National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

U.S. soldiers walk past an image of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, Iraq, December 27, 2003. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict — countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and claimed that if Saddam was still in power we “wouldn’t have the problems you have right now,“ I believed he was dead wrong. As I argued then, from the moment Hussein took power until he was deposed in 2003, there were few greater instruments of instability in the world than Saddam Hussein.

Before he was allegedly “contained” by constant, substantial American military deployments, he invaded his neighbors, gassed his people, harbored and supported terrorists, and was responsible for not one but two of the largest conventional military conflicts since World War II — the horrific Iran–Iraq war and Operation Desert Storm. Even after American containment efforts attempted to lock into place and limit his malign reach, he was a prime supporter of a deadly Palestinian suicide-bombing campaign that caused proportionately more Israeli civilian casualties than American civilians lost on 9/11, he tried to assassinate an American president — George H. W. Bush — and he routinely fired on American pilots enforcing lawful no-fly zones. He violated the Gulf War cease-fire accords, interfered with weapons inspections, and hid away chemical weapons by the thousands. No, his WMD program wasn’t nearly as extensive as we thought, but it is fiction to believe his weapons were entirely gone. Americans were injured by Saddam’s chemicals during the war.

Moreover, it’s easy to forget that before Barack Obama’s terrible decision to withdraw in 2011, the Iraq War had been won. Saddam was gone, the follow-on insurgency had been wiped-out — reduced to a few hundred fighters scattered in a vast country — and American and Iraqi forces were masters of the battlefield. Joe Biden asserted that Americans would look at Iraq as “one of the great achievements of this administration.” But Obama withdrew too soon. He squandered American gains, opened the door to unrestrained factionalism, and left the fragile Iraqi nation vulnerable to renewed jihadist assault.

And lest we think that non-intervention can’t also carry a terrible price, we can’t forget the Ba’athist dictator we left alone, Hafez al-Assad. His nation was caught up in the unrest and ferment of the Arab Spring — a movement that began far from the Iraq War. His nation has since become a charnel house, and not only did it spark a refugee crisis that has helped destabilize Europe, but it became the battleground where the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq were reborn as ISIS, a genocidal force that invaded a weakened Iraq from Syria, ignited yet another phase of the Iraq War, and inspired a renewed wave of terror in the Europe (and deadly attacks in the United States). Non-intervention does not always bring peace, and the consequences can include death on a mass scale.

While I believe the war against Saddam represented the best of a series of bad options, there is no question that our intervention in Iraq was marred by two very costly mistakes. I’ve already mentioned one — Obama’s premature withdrawal. The first mistake belongs to George W. Bush and his commanders. It’s by now quite clear that we invaded with insufficient force to properly secure the country and then compounded that error with early blunders after Saddam was deposed. We not only failed to secure vast quantities of munitions, we disbanded the Iraqi Army and then pursued seriously flawed counterinsurgency tactics before righting the ship during the Surge. Bush’s mistakes made the war more costly. Obama’s mistakes gave room for the ISIS offensive and necessitated renewed American involvement in Iraq. Both men eventually corrected their errors. Bush reinforced American forces as his commanders changed tactics, and Obama put boots back on the ground to help save Iraq from potential collapse.

More than 4,400 Americans died during Operation Iraqi Freedom, including men I served with and loved like brothers. They died in a just cause fighting enemies of this country — a regime and an insurgency that in different ways threatened vital American interests and actively sought to kill Americans and our allies. War is horrible, and the Iraq War is no exception to that rule. Civilian casualties were terrible and often intentionally inflicted by our enemies to destabilize the country and inflame sectarian divisions. But I truly believe the choice our nation faced was to fight Saddam then, on our terms, or later, when he had recovered more of his nation’s strength and lethality. The United States is safer with him gone. It’s just a terrible shame that for a time we chose to throw away a victory bought with the blood of brave men.


There’s a Partisan Fiction at the Heart of the Case against the Electoral College

Voters at a polling place at John Jay College in New York, November 6, 2012. (Chip East/Reuters)

On the substance of the defense of the Electoral College, consider me four-square behind our editorial today. This paragraph is key:

In our era of viciously divisive politics, the states are arguably more necessary than they have ever been. Critics of the Electoral College bristle at the insistence that it prevents New York and California from imposing their will on the rest of the country. But the Electoral College guarantees that candidates who seek the only nationally elected office in America must attempt to appeal to as broad a geographic constituency as possible — large states and small, populous and rural — rather than retreating to their preferred pockets and running up the score. The alternative to this arrangement is not less political contention or a reduction in anger; it is more of both.

If anyone thinks the American republic would remain stable if political power is consolidated in coastal urban enclaves, then they lack understanding of American history, American culture, and human nature. The founders struck a balance between state and federal power for good reasons — reasons that remain valid today.

But can we get real for a moment? While there are some constitutional scholars who carry on this debate based on high-minded concerns about the nature of American democracy, the real energy behind the Democratic anger at the Electoral College (and behind the Republican defense of it, for that matter) is purely partisan. They look at the national popular vote since 1992 and see exactly one Republican win but three Republican presidencies. Since George H. W. Bush’s rout of Michael Dukakis, only his son has managed a popular-vote victory.

So, if we abolish the Electoral College, the Democrats win, right? Not so fast. The Democrats are basing their optimism in part on “success” in a political race that no one is actually running. There is not a single sensible political strategist who has ever plotted out a presidential race for the purpose of winning the popular vote. That’s like game-planning to run the most total yards or to shoot the most free throws.

The bottom line is that no one can state with confidence who would have won the 2016 race if the national popular vote determined the outcome. The strategy would be completely different. Candidates would message differently, campaign in different states, and engage in radically different ad buys. Perhaps Hillary Clinton would have won. Perhaps not. We simply don’t know. In fact, outside of the true blowout elections, we don’t really know who would have won any of the close national contests since 1992.

And let’s not pretend that a national popular vote elevates every citizen’s vote in a way that the Electoral College does not. Your vote counts in each state, and the fact that your state is overwhelmingly red or blue is no more or less demoralizing than the popular-vote idea that your single vote is thrown into a pool of 130 million others.

Besides, if we want to talk about antidemocratic institutions — and the vastly disproportionate impact of a few, small states on national elections — the real culprit isn’t the Electoral College. It’s a primary system that places extraordinary emphasis on the power of winning the first three primaries. We live in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina’s America, and that’s far more troubling than perpetuating an electoral system that our founders wisely determined was helpful for maintaining national unity.

Health Care

Trump Proposes Medicare Cuts

My latest Bloomberg column notes the significant Medicare cuts in the president’s 2020 budget. These stand in stark contrast to his 2016 campaign rhetoric, in which he presented himself as guarding Medicare (and Social Security) against his Republican primary opponents, and even against Hillary Clinton. And they are especially significant in light of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who want to expand Medicare.

I’m with the president on this one. Three cheers for slowing the growth of Medicare.

Some of the cuts are very well designed because they would change the structure and underlying incentives of certain Medicare components. For example, physicians working in offices owned by, but not located in, hospitals would no longer be paid more for services than physicians working in offices not owned by hospitals. Other cuts are simply blunt reductions in payments to providers. The proposed budget is awarded 1.5 cheers for the way the overall cuts are designed.

To build off the president’s Medicare plan, we need more of the former types of cuts and less of the latter, which I discuss in the column.

Brace yourself for the 2020 Medicare wars.


Postmodernism Turns Education into Indoctrination

So argues Rockford University philosophy professor Stephen Hicks in today’s Martin Center article:

Most of us encountered old-fashioned indoctrinators in our education. Indoctrinators think this way: There is the One Truth. I am in possession of it. So important is it that students must believe it. Alternative ideas are a waste of time—and a temptation to unformed minds—and should be shunned. So as a teacher I will use my authority and my power to instill only the correct ideas.

Unfortunately, many college professors are like that and those who espouse postmodernism are extremely likely to use their classrooms to train students to be activists rather than to present ideas for them to ponder. Hicks quotes Duke University professor Frank Lentricchia, who declared that the  postmodern educator’s task is to train students to “spot, confront, and work against the political horrors of one’s time.” The result is a lot of angry young people who can’t wait to do something to fight everything they’ve been programmed to hate. But because they reject the idea of objective truth, they are ill-equipped to figure out what really merits opposition.

The educational malpractice of postmodernism, Hicks concludes, needs to be challenged with every fiber of our being.


A Southern Parent’s Take on the Admissions Scandal

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) throws a pass against the Clemson Tigers during the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game, January 8, 2019. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Few things can more quickly remind you of the vast cultural divides — even between middle-class and upper-middle-class — than a juicy Ivy League admissions scandal. It’s the talk of the coastal parenting class, and it barely penetrates the conversation down here in Tennessee — except as a curiosity. Aunt Becky did what?

One of the benefits of growing up in the South and living for some time in places such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia is that you can see the often startlingly different ways similar socio-economic classes can approach parenting, depending on different regional and religious backgrounds. We just moved from a more-rural community in Tennessee to the best school district in the state, and even here outright obsession with getting into the top university is considered just a little strange. Yes, there’s a presumption your kid will go to college, but the University of Tennessee, Ole Miss, or Alabama are all just fine, thank you very much.

The overall attitude towards college goes something like this — have fun (but not too much fun), check the box, and get started on real life. That’s not to say that the southern parent is completely chill and well-adjusted compared to northern Tiger Moms and the family project to get into Harvard. Our vice is sports. And I don’t just mean elite-level sports. If you have a kid who wants to compete at virtually any decently competitive high-school level, then just say goodbye to your family’s social life. Get ready to jam family vacations into shrinking windows. And learn to love the travel team.

Yes, I know northern parents are on the sports treadmill also, but I’ve probably had ten travel-team conversations for every one discussion of academics. My son played basketball and football. My oldest daughter’s volleyball team twice made it to the Elite Eight in her division. If there’s going to be a bribery scandal involving southern doctors and lawyers’ kids, there’s more of a chance that it involves paying money to put them actually on the team, not to fake that they’re playing.

But there is a common cultural strain — whether you live in the North or South, on the coasts or in the Heartland, childhood for is just different than it used to be. It’s far more scheduled. It’s far more focused. While some kids are supplementing academics with tutoring, musical instruments, and activism. Some (like my son, at the height of his football career) were leaving for practice early in the morning and not finishing practice, conditioning, weightlifting and film sessions until late in the afternoon. Football was a job. Make no mistake, he loved that job, but it still consumed his life for the vast majority of the year.

So most of us here in SEC country feel pretty far removed from the admissions scandal. It’s like hearing about the quirks and foibles of a different culture in a different country. But if you tell us there’s an Alabama recruiting scandal — or that a local AAU coach is on the take — well then we’ll be energized.  Because we all know that when it comes to parenting down here in flyover country, ball is life.

Politics & Policy

It’s Going to Be Bernie vs. Beto

Beto O’Rourke speaks with supporters in Dubuque, Iowa, March 16, 2019. (Ben Brewer/Reuters)

When Joe Biden announces his candidacy for the presidency, he’ll be the clear frontrunner. I expect he’ll remain the clear frontrunner for a few months. Then he’ll fade once people remember he’s Joe Biden. The guy who first ran for president when Miami Vice was still on the air. To put it mildly, his views on matters like segregation (which he supported as recently as 1975) are not going to endear him with today’s Democratic primary. All he really has going for him is the halo effect of standing near President Obama for eight years. That will fade once he’s on his own. I doubt Obama is going to offer any ringing endorsements of Scranton Joe.

The list of Democratic presidential contenders is long but not particularly impressive. Kamala Harris plainly doesn’t know what she’s doing. Kirsten Gillibrand is a bowl of porridge. Amy Klobuchar’s weird combination of lukewarm policy and demented behind-the-scenes personality is not the formula for success. Elizabeth Warren is going to remind too many voters of the disaster that was Hillary Clinton. The most formidable contenders are going to be the ones who inspire true passion, ignite a movement, make people want to wait in line for hours in the snow. The ones who excite people enough to buy T-shirts and ring doorbells.

This is my opinion only, but I think those candidates are Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke. It so happens that the two candidates neatly personify the conflicting personalities of the Democrats today. Beto (sort of) represents the Establishment wing of the party, the guy who doesn’t seem as though he wants to burn down America and start over, who once drove across the country with a Republican congressman (and refused to endorse a Democratic rival in what turned out to be a close race last November). He channels Obama’s hopeful, future-facing rhetoric. He looks like Bobby Kennedy. Women find him cute. He figures to do very well among voters who value electability above all else. Sanders, on the other hand, is the Democratic party id, a scourge of capitalism, a take-no-prisoners enemy of not just the Trump Administration but the system itself. He’s the Democratic party when it’s had a few drinks, when it dares to let itself dream. Sanders would not ordinarily have a shot, Americans being generally unenthused with undisguised radicals and Socialists. But it may be that Democrats detest President Trump so much that they think America will pick literally anyone who has a (D) next to his or her name on the ballot.  They may be in the mood to roll the dice. Sanders has a shot.


David Brooks on Cory Booker

Brooks lauds Senator Booker for the kind of campaign he is running. Noting a poll that finds that 42 percent of people in each party regard the other side as “downright evil,” he says that Booker is making a bet that he can win by appealing to our better angels. Brooks writes,

I write this to you from Nebraska City, Neb., just over the Iowa line. I just had lunch with 15 locals, many probably Trump supporters and some probably not. But it didn’t come up. The idea that any of these good people are “downright evil” because of some political affiliation is ridiculous and a sign of how deranged our discourse has become.

Okay, but are any of them “complicit in evil“? That’s what Booker called supporters of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, well before Christine Blasey Ford was in the news.

Economy & Business

How Democrats Are Talking Down the Economy

Several Democratic presidential candidates are trying to downplay the low unemployment numbers by complaining that people are having to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. In a fact-checking column for the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler explains that “the number of people who are working two or three jobs is pretty small — and getting smaller.”

Politics & Policy

Media Gives Itself Award for Disastrous Gun-Control ‘Town Hall’

CNN anchor Jake Tapper appears on stage at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, Calif., July 29, 2017. (Andrew Cullen/REUTERS)

This is extraordinary:

CNN’s “Parkland Town Hall” was, without a doubt, the single worst thing I have seen aired on a major news station since I moved to the United States eight years ago. For it to have received an award is . . . well, actually quite fitting, I suppose.

But let’s be clear: This wasn’t “journalism.” It wasn’t a “town hall,” either. The name of the event was “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” which should give those of you who didn’t watch it an indication of what “advance the national conversation on gun control and violence” means in practice. This was the event at which the now-removed Sheriff Scott Israel had the temerity to play the put-upon hero. It was an event at which traumatized children were encouraged to scream at adults that they were literally trying to kill them. It was an event devoid of reflection, reason, thought, or facts. All that was missing was the pitchforks.

This wasn’t a “conversation.” It was a cultural bloodletting, that, far from serving any public interest, just made everyone more angry with each other than they already were. And that was exactly how CNN wanted it — as the centerpiece to a festival of gun-control activism that lasted the better part of a month. If this is the legacy of Walter Cronkite, then Walter Cronkite deserves to be swiftly forgotten.


Life Is a Lot Harder When You’re Not Running against Ted Cruz

Former Democratic Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke gestures at his midterm election night party in El Paso, Texas, November 6, 2018. (Adria Malcolm/REUTERS)

All of a sudden Beto O’Rourke, the candidate who was most beloved by the national press in 2018, is getting brutal coverage in 2019.

The Week declares the pranks he played on his wife are “downright disgusting,” Slate is mocking his standing on countertops, and MSNBC commentators groan that he’s exhibiting white-male privilege.

Over at the Bulwark, Tim Miller contends that some of O’Rourke’s biggest fans in the media have turned against him because he’s now an obstacle to their referred candidates — Bernie Sanders, primarily — and if he gains traction with a soft-focus “Hope and Change 2.0” approach, then the rest of the Democratic party will back away from the “It’s time for a socialist revolution” tone they’ve embraced in recent months. Why embrace controversial proposals like reparations, abolishing private health insurance and specific Green New Deal legislation when you can just offer happy talk about brighter tomorrows and the American spirit?

(O’Rourke’s split-the-baby approach to the AR-15 is to ban the sale of new rifles, but allow current owners to keep the ones they have. Apparently, it’s safe enough for everyone to keep, but simultaneously so dangerous that no one should be allowed to buy another one.)

I think there’s another factor, though. In retrospect, the O’Rourke-mania of 2018 was a misallocation of resources. Sure, O’Rourke was way better than the average Texas Democratic statewide candidate, but the only way he was going to beat Ted Cruz was if the incumbent Republican got lazy and took his victory for granted — and Cruz made clear early on that he wasn’t going to do that. (O’Rourke’s past significant victories on the El Paso City Council and in his Democratic House primary were driven in large part by him out-hustling a too-comfortable incumbent.)

Overestimating a favorite candidate’s odds of victory is a small mistake. But committing $80 million — and an unparalleled amount of national media attention — to a long-shot candidate is a much bigger mistake. But it gets even worse for Democrats. Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, two of the progressive Left’s favorite candidates of 2018, fell just short of victory in Georgia and Florida. (Both candidates are now publicly contending that their election victories were stolen from them.) In hindsight, the $80 million donated to O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign looks like a waste. How differently would those races have turned out if $20 million of O’Rourke’s bundle had been redistributed with $5 million each to say, Abrams, Gillum, Senator Bill Nelson, and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray?

A significant number of progressive Democrats look at O’Rourke and see a guy who was given unprecedented resources and advantages, fell short, and wants another chance at it, this time with even more resources and for higher stakes. Is it any wonder they fear a repeat of 2018?


Will Any 2020 Democrats Reject Abortion Extremism?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D., Texas), former candidate for Senate greets supporters in Carrollton, Texas, November 2, 2018. (Mike Segar/REUTERS)

During his very first week on the campaign trail, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has twice reiterated his support for a woman’s “reproductive rights,” even in the last three months of pregnancy, after an unborn child is able to survive outside the womb.

As our own Jack Crowe has documented on NRO, O’Rourke yesterday responded to a question about third-trimester abortions by restating the question to the crowd — intentionally leaving out that the woman had asked whether he supports the abortion of viable fetuses rather than simply delivering them.

“The question is about abortion and reproductive rights, and my answer to you is that should be a decision that the woman makes. I trust her,” O’Rourke said, greeted by applause.

Today at Penn State, O’Rourke was asked to clarify the answer he gave yesterday, and he doubled down. From Jack’s coverage:

“I just want to make sure that I had clarity: Yesterday when you were asked about abortion, you said it’s a woman’s right to choose, correct? Does that include up into the third trimester?” asked the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, who trailed O’Rourke as he was walking the Penn State University campus.

“I think those decisions are best left to a woman and her doctor. I know better than to assume anything about a woman’s decision, an incredibly difficult decision when it comes to her reproductive rights,” O’Rourke responded. “Roe v. Wade, though it’s being tested unlike any other time, it’s still the law of the land, it must be upheld. When we’re talking about universal health care, we’re talking about women’s health care.”

These comments aren’t particularly interesting in themselves, as they fail to respond to the specific questions being posed about abortion late in pregnancy and the implications of allowing the abortion of viable fetuses. His remarks are the usual platitudes espoused by politicians who wish to broadly defend abortion rights and demonstrate to left-wing supporters of abortion that they’re on board.

But in one sense, O’Rourke’s comments are highly interesting, because they indicate that he has decided not to invoke the usual Democratic defense of third-trimester abortion: the claim that these procedures only take place in cases when fetuses are gravely ill or when a continuation of pregnancy presents a grave threat to a mother’s life.

This sort of defense, of course, is inaccurate. Most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy take place for reasons other than fetal- or maternal-health complications, and directly aborting a fetus rather than ending a pregnancy via C-section delivery is never medically necessary. But Beto doesn’t even bother to pay lip service to the usual line. Instead, he simply says he trusts women and defers to Roe.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Roe and subsequent jurisprudence contradict O’Rourke’s blanket permissiveness of a woman’s right to choose for abortion in all circumstances. Both Roe v. Wade and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey affirmed the state’s right to regulate abortion later in pregnancy, after the point of fetal viability. O’Rourke says he supports Roe even as he says he will never question a woman’s choice to abort.

Most obviously, these comments demonstrate O’Rourke’s lack of familiarity with abortion policy; he doesn’t demonstrate a particularly adept grasp of the usual talking points nor of the relevant jurisprudence. But the line he takes — along with the fact that a handful of his fellow 2020 contenders opposed a bill last month in the Senate that would have required doctors to give medical care to infants who survive abortion procedures — indicates that this election cycle’s Democratic candidates intend to embrace abortion on demand, until birth.


Two Professors Who Model Civil Discourse

Ask many college students how one should react to someone who holds political views at odds with his and you’ll get an answer like this: “Silence him, punish him, and ruin his life if possible,” Of course, that’s a primitive reaction, but more and more college students are encouraged to see opponents as mortal enemies.

Fortunately, some educators are attempting to counter that barbaric trend. Consider, for example, professors Cornel West and Robert George. West is a radical leftist and George a conservative, yet they regard each other as friends and do their utmost to model civil discourse to students.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at this “odd couple” and the broader issue of trying to restore a sound intellectual climate on our campuses. West and George recently spoke at an event at Duke University. She writes of that:

The two spoke about how they navigate their vastly different political views while maintaining a strong friendship, a skill seemingly rare on most college campuses. Their message and example isn’t just a much-needed antidote to an increasingly polarized cultureeither. It also contains an essential ingredient for what George and West call a ‘deep education:’ the desire to be challenged in one’s most fundamental beliefs.

Why would anyone want that? The answer is because we can all learn from others, whether they agree with us or not.

For several years, West and George have co-taught a Great Books course at Princeton, which must be quite a feast for the minds of the students.

The idea of bringing together scholars who disagree but always do so in a respectful manner appears to be spreading. Watkins writes:

Students in North Carolina have ample opportunities to emulate George and West’s Aristotelian friendship. Take Duke University’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service(POLIS). The center created an initiative called the North Carolina Leadership Forum to facilitate conversations on contentious issues. The forum co-chairs, John Hood of the John William Pope Foundation and Leslie Winner of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, conducted a “mini version” of the forum in 2017 with students and young professionals in the Research Triangle area. The primary purpose of the forum is, according to Hood, to ‘model civil dialogue.’

That’s a good step. I’d also like to see professors who egg on students to act in disrespectful and even violence ways when they confront philosophical opponents being shamed, rebuked, and sanctioned.


An American Dilemma

The jewel of the New York City school system (Wikimedia)

This article in the New York Times is getting attention, understandably. It highlights an old, painful issue, involving “merit,” race, and ethnicity. The headline over the article is “Only 7 Black Students Got Into N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots.”

That high school is Stuyvesant. As the Times reports, students get into such schools “by acing a single high-stakes exam that tests their mastery of math and English.” This leads to racial and ethnic outcomes that are deemed undesirable. At Stuyvesant, 74 percent of freshmen next year — call it three-quarters — will be Asian.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, has called for the scrapping of the entrance exam and the overhaul of the admissions process. I have a memory, from 2001. Indeed, via the power of Google, I will quote the Times:

Contending that standardized college tests have distorted the way young people learn and worsened educational inequities, the president of the University of California is proposing an end to the use of SAT’s as a requirement for admission to the state university system he oversees, one of the largest and most prestigious.

(To read the article, go here.)

I talked to Abigail Thernstrom about this on the phone. She said something unforgettable: “This is a dagger aimed at the heart of Asians.” (That was not the intention of President Atkinson and his allies, of course. But that may have been a result.)

Back to Stuyvesant: Are those 74 percent of freshmen “Asians”? Or are they individuals? That is a key question, pushing to the fore our deepest beliefs.

In its report on Stuyvesant, the Times uses some curious language: “… out of 895 slots in the freshman class, only seven were offered to black students.” That word “offered” is interesting, isn’t it? Admission is exam-based, period (as I understand it). I myself would surely not get in, lacking the math (to put it mildly). Would I then say that I had not been “offered” a place?

Jeff Hart was — or rather, he won one. I was talking about Jeff in an earlier post. Our late senior editor went to Stuyvesant, brilliant New York kid that he was. He entered in 1943. The school, he wrote to me, was “the jewel of the NYC system.” Apparently, it still is. Jeff further said this: “Stuyvesant, now mostly Asian, was then mostly Jewish, Trotskyite, and chess-playing, and so competitive it would have made George Steinbrenner look like a Zen Buddhist.”

(For the uninitiated, or forgetful, Steinbrenner was for decades the owner of the New York Yankees, and damn competitive.)

I loved something else Jeff told me about Stuyvesant, namely: “My Jewish friends there interested me in Wagner and Marx, but failed with chess.”

Almost everyone Jeff knew at Stuyvesant went to Harvard to become a doctor. Jeff went to Dartmouth — and he, too, was pre-med. (He would soon change his mind, falling hard for the humanities.) He said that his professors at Dartmouth were not nearly as good as his teachers at Stuyvesant. He would later transfer to Columbia.

I don’t know whether Stuyvesant High School will survive, in its “meritocratic” form. It is at odds with what is now the American ethos. Envy is one of the most powerful forces on earth. So is the desire for equality. So is the urge to see people as members of racial or ethnic groups, instead of as individuals. Should students at Stuyvesant be counted up by race and ethnicity anyway? Should we know these numbers? Should they be blared in our papers? Can these kids not be simply — you know: themselves?

Let me pause to say something about “meritocracy.” It was coined, by the British sociologist Michael Young (father to Toby, the famous journalist), as a negative term, not a positive one.

The French motto begins with liberté and continues with égalité, before ending with fraternité. The first two of these are often at war. And so it will continue, in the New York City school system and everywhere else. But in this vast, star-spangled nation, from sea to shining sea, I hope there will always be room for a Stuyvesant or two, much as they offend our notions about inclusiveness.


Elite Omphaloskepsis: A Series

Our policies are made by elites, and so our policymaking conversation is dominated by elite interests. Hence the hysterical outrage over the college bribery scandal, which is a branch of the argument over racial preferences in admissions — who goes to Harvard, and on what terms, matters a lot to them.

Among the lead stories in today’s New York Times is a lamentation of the fact that relatively few black students are accepted at Stuveysant, one of New York City’s most selective public schools.

In New York City, fewer than three-quarters of black students graduate from high school — and that’s the best number, ever. The black graduation rate lags the white graduation rate by twelve points. Two out of three black students in New York fail to demonstrate minimal proficiency in English; three out of four black students in New York fail to demonstrate minimal proficiency in math. The spread between black students and white and Asian students is enormous.

The most serious problem for black students in New York City’s public schools isn’t what’s happening at the best of them — it’s what’s happening at the worst of them.

But let’s have another round of soul-searching over who’s headed for Princeton.

Most Popular

National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict -- countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and ... Read More

In Defense of the Electoral College

Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is ... Read More