Saturday, September 26, 2009
by Mark Steyn on Thursday, September 24, 2009 9:00am
A year ago, in the final stretch of the U.S. election campaign, I would find myself in New York or Los Angeles or points in between and asked for my thoughts on who would win. I usually answered “John McCain,” more in hope than expectation: I’ve no use for the soi-disant “maverick,” who was a catastrophic candidate, but in those heady days between Sarah Palin’s boffo convention speech and McCain’s characteristically inept response to the economic meltdown there was briefly a faint chance that the Alaskan governor might yet save the Republican party from its rendezvous with destiny.
And at that point the worldly liberal Democrat who had sought my views would nod thoughtfully and agree: yes, McCain would win. Not because of Sarah Palin. But because Americans were too racist to stomach the thought of a black man in the White House.
I never reckoned much to this argument. If you spent 20 minutes on the campaign trail almost anywhere, it seemed clear that many voters felt the first 43 chief executives did not reflect the rich tapestry of the American community and were panting to cross “Vote for a black president” off their to-do list. On the morning of Nov. 5, I thought about all those Democrats so convinced of their fellow Americans’ ingrained racism. As my comrade Victor Davis Hanson put it, we conservatives were wrong about the election results, but those liberals were wrong about their country. Which you would think might prove chastening.
But apparently not. We are now eight months into the 44th presidency. The Obamessiah has come down to earth. He’s now just another 50/50 president, his approval ratings having fallen further faster (according to some polls) than any occupant of the Oval Office since Truman. The obvious explanation for this would seem to be his ambitious, expensive, transformative and radical agenda: the governmentalization of health care, cap-and-trade environmental legislation, the federal takeover of the automobile industry, the gazillion-dollar flopperoo of the non-stimulating “stimulus,” more debt, more deficits, more taxes, more regulation, more government, everywhere you turn. This would be a tough sell for even the smoothest pitchman.
But sometimes the obvious explanation is too obvious. Those “tea party” protests? “This is about hating a black man in the White House,” explained the eminent thinker Janeane Garofalo. “The only thing missing is a noose,” huffed L.A. Weekly about a poster showing Obama as the Joker. It turned out to be the work of a left-wing Palestinian from Chicago, but why get hung up on details? If you oppose the massive expansion of government and multi-trillion-dollar expenditures, you’re a racist.
The other day, President Obama gave a speech to Congress on health care, and, in response to a more or less routine bit of dissembling, a Republican representative called Joe Wilson yelled out “You lie!” Because the President’s speech was a dud, the Democrat-media complex decided to divert attention to the no-name congressman’s outrageous ejaculation and give it the old flood-the-zone treatment. Maureen Dowd, the elderly schoolgirl at the New York Times, weighed in:
“Surrounded by middle-aged white guys—a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club—Joe Wilson yelled ‘You lie!’ at a president who didn’t.
“But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!”
“Boy”? Why, yes. Like some bull-necked plantation overseer from the even-more-sepia snapshot days, Mistuh Wilson was teaching that uppity Nigra a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
I suppose it’s possible that opposition to the federal government’s annexation of one-sixth of the U.S. economy is being driven by nostalgia for segregated lunch counters. And no doubt, if you write for the New York Times or teach race and gender studies at American colleges for long enough, it seems entirely reasonable, listening to a patient profess satisfaction with her present health insurance arrangements, to respond, “You know, if you re-sewed the back of that hospital gown so your ass wasn’t showing, your Klan sheet would be as good as new.”
Thus, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of African-American studies at Princeton, was invited on to National Public Radio to expound on the use of “racial code words” in “the current opposition to health care reform.” For example, explained professor Harris-Lacewell, “language of personal responsibility is often a code language used against poor and minority communities.”
“Personal responsibility” is racial code language? Phew, thank goodness America is belatedly joining Canada and Europe in all but abolishing the concept.
“Code language” is code language for “total bollocks.” “Code word” is a code word for “I’m inventing what you really meant to say because the actual quote doesn’t quite do the job for me.” “Small government”? Racist code words! “Non-confiscatory taxes”? Likewise. “Individual liberty”? Don’t even go there! To an incisive NPR racism analyst, the elderly gentleman telling his congressman “I’m very concerned by what I’ve heard about wait times for MRIs in Canada” is really saying “I’m unable to overcome my deep-seated racial anxieties about the sexual prowess of black males, especially now they’re giving prime-time press conferences every night.” With interpreters like professor Harris-Lacewell on the prowl, I’m confident 95 per cent of Webster’s will eventually be ruled “code language.”
My colleague at America’s National Review, Jonah Goldberg, proposed a simple thought experiment: suppose Hillary Clinton had won the election and proposed the current health care reforms. Does anyone doubt that conservatives would be equally opposed to it? Would that, too, be “racist”? A reader wrote back: no, if they were opposing Hillary’s health plan, they’d be sexist. Er, okay, how about John Edwards? Would opposing his health care reforms be oleaginous trial-lawyer creepy adulterer-phobic?
After being interviewed on TV about my own antipathy to the Democrats’ reforms, I received an email from a (white) lady in New York who said that, if only I were to agree to a course of treatment, I’d soon realize that my opposition to Obamacare stemmed from submerged racial paranoia rooted in “fear of the Other.” Actually, I’ve been opposed to government health care my entire adult life, and wherever I’ve been on the receiving end of it: in Canada, medicare was introduced by a bunch of pasty white guys; in Britain, by a bunch of pasty white blokes; in Bulgaria (where I had the misfortune to be treated for a torn ligament), by a bunch of Commie monobrowed Slavs. Okay, that last one is racist. But you get my point: no black males were involved in my deep-seated racial paranoia about government health care.
As to “fear of the Other,” once upon a time “the Other” was a relatively sophisticated Hegelian concept. Now it’s the feeblest trope from Social Psychology For Dummies. “Fear of the Other” can be hung around the neck of anyone who disagrees with you—because they don’t really “disagree” with you, do they? They just have a kind of mental illness, so you don’t have to bother responding to their arguments about cancer survival rates in Scotland or elective surgery cuts in British Columbia. Indeed, under Obamacare, you’ll soon be able to be treated for your fear of the Other: just lie down on this gurney, one quick jab, you won’t feel a thing.
The surest sign you’re suffering from “fear of the Other” is the reflexive urge to attribute it to anyone who disagrees with you: indeed, the people who most seem to fear “the Other” are those ever more fevered in their insistence that opposition to Democrat policies is nothing to do with the policies. The tea party protesters are not merely “racists” and “Nazis” but also “teabaggers,” a designation applied to them by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the voice of the people and Gloria Vanderbilt’s son. “Teabagging” is apparently a sexual term for dunking the scrotum hither and yon as if it were a sachet of Lapsang Souchong. Not being as expert in this field of study as CNN anchormen, I am unclear as to whether the teabagger is the chap dangling the scrotal sac or the lucky recipient. But, in considering the ease with which its political application spread through the media, one is struck by the strangely fierce need of Mr. Cooper and his fellow journalists not merely to report on the protesters but to sneer at them.
For the record, I have no irrational “fear of the Other.” Rather, I have a deep-rooted fear of the Same. There is nothing new about what the Democrats are doing. These policies are the same old same old that the Euro-Canadian social democratic state has lived with for two generations. I’m in the mood for something new, but, alas, the Obama administration seems to recoil from the Other. I’d say that, in his enthusiasm for the cobwebbed pieties of postwar Euro-statism, Barack Obama seems more like the first Scandinavian in the White House. But no doubt that’s racist, too.
by P.J. O'Rourke
The Weekly Standard
10/05/2009, Volume 015, Issue 03
Whew, I'm pooped. Jimmy Carter has got me run ragged with all the hating I'm supposed to do. Jimmy says I'm a racist because I oppose President Obama's health care reform program. Even Jimmy Carter can't be wrong all the time. And since Jimmy Carter has been wrong about every single thing for the past 44 years, maybe--just as a matter of statistical probability--he's right this time.
I hadn't noticed I was a racist, but that was no doubt because I was too busy being a homophobe. Nancy Pelosi says the angry opposition to health care reform is like the angry opposition to gay rights that led to Harvey Milk being shot. Since I do not want America to suffer another Sean Penn movie, I will accept that I'm a homophobe, too. And I'm a male chauvinist due to the fact that I think Nancy Pelosi is blowing smoke--excuse me, carbon neutral, biodegradable airborne particulate matter--out her pantsuit.
Also, I'm pretty sure Rahm Emanuel is Jewish, and you can't be against (or even for) President Obama without the involvement of Rahm Emanuel, so I'm an anti-Semite. Furthermore, although I personally happen to be a libertarian on immigration issues, I do agree with Joe Wilson that you can't say you're expanding health care to the poor and then pretend you're going to turn those poor away if their driver's licenses look a little Xeroxy and what's on their Social Security cards turns out to be a toll-free number for a La Raza hotline. Thus I'm prejudiced against Hispanics as well.
I'm a 61-year-old man with three young children and a yard to rake. While I appreciate the attention from our most ex- of ex-presidents, I'm really too busy to properly accomplish all this loathing and detestation. I quit smoking so I don't even have a lighter to set crosses on fire. We don't happen to own white bed sheets and I'm five nine and--dressed in Ralph Lauren candy stripes and tripping on fitted corners--I'd feel like a fool at Klan rallies (and Tea Parties and Town Hall meetings, to the extent that there's a difference).
Then I have the task of finding people to disrespect, denigrate, and discriminate against. I know people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. But, unfortunately, I like them. When you like a person it's difficult to treat him (or even her) with the kind of vigorous and unrestrained bigotry that Jimmy Carter expects me to engage in. I have to go looking for people (people of the proper race, creed, and ethnic origin) whom I can't stand. That jackass from the gas company who kicked my dog (even though Valkyrie hardly broke the skin) won't do. The meter reader is a New Hampshire Yankee.
This is exactly the problem. I live in rural New Hampshire and we are, frankly, short on people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. In fact, we're short on people. My town has a population of 301. When it comes to bias we're pretty much reduced to an occasional slur against French-Canadians. But my grandfather was French-Canadian, so I feel that it is somewhat inappropriate for me to express scorn for Frenchies. That is, liberals have a monopoly on self-loathing as a result of neurosis entitlements and affirmative anxiety programs for which I, as a Republican, do not qualify. Thus it is that I have to drive all the way to Dorchester and then out to Provincetown and down to New York City and back to be narrow minded enough to satisfy Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emmanuel, and their friend Hugo Chávez.
When it comes to oppressing those who are differently gendered, I have the opposite difficulty. With two daughters, a wife, and a female dog that bites, I'm badly outnumbered. It's all I can do to make an occasional wisecrack about time spent in the bathroom (or kennel) with the hairdryer. Even then I end up sleeping in the car. (The dog gets the couch.)
I thought about going to a "Hate Coach" to help me focus my insensitiv-ity and anger. But all the radio hosts were booked months in advance. In--stead I've decided to follow the example of large capitalist institutions (which are themselves famous for racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, maltreatment of illegal aliens, and glass ceilings for Nancy Pelosi, who will become a senator from California about when Arnold Schwarzenegger gets the Billy Crystal role in a remake of When Harry Met Sally). I am outsourcing my hate.
I have contracted with al Qaeda, Russia, and Cuba. When it comes to treating women and gays like hell (not to mention Jews), it's hard to beat the Islamic fundamentalists. The Russians are no slouches with a pogrom either, and they are racists par excellence. Russians not only vehemently despise blacks, they believe Africa begins at the Ukraine border. And when it comes to repression of Latinos, Cuba takes the gold, tyrannizing 11,184,022 out of 11,184,023 Cubans.
Fortunately for me the Obama administration has taken time out from its pursuit of health care reform to go wobbly in Afghanistan, cuddle up to Havana, and scrap the missile defense system in Eastern Europe to appease Moscow. This puts Osama bin Laden, Raúl Castro, and Vladimir Putin in a position to destroy the minorities and the disadvantaged in America. Of course, they'll destroy the rest of us too. But, meanwhile, I'm spared a lot of effort and aggravation. And I may have time to get all the autumn leaves bagged before the apocalypse.
P. J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD
by William Kristol
The Weekly Standard
10/05/2009, Volume 015, Issue 03
The following remarks were delivered by William Kristol at the funeral service for Irving Kristol, Congregation Adas Israel, Washington, D.C., September 22, 2009.
In 1994, my father wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled "Life Without Father." It dealt with the subject of the family and poverty and welfare--with my father drawing for his argument, as he so often did, on a combination of social science, common sense, history, and personal experience. In the course of the article, my father briefly discussed his father, Joseph Kristol--who, he wrote, "was thought by all our relatives and his fellow workers to be wise, and fair, and good. I thought so too."
So have Liz and I always thought about our father. To us, he was wise, and fair, and good. I honestly don't think it ever occurred to us that we could have had a better father. So as we enter the rest of our life--a life without our father--we are overwhelmed not by a sense of loss or grief, though of course we feel both, but by a sense of gratitude: Having Irving Kristol as our dad was our great good fortune.
Now my father would often speak of his own great good fortune. That was meeting my mother. Shortly after graduating from City College, my father--a diligent if already somewhat heterodox Trotskyist--was assigned to attend the meetings of a Brooklyn branch of the young Trotskyists. As my father later wrote, the meetings were farcical and pointless, as they were intended to recruit the proletarian youths of Bensonhurst to a cause they were much too sensible to take seriously. But the meetings turned out not to be entirely pointless, because my father met my mother there. They were married, and remained happily married--truly happily married, thoroughly happily married--for the next 67 years.
Dan Bell, who knew my parents for that whole span, called my parents' marriage "the best marriage of [his] generation." I only knew my parents for 56 years, so I can't speak with Dan's authority--and my first couple of years with my parents are something of a blur. But I know enough confidently to endorse his judgment.
During the 1960s and 1970s, when Liz and I were growing up, everything is supposed to have become complicated and conflicted and ambiguous. Not so with respect to my parents' love for each other. Or with respect to the love and admiration that Liz and I--and, later, Caleb and Susan--had for my father. Our love for him was always straightforward, unambivalent, and unconditional.
As was the love of his five grandchildren for him. And as was his love for them. Almost seven years ago, my father was scheduled for lung surgery. As we were talking the night before, my father matter-of-factly acknowledged the possibility he might not survive. And, he said, he could have no complaints if that were to happen. "I've had such a lucky life," he remarked. (Actually, I'm editing a bit since we're in a house of worship. He said, "I've had such a goddam lucky life.")
But, he said, it would be just great to get another five years--in order to see the grandchildren grow up. That wish of his was granted. He got almost seven years. So he was able to see Rebecca and Anne and Joe graduate from college. He was able to attend Rebecca and Elliot's wedding. He--a staff sergeant in the Army in World War II--developed a renewed interest in things military, as Joe trained to be, and then was commissioned as, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
And he was able to see Liz's children grow up too, to watch Max and Katy become poised and impressive teenagers--it turns out that's not a contradiction in terms. My father was able to get to know them, and to talk with them, in a way you can't with much younger kids. So that too was a great source of happiness.
Everyone knows of my father's good nature and good humor. He kept that to the end. In the last couple of years, his hearing loss--and the limitations of even the most modern hearing aid technology--sometimes made it difficult for him to understand everything that was being said in a noisy restaurant or a busy place. But he compensated. A few months ago, my parents were out for brunch with the Stelzers and the Krauthammers. After a stretch where he couldn't quite pick up some exchanges between Irwin and Charles, my dad said to the two of them: "I can't hear what you're saying. So I make it up. And," he added, smiling, "sometimes you disappoint me."
But my father was in general not the disappointed sort. It's true that he loved dogs and never had one. But he made up for that by doting on his two granddogs--Liz and Caleb's Sandy, and of course Patches, whom he saw more of because of our proximity. Patches really loved my father--and, as many of you know, Patches is choosy in his affections.
Just a day or so before he slipped from consciousness last week, my father was greeted by one of those well-trained dogs that visit hospitals, in this case a big golden retriever. He patted it and communed with it for a while. Then, as the owner led the dog away, my father commented to us, as if for the ages--"dogs are noble creatures."
My father liked humans too--though I'm not sure he thought they quite rose to the level of dogs as noble creatures. Still, as I look around today, I do wish my father could be here, because he would have so enjoyed seeing and talking with all of you.
In one of the many, many emails and notes I've gotten in the last few days, a friend commented, "When I'd stop by the Public Interest office in the 1980s, your dad would always start a conversation with, 'How's the family?' I suppose that was his standard opener. But I noticed in the last few years, when I'd see him at AEI or somewhere else in D.C., he'd ask about 'the family' and then 'how's everyone?' If I mentioned some former PI editor or writer, he'd beam--as if it were news of his own extended family."
My father's extended family ended up being pretty large. In politics and law and business and journalism, in New York and Washington and elsewhere--even in the strange outposts of modern academe, there are scores, legions--hordes they must seem to those who disapprove of them--who have been influenced, and not just casually, by my father.
How did he do it? I do think that in my father was found an unusual combination of traits--confidence without arrogance; worldly wisdom along with intellectual curiosity; a wry wit and a kindly disposition; and a clear-eyed realism about the world along with a great generosity of spirit. He very much enjoyed his last two decades in Washington, but he had none of the self-importance that afflicts us here. He loved intellectual pursuits, but always shunned intellectual pretension. For example, I don't think I ever heard him use the phrase "the life of the mind," though my father lived a life of the mind.
Beneath the confident wit and the intellectual bravado, my father had a deep modesty. My father spoke with gratitude of his good fortune in life. He wouldn't have claimed to deserve the honors that came his way--though he did deserve them.
Perhaps in part because he was a man who was marked by such a deep sense of gratitude, he was the recipient of much deeply felt gratitude. Even I've been surprised, judging by the emails and phone calls since his death, by the sheer number of those befriended by my father, by the range of those affected by him, by the diversity of those who admired him. I expected the appropriate remarks from distinguished political leaders and professors, and we were moved by eloquent testimonials from people who've known my father well, in some cases for many decades. But what struck all of us in the family were the emails from individuals who met my father only once or twice, but who remembered his kindness or benefited from his counsel--or from people who had never met him, but who were still very much influenced by his writing or other enterprises he was involved in.
For example--this, from a young Capitol Hill aide: "Your father was one of the first people I met, totally by accident, when I went to work at AEI a few years ago. And I will always remember how incredibly gracious and kind he was toward me, an utterly clueless research assistant." Or this, an email forwarded by one of our kids: "Sorry to hear about your grandfather. He was ahead of his time and provided the intellectual underpinnings for the only conservative kid in his Jewish youth group in Tulsa, Oklahoma." Of all the communications my mother and my sister and I have received, I suspect my father might have gotten a particular kick out of that one.
Leon Kass said to me last week, after a final visit to my father: "It's hard to imagine a world without Irving Kristol." So it is. But, as Leon would be the first to say, we're not left simply with a world without Irving Kristol. It's true that his death leaves the world a poorer place. But it's a world made richer by the life he lived, and the legacy he leaves.
By Mark Steyn
Orange County Register
Friday, September 25, 2009
Half a decade or so back, I wrote: "It's a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice cream and a quart of dog feces and mix 'em together, the result will taste more like the latter than the former. That's the problem with the U.N."
Absolutely right, if I do say so myself. When you make the free nations and the thug states members of the same club, the danger isn't that they'll meet each other half-way but that the free world winds up going three-quarters, seven-eighths of the way. That's what happened in New York last week. Barack Obama is not to blame for whichever vagary of United Nations protocol resulted in the president of the United States being the warm-up act for the Lunatic-for-Life in charge of Libya. But it is a pitiful reflection upon the state of the last superpower that, when it comes to the transnational mush drooled by the leader of the free world or the conspiracist ramblings of a terrorist pseudo-Bedouin running a one-man psycho-cult of a basket-case state, it's more or less a toss-up as to which of them is more unreal. To be sure, Col. Moammar Gadhafi peddled his thoughts on the laboratory origins of swine flu and the Zionist plot behind the Kennedy assassination.
But, on the other hand, President Obama said: "No nation can or should try to dominate another nation."
Pardon me? Did a professional speechwriter write that? Or did you outsource it to a starry-eyed runner-up in the Miss America pageant? Whether or not any nation "should try" to dominate another, they certainly "can," and do so with effortless ease, all over the planet and throughout human history.
And how about this passage?
"I have been in office for just nine months – though some days it seems a lot longer. I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences."
Forget the first part: That's just his usual narcissistic "But enough about me, let's talk about what the world thinks of me" shtick. But the second is dangerous in its cowardly evasiveness: For better or worse, we are defined by our differences – and, if Barack Obama doesn't understand that when he's at the podium addressing a room filled with representatives of Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Venezuela and other unlovely polities, the TV audience certainly did when Col. Gadhafi took to the podium immediately afterward. They're both heads of state of sovereign nations. But, if you're on an Indian Ocean island when the next tsunami hits, try calling Libya instead of the United States and see where it gets you.
This isn't a quirk of fate. The global reach that enables America and a handful of others to get to a devastated backwater on the other side of the planet and save lives and restore the water supply isn't a happy accident but something that derives explicitly from our political systems, economic liberty, traditions of scientific and cultural innovation and a general understanding that societies advance when their people are able to fulfill their potential in freedom. In other words, America and Libya are defined by their differences.
What happens when you pretend those differences don't exist? Well, you end up with the distinctively flavored ice cream I mentioned at the beginning. By declining to distinguish between the foreign minister of Slovenia and the foreign minister of, say, Sudan, you normalize not merely the goofier ad libs of a Khadafy but far darker pathologies.
The day after the president of the United States addressed the U.N. General Assembly, the prime minister of Israel took to the podium, and held up a copy of the minutes of the Wansee Conference, at which German officials planned the "Final Solution" to their Jewish problem. This is the pathetic state to which the United Nations has been reduced after six decades: The Jew-hatred of Ahmadinejad and others is so routine that a sane man has to stand up in the global parliament and attempt to demonstrate to lunatics that the Holocaust actually happened.
One sympathizes with Benjamin Netanyahu. But he's missing the point. Ahmadinejad & Co. aren't Holocaust deniers because of the dearth of historical documentation. They do so because they can, and because it suits their own interests to do so, and because in the regimes they represent the state lies to its people as a matter of course and to such a degree that there is no longer an objective reality only a self-constructed one. In Libya and Syria and far too many "nations," truth is simply what the thug in the presidential palace declares it to be. But don't worry, Obama assures them, we're not "defined by our differences."
Hey, that's great, isn't it? Yet, if you can no longer distinguish between the truth and a lie, why be surprised that the lie metastasizes and becomes, if not yet quite respectable, at least semirespectable and acceptable in polite society?
Some Western nations walked out of Ahmadinejad's speech: Canada was first; Austria stuck around; America left somewhere in between. "It is disappointing that Mr. Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric," huffed U.S. spokesman Mark Kornblau.
Oh, come off it, you ludicrous poseur. President Obama's position is that he's anxious to hold talks "without preconditions" with his Iranian colleague. How can you do that if you're going to flounce out like a big drama queen at the first itsy-bitsy pro-forma Judenhass?
Although he affects a president-of-the-world manner, I don't think Barack Obama cares much about foreign affairs one way or the other. He has a huge transformative domestic agenda designed to leave this country looking much closer to the average Continental social democracy. His principal interest in the rest of the planet is that he doesn't need some nutjob nuking Cleveland before he's finished reducing it to a moribund socialist swamp. And so, like many European nations, when it comes to the global scene, President Obama has attitudes rather than policies. If you're on the receiving end – like Israel, Poland, Honduras – it's not pleasant, and it's going to get worse.
It was striking to hear Gadhafi and Hugo Chavez profess their admiration for Obama, call him "our son," and declare their fond hope that he remain president for life. The Chinese and Russians are more circumspect in public and laughing their heads off in private.
As for the saner members of the U.N., many Europeans still think they've got the American president they've always wanted: They would agree with John Bolton's indictment – that this was a post-American speech by a post-American president – but mean it as high praise. As the contours of the post-American world emerge, they will have plenty of time to reconsider their enthusiasm.
Friday, September 25, 2009
by Andrew Ferguson
The Weekly Standard
09/28/2009, Volume 015, Issue 02
"Oh my," said Dorothy Gale, waving off the candy-colored cloud that trailed some departing witch, "people come and go so quickly here." As it was in Munchkinland, so it is in Washington, D.C. Less than a month has gone by since the death--I guess we're supposed to say "passing" nowadays--of Edward Kennedy, one of the capital's most celebrated residents, and already he seems a figure from a weightless past. The current campaign to reform the nation's health care system was expected to draw new drafts of inspiration from his, um, death, but it limps along pretty much as it did while he was alive; in the arguments his name goes mostly unmentioned, even on the Senate floor, where you might think his passionate bellow could yet be faintly heard but apparently isn't. Flags flew at half-mast but only briefly. The crowd that gathered at his grave has thinned. And his long-awaited memoir, True Compass (Twelve, 532 pp., $35.00), a book that was meant to reaffirm his reputation and carry it far into the future, was released last week, stillborn.
Not everyone would have predicted such a fate for (by Washington standards) such a formidable figure, especially in the ranks of those for whom predictions are daily meat, our talky-talky journalists. No sooner had the sad news leaked from Hyannis Port than they were on the air and in print working to establish their intimacy with Ted Kennedy, with a strenuousness that suggested that a Churchill, a Roosevelt, a de Gaulle, or some other eminence with historical staying power had just clocked out--I mean passed. It seemed impossible that the influence of such a man, at once so human and so larger-than-life, would so quickly recede. One columnist said Kennedy had once taken the time to recommend a doctor for his ailing son--the compassion, unprecedented. Another recalled how he, as a young reporter who "didn't know nothing," managed to snag an actual interview with the senator for his newspaper, the Washington Post--the generosity, unheard of. Another said that in one of their many interviews Kennedy had shown only moderate interest in abstract philosophy but could cite provisions from a bill he had advocated for two years--the legislative mastery, hard to believe.
The same awe launched this memoir and rushed it into print. It is a product of the great Kennedy apparat, the on-retainer network of publicists, backbenchers, scribblers, private investigators, academics, secretaries, archivists, gag writers, and all-purpose gofers that still survives, in greatly attenuated form, 90 years after old Joe Kennedy put it together from his bottomless bank account. Ted Kennedy didn't write his memoir, of course--getting words on paper has always been a job for the apparat, at least since John Kennedy proudly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, which was written by Ted Sorensen (who still, at 81, has yet to complain; a profile in clamming up). True Compass draws from interviews done by researchers at the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project at the University of Virginia. That material was supplemented by more recent interviews with Kennedy and his subordinates, and from a hamper of "personal notes" that--who knew?--the senator had been jotting down for the last busy 50 years.
To stitch it all into coherent sequences of sentences and paragraphs the apparat hired one of the country's premier overwriters, the biographer and TV essayist Ron Powers, a babbling brook of prose so rich, gorgeous, luminous, ennobling, uplifting, oceanic, swept with the mysteries of sea and sky, that it places him in the pantheon where dwell the greatest Kennedy ghosts: your Sorensens, your Goodwins and Shrums, the artisans who gave us "the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, the dream shall never die" and much else. You read a sentence like this from True Compass--"Taking the tiller has steered me away from nearly unendurable grief across the healing waters on the long hard course toward renewal and hope"--and you realize, damn, it's that same old trumpet summoning us once again. Blow, Ron, blow.
What True Compass is, then, is the authorized version, rendered in the patented Kennedy style. With the endless multiplication of grandchildren and great grandchildren, the family blood thins and so does public interest; another episode of drug addiction or sexual assault among this latest generation would scarcely rouse even the most desperate tabloid. So True Compass may well be the last chance the Kennedy family will have to place before the public its own version of its history, here seen through the life of its greatest generation's youngest son.
Many accidents of fate conspired to place so great a burden upon Ted's unlikely shoulders. In contrast to his elder brothers, Joe Jr. and Jack, Teddy was not bred or reared for greatness. He was the baby of the family, the apple of his father's eye, and his mother's ...well, it's unclear, from his telling, what role he played in Rose Kennedy's world. Ted's undoubtedly genuine and often touching expressions of love for her contrast starkly with, as we say in Washington, the facts on the ground, at least as you find them here. Having deposited her ninth and final child with her team of nannies, and fed up with her husband's wild and ostentatious extra-marital rutting, Rose took to traveling the world for months at a time, until looming war made grand tours inconvenient. Her punctiliousness--she scheduled the subjects of her family's table talk, and furnished each child with background reading to study before dinner--could veer into something darker. She was quick to reach for the coat hanger when she spied any infraction of her elaborate rules, and after the thrashing she would lock the smarting kid in a darkened closet for good measure. Ted's schooling was at the mercy of her extravagant whims. One time, when he reached third grade, she enrolled him in a new school, unaware that its classes were only for seventh graders and up--and she left him there, to "sink or swim."
(This is as good a point as any to address the touchy subject of aquatic metaphors, with which Kennedy's memoir overflows. A man whose public career was nearly ruined by his role in the drowning of a young woman would have done well to steer clear of them--and to tell his ghostwriter to watch out too. Yet here they are, all over the place, starting with the epigraph from a play by Eugene O'Neill. It reads in part: "I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself--actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea " The apparat used to be more careful than this.)
Teddy's brothers, like all big brothers, were alternately affectionate, protective, and sadistic, though the age difference between them--Jack was 15 years older than Ted--meant that Joe and Jack, and later Bobby, were often absent from home, pursuing the strict regimen of study, travel, work, and whoring that their father had arranged for them as a preparation for the climb to power. Several times Ted mentions his childhood loneliness, shuttled from one boarding school to the next, and there's poignancy to go along with his wistful memories of family good times (scenes that might have been plucked from a PBS documentary: touch football on the lawn, the glistening Sound beyond, the windswept hair, the gleaming teeth ). The best description of Ted's place in the family came from one of Jack's mistresses, who explained it this way to Burton Hersh, an early biographer: "The old man would push Joe, Joe would push Jack, Jack would push Bobby, Bobby would push Teddy, and Teddy would fall on his ass."
His role as family mascot might have doomed him to haplessness. Reaching young adulthood, he became the first Kennedy in three generations to drink in quantity, and he treated it like an ancestral obligation. The family enrolled him in Harvard and he got kicked out for cheating on an exam; he swanned around Europe with B-level starlets and the second cousins of low-ranking royalty; he went to law school at UVA and impressed his classmates most by driving fast cars and nearly destroying the house he had rented from a kindly professor. When his brothers began their rise in politics, he was eager to help but was instead dispatched to distant provinces to charm voters and stay the hell out of trouble. Little Lord Fauntleroy become Fredo Corleone.
To learn much of this family history you have to read between the lines--or, better, you have to read other essential Kennedy texts, such as Garry Wills's The Kennedy Imprisonment, to supplement the useful but highly selective account that True Compass offers. After Jack was elected president, in 1960, the family decided to give his Senate seat to Teddy as a reward for good behavior and an introduction to the family business. The account in True Compass of how Teddy got to the Senate is a masterpiece of sly misdirection and exquisite omission. It serves as a model of how this authorized version sails right past the rough patches of the family history, whether it's his father's bootlegging, Jack's philandering, or Bobby's wiretapping. Teddy will acknowledge that unflattering "stories have been told," which gives him credit for candor, and then he'll ignore the stories, which gets him off the hook.
"The seat was being held by a good man named Benjamin Smith," Teddy writes. "The story has been told that Smith's appointment was arranged specifically to clear the way for me in 1962: he'd agreed to 'hold' the seat until I was old enough to run at age thirty; then he would step aside." Sounds like a cynical power play, doesn't it? But that's not what happened at all, he assures us. "The truth is more complex."
Indeed, the truth is so complex that Teddy never gets around to telling it. He follows this passage with a lengthy and interesting--and completely irrelevant--detour through Massachusetts politics and his brief tenure as a government attorney. The next thing we know, 30 pages later, the detour abruptly ends and Teddy is in the Senate, "the appointed Benjamin Smith having stepped aside." You wonder where poor Ben has been for the last ten thousand words. The truth, novices may be interested to learn, isn't too terribly complex. Like the man said: Smith's appointment was arranged specifically to clear the way for Teddy in 1962, until he was old enough to run at age 30. It was a typically vulgar exercise of the family's sense of entitlement, backed by political muscle, and good man Smith, a family footman, simply faded from the Kennedy story, having done his duty.
Teddy was in the Senate chamber when he got word of President Kennedy's murder. From this calamity, and from the trauma of Bobby's death five years later, the Teddy that most Americans knew emerged. Beyond his own grief, Kennedy admits, he fretted for his political future, and any Kennedy watcher will sympathize. The Senate seat that had been bequeathed to him by his family was his for as long as he wanted; Massachusetts voters would do as they were told. But what would Kennedy himself do with it? The purpose of the brothers' pursuit of power had been the acquisition of power. There had been no Kennedy political program to enact, no Kennedy principles to evangelize. The family was utterly uncontaminated by ideology of any kind. Without the brothers, what then was left to pursue?
It is here that Teddy's life assumes what historical significance it has, for he became a kind of pointer on the path the Democratic party followed from 1968 on. There was nothing in the family history to suggest that Teddy would become the liberal he became after the death of his brothers--or to suggest the kind of liberal he would become. The old man had been a New Dealer, urban-ethnic division, but he loathed the welfare state. He was also an America First isolationist and, after the war, a proud booster and friend of Joseph McCarthy--a friendship that Bobby sealed for eternity by naming the Tailgunner the godfather of his first child, Kathleen (future lieutenant governor of Maryland). Running for president Jack was more hawkish than his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon. As president he zigged and zagged. He wanted to nationalize the steel industry and cut marginal tax rates on the rich by 20 percent. He founded the Peace Corps and tried to blow Fidel Castro's head off with an exploding cigar. Teddy tries retrospectively in his memoir to impose some philosophical order on this presidential dog's breakfast, but it's no use.
"Succinctly as I can," he offers "the list of [JFK's] great accomplishments: championing the American landing on the moon [championing means: giving speeches about]; building the political foundations of the Civil Rights Act [as opposed to passing the Civil Rights Act]; standing firm in the Berlin crisis and during the Cuban Missile Crisis [having provoked the former and running the risk in the latter of getting us all killed]; creating the Alliance for Progress; bringing us the test ban treaty and the beginning of the end of the cold war." The Alliance for Progress?
The closest any Kennedy had come to ideological passion was the late-blooming idealism of Bobby. According to official family narrative, the middle brother went to Appalachia in the years after Jack's death, recoiled at the poverty he saw there, and came back quoting Aeschylus. But this is thin soup for a philosophical legacy. Teddy was bereft. In his memoir he refers often to his love of political philosophy. Yet he never bothers to demonstrate it by explaining why, beyond mere convenience and lack of anything else to do, he chose to throw the family name behind the new liberalism that became the reigning ideology of his party--thanks in large part to him.
For our own convenience we can call it 1970s liberalism. It had only a superficial resemblance to earlier editions, and its traces are still with us. Kennedy himself never let it go, even through the milk-and-water moderation of the Clinton years. It entails an obsessive concern with the redistribution of wealth, the imposition of federal control over ever more distant reaches of American life, the raising of abortion to the level of secular sacrament, anti-anti-communism, multiculturalism, quasi-pacifism, and--the ism that undergirds all the others--a fierce, unyielding moralism, according to which any adversary who opposes the isms listed above is not merely mistaken but depraved.
Kennedy's embrace of this moral exhibitionism had its difficulties, practical and otherwise. First, it betrayed the image of intellectual poise and cool detachment that had made Jack attractive to large numbers of voters. More important, Teddy was heatedly testifying to the largeness of his heart even as his "personal failings"--as he called them in his occasional public acts of contrition--became impossible to ignore. Bellowing on the Senate floor about the meanness, duplicity, cruelty, power-hunger, hypocrisy, and general indecency of Republicans, he was simultaneously understood by the public to be a negligent husband, a serial adulterer, a liar, and a drunk. Maybe the moral exhibitionism in his political life was compensation for the rapacity of his private life. It certainly saved him with the many Democrats who continued to lionize him.
Not every liberal or every Democrat went along, of course. Feminism was one ism that Teddy underestimated--but only at first. In a brave and resounding essay, published in the Washington Monthly in 1979, Suzannah Lessard drew a straight line from the family's insatiable hunger for power to the many, many "semi-covert, just barely personal and ultimately discardable encounters" with anonymous women that Teddy was famous for. Other feminists, including Wills, took up the theme. Teddy responded by energetically adopting causes dear to his critics, especially by dropping his previous reservations about an unlimited abortion right. On paper, anyway, he became a raging feminist. The "personal failings" continued, however, and in the end, when he challenged President Carter in 1980, they cost him the prize of a presidential nomination. A Helen Reddy party would not tolerate a Rat Pack nominee.
The paradox between private Teddy and public Teddy disappeared once he married his second wife and settled down to a routine of domesticity and hard work. The moral exhibitionism was still there, needless to say. It's scattered throughout his memoir, as when he complains about opponents who "continue their long-standing habits of spurning the poor, the helpless, and the hungry--especially hungry children." (That last clause, about the "children," must be pure reflex: Did he think the bad guys were slipping food to the parents on condition they not share it with the kids?) Meanwhile, he gained a reputation as a great legislator and, less predictably, as a model of bipartisanship. His commitment to "getting things done" and "crossing the aisle" were the two qualities that our talky-talkies mentioned incessantly after his death, in an implicit rebuke to the bumptious ideologues that are alleged to be ruining Congress today.
The list of legislative accomplishments attributed to Kennedy is indeed long. It's also inflated by celebrity and longevity. His decades in the Senate guaranteed that he would have lots of chances to pass bills, and his fame guaranteed he would get primary credit for bills that got passed whether he deserved it or not. Any number of sitting senators have been as energetic and effective. Give Richard Lugar, Kent Conrad, Max Baucus--even Orrin Hatch!--another 15 or 20 years and their achievements will match Kennedy's. The talky-talkies won't notice, though.
Kennedy was a tireless promoter of his reputation for bipartisanship, what he calls in his memoir "my abiding impulse to reach across lines of division during my career." The aisle-reaching came and went with the political seasons. It first appeared in 1980, when the Senate, for the first time in Kennedy's career, fell into the clutches of Republicans, whose cooperation Democrats suddenly required if they were to continue leading the country along its forced march toward human perfection. With a few exceptions, Kennedy before 1980 had been as willing as any majority member to muscle aside the minority. Yet he really did believe, as he says in his memoir, that "we were elected to do something." Something, anything. His faith in governmental activism was a huffing, puffing engine that knew no rest. He wasn't going to allow a Republican electoral victory to stand in the way. And so, for example, he happily conspired with the first President Bush to pass the draconian Americans with Disabilities Act and, with the second, the disastrous No Child Left Behind education reform. In the proponents of "big-government (or compassionate, or national-greatness, or kinder, gentler) conservatism" he found the useful idiots he needed. He knew, as they did not, that any expansion of federal power would in the end work to his advantage and that of his ideological heirs. They could always rewrite the details later.
Though of course it's his last, True Compass is not Ted Kennedy's first book. In the late 1960s he got out a collection of his speeches; it slipped into obscurity after a magazine rudely pointed out that Ted's speechwriters had cribbed passages from speeches they had originally written for Bobby, which had already been collected in book form. And 1979 brought us Our Day and Generation. It wasn't much more than a photograph album of various Kennedys in poses of playfulness or purpose, in sorrow or in sunlight, garnished with more squibs from the speechwriters. Even so you could tell the book was a certified Kennedy production. It carried an introduction by Henry Steele Commager, one of the great American historians of midcentury. The foreword was written by Archibald MacLeish, perhaps the era's foremost middlebrow man of letters.
It is striking that the apparat could muster nothing so classy for True Compass. The ranks of retainers have run thin. Times have changed. The night is far spent. Published as it is without blurbs or imprimaturs of any kind, it seems naked almost, stripped of all ceremony and left to stand or fall on its own. And if it falls, what are we to conclude? That perhaps the cause doesn't endure after all? That the work may not go on? That the dream, whatever it was, may not survive the dreamer, because the dreamer was himself the dream?
Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
The Washington Post
Friday, September 25, 2009
After the plain pine box is lowered into the grave, the mourners are asked to come forward -- immediate family first -- and shovel dirt onto the casket. Only when it is fully covered, only when all that can be seen is dust, is the ceremony complete.
Such is the Jewish way of burial. Its simplicity, austerity and unsentimentality would have appealed to Irving Kristol, who was buried by friends and family Tuesday. Equally fitting for this most unsentimental of men was the spare funeral service that preceded the burial. It consisted of the recitation of two psalms and the prayer for the dead, and two short addresses: an appreciation by the rabbi, followed by a touching, unadorned remembrance by his son, Bill.
The wonder of Irving was that he combined this lack of sentimentality -- he delighted in quietly puncturing all emotional affectations and indulgences -- with a genuine generosity of spirit. He was a deeply good man who disdained shows of goodness, deflecting expressions of gratitude or admiration with a disarming charm and an irresistible smile. That's because he possessed what might be called a moral humility. For Irving, doing good -- witness the posthumous flood of grateful e-mails, letters and other testimonies from often young and uncelebrated beneficiaries of that goodness -- was as natural and unremarkable as breathing.
Kristol's biography has been rehearsed in a hundred places. He was one of the great public intellectuals of our time, father of a movement, founder of magazines, nurturer of two generations of thinkers -- seeding our intellectual and political life for well over half a century.
Having had the undeserved good fortune of knowing him during his 21-year sojourn in Washington, I can testify to something lesser known: his extraordinary equanimity. His temperament was marked by a total lack of rancor. Angst, bitterness and anguish were alien to him. That, of course, made him unusual among the fraternity of conservatives because we believe that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That makes us cranky. But not Irving.
Never Irving. He retained steadiness, serenity and grace that expressed themselves in a courtliness couched in a calm quiet humor.
My theory of Irving is that this amazing equanimity was rooted in a profound sense of modesty. First about himself. At 20, he got a job as a machinist's apprentice at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He realized his future did not lie in rivets, he would recount with a smile, when the battleship turret he was working on was found to be pointing in the wrong direction. It could only shoot inward -- directly at the ship's own bridge.
He was equally self-deprecating about his experiences as an infantryman in World War II France. ("Experiences?" he once said to me. "We were lost all the time.") His gloriously unheroic view of himself extended to the rest of humanity -- its politics, its pretensions, its grandiose plans for the renovation of . . . humanity.
This manifested itself in the work for which he is most celebrated: his penetrating, devastating critique of modern liberalism and of its grand projects for remaking man and society. But his natural skepticism led him often to resist conservative counter-enthusiasms as well. Most recently, the general panic about changing family structures.
Irving had an abiding reverence for tradition and existing norms. But he thought it both futile and anti-human to imagine we could arrest their evolution. He never yelled for history to stop. He acknowledged the necessity of adaptation (most famously, to the New Deal and the welfare state). He was less concerned about the form of emerging family norms, such as France's non-marriage Civil Solidarity Pact, than whether they could in time perform the essential functions of the traditional family -- from the generational transmission of values to the socialization of young males.
That spirit of skepticism and intellectual openness was a marvel. One of Irving's triumphs was to have infused that spirit into the Public Interest, the most serious and influential social policy journal of our time. Irving co-founded it in 1965, then closed it 40 years later, saying with characteristic equanimity, "No journal is meant to last forever."
A new time, a new journal. On Sept. 8, 2009, the first issue of a new quarterly, National Affairs -- successor to the Public Interest -- was published. Irving Kristol died 10 days later, but not before writing a letter to its editor -- two generations his junior -- offering congratulations and expressing pleasure at its creation.
That small tender shoot, yet another legacy of this great good life, was the last Irving lived to see. We shall see many more.
By Jonah Goldberg
September 25, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
It was the most Obamaesque address to date.
“For those who question the character and cause of my nation,” the president pronounced Wednesday, “I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months.”
America is 233 years old. Some think that there are ample accomplishments speaking to our character and cause that predate Obama’s ascension to the presidency.
Feh, Obama seems to be saying. Look instead to our new greatness, for we have elected a man like him!
Having anointed himself America’s vindicator and redeemer, Obama’s real purpose seems to be to become the leader not of the free world but, simply, the world.
“No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed,” Obama said. “No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.”
The United Nations is an odd venue in which to say such things. The Security Council is premised on nothing if not a balance of power, and the U.N.’s roots go nowhere if not deep into the chilled soil of the Cold War. It is odder still for the president of the United States of America to say such things. Is NATO — currently fighting what until recently Obama defined as a “war of necessity” in Afghanistan — now obsolete? What do the South Koreans or the Japanese think of such rhetoric?
More important, our alliances weren’t merely the balancing of power, they represented a contest of values. The Cold War was informed by America’s principled support for free nations over tyrannical ones. Compromises were made, to be sure, but our values were never abandoned.
The president’s defenders say that there is realpolitik behind the U.N. boilerplate, that he is pursuing America’s interests even if he sounds like he’s agreeing with our enemies about pre-Obama America’s flaws. Specifically, they argue that he is laying the necessary groundwork to contain and isolate Iran, coaxing the Russians into a new round of sanctions against the Iranians. If he succeeds in that regard, Obama should be congratulated.
The problem with this analysis, however, is that most of what Obama said Wednesday was a repeat of what he has said many times before, on the campaign trail, in Berlin, and in Cairo. He has said this stuff so often, some might be forgiven for thinking it is more than just words.
The greatest danger, Obama declared in Berlin, is not terrorism or global warming or even nuclear war. No, the “greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.” This week he rehashed the same rhetoric. “The time,” Obama assured us again, “has come for those walls to come down.”
Walls often exist for a good reason. They mark clear lines between peoples and nations. The Berlin Wall was not built by us, but by those who could not tolerate liberty. It is good that it came down with our victory in the Cold War. But it would have been better to keep it up than lose that struggle.
Of course, Obama’s objection isn’t to physical walls but figurative ones. His real point is that the cult of unity that marked the worst excesses of his presidential campaign should go global. “Old arguments are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people,” he says. Rather, “the interests of nations and peoples are shared.”
The problem with this notion of shared interests is not that it’s untrue, but that it’s a half-truth. Some interests are shared, others not. It was in Poland’s interest for us to honor our commitment on missile defense. Obama concluded that it was better for us to appease Russia’s interests.
A core attitude unites Obama’s domestic and foreign-policy visions: Principled disagreements are not legitimate if they do not conform to the president’s agenda, be it on health care domestically or global warming and nuclear disarmament internationally. Call it a progressive version of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
According to Obama, a highlight in his nine months of redemptive accomplishments was his decision to join the Human Rights Council, a corrupt, farcically bureaucratic carbuncle designed to vilify Israel and whitewash the abuses of evil regimes. Critics say we should not lend it more authority. But by Obama’s logic, such concerns are rooted in old arguments and ancient, irrelevant cleavages.
Meanwhile, 53 paragraphs into a 63-paragraph speech, Obama said that we should not view the principles of democracy as an afterthought.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
By JON PARELES
The New York Times
September 25, 2009
Bono with the Edge, who latched on to each song's most important guitar part (and its specific tone and effects) and let fly.
Photo: Chad Batka for The New York Times
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Pointing a finger toward the audience surrounding U2 on Wednesday night at Giants Stadium, Bono sang, “Oh, you look so beautiful!” — with the crowd itself shouting along. It was just one moment of mutual affirmation in a concert with an ever-expanding mission.
U2 kept raising the metaphysical ante. At first the show was about the band itself and its joy in the music it has been making for more than 30 years together. The set began with “Breathe,” a song from U2’s current album, “No Line on the Horizon” (Interscope) that declares, “I’ve found grace inside a sound.”
Soon it turned from musical ambition to rock community-building, bonding the band and the fans who had sold out the stadium. Being in New Jersey on Bruce Springsteen’s 60th birthday, U2 segued Mr. Springsteen’s “She’s the One’ (with Bono changing the chorus to “He’s the one”) into its own “Desire.”
Then that local gathering was placed in the wider world and urged toward activism. “Walk On” was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has long been under house arrest in Myanmar, and dozens of her supporters paraded onstage with her photograph.
Finally, this world became part of the universe and a spiritual realm with songs, as Bono used “Amazing Grace” to lead into U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The concert was high-minded and earthy, exalted and playful, sometimes even goofy, wielding rock-star prerogatives while undercutting them with disarming informality. “We’re very humbled,” Bono said to one wave of applause, and smiled. “Well, maybe not.”
The show was part of U2's "360 Degree" tour, which takes its name from the 150-foot circular stage.
Photo: Chad Batka for The New York Times
It was the first local stop of U2’s 360 Degree tour, which is played in the round under a claw-like, spired structure that’s part insect, part spacecraft, part cathedral. It’s less imposing than it appears in photographs; the scalloped exostructure is stretchy plastic, not metal. But it serves its purpose: keeping the band visible and staying out of its way better than some of U2’s past stadium contraptions.
Although Bono struck some rock-star poses, and there was plenty of flashy video, U2 reaches stadium crowds less with spectacle than with its sound, which swells to fill the largest spaces. The Edge’s guitar parts ripple outward, often running through echo, reverb and distortion effects to spill across and around the beat; lately, in songs like “Get On Your Boots,” he has rediscovered the simple, centered impact of a riff. Regardless, Adam Clayton’s bass lines and Larry Mullen Jr.’s parade-ground drumming keep the songs firmly grounded.
Onstage, the band doesn’t try to replicate the layers of its studio productions. The Edge latches on to the most important guitar part (and its specific tone and effects) and lets fly, whether it’s the chomping wah-wah funk of “Mysterious Ways” or the wide-open picking of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” (As “Elevation” worked up to frantic, punky strumming, the Edge started hopping up and down, pogo-ing.) Bono finds grace in the sound as an Irish tenor who holds his lungpower in reserve. Where his lofty thoughts on love and faith could turn into bombast, he backed off. He often sang less forcefully than he does on the albums, as if he were serenading a confidant rather than a stadium.
Yet there was a program, and Bono the statesman called in some chips. U2 performed “Your Blue Room” — a spooky, Velvet Underground-tinged ballad that U2 recorded with Brian Eno as Passengers, on a 1995 album — with voiceovers by astronauts about the blueness of the earth, a forced connection; one verse was recited on video by Frank De Winne, an astronaut, aboard the International Space Station. Later, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu appeared on the video screen, praising resistance movements and aid to Africa before introducing “One.”
If that sounds far too earnest, it wasn’t; even Mr. Tutu was beaming. And music, not messages, came first. U2 kept slipping bits of oldies — ”All You Need Is Love,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” — alongside its own songs, and Bono was game enough to appear for encores in a jacket that lit up along its seams — singing “Ultra Violet (Light My Way),” a love song that can double as devotional. Under U2’s outlandish claw, guitar noise and celebrity were, improbably, in tune with virtue — and fun, too.
In honor of Bruce Springsteen's 60th birthday, the band dedicated the end of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to Mr. Springsteen, before launching into a cover of "She's the One."
Photo: Chad Batka for The New York Times
3. Get On Your Boots
4. Mysterious Ways
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
6. She's The One / Desire Medley
8. Your Blue Room
9. Beautiful Day w/ "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
10. No Line on the Horizon
11. New Year's Day
12. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
13. The Unforgettable Fire
14. City Of Blinding Lights
16. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix version)
17. Sunday Bloody Sunday
19. Walk On
20. One w/"Amazing Grace"
21. Where The Streets Have No Name w/"All You Need Is Love"
22. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
23. With Or Without You
24. Moment of Surrender
Thursday, September 24, 2009
September 23, 2009
(15) Democrats lost Congress in 1994 because President Clinton failed to pass national health care.
I'm not sure if this is another example of the left's wishful-thinking method of analysis or if they're seriously trying to trick the Blue Dog Democrats into believing it. But I gather liberals consider the 1994 argument an important point because it was on the front page of The New York Times a few weeks ago in place of a story about Van Jones or ACORN.
According to a news story by Jackie Calmes: "In 1994, Democrats' dysfunction over fulfilling a new president's campaign promise contributed to the party's loss of its 40-year dominance of Congress."
That's not the way I remember it. The way I remember it, Republicans swept Congress in 1994 not because Clinton failed to nationalize health care, but because he tried to nationalize health care. HillaryCare failed because most Americans didn't want it. (For more on this, see "ObamaCare.")
Bill Clinton had run as an old-school, moderate Democrat and then, as soon as he got elected, immediately became Che Guevara. (What is it with all our black presidents and these bait-and-switch tactics?)
Instead of pursuing "mend it, don't end it" on welfare and no "middle-class tax hike" -- as Clinton promised during the campaign -- he raised taxes, signed ridiculous gun restrictions into law, enacted "midnight basketball" as the solution to urban crime, announced that he was putting gays in the military and let Hillary run riot over health care.
But just to check my recollection, I looked up the Times' own coverage of the 1994 congressional races.
Republicans won a landslide election in 1994 based largely on the "Contract With America," which, according to the Times, promised "tax cuts, more military spending and a balanced-budget amendment." Far from complaining about Clinton incompetently failing to pass health care, the Times reported that Republicans were "unabashedly claiming credit for tying Congress up in knots."
These claims were immediately followed by ... oh, what was that word again? Now I remember ...
It was almost as if the voters agreed with the Republicans in opposing Clinton's risky health care scheme, then voted accordingly.
The Times' own polling showed that two-thirds of voters believed that "government should be less involved in solving national problems" -- which doesn't sound to me like voters being huffy with Clinton for failing to stage a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.
In a Hail Mary pass just before the election, President Clinton pulled Hillary off the health care beat. CNN's repository of liberal cliches, Bill Schneider, reported that Clinton was trying to calm voters by "removing the most visible symbol of the liberal tilt of the last two years, which is the first lady."
And what a morale boost for the Democrats that must have been! Kind of like firing the manager of a losing baseball team in the last week of the season.
Too late. Shouldn't have tried to socialize health care.
(16) America's relatively low life expectancy compared to countries with socialist health care proves welfare-state health care is better.
The life expectancy argument is so stupid even The New York Times hasn't made it -- except in news stories quoting others or in the ramblings of the Times' more gullible op-ed columnists. You mostly hear the life expectancy argument from Hollywood actresses and profoundly dumb Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Trying to evaluate the quality of a nation's health care by looking at life expectancy is like trying to estimate the birthrate by counting the number of flowers bought on Valentine's Day. (Or estimating future pregnancies of women with low self-esteem by adding up the total number of U.S. cities on a Bobby Brown tour and then multiplying by 2.)
There are lots of ways to get pregnant that don't require flowers or a backstage pass to a Bobby Brown concert, just as there are lots of ways to die that don't require setting foot inside a doctor's offfice.
For example, more Americans are murdered with guns than in any other industrialized country. (And it would be even more without concealed-carry laws! See John Lott, "More Guns, Less Crime.") According to a 1997 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the homicide rate with firearms alone was 16 times higher in the U.S. than in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
That will tend to reduce the U.S.'s "life expectancy" numbers, while telling us absolutely nothing about the country's medical care. (I promise that if you make it to a hospital alive, you are more likely to survive a gunshot wound in the U.S. than any place else in the world.)
It's comparing apples and oranges to talk about life expectancy as if it tracks with a country's health care system. What matters is the survival rate from the same starting line, to wit, the same medical condition. Not surprisingly, in the apples-to-apples comparisons, the U.S. medical system crushes the welfare-state countries.
For the glorious details, see next week's column.
New York Post
September 24, 2009
When enemy action kills our troops, it's unfortunate. When our own moral fecklessness murders those in uniform, it's unforgivable.
In Afghanistan, our leaders are complicit in the death of each soldier, Marine or Navy corpsman who falls because politically correct rules of engagement shield our enemies.
McChrystal: Imposing restrictions that play into enemies' hands.
Mission-focused, but morally oblivious, Gen. Stan McChrystal conformed to the Obama Way of War by imposing rules of engagement that could have been concocted by Code Pink:
* Unless our troops in combat are absolutely certain that no civilians are present, they're denied artillery or air support.
* If any civilians appear where we meet the Taliban, our troops are to "break contact" -- to retreat.
These ROE are a cave-in to the Taliban's shameless propaganda campaign that claimed innocents were massacred every time our aircraft appeared overhead. (Afghan President Mohammed Karzai and our establishment media backed the terrorists.)
The Taliban's goal was to level the playing field -- to deny our troops their technological edge. Our enemies more than succeeded.
And what has our concern for the lives of Taliban sympathizers accomplished? The Taliban now make damned sure that civilians are present whenever they conduct an ambush or operation.
So they attack -- and we quit the fight, lugging our dead and wounded back to base.
We've been through this b.s. before. In Iraq, we wanted to show respect to our enemies, so the generals announced early on that we wouldn't enter mosques. The result? Hundreds of mosques became terrorist safe houses, bomb factories and weapons caches.
Why is this so hard to figure out? We tell our enemies we won't attack X. So they exploit X. Who wouldn't?
It isn't just that war is hell. It's that war must be hell, otherwise why would the enemy ever quit?
This week's rumblings from the White House suggest that we may, at last, see a revised strategy that concentrates on killing our deadliest enemies -- but I'll believe it when I see the rounds go down-range.
Meanwhile, our troops die because our leaders are moral cowards.
Over the decades, political correctness insinuated itself into the ranks of our "Washington player" generals and admirals. We now have four-stars who believe that improving our enemies' self-esteem is a crucial wartime goal.
And the Army published its disastrous Counterinsurgency Manual a few years back -- doctrine written by military intellectuals who, instead of listening to Infantry squad leaders, made a show of consulting "peace advocates" and "humanitarian workers."
The result was a manual based on a few heavily edited case studies "proving" that the key to success in fighting terrorists is to hand out soccer balls to worm-eaten children. The doctrine ignored the brutal lessons of 3,000 years of history -- because history isn't politically correct (it shows, relentlessly, that the only effective way to fight faith-fueled insurgents is with fire and sword).
The New York Times lavished praise on the manual. What does that tell you?
A few senior officers continue to push me to "lay off" the Counterinsurgency Manual. Sorry, but I'm more concerned about supporting the youngest private on patrol than I am with the reputation of any general.
As a real general put it a century ago, "The purpose of an Army is to fight." And the purpose of going to war is to win (that dirty word). It's not to sacrifice our own troops to make sad-sack do-gooders back home feel good.
We need to recognize that true morality lies in backing our troops, not in letting them die for whacko theories.
The next time you read about the death of a soldier or Marine in Afghanistan, don't just blame the Taliban. Blame the generals and politicians who sent them to war, then took away their weapons.
Ralph Peters' new novel is "The War After Armageddon."
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Jonah Goldberg
September 23, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
‘I am so nostalgic.” That’s the phrase I associate most with Irving Kristol, who died last week at the age of 89.
What piqued Irving’s nostalgia, at an American Enterprise Institute conference I worked on in 1992, was old-fashioned censorship. In the good old days, he explained, local communities were able to determine their own standards without inviting lawsuits from the ACLU and overwrought invocations of Fahrenheit 451. In fact, hanging a “Banned in Boston” banner in a bookstore window, he explained, was the surest way to sell that book in New York. Local censorship, tethered to common sense and grounded in community norms, gave communities a say in how they would live. It made the world a more diverse, sane place.
I’m not doing the argument justice, but what captured my attention was the calm, reasoned, and even folksy way — for a New York Jewish intellectual — Kristol managed to slice through layers of liberal cant.
I am a National Review guy, and William F. Buckley would be the first face etched on my American-conservative Mount Rushmore, but, aside from my father, no single person had a bigger impact on my political thinking than Kristol, whose funeral was Tuesday.
The obituaries have focused on Irving’s role as the “godfather of neoconservatism” and the founder of The Public Interest. That is as it should be. From that perch, Kristol led a massive counteroffensive on what he called the “new class — statist intellectuals, lawyers, social workers, educators et al.”
“Though they continue to speak the language of Progressive reform,” Kristol wrote, “in actuality they are acting upon a hidden agenda: to propel the nation . . . toward an economic system so stringently regulated in detail as to fulfill many of the traditional anti-capitalist aspirations of the Left.”
Kristol’s formulation wasn’t entirely new. He expanded an argument made by such figures as economist Joseph Schumpeter and James Burnham, another Trotskyist turned conservative (and a founding editor of National Review). But two things set Kristol apart. The first is that he understood the new class intimately; he spoke its language and was from the same cultural milieu. The second is that he did something about it.
Buckley said that the neocons’ greatest contribution to conservatism was “sociology.” The early National Review conservatism was more Aristotelian, Buckley observed, while the neos brought the language of social science to the debate. National Review might first ask whether a government initiative was warranted under the Constitution, or whether it violated some immutable moral law. The neocons were less abstract. “The legitimate question to ask about any program,” according to Kristol, “is, ‘Will it work?’”
Starting at the height of LBJ’s Great Society, Kristol unleashed a cadre of America’s finest social scientists — James Q. Wilson, Seymour Martin Lipset, Charles Murray, Thomas Sowell, Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, to name a few — to ask that question, and the answers usually confirmed that the Aristotelians were right all along. (No wonder the “law of unintended consequences” became the neocons’ motto.)
Kristol argued that there were two basic orientations on the Right: those who are anti-Left and those who are anti-state. An anti-statist would say the government shouldn’t be running the schools. The Kristolian would say public schools are fine; it’s what they teach that’s the problem. If anything, today’s conservatism is an imperfect fusion of these perspectives. Kristol himself became far more of a traditionalist, noting toward the end of his public life that the work of neoconservatism was largely done. The staffers at The Public Interest — not to mention his own son, Bill — were simply “conservatives” now.
There is a tendency among liberals to believe that the only good conservative is a dead conservative. They don’t wish violence on their opponents. Rather, once a prominent conservative dies — Goldwater, Reagan, Buckley, and now Kristol — liberals use their memory to bash living conservatives. “Why can’t you be more like those civil, highbrow types?” goes the refrain.
That’s already begun with Irving. Liberal intellectuals sorrowfully ask what he would make of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Partyers. My hunch is that the man who defended Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communism (while detesting the man) and saw the evangelical Promise Keepers movement as a healthy sign of America’s moral restoration would offer qualified praise. After all, the singular neoconservative duty, Kristol wrote, was “to explain to the American people why they are right, and to the intellectuals why they are wrong.”
That’s the Irving Kristol I will always be nostalgic for.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
The American Spectator
It's an article of faith for the secular and Religious Left that Western civilization is a pox upon the planet. According to this not-so-new mythology, the earth and its indigenous peoples were essentially good. But European civilization, corrupted by Christian Constaninianism, injected corruption, conquest and genocide into largely pristine cultures.
In 1990, the National Council of Churches infamously denounced the impending quincentennial of Christopher Columbus' "invasion" of America, which brought only "slavery, genocide, theft and exploitation." In earlier years, the church council, whose chief denominations had helped found the United States, had celebrated American democracy. But the NCC's ideologues, like most of the Religious Left, no longer heed Christianity's traditional understanding of humanity as fallen. In the preferred mythology, people are good but corrupted by "systems" primarily associated with capitalism, patriarchy, and the Church.
This stance recently surfaced in an op-ed for Evangelical Left Jim Wallis' Sojourners by Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. Clawson had visited Taos, New Mexico, where she vividly examined America's "sordid history," which has amazingly not been "completely hushed up." She darkly surmised: "In most of the country it is easy to forget who we stole the land from, who we enslaved to build initial infrastructure, and who we oppressed on our path to becoming a 'great' nation." But apparently the truth broke through in New Mexico.
Or at least Clawson's fragmentary understanding of truth. She recalled attending an "emergent" (liberal evangelical) church gathering at Glorieta, New Mexico, where in 1846 the Mexican army had "made its last stand against the invading U.S. army" during the Mexican-American War, only to be "massacred" by Americans. In fact, the U.S. Army's conquest of New Mexico was peaceful because the Mexican Army near Glorieta dispersed, never to reassemble, and fueling rumors that the Mexican commander was bribed.
"It puts things in perspective to know the history of the place -- knowing who died so we could use a spiffy [church] retreat center," Clawson sarcastically observed, apparently unaware that no casualties occurred there until another conflict, nearly two decades later, between Confederates and Unionists. In her truncated version of the Mexican-American War, she remembers New Mexico as the "land we stole."
More specifically, Clawson presented a very jaded history of the U.S. response to a New Mexican uprising in the ancient village of Taos in 1847. She recounted that "after the U.S. took New Mexico, local Indians and Hispanics were fearful that the U.S. wouldn't honor their ownership of the land and so staged a rebellion against the U.S. governor in Taos." In this process, the governor "ended up dead," though Clawson declined to explain how. The U.S. Army "moved quickly to quash the revolt." During the U.S. attack, she explained, many villagers, including women and children as well as "some of the insurgents," sought refugee in the Catholic church. According to Clawson's remembrance, the "U.S. army burned them alive inside the church."
Such a horrible scene recalls the episode in Mel Gibson's The Patriot, when a sinister British officer encircles a colonial church and incinerates its unarmed and worshipping congregants. That scene was a fiction, and Clawson's history is mostly fiction as well. The New Mexico governor was in fact scalped alive and then shot dead in his house, after an extended appeal to the insurgents at his door. His wife and children, with help from an Indian servant, and accompanied by Mrs. Kit Carson, had just escaped by digging through the house floor. The governor's scalp (one account says his whole head) was paraded through the streets by gleeful insurgents, who also murdered the local judge, the sheriff, circuit lawyer and other Americans.
Then U.S. Army Colonel Sterling Price is better now remembered as a Confederate general in the Civil War, and maybe better still as the namesake of the cat owned by John Wayne, as Rooster Cogburn, in his Academy Award winning True Grit. After the atrocities at Taos, Price marched his force there. He had learned of the rebels' plans to "murder all the Americans in Taos, together with those Mexicans who had either accepted office under the American Government or were favorable to Americans." When he arrived, the dead Americans were "lying about the streets, mutilated and disfigured in every possible way, and the hogs and dogs were making a repast upon the remains."
Mexican and Indian insurgents gathered into the ancient Taos Pueblo, with many of them in its church. Across three days, Price's forces pounded the thick pueblo walls and church with cannon and explosives, eventually blasting through the church. One hundred fifty out of possibly 700 defenders were killed. There were about 50 casualties among the U.S. force of about 500, which also included some French traders and allied Mexicans. The next day, according to one account, the women among the defenders emerged with white flags, and a surrender was negotiated.
Unlike what Clawson learned during her emerging church convo in Taos, seemingly no authoritative histories claim that the U.S. Army torched a church full of women and children. The church at Taos, at part of a fortification, was full of armed insurgents and was pierced by cannon shell and manually thrown explosives. Insurgents, and their accompanying civilians throughout the fortified pueblo, later surrendered. A handful of the insurgents were tried and hanged for murder or treason, while several evidently were acquitted. The rebellion in New Mexico was squashed, never to be repeated. After conquering Mexico City, the U.S. ultimately paid more than $30 million to Mexico for the territories that later became New Mexico, Arizona and California.
These territories, like virtually everyplace on earth, were not new to conquest or savagery. In the 1840s, the Mexicans were still at war with Apaches and other Plains Indians. The Spanish had conquered the territory centuries before, from tribesmen who themselves had waged wars of annihilation against each other. But Clawson remembers only the U.S. conquest, guiltily recalling that she is "enjoying the benefits of past oppression" originating in "great evil." Even some Indians in New Mexico thought it rude to remember "how the U.S. army massacred their people," she noticed. But Clawson had "no choice but to confront the sins of our collective past." In fact, she is a "huge fan of going to places where that history is in your face," even though it is not "fun to visit the site of a massacre, or of a firebombing, or the Holocaust Museum."
Condemning ancestors for their supposed moral inferiority can provide smug pleasure, no doubt, especially while attending a church conference. But moral smugness is not an accurate guide for history, especially when assuming, as many on the left do, that human evil virtually originated with Western civilization and reached its zenith under the United States.
Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.