ELIE WIESEL

ELIE WIESEL

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and author, made some of the more salient points I’ve heard today about the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to President Barack Obama. Wiesel was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on National Public Radio. The core of the interview, from the NPR web page, was as follows:

Mr. WIESEL: I’ll tell you. First of all, it’s strange for me to think of him now as my fellow Nobel laureate. … After all, he’s the president of the United States. But at the same time, seriously, he made history by allowing the American people to correct its own old racial injustices. After all, he’s the first black person to have been elected to that high office, and in doing so he did bring hope and dignity to the fact, to the very position. And therefore I think he gave something to the Nobel Prize.

INSKEEP: He added to the Nobel Prize rather than the other way around.

Mr. WIESEL: It goes both ways. But in this case, really, for the president of the United States, a sitting president, who is nine months in office, it’s true that he tries and tries – I’m sure he tries in many areas to do the right thing, and he will succeed, but in this case the prize will add or increase his moral authority.

INSKEEP: Moral authority. Well, let’s talk about that. Because this is a president who has begun many efforts around the world and the Nobel committee cited them, from reducing the threat of nuclear weapons to reducing nuclear arms stockpiles, efforts to bring peace in different parts of the world. But it’s been widely noted this morning that although many efforts have begun, none have really been concluded. Do you think it will make a big difference in those efforts that the peace prize goes to the president?

Mr. WIESEL: First of all, I think he is being recognized for his efforts and his beginnings, as you say. But I am a person who loves beginnings, I love beginnings. The mystery of beginnings is part of Jewish mysticism. And in this case, in politics, of course, because it’s also – it’s also politics – it is a good thing, it’s a promise. The Nobel committee says that he represents a promise and I’m sure that he will try to fulfill it.

INSKEEP: And they do say that they want to encourage him on his way. Is that normal for the Nobel Prize to be used to encourage rather than just reward people?

Mr. WIESEL: Not really. But the Nobel Prize committee has its own rules, and they may decide anything they want. They may decide that encouragement is part of the experiment.

Overreaching

September 21, 2009

Gov. DAVID PATERSON

Gov. DAVID PATERSON

The Obama administration’s meddling in New York state politics is another example of tinkering with the system for expediency’s sake. Michael Bloomberg ignored the preference twice expressed by city voters and managed to get the term limit set aside and Democrats — with some pushing from the White House — are trying to change the law in Massachusetts to allow the governor to appoint a place-keeper for Ted Kennedy’s vacant chair. Now, according to the New York Times, the president’s people are urging the unpopular David Paterson not to run for reelection as governor of New York, apparently on the theory that his presence in the race would be bad for Democratic congressional candidates. How it would be worse than Jon Corzine’s presence on the New Jersey ticket, I am not aware.

There is a process for choosing candidates for governor, and the process belongs to the state parties and the voters, not to the White House. This kind of hubris doesn’t help gain support for national policy initiatives,

Rep. JOE WILSON

Rep. JOE WILSON

Well, the least that can be said of Joe Wilson is that he didn’t know what he would be unleashing when he pulled the cork out of that bottle — the bottle being his indiscreet mouth.

Not only has he been accused of racism for his heckling of President Obama from the floor of the House of Representatives, but he has been branded as a symbol of a latent racism far bigger than he. As though Congress weren’t already in a state of self-paralyzing partisanship, it was divided even more deeply by the vote to reprimand Wilson. Meanwhile the latter-day No-Nothings have adopted him as their hero. Can a Wilson-Palen ticket be far behind?

The mind races back to the first quarter of the 19th century — well, mine does, at least.

WILLIAM H. CRAWFORD

WILLIAM H. CRAWFORD

William H. Crawford of Georgia, the secretary of the treasury, is at the White House demanding to know what President James Monroe intends to do about a list of political appointments Crawford has recommended.

“That,” Monroe — perhaps injudiciously — tells Crawford, “is none of your damned business.” To which provocation Crawford responds by lunging at Monroe with a cane, calling him “you infernal scoundrel.” Monroe goes to the fireplace and grabs a poker to defend himself, and the secretary of the treasury is forcibly removed from the executive mansion, apologizing on the way out.

“You lie!” “You infernal scoundrel.”

At least Crawford had some style.

JOHN KERRY

JOHN KERRY

We all know — Don’t we? — what the Democrats in Congress would be saying if it were Republicans who were trying to change a term-limit law to assure passage of legislation. And they’d be right. The campaign in Massachusetts to legislate a Democrat into the Senate by giving the governor the power to appoint a replacement for Edward M. Kennedy is unseemly, a terrible example of governance.

I am in the camp that believes that health-care reform is long overdue and that it should be passed while the Obama administration and the Democratic majorities in Congress — such as they are — are in place. But I can’t stomach the desperate measure now in the works in Boston, an act of expediency that should embarrass everyone involved — including Sen. John Kerry, who is promoting it.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

This measure is of the same stripe and odor as the action taken last year by the New York City Council to alter the law that would have prevented Mayor Michael Bloomberg from running for a third four-year term. Bloomberg, who asked for the change, signed the bill himself with nary a blush.

Although it’s none of my business, I don’t object to Bloomberg serving as mayor another four years or, for that matter, another eight years. But the law should be changed based on some intrinsic principle, not based on the near-term needs and desires of a politician or a political party.

MITT ROMNEY

MITT ROMNEY

As for Massachusetts, the hypocrisy of what is under way there is astounding. The executive power to make an appointment to a vacant Senate seat was rescinded five years ago by the Democratic majority in the legislature in order to prevent Republican Gov. Mitt Romney from filling the seat if John Kerry had been elected president.

It should go without saying that self-interest is the worst motive for changing the law. The grim implication of these shenanigans is that Congress is unable to function except as a partisan cock-pit and that there is not enough political leadership or political will in the legislature or the executive department to overcome the extremism and bullheadedness. A fine nation we have become if we can reform a broken health system only by sleight-of-hand.

DICK CHENEY

DICK CHENEY

The report in the New York Times that Vice President Cheney tried to convince President
Bush to use federal troops to round up suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Buffalo, N.Y. gives me a chance to brush the dust off my perenniel proposal that the office of vice president be overhauled. I have argued as nauseam that the vice  president should head one of the cabinet departments — specifically that he or she should serve as secretary of state, secretary of defense, or secretary of the treasury. The advantages of this change would be as follows:

  • It would discourage political parties from nominating non-entities like Spiro Agnew.
  • It would avoid wasting the time of a valuable person like Hubert Humphrey.
  • It would make it difficult for a president to deliberately ignore a vice president.
  • It would keep the vice-president engaged in the legitimate, above-board daily business of the executive department — a particular advantage to a vice president whose background is principally legislative.
  • It would give the vice president an opportunity to establish a track record as a top administrator.
  • It would spare taxpayers from paying a salary for no work.
  • It would keep people like Dick Cheney busy and obstruct them from behaving as though they had authority that the Constitution hasn’t given them.

Cheney had no understanding of — or respect for — the concept that government is at the service of the people, not the other way around. He established a pattern of operating in secrecy — again, without the authority to operate at all — that should outrage Americans of any political stripe. If the Times report is correct, it demonstrates Cheney’s disregard for well established principles of American governance — notably the broad constitutional prohibitions against using troops for what amount to police actions on domestic soil. Bush evidently listened to more responsible advisers in that instance. Incidentally, the Washington Post report on Cheney’s shadow “presidency” is still available at this link:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/?hpid=specialreports

ANDREW JOHNSON

ANDREW JOHNSON

When Andrew Johnson was governor of Tennessee in the middle of the 19th century, he was warned that if he kept a certain speaking engagement, he would be shot. Those were times of — how you say — partisan excitement. Johnson kept the date, produced a pistol and announced that he understood assassination was part of the program and that good order dictated that it be first on the agenda. He waited. Nothing happened. He went ahead with his speech. Whatever his shortcomings, Johnson apparently wasn’t afraid of assassins.

Now Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska and she has agreed to speak — after she leaves office — before the Simi Valley Republican Women’s Club at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Considering the timing and the audience and the venue, this might have been the first volley in Palin’s new career — whatever that may be. But it won’t do for that purpose because — of all things — the press won’t be admitted. No one is saying who made that decision. Maybe it was the club. Of course, why wouldn’t a political club celebrating an anniversary of its charter with an event at one of the presidential libraries want to exclude news coverage? The arrangements were made too far in advance for this to have anything to do with the latest ethics issue swirling around the governor — the report by a special investigator that Palin used her position to improperly receive gifts from a political fund, ostensibly to help pay her legal bills from previous ethics complaints. So it must just be that the Republican Women of Simi Valley are shy, not that the governor doesn’t want to face the assassins …. uhhh, the press.

The investigator, by the way, made a sensible recommendation, which was that public officials who are the subjects of ethics complaints that eventually are dismissed should not have to pay for their own defense. That’s the position that Palin is in, and it isn’t just.

Gov. SARAH PALIN

Gov. SARAH PALIN

The decision by Gov. Sarah Palin to resign her office is another indication of the irresponsibility of the Republican Party in nominating her for the vice presidency last year.

Both her resignation itself and the manner in which she has presented it are evidence of her immaturity and lack of intellectual depth. The rationale she presented was that she had decided not to run for re-election next year and that “to embrace the conventional ‘Lame Duck’ status in this particular climate would just be another dose of ‘politics as usual,’ something I campaigned against and will always oppose.” This statement is either disingenuous or it is typical of the governor’s inability to grasp even common ideas. The term “lame duck” refers either to a public official or public body that holds office between an election and the end of its term. The only “lame duck” status Gov. Palin has is the one she has imposed on herself – the period between her announcement and her departure from office on July 26. She would not have had “lame duck” status for a year and a half if she had completed her term. She would have been a lame duck only between the election and the inauguration of her successor .

Explanations by the governor herself and by her spokesperson have been laced with references to the battering Palin has taken in the media and from political commentators since she was nominated for the vice presidency. Spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton, for instance, told Fox News: “This is a move that says, ‘Enough, I’m not going to keep hitting my head against this wall. I’m not playing politics as usual. You go play that game. I’ll go play it another way and at another court,’ so she can get something done and make a difference with the issues and values that are important to her.”

While the governor has been licking her wounds, she has given no reason beyond her resentment and hurt feelings why she should abandoned the trust the voters of Alaska placed in her only 19 months ago. What makes her think she doesn’t owe the state a better explanation? Is she resigning out of pique? Is she resigning so she can launch a campaign for the presidency? Can she even articulate why she is resigning?

The Republican Party had no business nominating this woman for the vice presidency. It was a cynical and desperate political act. By nominating her, the party not only doomed the candidacy of Sen. John McCain, but created in Sarah Palin’s head a wildly distorted idea of her capabilities. It’s a lot to answer for.

god2Bill McGraw writes in the Detroit Free Press about what seems like the increasing tendency of political figures to invoke the name of God to justify virtually anything. The immediate inspiration for McGraw’s column was a remark by Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, who is in the crosshairs of a potential federal bribery indictment. “On Tuesday,” McGraw writes, “when it became clear the feds were closing in on Conyers, she described herself to viewers of her weekly TV show as ‘a child of God,’ and told viewers ‘if you’re not praying for me, then you’re just adding to the problem.’ Then she added: ‘All these things that are going on right now … I believe in my heart that God will deliver me from them.’ ”

McGraw went on to reminisce about invocations of the Diety by Detroit public figures over the past couple of decades, including former Police Chief William Hart who was charged in 1989 with using public funds to subsidize $72,000 in rent on his daughter’s former home in Beverly Hills. “With God as my witness,” Hart said, “I swear I did not do that.” He was subsequently convicted of stealing $2.3 million.

GodMcGraw observed that few office holders have made as many public references to God as did George W. Bush while president of these United States. “I trust God speaks through me,” the president told an audience in Lancaster, Pa., in July 2004. “Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” I’ve seen that quote many times, and I’ve always suspected that the president said, or at least meant, “I trust God speaks to me.” I don’t know about George Bush, but I don’t think I would attribute to God many of the things that come out of my mouth.

 

GOV. JON HUNTSMAN

GOV. JON HUNTSMAN

You have to like the implications of President Barack Obama’s choice of Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah as ambassador to China. Obama ignored what to many is conventional thinking by giving such a plum job to the man who co-directed the McCain-Palin campaign. And while Huntsman described his own high ground by saying he could not refuse the call to service, the fact is that he could have turned down a position  that will disrupt his family and preempt what would have been a certain new term as governor. As to the idea that giving Huntsman this appointment was Obama’s way of getting the governor out of the running for the White House in 2012, Huntsman will be only 57 years old in 2016 by which time the Democratic juggernaut, such as it is, should have run out of steam anyway.

More important, Huntsman is by reputation a straightforward, intelligent, sensible man who is well equipped to help further a foreign policy that promises to forsake the bullheaded and arrogant policies of the Cheney-Bush administration — transposition deliberate. Huntsman, from what I have read so far, can strike the balance necessary to deal with a country like China: respecting its history and the culture of its people, exploring the interests it shares with the United States, and keeping up the discussion of American concerns about human rights issues in China.

It will be interesting to see what effect this appointment has on Huntsman’s standing in his party, both because the appointment makes him a part of an administration that the most vocal Republicans profess to loathe and because he is likely to help advance a policy of engagement – in China and elsewhere – that was rejected by the last administration and by the Republican candidates in the last national election.

 

GOV. SARAH PALIN

GOV. SARAH PALIN

I’m the guy who told a couple of generations of reporters and journalism students that a good writer can stop any person on the street and write an interesting story about him. So far be it from me to suggest that there isn’t a good story to be told about Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska. As it turns out, Gov. Palin herself – a former journalism student – is going to take on the job herself after signing a book deal with HarperCollins and Zondervan. She anticipates that the  project will take about a year which, if she can stick to that schedule, would get it into Borders in time for the 2010 gubernatorial election. I’ve seen some cynical references to that in what the governor refers to as “the anonymous blogosphere,” but why begrudge her that advantage – or the kind of money she can command while people are still interested in her? If Richard Nixon could appear on “Laugh-In,” why shouldn’t Gov. Palin write a memoir? It could be time consuming, especially because the governor says that, despite the collaborator assigned to the  book, she wants to write most of it herself. 

 

ULYSSES S. GRANT

ULYSSES S. GRANT

News of this enterprise naturally evokes questions about the content. The governor is a relatively young woman who has had a relatively short – and dare we say largely inocuous – public career. Ulysses S. Grant put off his memoirs until he had been the general-in-chief of the victorious Union Army and twice president of these United States. And Dwight Eisenhower saved his written reflections until he had been supreme allied commander in Europe, general of the Army, and twice president. What will the governor write to hold a reader’s attention for two or three hundred pages? She did discuss that in a general way with a newspaper reporter as follows: “I just really look forward to being able to relate to people through this book, those who are anxious to hear stories about people who are facing similar challenges perhaps. That’s balancing work and parenting — in my case work does mean running a state, and family involves a large and fun and colorful ordinary family that really has been thrust into maybe some extraordinary circumstances.”  See?

I expect Harper has editors to deal with misplaced “perhapses” and “maybes,” but I hope the book clubs are heavy with folks “anxious to hear stories about people who are facing similar challenges.” Perhaps.