Unlucky Number

One year always leads to another, and we shudder to think where a year such as 2012 might lead.
Journalistic tradition dictates that an end-of-the year column either look back at the past 12 months or prognosticate about the upcoming dozen, and at this particular point in history neither task is appealing. The past year saw the United States go yet another trillion dollars and more into debt, with slow economic growth and fewer gainfully employed workers to show for it, the citizenry’s increased dependence on a government that is increasingly bossy about every aspect of life, various scandals from the cover-up of a botched gun-running operation to the “sloppy” foreign policy that resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other brave Americans in Libya and a body blow to free speech rights here, the ascendance of a belligerent and supremacist Islamism in key countries of the Middle East with American support, and an ever stupider popular culture. By far the biggest story of the year was an electoral majority of the country’s decision to vote for more of the same — lest those evil Republicans kill off Big Bird, continue their dastardly if entirely fictional war on women’s private parts, and generally harsh everyone’s buzz — so it’s hard to envision a reversal of this bad fortune.
All indications are that America will begin the new year by barreling over the “fiscal cliff,” that dire-sounding name given the across-the-board tax hikes and arbitrary spending cuts that almost everyone agrees will lead to a recession. Some sort of patchwork agreement remains a possibility, but although it will surely be hailed as further proof of Obama’s transcendent genius it will still involve job-killing taxes that won’t raise sufficient revenue to make a dent in the deficits. Indeed, the deficits are likely to swell when more workers sign up for the never-ending unemployment benefits and a slew of new entitlement programs are deemed necessary to deal with economic downturn. This might even be the year that America’s looming debt crisis finally arrives, and even if the country’s economy continues to crawl along the prospects for the rest of the world remain unpromising. The prospect of a Secretary of State John Kerry and a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel certainly do not bode well.
None of this is any reason, of course, not to celebrate heartily tonight as the clock turns over to a brand new year. Nor is it any reason not to make the most of the next 365 days, whatever they might bring, and perhaps even prosper and be happy. Keep clinging bitterly to God and your guns, at least for so long as both are still legal, and give this whole 2013 idea a good shot.

— Bud Norman

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Reinvesting the Truth

Three cheers for Sumit Agarwal, Efraim Benmelech, Nattai Bergman, and Amit Seru. Their recent research for the National Bureau of Economic Research comes far too late to have averted our current financial woes, and will likely be little noticed by the people charged with averting future catastrophes, but it’s nice to hear the truth spoken even when only for its own sake.
The quartet of exotically-named economists titled their paper “Did the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Lead to Risky Lending?,” and before delving into some very complicated analysis they answer the titular question with a simple “Yes, it did.” This admirably plain-spoken truth isn’t just a matter of academic interest, easily relegated to the pages of obscure economic journals, but rather a matter of importance to anyone hoping to make a living. Simply put, it exposes a widely-believed lie that has done much to bring America to its current sorry state.
Readers with reliable memories will surely recall the sudden bursting of the housing bubble back in ’08, which of course was immediately followed by a recession said to be the worst since he Great Depression, and they might also remember how it was all blamed on the voracious greed of top hat-wearing, moustache-twirling bankers who had tried to get rich by making hundreds of billions of dollars worth of loans to people who would never be able to pay them back. Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular were also blamed, for it was their superstitious fetish for de-regulation that had removed the rule that previously forbade bankers to make loans to people who would never be able to pay them back. The economic downturn was fortuitously timed for Barack Obama, who stood foursquare against greedy bankers and promised all the regulations that a liberal heart might desire.
It was all utter nonsense, as a moment’s reflection could have revealed. There are no possible circumstances that might occur in a truly free market which would cause a banker, especially a greedy one, to make loans to people who will not be able to pay them back. There had never been a rule against making such futile loans, just as there had never been a rule against bankers giving all their money away to the panhandler on the corner, because there was no need for it. One didn’t even need to know that no financial de-regulation had occurred the Bush administration, and that on the contrary he had signed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill that added far too many new regulations, as simple logic should have sufficed. That panic that followed the crash didn’t allow for a moment’s reflection and overwhelmed logic, though, and the greedy bankers and ideological Republicans made for convenient scapegoats.
The truth, which even the Republican presidential ticket dared not speak, was that the federal government had tempted, cajoled, and at times outright compelled the banks to make the mortgage loans that brought down the financial industry. Although it had gone largely unnoticed, despite the Democrats’ occasional campaign boasts while the housing bubble was being inflated, the sub-prime loan was the culmination of a 30 year effort that began with the usual good intentions. Bankers had refused to make to loans to people who couldn’t pay them back from the dawn of commerce until 1978, but that year Congress and the reliably wrong Jimmy Carter decided to rectify this blatant discrimination with the Community Reinvestment Act to induce loans to law-income borrowers with bad credit scores.
The law was more or less ignored by the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, an oversight that was little noted at time except in the occasional outraged editorial, but starting in 1993 the Clinton administration began to enforce it with an evangelical zeal. Lawsuits brought by the Justice and Housing Departments forced billions of loans to borrowers who had previously been denied credit, while a concerted effort by activist groups such as ACORN, newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and leftist lawyers such as Barack Obama increased the pressure. The Clinton administration eventually agreed to a wide range of financial de-regulations intended to minimize the risks of the policy, including the hated “derivatives” for which George W. Bush is usually blamed, and it even ordered the industry-dominating Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac mortgage institutions to fill half their portfolios with sub-prime loans. When a construction boom inevitably followed, Clinton was pleased to take the credit.
As the great French economist Frédéric Bastiat observed, “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal,” but by the time all those loans started going bad Clinton was out of office and basking in his reputation as an economic genius. George W. Bush was the one who was there to deal with the mess, and despite his frequent efforts to convince the congressional Democrats to reform the various sub-prime policies he was the one who would be forever blamed. With no one in the press willing to admit their own culpability in the fiasco, an economic catastrophe caused by well-intentioned governmental meddling led to the election and re-election of the most meddlesome government in American history.
There’s not much that Agarwal, Benmelech, Bergman, and Seru can do about it now, but it’s good to have such highfalutin evidence to back up the obvious truth.

— Bud Norman

Bad Language

Even after several years we still remember reading about an architect who always insisted on an aisle seat when traveling by train. We’ve long since forgotten the fellow’s name, but vividly recall his explanation that his many years of work had so heightened his sensitivity to architecture that he could not bear to see all the ugly buildings passing by. Although we sympathized with the poor architect’s plight, we also envied his ability to so easily avoid the source of his annoyance. After a certain number of years a writer develops a similarly visceral aversion to ugly language, but there is no aisle seat that can insulate him from the world’s constant abuse of words.
The point was brought to mind by a recent letter to the venerable National Review in which a teacher grouses at some length about the appallingly limited vocabularies of his charges. His account corroborates our own observation of young people, who are a most infuriatingly inarticulate lot, but we fear his missive only hints at the extent of the problem. He correctly notes the minimalist dialogue of modern movies and the monosyllabic lyrics of contemporary music, but he fails to mention the advertising industry, the news media, the political establishment, the publishing houses, and numerous other offenders against the English language. The education biz is also to be blamed, and we note that even National Review’s correspondent made an annoyingly slangy use of the word “stuff” in his otherwise well-written screed.
By force of habit we spend much of each day silently copy-editing what we see and hear, on the radio or on billboards or in brief conversations with convenience store clerks and so forth, and it’s become a most exhausting exercise. Sentences ending in prepositions or not seeming to end at all, randomly placed punctuation, participles dangling like a flasher’s private parts, faddish usages such as “impact” as a verb, improperly conjugated verbs — “seen” where “saw” is required is especially rampant around these parts — and people saying they could care less when they clearly mean they could not care less are just a few of the discordant notes in the cacophony of bad English that assault us every day. The last remaining refuge from all this painful noise is in old books, old movies, and the select company of a rapidly dwindling group of old friends.
For all the talking going on, one can’t help noticing that the National Review’s disgruntled teacher is quite right about the paucity of words being used. The common lexicon is shrinking faster than the globally warmed polar ice caps in an Al Gore documentary, with all sorts of wonderfully descriptive and picturesque words being jettisoned. “Picturesque” and “jettisoned” are probably endangered by now, and we wanted to make use of them while there was still an outside chance someone might recognize their meaning. Anyone who does use words not found in a sixth-grade reader or the latest rap hit does so at his peril, because people are often offended by words they don’t know. We get that often, even with words we acquired from children’s books of long ago. It’s always reminiscent of a running gag in the shrewd dystopian movie satire “Idiocracy,” in which an early 21st Century man of average intelligence finds himself in a drastically dumb-downed future where his ordinary plain-spoken English is regarded as “faggy” and pretentious.
The fingernail-on-a-chalkboard aesthetics aside, this devolution of the language will hard disastrous social effects. Whatever lofty thoughts might inadvertently pop into the typically empty heads of today’s youngsters will remain unformulated for lack of words to express them, and the lower ideas that lend themselves to grunts and groans will be the only ones that find expression. Miscommunications will occur more frequently, with the usual unfortunate results. The failure to enforce basic standards of language will further undermine the very notion of standards, if the word survives at all. Ultimately the totalitarians will take advantage of the public’s inability to articulate any alternative idea, as they always do, and if not they’ll just continue to manipulate the language with the same frightening success they’ve enjoyed in recent years.
It’s all very depressing and stuff.

— Bud Norman

Boehner’s Blues

Maybe it’s just a lingering touch of the holiday spirit, but we believe that a few kind words should be spoken on behalf on John Boehner.
The Speaker of the House has been quite beleaguered of late, with sharp criticism coming from every direction. To the president and his liberal supporters Boehner is an ideologue obstructing a reasonable agreement to avert the “fiscal cliff” for typically plutocratic Republican reasons. As far as the conservatives are concerned, Boehner is all too willing to compromise bedrock principles for mere political expedience. The mainstream press has predictably taken the president’s side, while the conservative radio shows are all demanding that Boehner be banished from the party, and with no one left in the middle these days Boehner has wound up with worse poll numbers than Nancy Pelosi has ever suffered.

This is a sorry state, indeed, given that Pelosi is perhaps the most horrible woman in the history of the republic. Although the Republican party might well require a change of management, as losing ball clubs often do, Boehner certainly does not deserve this ignominy.
We are sympathetic to the conservatives’ complaints, being unrepentant right-wingers ourselves, but it seems to us that Boehner’s critics are not taking into account the difficult situation in which we finds himself. A tax hike on anybody will indeed be harmful to an already unhealthy economy, thorough entitlement reforms truly are urgently required to stave off federal insolvency, and the Republicans are also correct in arguing that they won their House majority running on such sound ideas, but somehow it is also true that Obama was re-elected on a platform of soaking the rich and continuing to throw vast amounts of imaginary money into the governmental sinkhole. Obama is better positioned to keep his promises, having no fear of a “fiscal cliff” that will provide him tax hikes and defense cuts that he much desires and would not otherwise be able to achieve, and Boehner has few options.
Conservative purists continue to insist on the possible policy, which is to keep all the Bush tax rates and start swinging the budget axe in some direction other than the Department of Defense, but Obama’s threatened veto power means that isn’t a possibility at all. The only choices that political realities make available to Boehner are tax hikes on the rich or tax hikes on everybody, and while the former will enrage that base of his party the latter will enrage the entire country. Given the resentful mood of the country and the still-potent power of the press, along with the plentiful blame being ascribed by even the most conservative media, it is an easily foreseeable certainty that the Republican party will wind up being blamed for the inevitable recession by an electoral majority of the country.
Some conservatives, including the usually astute Charles Krauthammer, contend that Obama can be forced into a reasonable agreement because he doesn’t want to be saddled with an economic downturn lasting through his second term. The president didn’t suffer much from the lull that lasted through his first term, though, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to use another recession for as much government expansion as the earlier one allowed. Other conservatives argue that the public can be persuaded it was Obama’s intransigence that led the country over the fiscal cliff, but they should consult the most recent election returns before judging the public’s willingness to be persuaded by even the most obvious truths. Still other conservatives are taking the old Roman line of “fiat justitia, pereat mundus,” or “let justice be done, even if the world perish,” but this seems to lack the pragmatism that has traditionally characterized the conservative movement.
Those who would damn Boehner as a spineless political animal for conceding to any “revenue enhancements” should at least credit him with the savvy to correctly assess the political landscape. It is possible that a shrewder negotiator could have won a more favorable deal than what Boehner will eventually get his caucus to agree on, and it is certain that a more telegenic and personable politician would have stood a better chance in the public relations battles, but it is not clear who that remarkable leader might be. One shudders to think of Pelosi returning to the speakership, and even Boehner’s harshest critics on the right will miss him if that comes to pass.

— Bud Norman

The Woman at the Store

One of the dreariest duties of the daily newspaper reporter is the “man on the street” interview. Newspaper editors love to have the resulting quotes in a story, partly because of a belief that it gives a reader some sense of what the average person is thinking about an issue, mostly because they don’t have to harass the random passersby themselves, yet there is little justification for this strange journalistic tradition. The small number of people a reporter can pester before deadline doesn’t amount to a representative sampling of public opinion, the reader is usually an average person himself and is therefore more interested in what better informed sources have to say, and the quotes are almost always banal.
Every now and then, though, a story will contain a quote from some purportedly typical person that actually makes a pertinent point. An excellent example can be found in the twelfth paragraph of a recent Reuters story about how the possibility of the government going over “the fiscal cliff” is affecting Christmas sales. A Linda Hampton, identified only as a New Yorker found shopping at a Best Buy store, is reported to have remarked that “It would be a disaster. Our taxes will go up. But I think our president will step in.”
This is the extent of Hamilton’s contribution to the story, so there is no knowing if the reporters questioned her further about her opinion, but we would have been interested to hear why she has such a touching faith in the president. It seems to us that a plunge over the “fiscal cliff” would result in across-the-board tax hikes that provide the president with more money to dole out to his preferred constituencies, as well as cuts to the defense budget that the president ardently desires yet would otherwise be unlikely to achieve, and so long as people such as Hamilton are so trusting of his intentions he will he gain political advantage from the resulting economic catastrophe. It would have been worth a drive to the Best Buy to hear why she is confident the president will “step in” and save the country from something that redounds so completely to his benefit.
Obama’s boundless empathy for the common man, probably. The president often speaks of it, and the papers have all confirmed it, so perhaps that’s where Hamilton got the idea. There’s no discerning Obama’s concern from the consequences of his policies, which have left the common man poorer, more dependent on government, and less free, but the damning statistics that quantify this decline get less coverage than the good intentions. The common men who are ponying up for the Obama’s multi-million dollar Hawaiian vacation can be assured they will repaid in empathy.
Even the most reliably liberal news media are hinting at Obama’s willingness to go over the cliff, but that’s the kind of complicated and dull story that Hamilton might be too busy to read. Although she’s obviously not one of the many people that the Reuters reporters no doubt spoke with who had never heard of a “fiscal cliff,” we suspect that her news-reading is not so far-ranging that it has brought her into contact with any doubts about the president’s good faith. This does indeed qualify her as a typical American, and as much as it pains us to hear it’s useful to know what’s she thinking. Forewarned is, after all, forearmed.

— Bud Norman

On the End of the World

If you are reading this the world must not have come to an end yet. That is probably a good thing, we suppose, although with the way the world has been going lately one can’t say for sure.
Many people have been expecting the world to end today, all because some ancient Mayan astronomers devised a calendar that concluded on this date. What’s left of the Maya have lately been assuring the world that just because their calendar has run out of time it doesn’t mean everything else has, probably in vain hope that their once-great empire won’t be thought just another wacky doomsday cult, but of course that hasn’t prevented the usual apocalyptic anxieties. There are reports from all over the globe about people anticipating today’s big finale, some of whom seem to take the matter very seriously.
Perhaps these are the same folks who anticipate the end of the world every time it is announced, but we suspect that the Mayan pedigree of the latest apocalypse gives it a certain intellectual respectability that the intermittent pronouncements by Christian sects do not enjoy. The Mayan empire was an early victim of western imperialism, after all, and according to the inviolable rules of multi-culturalism that confers an ancient wisdom which modern westerners are expected to regard with a guilty awe. Like every other society of human beings the Maya had admirable virtues and deplorable vices, ranging from a knack for astronomy to a tendency to commit human sacrifice, but polite society will nonetheless agree that their end times scenario deserves a special consideration.
Every religion has its eschatology. Hindus believe that the world ends every few billion years or so, then starts all over again. Christians have long been divided on the question, with the pre-millenialists and post-mllenialists and amillienlialists arguing over the very cyrptic passages of the Book of Revelation and some Old Testament text, but most agree on some very explicit scripture saying that no one but God knows when the end will come. Islam is similarly split, with stark differences of opinion between Sunnis and Shiites, and the Iranian theocrats of the latter denomination reportedly believe they are commanded to hasten the end with their nuclear weapons program.
Secularists who scoff at all such superstitious nonsense should note that both ancient religion and modern science concur that there was a beginning and there will be an end. Science offers a number of end time scenarios, each as a gruesome as anything organized religion has envisioned, and most of the scientifically-suggested cataclysms conveniently justify an degree of government control over human behavior. The same people who scoff at anything theological will invariably agree that the inevitable result of sports utility vehicles and incandescent light bulbs is environmental Armageddon.
Which puts us in mind of a long ago late night drive across Kansas listening to the “Coast to Coast” radio program. This unreliable yet highly entertaining show is usually devoted to flying saucers, conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but on this occasion it invited callers to discuss their expectations for the end of the world. The possibilities ran the gamut from the religious to the scientific, with plenty of nuclear bombs thrown in for good measures, but all the callers seemed to share the same hopeful enthusiasm for the end of everything. As with the current crop of doomsayers, they seemed to prefer it to the prospect of getting up in the morning and going trough another routine day.
This is an understandable impulse, especially to those of us who see nothing but a long and precipitous civilizational decline ahead, but it should be resisted. We’ll boldly predict that the world won’t end today, if only because no one will be around to gloat about it if we’re wrong, and gird ourselves for the long slog toward the inevitable day awaiting us all when la commedia é finita. No final debauchery for us, even in the unlikely event we could find any willing collaborators, and if Saturday does happen to come around we’ll try to make the best of it.

— Bud Norman

Borked but Unbowed

The eminent jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork died Wednesday at the age of 85, and we hope that he rests in peace. His provocative opinions allowed him precious little peace on this earthly plane, and he deserves better in whatever lies next.
Although his long and varied career in public life included several notable contributions to his country, he might be most remembered for giving the English language the verb “Bork.” To “Bork” someone is to destroy his reputation with a sustained campaign of vituperative and dishonest propaganda, and the oft-used term derives from the fact that few people have ever been so successfully “Borked” as Bork was during his ill-fated 1987 Supreme Court nomination.
The left had loathed Bork long before then, going all the way back to his days as one of the exceedingly rare conservatives on the faculty of the Yale Law School. Bork’s book “The Antitrust Paradox” had made him famous within legal circles as a leading proponent of the law-and-economics movement, which argued that the law should take economic realities into account, and such heresy was predictably controversial. Despite the outrage that Bork provoked, or perhaps because of it, Bork was then appointed a solicitor general for the hated Richard Nixon.
Bork’s tenure in the Justice Department would have been only a minor annoyance to liberals if not for the Watergate scandal, which earned him a minor footnote in history and the undying enmity of the left. When Attorney General Elliott Richard resigned rather obey Nixon’s order to fire special investigator Archibald Cox, and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same, third-in-command Bork stepped in to do the deed and fire several more Justice Department lawyers in what the press called “The Saturday Night Massacre.” We offer no definitive judgment regarding the debate that still rages about Bork’s role in the scandal, although we found the Wall Street Journal’s defense of his actions very convincing, but we will note that press coverage of subsequent scandals has not included the word “massacre” even though it could have been used literally during the Fast and Furious program and the Benghazi embassy attacks.
As a circuit court judge Bork continued to rankle the liberals, who immediately launch an all-out attack when he was nominated for a seat on the highest court. The smear campaign culminated in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s infamous oration on the Senate floor, where he charged that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy.” Not a word of it was true, and it was especially galling coming from a longtime advocate of unrestricted government power such as Kennedy, but it worked well enough that Bork was denied the Senate’s confirmation.
It worked well enough, in fact, that it became a favored tactic of the left for the next 25 years. The idea had long preceded Bork, dating at least as far back as Saul Alinsky’s “Rules in Radicals,” in which the guru of community of organizers urged the left to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” but the original “Borking” proved such a successful model that it became a neologism. Sometimes the ploy is to portray an ideological opponent as laughably stupid, as in the cases of Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin or even the Ivy League-educated George W. Bush, but when a person with Bork’s impeccable educational credentials comes along it does just as well to characterize them as evil geniuses. In the past election the tactic was refined to turn an honest businessman’s hard-earned success into proof of rapacious greed, but it’s all the same old-fashioned “Borking.”
Bork continued to anger the liberals right up to the end, when he served as a judicial advisor to Mitt Romney’s well-Borked presidential campaign, and one admiring obituarist concluded than “he won.” It’s hard to agree with such an upbeat assessment, given that Bork’s originalist notions of constitutional law are set to lose more seats on the Supreme Court to men and women willing to grant government more invasive powers than Ted Kennedy ever yearned for, and that the smear tactic that carries is name has proved triumphant once more, but at least Bork got his licks in. May he rest in peace.

— Bud Norman

How to Handle a Scandal

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reportedly suffered a concussion after fainting from dehydration as a result of a stomach virus. We wish her a speedy recovery from this literally dizzying succession of misfortunes, and hope it will be even speedier than she would probably prefer.
Whatever discomfort Clinton has endured as a result of her ill health, she no doubt finds it more tolerable than the torture that awaits when she at long last gets around to testifying before a Senate committee that’s been poking into the deaths of four Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya last Sept. 11. Clinton’s recent maladies have caused a second postponement of her testimony on the matter, prompting some more suspicious minds to demand a look at her doctor’s note, but if Clinton’s conveniently timed complaints are indeed a subterfuge they are at least a more tear-jerking excuse than the previously scheduled wine-tasting party in Australia that precluded an earlier scheduled appearance before the committee.
Perhaps it would have been better for the Secretary if she’d made that date, before the release of an independent panel’s report that “Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” The report also states that the attack was a carefully planned terror operation and not the result of a spontaneous demonstration, which is quite different than what Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration repeatedly told the American public, and Republicans on in the investigating committee say they have even more questions. One hopes they might ask why the administration chose to scapegoat an American who had exercised his constitutional rights by making an anti-Islamic video, for instance, and even harder questions about the whole tawdry affair await Clinton’s response.
Rather than enduring further concussions, which we are told causes suicidal tendencies in professional football players, Clinton would be well advised to go right and ahead and appear before the committee at the earliest possible date. Once there, the most effective strategy would be to simply deny everything. We don’t merely mean that she should deny responsibility for what happen, but that she should deny anything happened at all.
Why was security so lax in a country that America had bombed into a state of anarchy? Oh, but it wasn’t. The security was top-notch, tighter than an Academy Awards after-party. Why, then, were an ambassador and three other Americans killed? Sorry, no idea what you’re talking about. The ambassador was just on the phone, and offered his assurances that all is well in Libya and the people there are highly supportive of the White House. What about the father of the Navy SEAL who killed, and his claim that you promised to imprison a filmmaker as retribution? The poor man must be delusional.
Clinton’s Republican interrogators would be sputtering at that point, demanding to know how she could deny something so plainly, but anyone who can recall her “vast right-wing conspiracy” explanation for her husband’s philandering knows she’s an old hand at standing steadfast in the face of facts. So long as she keeps her chin upraised in the familiar gesture of liberal nobility, she could even maintain her presumption of moral superiority as she does it. Should the Republicans point out that she was seen on television at the ambassador’s memorial service, she can simply roll her eyes and say with sufficient sarcasm, “Oh yeah, where did you see that? On Fox?”
Audacious as it might seem, the ploy would probably work. The Democrats on the committee would no doubt go along with it, feigning indignation that their Republican colleagues continue to insist on disparaging the president with their racist paranoid fantasies, and much of the media will happily seize the opportunity to report that high-ranking administration officials have confirmed that there’s nothing to see here in this so-called Benghazi tragedy. An electoral majority of the country has already concluded that the deaths of four brave Americans, the subsequent lies, and the abrogation of an American citizen’s free speech rights are no big deal, and so long as the government keeps printing and borrowing enough money to cover the checks a similar number will be quite content to believe that nothing has gone wrong.
Similar pretending about the stalled economy, the looming debt crisis, and the increasing global disorder have prevailed over reality for the past four years. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t keep the Benghazi story on the back pages.

— Bud Norman

Falling Up the Stairs

One should always be careful about what one wishes for, because one might just wind up with John Kerry as Secretary of State.
We ruefully admit that we hard ardently wished to see Hillary Clinton extricated from that post, even long before her inept involvement in the fiasco that led to the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya on Sept. 11 or her scandalous behavior in the aftermath, and our wish was granted when she announced her long anticipated resignation. Then we wished that United Nations ambassador Susan Rice wouldn’t get the job, partly because of her own dissembling regarding the Libya deaths and partly because of everything else about her personality and foreign policy philosophy, and our luck continued when she withdrew her name from consideration rather than subject her president to weeks of damning headlines about Libya. We would have much preferred that she be denied the promotion after the weeks of damning headlines, all in a futile hope that the public could be convinced to care about the incompetence, dishonesty, and disregard for American principles that characterized the sordid affair, but by then our luck had run out.
Which leads us to the likely nomination of John Kerry, and his likely confirmation by his collegial colleagues in the Senate, and then on to the inevitable catastrophes that will result from his stewardship of the State Department.. Few things in life are reliable, but John Kerry has been wrong about every single foreign policy decision of his career.
The youngsters who only recall Kerry as the noble war hero who was “reporting for duty” as the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004 might not be aware that he first intruded into public life as the shaggy-haired leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Reasonable people will disagree about the wisdom of that group’s position, if not the haircut, but it is worth noting that Kerry was opposed not only to the Vietnam War but America’s resistance to communism. In Kerry’s now infamous testimony to the Senate in 1971, when he argued the people of South Vietnam had no opinion regarding what political and economic system they should live under, he scoffed at “the mystical war against communism” and added that “we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.” With the sarcastic certainty of the young, which was so especially pronounced during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Kerry went onto dismiss the entire Cold War by sneering that “I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands.”
Such insouciance about a totalitarian system that had hundreds of nuclear missiles pointed at the United States naturally earned Kerry one of Massachusetts’ seats in the Senate, where he continued to get the Cold War entirely wrong. He was not the least concerned about the Soviet Union establishing a puppet state in Nicaragua, and was one of the most outspoken critics of the Reagan administration’s covert effort to supply guns to a resistance movement there. Kerry has been less vocal about the current administration’s covert effort to supply guns to Mexican drug gangs, but that is another matter. The Senator also led the opposition to the war against another Soviet puppet state in Grenada, but because the war latest only a few moments the movement never gained much steam. A cheerleader for the European “nuclear freeze” movement that opposed Reagan’s introduction of short-range nuclear missiles to the continent, Kerry introduced a Comprehensive Nuclear Freeze Bill in 1985 and constantly fought against the Strategic Defense Initiative, notions he still clings to with a quaint nostalgia.
After the short-range missiles and so-called “star wars” program played a crucial role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and America’s complete triumph in the Cold War, Kerry turned his uncannily unreliable foreign policy knack to the new challenge of radical Islamism. He voted to authorize an invasion and occupation of Iraq, as did the person that Obama had previously chosen to be Secretary of State, but Kerry quickly resorted to his old ways and became an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war right through the implementation of the ultimately successful “surge” strategy. Although reasonable people can disagree with Kerry’s vote for the war, as he does, there is little doubt that if America had pulled out at the time Kerry demanded it the results for both America and Iraq would not have been as satisfactory.
More recently, Kerry has been meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood and offering reassurances that they’re really a very peaceable and democratic lot. Subsequent events in Egypt have proved otherwise, of course, but given Kerry’s history the outcome was drearily predictable. We suppose it should have been predictable, too, that such an unblemished record of wrongness would culminate in Kerry becoming the Secretary of State.

— Bud Norman