Tag Archives: Glenn Loury

Great Nation Or Greatest Nation? Or, This Blog Post Brought To You By The Letter “F.”

Rich Lowry at NRO (entire column):

When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.

Yet, what other countries deserve this designation? For the sake of convenience, start at 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia ratified the modern system of nation-states. And grade on power, prosperity and goodness.

Is Spain the greatest ever? It had a nice run a couple of hundred years ago based on plundering the New World of its gold and silver. By 1800, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, it teeters on bankruptcy.

Is France? Its model of centralizing monarchy in the 17th century was extremely influential, and admirable — if you like elaborate court ritual, religious persecution and expansionistic wars. It gave the world the template for modern ideological madness in the French Revolution and for the modern tyrant in Napoleon. After the debacle of World War II, it recovered to a power of middling rank. If there’s no doubting the greatness of the French, their history comes with the implicit admonition: “Do not try this at home.”

Germany? In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a cultural jewel. And one of the most talented statesmen ever, Bismarck, forged a nation that became an industrial behemoth. It also had an illiberal heart. Germany today is an anchor of democratic Europe, but with a hellish black mark against it that will last for all time.

Russia? By the beginning of the 20th century, a decrepit autocracy sat atop a mass of misery. Then, things went south. The communists murdered and enslaved many millions across seven decades. Russia remains an important, if vastly diminished, power, governed by a prickly, grasping kleptocracy.

Britain? Getting warmer. It invented the rights that are the bedrock of liberal democracy. More than most European powers, it lived by Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” From a tiny island, it came to govern an enormous extent of the globe in a relatively benign colonialism. It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler. And it spawned the countries that have made the English-speaking world a synonym for good governance and liberty: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and America.

Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.

The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely. Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion. When a Marco Rubio talks of the greatness of America, it’s not bumptious self-congratulation. Our greatness comes with the responsibility to preserve our traditional dynamism and status as a robust middle-class society. To paraphrase the Benjamin Franklin of lore, we have the greatest country ever — if we can keep it.

Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard:

Over at NRO, you can read Rich Lowry’s engaging year-end column about America, “Yes, the Greatest Country Ever.”

The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”

And sources now tell us that Lowry’s been called to the White House this week for a secret meeting.

Meanwhile, we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.

Greg Sargent:

The last thing you need is more proof of the mindlessness and vapidity of the right’s attack on Obama for allegedly not believing in “American exceptionalism.” But Bill Kristol’s latest rendition is really worth savoring, because it unwittingly shows what nonsense it all is.

Kristol has a post up making the case that Obama has finally caved to the right’s attacks and has grudgingly conceded America’s greatness. The evidence? Kristol notes that in his weekly address on Saturday, the President hailed America as “the greatest nation on earth,” and “the greatest country in the world.”

This, Kristol says, showcases the “new, revised Obama.”

It’s unclear whether Kristol is joking, but given the idiocy we keep hearing along these lines, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he isn’t. So allow me to point out that Obama has been using these phrases for literally years now.

In his breakout speech at the 2004 Dem convention, Obama hailed the “greatness of our nation” and the “true genius of America.” And he’s repeatedly stated as president that we live in the greatest country evah. Way back in August 2009, Obama described America as “the greatest nation on Earth.” In October of 2009, Obama declared that “we live in the greatest country on Earth.”

In January of 2010, Obama described America as “the greatest nation in the world.” He called America the “greatest country on Earth” on September 25, again on September 29th, and still again on October 21st. And so on.

Jennifer Rubin:

Bill needs no defense from me, but let me explain the joke to Greg. It is not Obama who is the target of Bill’s humor, but the left and its disinclination to project American power and values. Bill, like many conservatives, has supported the president’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been quite generous in his praise of a number of Obama speeches. The point of the barb is to make clear that not even the liberal icon Obama adopts the left’s disdain for American exceptionalism, nor its desire to retreat from the war on Islamic terror. Conservatives, me included, are prone to marvel at the left’s propensity to sneer at George Bush’s formulation of American exceptionalism while remaining mute as their liberal hero does the same.

The point, you see, is not to discredit the president, but to discredit those that would pull him ever leftward on matters of national security. To the degree Obama sounds much like his predecessor and conducts a robust foreign policy (e.g. use of drones in Afghanistan, a continued presence in Iraq) conservatives will applaud and, candidly, take some glee in recognizing that a president cannot adopt a leftist world view and hope to successfully defend U.S. interests.

Paul Gottfried at The American Conservative:

Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”

Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.

It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.

Doug J:

There was a lot of chest-thumping, or weasel-whacking or monkey-strangling or what have you, about the awesomeness of the United States among the wingerati over the past few days. Rich Lowry declared that the United States is the best because we are the best, no one rocks as hard as we do, bitch.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.

Bill Kristol then gave Lowry some kind ironic boo-yah about the fact that Obama talked about how great the US is right after Lowry wrote his column.

The exchange was fairly typical of what passes for high-brow conservatism these days. And yet there are those who why conservatism has such little appeal for intellectually-inclined voters.

Andrew Sullivan:

Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).

So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they’re calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn’t because we object to the notion that babies are lovable – merely because most politicians aren’t. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.

Doug Mataconis:

Or, as DougJ at Balloon Juice put it, America Fuck Yeah.

I’ve really got to wonder what the purpose of stuff like this is. The GOP has been obsessed in recent years with the idea of national “greatness” and conservatives are quick to condemn and political leader who doesn’t make the appropriate statement about how the United States of America is the greatest country ever. It all strikes me as rather silly schoolyard boosterism. It doesn’t inform policy decisions, and it tends to lead to the rather dangerous idea of “My country, right or wrong.”

This is what passes for political insight from the right these days, apparently.

Rich Lowry and Glenn Loury at Bloggingheads

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Beefs Are Gettin’ Quite Nasty Up In This Blogosphere

Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic:

“Trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to readers of The New Republic is not easy.” On June 2, 1944, W.H. Auden penned that sentence in a letter to Ursula Niebuhr. On January 26, 2010, Andrew Sullivan posted it as the “quote for the day” on his blog. Displaced and unglossed quotations are always in some way mordant, and bristle smugly with implications. Let us see what this one implies.

Auden was at Swarthmore when he wrote his letter to his friend. He began by thanking her for her admiration of a piece about Kierkegaard’s Either/Or that he had recently published in The New Republic, and then reported that he had just finished, “after writing it four times,” a review for the magazine of Charles Norris Cochrane’s book Christianity and Classical Culture, which had in fact appeared four years earlier. His trouble in completing the piece to his satisfaction was what prompted the remark that Sullivan finds so pleasing and repercussive. Auden’s intense and idiosyncratic theology was flourishing in those years, not least owing to the impact upon his thinking of the friendship and the teaching of Reinhold Niebuhr, Ursula’s very remarkable husband. The Cochrane piece, which barely mentions Cochrane at all, is a fine example of Auden at his most philosophically grandiose and amateurish. “The distinctive mark of classical thought is that it gives no positive value to freedom and identifies the divine with the necessary or the legal.” “A monolithic monotheism is always a doctrine of God as either manic-depressive Power or schizophrenic Truth.” And so on. On metaphysical themes, Auden’s original formulations could sometimes be very obscure. Perhaps that was why my predecessor at this magazine held the article for many months, until late September. “At last, The New Republic has printed my now months’ old piece on Cochrane’s book,” Auden wrote to Ursula in October, “—they’ve cut it about a bit but I’m really quite pleased with it.”


When Auden joked to Niebuhr that the Trinity could hardly be understood in The New Republic, he was lightly lamenting the spiritual shallowness of the liberalism of his day. He was not alone in this lament, to be sure. The 1940s were the years of the inner deepening of American liberalism, under the influence of Niebuhr, and Schlesinger, and Trilling. Perhaps Sullivan is posting his “quote for the day” to make the same point–except that in his present incarnation he is himself a bizarre kind of liberal, and The New Republic today, a liberal magazine, is not known only, or in some quarters mainly, for its liberalism. It is hard to escape the impression that Sullivan is not liberal-baiting here. No, when he piously implies that the orbit of The New Republic is immune, or hostile, to the eternal verities of Christianity, he is baiting another class of people, and operating in the vicinity of a different canard.

Consider some squibs that Sullivan recently posted on his blog. “Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights),” he declared on January 13. “But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing–that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran–is something else. Something much darker.” Michael Goldfarb is the former online editor of The Weekly Standard, about whom the less said, the better. Charles Krauthammer is Charles Krauthammer. I was not aware that they comprise a “wing” of American Jewry, or that American Jewry has “wings.” What sets them apart from their more enlightened brethren is the unacceptability of their politics to Sullivan. That is his criterion for dividing the American Jewish community into good Jews and bad Jews–a practice with a sordid history.

As far as I can tell, Krauthammer’s position on torture is owed to a deep and sometimes frantic concern for American security, and his position on the war in Gaza to a deep and sometimes frantic concern for Israeli security, and his position on Iran to a deep and sometime frantic concern for American and Israeli security. Whatever the merits of his views, I do not see that his motives are despicable. Moreover, Krauthammer argues for his views; the premises of his analysis are coldly clear, and may be engaged analytically, and when necessary refuted. Unlike Sullivan, he does not present feelings as ideas. Most important, the grounds of Krauthammer’s opinions are no more to be found in, or reduced to, his Jewishness than the grounds of the contrary opinions–the contentions of dovish Jews who denounce torture, and oppose Israeli abuses in the Gaza war, and insist upon a diplomatic solution to the threat of an Iranian nuclear capability–are to be found in, or reduced to, their Jewishness. All these “wings” are fervent Jews and friends of Israel. There are many “Jewish” answers to these questions. We all want the Torah on our side. And the truth is that the Torah has almost nothing to do with it.

Sullivan is hunting for motives, not reasons; for conspiracies, which is the surest sign of a mind’s bankruptcy. These days the self-congratulatory motto above his blog is “Of No Party or Clique,” but in fact Sullivan belongs to the party of Mearsheimer and the clique of Walt (whom he cites frequently and deferentially), to the herd of fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington. Sullivan might have a look at the domestic pressures–in lobbies and other forms–upon American diplomacy toward China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Cuba, and give a thought or two to the elaborate and sometimes exasperating nature of foreign-policy-making in a democracy; but he prefers not to dive deep into the substance of anything. It is less immediately satisfying than cursing and linking. Does Sullivan think that Obama’s engagement with Iran–which, accurately described, is an engagement with the Iranian dictatorship and not with the Iranian people–is paying off? Does he believe that the Israeli war against Hamas was an unjust war, or that Israel should have continued to absorb Hamas’s rocket attacks–which were indisputably criminal–and not acted with force against them? His answers may be inferred from his various ejaculations–“the pulverization of Gazans,” for example, is a phrase that is calculatedly indifferent to the wrenching moral and strategic perplexities that are contained in the awful reality of asymmetrical warfare–but they are not so much answers as bar-room retorts; moody explosions of verbal violence; more invective from another American crank. Worst of all, the explanation that Sullivan adopts for almost everything that he does not like about America’s foreign policy, and America’s wars, and America’s role in the world–that it is all the result of the clandestine and cunningly organized power of a single and small ethnic group–has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.

And this is not all that is disgusting about Sullivan’s approach. His assumption, in his outburst about “the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,” that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an anti-Semitic assumption, and a rather classical one. Bigotry has always made representatives of individuals, and discerned the voice of the group in the voice of every one of its members. Is everything that every gay man says a gay statement? I will give an example. On October 15, 2001, when the ruins of the World Trade Center still smoldered, Sullivan published a piece in the Times of London called “A British View of the US Post-September 11.” In this piece he accused Bill Clinton of “appeasement,” and praised George W. Bush for assembling “the ideal team” for a “task” that “cannot be done by airpower alone,” and had kind words for America’s “world hegemony”–the politics changes, the fever remains the same–and also included this unforgettable sentence: “The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead – and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.” A fifth column! It is a genuinely sinister sentence. I wish to emphasize two features of Sullivan’s  comment. The first is that it is an exercise in demonization: it divides the American people into good Americans and bad Americans. The second is that it is in no way an expression of Sullivan’s homosexuality. It must never be said that when Sullivan lauded the bellicosity of Cheney and Rumsfeld–which wing of American Christianity, by the way, shall we blame for them? –he exchanged the company of the good gays for the company of the bad gays. To say that would be homophobic. Here is what such homophobia would look like: Most American homosexuals, of course, retain a respect for art, and compassion for the other, and support for minorities. But the Sullivan-Shmullivan wing of American homosexuality–that celebrates and believes in torture and war, and endorses the pulverization of Afghan villages with glee, and wants to attack any country where Al Qaeda may be found–is something else. Something much darker. Get it?

Andrew Sullivan’s first response:

It’s been fourteen years since I left TNR and Leon Wieseltier is still obsessed with his long-standing and at this point tedious personal vendetta against me. I will try and defend myself from these dark insinuations of anti-Semitism one by one in due course (allow me a little time to respond to a 4,300 word ad hominem). But just for the record, let me grapple with Leon’s first claim that my citation of W H Auden’s letter to Ursula Niebuhr represented some dark and ugly attempt to convey anti-Semitic tropes and code.

Now it’s impossible to refute mere insinuations about my true motives for posting a random quote. But really: does Leon really believe I was making a swipe at the Jewish faith? To give just one of countless examples of my own passionate defense of the Jewish people from Catholic bigotry, see my review here. But as luck would have it, I have the email trail that gives the full context of this one-line post, so you can make your mind up yourself.

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t stop myself from posting a rebuttal of some argument Sullivan’s made or some falsehood that he’s promoted. And that’s true of everyone here at TAS: if you didn’t hold back, the blog would devolve into a catalogue of his errors and misstatements. Especially when Sullivan writes about the pope or Catholicism, I, as someone who knows the first thing about it, am always shocked by his craziness. Wieseltier’s topic is Sullivan’s treatment of Israel and American Jews, and it’s pretty damning.


LEON WIESELTIER: Andrew Sullivan has a serious problem. “Sullivan is hunting for motives, not reasons; for conspiracies, which is the surest sign of a mind’s bankruptcy. These days the self-congratulatory motto above his blog is ‘Of No Party or Clique,’ but in fact Sullivan belongs to the party of Mearsheimer and the clique of Walt (whom he cites frequently and deferentially), to the herd of fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington. . . . And this is not all that is disgusting about Sullivan’s approach. His assumption, in his outburst about ‘the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,’ that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an anti-Semitic assumption, and a rather classical one. Bigotry has always made representatives of individuals, and discerned the voice of the group in the voice of every one of its members. . . . Having demanded that the Jews behave apologetically in America, Sullivan now demands that the United States behave apologetically in the world–that it adjust its relationship with Israel to the preferences of the Muslim peoples. This is a little like decrying the election of a black president because it will inflame white racists. . . . To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.” Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: On consideration, I don’t think this gets it quite right. Andrew certainly has a lot of hate, but unlike Buchanan he seems less . . . fixed in exactly who he hates at any given moment. I think it’s more of a frog-and-scorpion kind of thing and not a traditional idee fixee hatred like anti-semitism.

Dan Riehl:

For all it’s depth and artfulness, ultimately, Leon Wieseltier’s critique of Andrew Sullivan is myopic. Certainly, all the signs of anti-semitism are there with Sullivan. But that’s because he hates, first and foremost, and simply disagrees.

Via Google, the words hater and Andrew Sullivan go hand in hand and have throughout his various political transmutations. He’s capable of hating almost anything, or anyone. Right now, Sullivan hates everything from a single uterus, to the Christian faith and Zionism, among other things. Two years from now, he may be hating something else because, to know whatSullivan hates at any particular time, is only to know that which he opposes, not which he truly loathes.

Matthew Yglesias:

My understanding is that Leon Wieseltier and Andrew Sullivan have some kind of personal beef dating back to when Sullivan was editor of the New Republic. Wieseltier basically runs the back-of-the-book autonomously, which is a setup that often leads to friction with the nominal editor of the magazine, and in the case of the Wieseltier/Sullivan situation it was especially bad for some reason. That’s the backdrop for this bizarre Wieseltier hit-piece on Sullivan.

Like most of TNR’s very worst work, it suffers deeply from schizophrenia about the idea of flinging around baseless charges of anti-semitism. On the one hand, the charges are baseless so the writer hesitates to fling them around. On the other hand, flinging baseless charges of anti-semitism is the essence of the magazine’s commentary on Israel. For the purposes of intimidation, after all, baseless charges work better than well-grounded ones. Nikolai Krylenko, Bolshevik Minister of Justice, said “we must execute not only the guilty, execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.” And it’s much the same here. If you call anti-semites anti-semites, then people who aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism will figure “hey, since my political opinions aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism, then I’m safe.” The idea is to put everyone on notice that mere innocence will be no defense. But relatively few people are actually goonish enough to execute the strategy properly, so instead Wieseltier’s piece beats around the bush and doesn’t really come out and say what it’s saying.

Daniel Larison:

For his evidence, such as it is, Wieseltier first establishes that Andrew does not agree with and does not care for Michael Goldfarb and Charles Krauthammer. Even though Andew stipulated that these people are in no way representative of American Jewish opinion, he made clear that he loathed the ideology these individuals have embraced. Who wouldn’t? They cheered and defended all the worst aspects of the previous administration, and they routinely endorse destructive, inhumane policies. Andrew is not “hunting for motives” when he describes their appalling views; he is stating his opposition to those views. Unlike Wieseltier, he does not speculate about someone’s supposed undisclosed animus against an entire group of people on the basis of a few quotes and fragments.

As far as I know, Andrew does not subscribe to Walt and Mearsheimer’s actual arguments contained in their writings on the Israel lobby. Imagine how much less he agrees with the completely distorted, despicable misrepresentation of those views that Wieseltier presents! If he agreed with Walt and Mearsheimer’s actual arguments, that would mean that he supports Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself, and he would believe that the U.S. should guarantee its security. In fact, Andrew is arguably much more of a Zionist than this, and this comes through in numerous posts in which he, like many other Western Zionists, expresses his sorrow at what certain political forces inside Israel, especially Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, have been doing to the country and its reputation abroad. My impression is that it is his sympathy for Israel that makes him so critical of the mistakes he believes its government has been making.

Andrew will sometimes overstate things, and he has an Obama loyalist’s tendency to attack Obama’s opponents in very harsh terms. One post that Wieseltier cites is one that I criticized at the time, not because Andrew was all that wrong on the substance of the state of U.S.-Israel relations or Israel’s fraying relationship with Turkey, but because he did not set recent events against the background of the last several years. No reasonable person could conclude that Andrew’s statement was anything more than a strong criticism of another government that he correctly saw as an opponent of Obama’s policies. As for his remarks about jihadism, Andrew was commenting on a discussion begun by Marc Lynch, who made the argument with which Andrew was agreeing.

Alex Pareene at Gawker:

The crime is not that Sullivan is a conspiracist who thinks a cabal of Jews controls American foreign policy—that is insane. The crime is that Sullivan fucking criticizes Israel at all, without being a Jew. (Wieseltier is allowed to say mildly critical things about Netanyahu and call the settlers fascists because he is a member of the Tribe and he writes for The New Republic, which will only criticize Israel in occasional asides in the middle of articles on Those Terrible Liberal Antisemites or Those Terrible Muslims.) And you can accuse Andrew Sullivan of being emotional, inconsistent, and generally goofy (and you can complain about his hysterical post-9/11 writings, which Leon brings up purely to find something actually objectionable to object to, or the egregiously racist bullshit he published as editor of The New Republic, which Leon does not bring up), but to say that because he thinks the settlements should be dismantled and he finds Charles fucking Krauthammer objectionable that he is an antisemite is bullshit of the highest order. (Not that we’re surprised! Leon Wieseltier is a first-class bullshit artist! He consistently provides totally quality zingers slathered in the finest aged bullshit.)

Meanwhile, TNR publisher and on-again, off-again owner Marty Peretz posts something racist enough to make Tom Tancredo blush almost weekly. Like, explicitly so. You don’t actually need deep readings of his extensive archives to find evidence of implicit racist motives. He just lets it all hang loose.

UPDATE: Reihan Salam

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Glenn Greenwald

Brad DeLong

UPDATE #2: Andrew Sullivan responds

Heather Horn at The Atlantic has 19 pundit responses

Mike Potemra at The Corner

More Sullivan

UPDATE #3: Leon Wieseltier responds to Sullivan

Eric Alterman at The Nation

DiA at The Economist

UPDATE #8: Matthew Yglesias and Glenn Loury at Bloggingheads

Andrew Sullivan responds to Chait

UPDATE #9: Chait responds to Sullivan

Sullivan responds to Chair


Filed under Mainstream, New Media, Religion

The Book Is Open

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

“Game Change,” the long-awaited and very gossipy chronicle of the 2008 campaign by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is chock full of revelations that are bound to stir the folks who live within ten miles of the Beltway — and perhaps even reverberate beyond Washington.

The book doesn’t officially go on sale until next Tuesday. The authors are slated to appear on 60 Minutes Sunday to preview it. I found it available for purchase at a Washington, D.C. bookstore tonight.

Among the more fascinating items:

On page 37, a remark, said “privately” by Sen. Harry Reid, about Barack Obama’s racial appeal. Though Reid would later say that he was neutral in the presidential race, the truth, the authors write, was that his

encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he said privately.  Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama’s race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

E-mails sent late Friday to Reid staffers were not immediately answered. (Update: Reid apologized.)

The authors write on page 50 about the “war room within a war room” that Hillary Clinton put together to deal with questions about her husband’s “libido.”  The circle of trust included media strategist Howard Wolfson, lawyer Cheryl Mills and confidant Patti Solis Doyle.

The war room within a war room dismissed or discredited much of the gossip floating around, but not all of it. The stories about one woman were more concrete, and after some discreet fact-finding, the group concluded that they were true: that BIll was indeed having an affair — and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship.  …. For months, thereafter, the war room within a war room braced for the explosion, which her aides knew could come at any moment.
The authors do not identify the woman.

I don’t want to give away the whole book… but I would be remiss if I did not point to the chapters about the unbelievably dysfunctional husband and wife team of John and Elizabeth Edwards.  Not only, it turns out, did many senior Edwards staffer suspect that John was having an affair, several confronted John Edwards about it, and came away believing the rumors.  At least three campaign aides resigned because of their knowledge of the affair well before the national media picked up on those early National Enquirer stories.

More Ambinder:

Why Sen. Kennedy was offended about his conversation with Bill Clinton (page 218):

“Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago this guy would have been getting us coffee.”

Clinton senior strategist Mark Penn boasted to his staff how many times he managed to say “cocaine” on that famous Hardball segment (page 163).


Before he decided to run for president, the Obamas flew to Nashville, TN to get Al Gore’s assurance that he would not run. (Pages 73-74.)

McCain aides confront Cindy McCain over reports that she had an extramarital affair (page 281):

“The man was said to be her long-term boyfriend; the pair had been sighted all over town in the last few years. Members of McCain’s senior staff discussed the unsettling news, and their growing concerns that Cindy’s behavior had been increasingly erratic of late. [John] Weaver and others suspected that the Cindy rumor was rooted in truth. It was upsetting, Weaver believed, but not a threat.”

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin at New York Magazine:

For all the tabloid headlines that have dogged Edwards in the years since then, most of the details of the circumstances that led to his fall have remained shrouded in mystery. After his turn as John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, Edwards was among a small handful of politicians with a credible shot at occupying the Oval Office. He was popular and charming, with serious rhetorical skills, a wife beloved by the public, and the same basic profile—a white, southern, moderate male—as the previous three Democrats who’d proved capable of winning the White House. Today, according to a recent NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll, Edwards stands as the “most disappointing” public figure of 2009, having collected twice as many votes for that dubious distinction as Tiger Woods. And hard as it is to imagine, the coming months may debase his image further still.

Philandering is hardly a novel vice among presidential wannabes—or presidents, for that matter. Nor was the Edwards campaign the only national operation in 2008 for which the actual or rumored extracurricular activities of the candidate (or the candidate’s spouse) posed a significant political problem. John McCain’s campaign expended vast amounts of time and energy dealing with accusations that the senator had had an affair with a lobbyist and preparing to confront stories that his wife was carrying on a liaison of her own. Hillary Clinton’s team established a “war room within a war room” to douse potential flare-ups in the press surrounding her husband’s personal life. Indeed, among the top-tier contenders, only the eventual Mr. and Mrs. 44 were untroubled by such matters.

Yet it was Edwards who stepped so far across the line that his career and life were reduced to rubble. For all the high drama of the Obama-Clinton battle and the historic import of the former’s general-election victory over McCain, Edwards’s story is equally, lastingly resonant: an archetypal political tragedy in which the very same qualities that fuel any presidential bid—ego, hubris, vanity, neediness, a kind of delusion—became all-consuming and self-destructive. And in which the gap between public façade and private reality simply grew too vast to bridge.

No one in the Edwardses’ political circle felt anything less than complete sympathy for Elizabeth’s plight. And yet the romance between her and the electorate struck them as ironic nonetheless—because their own relationships with her were so unpleasant that they felt like battered spouses. The nearly universal assessment among them was that there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing.

With her husband, she could be intensely affectionate or brutally dismissive. At times subtly, at times blatantly, she was forever letting John know that she regarded him as her intellectual inferior. She called her spouse a “hick” in front of other people and derided his parents as rednecks. One time, when a friend asked if John had read a certain book, Elizabeth burst out laughing. “Oh, he doesn’t read books,” she said. “I’m the one who reads books.”

During the 2004 race, Elizabeth badgered and berated John’s advisers around the clock. She called Nick Baldick, his campaign manager, an idiot. She accused David Axelrod, his (and later Obama’s) media consultant, of lying to her and insisted that he be stripped of the responsibility for making the campaign’s TV ads. She would stay up late scouring the Web, pulling down negative stories and blog items about her husband, forwarding them with vicious messages to the communications team. She routinely unleashed profanity-laced tirades on conference calls. “Why the fuck do you think I’d want to go sit outside a Wal-Mart and hand out leaflets?” she snarled at the schedulers.

Jeff Zeleny in NYT:

* Less than six weeks before Election Day, advisers to Ms. Palin alerted the McCain headquarters over concerns of Ms. Palin’s well-being. They said she was not eating properly, depressed and not participating in debate practices. Mr. McCain suggested moving the debate sessions from Philadelphia to Sedona, Ariz., and fly her family in from Alaska, to improve her outlook.

* In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

It looks like there’s going to be plenty of other blog fodder in the book as well. Bill Clinton was having an affair. (Maybe.) Harry Reid said something slightly impolitic. George Bush didn’t think much of John McCain’s campaign. Etc. Should be good for 24 or maybe even 48 hours worth of nonstop cable coverage.

More Ambinder:

A White House official said that Majority Leader Harry Reid has called President Obama to apologize for comments describing his ability to speak in something other than a “Negro” dialect.

And President Obama just issued this statement:

“Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today.  I accepted Harry’s apology without question because I’ve known him for years, I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart.  As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.”

Matthew Yglesias:

I’m slow on the uptake about this whole “negro dialect” business but it’s a reminder of how weird political apologies get to be. It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else. Doesn’t seem likely to help Reid’s already troubled re-election campaign.

Michelle Malkin:

It was just last month that Dingy Harry Reid likened Republicans who oppose the government health care to proponents of slavery.

Who’s the real RAAAAAAACIST?

Jules Crittenden:

I’d say. Always wondered what a post-racial America would look like. Apparently, it’s like this.

You can yammer on about “light-skinned” this and “Negro dialect” that, but you’re not a bigot as long as you support the president’s policies. Meanwhile, no matter how pure of heart, speech and mind you may be, if you oppose anything he proposes, you’re a bigot. Because he’s black. Get it?

Greg Sargent:

* With Harry Reid under fire for his explosive racial comments about Obama, ya think Michael Steele is breathing an enormous sigh of relief right now? He has to be desperate for anything to distract the political classes from their ongoing and merciless dissection of his antics.

Indeed, Steele grabbed on to Reid’s gaffe like a piece of driftwood, calling on Reid to resign on two Sunday shows this morning. Steele has to be pleasantly surprised to be talking about anyone other than himself.

* Trent Lott redux? Steele and other Republicans are pushing the idea that Reid’s comments are similar to Lott’s infamous suggestion that Strom Thurmond was right about segregation. But on Meet the Press this morning, DNC chair Tim Kaine sharply dismissed the comparison, invoked the fact that Obama accepted Reid’s apology, and said he’s “absolutely” convinced that this controversy is over.

* Since this is today’s topic of discussion, let’s compare the comments. Here’s Lott in 2002:

“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

And here’s Reid:

According to the new book “Game Change,” Reid “was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately.

Obviously Reid’s gaffe was awful, and he’ll be dealing with the fallout for some time. But Reid’s comments were an assessment, if an extraordinarly ham-handed one, of what was politically possible for Obama, given the current state of race relations. Lott’s comments, meanwhile, were effectively an endorsement of a particular view of race relations.

UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reid

John McWhorter at TNR on Reid

UPDATE #2: Mickey Kaus

UPDATE #3: John McWhorter and Glenn Loury at Bloggingheads


Filed under Books, Political Figures, Race