State of the Union

The Bystander President

No, this is not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Nor is it like the sex scandal that got Bill Clinton impeached.

The AP, IRS and Benghazi matters represent a scandal not of presidential wrongdoing, but of presidential indolence, indifference and incompetence in discharging the duties of chief executive.

The Barack Obama revealed to us in recent days is something rare in our history: a spectator president, clueless about what is going on in his own household, who reacts to revelations like some stunned bystander.

Consider. Because of a grave national security leak, President Obama’s Department of Justice seized two months of records from 20 telephones used by The Associated Press. An unprecedented seizure.

Yet the president was left completely in the dark. And though he rushed to defend the seizure, he claims he was uninvolved.

While the AP issue does not appear to have legs—we know what was done and why—it has badly damaged this president. For his own Justice Department treated the press, which has an exalted opinion of itself and its role, with the same contempt as the IRS treated the Tea Party.

The episode has damaged a crucial presidential asset. For this Washington press corps had provided this president with a protective coverage of his follies and failings unseen since the White House press of half a century ago covered up the prowlings of JFK.

The Benghazi issue is of far greater gravity. Still, Obama’s sins here as well seem to be those of omission, not commission. Read More…

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The Heretic at Heritage

via AEI
via AEI

Jason Richwine, the young conservative scholar who co-authored the Heritage Foundation report on the long-term costs of the amnesty bill backed by the “Gang of Eight,” is gone from Heritage.

He was purged after the Washington Post unearthed his doctoral dissertation at the JFK School of Government.

Richwine’s thesis:

IQ tests fairly measure mental ability. The average IQ of immigrants is well below that of white Americans. This difference in IQ is likely to persist through several generations.

And the potential consequences of this?

“A lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market.”

Richwine defended his 166-page thesis before Harvard’s George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser and Christopher Jencks, who once edited The New Republic. But while his thesis was acceptable at Harvard—it earned Richwine a Ph.D.—it has scandalized the Potomac priesthood.

Our elites appear unanimous: Richwine’s view that intelligence is not equally distributed among ethnic and racial groups, and is partly inherited, is rankest heresy. Yet no one seems to want to prove him wrong.

Consider Richwine’s contention that differences in mental ability exist and seem to persist among racial and ethnic groups.

In the Wall Street Journal last month, Warren Kozak noted that 28,000 students in America’s citadel of diversity, New York City, took the eighth-grade exam to enter Stuyvesant, the Bronx School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, the city’s most elite high schools. Students are admitted solely on their entrance test scores.

Of the 830 students who will be entering Stuyvesant as freshmen this fall, 1 percent are black, 3 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are white—and 75 percent are Asian.

Now, blacks and Hispanics far outnumber Asians in New York. But at Stuyvesant, Asians will outnumber blacks and Hispanics together 19-to-1.

Is this the result of racially biased tests at Stuyvesant?

At Berkeley, crown jewel of the California university system, Hispanics, 40 percent of California’s population and an even larger share of California’s young, are 12 percent of the freshman class. Asians, outnumbered almost 3-to-1 by Hispanics in California, have almost four times as many slots as Hispanics in the freshman class.

Another example of racial bias?

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, which measures the academic ability of 15-year-olds worldwide, found the U.S.A. falling to 17th in reading, 23rd in science, 31st in math.

Yet, Spain aside, not one Hispanic nation, from which a plurality of our immigrants come, was among the top 40 in reading, science or math.

But these folks are going to come here and make us No. 1 again?

Is there greater “underclass behavior” among Hispanics?

The crime rate among Hispanics is about three times that of white Americans, while the Asian crime rate is about a third that of whites.

Among white folks, the recent illegitimacy rate was 28 percent; among Hispanics, 53 percent. According to one study a few years back, Hispanics were 19 times as likely as whites to join gangs.

What about Richwine’s point regarding “social trust”?

Six years ago, in “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century,” Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone,” wrote that after 30,000 interviews he found that ethnic and racial diversity can be devastating to communities and destructive of community values.

In racially mixed communities, Putnam wrote, not only do people not trust strangers, they do not even trust their own kind.

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ’hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle … (to) withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

With the immigration bill granting amnesty to 12 million illegals, an open door to their dependents and a million new immigrants each year, almost all from the Third World, America in 2040 is going to look like Los Angeles today. Yet, it was in L.A. that Putnam found social capital at its most depleted and exhausted.

If Richwine is right, America in 2040 will be a country with whites and Asians dominating the professions, and 100 million Hispanics concentrated in semiskilled work and manual labor.

The issues Richwine raises go to the question of whether we shall survive as one nation and one people.

If our huge bloc of Hispanics, already America’s largest minority at 53 million, is fed by constant new immigration, but fails for a couple of generations to reach the middle-class status that Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians and Poles attained after two generations, what becomes of our “indivisible” nation?

Rather than face this question, better to purge and silence the Harvard extremist who dared to raise it.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” Copyright 2012

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Mark Sanford, Hypocrisy, and Spiting One’s Face

This blog post from Ross Douthat seems a bit unfair to the voters of South Carolina:

… the fact that South Carolina Republicans took that path, and made his swift and shameless comeback a success, is still a useful indicator of where the energy is on the right — and it emphatically isn’t with people who see the decline of marriage as a bigger issue for conservatism and America than the precise balance of power in the House of Representatives.

…or maybe the energy is just with people who care about the balance of power in the House of Representatives during elections for the House of Representatives.

From the moment he decided to run again Mark Sanford was always going to be taken as a demonstration of Republicans’ hypocrisy. After he won, Meghan McCain immediately took to twitter to say the voters of South Carolina have no moral standing to oppose gay marriage anymore. David Burge promptly reminded her that she wouldn’t exist without a politician’s infidelity. Moreover, though the two candidates’ marital sagas are not remotely comparable, Colbert-Busch did spend a night in jail for contempt of court during her divorce proceedings, so she’s not exactly unsullied either.

Hypocrisy is not hard come by in politics. I’d venture that many of the Republican voters in the first district of South Carolina do care about the decline of marriage, probably more than most. And the idea that voters should just stay home when faced with a bad choice seems at least unrealistic, if not undemocratic.

How would things have played out in a district full of the voters willing to forego representation to send a message about the state of marriage?

As Douthat wrote in a later post today: “a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party.” That Sanford made such a high-profile attempt to reassert himself into politics, and that it garnered such media attention, would have made an inconsequential House election a good opportunity for good old American virtue to reassert itself and thwart everyone’s expectations.

It would have made a nice story, but to believe it was possible require a highly unrealistic view of political behavior and public memory. Sanford resigned as the chairman of the RGA little less than four years ago. By contrast Marion Barry was reelected to DC’s city council five months after being released from prison. Ted Kennedy was reelected with 62 percent of the vote a year and a half after killing someone. Did Michigan voters somehow lose their moral standing to oppose fraud when they elected Charles Diggs while he awaited sentencing for taking kickbacks?

I share some of Douthat’s concerns, but I don’t really understand this logic. The reassertion of virtue he seems to have in mind should have happened in the primary, if it was to happen at all. That voters failed to punish themselves for Mark Sanford’s sins in the general election is neither a surprise nor a disappointment.

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What Ezra Klein and Alex Jones Have in Common

The new issue of the New Inquiry is entitled “New World Order,” so naturally I read the whole thing the afternoon it hit my inbox. There’s an essay by Jesse Elias Spafford, who, with assists from Karl Popper and David Hume, compares the values-free empiricism of Ezra Klein and Alex Jones.

Alex Jones, values free? Empirical? Well, Spafford explains, “Conspiracism as a political movement is characterized by the de-emphasis of normative claims—the ethics endorsed by Jones are almost comically noncontroversial, amounting loosely to the ethos that ‘slavery and mass killing perpetrated by evil tyrants is bad.’” We’d agree on a course of action if only we could agree on the facts.

Spafford’s conclusion:

To dismiss Jones or embrace Klein becomes a matter of faith and subjective taste, resting on an intuitive but irrational sense of what is true. In day-to-day practice, the theoretical problems of science have little effect on how we conduct ourselves and evaluate fringe claims to truth. However, the technocratic character of contemporary political debate is causing the irrationality of science to overflow its bounds. Each political camp trots out its pet studies only to have them dismissed by rivals as flawed; evidence for mutually exclusive positions proliferates. In the face of  partisan ideology, empirical claims collapse into irresolvable antinomy.

In this light, the wonks’ contribution to political discourse appears overstated. The startling rise of the wonk to political prominence has been buoyed in large part by the hope that the scientific objectivity of the technocrat might finally resolve political disagreement or at least convey some bit of truth to those reasonable enough to listen. But stubborn ideological opponents can no more be convinced by a pie chart than Alex Jones can be dissuaded from his beliefs by Ben Bernanke. And there are no grounds for thinking that they should be. If we are to make progress in the public debate, we may have to withdraw from empirical matters. Instead, our political discussions need to grapple with ideology and psychology, and with the underlying tendencies that draw people to particular ideologies. If consensus is to be forged, it will be from shared values rather than agreed-upon facts.

All this is true, though it must be said that their relative reputations make Klein by far the more dangerous of the two. Dominating Washington’s mythical center with this sort of empiricism has the effect of neutralizing discussion of other forms of social or political cooperation that take place outside his target market. That’s the real problem, for folks like Spafford and myself who would like to see a real values-based discussion, not just another patronizing op-ed telling us we’ve lost our sense of community because some people want to cut federal spending.

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Zombifying Potpourri, Rock Music that Kills Plants, and Other Public Morality Hyperbole

The above is from the website of a new campaign by the District Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention & Recovery Administration to tell young people if you do K2, you’ll turn into a zombie.

One says, “No one wants to take a zombie to prom,” which evokes nothing if not the 2006 short film starring RuPaul. In general, though, they seem intended to recall the spate of “bath salt zombie” stories from last summer in which legal synthetic drugs were fingered for causing bizarre behavior, such as eating your dog. The most prominent one, the Miami face-chewing zombie, turned out not to be on bath salts at all, and initial reports of synthetic use in other cases have turned out to be mostly false.

Don’t expect to hear from the Department of Health that the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the creation of these allegedly zombifying chemicals, but that’s another story.

One could fill volumes with the hyperbolic claims employed in service of public morality campaigns, but I came across a few especially amusing ones this week when at a friend’s suggestion I watched “Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll,” a 1989 Christian film. Despite what you might think, the movie is great. It tells the story of rock music’s relationship with sex, drugs, and the occult, all in clips of the musicians themselves. It’s impressive for the quality of its exegesis as well as the breadth of musicians treated, from Prince to the Beatles, from lesser-known metal acts to Joni Mitchell.

The overall message is the same as it’s been since Elvis—rock music is satanic (in response to which I’ve always thought, “of course it is! Isn’t that the point?”).

But prior to applying a scriptural rubric to popular music the filmmakers survey social science on the subject, as per modern convention, or to convince skeptical audiences. Two studies in particular (starting at 5:15 in the clip), one about how sticking an egg next to a stage speaker can cook it—therefore, of course, at a concert your brain was cooking in a similar way—and another about how playing rock music for plants will kill them, whereas classical music will help them flourish.

The origin of the egg claim is this paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1936. Cecil Adams tested it and it doesn’t really hold up. The rock-music-kills-plants idea is an extrapolation of Dr. John Diamond’s work on music and healing; the odd ideological marriage of holistic medicine and the John Birch Society.

Incidentally, ”Hells Bells” also quotes National Review twice in the first 20 minutes, specifically Stuart Goldman’s February 1989 cover story, “Rock of Ageds.” The Washington Times, too.

For just about every issue purportedly eroding public virtue one can find unsupportable claims being made by the side who would halt the process; the debate over homosexuality comes to mind as having some of the more outrageous. It’s not often, however, that public officials exhibit such flagrant dishonesty in an effort to appeal to young people’s affinity for the undead.

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Ken Cuccinelli and Testing Free Market Populism’s Viability

Two months ago Tim Carney remarked that “The McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race might be the clearest contrast we’ve seen of a corporatist Democrat running against a free-market populist.” Polling this week shows Cuccinelli leading by a striking ten percent among likely voters. So is this the vindication of free-market populism?

I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. Terry McAuliffe is pretty much the definition of a corporatist Democrat, but even until last year, Virginia voters might have been puzzled by the idea that Ken Cuccinelli represents free-market populism. I wrote back in February:

Even if he was in the right, to many observers of Virginia politics Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against Obamacare had the whiff of a publicity stunt. It wasn’t so much that his case was spurious (a district court upheld its legitimacy, though he wasn’t able to take his case to the Supreme Court), but that it was one more link in a chain of quixotic, politically-charged crusades.

Most of those initiatives had nothing to do with economics; the absurd request for 15 years worth of correspondence from UVA, the advisory that state agencies had to pare down their anti-discrimination statutes to remove protections for sexual minorities, and so on. He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Marshall-Newman Marriage Amendment, one of the strongest statements foreclosing gay marriage in any state constitution. He’d always looked, to me at least, far more like a culture warrior than a free-marketeer.

Since then, Cuccinelli has been beefing up his laissez-faire credentials, with significant passages in his latest book, The Last Line of Defense, devoted to attacking the EPA’s regulatory regime, and of course the Obamacare lawsuit counts too. Beltway libertarians also seem to have an affinity for Cuccinelli, which I’ve always thought strange, though it’s perhaps explained by the AG’s solid support for Tea Party, libertarian-ish candidates. Today Cuccinelli unveiled a pledge to lower state income taxes. I hope the trend continues.

But there are two factors that might caution against reading the Virginia governor’s race as a referendum on free-market populism; the unique terribleness of Terry McAuliffe, and a gubernatorial electorate heavily biased in favor of Republicans. Jamelle Bouie’s point about McAuliffe’s tepid support among black voters—less than Creigh Deeds!—is especially significant since a substantial portion, some have even suggested a majority, of Democratic voters in Virginia are African American.

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The Pointlessness of Ron Meyer Jr.

It’s official, Ron Meyer Jr. is running for Congress in the 11th district of Virginia. At 23, if he were elected he would be the youngest member in the nation’s history by several years. But he won’t be.

The district was very close in 2010, and for that reason some still point to it as a possible pickup for Republicans. But in 2012 Gerry Connolly was reelected by a 26 point margin. That partly reflects the advantages of an incumbent, but the 2010 redistricting also shifted many of the 11th’s Republican strongholds elsewhere. The Hill ranked Connolly as one of the top ten lawmakers who benefited from redistricting.

Nonetheless, for some reason it was held out as a possibility, if the right Republican with crossover appeal could be found. To some, ex-Democrat Artur Davis was seen as that man. He spoke at a fundraiser in the district and stoked speculation that he might be considering a run. But being a far more experienced politician, he must have realized the seat was unwinnable; it’s revealing that Davis endorsed Meyer even while his campaign was still in the exploratory phase.

Read More…

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It’s Not the Pentagon Standing in the Way of Cuts to Weapons Programs

Last Wednesday Senator Barbara Mikulski chided the military leadership for not being more forthcoming about decisions that could impact defense expenditures in their states:

… we really need those within the department to have a real understanding of this committee and every member, not only the full committee chairman and the vice chairman and the chairman of the subcommittee and Senator Cochran but all of the committees. We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way. The chairmen are always treated with respect. Everybody wants to come and see us, have meetings, exchange coins, and we all kumbayah together. But at the end of the day, there are members here that want to be on this subcommittee so they can get simple answers about what’s going on in their own state. They worry about…the moving of airplanes, the fact that a meeting with us is checking the box.

Mikulski represents Maryland, which is the third most exposed state to defense cuts behind Hawaii and Alaska, and she chairs the appropriations committee.

The Pentagon proposed a budget earlier this month that called for a new round of base closures; estimates going back to the Bush administration claim the surplus of infrastructure is about 20 to 25 percent. Yet Congress rejected that idea last year.

Read More…

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John Crowe Ransom Was Wrong

D. G. Myers earlier this week defended the use of literary history as an aide to the study of literature. Literary history is a shortcut to the advantages of wide reading and long experience, without which there is no good literary criticism, and without which one cannot begin to read anything with profit. He’s entirely right, but to admit that is to admit the limits of literature as an object of scientific scholarship.

Literary history works as an antidote to the dominance, in the undergraduate classroom, of New Criticism (named and championed by John Crowe Ransom and other southerners), which held that each word should be read closely with a mind towards its relation with the whole, and that nothing but the words of the text should guide a reader’s interpretation of it. Spin-off theories have replaced the sovereignty of the words with their own absolutisms, but, no matter the theory, professors have pointedly avoided teaching the literary context of the particular text, lest the innocence of the student’s imagination be tainted by suggestion. The reader is left to confront the text, like Francis Bacon’s inductive acolytes confront Nature, with nothing but curiosity, scepticism, and vast patience.

Literary criticism has always struggled to prove its rightful place at the table of the sciences. Ransom’s defense of close reading was a renewed effort to make literary scholarship scientific, by defining the scope of its study to that which uniquely belonged to literature and could not be found elsewhere. The outline of his ideas appears in his seminal essay from 1937, “Criticism, Inc.” It is suggestive that he offers the structures and linguistic tricks of poetry, as opposed to prose, as his prime example of the specific branches of knowledge which the critic ought to master. Close reading works better with poetry than with prose, since the working assumption of the critic, that every word is in an intricately balanced unity with the whole, holds up more often.

Since the beginning, English literature has been indebted to the study of classical literature and language, and for precision and breadth has never equalled it. The eighteenth century curriculum in England of the classical Greek and Latin literature was a model of education which cannot be replicated by the study of English. It was a synthesis of grammar, rhetoric, history, and ethics. Close reading sat alongside comparative literature, history, ethics, sociology as a profitable interpretative enterprise, in part because their knowledge of antiquity drew chiefly on the famous literature. Now that classical history has become scientific; that archeology, numismatics, the study of accumulated minor primary sources, etc. take up much more of the burden of historical inquiry, the famous primary texts are no longer quite so available as a vehicle for the transmission of humanistic values and the civilizing of the imagination and taste.

When the vernacular replaced the antiquities as the touchstone of a common culture, the study of English literature inherited the responsibility for transmitting that humanistic education. But it also inherited the same problem. Studying history and sociology through literature doesn’t get very far. The New Critics rejected that burden, devoting themselves purely to the text as an inherently interesting problem. Literary history goes the farthest one can go, now, to remedying the problem, by reincorporating the intellectual, cultural, political, and religious problems of the past back into the literature. It can become again the ground of humanistic education in the way that the antiquities once were. That, I think, is the natural home of literature. The science of literature serves that end, and not the other way round.

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The People Who Want to Torture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Donald:

New York State Senator Greg Ball, the one who’s been getting all the attention for his tweeted call for torture. Hannity had him on, where he proceeded to say his view on torturing a wounded 19 year-old suspect was “from my heart.”:

Fox News host Eric Bolling:

“My dream of real justice would be a July 4 celebration of stringing this son-of-a-b-tch up in the Boston Common and letting the crows pick on his rotting flesh,” says Ted Nugent after complaining that it’s taking too long to bring him to trial, though he doesn’t specifically mention torture.

There were plenty of people calling for this and worse on the internet. But in one capacity or another, all of the above are considered leaders in the GOP or conservative movement. Maybe Fred Barnes is right about Bush being back in style.

Needless to say, all of them should have known that at this point there’s no reason to suspect that Dzokhar had any connection to terrorist groups beyond reading their propaganda. It’s also probably safe to assume none of them read the Constitution Project’s new report on torture, which Phil Giraldi explains here.

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