Monthly Archives: July 2007

The Democrats' Achilles' Heel

You have to give the Democrats an edge in the next presidential election. But Mark Ribbing of the Progressive Policy Institute sees the Democrats’ post-1968 pacifism as their Achilles’ heel.

Writing in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal:

…just because voters put Democrats in charge of Congress does not mean they are bound to install one in the White House. On matters of security, the public knows that it’s the executive — not the legislature — that matters most. As for the polls, it is still not hard to find misgivings about Democrats’ ability to keep the country safe, especially among swing voters.

A recent survey of political independents by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found preferences for Democrats on one topic after another — except for the “campaign against terrorism,” where Republicans held a nine-point advantage. In a Rasmussen Reports survey released this month, unaffiliated voters favored Republicans on national security by seven points.

We live in dangerous times, and in dangerous times voters have shown a clear, sustained preference for Republican presidential candidates. Ever since 1968, when the Democratic Party tore itself apart over the Vietnam War and voters decided to entrust their security to Richard Nixon, Americans have chosen Republican presidents in times of perceived peril, and Democrats only when no such peril seems to exist.

Of the 10 presidential elections dating back to 1968, Democrats have won the popular vote four times — in 1976, 1992, 1996 and 2000. Three of these elections took place during the pause between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, when the electorate cared little about national-security issues.

The lone exception amply proves the rule: In a 1976 post-Watergate contest that should have been a cinch for Democrats, Jimmy Carter barely staved off Gerald Ford. Four years later — motivated in no small part by the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and a general sense that American interests were under increasing threat world-wide — voters eagerly handed the reins back to the GOP, and wouldn’t let a Democrat touch them again until the Communist threat was vanquished.

This Republican advantage is no Cold War relic. It has already had an enormous impact on our post-9/11 presidential politics. In 2004, the first general election following the attacks, President Bush won despite the errors of his first term, this time with popular as well as electoral majorities. Exit polls showed Bush with leads of nearly 20% over Democratic challenger John Kerry on the question of which candidate would do a better job of protecting the nation against terrorist attack. Once again, Americans showed they prefer a Republican in the White House when the nation’s security is at stake.

The Confusion Between Education and Democracy

Writing in the New York Times, Stanley Fish, the usually leftish literature and law professor, says Clarence Thomas (yes, that Clarence Thomas) is right about student rights:

Thomas argues from both history and principle: “In the light of the history of American public education, it cannot seriously be suggested that the First Amendment ‘freedom of speech’ encompasses a student’s right to speak in public schools.” Early public schools, Thomas reports, “were not places for freewheeling debates or explorations of competing ideas.” Rather, schools were places where teachers “relied on discipline to maintain order.”

And this view of what properly goes on in public schools was confirmed in the rulings of state courts in Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, California and Missouri, among others. It is only since Tinker — which, Thomas contends, “effected a sea change” in this area of law — that we have been troubled by talk of students’ speech rights. (One suspects that Thomas is uneasy about the expansion of First Amendment rights in general. As recently as 1942, in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Court was able to rehearse a paragraph-long list of forms of speech that did not rise to the level of constitutional notice. That paragraph could not be written today.)

Although Thomas does not make this point explicitly, it seems clear that his approval of an older notion of the norms that govern student behavior stems from a conviction about how education should and should not proceed. When he tells us that it was traditionally understood that “teachers taught and students listened, teachers commanded and students obeyed,” he comes across as someone who shares that understanding.

As do I. If I had a criticism of Thomas, it would be that he does not go far enough. Not only do students not have first amendment rights, they do not have any rights: they don’t have the right to express themselves, or have their opinions considered, or have a voice in the evaluation of their teachers, or have their views of what should happen in the classroom taken into account. (And I intend this as a statement about college students as well as high-school students.)

One reason that students (and many others) have come to believe that they have these rights is a confusion between education and democracy. It is in democratic contexts that people have claims to the rights enumerated in the constitution and other documents at the heart of our political system – the right to free speech, the right to free assembly, the right to determine, by vote, the shape of their futures.

Educational institutions, however, are not democratic contexts (even when the principles of democracy are being taught in them). They are pedagogical contexts and the imperatives that rule them are the imperatives of pedagogy – the mastery of materials and the acquiring of analytical skills. Those imperatives do not recognize the right of free expression or any other right, except the right to competent instruction, that is, the right to be instructed by well-trained, responsible teachers who know their subjects and stick to them and don’t believe that it is their right to pronounce on anything and everything.

What this means is that teachers don’t have First Amendment rights either, at least while they are performing as teachers. Away from school, they have the same rights as anyone else. In school, they are just like their students, bound to the protocols of the enterprise they have joined. That enterprise is not named democracy and what goes on within it – unless it is abuse or harassment or assault – should not rise to the level of constitutional notice or any other notice except the notice of the professional authorities whose job it is to keep the educational machine running smoothly.

Black Criminals, the Cops, and the New York Times

Heather MacDonald on the inconvenient truth about black criminals, the police and the New York Times.

An excerpt from City Journal:

New York police officers have yet to hold a “no justice, no peace” rally in Brooklyn, where three black thugs in a stolen BMW fatally gunned down Officer Russel Timoshenko on July 9. Nor have New York’s Finest stopped patrolling Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Central Harlem, where they put their lives at risk every day to protect residents from violent crime.

Yet under the race-baiting precedents established by Al Sharpton, New York City Councilman (and former Black Panther) Charles Barron, and New York Times columnists and editors, the police have more than enough grounds for racial complaint. Blacks are blowing away police officers at rates far exceeding their own numbers. Nationally, blacks made up 40 percent of all cop killers from 1994 to 2005, even though they are only 13.4 percent of the American population.

That fact is not allowed in polite company, however, because race-baiting is tolerated in only one direction. Any time an officer shoots a black civilian, he runs a risk of igniting protest in the African-American “community.” (Even if the officer is black, he will be treated as an honorary white for purposes of denouncing cop racism, as the shooting of Sean Bell last November demonstrated.) The media will turn out in force for all such anticop demonstrations, lovingly documenting every gesture of black rage. But justified police shootings constitute only a minute fraction—and unjustified police shootings, an almost imperceptible fraction—of homicides of blacks, virtually all of which are committed by other blacks. New York police killed nine civilians in 2005, for example, all of whom had attacked the officers first, compared with hundreds upon hundreds of black-on-black killings. But blacks can shoot whites—police officer and civilian alike—without anyone’s organizing a street demonstration about it, much less daring to point out the pattern. Perhaps such incidents are just dog-bites-man stories, too much part of the normal order of things to be considered noteworthy.

The [New York]Times’s editors and its columnist Bob Herbert …[purvey the idea of] racist officers preying on innocent minority youth. In article after article, they portrayed the gang members as law-abiding paragons, taking their description of the events as unimpeachable and even giving them a large photo spread, suitable for framing.

…Herbert generated a series of columns from a New York Civil Liberties Union report claiming that police officers assigned to city schools routinely abused students and arrested them for innocuous high jinks. No reporting, of course, on the 192 robberies, 5 rapes, 247 felony assaults, 138 burglaries, and 580 grand larcenies that students committed in school in 2006–07—a fearsome total, but 26 percent smaller than six years ago, thanks in part to the NYPD. The Times’s writers cribbed an editorial off Herbert’s columns, repeating his charges and calling for the New York City Council—that esteemed body of public-safety experts—to scrutinize all student arrests and convictions for misuse of police power.

…Indifferent to charges of hypocrisy, Bob Herbert has now taken up the theme of how America supposedly ignores young minority homicide victims. Writing about a spate of Chicago gang killings, he recently intoned: “This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about—black, Latin and poor.” It never occurs to Herbert that the police are the one group who most definitely cannot be accused of caring nothing about “black, Latin and poor” kids; but for their efforts in inner-city neighborhoods, hundreds more minority youngsters in New York would have died over the last decade. If Herbert wants to make a similar contribution, he might try patrolling every night in drug-ridden housing projects, working to get guns out of the hands of reckless adolescents.

…The police are not going to demonstrate against black criminals who endanger their lives—nor should they. But it would be nice if, for once, so-called minority leaders could bestir themselves to demonstrate in favor of fallen officers.

Contrary To The Received Wisdom…

Mark Helprin, writing in the New York Times, says that recent events in Gaza potentially are good for Israeli and American interests.

An excerpt:

The United States has fought the war in Iraq as if history, strategy, maneuver, preparation, foresight, fact, integrity and common sense did not exist. Nonetheless, the effect of the war has been to shatter the politics of the region and create opportunities, one of which is the potential for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some quarters of government, burnt by the predictable failure of the current administration to transform the political culture of the Middle East into that of the Vermont town meeting, deny this potential, as if by analogy. But the analogy is invalid. The conditions are not the same, the task is entirely different and, unlike the United States, Israel has no timetable (implicit or otherwise) for withdrawal from the region — as its enemies well know.

As America blunts its sword in Iraq, it has relieved Iran of much anxiety in regard to its own vulnerabilities, set up a predominantly Shiite government in Baghdad, and made the Arab world more receptive to Iranian views. This Shiite ascendancy is comprised of a resurgent though weak Iran, Hezbollah’s Shiite rump state in Lebanon chastened by the war it “won” a year ago (with such a victory, defeat is unnecessary), and the alignment with Iran of Syria and Sunni radicals like Hamas.

Contrary to the received wisdom, last summer Hezbollah overplayed its hand. Israel emerged shaken but with few casualties and an economy that actually grew during the hostilities. It took 4,000 of the vaunted Katyusha rockets to kill 39 Israelis, they did little material damage, and not one has been launched in the year since the war. Israel showed that upon provocation it could and would destroy anything in its path, thus creating a Lebanese awakening that has split the country and kept Hezbollah fully occupied. Though Hezbollah is rearming, it remains shy of Israel.

Hamas, too, has overplayed its hand, which has provided the opening from which a Palestinian-Israeli peace may emerge. For the first time since 1948, a fundamental division among the Palestinians presents a condition in which the less absolutist view may find shelter and take hold.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian president, is weak in many ways, but he has decisively isolated the radicals. Hamas loyalists in the West Bank (according to the latest polling, less than 25 percent of the population) face a different demographic than they did in Gaza, and a different economy that can be richly watered if Israel is wise enough to do so. Surrounded and penetrated by the Israeli Army and Palestinian Authority forces, they are not what they once were.

How Never To Be Wrong

Gabriel Schoenfeld’s take on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate:

…Here are some of [the NIE’s] “key judgments”:

“We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al Qaeda, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading a leading newspaper, like the New York Times?

“We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al Qaeda to attack the U.S. Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United States since 9/11.”

Once again, is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading a leading newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal?

“We assess that al Qaeda’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by watching television news, local channels included?

“We assess that al Qaeda will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading the footnotes of the wikipedia entry on al Qaeda?

To be sure, there are some interesting nuggets in the NIE summary that suggest that the intelligence community might know one or two details that are not already known by the rest of us.

It is conceivable that its discussion of two subjects—the emerging importance of al Qaeda in Iraq, and developments in Pakistan’s tribal areas—might be backed by some highly specific intelligence, based upon interrogations, communications intercepts, and other forms of spycraft.

But on the whole, the NIE appears, at least in its unclassified form, to be a shining example of bureaucratic self-protection. The CIA and affiliated agencies do not want to be wrong again; and they have found a way never to be wrong: by stating the obvious and calling it a National Intelligence Estimate.

Lincoln, He's Not

Writing on the Wall Street Journal (print edition) op-ed page, Randy E. Barnett sums up the Bush administration’s astoundingly inept Iraq war strategy:

The Bush administration might be faulted, not so much for its initial errors which occur in any war against a determined foe who adjusts creatively to any preconceived central “plan,” but for its dogged refusal to alter its approach — and promptly replace its military commanders as President Lincoln did repeatedly — when it became clear that its tactics were not working. This prolonged delay gave the enemy time to better organize its resistance and, perhaps most important, demoralized those Americans who had initially supported the war but who needed to see continued progress toward victory to maintain their support.


Mark Steyn on the myth of Palestine and the “Palestinian People.”

An excerpt:

“They stole almost everything,” complained Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman, “including Arafat’s Nobel Peace Prize medal.” There was something rather poignant about the looting of the late Chairman Arafat’s home in Gaza City by Hamas’ finest – and not just because, as the blogger Maynard pointed out on Tammy Bruce’s web site, if Hamas had only waited a year or two, the Nobel wallahs would have been happy to give the lads a Peace Prize of their own. Sadly, Israel’s latest designated “partner in peace” was in too much of a hurry for their piece.

It will be the first of many indignities heaped on the Chairman’s memory. In years to come, the world’s late 20th-century Arafatuation should make an interesting case study on the ease with which western illusions and Arab opportunism can combine in entirely disastrous ways. A good starting point would be the famous 1974 resolution by the Arab League declaring Arafat’s PLO to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. Scholars will marvel at the way the region’s kings and dictators not only ran this absurd banner up the flagpole but persuaded just about everybody on the planet to salute it: The United Nations began treating Arafat as the leader of a sovereign nation, giving him “official” status and inviting him to make speeches. He was a head of state lacking merely a state to head, and in overlooking that technicality the UN only underlined his inevitability.

To be the “sole legitimate representative” is an impressive claim for an organization barely a decade old. But, that aside, how does any group get to be the “sole” representative of a people? In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, we understood there were multiple representatives representing different slivers of their diverse peoples. But in “Palestine” it was a lot easier. The rap against most Middle Eastern nations is that they’re the artificial inventions of the French and British colonial administrators of 1922. There may be an Iraq drawn on a map by Winston Churchill after lunch but there’s no “Iraqis” – just Sunni, Shia, Kurds. But it’s the opposite scenario in “Palestine”. There has never been a Palestinian state yet there is apparently a Palestinian people, fully formed and of one mind and marching in lock-step behind their “sole legitimate representative”.

We now know this is not the case.

Why Is This Man Happy?

Peggy Noonan on Bush’s strange, weird good humor:

…As I watched [Bush’s] news conference, it occurred to me that one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president’s seemingly effortless high spirits. He’s in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn’t seem to be suffering, which is jarring. Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn’t Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president’s since polling began. He’s in a good mood. Discuss.

Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he’s right and you’re wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington to Baghdad that the American president is neither beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can’t sit around and moan. But it doesn’t look like an act. People would feel better to know his lack of success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.

His stock answer is that of course he feels the sadness of the families who’ve lost someone in Iraq. And of course he must. Beyond that his good humor seems to me disorienting, and strange.

The Loved One

In the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, Joseph Epstein delivers a well-deserved blow to the Jack Kennedy myth:

…As someone with a vivid memory of Kennedy’s brief and lackluster term as president, I have been amused over the following 44 years to watch the myth of the greatness of John F. Kennedy grow. Here was a president who initiated no impressive programs, was less than notably courageous in coming to the aid of civil-rights workers in the South, got the nation enmeshed in one of the most unpopular wars in our history (Vietnam), and brought it to the edge of nuclear war in a probably unnecessary war of nerves with Nikita Khrushchev over the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba. In short, John F. Kennedy was a president who, based on the decisions he made or didn’t have the courage to make while in office, deserves to go down as one of the resoundingly mediocre figures in American presidential history.

And so he would have done but for the one brilliant decision he did make — to surround himself with a staff of Harvard men and Cambridge intellectuals who continue to supply him with an unrelenting public relations build-up. A powerful PR man named Ben Sonnenberg used to say, apropos of his clients, that he made large pedestals for small men. Mr. Sonnenberg could have learned a thing or two from the Kennedy staff men. To invent a greater Camelot, alas, one has to sham a lot.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Richard Goodwin and Theodore Sorensen were among the circle around Kennedy — a president the British humorist Malcolm Muggeridge called “The Loved One” — who have kept pumping away at his already inflated reputation. Scheslinger, who started out in life as an historian and ended up as a courtier, worked most assiduously at this project, writing thick, overly dramatized books on both Jack and Bobby Kennedy, books with a very low truth quotient. But everyone pitched in. All had a stake, for the greater they could make John F. Kennedy seem, the more heightened would the drama of their own lives appear.

Calling Dr. Mohammed

Mark Steyn makes the connection between the British bomb plot and Michael Moore-style nationalized health care.

An excerpt:

[British prime minister] Aneurin Bevan, the socialist who created the National Health Service after World War II, was once asked to explain how he’d talked the country’s doctors into agreeing to become state employees: “I stuffed their mouths with gold,” he crowed. Sixty years later, no amount of gold can persuade Britons to spend their working lives in the country’s dirty, decrepit hospitals (they spend enough of their nonworking lives there, waiting to be seen, waiting for beds, waiting for operations). According to a report in the British Medical Journal, white males comprise 43.5 percent of the population but now account for less than a quarter of students at UK medical schools. In other words, being a doctor is no longer an attractive middle-class career proposition. That’s quite a monument to six decades of Michael Moore-style socialist health care.

So today the NHS is hungry for medical personnel from almost anywhere on the planet, so hungry that the government set up special fast-track immigration programs: Mohammed Asha, Mohammed Haneef and their comrades didn’t even require a work permit to come and practice as doctors in state hospitals. You don’t have to be the smartest jihadist in the cave to see that as an opportunity, any more than it required no great expertise for the 9/11 killers to figure that the quickest place to get the picture IDs with which they boarded the planes was through Virginia’s “undocumented worker” network. Everyone else from the Venezuelan peasantry to the Russia mafia knows the vulnerabilities of Western immigration systems, so why not the jihadists?

…The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe, and it’s utterly dependent on imported staff such as Dr. Asha and Dr. Abdulla. In the West, we look on mass immigration as a testament to our generosity, to our multicultural bona fides. But it’s not: A dependence on mass immigration is always a structural weakness and should be understood as such. In the socialized health systems of the Continent, aging, shrinking populations of native Europeans will spend their final years being cared for by young Muslim doctors and nurses. Indeed, in the NHS, geriatric medicine is a field overwhelmingly dependent on immigrant staff.

…Back at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, three doctors were under arrest, and the bomb squad performed a controlled explosion on a vehicle in the parking lot. Pulled from the flaming Cherokee, Dr. Kafeel Ahmed is now being treated for 90 percent burns in his own hospital by the very colleagues he sought to kill. But at one level he and Dr. Asha and Dr. Abdulla don’t need to blow up anything at all. The fact that the National Health Service – the “envy of the world” in every British politician’s absurdly parochial cliché – has to hire Wahhabist doctors with no background checks tells you everything about where the country’s heading.