political calculator who bemoaned not her husband’s mere infidelity but the lack of discretion he exhibited in initiating a dalliance with a “narcissistic loony toon” — her description of Monica Lewinsky — rather than limiting his adultery to somebody who would be easier to “manage,” in Mrs. Blair’s paraphrase. But Mrs. Clinton’s contempt was not limited to Miss Lewinsky: When Senator Bob Packwood found himself in trouble over allegations of sexual harassment — inconveniencing Mrs. Clinton, who had been counting on his support for her health-care scheme — the first lady complained that she had grown “tired of all these whiney women,” according to Mrs. Blair’s papers.
The Clintons are our national grotesques. At the height of the Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton, who had immovable support among black voters, began using black leaders as the political equivalent of human shields — Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus prominent among them — while his minions smeared prosecutor Ken Starr, characterizing him as a racist, a sex fanatic, and a monomaniac. President Clinton strutted into church waving a Bible the size of a telephone directory while Democrats painted his critics as the second coming of Roger Chillingworth, if not Padre Torquemada.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, after bitterly dismissing the cookie-baking, “Stand by Your Man” model of wifehood, did precisely that. (The chocolate-chip-cookie recipe she shared with Good Housekeeping was excellent; Bill would later plagiarize a cookie recipe for a cook-off against Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama.) After being humiliated by her husband, she apparently grew accustomed to humiliation: How else to explain such performances as her remarkable Stepin Fetchit impersonation — “Ah don’ feel no-waze tahred” — for the benefit of the First Baptist Church in Selma, Ala.?
Mrs. Clinton, an inevitable candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, can be counted on to use the Democrats’ “war on women” rhetoric to advance her cause, even though she was, according to the papers of a woman she described as her “best friend,” a main enabler of a very nasty campaign against a great many politically inconvenient women — not only Miss Lewinsky and those who endured Senator Packwood’s attentions, but all the women whom the Arkansas political mafia, commanded so ably by James Carville, portrayed as “sluts,” “trailer trash,” etc. President Clinton used women for his own ends; so does his wife.
Senator Rand Paul, who has made a point of drawing attention to this new material about the Clintons, is right to do so. He is mistaken if he thinks that he can use this to knock the woman generally regarded as the most competitive Democrat out of the 2016 field. The fact is that Republicans could not beat the Clintons with this material back when the president was sodomizing interns in the Oval Office and semen-stained dresses were being spirited around Washington. The material will have even less political efficacy all these years later. It may be of some historical interest to have a few more grains on the scales with which we weigh out the measure of the Clintons’ personal and political corruption, but that judgment is long since past. Fortunately, Mrs. Clinton’s career in the Senate and, especially, in the State Department, where she was predictably dishonest but unexpectedly incompetent, provides much evidence in the ongoing case against her presidential campaign. That campaign began before many of 2016’s voters were born, and most Millennials do not know what a cattle future is, anyway.