"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Thursday, September 27, 2012

From Tucson to Turtle Bay

Don't Shoot the Messenger

On January 12, 2011, President Obama delivered perhaps the finest speech of his presidency eulogizing the death of six innocent Americans at the hands of a deranged gunman in Tucson, Arizona just a few days earlier. Now, in the year of an election, four Americans--including an ambassador--were murdered in a barbaric and savage attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi. For all the differences between these two events, they both have one thing in common: neither had anything to do with the exercise of free speech.

In his moving oratory at the campus of the University of Arizona, the President silenced a raucous crowd of students and sternly rebuked the politicians and commentators on the left who in the preceding days had tried to lay the blame for the massacre on the vibrancy of political expression and debate in this country. Earlier this week at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, the President once again spoke about the death of innocent Americans, this time at the hands of terrorists, but the emphasis of his speech was very different.

After the rampage in Tucson in which Jared Loughner ended the life of a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl and severely wounded a congresswoman among his victims, liberal commentators pushed a narrative of violent rhetoric and incivility to explain the tragedy. However, as immediately became clear, the perpetrator had no political motives, but was and is very mentally ill. Moreover, despite the calls for more restrained and civil discourse, political debate and the coverage of it in the media quickly resumed the same incendiary and vitriolic tone as before the murders.

Just as with the Tucson massacre, the motives of the killers in Libya are very clear. This was not a "protest" against an amateur video. This was an act of pure slaughter in violation of every precept of international law and diplomacy. Despite this, and even though leaders in the intelligence community, the Secretary of State, and his own Press Secretary have all admitted that it was a premeditated and overt act of terror aimed directly at the United States, the President only mentioned the word "terrorism" once in his address—and not even in reference to the violence in Libya.

Some commentators on the right have observed that instead of unambiguously defending the sacred American right to free speech as he did in Tucson, the President's remarks were more calibrated for an international audience that is openly hostile to American values. Instead of speaking with determination and resolve, it seemed that the President was searching for common ground with people who wish to destroy us. Unsurprisingly, there was not much in common to be found. This is a valid criticism.

However, the focus on free speech misses the point. In Tucson, the murders were the work of a madman. In Benghazi, the amateur video that probably got more views after the attack than before was merely a pretext for a long-planned act of terror by religious fanatics who despise the United States. In both cases, we make the mistake of trying to explain and rationalize evil on our own terms, when in truth, the innocent and the virtuous are always the first casualty when we pretend that pure and incomprehensible evil does not exist in the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


The World Trade Center

Today we remember that September 11th was an attack on America, but it is easy to forget that it was also a barbaric attack on all of human civilization. There were 372 citizens of more than 90 foreign countries among the casualties. A Christian church and a Muslim prayer room were obliterated in the carnage. America suffered the most, but everyone in the world lost something on that day.

In the years since then, much has changed in the world. After years of searching, Osama bin Laden is dead. The Arab Spring has transformed a long-troubled part of the world in ways that will not be fully known for decades--and continues to be felt in the Syrian Civil War. Iraq is now a sovereign nation free from the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein--who is also dead.

However, many threats to civilization remain. Somalian pirates continue to wreak havoc on the high seas off the Horn of Africa. Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and interfere with the internal politics of several Arab nations. The mission to prevent Afghanistan from reverting to Taliban rule continues. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, China is building up its military and aggressively pursuing a program of territorial expansion in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

As the most powerful nation in the history of the world, America has a responsibility to lead the community of nations and to preserve peace and international stability. If we fail to do so, September 11th will likely be surpassed as the darkest day in American history by something even more terrible. As we remember the attacks eleven years ago today, we must also remember that much work remains to ensure that the horror and destruction of that day is never repeated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Joe "Sixpack" Biden?

They built it.

This past Labor Day weekend, one of the panelists on the "Chris Matthews Show" said something so preposterous that it defies belief, even for the shameless liberal pundits that are the staple of MSNBC’s political coverage. According to Joe Klein, Congressman Paul Ryan is upper-middle class while, "Biden is a working class guy," (around 16:30)--not a symbol of the working class or born of a working class family, mind you, but actually working class in the here and now in his capacity as Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.

The irony of this howler is even more bitter when we consider that Labor Day was once more than just the last day the pool is open and actually a real celebration of the working man, like those glorified in the mural by Diego Rivera above. Conversely, how can a man who has served in the Senate for nearly 40 years now ever be described as "working class" by any definition whatsoever? The U.S. Senate is modeled after the original Roman Senate for which membership was open only to the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of the Republic. As a practical matter, the same is true in America today.

Furthermore, if Paul Ryan--who, like Biden, has spent his entire career in public service--is wealthy and a symbol of Republican plutocracy with his comparatively modest income in the House of Representatives--which is modeled after the British House of Commons, incidentally--wouldn't that imply that Biden is also one of the evil wealthy capitalist pigs by virtue of his higher salary and longer tenure in the more august upper chamber?

The only other explanation for Biden’s lower socioeconomic status is that he has foolishly outspent his means (all taxpayer funded, of course) and taken out a second mortgage on his million-dollar home, multiple lines of credit with his life insurance as collateral, and squandered more taxpayer funds on his infamous first-class daily commute on Amtrak while Ryan has carefully and judiciously invested his more modest income to build up a greater fortune for the security of his family and future generations.

Given that our overextended entitlement programs closely resemble Biden's finances, this comparison is particularly instructive. Who should we trust more to manage the public fisc? In these lean times, we should place our trust in the proverbial ants who built up their store of provisions during the days of plenty than with the profligate grasshopper Biden. Like the grasshopper of fable, Biden's song and dance would be entertaining if we were at our ease in the golden days of summer.

We do not have that luxury. In these bleak and desperate times, we need men and women of substance and integrity like Congressman Ryan who understand that reforming entitlements is more than just a political game and is not merely necessary, but will become an existential crisis for our democracy if not solved within this decade. We cannot wait for 2016 to finally give serious thought to the defining issue of our age.

Fortunately for the future of this country, regardless of whether Mitt Romney wins or loses the election, Ryan will be in charge of the budget--either in the White House or in the House of Representatives. Democrats should be careful about mocking the man for his financial success, because they're going to have to work with him to mend the nation's finances whether they like it or not.