Friday, September 16, 2005
By Alex Massie
It had been billed as "The Grapple in the Big Apple" and the long-awaited, much-anticipated debate between George Galloway MP and Christopher Hitchens proved just as bitingly personal and entertaining as expected. No quarter had been asked and none was given. Perhaps that was why the audience had to pass through metal directors before entering the sweltering theatre.
Largely ignoring the motion that "This House believes the 2003 war in Iraq was necessary and just" the two pugilists traded ad hominem blows for nearly two hours until they, and the crowd, were exhausted. Galloway, in the blue antiwar corner and Hitchens, in the pro-war red corner, were not prepared to let traditional debating etiquette cramp their style in New York on Wednesday night.
Citing Hitchens's transformation from an opponent of the 1991 Gulf War to an ardent supporter of regime change in Iraq now, Galloway claimed that "What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history — the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug" and that "the one thing a slug leaves behind it is a trail of slime." Later, Galloway accused his opponent of "Goebellian" tactics and asked, "are there any depths to which you will not sink? You've fallen out of the gutter and into the sewer."
There may, I suppose, be more preposterous sights than the spectacle of George Galloway MP accusing an opponent of "cheap demagoguery" but few that are so delicious. There's a phrase in his native Scotland that accurately captures the essence of Galloway's character: "if he were made of chocolate he would eat himself." His nickname "Gorgeous George" was conferred on him by observers, dazzled by the glare of his own self-regard.
Hitchens quoted Flaubert's description of the banker in A Sentimental Education who was "so corrupt that he would willingly pay for the pleasure of selling himself " — a line he suggested applied to President Jacques Chirac but that, to this observer at least, applies equally well, in moral terms if nothing else, to Galloway.
Galloway, resplendent in a beige suit and with the light gleaming off his balding, unfeasibly bronzed pate, drew great cheers from the sell-out, 1200-strong crowd, when he claimed that "people like Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other people's blood" Repeating this wearisome "chickenhawk" argument, Galloway said, "how I wish Mister Hitchens would put on a tin hat, pick up a gun and go and fight himself."
At this point in the proceedings your correspondent could not, I'm afraid, resist wondering why Galloway had not put his own body where his mouth is and signed up with the insurgency himself. Sauce for the chickenhawk should surely be sauce for the self-styled chicken dove. Galloway did, after all, make it clear that he hoped the jihadists would prevail in Mesopotamia. Whatever else he may be, it is clear that the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is not antiwar.
Referring to Galloway's support for Saddam Hussein and the MP's recent trip to Syria where he shared a platform with that country's dictator Bashar Assad, Hitchens declared that "The man's hunt for a tyrannical fatherland never ends. The Soviet Union let him down, Albania's gone. Saddam's been overthrown. But on to the next, in Damascus." This was good and surely indisputable stuff.
Galloway won applause from some in the crowd when he claimed that Britain and the United States are the "two biggest rogue states in the world today." He also drew cheers when, quoting Talleyrand, he argued that the invasion of Iraq was "worse than a crime, it's a blunder." It came as less than no surprise that the root of all evil in the Middle East was America's support for Israel. Fancy that! We should, apparently, "stand shoulder to shoulder" with the Iraqi "resistance" until "we've rid the world of George W Bush and Anthony Blair once and for all."
All the usual far-left pabulum was present and correct. Ill-advised support for Israel, no WMDs and no terrorists in Iraq, an invasion that has spawned 10,000 bin Laden's (a prospect that, if true, Galloway appeared somewhat too pleased by), the reaping of the whirlwind sown, the Carlyle Group, Halliburton and "vulture capitalists," a "puppet regime" putting "lipstick on the ugly face of occupation," and all the rest of it. Michael Moore with a mustache and a Scots brogue.
It was somewhat ironic then that Galloway appeared to endorse one element of neoconservative thinking when he criticized the United States for its past support of Middle Eastern dictators, suggesting that this had contributed to the "swamp" of anti-American "hatred" in the region. Here at last was a Galloway statement one could endorse without checking oneself for fleas.
Hitchens had challenged Galloway to a debate following the MP's now-famous appearance before a Senate subcommittee in Washington earlier this year at which he stridently denied profiting from Saddam Hussein's abuse of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. The pair exchanged insults on that occasion, too, with Galloway referring to Hitchens as a "drink-soaked former-Trotskyite popinjay." That was the height of decorum compared to their exchanges in New York.
The Respect MP's appearance in Washington had made him something of a hero to elements of the American left. Sure enough, the moonbats were out in force at Baruch College on Wednesday night. "We needed a Pearl Harbor, a Gulf of Tonkin, a USS Maine. Let's get the truth out about 9/11. Let's find out why there were explosions underneath the World Trade Center at 8.30am," said one Michael Schechter, who seemed to believe that Dick Cheney was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and was all too happy to be quoted by name. To be fair, one passer by did murmur, "Please don't make him out to be representative of the Left," but Schechter was not the only member of the lunatic fringe present.
Galloway, who had the support of perhaps 70 percentof the audience, was nonetheless shouted down when he claimed that "Some of you in this hall may believe that those airplanes on September 11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us." This prompted boos from the crowd and shouts of "how dare you?" and "go home!" although there was also, sad to relate, a smattering of applause. As Hitchens noted dryly, "you may have picked the wrong city in which to say that."
After the debate was over and the two men began signing copies of their latest books (a secondary contest that was conclusively won by Hitchens who, admittedly, has the advantage of writing his own books), Hitchens said he hoped he had defeated "this pimp for fascism" but that he felt "a little befouled by doing this debate." I knew what he meant. It was, at times, nauseating to watch the Galloway peacock strut his oratorical stuff, claiming the mantle, in the name of the jihadists, of the American revolutionaries who rebelled against George III's ham-fisted rule.
The audience, for their part, seemed unsure of who had triumphed. Michael Purzycki, a student at George Washington University, resplendent in a "Ban Che Guevara" t-shirt, admitted that even though he was a Hitchens partisan, "I can't say either of them won."
But then winning was not the real point of this debate. Pride, machismo, and decency were on the line; and if both men exhibited a fair degree of the former two qualities only one displayed any measure of the latter.
— Alex Massie writes for the Scotman.
September 16, 2005
During the first day of questioning at his Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts was asked about his religious views by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.
"In 1960," she noted, "there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy's faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one's religion." She quoted JFK as saying, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," and then delivered what was supposed to be a hard-hitting coup de grace: "My question is: Do you?"
Roberts replied with the usual fog of generalities we've come to expect from Supreme Court nominees, while Sen. Feinstein tried to press him into saying he either did or didn't believe in an "absolute" separation between church and state. The incandescently clear implication of her remarks and questioning is that she'd prefer it if Judge Roberts did hold that there should be an "absolute" wall between all things religious and all things governmental.
Now, the funny part was that Sen. Feinstein had been sitting there just a little while earlier when Judge Roberts had been administered the oath to tell the truth "so help me God." She'd also sat there when he'd been asked by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., about the oath he took when he was sworn in as an appellate judge and the oath he'd take again when/if he's confirmed. It goes in part like this "I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (title of position) under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, so help me God."
Why didn't Sen. Feinstein cry "foul"? Why didn't she say "Whoa, whoa, whoa! There will be no God-talk here"?
This is, after all, a heartfelt conviction on Sen. Feinstein's part. For example, in 2003, she was very upset to learn that Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. - Bush's nominee to the 11th circuit court of appeals - had once told a Catholic high school that while the "American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion" the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are "rooted in a Christian perspective."
"What," Sen. Feinstein asked Pryor at hearings on his nomination, "are others to think of that statement as to how you would maintain something that is important to this plural society, and that is an absolute separation of church and state?"
The reality, of course, is that not even Sen. Feinstein believes that there should be an "absolute" wall between religion and state. If she did, she would be aligning herself alongside the legal pest Michael Newdow, who recently won a big victory in his one-man war to create a truly absolute wall when he got another court this week to rule that having the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional. But she's not. Why? Probably because she knows that would be politically stupid and because she thinks Newdow's position is stupid on the merits.
Feinstein also would have objected when John Kerry insisted during the presidential campaign that his religious faith is "why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice."
And she might even go so far as to denounce the Reverend(!) Martin Luther King Jr. for his entire civil rights project, which was so thoroughly rooted in religious faith that if you tried to remove it, there would be virtually nothing left.
Look: The view that the Constitution was ever intended to create an atheistic political culture is so universally recognized as ahistorical claptrap, it's become almost a cliche to debunk it.
The real issue is more complicated. In recent years, conservatives have used religion in good faith and bad, reasonably and unreasonably, to assert their political agenda. Lately, liberals have started to do the same thing, arguing that a "proper" religious attitude requires support for the welfare state, environmentalism and the like. Some conservatives are dismissive, others appalled.
But the reality is that liberals claiming God is on their side is the norm. As with Martin Luther King Jr., the liberal tradition in America has often been suffused with religiosity. When I hear self-described "progressives" talk about purging religion from public life, I wonder if they've ever even read a single book on the history of progressivism in America. If they have, it must have been one with all the chapters on the Social Gospel, Christian Socialism, Jane Addams and Woodrow Wilson ripped out. Progressives then, and today, never objected to the use of God in public arguments. They merely objected to the claim that God disagreed with them.
The most charitable thing one can say about Sen. Feinstein is that she's continuing in that tradition by claiming that religious doctrines that lead to policies she dislikes - i.e. abortion - have no place in public life. But religious convictions that support causes she likes are just fine. It's a double standard, but that's the American way.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
©2005 Tribune Media Services
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Thomas Sowell (archive)
September 15, 2005
Whatever later investigation may turn up about the mistakes of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in New Orleans, it is unlikely to show the shrill charges of "racism" to be anything other than reckless political rhetoric. FEMA has bungled other emergencies where most of the victims were white and in previous administrations. Like many government bureaucracies, FEMA is an equal-opportunity bungler. Many people who think that government is the answer to our problems do not bother to check out the evidence. But it can be eye-opening to compare how private businesses responded to hurricane Katrina and how local, state and national governments responded.
Well before Katrina reached New Orleans, when it was still just a tropical depression off the coast of Florida, Wal-Mart was rushing electric generators, bottled water, and other emergency supplies to its distribution centers along the Gulf coast.
Nor was Wal-Mart unique. Federal Express rushed 100 tons of supplies into the stricken area after Katrina hit. State Farm Insurance sent in a couple of thousand special agents to expedite disaster claims. Other businesses scrambled to get their goods or services into the area.
Meanwhile, laws prevent the federal government from coming in without the permission or a request from state or local authorities. Unfortunately, the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana are of a different party than President Bush, which may have something to do with their initial reluctance to have him come in and get political credit.
In the end, there was no political credit for anybody. There was just finger-pointing and the blame game.
Politics is only one of a number of reasons why governments are not the best handlers of many emergencies. Nor is the United States unique in this respect.
A few years ago, more than a hundred Russian sailors paid with their lives for their government's reluctance to accept an offer from the U.S. government to have our navy rescue the crew of a Russian submarine that was trapped under water. How would it look to the world if the American navy could save Russians who could not be saved by their own navy?
Public outrage within Russia after that episode caused the Russian government more recently to allow British naval experts to carry out a rescue of Russian navy men trapped under water in another submarine.
Sheer bureaucracy can slow down emergency help. It is not uncommon, when there are famines, for food shipments from other countries to sit spoiling on the docks, while people are dying of starvation in the interior, because the food is not being moved fast enough to reach them in time.
Back in 2001, refugees from the war in Afghanistan were dying of starvation while aid workers were completing paperwork before distributing food to them. During the tsunami in Southeast Asia this year, supplies of food, medicine and other necessities from abroad piled up at airports.
In both emergency times and normal times, governments have different incentives than private businesses. More fundamentally, human beings will usually do more for their own benefit than for the benefit of others. The desire to make money usually gets people in gear faster than the desire to help others.
This is not true of everybody. Virtually nothing is true of everybody. We rightly honor those who do their utmost to help others, in part because not everyone acts that way.
It would undoubtedly be a better world if we all loved our neighbors as we love ourselves and acted accordingly.
But in the real world that we actually live in, the question is what set of incentives has the better track record for getting the job done -- and especially getting the job done promptly when time can be the difference between life and death.
The country does not have one dime more resources available when those resources are channeled through government. The resources are just handled less effectively by government and dispensed in an indiscriminate way that encourages people to continue locating in the known path of predictable disasters.
©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
The New York Times
Published: September 15, 2005
HOUSTON, Sept. 14 - Roger Clemens always had the game face to go along with the fastball, the high-and-tight persona to match the high-and-tight heater.
Clemens is perhaps the most intimidating pitcher of his generation, but as he sat in a back room of Minute Maid Park late Wednesday night, recounting the final hours he spent with his 75-year-old mother, the famous scowl was finally broken.
Bess Clemens died at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday of complications from emphysema, but not before she quizzed her son about Andy Pettitte's troublesome elbow. Not before she asked if the Astros would make the playoffs. Not before she told everyone in the family to go to work. As Clemens recalled her last lines, he laughed and then he cried.
"She was my strength," Clemens said. "She was my will."
She was usually his first phone call after games, so he had no one to dial after a 10-2 victory over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night. That Clemens would choose to pitch on the day his mother died, and that the Houston Astros would let him, illustrated both the family's passion for baseball and the importance of this game to the National League wild-card race.
"I planned on pitching the whole time," Clemens said. "No way I was going to run out on the team."
When Clemens first got to the mound, he felt lost. When he allowed one run in the first inning, he felt relieved. Working with a sore left hamstring and a self-diagnosed heavy heart, he surrendered one run in six and a third innings. He drew a bases-loaded walk at the plate and turned a line drive into a double play in the field. After the sixth inning, he walked to the dugout with his right fist raised. He left having thrown 83 pitches, an earlier departure than usual, but later than anyone could have reasonably expected.
"It's heroic," General Manager Tim Purpura said. "He understands the meaning of duty. His mother taught him about duty."
The Astros, who have been shut out seven times this season in games Clemens started, including five 1-0 losses, picked an apt moment to support him. At the end of the game, players from both sides lingered on the field for a sentimental video tribute to Clemens's mother. He watched from a room in the home clubhouse, no sound, just pictures. "I still need to say a few more goodbyes," he said.
Much of the baseball public was introduced to Bess Clemens when she followed her son's quest for 300 career victories with the Yankees in 2003. She would sit in the stands, often accompanied by an oxygen tube, inspiring her son with her presence. Clemens has always believed he inherited his mother's sense of determination. She worked three jobs to rear six children after her husband died. She smoked for more than 40 years, yet quit the day she was found to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the umbrella term for chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
"I wanted to thank her properly at the Hall of Fame," Clemens said. "But I keep playing this silly game."
Clemens came out of retirement and joined the Astros in 2004, partly because his mother lived in Georgetown, Tex., about 125 miles from Houston and 25 miles from Austin. She made frequent visits to Minute Maid Park and quickly became a team mom. During the All-Star Game last year, she was a regular at the parties. Over the weekend, she had her son send Pettitte an e-mail message checking on his arm strength before his next start.
Clemens spent the past few days flying back and forth between Houston and Austin, staying away from the stadium and cutting off contact with many in the organization. Late Tuesday night, the family huddled around Bess, trying to make her laugh, trying to keep her awake. Clemens asked if she had ever seen the movie, "Field of Dreams." She replied: "Shoeless Joe Jackson."
Then Clemens asked if she was in "the field." She responded: "I think I am."
As he told the story at a news conference, his family cried softly in the back. He wiped his eyes with a workout towel. The Astros are a half-game out of the wild-card lead, and their ace is only beginning the grieving process. "I've lost a little of my fire," Clemens said.
He flew from Austin to Houston on Wednesday in a private plane. He was greeted by a small but warm ovation from the crowd. No one knew quite what to expect, given that he allowed five runs over three innings in his last start. And, yet, everyone knew exactly what to expect, considering it was Clemens. "I think this is the best place for him," Pettitte said.
For all the players who skip games to witness the birth of their children, Clemens has joined a long tradition of athletes to compete shortly after a parent has died. Asked whether the game was for his mother, Clemens said, "They're all for her."
Despite the Astros' meager offense and recent struggles, they remain the popular choice to capture the wild-card berth, considering their favorable schedule and premier pitching staff. Houston has scripted its rotation through the end of the season so that its best three starters - Clemens, Pettitte and Roy Oswalt - will take the mound on the final weekend.
Of course, Bess Clemens probably knew that.
Clemens comes through on same day of his mother's death
By JOSE DE JESUS ORTIZ
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
On her deathbed late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, Roger Clemens' mother adamantly urged him back to work. She wanted him back on a pitcher's mound, which long has been her son's sanctuary and the site of many of their most cherished memories.
To the end, her mind was on baseball, and she would have been proud of him on Wednesday night.
Less than 15 hours after Bess Clemens-Booher died in Georgetown, her son took the Minute Maid Park mound and beat the Florida Marlins 10-2, pushing the Astros within a half-game of the National League wild-card lead.
Clemens smiled as he recalled his mother spending some of her last moments asking about Andy Pettitte's surgically repaired left elbow, wondering if the Astros were already in the playoffs and even dropping mentions of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
"I feel very blessed she's at peace now," he said of the woman who essentially raised him as a single mother. "The last 10 years were hard on her. The last two or three days were grueling. She was very tough to the end. She didn't
After overcoming a first inning in which he was admittedly adrift mentally, Clemens settled down and held the Marlins to five hits and one run with two walks and four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
"You hear about Roger Clemens being a warrior," Marlins righthander A.J. Burnett said after dropping to 12-11. "That's what he is."
After the final out was recorded to drop Florida into a tie with the Phillies atop the NL wild-card standings, the Astros played a video tribute to Clemens' mother.
"Son, I'm really proud of you and all your accomplishments," Bess said on one of the clips. "I love you. You already know that. I love you."
The gesture touched Clemens, his family and many in the crowd of 30,911.
"I didn't hear the video, but I've seen it and I've heard it before," he said. "It was just great to see her look so pretty like I remember."
Bess Clemens-Booher was 75 when she died Wednesday morning at 4:30 due to complications from emphysema. She had fought emphysema for several years, making Clemens hesitant about playing a 22nd season this year.
With his blessing from his wife, Debbie, and mother, Roger Clemens put off retirement last season to join his hometown Astros and won his seventh Cy Young Award.
Source of advice
Before re-signing with the Astros this January, Clemens asked his mother her opinion. Her only reservation was that she wanted him to finish on top, and he delivered with his Cy Young.
Winning the World Series has been the main goal, and earning the NL wild card is the Astros' first task if they want to make the franchise's first World Series appearance this year.
To that end, Clemens snapped the Astros' four-game losing streak and put the club in position to earn a four-game split with Florida tonight with Pettitte on the mound.
"Since I've known Roger, I've been pretty close to her," said Pettitte, who is Clemens' best friend in the Astros' organization. "I love her to death. She's a wonderful lady."
Clemens threw his first pitch at 7:05 p.m. and walked leadoff hitter Luis Castillo on four consecutive 91-mph fastballs. Jeff Conine followed with a single to center, where Chris Burke pounded his left shoulder on the grass while diving for the sinking liner that fell a few inches in front of him. Miguel Cabrera gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with an RBI groundout to third.
"I was lost as soon as I climbed on the mound," he said. "I was lost a little bit. I knew I had to gather up really quick so I could get through that."
The Astros countered with three runs in the second. Lance Berkman led off with a single to center. Jason Lane followed with a walk.
One out later, Adam Everett loaded the bases with a single through the left side. Brad Ausmus tied the score at 1 with a five-pitch walk. Clemens (12-7) drove in another run with a walk off Burnett. Craig Biggio made it 3-1 with a single to left.
"I appreciate what my teammates said to me tonight," Clemens said after collecting his 340th major-league victory. "I told them there was no way I was going to run out on them (after) what they've done for me over the last few years."
Call for relief
Clemens was pulled after giving up consecutive one-out singles to right to Damion Easley and Juan Pierre in the seventh. As Chad Qualls was brought in to atone against Paul Lo Duca, Clemens drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
A day after giving up Lo Duca's game-winning two-run homer, Qualls got a double-play grounder to end the inning.
"I think the word that was used is that he understands the meaning of the word 'duty,' " Astros general manager Tim Purpura said of Clemens. "His mother taught him about duty. He feels like he has a duty to pitch for the Astros, and that's what he's going to do."
Clemens learned much from his mother, including his love for baseball.
"That woman had baseball in her heart," said Debbie Clemens, fighting back tears as her sons shared a tearful embrace with their father. "She was very much in a good mood and very loving and sweet throughout the whole time. She would have been proud of Roger tonight."
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
A recent headline on the editorial page in the Wall Street Journal read: "John Roberts Deserves a Dignified Hearing." That misstates the issue.
It is not for the sake of this particular nominee to the Supreme Court that Senate confirmation hearings need to be dignified, but for the sake of getting future nominees of the highest caliber, some of whom might otherwise decline to subject themselves to the nationally televised Roman circus and mud-slinging contest that these hearings have too often become.
There needs to be not only some dignity in the confirmation process but also some rationality in discussing legal issues.
With all the confusing controversies about judges and how they interpret the Constitution of the United States, we need to go back to square one and ask: Why do we pay attention to the Constitution in the first place?
There has been much hand-wringing about how or whether we can tell what the "original intent" was among those who wrote the Constitution. But the moral and legal bases for the authority of the Constitution do not rest with those who wrote it. The moral and legal authority of the Constitution comes from those who ratified it -- "we the people" -- not those who wrote it.
The writers of the Constitution themselves understood this.
That is why some of these writers also wrote "The Federalist Papers" to explain to people across the country why they should ratify the Constitution.
Not only did that generation ratify the Constitution, succeeding generations have accepted the Constitution, with whatever amendments they found necessary to add, for more than two centuries. It is the American people who have made the Constitution the law of the land.
Once we understand that, we can see through the silliness of all the learned hand-wringing about what the writers of the Constitution might possibly have meant when they wrote it. What matters is what the people understood those words to mean when they ratified it and amended it. They didn't vote on what was in the back of somebody else's mind.
Much of the Constitution is remarkably simple and straightforward -- certainly as compared to the convoluted reasoning of judges and law professors discussing what is called "Constitutional law," much of which has no basis in that document.
Although some seem to think that abortion is the be-all and end-all question about a judicial nominee, the real question is whether that nominee will follow the law or succumb to the lure of "a living constitution," "evolving standards" and other lofty words meaning judicial power to reshape the law to suit their own personal preferences.
People who talk about a need for "change" in the law are off on a tangent, if not cynically confusing the issue. Nobody denies the need for change. The Constitution itself provides a process for its own amendment.
The real question is who should make those changes -- "we the people" through elected representatives or unelected judges?
Those who think that judges need to update the law have claimed that it is hard to amend the Constitution. But what is the evidence for that? That it hasn't been done very often?
People don't often put on one red shoe and one green shoe. But that doesn't mean that it is hard to do. It just means that they don't want to do it.
To show that it is hard to amend the Constitution, you would first have to show that the public wants it amended more often but somehow just can't seem to get the job done.
There are 27 amendments to the Constitution, which is to say 17 have been added since the original ten in the Bill of Rights. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were all ratified within 5 years of one another. The 16th and 17th were ratified the same year.
There is far less evidence that the public is dying to amend the Constitution, and just can't do it, than there is that they resent judges amending it by "interpretation."
The fact that judges feel a need to deny doing this suggests the same thing. The time is long overdue to stop repeating shopworn sophistries in defense of lawless judges.
Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate
Failure of an Idea -- And a People
By Pat Buchanan
In his 1935 State of the Union Address, FDR spoke to a nation mired in the Depression, but still marinated in conservative values:
"(C)ontinued dependence" upon welfare, said FDR, "induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit."
Behind FDR's statement was the conviction that, while the government must step in in an emergency, in normal times, men provide the food, clothing and shelter for their families.
And we did, until the war pulled us out of the Depression and a postwar boom made us, in John K. Galbraith's phrase, The Affluent Society. By the 1960s, America, the richest country on earth, was growing ever more prosperous. But with the 1964 landslide of LBJ, liberalism triumphed and began its great experiment.
Behind the Great Society was a great idea: to lift America's poor out of poverty, government should now take care of all their basic needs. By giving the poor welfare, subsidized food, public housing and free medical care, government will end poverty in America.
At the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center, we saw the failure of 40 years of the Great Society. No sooner had Katrina passed by and the 17th Street levee broke than hundreds of young men who should have taken charge in helping the aged, the sick and the women with babies to safety took to the streets to shoot, loot and rape. The New Orleans police, their numbers cut by deserters who left their posts to look after their families, engaged in running gun battles all day long to stay alive and protect people.
It was the character and conduct of its people that makes the New Orleans disaster unique. After a hurricane, people's needs are simple: food, water, shelter, medical attention. But they can be hard to meet. People buried in rubble or hiding in attics of flooded homes are tough to get to. But, even with the incompetence of the mayor and governor, and the torpor of federal officials, this was possible.
Coast Guard helicopters were operating Tuesday. There were roads open into the city for SUVs, buses and trucks. While New Orleans was flooded, the water was stagnant. People walked through to the convention center and Superdome. The flimsiest boat could navigate.
Even if government dithered for days -- what else is new -- this does not explain the failure of the people themselves.
Between 1865 and 1940, the South -- having lost a fourth of its best and bravest in battle, devastated by war, mired in poverty -- was famous for the hardy self-reliance of her people, black and white.
In 1940, hundreds of British fishermen and yachtsmen sailed back and forth daily under fire across a turbulent 23-mile Channel to rescue 300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk. How do we explain to the world that a tenth that number of Americans could not be reached in four days from across a stagnant pond?
The real disaster of Katrina was that society broke down. An entire community could not cope. Liberalism, the idea that good intentions and government programs can build a Great Society, was exposed as fraud. After trillions of tax dollars for welfare, food stamps, public housing, job training and education have poured out since 1965, poverty remains pandemic. But today, when the police vanish, the community disappears and men take to the streets to prey on women and the weak.
Stranded for days in a pool of fetid water, almost everyone waited for the government to come save them. They screamed into the cameras for help, and the reporters screamed into the cameras for help, and the "civil rights leaders" screamed into the cameras that Bush was responsible and Bush was a racist.
Americans were once famous for taking the initiative, for having young leaders rise up to take command in a crisis. See any of that at the Superdome? Sri Lankans and Indonesians, far poorer than we, did not behave like this in a tsunami that took 400 times as many lives as Katrina has thus far.
We are the descendants of men and women who braved the North Atlantic in wooden boats to build a country in a strange land. Our ancestors traveled thousands of miles in covered wagons, fighting off Indians far braver than those cowards preying on New Orleans' poor.
Watching that performance in the Crescent City, it seems clear: We are not the people our parents were. And what are all our Lords Temporal now howling for? Though government failed at every level, they want more government.
FDR was right. A "spiritual disintegration" has overtaken us. Government-as-first provider, the big idea of the Great Society, has proven to be "a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit."
Either we get off this narcotic, or it kills us.
Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
By Daniel Pipes
September 13, 2005
What some observers are calling a pogrom took place near Ramallah, West Bank, on the night of Sep. 3-4. That’s when fifteen Muslim youths from one village, Dair Jarir, rampaged against Taybeh, a neighboring all-Christian village of 1,500 people.
The reason for the assault? A Muslim woman from Dair Jarir, Hiyam Ajaj, 23, fell in love with her Christian boss, Mehdi Khouriyye, owner of a tailor shop in Taybeh. The couple maintained a clandestine two-year affair and she became pregnant in about March 2005. When her family learned of her condition, it murdered her. That was on about Sep. 1; unsatisfied even with this “honor killing” – for Islamic law strictly forbids non-Muslim males to have sexual relations with Muslim females – the Ajaj men sought vengeance against Khouriyye and his family.
They took it two days later in an assault on Taybeh. The Ajajs and their friends broke into houses and stole furniture, jewelry, and electrical appliances. They threw Molotov cocktails at some buildings and poured kerosene on others, then torched them. The damage included at least 16 houses, some stores, a farm, and a gas station. The assailants vandalized cars, looted extensively, and destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
“It was like a war,” one Taybeh resident told The Jerusalem Post. Hours passed before the Palestinian Authority security and fire services arrived. The fifteen assailants spent only a few hours in police detention, then were released. As for Khouriyye, the Palestinian police arrested him, kept him jail, and (his family says) have repeatedly beat him.
As the news service Adnkronos International notes, for Palestinian Christians “the fact that the Muslim aggressors have been released while the Christian tailor-shop owner is still being held, at best symbolizes the PA’s indifference to the plight of Palestinian Christians, at worst shows it is taking sides against them.”
A cousin, Suleiman Khouriyye, pointed to his burned house. “They did this because we’re Christians. They did this because we are the weaker ones.” The Khouriyyes and others recall the assailants shouting Allahu Akbar and anti-Christian slogans: “Burn the infidels, burn the Crusaders.” To which, an unrepentant cousin of Hiyam Ajaj replied, “We burned their houses because they dishonored our family, not because they are Christians.”
This assault fits a larger pattern. According to the Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Christians in the Bethlehem region alone have suffered 93 cases of injustice in 2000-04. In the worst of these, in 2002, Muslims murdered the two Amre sisters, 17 and 19 years old, whom they called prostitutes. A post-mortem, however, showed the teenagers to have been virgins – and to have been tortured on their genitals.
“Almost every day – I repeat, almost every day – our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions,” Pizzaballa says. “And if it’s not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with … the Palestinian Authority.” In addition to the Islamists, a “Muslim land mafia” is said to operate. With PA complicity. it threatens Christian land and house owners, often succeeding to compel them to abandon their properties.
The campaign of persecution has succeeded. Even as the Christian population of Israel grows, that of the Palestinian Authority shrinks precipitously. Bethlehem and Nazareth, historic Christian towns for nearly two millennia, are now primarily Muslim. In 1922, Christians outnumbered Muslims in Jerusalem; today, Christians amount to a mere 2 percent of that city’s population.
“Is Christian life liable to be reduced to empty church buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock in the birthplace of Christianity?” So asks Daphne Tsimhoni in the Middle East Quarterly. It is hard to see what will prevent that ghost-like future from coming into existence.
One factor that could help prevent this dismal outcome would be for mainline Protestant churches to speak out against Palestinian Muslims for tormenting and expelling Palestinian Christians. To date, unfortunately, the Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as the United Church of Christ, have ignored the problem.
Instead, they pursue the self-indulgent path of venting moral outrage against the Israeli bystander and even withdrawing their investment funds from it. As they obsess with Israel but stay silent about Christianity dying in its birthplace one wonders what it will take to awaken them.
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Mr. Pipes (http://www.danielpipes.org/) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).
Phyllis Schlafly (archive)
September 12, 2005
William Rehnquist was the most unlikely of appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. He had no experience as a judge, and his boss, former President Richard Nixon, would embarrassingly refer to him as "Renchburg."But after serving more than 33 years on the Supreme Court, the last 19 as chief justice, Rehnquist proved to be among the greatest justices ever. He set the judicial standard at a very high level.
Rehnquist took his seat on the Supreme Court on Jan. 7, 1972. A mere two months later, he brazenly disagreed with all the other justices and issued his first lone dissent.
He went on to establish his reputation for dissenting alone, earning him the nickname "the Lone Ranger." Rehnquist was never one to seek accolades from the media or his colleagues, and penned more than 410 dissenting opinions over his marvelous career.
One of his early dissents, in 1973, was to a majority decision invalidating state laws allowing maintenance grants for nonpublic and religious schools in Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist. Rehnquist had joined a Supreme Court that was almost unanimously hostile to all things religious, as well as liberal in many other ways.
Nearly 30 years later, Rehnquist prevailed with his 5-4 decision in Zelman v. Simmons Harris upholding school vouchers that parents could use to attend religious schools. Rehnquist's view became mainstream, to the benefit of all Americans.
His closest ally in the early years was Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who seemed to join some of Rehnquist's dissents simply out of sympathy. By 1981, Burger knew whom to assign the difficult task of writing the decision defending the federal law excluding women from the draft.
Rostker v. Goldberg challenged the draft registration that was reactivated by then-President Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter and feminists demanded that women be drafted, too.
For 10 years, the Supreme Court had invalidated virtually every law that differentiated between men and women, often with Rehnquist in dissent. The court had even declared unconstitutional an Oklahoma law that set the alcohol drinking age for men at 21 but for women at 18, despite the 21st Amendment, which conferred on states the power to regulate liquor.
But Rehnquist commanded a 6-3 majority in favor of upholding a sensible distinction between men and women in the military draft. Rehnquist upheld the exemption for women, and quoted an earlier decision saying that judges "are not given the task of running the Army."
Rehnquist felt strongly that government's legislative, executive and judicial powers should be kept separate and distinct. It was again Rehnquist who wrote a 5-4 decision reversing the judge who ordered Missouri to increase teachers' salaries in the Missouri v. Jenkins desegregation case.
He told the lower federal judge "to restore state and local authorities to the control of a school system that is operating in compliance with the Constitution." That litigation had dragged on for 18 years until Rehnquist finally blew the whistle on its judicial activism.
That was not the first time Rehnquist put the brakes on a runaway judiciary. The most famous case in the important field of administrative law is Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power v. National Resources Defense Council Inc. (1978), in which a liberal appellate judge had interfered with the process of a federal agency.
In a strongly worded reversal that shocked the legal community, Rehnquist wrote an opinion that attracted unanimous support on the court. He declared that agency decisions should not be overturned "simply because the court is unhappy with the result reached."
As the years went on, Rehnquist showed his greatest skill in assembling a wobbly five person majority. In 2000, Rehnquist wrote two 5-4 decisions for the Court that will live on far beyond his departure.
In United States v. Morrison, the high court reviewed a federal law that offered big damages in federal courts for domestic disputes between men and women, an issue that had always been handled under state law. Briefs filed by 67 feminist and liberal groups urged opening federal courts to domestic relations, and offering attorney's fees to entice lawsuits against deep pockets.
Congress had passed the law by a wide margin, and media pressure was intense to uphold it. The facts of the case involved a college coed seeking recovery for an alleged rape by a football player, so no one would be applauded for ruling against her.
Yet Rehnquist led a five person majority to keep the federal courts out of marital and domestic disputes. In so doing, he affirmed his brilliant 5-4 decision five years earlier in United States v. Lopez, which recognized limits on federal power under the Commerce Clause.
Rehnquist's other 5-4 decision in 2000, Boy Scouts v. Dale, maintained the right of the Boy Scouts to decide for themselves whether to allow gay scoutmasters. Against a claim by liberal justices of greater societal acceptance of homosexuality, Rehnquist retorted that "the fact that an idea may be embraced and advocated by increasing numbers of people is all the more reason to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to voice a different view."
Rehnquist's career testifies to the importance of defending the right of dissent against conventional media wisdom. Now that President Bush has renominated John Roberts for Rehnquist's position, Bush should fill the additional vacancy with a judge who has a proven record of standing firm against peer pressure.
©2005 Copley News Service
'Flood That Released America's Demons", said the Sun on Saturday. Underneath the arresting headline was a column by Jeremy Clarkson, and, after the usual good-natured knockabout - "Most Americans barely have the brains to walk on their back legs" - he turned to the desperate scenes being played out in New Orleans: "On the streets you've got some poor, starving soul helping themselves to a packet of food from a ruined, deserted supermarket. And as a result, finding themselves being blown to pieces by a helicopter gunship. With the none-too-bright soldiers urged on by their illiterate political masters, the poor and needy never stood a chance. It's easier and much more fun to shoot someone than make them a cup of tea.
"Especially if they're black."
I have to agree with Jeremy there. It is easier to shoot someone than make them a cup of tea. Especially if you're the US Marine Corps and you're making tea for some Brit columnist: don't forget to warm the pot. Pour the milk before the water - or is it the other way round? Who the hell can stay on top of it all? Easier to pull out the .44 Magnum and say: "Go ahead, punk, make my Earl Grey."
So, instead of Special Forces rappelling down with steaming samovars of PG Tips strapped to their backs, the helicopter gunships blew the poor needy starving blacks to pieces.
Hmm. I must have dozed off during that bit on CNN.
I'll leave it to future generations of historians to settle the precise moment at which Hurricane Katrina finally completed its transformation into a Kansas-type twister, and swept up the massed ranks of the world's press to deposit them on the wilder shores of the Land of Oz. But for a couple of weeks now they've been there frolicking and gambolling as happy Media Munchkins, singing and dancing "Ding Dong, The Bush Is Dead".
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the storm is exhausted, meteorologically and politically. Power has been restored to the whole of Mississippi (much quicker than in Euro-style big-government Quebec during the 1998 ice storm, incidentally), the Big Easy is being pumped free of water far ahead of anybody's expectations, and, as the New York Times put it: "Death Toll In New Orleans May Be Lower Than First Feared".
No truth in the rumour that early editions read "Than First Hoped".
Still, the media could never quite disguise the impression that their principal enthusiasm for this story derived from its potential as "the Bush Administration's political nemesis," as The Sunday Telegraph's Niall Ferguson put it. Predicting a back-to-the-Seventies economic slump, Prof Ferguson noted that post-Katrina "gasoline prices in some parts of the United States soared to $5 a gallon".
I wonder where. In New Hampshire this weekend, gas was back below three bucks a gallon and heading south. Undeterred, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland got out his crystal ball - for the 2004 election: "It's safe to say that if George Bush was in his first term, he would now be heading for defeat."
C'mon, man, how lame is that? At least Gavin Macdonald, a reader in Amsterdam writing to mock "Mark Steyn's dependly nutty take", is confident enough to declare that "the Republicans' chances of winning the next election are already pretty much over".
Let me dispel Messrs Freedland and Macdonald's illusions: there will be no political consequences from Hurricane Katrina.
Apart from anything else, it would seem unlikely that in the 2006 elections voters in states unafflicted by Katrina would eschew Republican incumbents and stampede to vote for the party that's given us the New Orleans Police Department, its clown mayor and Louisiana's sob-sister governor. But forget the question of jurisdictional responsibility and instead grant the critics their fraudulent argument that this is all the fault of the federal government - ie, Bush and the Republicans. Why then will it have no electoral fallout?
For the answer, let's go to Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. At a meeting in the White House last week, she had the guts to walk up to the flailing Bush and demand he immediately fire the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Why?" asked Bush.
"Well," said Mrs Pelosi, and then paused. "For everything." Another pause. "It was so slow."
"Thank you for your advice," said the President drily. I'm often dismissed as a Bush cheerleader, though I disagree with him on immigration, education and bombing Syria. But come on, a guy doesn't have to be great to be better than Nancy Pelosi, the armchair general of armchair generalities.
These days, the Republicans are the party of small government and the party of big government, and the party of all points in between. The Democrats, meanwhile, are the party of emotive know-nothings, the go-to guys for soap-operatic sobbing and righteous histrionics. You can understand why the 24-hour cable-news networks love the Dems. Just stick a camera in front of New Orleans's Mayor Nagin: "To those who would criticise, where the hell were you?" he roared the other day. "Where the hell were you?" In a town you're not the mayor of, happily. That's how most Americans react. But the media think, wow, this is great television, he really socks it to Bush. And, if life were an especially bad daytime soap, he would. But ask Democrats for specifics and they're either as blank as Mrs Pelosi or as mired in their ancient tropes as Jesse Jackson, who demanded Bush appoint more high-ranking blacks to the hurricane relief effort. Charges of Republican "racism" rang particularly hollow in the context of New Orleans, where sodden blacks might be better advised to ponder what they have to show for being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party for four decades.
Unlike other dead horses flogged by the media - Cindy Sheehan, torture at Guantanamo, etc - this was at one point a real story: an actual hurricane, people dying, things going wrong. But that wasn't good enough, and the more they tossed in to damage Bush, the more they drowned any real controversy in the usual dreary pseudo-controversy. After watching Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu threatening to punch out the President, a reader e-mailed me Kipling: "If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you."
That's all Bush had to do. The storm has passed.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Star Parker (archive)
September 12, 2005
"The charges of racism-inspired foot-dragging isn't just nonsense. It's pernicious nonsense."
This is how the New York Daily News called it regarding charges, from the usual circle of black leaders, that the rescue efforts in New Orleans were slow because the victims were black. The Daily News is right. Except it's even worse than the paper appreciates.
What we are witnessing is a well-honed black political public-relations operation geared to obfuscation, stoking hatred and fear, and nurturing helplessness and dependence among black citizens. Such efforts keep black politicians powerful, diversity businesses prosperous and blacks poor.
The fact that the handling of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina was a massive botch job at all levels of government is beyond the doubt of any sober observer. Such operations demand precise cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal authorities. It appears evident that the performance at and between each of these levels of government was abysmal.
However, government incompetence isn't news. And, unfortunately, it's also not news when black politicians call it racism when the unfortunate victims of this incompetence, because they are poor and unprepared, are largely black.
It is inconceivable that there could have been some all-knowing racist guiding hand orchestrating the chaos and disorganization that characterized what occurred. Furthermore, how, when black politicians themselves played a prominent role in what happened, can we be talking about racism?
The first line of authority in emergency management, all agree, is local. It appears that Ray Nagin, New Orleans black mayor, was grossly negligent. Existing and detailed written evacuation plans for New Orleans were ignored while the mayor made sporadic decision after decision as if there were no such plans. A fleet of school and transit buses that could have evacuated 12,000 citizens per run was not used and left on low ground and flooded.
Where was black congressman William Jefferson, who has represented New Orleans for eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives?
Floodwaters poured into New Orleans when the 17th Street Canal levee burst. It had been known and publicized for years that New Orleans was at risk because this levee was not capable of withstanding a Category 5 storm. Making the necessary investment to upgrade this levee required federal funds, and therefore in Jefferson's area of responsibility.
In an interview on "Hannity and Colmes," Jefferson indicated he had been involved in failed efforts over the years to get these funds. However, given the risks to which his constituents were exposed, one would think that the congressman would have been making a lot of noise about this.
But Jefferson is a busy man. He's been the target of an FBI sting operation investigating possible public corruption and the possible illegal pocketing of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs in an international business deal. In a raid on his house, the FBI found a large stash of cash in his freezer. Jefferson's lawyer told the press, "The congressman has lots of contacts. He's involved in advancing a lot of businesses on behalf of his constituents and states and in a number of countries throughout the world."
It's too bad Jefferson couldn't have used his acumen for getting deals done to get the 17th Street Canal levee upgraded.
"Hannity and Colmes" co-host Sean Hannity persisted and asked Jefferson, given his knowledge of the condition of the levee, when "we knew the storm was coming, why didn't we get the people out?"
The congressman's reply: "Well, I'm not sure I know the answers to all those questions."
Jesse Jackson is now touring through Louisiana. Where was he as Katrina thundered toward New Orleans, with a population almost 70 percent black and poor? He was in Venezuela embracing President Hugo Chavez, who the week before was in Cuba visiting his good friend Fidel Castro and who also includes among his friends Zimbabwe's despot, Robert Mugabe.
It's time for those who really care about the condition of blacks to ask hard questions and be honest about the answers.
Our government mechanism for dealing with emergencies must be repaired. The emergency management task for blacks is to get ourselves out of poverty.
If we allow political opportunists to again allege racism to deflect our attention from solving the real problems of fixing our families and educating our children, surely more tragedy awaits us.
Star Parker is president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education and author of 'Uncle Sam's Plantation.'
©2005 Star Parker
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Uncle Sam's Plantation
How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It
Star Parker, a former welfare mother, delivers a blistering indictment of today's culture of government dependency, shedding much-needed light on the bungled bureaucratic attempts to end poverty and revealing the insidious deceptions perpetrated by self-serving politicians. At the same time, she shares her own amazing journey up from the lower rungs of the economic system and addresses the importance of extending the free market system to the poor.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
|P.J. O'Rourke Older & Wiser? A Weekly Standard 10th anniversary symposium. 09/26/2005, Volume 011, Issue 01 |
The first issue of this magazine appeared in September 1995, part way through the Clinton administration, and less than a year after the Republican victory in the congressional elections of 1994. The pressing foreign policy issue of the day was Bosnia. The world seems a very different place today. To mark our 10th anniversary, we invited several of our valued contributors to reflect on the decade past and, at least indirectly, on the years ahead. More specifically, we asked them to address this question:
"On what issue or issues (if any!) have you changed your mind in the last 10 years- and why?" Their responses follow.
POLITICS IS EVIL.
Ten years ago I thought politics was misguided. But the events of the past decade--indeed, of the past 10 or a dozen decades--have proven me wrong. The sum and substance of politics was expressed in the 1860s by Nicholas Chernyshevskii, a prescient Russian radical: "Man is god to man." And politics violates the other nine commandments as well. Politics could hardly function without bearing false witness. Likewise, without taking the Lord's name in vain. This is especially true given that, in politics, the Lord who is so loosely sworn by is Mankind. In the modern era politics has taken the place of mere tyranny. The result has been more killing in one century than in all the preceding centuries combined.
Covetousness and stealing define redistributive politics. Without redistribution politics would have no political support. Graven image is as good a name as any for the fiat money by which politics operates. Politics' insistence upon involvement in every human activity, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is more anti-Sabbatarian than golf. The Social Security system is no way to honor thy father and thy mother. And as for adultery, there was, and there may be still, Bill Clinton.
To claim that one's political activities are the will of God is to worship Beelzebub, as Osama bin Laden has demonstrated. To loudly call for separation of church and state is to miss the point. Why is there never a call for separation of state and coven?
Even to be "politically informed and engaged" is probably to be of the devil's party. Tune in to that most politically informed and engaged network, NPR, and listen to the evident relish with which its newscasts and current events programs recount misfortune, inequity, and suffering worldwide. The unspoken gleeful message is, "More occasions for more politics!"
Conservatism is not without its own delight in misery. Witness our enjoyment of the junior senator from New York. Of course we cannot walk away from politics any more than we can take a hike from original sin. But the most important action of political conservatism is not to politic but to conserve--to save things, in particular people, to preserve them from evil, which is to say politics.
God has made us free men, sovereigns of our own affairs, and sole experts on minding our own business. We are endowed with an individual capacity to improve our understanding, better our circumstances, and laugh at Howard Dean. The purpose of conservatism is to guard the sovereignty and get out of the capacity's way.
Observe our national politics. Observe politics around the world. Observe politics through the ages. Does it look like God's handiwork? When it comes to having a role in politics, that would be the Other Fellow.
- P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and author, most recently, of Peace Kills (Atlantic Monthly Press).
© Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
Sept. 11, 2005 -- the fourth anniversary of the start of the war. That is, if you believe it's a ''war'' A lot of people didn't want to, even in those first days.
About a week after, one of my local radio stations held a fund-raiser and this is how their trailer for it opened. Cue the terminal-illness-movie-of-the-week soupy piano. Then:
''After the tragic events of Sept. 11 . . .''
And, by the time I'd heard it half-a-dozen times, I retuned the dial and never listened to the station again.
It wasn't a "tragic event" or even one of a series of unfortunate events. It was an "attack," an "act of war." I sat at the lunch counter with a guy who'd tuned out the same station on the grounds that "I never heard my grampa talk about 'the tragedy of Pearl Harbor.' " But, consciously or otherwise, a serious effort was under way to transform the nature of the event, to soften it into a touchy-feely, huggy-weepy one-off. As I wrote last year: "The president believes there's a war on. The Dems think 9/11 is like the 1998 ice storm or a Florida hurricane -- just one of those things."
I didn't know the half of it. If an act of war is like a hurricane -- freak of nature, get over it -- it's evidently no great leap to believe that a hurricane is an act of war. Katrina was thus "allowed" to happen because Bush "hates black people." The Army Corps of Engineers was instructed to blow up New Orleans' 17th Street levee so that the flood would kill the poor people rather than destroy the valuable tourist real estate.
Whatever. As part of their ongoing post-9/11 convergence, the left now talks about Bush the way the wackier Islamists talk about Jews. I thought the Australian imam who warned Muslims the other week to lay off the bananas because the Zionists are putting poison in them was pretty loopy. But is he really any more bananas than folks who think Bush is behind the hurricane? Bush is apparently no longer the citizen-president of a functioning republic, but a 21st century King Canute expected to go sit by the shore and repel the waters as they attempt to make landfall. Instead, he and Cheney hatched up the whole hurricane thing in the Halliburton research labs to distract attention from their right-wing Supreme Court nominee . . .
On this fourth anniversary we are in a bizarre situation: The war is being won -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, the broader Middle East and many other places where America has changed the conditions on the ground in its favor. But at home the war about the war is being lost. When the media look at those Bush approval ratings -- currently hovering around 40 percent -- they carelessly assume the 60 percent is some unified Kerry-Hillary-Cindy bloc.
It's not. It undoubtedly includes people who are enthusiastic for whacking America's enemies, but who don't quite get the point of this somewhat desultory listless phase. If the "war" is now a push for democratization and liberalization in Middle East dictatorships, that's a worthy cause but not one sufficiently primal to keep the attention of the American people. You'd have had the same problem in the Second World War if four years after Pearl Harbor we were postponing D-Day in order to nation-build in the Solomon Islands.
Four years ago, I thought the "war on terror" was a viable concept. To those on the right who scoffed that you can't declare war on a technique, I pointed out that Britain's Royal Navy fought wars against slavery and piracy and were largely successful. Of course, since then we've had the shabby habit of presidents declaring a "war on drugs" and a "war on poverty" and, with hindsight, that corruption of language has allowed Americans to slip the war on terror into the same category -- not a war in the sense that a war on Fiji or Belgium is a war, but just one of those vaguely ineffectual aspirational things that don't really impinge on you that much except for the odd pointless gesture -- like the shoe-removing ritual before you board a flight at Poughkeepsie. The "war on terror" label has outlived whatever usefulness it had.
And, as the years go by, it becomes clearer that the war aspects -- the attacks in New York, Washington, Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, London -- are really spasmodic flashes of a much more elusive enemy. Although Islamism is the first truly global terrorist insurgency, it shares more similarities with conventional terror movements -- the IRA or the Basque separatists -- than many of us thought four years ago. Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets: the IRA, for example, calculated correctly that the British had the capability to smash them totally but not the will. So they knew that while they could never win militarily, they also could never be defeated. That's what the Islamists have bet.
Only a tiny minority of Muslims want to be suicide bombers, and only a slightly larger minority want actively to provide support networks for suicide bombers, but big majorities of Muslims support almost all the terrorists' strategic goals: For example, according to a recent poll, over 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under sharia in the United Kingdom. That's a "moderate" Westernized Muslim: He wants stoning for adultery to be introduced in Liverpool, but he's a "moderate" because it's not such a priority that he's prepared to fly a plane into a skyscraper.
As with IRA killers and the broader Irish nationalist population, these shared aims provide a large comfort zone in which terror networks can operate. And it enables the non-violent lobby groups to use the terrorists -- or the threat of terrorists -- as part of a good cop/bad cop routine. Thus, the Islamic lobby groups pressure governments to make concessions to them rather than to the terrorists -- even though both elements share the same aims. You can pluck out news items at random: In London, a religious "hate crimes" law that makes honest discussion of Islam even more difficult; in Ontario, the moves toward sharia courts for Muslim community disputes; in Seattle, the introduction of gender-separate, Muslim-only swimming sessions in municipal pools. The 9/11 terrorists were in favor of all these things.
So four years on we're winning in the Middle East and Central Asia, floundering in Europe and North America. War is hell, but a war that half the country refuses to recognize as such staggers on as a very contemporary kind of purgatory.