The Week IV

Highlights from The Week in the most recent two issues of (biweekly) National Review.

“It’s a very funny magazine.”

Suppose you threw a party and only 200,000 people showed up. That’s what happened to the organized Left at its “One Nation” rally on the Washington Mall early in October. The 200K figure was the upper end of the organizers’ own estimates; aerial photos showed that their crowd was a good deal smaller than the one at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August. “One Nation” consisted largely of two groups, union members — AFL-CIO, SEIU, NEA — and black liberals. The assembled heard from MSNBC rhapsode Ed Schultz, Marxist truther Van Jones, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Reps. Charlie Rangel and John Conyers. With a few tweaks, it could have been a Mondale campaign rally in 1984. The prospects of “One Nation” seem rather similar about now.

At his White House farewell, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s departing chief of staff, told his boss: “I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.” The second half of that statement is self-evidently ridiculous, though entirely in keeping with Emanuel’s baby-boomer myopia. But toughest leader”? The man whose first legislative triumph was persuading Congress to vote itself $800 billion worth of pork? Whose greatest achievement was leading his party off a cliff with a widely detested health-care bill? Who dithered for half a year before sending more troops to Afghanistan, and then told every cave dweller in the Hindu Kush when they would be leaving? Who says he has to consult a panel of experts to figure out whose ass to kick? Let’s hope the good people of Chicago, whose next mayor Emanuel seeks to become, will be spared such notions of leadership.

The Federal Reserve said that it would keep interest rates low for “an extended period” and signaled its willingness to engage in further “quantitative easing” — expanding the Fed’s balance sheet — should the economy slow. It is coming under pressure to provide more monetary stimulus. Outgoing Obama adviser Christina Romer says, “If fiscal policy makers won’t act, I think monetary policy makers must act.” Thomas Hoenig, president of the Kansas City Fed, is a dissenter, worrying about “long-run inflation issues that are not immediate but are out there.” The good news is that with a trillion dollars in excess reserves already in the banking system, quantitative easing should not do much to increase inflation. (It may also be pointless, for the same reason.) The better news is that the economy might not need stimulus: It is growing, albeit slowly. We will not strengthen our recovery by having Ben Bernanke devalue our dollars, any more than we will by having Nancy Pelosi burn through them.

Why did President Obama adopt a deadline for the Afghan surge? He feared the political effects of an open-ended commitment, according to a former adviser quoted in the New York Times: “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics. He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health-insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.” Another aide says Obama sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as “problems that need managing” while he concentrates on transforming America at home. If only the War in Afghanistan were about socializing medicine in the Hindu Kush, it might command President Obama’s passion and full attention.

Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, went on sale in Britain early this month and sold over 90,000 copies in four days, but there were no cries of “Author! Author!” A book signing in Dublin was disrupted by 200 protesters throwing bottles and shoes, and a launch party at the Tate Modern in London was canceled. “It shows he is running scared,” one protest organizer crowed. Britain will suffer from some aspects of Blair’s rule — a welfare class entrenched by the tax receipts of a bubble of prosperity — for years. It may suffer from others — Scottish devolution, Euro-drift, turning the House of Lords into a hack refuge — forever. But these are not drawing protests. Blair earned his odium for his two greatest accomplishments — supporting the United States after 9/11, and deciding to take Britain into Iraq. These are anathema to the Left; and these anathemas have become the lazy thought crutches of biens pensants across the spectrum, from Blair’s own Labour party to (shamefully) many Tories. Cross the ocean, Mr. Blair, and sign your books in peace.

When in the past we have criticized college courses for catering to students’ tastes, we were speaking metaphorically. Not anymore. Earlier this month, 600 students crammed into a 350-seat lecture hall at Harvard University for a new class, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.” The course, which fulfills a core-curriculum requirement, promises to “discuss concepts from the physical sciences that underpin . . . everyday cooking.” It will feature guest lectures by world-famous chefs, such as Enric Rovira on “his chocolate delicacies.” Here’s a sampling of the required reading: On Food and Cooking, Kitchen Mysteries, and The Science of Ice Cream. When asked by the Harvard Crimson why he was taking the class, one knowledge-hungry student responded: “I think the fact that you can eat your lab is pretty much the coolest thing ever.” Given tuition, it had better be five-star.

Even his economic advisers can’t hold on to their jobs.

Obama supporters are in a classic midterm funk. The ideologues are baffled to find that enacting their agenda has not brought the New Jerusalem, and can only conclude that Obama hasn’t pushed hard enough. The ordinary core supporter, left of center and moderately political, waits with less hope for change. Susan Madrak, lefty blogger, spoke for the first group, chiding David Axelrod in a conference call. She accused the administration of “hippie punching” — trying not to appear far-out — and added, “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day.” Velma Hart, a black CFO from suburban Maryland who questioned Obama at a town meeting, gave an eloquent face to the second group: “I’m exhausted. Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.” Equally notable were the responses: Axelrod pulled rank; Obama, expecting a softball, went stiff and superior. The third portion of the Obama coalition — the outliers, in this case young people, notoriously feckless — have lost the buzz. Season of mists ahead; not much mellow fruitfulness.

In New Zealand, the only good possum is a dead one. Like the islands’ European settlers, possums (“four-legged squirrel-like marsupials,” as the BBC helpfully notes) are not indigenous, and with no natural predators, they wreak havoc on local plants and animals. Hence the popular rural Kiwi custom of possum tossing, in which the offending critters are hunted down, shot, and then thrown, with prizes for the greatest distance. After one such recent contest at a grade school, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals objected to the tossing, even as the principal “said the event helped children engage with the outdoors and learn about humane ways of killing possums.” He might have added that the concept of cruelty does not apply squarely to an already-deceased marsupial. The N.Z. government took bold and decisive action, in the manner of education bureaucrats everywhere: “The Ministry of Education says it doesn’t have a position on possum carcass tossing, but encourages every school board to work within its community in deciding what is appropriate.”

If Congress wants to prosecute those who accept foreign money, Tim Geithner had better keep a suitcase packed.

While the Tea Party has been reading Atlas Shrugged and The Road to Serfdom, Alaska’s Joe Miller and West Virginia’s John Raese, Senate candidates both, apparently have been boning up on their Milton Friedman: Each has had intelligent and sober things to say about the minimum wage, which decades of economic analysis has shown to increase unemployment among the poor and unskilled, and which Friedman called “the most anti-black law on the books,” noting its exacerbation of joblessness among African Americans. Their Democratic opponents are howling, of course, never having quite got their heads around the fact that in their elementary economics textbooks, demand curves slope downward: The higher the price of x, the less x is demanded. Mr. Miller, a Yale law graduate who takes a narrow view of federal power, believes that Washington lacks the legitimate authority to impose a minimum wage on the states, while Mr. Raese has made the economically obvious point that an artificial wage floor will foreclose job opportunities for certain workers. American public policy is currently in the grip of three lifelong politicians without a milligram of business experience or economic acumen between them — lawyer Barack Obama, lawyer Harry Reid, and congressional heiress Nancy Pelosi — and it shows. When it comes to economics, Democrats are as reliably anti-science as flat-earthers trying to explain away evolution, and their dinosaur policies are long overdue for extinction.

The Democrats probably would have attacked their Republican adversaries on Social Security even if they weren’t desperate, but the cornered-animal fear coursing through their veins is causing them to attack more fiercely than usual. In South Carolina, the Democrats are running an ad against GOP House candidate Mick Mulvaney that depicts a granny in a pink gingham dress posing for a mug shot, then sitting forlornly in a jail cell with a sign that says, “Help!” “If he could,” a narrator intones, Mulvaney would make Social Security “illegal.” Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent running for Senate in Florida, recently accused his Republican opponent Marco Rubio of wanting to “balance the budget on the backs of seniors.” To the best of our knowledge, none of the Republicans running this year has advocated any proposal that alters arrangements for anyone above the age of 55. Some, such as Rubio, have spoken honestly about the bad and worse options facing younger contributors to the system. That is the mark of a serious candidate. The critics are compounding irresponsibility with dishonesty.

The American Postal Workers Union’s officer elections have been delayed because too many members’ ballots were lost in the mail, which we suppose is like the American Meteorological Society’s summer picnic getting rained out. This is the same APWU whose current contract requires the Postal Service to keep all existing retail offices open, even though four out of five locations lose money; the same APWU whose president, William Burrus, wants the next contract to “reflect the entitlement to more . . . more control over activities at work, more money, better benefits — we want more.” Negotiations with the APWU are under way now — send a letter to your congressman about it. On second thought, better make it an e-mail.

Do good neighbors make good fences? Depends on which end of Mexico you look at. On the north, Mexicans complain bitterly about the slowly lengthening fence meant to keep them from entering the U.S. illegally. But on the south, Mexico has started building a fence of its own, to keep illegal aliens from entering through Guatemala. After all, the Mexicans believe strongly in equal opportunity, human rights, the dignity of the individual, and the free movement of people, but let’s not get carried away here. And while the Obama administration is scathing in its condemnation of Arizona’s immigration law, it remains silent about Mexico’s fence, perhaps because the fence will also reduce the flow of those migrants into the U.S. (though Mexico could easily pick up the slack). This is the kind of infrastructure project conservatives can support.

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