For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country — together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges — or one mega–Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
For the last half-century, Obama has simply had to be. Just being Obama was enough to waft him onwards and upwards: He was the Harvard Law Review president who never published a word, the community organizer who never organized a thing, the state legislator who voted present. And then one day came the day when it wasn’t enough simply to be. For the first time in his life, he had to do. And it turns out he can’t. He’s not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. And Healthcare.gov is about what you’d expect if you nationalized a sixth of the economy and gave it to the Assistant Deputy Commissar of the Department of Paperwork and the Under-Regulator-General of the Bureau of Compliance.
Politics, the late Christopher Hitchens used to say, is show business for ugly people. But it’s also ugly business for show people. Thatcherism is a political philosophy; Obamaism is a vibe, a groove, a pose, an aesthetic. When his speechwriters are cooking, he’ll get them to work up a little riff about how it’s not about Big Government vs. Small Government, it’s about “smarter” government. A few months ago, he even gave it a hashtag! #SmarterGov. How cool is that? “Smart” refers less to the product than to the guys pitching it. “He’s probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” said the historian Michael Beschloss the day after Obama’s election. In an embarrassing effusion even by his own standards, another smart guy, the New York Times’ house conservative David Brooks, noted the incoming administration’s narrow range of almae matres and cooed: “If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvard–Yale game anytime over the next four years, we’re screwed.” Obama and his courtiers were the smartest guys in town, so naturally their government would be smarter than all previous governments. A few weeks before Obamacare’s launch, one of the smart set, Dan Pfeiffer, promised it would be “a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, but also in the private sector.” And he was right, kind of.
The young Barack Obama, preparing for the presidency.
Mark Steyn looks on in admiration as Barack Obama legislates via press conference pronouncement, then proceeds to analyse the great man’s “So-let-it-be-written-so-let-it-be-done” style of presidential leadership.
On Thursday, [Barack Obama] passed a new law at a press conference. George III never did that. But, having ordered America’s insurance companies to comply with Obamacare, the president announced that he is now ordering them not to comply with Obamacare. The legislative branch (as it’s still quaintly known) passed a law purporting to grandfather your existing health plan. The regulatory bureaucracy then interpreted the law so as to un-grandfather your health plan. So His Most Excellent Majesty has commanded that your health plan be de-un-grandfathered. That seems likely to work. The insurance industry had three years to prepare for the introduction of Obamacare. Now the King has given them six weeks to de-introduce Obamacare.
“I wonder if he has the legal authority to do this,” mused former Vermont governor Howard Dean. But he’s obviously some kind of right-wing wacko. Later that day, anxious to help him out, Congress offered to “pass” a “law” allowing people to keep their health plans. The same president who had unilaterally commanded that people be allowed to keep their health plans indignantly threatened to veto any such law to that effect: It only counts if he does it — geddit? As his court eunuchs at the Associated Press obligingly put it: “Obama Will Allow Old Plans.” It’s Barry’s world; we just live in it.
The reason for the benign Sovereign’s exercise of the Royal Prerogative is that millions of his subjects — or “folks,” as he prefers to call us, no fewer than 27 times during his press conference — have had their lives upended by Obamacare. Your traditional hard-core statist, surveying the mountain of human wreckage he has wrought, usually says, “Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” But Obama is the first to order that his omelet be unscrambled and the eggs put back in their original shells. Is this even doable? No. That’s the point. When it doesn’t work, he’ll be able to give another press conference blaming the insurance companies, or the state commissioners, or George W. Bush . . .
The most telling line, the one that encapsulates the gulf between the boundless fantasies of the faculty-lounge utopian and the messiness of reality, was this: “What we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.” Gee, thanks for sharing, genius. Maybe you should have thought of that before you governmentalized one-sixth of the economy. ...
[A]s historian Michael Beschloss pronounced the day after his election, he’s “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” Naturally, Obama shares this assessment. As he assured us five years ago, “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors.” Well, apart from his signature health-care policy. That’s a mystery to him. “I was not informed directly that the website would not be working,” he told us. The buck stops with something called “the executive branch,” which is apparently nothing to do with him. As evidence that he was entirely out of the loop, he offered this:
Had I been I informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, “Boy, this is going to be great.” You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, “This is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity,” a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.
Ooooo-kay. So, if I follow correctly, the smartest president ever is not smart enough to ensure that his website works; he’s not smart enough to inquire of others as to whether his website works; he’s not smart enough to check that his website works before he goes out and tells people what a great website experience they’re in for. But he is smart enough to know that he’s not stupid enough to go around bragging about how well it works if he’d already been informed that it doesn’t work. So he’s smart enough to know that if he’d known what he didn’t know he’d know enough not to let it be known that he knew nothing. The country’s in the very best of hands.
Michael Beschloss is right: This is what it means to be smart in a neo-monarchical America. Obama spake, and it shall be so. And, if it turns out not to be so, why pick on him? He talks a good Royal Proclamation; why get hung up on details?
Until October 1, Obama had never done anything — not run a gas station, or a doughnut stand — other than let himself be wafted onward and upward to the next do-nothing gig. Even in his first term, he didn’t really do: Starting with the 2009 trillion-dollar stimulus, he ran a money-no-object government that was all money and no objects; he spent and spent, and left no trace. Some things he massively expanded (food stamps, Social Security disability) and other things he massively diminished (effective foreign policy), but all were, so to speak, preexisting conditions. Obamacare is the first thing Obama has actually done, and, if you’re the person it’s being done to, it’s not pretty.
The president promised to “fundamentally transform” America. Certainly, other men have succeeded in transforming settled, free societies: Pierre Trudeau did in Canada four decades ago, and so, in post-war Britain, did the less charismatic Clement Attlee. And, if you subscribe to their particular philosophy, their transformations were effected very efficiently. But Obama is an incompetent, so “fundamentally transformed” is a euphemism for “wrecked beyond repair.” As a socialist, he makes a good socialite.
But on he staggers, with a wave of his scepter, delaying this, staying that, exempting the other, according to his regal whim and internal polling. The omniscient beneficent Sovereign will now graciously “allow” us “folks” to keep all those junk plans from bad-apple insurers. Yet even the wisest King cannot reign forever, and what will happen decades down the road were someone less benign — perhaps even (shudder) a Republican — to ascend the throne and wield these mighty powers?
Hey, relax: If you like your constitution, you can keep your constitution. Period. And your existing amendments. Well, most of them — except for the junk ones . . .
This week’s “shutdown” of government, for example, suffers (at least for those of us curious to see it reduced to Somali levels) from the awkward fact that the overwhelming majority of the government is not shut down at all. Indeed, much of it cannot be shut down. Which is the real problem facing America. “Mandatory spending” (Social Security, Medicare, et al.) is authorized in perpetuity — or, at any rate, until total societal collapse. If you throw in the interest payments on the debt, that means two-thirds of the federal budget is beyond the control of Congress’s so-called federal budget process. That’s why you’re reading government “shutdown” stories about the PandaCam at the Washington Zoo and the First Lady’s ghost-Tweeters being furloughed.
Nevertheless, just because it’s a phony crisis doesn’t mean it can’t be made even phonier. The perfect symbol of the shutdown-simulacrum so far has been the World War II Memorial. This is an open-air facility on the National Mall — that’s to say, an area of grass with a monument at the center. By comparison with, say, the IRS, the National Parks Service is not usually one of the more controversial government agencies. But, come “shutdown,” they’re reborn as the shock troops of the punitive bureaucracy. Thus, they decided to close down an unfenced open-air site — which oddly enough requires more personnel to shut than it would to keep it open.
So the Parks Service dispatched their own vast army to the World War II Memorial to ring it with barricades and yellow “Police Line — Do Not Cross” tape strung out like the world’s longest “We Support Our Troops” ribbon. For good measure, they issued a warning that anybody crossing the yellow line would be liable to arrest — or presumably, in extreme circumstances, the same multi-bullet ventilation that that mentally ill woman from Connecticut wound up getting from the coppers. In a heartening sign that the American spirit is not entirely dead, at least among a small percentage of nonagenarians, a visiting party of veterans pushed through the barricades and went to honor their fallen comrades, mordantly noting for reporters that, after all, when they’d shown up on the beach at Normandy it too had not been officially open.
Steyn went on to observe: “One would not be altogether surprised to find the feds stringing yellow police tape along the Rio Grande, the 49th parallel, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, if only to keep Americans in rather than anybody else out.”
Just before the weekend, the National Park Service informed charter boat captains in Florida that the Florida Bay was “closed” due to the shutdown. Until government funding is restored, the fishing boats are prohibited from taking anglers into 1,100 square-miles of open ocean. Fishing is also prohibited at Biscayne National Park during the shutdown.
The Park Service will also have rangers on duty to police the ban… of access to an ocean. The government will probably use more personnel and spend more resources to attempt to close the ocean, than it would in its normal course of business.
This is governing by temper-tantrum. It is on par with the government’s ham-fisted attempts to close the DC WWII Memorial, an open-air public monument that is normally accessible 24 hours a day. By accessible I mean, you walk up to it. When you have finished reflecting, you then walk away from it.
At least that Memorial is an actual structure, with some kind of perimeter that can be fenced off. Florida Bay is the ocean. How, pray tell, do you “close” 1,100 square miles of ocean? Why would one even need to do so?
On the eve of Obamacare’s arrival, Mark Steyn assesses what the age of Obama has accomplished for Americans.
President Obama has added six-and-a-half trillion bucks to the national debt, and has nothing to show for it. As Churchill would say, had his bust not been bounced from the Oval Office, never in the field of human spending has so much been owed by so many for so little. ...
My colleague Michelle Malkin revealed this week that her family has now joined the massed ranks of Obamacare victims: Anthem BlueCross BlueShield sent her a “Dear John” letter, explaining why they’d be seeing less of each other. “To meet the requirements of the new laws, your current plan can no longer be continued beyond your 2014 renewal date.”
Beyond the president’s characteristically breezy lie that “if you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan” is the sheer nuttiness of what’s happening. For years, Europeans and “progressive” Americans have raged at the immorality of the U.S. medical system: All those millions with no health coverage! But Michelle Malkin had coverage and suddenly, under what Obama calls “universal health care,” she doesn’t. The CBO’s most recent calculations estimate that, in 2023, a decade after the implementation of Obamacare, there still will be more than 30 million people uninsured – or about the population of Canada. That doesn’t sound terribly “universal,” and I would bet it’s something of a low-ball figure: As many employers are discovering, one of the simplest ways “to meet the requirements of the new laws” and still stay just about solvent is to shift your workers from family plans to individual plans, and tell their spouses and children to go look elsewhere. Does it achieve its other goal of “containing costs,” already higher than anywhere else? No. Avik Roy reports in Forbes that Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by 62 percent for women, 99 percent for men. In America, “insuring” against disaster now costs more than you’d pay in most countries for disaster.
No one has ever before attempted to devise a uniform health system for 300 million people – for the very good reason that it probably can’t be done. Britain’s National Health Service serves a population less than a fifth the size of America’s and is the third-largest employer on the planet, after the Indian National Railways and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the last of which is now largely funded by American taxpayers through interest payment on federal debt. A single-payer U.S. system would be bigger than Britain’s NHS, India’s railways and China’s army combined, at least in its bureaucracy. So, as in banking and housing and college tuition and so many other areas of endeavor, Washington is engaging in a kind of under-the-counter nationalization, in which the husk of a nominally private industry is conscripted to enforce government rules – and ruthlessly so, as Michelle Malkin and many others have discovered.
Obama’s pointless, traceless super-spending is now (as they used to say after 9/11) “the new normal.” Nancy Pelosi assured the nation last weekend that everything that can be cut has been cut and there are no more cuts to be made. And the disturbing thing is that, as a matter of practical politics, she may well be right. Many people still take my correspondent’s view: If you have old money well-managed, you can afford to be stupid – or afford the government’s stupidity on your behalf. If you’re a social-activist celebrity getting $20 million per movie, you can afford the government’s stupidity. If you’re a tenured professor or a unionized bureaucrat whose benefits were chiseled in stone two generations ago, you can afford it. If you’ve got a wind farm, and you’re living large on government “green energy” investments, you can afford it. If you’ve got the contract for signing up Obamacare recipients, you can afford it.
But, out there, beyond the islands of privilege, most Americans don’t have the same comfortably padded margin for error, and they’re hunkering down. Obamacare is something new in American life: the creation of a massive bureaucracy charged with downsizing you – to a world of fewer doctors, higher premiums, lousier care, more debt, fewer jobs, smaller houses, smaller cars, smaller, fewer, less; a world where worse is the new normal. Would Americans, hitherto the most buoyant and expansive of people, really consent to live such shrunken lives? If so, mid-20th century America and its assumptions of generational progress will be as lost to us as the Great Ziggurat of Ur was to 19th century Mesopotamian date farmers.
George Orwell, after attending a meeting of impoverished but passive miners, remarked sadly that “there is no turbulence left in England.” The Democrats, and much of the Republican establishment, have made a bet that there is no turbulence left in America, and the citizenry will stand mute before Obamacare’s wrecking ball. Unless they’re willing to accept a worse life for their children and grandchildren, middle-class Americans need to prove them wrong.
This is the United States of America,” declared President Obama to the burghers of Liberty, Mo., on Friday. “We’re not some banana republic.”
He was talking about the Annual Raising of the Debt Ceiling, which glorious American tradition seems to come round earlier every year. “This is not a deadbeat nation,” President Obama continued. “We don’t run out on our tab.” True. But we don’t pay it off either. We just keep running it up, ever higher. And every time the bartender says, “Mebbe you’ve had enough, pal,” we protest, “Jush another couple trillion for the road. Set ’em up, Joe.” And he gives you that look that kinda says he wishes you’d run out on your tab back when it was $23.68.
Still, Obama is right. We’re not a banana republic, if only because the debt of banana republics is denominated in a currency other than their own — i.e., the U.S. dollar. When you’re the guys who print the global currency, you can run up debts undreamt of by your average generalissimo. As Obama explained in another of his recent speeches, “Raising the debt ceiling, which has been done over a hundred times, does not increase our debt.” I won’t even pretend to know what he and his speechwriters meant by that one, but the fact that raising the debt ceiling “has been done over a hundred times” does suggest that spending more than it takes in is now a permanent feature of American government. And no one has plans to do anything about it. Which is certainly banana republic-esque.
Is all this spending necessary? Every day, the foot-of-page-37 news stories reveal government programs it would never occur to your dimestore caudillo to blow money on. On Thursday, it was the Food and Drug Administration blowing just shy of $200 grand to find out whether its Twitter and Facebook presence is “well-received.” A fifth of a million dollars isn’t even a rounding error in most departmental budgets, so nobody cares. But the FDA is one of those sclerotic American institutions that has near to entirely seized up. In October 1920, it occurred to an Ontario doctor called Frederick Banting that insulin might be isolated and purified and used to treat diabetes; by January 1923, Eli Lilly & Co were selling insulin to American pharmacies: A little over two years from concept to market. Now the FDA adds at least half-a-decade to the process, and your chances of making it through are far slimmer: As recently as the late Nineties, they were approving 157 new drugs per half-decade. Today it’s less than half that.
But they’ve got $182,000 to splash around on finding out whether people really like them on Facebook, or they’re just saying that. So they’ve given the dough to a company run by Dan Beckmann, a former “new media aide” to President Obama. That has the whiff of the banana republic about it, too.
The National Parks Service, which I had carelessly assumed was the service responsible for running national parks, has been making videos on Muslim women’s rights: “Islam gave women a whole bunch of rights that Western women acquired later in the 19th and 20th centuries, and we’ve had these rights since the seventh century,” explains a lady from AnNur Islamic School in Schenectady at the National Park Service website, nps.gov. Fascinating stuff, no doubt. But what’s it to do with national parks? Maybe the rangers could pay Dan Beckmann a quarter-million bucks to look into whether the National Parks’ Islamic outreach is using social media as effectively as it might.
Where do you go to get a piece of this action? As the old saying goes, bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. But the smart guys rob taxpayers because that’s where the big money is. According to the Census Bureau’s latest “American Community Survey,” between 2000 and 2012 the nation’s median household income dropped 6.6 percent. Yet in the District of Columbia median household income rose 23.3 percent.
Mark Steyn admires what six decades of Progressive government has achieved.
By the time Detroit declared bankruptcy, Americans were so inured to the throbbing dirge of Motown’s Greatest Hits — 40 percent of its streetlamps don’t work; 210 of its 317 public parks have been permanently closed; it takes an hour for police to respond to a 9-1-1 call; only a third of its ambulances are driveable; one-third of the city has been abandoned; the local realtor offers houses on sale for a buck and still finds no takers; etc., etc. — Americans were so inured that the formal confirmation of a great city’s downfall was greeted with little more than a fatalistic shrug. ...
[L]ate on Friday, some genius jurist struck down the bankruptcy filing. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina declared Detroit’s bankruptcy “unconstitutional” because, according to the Detroit Free Press, “the Michigan Constitution prohibits actions that will lessen the pension benefits of public employees.” Which means that, in Michigan, reality is unconstitutional. ...
With bankruptcy temporarily struck down, we’re told that “innovation hubs” and “enterprise zones” are the answer. Seriously? In my book After America, I observe that the physical decay of Detroit — the vacant and derelict lots for block after block after block — is as nothing compared to the decay of the city’s human capital. Forty-seven percent of adults are functionally illiterate, which is about the same rate as the Central African Republic, which at least has the excuse that it was ruled throughout the Seventies by a cannibal emperor. Why would any genuine innovator open a business in a Detroit “innovation hub”? Whom would you employ? The illiterates include a recent president of the school board, Otis Mathis, which doesn’t bode well for the potential work force a decade hence.
Given their respective starting points, one has to conclude that Detroit’s Democratic party makes a far more comprehensive wrecking crew than Emperor Bokassa ever did. No bombs, no invasions, no civil war, just “liberal” “progressive” politics day in, day out. Americans sigh and say, “Oh, well, Detroit’s an ‘outlier.’” It’s an outlier only in the sense that it happened here first. The same malign alliance between a corrupt political class, rapacious public-sector unions, and an ever more swollen army of welfare dependents has been adopted in the formally Golden State of California, and in large part by the Obama administration, whose priorities — “health” “care” “reform,” “immigration” “reform” — are determined by the same elite/union/dependency axis. As one droll tweeter put it, “If Obama had a city, it would look like Detroit.”
Mark Steyn, on Rush Limbaugh’s Show yesterday, read, in the recent school suspension of a 7-year-old in Baltimore for allegedly nibbling his breakfast pop tart into a shape resembling a gun, serious bad news for American civilization.
You’re doomed America! You’re done for! No society can survive this level of stupidity! The school counselor is available to meet with any students who are traumatized by hearing reports of some guy four grades below them who nibbles a pop-tart into a gun-like shape.
I’ve never subscribed to this whole greatest generation thing, you know. But you look at those guys, they weren’t much older than the kids from the school. A lot of them were like seventeen, eighteen years old. And they’re storming out of these transport ships in the churning waters of the English Channel and the North Sea and they’re landing on the beaches of Normandy. And their getting out of these and they stomping up the beaches and they’re taking German gunfire and all the rest.
Do you think if you raised people so that you make a school counselor to available to them in cased they’ve been traumatized by someone who was nibbled a pop-tart into the shape of a gun….do you think if they’re ever called upon to get out those ships and the storm the beaches of Normandy, do you think they’re gonna be up to that?
‘Oh no look, the Germans, they’re all holding pop-tarts! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!’
No society can survive this level of stupidity! These small things are not small. They tell you a lot about the institutionalized stupidity of our institutions.
NBC News’ David Gregory apparently defied the (absurd) District of Columbia law forbidding anyone “to possess [&c.] any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm” by openly holding in his hand and displaying an empty 30-round magazine during a Meet the Press program in which he confronted NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre.
Anne Althouse elucidates the semiotics that drove NBC News to turn to open, on-the-air, defiant commission of a crime.
If possession of that high-capacity magazine was a crime, and the NBC folk knew it and had even contacted the police and thus even knew they’d created rock-hard evidence that they knew it, why did they go ahead and have Gregory flaunt that illegal possession on television? They had to have thought it was a devastatingly powerful prop. My first guess was that they imagined that viewers — some viewers, at least — would find the object itself scary. ...
I’m not sure exactly why that jogged my thinking, but suddenly I understand the drama Gregory (and his people) were trying to enact. It’s a deep psychic memory of childhood. Gregory sought dominance over his interlocutor, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, and the idea — in the act of picking up that magazine and beginning an interrogation about it — was that Gregory would become (subliminally) a parent figure who would push LaPierre into the subordinate role of the little boy, the cowering child confronted with undeniable evidence of his wrongdoing. What’s THIS I found in your room?
The plan was for LaPierre to babble lamely, scrambling to explain it away, like the kid trying to concoct some cockamamie reason why that (whatever) got into his room. He’d look foolish and guilty, as Dad continues to hold up the item which the kid knows will be the defeat of every idea that flashes through his stupid, stupid brain.
The scenario didn’t play out as scripted. LaPierre is a stolid veteran of many a confrontational interview. He’s not going to let the interviewer get the upper hand that easily.
Naturally, all this has inevitably provoked considerable discussion about whether Mr. Gregory should really be prosecuted and potentially convicted, sentenced, and treated as a criminal for an action obviously involving no real threat of any kind to anyone, for a purely technical violation of an obviously extravagantly far-reaching provision of a law aimed in intent at curbing authentic violent crime.
A lot of people have made good arguments and intelligent points. Even NRA President David Keene argued that Gregory’s “crime” should simply be overlooked.
Mark Steyn, however, decided to swim against the tide of general opinion, and argues that David Gregory ought to be held to the same irrational regulatory standards as everybody else.
This is, declared NYU professor Jay Rosen, “the dumbest media story of 2012.” Why? Because, as CNN’s Howard Kurtz breezily put it, everybody knows David Gregory wasn’t “planning to commit any crimes.”
So what? Neither are the overwhelming majority of his fellow high-capacity-magazine-owning Americans. Yet they’re expected to know, as they drive around visiting friends and family over Christmas, the various and contradictory gun laws in different jurisdictions. Ignorantia juris non excusat is one of the oldest concepts in civilized society: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Back when there was a modest and proportionate number of laws, that was just about doable. But in today’s America there are laws against everything, and any one of us at any time is unknowingly in breach of dozens of them. And in this case NBC were informed by the D.C. police that it would be illegal to show the thing on TV, and they went ahead and did it anyway: You’ll never take me alive, copper! You’ll have to pry my high-capacity magazine from my cold dead fingers! When the D.C. SWAT team, the FBI, and the ATF take out NBC News and the whole building goes up in one almighty fireball, David Gregory will be the crazed loon up on the roof like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” At last, some actual must-see TV on that lousy network.
But, even if we’re denied that pleasure, the “dumbest media story of 2012” is actually rather instructive. David Gregory intended to demonstrate what he regards as the absurdity of America’s lax gun laws. Instead, he’s demonstrating the ever greater absurdity of America’s non-lax laws. His investigation, prosecution, and a sentence of 20–30 years with eligibility for parole after ten (assuming Mothers Against High-Capacity Magazines don’t object) would teach a far more useful lesson than whatever he thought he was doing by waving that clip under LaPierre’s nose.
To Howard Kurtz & Co., it’s “obvious” that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, “obviousness” is one of the first casualties — and “obviously” innocent citizens have their “obviously” well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, eleven-year-old Skylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so “obvious” that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth grader? Because he’s got a TV show and she hasn’t?
Mark Steyn scathingly reviews the recent performances of two chief executives.
In political terms, Hurricane Sandy and the Benghazi consulate debacle exemplify at home and abroad the fundamental unseriousness of the United States in the Obama era. In the days after Sandy hit, Barack Obama was generally agreed to have performed well. He had himself photographed in the White House Situation Room, nodding thoughtfully to bureaucrats (“John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; David Agnew, Director for Intergovernmental Affairs”) and Tweeted it to his 3.2 million followers. He appeared in New Jersey wearing a bomber jacket rather than a suit to demonstrate that when the going gets tough the tough get out a monogrammed Air Force One bomber jacket. He announced that he’d instructed his officials to answer all calls within 15 minutes because in America “we leave nobody behind.” By doing all this, the president “shows” he “cares” – which is true in the sense that in Benghazi he was willing to leave the entire consulate staff behind, and nobody had their calls answered within seven hours, because presumably he didn’t care. ...
Last week, Nanny Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, rivaled his own personal best for worst mayoral performance since that snowstorm a couple of years back. This is a man who spends his days micromanaging the amount of soda New Yorkers are allowed to have in their beverage containers rather than, say, the amount of ocean New Yorkers are allowed to have in their subway system – just as, in the previous crisis, the municipal titan who can regulate the salt out of your cheeseburger proved utterly incapable of regulating any salt on to Sixth Avenue. Imagine if this preening buffoon had expended as much executive energy on flood protection for the electrical grid and transit system as he does on approved quantities of carbonated beverages. But that’s leadership 21st-century style: When the going gets tough, the tough ban trans fats.
Back in Benghazi, the president who looks so cool in a bomber jacket declined to answer his beleaguered diplomats’ calls for help – even though he had aircraft and Special Forces in the region. Too bad. He’s all jacket and no bombers. This, too, is an example of America’s uniquely profligate impotence. When something goes screwy at a ramshackle consulate halfway round the globe, very few governments have the technological capacity to watch it unfold in real time. Even fewer have deployable military assets only a couple of hours away. What is the point of unmanned drones, of military bases around the planet, of elite Special Forces trained to the peak of perfection if the president and the vast bloated federal bureaucracy cannot rouse themselves to action? What is the point of outspending Russia, Britain, France, China, Germany and every middle-rank military power combined if, when it matters, America cannot urge into the air one plane with a couple of dozen commandoes? In Iraq, al-Qaida is running training camps in the western desert. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are all but certain to return most of the country to its pre-9/11 glories. But in Washington the head of the world’s biggest “counterterrorism” bureaucracy briefs the president on flood damage and downed trees.
I don’t know whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can fix things, but I do know that Barack Obama and Joe Biden won’t even try – and that therefore a vote for Obama is a vote for the certainty of national collapse.
His Obamaness addresses the UN General Assembly.
Mark Steyn tops Obama’s rhetoric with his own satirical rap.
One of the reasons why Barack Obama is regarded as the greatest orator of our age is that he’s always banging on about some other age yet to come — e.g., the Future! A future of whose contours he is remarkably certain and boundlessly confident: The future will belong to nations that invest in education because the children are our future, but the future will not belong to nations that do not invest in green-energy projects because solar-powered prompters are our future, and most of all the future will belong to people who look back at the Obama era and marvel that there was a courageous far-sighted man willing to take on the tough task of slowing the rise of the oceans because the future will belong to people on viable land masses. This futuristic shtick is a cheap’n’cheesy rhetorical device (I speak as the author of a book called “After America,” whose title is less futuristic than you might think) but it seems to play well with the impressionable Obammysoxers of the press corps.
And so it was with President Obama’s usual visionary, inspiring, historic, etc., address to the U.N. General Assembly the other day: “The future must not belong to those who bully women,” he told the world, in a reference either to Egyptian clitoridectomists or the Republican party, according to taste. “The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians,” he added. You mean those Muslim guys? Whoa, don’t jump to conclusions. “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” he declared, introducing to U.S. jurisprudence the novel concept of being able to slander a bloke who’s been dead for getting on a millennium and a half now. If I understand correctly the cumulative vision of the speech, the future will belong to gay feminist ecumenical Muslims. You can take that to the bank. But make no mistake, as he would say, and in fact did: “We face a choice between the promise of the future or the prisons of the past, and we cannot afford to get it wrong.” Because if we do, we could spend our future living in the prisons of the past, which we forgot to demolish in the present for breach of wheelchair-accessibility codes.
And the crowd went wild! Well, okay, they didn’t. They’re transnational bureaucrats on expense accounts, so they clapped politely, and then nipped out for a bathroom break before the president of Serbia. But, if I’d been one of the globetrotting bigwigs fortunate enough to get an invite — the prime minister of Azerbaijan, say, or the deputy tourism minister of Equatorial Guinea — I would have responded: Well, maybe the future will belong to those who empower women and don’t diss Mohammed. But maybe it’ll belong to albino midgets who wear pink thongs. Who knows? Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see. But one thing we can say for certain is that the future will not belong to broke losers. You’re the brokest guy in the room, you’re the president of Brokistan. You’ve got to pay back $16 trillion just to get back to having nothing, nada, zip. Who the hell are you to tell us who the future’s going to belong to?
The idea of Progress, the notion that change is good and the past is bad, is an essential ingredient of liberal pseudointellectuality.
Sure, we keep getting better gadgets as time goes by. We gloat over having personal computers and the Internet now, the way my parents used to congratulate themselves on having television and owning an automobile, and my grandparents rejoiced over indoor plumbing and electric lights. We generally live longer, too. But progress is hardly uniformly upward. As technology gets better, it seems that concomitantly the sphere of personal liberty diminishes, the volume of laws and regulations climbs skyward, material culture gets cheaper and shoddier, our music and entertainment becomes coarser, our journalism more corrupt, and the character of the typical American grows feebler and more dependent. People my age commonly watch the old black & white films on Turner Classics rather wishing we could go back and live in that terrible old-fashioned America that Barack Obama consistently condemns once again.
Barack Obama enters the auditorium for his Las Vegas campaign rally yesterday.
As the caskets containing the bodies of four slain Americans were being unloaded from the plane, Barack Obama was tweeting about campaign sweatshirts.
We also learned today that the same Hillary Clinton who early on banned military uniforms from the Clinton White House signed the rules of engagement that left the US Ambassador in Benghazi without Marine protection and defended by local guards without ammunition.
“It was the policy of the Obama administration to have a low profile in Libya. That’s why the rules of engagement were approved by the Secretary of State to have no Marines at Benghazi, and to have an American contractor hire Libyan nationals to provide security there. The rules were they couldn’t have ammunition.”
Mark Steyn, the Juvenal of the Decline and Fall of the American Republic, had some sharp comments.
When it comes to a flailing, blundering superpower, I am generally wary of ascribing to malevolence what is more often sheer stupidity and incompetence. For example, we’re told that, because the consulate in Benghazi was designated as an “interim facility,” it did not warrant the level of security and protection that, say, an embassy in Scandinavia would have. This seems all too plausible – that security decisions are made not by individual human judgment but according to whichever rule-book sub-clause at the Federal Agency of Bureaucratic Facilities Regulation it happens to fall under. However, the very next day the embassy in Yemen, which is a permanent facility, was also overrun, as was the embassy in Tunisia the day after. Look, these are tough crowds, as the president might say at Caesar’s Palace. But we spend more money on these joints than anybody else, and they’re as easy to overrun as the Belgian Consulate.
I’m inclined to be generous, and put some of this down to the natural torpor and ineptitude of government. But Hillary Clinton and Gen. Martin Dempsey are guilty of something worse, in the Secretary of State’s weirdly obsessive remarks about an obscure film supposedly disrespectful of Mohammed and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ telephone call to a private citizen, asking him if he could please ease up on the old Islamophobia.
In this case, as Secretary Clinton and Gen. Dempsey well know, the film has even less to do with anything than did the Danish cartoons or the schoolteacher’s teddy bear or any of the other innumerable grievances of Islam. The 400-strong assault force in Benghazi showed up with RPGs and mortars: that’s not a spontaneous movie protest; that’s an act of war, and better planned and executed than the dying superpower’s response to it. Secretary Clinton and Gen. Dempsey are, to put it mildly, misleading the American people when they suggest otherwise.
One can understand why they might do this, given the fiasco in Libya. The men who organized this attack knew the ambassador would be at the consulate in Benghazi rather than at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. How did that happen? They knew when he had been moved from the consulate to a “safe house,” and switched their attentions accordingly. How did that happen? The United States government lost track of its ambassador for 10 hours. How did that happen? Perhaps, when they’ve investigated Mitt Romney’s press release for another three or four weeks, the court eunuchs of the American media might like to look into some of these fascinating questions, instead of leaving the only interesting reporting on an American story to the foreign press.
For whatever reason, Secretary Clinton chose to double down on misleading the American people. “Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital,” said Mrs. Clinton. That’s one way of putting it. The photographs at the Arab TV network al-Mayadeen show Chris Stevens’ body being dragged through the streets, while the locals take souvenir photographs on their cellphones. A man in a red striped shirt photographs the dead-eyed ambassador from above; another immediately behind his head moves the splayed arm and holds his cellphone camera an inch from the ambassador’s nose. Some years ago, I had occasion to assist in moving the body of a dead man: We did not stop to take photographs en route. Even allowing for cultural differences, this looks less like “carrying Chris’ body to the hospital” and more like barbarians gleefully feasting on the spoils of savagery.
In a rare appearance on a non-showbiz outlet, President Obama, winging it on Telemundo, told his host that Egypt was neither an ally nor an enemy. I can understand why it can be difficult to figure out, but here’s an easy way to tell: Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, said some years ago that America risked being seen as harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend. At the Benghazi consulate, the looters stole “sensitive” papers revealing the names of Libyans who’ve cooperated with the United States. Oh, well. As the president would say, obviously our hearts are with you.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the local doctor who fingered bin Laden to the Americans sits in jail. In other words, while America’s clod vice-president staggers around, pimping limply that only Obama had the guts to take the toughest decision anyone’s ever had to take, the poor schlub who actually did have the guts, who actually took the tough decision in a part of the world where taking tough decisions can get you killed, languishes in a cell because Washington would not lift a finger to help him.
Like I said, no novelist would contrast Chris Stevens on the streets of Benghazi and Barack Obama on stage in Vegas. Too crude, too telling, too devastating.
Anselm Kiefer, Abendland (Twilight of the West), 1989
Mark Steyn gloomily predicts that the attempts of politicians to deliver material comfort, cradle-to-the-grave security, and substantial life intervals of leisure to the masses are not compatible with economic reality.
In the twilight of the West, America and Europe are still different but only to this extent: They’ve wound up taking separate paths to the same destination. Whether you get there via an artificial common currency for an invented pseudo-jurisdiction or through quantitative easing and the global decline of the dollar, whether you spend your final years in the care of Medicare or the National Health Service death panels, whether higher education is just another stage of cradle-to-grave welfare or you have a trillion dollars’ worth of personal college debt, in 2012 the advanced Western social-democratic citizen looks pretty similar, whether viewed from Greece or Germany, California or Quebec.
That’s to say, the unsustainable “bubble” is not student debt or subprime mortgages or anything else. The bubble is us, and the assumptions of entitlement. Too many citizens of advanced Western democracies live a life they have not earned, and are not willing to earn. ...
Look around you. The late-20th-century Western lifestyle isn’t going to be around much longer. In a few years’ time, our children will look at old TV commercials showing retirees dancing, golfing, cruising away their sixties and seventies, and wonder what alternative universe that came from. In turn, their children will be amazed to discover that in the early 21st century the Western world thought it entirely normal that vast swathes of the citizenry should while away their youth enjoying what, a mere hundred years earlier, would have been the leisurely varsity of the younger son of a Mitteleuropean Grand Duke.
As usual, Mark Steyn’s rhetoric is well worth the read, but I do not entirely agree.
I think it’s true that the dynamic of egalitarian democracy by its nature faces the fundamental danger of an ongoing benefits auction for the masses’ political support which will always in the end wind up devouring too great a portion of the economy resulting in disaster.
But I think myself, on the other hand, that, if government regulation and economic meddling were minimized and the burden of taxation was modest, economic growth could create and sustain an economically-independent and leisured middle class, much larger than the vanished one which existed in Britain and America before 1914. It’s just not possible to lift all the boats all at once.
I do strongly agree with Mark Steyn that our current model of near-universal college education, consisting of four years of leisure and good times combined with plenty of left-wing indoctrination, represents a simply astounding waste of human energy and talent.
Between useless high school and useless college, millions upon millions of people today fritter away what are actually their most healthy, energetic, and potentially productive years imbibing modest quantities of learning, having a good time, and being flattered into believing that are members of an omniscient elite charged with the revolutionary overthrow of a wicked and stupid past. It would be infinitely better all the way around if 90+% of everyone simply went to work at 13, as my parents’ generation generally did.
What we know so far is this: All eleven Secret Service men and all ten U.S. military personnel staying at the Hotel Caribe are alleged to have had “escorts” in their rooms that night. All of them. The entire team.
Twenty-one U.S. public servants. Twenty-one Colombian whores. Unless a couple of the senior guys splashed out for the two-girl special. “Some of them were saying they didn’t know they were prostitutes,” explained Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Some are saying they were women at the bar.”
Amazing to hear government agents channeling Dudley Moore in Arthur: “You’re a hooker? I thought I was doing so well.” It turns out U.S. Secret Service agents are the only men who can walk into a Colombian nightclub and not spot the professionals. Are they really the guys you want protecting the president?
Congress is not happy about this. “It was totally wrong to take a foreign national back to a hotel when the president is about to arrive,” said Representative King.
It’s wrong to take a “foreign national” up to the room, but it would have been okay if she’d been from Des Moines? We’re all in favor of outsourcing, but in compliance with Section 27(e)viii of the PATRIOT Act this is the one job Americans will do?
National Review’s firing of John Derbyshire as the result of his publishing some uncomplimentary opinions about African Americans in a totally different venue struck several conservative commentators, including yours truly, as a cowardly and conformist expression of eyes-on-the-main-chance, professional “realism.”
NR’s Rich Lowry did not actually bow to what David Weigel described as a “micro-movement building [on the left -JDZ] to shame National Review into firing Derbyshire.” He threw Derbyshire directly under the political correctness bus before the left had really begun to howl for blood.
Those of us on the sidelines shrugged, and grimaced a little with distaste, over one more disagreeable example of life in today’s United States in the Second Era of Reconstruction and We-Know-Better social engineering and thought control, but it wasn’t until Gawker published an interview on Monday with John Derbyshire, which incidentally revealed that he is suffering from Leukemia and undergoing Chemotherapy, that the full dimensions of National Review’s actions came into focus.
NR did not just dismiss one of its eccentric and quarrelsome loose cannon contributors for injudicious commentary. NR instantly made a cover-its-own-ass at any cost decision, and facing a minor PC controversy in the middle of a period of time in which racial politics and controversies are actively raging, ruthlessly turned on one of its own they obviously knew was gravely ill.
I’d say that kind of behavior reflects a much more serious discredit on National Review than offenses against the community of fashion’s code of speech propriety ever could.
About the only positive thing I can find to say for NR is, at least they let Mark Steyn criticize NR’s actions on their own web-site.
The Left is pretty clear about its objectives on everything from climate change to immigration to gay marriage: Rather than win the debate, they’d just as soon shut it down. They’ve had great success in shrinking the bounds of public discourse, and rendering whole areas of public policy all but undiscussable. In such a climate, my default position is that I’d rather put up with whatever racist/sexist/homophobic/Islamophobic/whateverphobic excess everybody’s got the vapors about this week than accept ever tighter constraints on “acceptable” opinion. ...
The net result of Derb’s summary execution by NR will be further to shrivel the parameters, and confine debate in this area to ever more unreal fatuities. He knew that mentioning the Great Unmentionables would sooner or later do him in, and, in an age when shrieking “That’s totally racist!” is totally gay, he at least has the rare satisfaction of having earned his colors. Yet what are we to make of wee, inoffensive Dave Weigel over at Slate? The water still churning with blood, the sharks are circling poor old Dave for the sin of insufficiently denouncing the racist Derbyshire. Weigel must go for not enthusiastically bellowing, “Derbyshire must go!” Come to think of it, I should probably go for querying whether Weigel should go.
NR shouldn’t be rewarding those who want to play this game. The more sacrifices you offer up, the more ravenously the volcano belches.
PS If Derb’s piece is sufficiently beyond the pale that its author must be terminated immediately, why is its publisher — our old friend Taki — proudly listed on the NR masthead?