Tag Archives: John Podhoretz

The Passion Of The Newt

David Brody at CBN:

Newt Gingrich, who is expected to run for President tells The Brody File that he “felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness” over his past marital infidelity and now that he’s at the grandfather stage he is “truly enjoying the depths of my life in ways that I never dreamed it was possible.”

The Brody File sat down with Gingrich Monday afternoon at The Machine Shed Restaurant in the suburbs of Des Moines before the big Iowa Faith and Freedom event.

We’re posting three clips from the interview below with transcriptions.

There will be those Evangelicals who can’t get past Gingrich’s transgressions from earlier in his life. But let’s remember. Evangelicals know all about grace and redemption too and if Gingrich can connect on issues important to Evangelicals (especially in Iowa and South Carolina) then look out. He has a path to the nomination. Don’t write him off. He can compete strongly for the Evangelical vote.

Newt Gingrich: “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.  And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.  I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness.  Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness.  I do believe in a forgiving God.  And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there’s a forgiving God.  Somebody once said that when we’re young, we seek justice, but as we get older, we seek mercy.  There’s something to that, I think.  I feel that I’m now 67 I’m a grandfather.  I have two wonderful grandchildren.  I have two wonderful daughters and two great sons in law.  Callista and I have a great marriage. I think that I’ve learned an immense amount. And I do feel, in that sense, that God has given me, has blessed me with an opportunity as a person.  Forget about all this political stuff.  As a person, I’ve had the opportunity to have a wonderful life, to find myself now, truly enjoying the depths of my life in ways that I never dreamed it was possible to have a life that was that nice.”

Doug Mataconis:

Newt Gingrich is out with a rather unique reinterpretation of his marital infidelities

Josh Green:

I have greatly enjoyed Donald Trump’s hilarious, boastful attempts to explain why his divorces should not trouble social conservatives. Last week, Trump told the Des Moines Register, “One of the reasons I was divorced is because I worked very hard. And, you know, that’s a good reason. But I worked very, very hard building up a great company.” So I guess that justifies it, right?

I had assumed that this said more about Trump’s Olympian self regard than it did anything about the Republican Party. But after watching David Brody’s interview with Newt Gingrich on the Christian Broadcasting Network, I’m starting to wonder. Here’s how Gingrich explained his divorces: “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”
That sounds an awful lot like Trump’s excuse, and shares the similarity of seeming more concerned with complimenting one’s own hard work, patriotism and overall greatness than with, you know, penitently explaining the reasons why one’s marriages keep falling apart.

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

See, he worked far too hard because he loved his country too much and then he acted wrongly, but fortunately God forgives, plus God blessed him with an opportunity as a person.

I’d spend some time parsing this, seeking to show how he simultaneously takes responsibility and doesn’t take responsibility and how he actually praises himself when he’s supposedly criticizing himself. But what’s the point? He’s a fascinating, and occasionally brilliant, political thinker, but one thing the merciful and forgiving God who has so blessed him did not bestow upon Newt Gingrich was a sense of when to stop talking.

Philip Klein at The American Spectator:

While he is admitting that he did something wrong, he’s also trying to justify his behavior by aggrandizing himself. My own view is, when you’re owning up to something, you own up to it fully. You don’t try to explain or justify it yourself. The problem Gingrich faces when it comes to his personal problems is that the best possible argument a politician can make in these cases is that people should separate personal indiscretions from performance in office. Yet as leader of the effort to impeach President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich is in the worst possible position to make that argument. So we’ll have to keep a close watch on how this goes over with the base.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t recommend any cheating guys tell their wives/girlfriends, “Sorry honey, I was just acting on my passion for my country.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I didn’t want it to happen, of course. No one does. When you take the marriage vows, you take them for life, right? So at first, I suppressed those unwanted feelings. Sure, I noticed her purple mountain majesties as soon as she walked in the room. I mean, who didn’t? Believe me, in a sweater, those purple mountains sure were majestic. And her amber waves of grain? I couldn’t pry my eyes away. So lush and, well, ambery. What was I to do? Maybe it’s because my defenses were down — I was working so hard at the time — that my mind soon wandered to her fruited plains. Bad, bad thoughts! But I just couldn’t help myself.

At first, of course, I didn’t say a word. I tried to confirm my soul in self-control. Oh, how I tried! And she played it straight, even when she caught me staring at her alabaster cities. But then I succumbed. I succumbed to sin. It was a business trip, of course. What a trip! It took us from the redwood forests all the way to the gulf stream waters. I was working so hard! Did I mention that I was working so very hard?

On that perilous night, when I first lifted my lamp by her golden door, she was dressed in broad stripes and bright stars. I was always a sucker for broad stripes and bright stars. It happened after a long day of exceedingly hard work. Boy, was I tired from all that hard work! She knew I wanted her. And I knew she wanted me. In a flash, our clothes fell to the floor, and she whispered huskily in my ear, “Give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,” and before I knew it, I saw that golden valley. Oh, the rockets’ red glare! The bombs bursting in air!  In that moment of indivisible union, I screamed out, “America, America! God shed His grace on thee!”

I was hopelessly, irretrievably in love. I guess that makes me a sinner. But it also makes me a patriot.


“I hope you can forgive yourself, God, for making this country so damn fuckable. Jeez Louise, this country is fucking hot! It’s actually your fault I had sex with women outside my marriages, because you shouldn’t have dressed up the United States in those skimpy borders. What am I saying? It’s not even wearing any clothes!”

Many politicians say they love this country. But few have the strength to admit to the U.S. they want to take it in the back room and cum on its face. THOSE POLL NUMBERS ARE GONNA CLIMB NOW!


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But Then How Will I Know If It’s Chicken Noodle Or Cream Of Mushroom?

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up:

On Monday, organizers for the nascent centrist/bipartisan group No Labels expected a thousand Democrats, Republicans and Independents to gather in New York City to decry hyper-partisanship and listen to a star-studded line-up of speakers including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and many others. The movement says it is not a think-tank, a third party, or any “stalking horse” for any centrist candidate to get elected. It also eschews endorsing a single issue, preferring to say that it seeks “common sense,” “less ideological” approaches to governing. Since No Labels is abstaining from any position other than noting that it would like to get away from “hyper-partisanship,” pundits are speculating what, exactly, the purpose of the movement is, and how it will work.

Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo:

Among No Label’s goals are to “establish a Political Action Committee that can operate in the 2012 primary races of members who get challenged by the ideological extremes of either party,” to “monitor and track the activities of all members of congress to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games,” and to “recruit one million Citizen Leaders to be part of No Labels effort.”

The list of speakers today included:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Congressman Bob Inglis
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Congressman Tom Davis
David Brooks
Joe Scarborough
Mika Brzezinski
Senator Joe Lieberman
Senator Evan Bayh
Senator Joe Manchin
David Gergen
Governor Charlie Crist
Lt Governor Abel Maldonado
Congressman Michael Castle
Ellen Freidin

And though the logo is a red and blue bison, the group takes inclusiveness seriously: The gift shop offers a veritable menagerie of bipartisan animal swag. Just don’t try to to find a donkey or elephant.

Christopher Beam at Slate:

Everything you need to know about the new political group No Labels is contained in its slogan: “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” It’s smug. It sounds like an Obama campaign catchphrase. And it ignores the whole reason politics exists, which is that not everyone agrees on what “Forward” is.

A group of political and media A-listers descended on Columbia University Monday morning for the group’s big launch event, which co-founder Mark McKinnon dubbed in his introductory remarks “our little Woodstock of democracy.” No Label seeks to be the voice of reason in an increasingly hyper-partisan environment—a counterweight to interest groups at either end of the political spectrum. Instead of rewarding candidates who spew partisan talking points, No Label says it will raise money for moderate candidates who embrace what co-founder Jon Cowan calls the “three C’s”: co-sponsors, common ground, and civility.

The guest list at Monday’s confab said as much about the group as its slogan. Attendees were a mix of media commentators (David Brooks, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski), recent political losers (former Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist), politicians who aren’t seeking re-election (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh), and moderates who have special permission to buck their party (incoming West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman). In other words, a bunch of people with nothing at stake.

Allah Pundit:

That’s what they’re calling it — the “No Labels Anthem,” presumably to be played whenever Mike Bloomberg walks into a room or “Morning Joe” goes to commercial or, I guess, as mood-setting music whenever RINO candy asses like myself have a lady friend over. According to the description at the site, here’s all it took to make it happen:

It only took one conversation with Lisa Borders, one of the founding leaders of No Labels, for Akon to immediately understand the meaning of this movement’s message. Never give up your label, just put it aside to do what’s best for America. With lyrics like “See a man with a blue tie, see a man with a red tie; so how about we tie ourselves together and get it done,” Akon shares his passion for politicians to put the labels aside so we can find practical solutions to our nation’s problems. Akon stayed up all night to create this song and now you can listen to it for free and share the song to help inspire others to put their labels aside.

So Akon’s on board with the RINO/DINO fusion message of No Labels? (A “fusion” soundbite from this morning’s launch via Jim Geraghty: “You just have to look to Arizona to see extremists who are trying to divide us.”) That’s interesting, because here’s what he had to say right before the 2008 election:

If he [Obama] doesn’t get into office, I’m gonna change my citizenship. I’m moving back to Africa. You can hold me to that. I’m afraid to live there if he [McCain] is President. The decisions he makes scare me: he’s making selfish decisions, he’s doing whatever it takes to get into office.

Either this guy’s views of Hopenchange and liberalism have changed profoundly over the past two years or he’s under the impression that Obama himself is beyond labels. (An Obama soundbite does feature prominently in the song.) Which, if true, would likely come as a surprise to potential independent presidential challenger Mike Bloomberg and perhaps to No Labels co-founder David Frum, who once wrote a long post in defense of the candidate whose policies had Akon ready to, er, leave the country in 2008. In fact, the man himself was supposed to show up at today’s big launch to perform the tune but got caught in a midwestern storm. Instead we got … what you’ll find below.

David Weigel:

I’m in D.C., not New York, but in slow moments I’ve been checking in with the video feed for the launch of No Labels, the most important post-partisan trojan horse for generic liberal politics since either Unity08 or HotSoup.com. It’s easy to mock — I notice that the mountains of derisive Twitter comments are not being quoted when moderators dip in to quote from social media — but what strikes me is how the rhetoric for a bland, good government-and-handshakes “movement” is identical to the Glenn Beck 9/12 movement.

Contrast this with Evan Bayh’s comments at the event — his first since disclaiming interest in a 2012 comeback bid for governor of Indiana. Bayh, who suggested that the problem with the Senate was that members of different parties gathered in caucuses (“it’s almost tribal”), cited a few examples of Republicans and Democrats coming together for the greater good. He cited the aftermath of September 11 and the financial crisis of 2008. He described a scene from 2008 where Ben Bernanke warned senators that the sky would collapse if the banks weren’t rescued. “We looked at each other,” said Bayh, “and said, okay, what do we need.”

This made me double back to the March 13, 2009 launch of Glenn Beck’s “We Surround Them” movement. Beck told viewers that if they remembered how they felt in the grip of an existential crisis, they would be inspired to come together.

On September 10th, Americans were playing politics and they had chosen to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the coming threat. I remember how picture perfect the day was. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and America seemed invisible, and yet, in the blink of an eye. That airplane appeared to hit a little bit down the building around the 50th or 60th floor. Again, it struck flush. The skies were filled with black cloud and our hearts were full of terror and fear. We realized — for the first time how fragile we really were. Then something happened. We came together. We promised ourselves that we would never forget. On September 12th, and for a short time after that, we really promised ourselves that we would focus on the things that were important — our family, our friends, the eternal principles that allowed America to become the world’s beacon of freedom. So once again, America has a choice. Tonight, we can choose to be the Americans of September 10th with our heads buried in the sand. We can be the Americans of September 11th who were unprepared and then paralyzed by fear, despair or anger. Or, we can choose to renew the promise that we all made to ourselves.

It sounded exactly like Bayh, who fantasized again and again about what sort of apocalyptic events could force politicians to be bipartisan. “Look to the vote on the debt ceiling or a run on the dollar,” said Bayh. “It may take that kind of exogenous event, that kind of forcing event, to make it happen.”

Jennifer Rubin:

The group is comprised of a lot of midterm losers (oops, mustn’t label) and retirees. And while they decry name-calling, Avalon immediately denounced partisan loyalty as “cowardly.” (Do these non-labelers put a dollar in the jar every time they use a label?)

It turns out it’s hard to operate without labels. “We’re going to call ourselves the radical center, the people who care about results, not rhetoric,” said former congressman Tom Davis. “Radical” and “center,” Mr. Davis? For shame.

The group says it has raised $1 million already. That suggests that people will spend their money on anything, or rather nothing. Really, why is disbanding “labeling” a virtue? It’s a con job, really to demean those who have strongly held beliefs for which they rigorously advocate. That is, after all, what small “d” democracy is all about. So as for me, I’ll stick to candor, truth in advertising and robust debate

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

Today marks the announcement of the new crusade called No Labels, which is about … well, it’s hard to say what it’s about, except that there’s too much partisanship and polarization and we need to work together to get things done. Various politicians (L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, and, of course, Michael Bloomberg) are speaking about moving the country forward by finding common ground without vilification.

Do they mean things like … the Iraq war, for which half the Democratic caucus in the Senate voted in 2002? Or the No Child Left Behind Act, probably the most bipartisan piece of legislation of our generation, back in 2001? Or … the TARP bailout in 2008, which had bipartisan support as well? Those votes, and the policies that followed from them, have really done a lot to advance the cause of bipartisanship, no?

Anyway, I’m watching the No Labels webcast. And guess what? At this very moment, as I type, a grand total of 508 people are watching the webcast

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Spengler v. Podhoretz: Mama Edition

Matt Duss at Think Progress has already rounded most of this up.

Spengler (David Goldman) at First Things:

I’ve been screaming about this for more than two years: Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.

Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.

Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.

The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

John is quite right in his post on the unacceptable musings of David Goldman — and his caution that, “The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits.”

President Obama is, many of us believe, doing significant damage to America. At the same time, and thankfully, there is an extraordinary (peaceful) civic uprising against his agenda. There will be, I think, a fearsome price for Democrats to pay in November for what they are doing to this country. But there is still such a thing as a democratic etiquette, and we need to abide by it.

Michael Leeden:

David has been saying these things for quite a while, and has offered plenty of evidence to explain why he believes them.  John hasn’t felt obliged to pick a fight before,  and I think he would have done better if had taken a bit of time to study the facts of Obama’s life.  Contrary to John’s dismissal of any Indonesian influence (he was only there for “less than a year”), for example, young Barack spent four important years (from age 6 to 10) there, and attended a Muslim school (which wasn’t “very Muslim” actually, but I digress).  And his characterization of Mrs Obama’s family as “lower middle class from Mercer Island, Washington” is not quite right either:  the parents were from Kansas, and lived briefly on Mercer Island (which is a pretty pricey neighborhood, at least in recent years);  the mother was a bank vice president, and I can’t find an account suggesting that Obama’s mother had an economically challenged childhood.  That came later, as a result of moving to Indonesia.

I totally agree with John–indeed I have written it myself–when he says that Obama’s view of the world is of a piece with the political correctness now rampant in American colleges and universities.  His mother was a trailblazer in this regard, and it shouldn’t be controversial to say it.

I’m baffled when John accuses David of somehow trying to make the president “responsible” for his mother.  It’s surely important to pay attention to biography, as John no doubt agrees in calmer moments.  I don’t understand his complaint about “speculation about…sexual history.”  It’s not speculative to say that she married a Kenyan and then an Indonesian, and produced children from both.

Finally, there’s the ugly part, when John, not content with expressing his rage at David’s paragraph, makes it all personal.  David was a Larouchean, and broke with the movement.  John would have us believe that David’s youthful blunder tars him irremediably:  “thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world.”  Certainly it’s important to know about David’s past.  But I don’t think that John would take kindly to anyone who wrote, let’s say, “thinking of the sort revealed in Norman Podhoretz’s book is in the direct line of descent from radical leftists with whom Mr. P once worked.”

The character of our president is an important matter.  I think both John and David have tried to illuminate it, but I wish John had taken more time with his latest tirade, gotten the facts right, and focused his considerable talent on the serious matters that rightly concern us.

Daniel Larison:

There is a bizarre but noteworthy feud erupting between the absurd “Spengler,” now a resident blogger at First Things, and some of the more appalling neoconservatives. In some ways, it resembles the dispute between Andy McCarthy and Max Boot I mentioned last week. On the one side, you have completely irrational fanatics who also favor perpetual war and on the other side the hawkish interventionists that are embarrassed by them. In light this comparison, it is appropriate that Goldman recently wrote an entire essay claiming that the non-story about Petraeus was a deeply significant episode in American politics.

It is true that David Goldman, a.k.a. Spengler, has been making absurd claims about Obama for years. I first noticed this about him a little over two years ago. It has been obvious to me for a while that there was something awry with Goldman.


It is telling that it was not the abhorrent ideas contained in this article that prompted attacks on Spengler. No doubt many hawks will cite this article in his defense. Spengler’s error was instead simply a slightly more aggressive form of the garbage that anti-Obama hawks routinely encourage in every argument they make. He seems to have made the mistake of actually believing the nonsense that other Obama critics utter for political advantage.


So, for those of you keeping score at home: The “crazy” side of this debate (Goldman, Ledeen) believes that President Obama’s mother’s choice of male companions is hugely relevant to understanding his plans for surrendering to the Islamofascists. The “sane” side (Podhoretz, Wehner) thinks that President Obama’s mother’s choice of male companions is irrelevant to the fact that President Obama doesn’t like America very much.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Max Fisher at The Atlantic

Spengler responds:

John Podhoretz excoriated me for a characterization of Barack Obama that has earned wide if not universal acceptance among conservatives. Surely he protests too much. John is a very good journalist; if he had read my essays rather than react to a one-line reference to them in a blog post, I am convinced he would have come away with a different impression.

On pages 38-39 of his new book Conservative Victory, for example, Sean Hannity approvingly quotes my two-year-old sketch of how Obama’s family background cultivated a hostility to the United States:

But it’s been suggested that one of Obama’s voluntary relationships is more revealing of his radicalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-capitalism than all of the others: his choice of marital partner. The columnist known as Spengler, writing for the Asia Times, quoted Alexandre Dumas: “When you want to uncover an unspecified secret, look for the woman.” In Obama’s case, wrote Spengler, there have been two principal women in his life: his late mother and “his rancorous wife Michelle. Obama’s women reveal his secret: he hates America.”


One has to come from the Third World, or at least have spent a good deal of time in the Third World, to comprehend quite how agonizing is the plight of failing peoples. One response is to blame the hated hegemony of America; that is precisely what President Obama did at the United Nations on Sept. 23, 2009 when he said:

No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

That statement appears absurd; as Charles Krauthammer pointed out, Henry Kissinger observed that peace is only maintained by hegemony or balance of power. The Obama administration is doing a number of things that leave the world baffled, alienating friends, propitiating rivals and appeasing enemies, with foreseeably disastrous results for America’s position in the world. These destructive actions, I maintain, are the predictable impulses of a man whose deepest loyalties pertain to the existentially-challenged peoples of the Third World.

I stand by this analysis. I believe that events since I wrote my essay on “Obama’s Women” confirm it. Whether a particular phrase crossed the line is a subject I don’t care to debate. As a teenager I raced small sailboats, and was taught that if you don’t turn over once in a while, you’re not taking the risks you need to win. Sailors and writers who don’t take risks are boring.

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I Have A Blue House With A Blue Window

Carl Franzen at Atlantic Wire with the round-up:

Confession time: when the Atlantic Wire previously covered the furor around the reported $500 million budget for James Cameron’s new film Avatar, bad buzz around the awkward-looking previews prompted us to ask “Will ‘Avatar’ Be a Megaflop?” But now as the movie opens nationwide, it appears the time has come for us to eat our words: The initial critical response to ‘Avatar,’ in case you haven’t heard, has been resoundingly positive. Early ticket sales are staggering (on track to set the Fandango record) and some are expecting the movie to have a $100 million opening weekend, which would put it near the Top 10 of all time (though still well short of the Dark Knight’s $158 million total). Still, as others have pointed out, the mercurial media’s pendulum has swung already, and could swing yet again. For now though, it appears that those who questioned Cameron’s ability to deliver are about to be decisively silenced.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Is The Matrix a great movie? Is The Terminator? Is RoboCop? All of these seemed like popcorn releases, crowd-pleasing high-tech spectacles that looked cool as hell and were just smart enough to spark dorm-room philosophical speculation. But with 10 or 20 years of distance, they look smarter. The dystopic visions of interchangeable time-space continuums and replaceable cyborg bodies now seem like diagnoses of the time in which they were made, a moment when technology was just starting to invade our bodies, in the form of interactive video games and personal computers. But cyborgs and time travel are still so analog, so ’90s. The Matrix, from 1999, came closest to diagnosing the present. It’s an Internet-age movie, but it only has dialup access.

Avatar could be thought of as the first mega-blockbuster that’s fully broadband. Its hero is literally an avatar, the virtual representation of a live human being who manipulates its adventures remotely, like the player of a video game. (The original Sanskrit meaning of “avatar”—the bodily form taken by a deity descending to earth—is also suggested in this movie’s quasi-religious cosmology.) Far from the millennial bleakness of The Matrix, Avatar is an end-of-the-world fantasy that’s sanguine about the prospects for virtual reality. Cameron cheerfully concedes that the human race may be bound for extinction—he sets his story in 2154, when earth’s resources will already have been depleted, turning our species into rapacious galactic colonialists. But his confidence in technology is boundless. Memo to Al Gore: If we can just bio-engineer large blue representations of ourselves and hook them up to our brains via isolation pods, climate change is not going to be a problem.

Neil Miller at Film School Rejects:

It is a simple story, yes. But also one that works perfectly for what Cameron is trying to do with Avatar. He’s not worried about you thinking that it feels like Dances with Wolves meets Ferngully, or that it is an allegory of oppression that has been done before. Where he gets you is in the execution of creating Pandora, a vast world that is familiar, but also completely fantastic. It is a world that feels every bit as big as its 10-foot tall inhabitants standing next to their 6-foot tall human counterparts. A world that is rich with color and wonder, enhanced by a depth of detail that can only be achieved through the work of a tyrannical, obsessive creative force like Cameron.

As well, Cameron understands pacing. His two and a half hour movie feels big, don’t get me wrong. But at no point does it feel bloated. It is the difference between an epic adventure story (in which something is always happening, even if it is as mundane as seeing Jake learn how to ride Pandora’s version of a horse) and a film dragged along by filler. Jake’s journey is not a simple one, and his learning of the Na’vi culture is something that is simple enough for the audience to engage, and complex enough for the audience to remain engaged. And it makes for a story that continues to move, even when there’s no action happening on screen. This succeeds because Cameron does the hard work to make it succeed.

Peter Suderman in Reason:

So despite its genuinely impressive technical innovations, Avatar isn’t much a movie: Instead, Cameron’s cooked up a derivative, overlong pastiche of anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense. It’s not that the film’s politics make it bad, it’s that even if you agree, the nearly three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing leaves no room for interesting twists or ambiguity in the story or characters: corporations are bad, scientists are good, natives are pure, harmony with nature is the ultimate ideal — the only suspense comes from wondering what movie Cameron will rip off next. The go-to comparison so far is Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully, and that’s just about right. But Cameron rips himself off considerably as well: There are gruff marines are straight out of Aliens, stubborn science-types pulled from The Abyss, and a love-across-the-boundaries romance that echoes Titanic — only this time, it’s across species rather than ship decks.

Last week, Jeffrey Wells called Avatar “the most flamboyant, costliest, grandest left-liberal super-movie anyone’s ever seen,” and that’s true as far as it goes — but he forgot a word. It’s also one of the stupidest major movies in recently memory, blithely peddling a message that its entire production process actually undermines. That Avatar‘s melodramatic attacks on corporate interests and its defense of simple, natural living come packaged as one of the most expensive, and probably the most technically advanced, corporate films in history would seem to indicate that only quality bigger than the movie’s stupidity is its head-in-the-clouds hypocrisy. Cameron’s made a movie that he intends to be epic and awesome, but the only thing that’s awesome here is his total lack of self-awareness.

In Avatar, the official political interpretation of the Edenic moon Pandora is unobtainium repository, unobtanium being “a great whatsit” of a natural resource “that is an emblem of humanity’s greed and folly.” But Pandora itself, in its flourishing ecological balance, does not come with natural meaning built in. Paradoxically — and if Cameron is a Lockean, he is a most paradoxical Lockean — Pandora, which is to say nature, has no inherent meaning. It is simply a resource; the valuation which is to be mixed into it through the labor of interpretation must come from outside it.Science is caught, then, between the possibility of slavery to will (in the person of stereotypically gruff kill-it-or-pillage-it space Marines types) and the hope of serving some other prime mover in its own mastery of nature. For make no mistake: nature is there to be interpreted. The great liberal hope, dramatized potently by Cameron, is that science will freely enslave itself to whim without will, which is love. Love — transcendent love, species-hopping love, galaxy-crossing love, love between beings who fully inhabit their own bodies and beings who pilot their semi-inhabited avatars from a ship somewhere not very nearby in orbit. Love is the magic word, the only key that can rescue science from will and so achieve the inescapable, otherwise impossible task of interpreting the inescapable, otherwise meaningless natural world. No hypocrisy needed.

But oh what a strain on the credulity of the audience. And, if the producer of such poetry himself is knowledgeable enough — as was Rousseau — oh what a strain on him. Of course, adding an adequate theory of authority into the mix — that is, a theology — audiences and authors alike wind up in a rather different situation. But that is a story for another day, and you will have to go see Avatar yourself in order to fully contemplate what kind of God lurks at the Rousseauvian heart of the inventor of the Terminator.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat at NYT

Reihan Salam at Forbes

UPDATE #2: Annalee Newitz


UPDATE #3: Daniel Drezner

Tim Fernholz and David Weigel on Bloggingheads

Will Wilkinson and James Poulos on Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Poulos responds to Friedersdorf

UPDATE #5: John Podhoretz at The Weekly Standard

David Brooks at NYT

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #5: Noah Millman at The American Scene

UPDATE #6: Matt Feeney at TAS

UPDATE #7: Peter Suderman at TAS


Filed under Movies

Know When To Fold ‘Em


Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Maybe he’s not bluffing this time. The eminently reliable Ethan Bronner seems to think Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, may well make good on his threat to quit. If he’s gone, the Palestinians are going to scuffle to find a new leader. Odds are, in such a fraught circumstance, they choose a tough guy, a hard-liner–to match the Israel’s intransigent Netanyahu.

If Abbas is serious, this is horrible news. And, clearly, the Obama Middle East initiative has come a cropper. I’m hearing, from several sources, that there’s serious White House displeasure with special envoy George Mitchell. That’s probably unfair…but there is a serious need for an Administration rethink of this crucial policy area.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy (sorry quotes not working):

“Most of the Palestinian and Arab commentary I’ve seen since his announcement falls into three basic trends:  the first thinks he’s bluffing, attempting to leverage his weakness into pressure on the U.S. and Israel; the second thinks it’s irrelevant, because the elections will not actually be held in January; and the third is cheering his  departure, and hoping that it will lead to a collective admission that the PA’s strategy has failed.  The three perspectives are obviously not mutually exclusive.  When I asked leading Palestinian academic Salim Tamari yesterday about the impact it would have on the peace process, he just looked at me quizically and said “what peace process?”There’s been a collective moment of clarity over the last week about the disastrous course of the attempt to get to serious peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.  Hillary Clinton’s comments about the Israeli “unprecedented” positions and the prospect of starting talks without a settlement freeze have thrown people into paroxysms of premature  postmortems. I don’t think her comments actually changed very much — the dynamic was bad before she came to the region, it’s still bad. At least now maybe the shock of this sudden view of the abyss will concentrate people’s minds and get them to try something new.

This all gets back to the basic point I’ve been harping on for months (for instance in the CAP report I co-authored with Brian Katulis in the early summer):  the administration has lacked a viable strategy for, or an adequate appreciation of, intra-Palestinian politics and the implications of the deep structural weakness of the Palestinian Authority.  Now, perhaps, they’ll have to get it.  There’s no viable path forward which doesn’t include alleviating the blockade of Gaza and reunifying it politically with the West Bank, and no serious prospect that the institutions of the Palestinian Authority can be built up along Salam Fayyad’s model without also dealing seriously with the political horizon of peace talks aimed at rapidly achieving a two state solution.   The settlement freeze demand, which is being blamed wrongly for the current problems, was not a luxury — it was essential for the Palestinian political track.  And now that track needs a serious American re-think.”

Daniel Levy at Talking Points Memo

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

With Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama slated to meet this evening, the New York Times has splashed a story written in a tone of deep alarm across the front of its website: “Collapse Feared for Palestinian Authority if Abbas Resigns.”

The central theme is: He really means it this time! He’s gonna quit! And it’s Israel’s fault! The true purpose of the piece is to ensure that Obama and Netanyahu do nothing but discuss the condition of Mahmoud Abbas’s tenure as president of the Palestinian Authority. Because they have so little else to talk about. Like Iran. Nothing to talk about there.

Ethan Bronner assumes a startlingly inappropriate tone in this article — an elegiac, mournful spirit:

The prospect that the Palestinian Authority, the government in the West Bank, might fall apart loomed on Monday, as those close to its president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that he intended to resign and forecast that others would follow. “I think he is realizing that he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state, but he sees no state coming,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, said in an interview. “So he really doesn’t think there is a need to be president or to have an Authority. This is not about who is going to replace him. This is about our leaving our posts. You think anybody will stay after he leaves?”

Mr. Abbas warned last week that he would not participate in elections he called for January. But many viewed that as a ploy by a Hamlet-like leader upset over Israeli and American policy, and noted that the vote might not actually be held, given the Palestinian political fracture and the unwillingness of Hamas, which controls Gaza, to participate. In the days since, however, his colleagues have come to believe he is not bluffing. If that is the case, they say, the Palestinian Authority could be endangered.

Evidently the crime of the Israelis is that, as Bronner writes, Netanyahu wants “negotiations without preconditions.” Usually in a negotiation, that would be considered a good thing. But not in this negotiation, because in this negotiation, Israel is supposed to come to the table having already agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders and Jerusalem.” Netanyahu, Bronner writes, “declined” this preposterous demand of Hillary Clinton’s — preposterous because the idea that Israel would agree to surrender parts of Jerusalem and would preemptively agree to the loss of neighborhoods like Maale Adumim even before talks commenced is to presume magic fairy dust has been sprinkled upon the land of milk and honey and caused pacific and loving feelings to swell within the breasts of both parties.

This is not an article about Abbas and the tragic possibility of his early departure along with Saeb Erekat, a mouthpiece propagandist who is a Palestinian “peace negotiator” like I am a Jewish “pentathlete.” This is an article intended by design to overshadow the meeting of the American president and the Israeli prime minister and to make the “collapse” of the ineffectual and dishonest Palestinian Authority leadership the news of the day. It has the quality of an indulgent babysitter running to a parent to report breathlessly that a 5-year-old has threatened never to eat again because it is his brother’s birthday and he doesn’t like the flavor of the cake.

Saree Makdisi at Foreign Policy:

Never an appealing or charismatic figure, Abbas has been losing popular support since his first day in office five years ago (his term technically expired in January 2009). Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, in which he played a prominent role, the official Palestinian leadership has been pursuing a formula for peace — the two-state solution — that has yielded nothing more than the intensification of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Those 16 years have been characterized by the further immobilization and immiseration of the Palestinian people, and an ever-growing list of civilian casualties, most recently in Gaza.

We are left with no other conclusion than this: that the so-called peace process with which Abbas has been indelibly associated, albeit as the Israelis’ junior assistant, was calculated to produce exactly these results. The very first step of the Oslo process, undertaken with Abbas’s assent in 1993, was to fragment and separate the occupied territories into shards of land, disconnected from each other and from the outside world, under total, institutionalized Israeli domination. Take one look at a map and you can’t miss the separation of Gaza from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the further internal splintering of the West Bank, all of which is the direct result of Oslo.

Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA) over which Abbas presides is seen as a puppet. It has become the manager of the day-to-day burdens of military occupation, responsible for the hassle and expense of administering a restless population. All this is done on behalf of the Israelis, who have meanwhile gone on expropriating Palestinian land, bulldozing Palestinian homes, and building exclusively Jewish settlements in violation of international law (doubling the population of settlers since peace talks began). To all Palestinians other than the tiny clique who benefit from this arrangement, the sight of Abbas’s U.S.-trained and Israeli-armed PA militiamen cooperating with Israeli forces — if not taking direct orders from them — is nothing short of grotesque. And when Abbas recently succumbed to Israeli and U.S. pressure and dropped his support for the Goldstone report, a U.N. Human Rights Council-mandated investigation into last year’s Gaza incursion, many Palestinians saw it as the last straw both for Abbas — and for the PA itself.

UPDATE: MJ Rosenberg at Talking Points Memo

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The Godfather Of Neoconservatism (And Father Of Bill) 1920-2009


Irving Kristol died today.

John McCormack at TWS:

Irving Kristol, writer, editor, and social philosopher, has died in Washington at the age of 89. His wisdom, wit, good humor, and generosity of spirit made him a friend and mentor to several generations of thinkers and public servants.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

He made a difference for the better. His death represents a terrible loss to American life and letters. Our sincere condolences to his entire family including his wife, the great Gertrude Himmelfarb, and his children, Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Nelson.

Christian Brose at Foreign Policy:

Others will have far better, and more personal, recollections of Irving Kristol. I knew him mainly through his writings and my brief time working in the institutions he built. For a young person fresh out of college, there was nothing quite like coming to work at the “Kristol palace,” as the editors used to call both magazines. It was a four-day work week with lunches on the house — from which came the joke, pretty antiquated by the time I got there, that we were dedicated to fighting socialism in the world while practicing it in the office. A professor of mine even tells the story of a student of his looking for a job that he sent to see Irving, who promptly met with him and talked with him for awhile, liked him, but didn’t have anything to offer him. So he told the kid to put down on his resume that he’d worked for Irving for six months, and if anyone brought it up, he would happily serve as a reference.

As someone who actually got to work at Irving’s magazines, I’d say it was about as close to a “workers’ paradise” as we’re ever likely to get. As a 22-year-old assistant editor, I was expected to handle magazine business from Monday to Thursday (which mainly consisted of reading and talking with my colleagues about policy, history, philosophy, culture, and everything in between), but I was then expected to use those remaining three days to do my own work, write my own articles, publish under my own name, and however the magazine could help me do that, it would. That had been Irving’s policy for decades, and it remained as much a mission of each magazine as what was published quarterly in its pages. The roster of significant (and diverse) thinkers who got their start because of Irving’s investment in his young staff — from Bob Kagan, to Michael Lind, to Mark Lilla, to many others — is as worthy a legacy as what he achieved through the countless articles he wrote himself and published from others.

Michelle Malkin

Doug J.

Nothing negative to say here of the recently departed. I always find it interesting that he began as a Trotskyite. In my opinion, the Trotskyite notion of permanent revolution informs neoconservatism very strongly to this day. The J-curve, for example, seems to me to be nothing but a quasi-quantitative argument in favor of revolution.

Rich Lowry at NRO

UPDATE: David Frum at The Enterprise Blog

John Podhoretz in Commentary

Damon Linker at TNR

Tevi Troy at NRO

Bruce Bartlett

UPDATE #2: Mark Schmitt and James Poulos on Bloggingheads

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Men Named “Joe Wilson” Are Always Trouble For Presidents

Carl Hulse in NYT:

In an angry and very audible outburst, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, interrupted President Obama’s speech Wednesday night with a shout of “You lie!”

His eruption — in response to Mr. Obama’s statement that Democratic health proposals would not cover illegal immigrants — stunned members of both parties in the House chamber.

Democrats said it showed lack of respect for the office of the presidency and was reminiscent of Republican disruptions at recent public forums on health care.

Matthew Yglesias:

Personally, I sort of liked Rep Joe Wilson’s idea of introducing British-style heckling to the halls of congress; totally disrespectful and out of step with American tradition, true, but their tradition is better. Unfortunately, Wilson was also lying about the point at issue and will thereby set back the cause of heckling by decades.

Allah Pundit:

The culprit was South Carolina rep Joe Wilson, who felt moved to act when The One told what was, in fact, a lie. Although certainly not his biggest of the night: Where this jackass gets off lecturing Americans on civility after his cretinous cronies spent a month demagoging the hell out of every protester in sight is beyond me. You’re Mr. Clean, aren’t you, champ? And bottom-feeders like Harry Reid are your hatchet men. Nice work if you can get it.

James Joyner:

The apology was appropriate and, I’m guessing*, sincere.  Such outbursts are inappropriate in civil debate, let alone when directed at the only elected representative of the nation as a whole.  Bill Clinton was treated with more respect while under formal impeachment charges.

While Wilson’s frustrated cry was inexcusable, however, it’s at least understandable.   After all, Obama was indirectly calling him a liar.  And being untruthful.


This, incidentally, was the from the prepared remarks, not off-the-cuff flourish.  The president was deliberately poisoning the well, claiming that his opponents are dishonorable and ill-intentioned.  And, as AllahPundit and Mark Tapscott point out, the bill will of course cover illegal aliens.   Even the Congressional Research Service says so.

John Cole on Joyner:

Kind if an awesome set of rules the President gets to work with. If you point out that people have been lying about death panels for the last few months, you are “poisoning the well.” If you don’t point it out, people believe it and the rumors and lies keep spreading.

Here on planet earth, the people who actually poisoned the well would be the ones who have spread all these BS rumors and lies. Not the guy standing over the well saying- “Hey. There is poison in there. Don’t drink it.”

John Podhoretz at Commentary:

Joe Wilson, the Republican congressman who interrupted Barack Obama’s speech by yelling out “You lie,” deserves censure. There is no excuse for such conduct. That said, he is about to become a folk hero.

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Joe Wilson has been identified as the Republican who yelled out that Barack Obama was a liar.

He gets a drink on me!

Michael Scherer in Time:

At the moment Wilson exploded, the outburst seemed like an assault on the President. Soon afterwards, it was clear that it had been a gift. Wilson had, in an emotional expression, proven Obama’s point: the summer of town halls had been less a discussion than a circus, a forum where misinformation was vindicated by passion, where disrespect was elevated as a virtue. Now the circus had come inside Congress.

The President’s seemingly simple statement, that “the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally,” is not hard to check. In the Senate Finance Committee working framework for a health plan, which Obama’s speech seemed most to mimic, there is the line: “No illegal immigrants will benefit from the health care tax credits.” Similarly, the major health care reform bill to pass out of committee in the House, H.R. 3200, contains a Section 246, which is called, “NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.” Some Republicans have claimed that these protections are too weak, since they do not require stringent eligibility checks that would prevent illegal immigrants from gaming the system.

It did not take long for the condemnations to rain down on Wilson. Republican Sen. John McCain went on CNN to call Wilson’s behavior “totally disrespectful,” and ask for an apology. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was beside himself as he walked out of the House Chamber. “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that,” he said, adding that he had no doubt how it would play in the hinterlands. “It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.”

Sure enough the apology was quick to come, in a statement from Wilson’s office, which disowned only the tone, not the substance, of his comments. “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill,” the statement said. “While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” Wilson later called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who accepted the apology on behalf of the president.

Daphne Eviatar at Washington Independent:

Perhaps Wilson believes that illegal immigrants ought not get emergency medical treatment, which is the only medical benefit they might qualify for — when they show up in a hospital on the verge of death, for example.

Or maybe it’s just because Wilson’s last campaign was supported by the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC — a restrictionist group that supports deporting all illegal immigrants in the United States rather than offering any opportunities for legalization, or “amnesty.”

ALIPAC gives Wilson an “A” for opposing “amnesties and ‘guest worker’ programs for illegal aliens along with other rewards such as in-state tuition and driver licenses.” I guess because he supports keeping them uneducated and untraceable if they get into a car accident.

Meanwhile, as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann pointed out on his show tonight, Wilson has been writing op-eds spreading the rumor that Obama wants to install “death panels” to hasten the death of grandma.

So who’s lying?

Michelle Malkin


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