Thursday, February 3, 2011
I have a friend who is so excited because the people have risen up to throw off the yoke of tyranny. That sounds good, right? Tyranny is bad, right? Dictatorships are bad. Lack of democracy is bad.
But here's the problem with rebellions. They end. Either the rebellion fails, everyone goes home-or to prison-and the government goes about business as usual, or the rebellion succeeds.
Let's say the rebellion succeeds. The old government is overthrown. Now what? Now, you have to establish a new government. And who's going to do that? It's easy to take to the streets, yell slogans, wave flags, and demand a change. But establishing a new government takes time. It takes patience. It's not glamorous. It's not quick. It's not even really an observable process. It takes work. It requires people with the right know-how spending many longs hours dedicated to building up a new status quo. And what happens then? They realize that to have a stable government you need laws, and offices, and officials. Otherwise you have chaos. And the mob on the street may not have the patience to wait while you figure all that out. So either the attempt at building a new government collapses into more chaos, or the new government becomes as mundane-and maybe even as corrupt-as the old one.
The rebellion in Egypt doesn't seem to have any clear leaders. There's no plan. If Mubarak steps down tomorrow, who will take his place? And will they be any better? Are there people ready and willing to take over and do the dirty work that must be done? And are they people that we want to do that job?
There is no clear leader of the rebellion. But the Muslim Brotherhood is already an established organization and they are in place to take over. The "new and improved" government of Egypt could very easily become the Muslim Brotherhood party. Or what if an attempt to build a new government fails, or never happens at all? When rebellion decays into chaos, power is seized by those who are in a position to seize it. Again, a perfect opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt is the U.S's strongest ally in the Middle East. It's also the steadiest ally Israel has among all the Arab nations. To lose Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood (whose offshoots include Hamas, let me remind you) would be disastrous. And regardless of which way this rebellion ends, I don't see much evidence that the Egyptian people have a strong alternative in mind.
So I'm finding it very hard to be excited about rebellion. I'm finding myself less enthusiastic about the present, and more anxious about the future. Yes, the people have risen, the people are fighting for their rights. But what happens when the party's over and everyone goes home?
Sunday, December 12, 2010
The prime minister of Sweden deemed the attacks "unacceptable" because "Sweden is an open society." Apparently he was under the impression that this made his country impervious to terrorism. Too many people, governments, and societies believe that the Muslim threat is not due to the hate-filled doctrine of fanatical Islam, but rather is the fault of countries like the US that are not "open" enough to other cultures. They think that the extremists are merely misunderstood. They are open minded societies, welcoming and accommodating, where all cultural, ethnic, and religious groups can feel comfortable and live in happy coexistence.
Perhaps this will finally make them realize what exactly we are dealing with. The extremists are not interested in your friendship. They do not wish to live in peaceful coexistence with a multitude of other cultures in a welcoming society that will not judge them. They don't give a damn if you judge them or not. They want to kill you. They want to subjugate all non-Muslims and create the sort of world they used to have where non-Muslims were second-class citizens at best, and massacred at worst.
That is their mission and their goal. That is their perfect world. That is why they are doing what they are doing. They do not believe that you, an infidel, are worthy of life. It doesn't matter how "open" you are or how much you profess to respect and understand them. It will not save you.
This open-mindedness is just another word for blindness. The prime minister's genuine shock and confusion is proof of just how blind this world is. Wake up. We are facing a threat unlike anything we have seen in recent centuries. It is time to act accordingly and look further back in history in order to understand what we face now.
That's my personal opinion.
Remember the bomb scare with the packages that were being shipped from Yemen to synagogues in the United States? You know why that was possible? They don't scan cargo.
So passengers have to undergo a whole slew of stupid, invasive procedures to make sure they don't have bombs in their underwear, but anyone can put a bomb in a package and get it on a plane. The same plane, mind you, that those passengers are on.
I should probably clarify a little bit. US-based passenger flights do screen any packages going into the cargo hold. However, US-bound international flights and just-cargo flights have no such restrictions. The TSA decided there wasn't enough of a threat to merit screening mail and cargo.
Think how easy this makes an attack. Mail a package to America with a time bomb on it, set to go off when the plane is coming into land or already has landed at a major US airport. Mail ten of them to ten different places-ten airports. Think of the chaos that could be created by sending several major hubs out of commission.
The true miracle is that no one has done this yet. And thank G-d the first attempt to take advantage of this laxity was thwarted and will hopefully lead to tighter restrictions, ending the possibility of anyone using this method. But the fact that the it was even possible to begin with is mind-boggling.
At least, that's just my personal opinion.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
December 1, 2010
Dear Ms. Katz:
Thank you for your e-mail of November 5 expressing your concerns about UC policies on student reports of intimidation, fear, and unease, particularly by Jewish students. It was good of you to come to my talk in Irvine and to take the time to write and share your thoughts and experiences with me. I am sharing your e-mail with Chancellor Fox so that she, too, will be aware of your comments about your time at UC San Diego.
First let me say that I am very sorry that you have experienced any unease on our campuses. I am extremely sympathetic to the concerns of Jewish students, as I am for any students subjected to acts of intolerance, and I am firmly committed to creating more welcoming and inclusive UC campuses for all students, faculty, and staff. I also think that when students encounter anti-Semitism and bias that they promptly report it to campus officials.
I am pleased to tell you that UC recently launched a systemwide campus climate reporting system that will allow us to better monitor and respond to student reports of intimidation or bias. It can be found at: www.universityofcalifornia.edu/reportcampusclimate. Reports can also be called in to 1-800-403-4744. Finally, the University is reviewing its student code of conduct policies for possible revisions.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when campus climate change is the overriding issue, but I want to assure you that we will continue to do everything in our power to protect Jewish and all other students from threats and actions.
I welcome any thoughts and insight you may have as we continue the difficult work ahead of us.
With best wishes, I am,
Mark G. Yudof
cc: Chancellor Fox
Provost PittsVice President Sakaki
Personable, friendly, and totally ignoring my actual question.
But that's just my personal opinion.
Monday, November 29, 2010
He died at his desk, as he always said he would. His staff thought he was asleep. He suffered no pain.
I can not begin to describe what Grandpa meant to me, what a remarkable man he was. He always wore a suit, because he believed that a gentleman must always look his best. And he was a gentleman. At his memorial yesterday, I learned just how many people loved him. Every person he met, he made feel like they were the most special person on the planet. He had that gift. He loved everyone. His smile lit up a room.
His honesty and integrity were his most valued traits. Everyone who spoke yesterday mentioned it.
The room was filled to capacity at 200 people, and as person after person got up to share their memories of my Grandpa, I realized what an amazing man Grandpa truly was.
The best I can do here is to share the speech that I gave yesterday.
I love you, Grandpa. I will miss sending you my blog posts, and reading your comments on them.
Grandpa said not to bother having a memorial for him because he didn't think anyone would show up.
I've been reading some old newspaper articles about Grandpa these past few days. They're from over 40 years ago, but the man they describe is definitely my Grandpa. One says he was“always perfectly groomed and fashionably dressed, and with a style that is witty and articulate”
. It also says he had a“natural proclivity to get involved in things, to make pastimes and pleasures out of projects....that many consider chores, or at best, necessary obligations.” . That right there pretty much defines him. Not only was he involved, he loved being involved. It was his hobby and his passion. The list of committees, organizations, and boards that my Grandpa was a part of goes on for half a page. And in many of those cases he was founder, Director, or Chairman. In his own words,“Some people play golf and some play tennis. I tried golf and got tired of rolling the little ball over 18 holes because I never seemed to be able to hit it into the air.” That was my Grandpa. He always wanted to hit the ball into the air. The sidelines, the good-enough, the average, was not what he was made for. He was voted the Century City Man of the Year in 1972, the same year he was president of the Century City Chamber of Commerce, which he helped found. And in 2009 he was awarded the honorary title of Champion of that same Chamber of Commerce, in thanks for all that he had done for it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I discovered about the man who was my grandpa. In some ways I feel obligated to share everything I learned about him, to honor him by reciting his entire life story.
Besides the fact that we'd be here until tomorrow, I decided that I wanted to share with all of you, the man as I knew him. Not Harold L. Katz, CPA, nor Harold Katz, the Man from Century City, but just simply, Grandpa. (So here goes).
He wasn't the type of grandfather who crawled around on the floor with us kids. But his love for my brothers, cousins, and I was obvious nonetheless. He showed his love in his own way and it was a beautiful and precious thing. He and Jan made the drive out to Thousand Oaks for every single talent show, play, or piano recital my brothers and I were in. No matter how casual the event, no matter if we were only on stage for 30 seconds, they were always there. And not only were they there, but they were endlessly enthusiastic. Grandpa thought that his grandchildren were the best at everything. The smartest person, the most talented musician was “almost” as good as his grandkids. Following every performance, he would treat us to our own rave review, praising our talent, our presence, our delivery and expression. Grandpa was our number one fan, even when our performance may not have entirely deserved it.
Grandpa used to say how when I was born I was the only person who could get him to leave his desk. I was the first grandchild and he would come over to my parents' little apartment, hold me on a pillow on his lap, and just stare at me for hours. Every year when he called me on my birthday, or came out for a birthday dinner, he would tell me that story, beaming the whole time. He also liked to tell the story of how when I was born he realized that all the numbers of my birth added up to eight. I was born on the third day of the 5th month (5 and 3 is 8). The year was 1988. The time of my birth added up to eight, as did my weight. Grandpa thought that was the coolest thing and was very proud at having been the one to notice it.
The other day I realized that I could return the favor. I found a number pattern of my own. Together, my Grandpa and I were elevens. He was born in '33, I in '88. We were 55 years apart. He died on the 22nd of the 11th month, when he was 77 and I was 22. All multiples of eleven. I think he would have gotten a kick out of that.
At my Bat Mitzvah, my high school graduation, and my college graduation, Grandpa gave me the same piece of advice. He said that whatever I chose to do with my life, I should choose something that made me happy. He said it was of the utmost importance that I wake up every morning excited to get out of bed. He did. He understood the importance of living every moment to its fullest.
At my college graduation this past June, Jan told me that Grandpa was so proud of me, his suspenders were in danger of popping, and it certainly appeared to be so. He was beaming so hard the whole day that it made you smile just to see it. The memory of that day is one I'm holding tight to. On that day I felt his love and pride for me so strongly it was almost tangible. I'm so glad he was able to be there.
The way Grandpa lived his life was inspirational. Here was a man in his 70s, going out dancing every Saturday night until the small hours of the morning. When the younger people had given up and gone to bed, Grandpa and Jan would still be out there, cutting up the dance floor. This wasn't an old man. His years were an unimportant detail. He worked, sometimes until 10 o'clock at night. He wrote constantly; letters to every editor under the sun, articles and editorials, and responses to articles he read. My inbox is going to be a whole lot emptier now, and I know that's also true for many of you in this room. My Grandpa liked to have fun, and have fun he did. He recently told me that he had finally figured out what CPA stood for: Certified Party Animal.
In the past year Grandpa and I started to build a very special relationship. I was getting politically involved on campus and suddenly Grandpa and I had endless things to talk about. We'd send emails back and forth, exchanging articles, news, and ideas. I started a blog to record the events on my campus, and although I only wrote two posts, Grandpa would tell anyone who would listen about his granddaughter, the writer. In the past month or so I started writing again, much to his delight. We attended an ACT! For America event together and later he asked for the notes I had taken. He said he was going to write an article from my notes and it would be signed “by Natalie and Harold Katz”. He wrote to me that“the thought of co writing a piece is beyond words. I'm overwhelmed.”
He didn't get to write that piece.
I also started joining Jan and Grandpa occasionally at their Monday night haunt-a restaurant called Prego. This was really the first time I had spent quality one on one time with my Grandpa. He introduced me to all of his friends, and even to people I'm not sure he knew! He and I would talk the night away, and he would stay by my side until he saw me safely into my car at the end of the night.
I had always loved my Grandpa, but now we were buddies, partners in crime. The timing was perfect. I was done with college, living at home, and had more time to spend with him. We emailed each other constantly, consulted each other on political issues, and I was joining him and Jan at Prego.
Barely a month ago he emailed me to ask if I was joining them that night. At the end of his email, he wrote, “I have always loved you and I didn't think that love could ever be more than it was originally but as we now spend time together the love is stronger and just so wonderful....I am so grateful that I lived long enough to become part of your adult life.”
I'm also grateful beyond words that I had this time with him, but it ended far, far too soon. We were only getting started.
The last time I was with him at Prego he leaned over to me and said, “If I died tomorrow, I would want you to know one thing. Your Grandfather has had a lot of fun.” Earlier in the day, he told me, he had felt too tired to go out, more like a 77 year old than the 47 year old he knew he was. But he dragged himself out, and now, sitting at the table with me, he was back to feeling like himself. The lesson, he told me, was to make sure to get as much joy out of each day as it is possible to attain. That was the rule that he lived by.
I'd like to leave you all with this message, on behalf of my Grandpa. If he were here, he would tell you all to make the most out of every moment, to always choose joy, and to always have fun. He was a living, breathing, bigger-than-life example of his own philosophy right up until the minute he died. May we all have the energy, the drive, and the happiness that he did.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
And yet the biggest threat we face is from within. The division of the Jewish community is real and it is dangerous. We can not afford to be at odds with each other. We need a united front to meet the enemy head on; we stand no chance if we act as many separate, small groups.
But that is where we stand now. A near fire fight has erupted in Orange County and both sides are wearing yarmulkes. This is by no means a new altercation, but it seems to have reached new heights. On the one hand, we have the OC Jewish Federation and the OC Hillel, and on the other we have a group of concerned community members. The Federation and Hillel feel that the community members are overstepping their bounds and promoting a falsely negative image of Jewish life on campus. The community members feel that the Federation and Hillel are underestimating the seriousness of the situation on the UCI campus. The current uproar revolves around a series of emails between Hillel staff and a member of the community (representing many community members, not just herself) dealing with Hillel and the Federation's sponsorship of an Olive Tree Initiative event, and the community's concern about it.
I could say a lot about which side I believe is in the right. But that's not the point of my post. The bottom line is that all concerned parties should have the same goal in mind-the welfare of the Jewish students on campus. The welfare of the greater Jewish community of the OC. The welfare of the greater Jewish community of the world.
G-d forbid that all should agree on every point. We wouldn't be Jews if we did. But the animosity that is running rampant is downright tragic. Love your fellow as you love yourself is THE tenant of Judaism-as taught by the great Rabbi Hillel himself. Despite our differences we should be able to deal reasonably with each other, to hear each others concerns, to be honest and sincere with one another. Instead there is name-calling and accusations. I myself am very firmly in agreement with one side in this issue, but that doesn't stop my heart from breaking.
The more we fight with ourselves, the weaker we become. It is that simple.
I am begging, pleading, for the Jews to come together. Lay aside your differences in order to deal with them. Put aside your pride, your fears and suspicions. We are all on the same side, or should be. Working together we could accomplish so much more than what we do divided. Money is not the issue. Funding and support is not the issue. Being right is not the issue. Doing what is right for our community-which is not limited to just the students, nor to just the OC Jewish community, but to all Jews, everywhere-is the issue. Standing together to stand up to those who threaten us is the issue. Loving our fellow Jew even when we disagree with him is the issue. Let us not forget that the reason the second Holy Temple was destroyed was because Jew harbored baseless hatred against Jew. Our own heritage provides us with a very important lesson, and the secret to survival. We must stand together. We are a small people. We are scattered enough as it is. Let's not be scattered even within a community.
It's just my personal opinion, but I am begging; make it yours too.
The vanity of Barack ObamaBy Jonathan Last
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Why has Barack Obama failed so spectacularly? Is he too dogmatically liberal or too pragmatic? Is he a socialist, or an anticolonialist, or a philosopher-president? Or is it possible that Obama’s failures stem from something simpler: vanity. Politicians as a class are particularly susceptible to mirror-gazing. But Obama’s vanity is overwhelming. It defines him, his politics, and his presidency.
It’s revealed in lots of little stories. There was the time he bragged about how one of his campaign volunteers, who had tragically died of breast cancer, “insisted she’s going to be buried in an Obama T-shirt.” There was the Nobel acceptance speech where he conceded, “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war” (the emphasis is mine). There was the moment during the 2008 campaign when Obama appeared with a seal that was a mash-up of the Great Seal of the United States and his own campaign logo (with its motto Vero Possumus, “Yes we Can” in Latin). Just a few weeks ago, Obama was giving a speech when the actual presidential seal fell from the rostrum. “That’s all right,” he quipped. “All of you know who I am.” Oh yes, Mr. President, we certainly do.
My favorite is this line from page 160 of The Audacity of Hope:
I find comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.
So popularity and fame once nourished him, but now his ambition is richer and he’s answerable not, like some presidents, to the Almighty, but to the gaze of his personal conscience. Which is steady. The fact that this sentence appears in the second memoir of a man not yet 50 years old—and who had been in national politics for all of two years—is merely icing.
People have been noticing Obama’s vanity for a long time. In 2008, one of his Harvard Law classmates, the entertainment lawyer Jackie Fuchs, explained what Obama was like during his school days: “One of our classmates once famously noted that you could judge just how pretentious someone’s remarks in class were by how high they ranked on the ‘Obamanometer,’ a term that lasted far longer than our time at law school. Obama didn’t just share in class—he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. ”
The story of Obama’s writing career is an object lesson in how our president’s view of himself shapes his interactions with the world around him. In 1990, Obama was wrapping up his second year at Harvard Law when the New York Times ran a profile of him on the occasion of his becoming the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. A book agent in New York named Jane Dystel read the story and called up the young man, asking if he’d be interested in writing a book. Like any 29-year-old, he wasn’t about to turn down money. He promptly accepted a deal with Simon & Schuster’s Poseidon imprint—reportedly in the low six-figures—to write a book about race relations.
Obama missed his deadline. No matter. His agent quickly secured him another contract, this time with Times Books. And a $40,000 advance. Not bad for an unknown author who had already blown one deal, writing about a noncommercial subject.
By this point Obama had left law school, and academia was courting him. The University of Chicago Law School approached him; although they didn’t have any specific needs, they wanted to be in the Barack Obama business. As Douglas Baird, the head of Chicago’s appointments committee, would later explain, “You look at his background—Harvard Law Review president, magna cum laude, and he’s African American. This is a no-brainer hiring decision at the entry level of any law school in the country.” Chicago invited Obama to come in and teach just about anything he wanted. But Obama wasn’t interested in a professor’s life. Instead, he told them that he was writing a book—about voting rights. The university made him a fellow, giving him an office and a paycheck to keep him going while he worked on this important project.
In case you’re keeping score at home, there was some confusion as to what book young Obama was writing. His publisher thought he was writing about race relations. His employer thought he was writing about voting rights law. But Obama seems to have never seriously considered either subject. Instead, he decided that his subject would be himself. The 32-year-old was writing a memoir.
Obama came clean to the university first. He waited until his fellowship was halfway over—perhaps he was concerned that his employers might not like the bait-and-switch. He needn’t have worried. Baird still hoped that Obama would eventually join the university’s faculty (he had already begun teaching a small classload as a “senior lecturer”). “It was a good deal for us,” Baird explained, “because he was a good teaching prospect and we wanted him around.”
And it all worked out in the end. The book Obama eventually finished was Dreams from My Father. It didn’t do well initially, but nine years later, after his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention made him a star, it sold like gangbusters. Obama got rich. And famous. The book became the springboard for his career in national politics.
Only it didn’t quite work out for everybody. Obama left the University of Chicago, never succumbing to their offers of a permanent position in their hallowed halls. Simon & Schuster, which had taken a chance on an unproven young writer, got burned for a few thousand bucks. And Jane Dystel, who’d plucked him out of the pages of the New York Times and got him the deal to write the book that sped his political rise? As soon as Obama was ready to negotiate the contract for his second book—the big-money payday—he dumped her and replaced her with super-agent Robert Barnett.
We risk reading too much into these vignettes—after all, our president is a mansion with many rooms and it would be foolish to reduce him to pure ego. Yet the vignettes are so numerous. For instance, a few years ago Obama’s high school basketball coach told ABC News how, as a teenager, Obama always badgered him for more playing time, even though he wasn’t the best player on the team—or even as good as he thought he was. Everyone who has ever played team sports has encountered the kid with an inflated sense of self. That’s common. What’s rare is the kid who feels entitled enough to nag the coach about his minutes. Obama was that kid. His enthusiasm about his abilities and his playing time extended into his political life. In 2004, Obama explained to author David Mendell how he saw his future as a national political figure: “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game.” After just a couple of months in the Senate, Obama jumped the Democratic line and started asking voters to make him president.
Yet you don’t have to delve deep into armchair psychology to see how Obama’s vanity has shaped his presidency. In January 2009 he met with congressional leaders to discuss the stimulus package. The meeting was supposed to foster bipartisanship. Senator Jon Kyl questioned the plan’s mixture of spending and tax cuts. Obama’s response to him was, “I won.” A year later Obama held another meeting to foster bipartisanship for his health care reform plan. There was some technical back-and-forth about Republicans not having the chance to properly respond within the constraints of the format because President Obama had done some pontificating, as is his wont. Obama explained, “There was an imbalance on the opening statements because”—here he paused, self-satisfiedly—“I’m the president. And so I made, uh, I don’t count my time in terms of dividing it evenly.”
There are lots of times when you get the sense that Obama views the powers of the presidency as little more than a shadow of his own person. When he journeyed to Copenhagen in October 2009 to pitch Chicago’s bid for the Olympics, his speech to the IOC was about—you guessed it: “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night,” he told the committee, “people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of . . . ” and away he went. A short while later he was back in Copenhagen for the climate change summit. When things looked darkest, he personally commandeered the meeting to broker a “deal.” Which turned out to be worthless. In January 2010, Obama met with nervous Democratic congressmen to assure them that he wasn’t driving the party off a cliff. Confronted with worries that 2010 could be a worse off-year election than 1994, Obama explained to the professional politicians, “Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.”
In the midst of the BP oil spill last summer, Obama explained, “My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about: the spill.” Read that again: The president thinks that the job of the president is to make certain the citizens correctly understand what’s on the president’s mind.
Obama’s vanity is even more jarring when paraded in the foreign arena. In April, Poland suffered a national tragedy when its president, first lady, and a good portion of the government were killed in a plane crash. Obama decided not to go to the funeral. He played golf instead. Though maybe it’s best that he didn’t make the trip. When he journeyed to Great Britain to meet with the queen he gave her an amazing gift: an iPod loaded with recordings of his speeches and pictures from his inauguration.
On November 9, 2009, Europe celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was kind of a big deal. They may not mention the Cold War in schools much these days, but it pitted the Western liberal order against a totalitarian ideology in a global struggle. In this the United States was the guarantor of liberty and peace for the West; had we faltered, no corner of the world would have been safe from Soviet domination.
President Obama has a somewhat different reading. He explains: “The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.” Pretty magnanimous of the Soviets to let the long twilight struggle end peacefully like that, especially after all we did to provoke them.
So Obama doesn’t know much about the Cold War. Which is probably why he didn’t think the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was all that important. When the leaders of Europe got together to commemorate it, he decided not to go to that, either. But he did find time to record a video message, which he graciously allowed the Europeans to air during the ceremony.
In his video, Obama ruminated for a few minutes on the grand events of the 20th century, the Cold War itself, and the great lesson we all should take from this historic passing: “Few would have foreseen . . . that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent. But human destiny is what human beings make of it.” The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the freedom of all humanity—it’s great stuff. Right up there with the election of Barack Obama.
All presidents are hostage to self-confidence. But not since Babe Ruth grabbed a bat and wagged his fat finger at Wrigley’s center-field wall has an American politician called his shot like Barack Obama. He announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, on the steps where Abraham Lincoln gave his “house divided” speech. He mentioned Lincoln continually during the 2008 campaign. After he vanquished John McCain he passed out copies of Team of Rivals, a book about Lincoln’s cabinet, to his senior staff. At his inauguration, he chose to be sworn into office using Lincoln’s Bible. At the inaugural luncheon following the ceremony, he requested that the food—each dish of which was selected as a “tribute” to Lincoln—be served on replicas of Lincoln’s china. At some point in January 2009 you wanted to grab Obama by the lapels and tell him—We get it! You’re the Rail Splitter! If we promise to play along, will you keep the log cabin out of the Rose Garden?
It’s troubling that a fellow whose electoral rationale was that he edited the Harvard Law Review and wrote a couple of memoirs was comparing himself to the man who saved the Union. But it tells you all you need to know about what Obama thinks of his political gifts and why he’s unperturbed about having led his party into political disaster in the midterms. He assumes that he’ll be able to reverse the political tide once he becomes the issue, in the presidential race in 2012. As he said to Harry Reid after the majority leader congratulated him on one particularly fine oration, “I have a gift, Harry.”
But Obama’s faith in his abilities extends beyond mere vote-getting. Buried in a 2008 New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza about the Obama campaign was this gob-smacking passage:
Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” After Obama’s first debate with McCain, on September 26th, [campaign political director Patrick] Gaspard sent him an e-mail. “You are more clutch than Michael Jordan,” he wrote. Obama replied, “Just give me the ball.”
In fairness to Obama, maybe he is a better speechwriter than his speechwriters. After all, his speechwriter was a 27-year-old, and the most affecting part of Obama’s big 2008 stump speech was recycled from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, with whom he shared a campaign strategist. But it’s instructive that Obama thinks he knows “more about policies on any particular issue” than his policy directors. The rate of growth of the mohair subsidy? The replacement schedule for servers at the NORAD command center? The relationship between annual rainfall in northeast Nevada and water prices in Las Vegas?
What Scott Fitzgerald once said about Hollywood is true of the American government: It can be understood only dimly and in flashes; there are no more than a handful of men who have ever been able to keep the entire equation in their heads. Barack Obama had worked in the federal government for all of four years. He was not one of those men. More important, however, is that as president he shouldn’t be the chief wonk, speechwriter, and political director.
David Remnick delivers a number of insights about Obama in his book The Bridge. For instance, Valerie Jarrett—think of her as the president’s Karen Hughes—tells Remnick that Obama is often bored with the world around him. “I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually,” Jarrett says. “So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy.” Jarrett concludes, “He’s been bored to death his whole life.”
With one or two possible exceptions, that is. Remnick reports that “Jarrett was quite sure that one of the few things that truly engaged him fully before going to the White House was writing Dreams from My Father.” So the only job Barack Obama ever had that didn’t bore him was writing about Barack Obama. But wait, there’s more.
David Axelrod—he’s Obama’s Karl Rove—told Remnick that “Barack hated being a senator.” Remnick went on:
Washington was a grander stage than Springfield, but the frustrations of being a rookie in a minority party were familiar. Obama could barely conceal his frustration with the torpid pace of the Senate. His aides could sense his frustration and so could his colleagues. “He was so bored being a senator,” one Senate aide said.
Obama’s friend and law firm colleague Judd Miner agreed. “The reality,” Miner told Remnick, “was that during his first two years in the U.S. Senate, I think, he was struggling; it wasn’t nearly as stimulating as he expected.” But even during his long, desolate exile as a senator, Obama was able to find a task that satisfied him. Here’s Remnick again: “The one project that did engage Obama fully was work on The Audacity of Hope. He procrastinated for a long time and then, facing his deadline, wrote nearly a chapter a week.” Your tax dollars at work.
Looking at this American Narcissus, it’s easy to be hammered into a stupor by the accumulated acts of vanity. Oh look, we think to ourselves, there’s our new president accepting his Nobel Peace Prize. There’s the president likening his election to the West’s victory in the Cold War. There’s the commander in chief bragging about his March Madness picks.
Yet it’s important to remember that our presidents aren’t always this way. When he accepted command of the Revolutionary forces, George Washington said,
I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust. . . . I beg it may be remembered, by every Gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.
Accepting the presidency, Washington was even more reticent. Being chosen to be president, he said, “could not but overwhelm with despondence one who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”
In his biography of John Quincy Adams, Robert Remini noted that Adams was not an especially popular fellow. Yet on one of the rare occasions when he was met with adoring fans, “he told crowds that gathered to see and hear him to go home and attend to their private duties.”
And Obama? In light of the present state of his presidency, let’s look back at his most famous oration:
The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.
The speech was given on June 3, 2008, and the epoch-making historical event to which “this moment” refers throughout is Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
A senior writer at The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last covered the Obama campaign in 2008.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Any new law or bill that congress wants to pass must be tested on congress. For a period of time-say a year- the bill would apply only to the people who voted on it. Let them suffer their own mistakes before they inflict them on the rest of us.
Just think! It's the perfect checks and balances system! Congressmen might actually start caring about the quality of the laws they pass if they and they alone had to live by them.
I'm sure there are many practical problems with the idea.....but it just sounds so good. I don't see that congressmen are going to put much honest thought into their work until their faces get rubbed in it.
Just my personal opinion.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Last Wednesday, our esteemed president gave a news conference, where he apparently dismissed the idea that the American People don't like his policies concerning the economy, saying,
"If right now we had 5% unemployment instead of 9.6%...people would have more confidence in those policy choices."Um, yes. Exactly. Let me rephrase that for all of you: "If my policies worked, people would have more confidence in them."
Duh, Mr. President. Duh.
(Source: Wall Street Journal. http://www.rove.com/articles/267)
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The event was strictly controlled. The audience was permitted to submit questions, but not ask them themselves. A moderator selected and read questions -and I quote- "as true to life as possible, with some annotations." I had submitted a short question online, hoping to get to ask it myself, so that I could expand on it a little. Even my shortened question was not read.
Yudof was funny and personable. But he said very little of substance. My interpretation was that he was telling us, the Jewish community, that antisemitism exists all over, the UC system (UCI in particular) was no worse than anywhere else, and we should just deal with it. He told us that while he condemns hate speech, he can not shut down anyone's free speech, no matter how much we might disagree with them. He made it sound like we wanted to inhibit the free speech of other citizens, when in fact we are concerned about hate speech that spews hatred of not only Jews and Israel, but America as well.
He said we needed to have more confidence in our students and their abilities to cope and "withstand." As if our concern is that Jewish students might get brainwashed. He told us, "don't be defined by the anti-Semites."
Antisemitism exists, don't be defined by it, don't stoop to their level, don't worry about the students, and there's nothing we can do.
As a former student, this rankled. I wasn't worried about getting brainwashed, I was worried about getting yelled at (like my roommate), getting assaulted (like the Hillel president at UC Berkeley), or getting grabbed (like my friend). Many of my friends feared for their grade if they spoke up in class. All of us felt naked, enraged, and vulnerable as we heard the Muslim students chant, "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!", when they asked us how many babies we had killed today, when their speakers shouted that Israel was an evil, occupying force, guilty of crimes against humanity, and labeled us the new Nazis.
That is what Jewish students should not have to face.
What I would like to have said to Mark Yudof is that he would never have given that speech to a room full of black community members concerned about black students on UC campuses. So why do the Jews deserve that sort of talk.
Here is the question I did not get to ask:
I graduated from UC San Diego this past June. I was very involved with the Jewish community, serving as the Vice President of the Union of Jewish Students. As such, I had a front row seat to the events of this past spring.
During the racial incidents which began with the Compton Cookout, I saw the administration show much consideration to the fears and concerns of the members of the black community. Racism was roundly condemned, and a policy of zero tolerance was enacted. There are debates over whether the Compton Cookout was indeed racist or merely insensitive, but the administration denounced it merely because it had caused anxiety to a small group of students.
Fast forward to spring quarter. The Jewish students expressed to Chancellor Marye Ann Fox and Vice Chancellor Penny Rue that we felt quite unsafe and uncomfortable during Apartheid week. I was one of nine students and a Hillel staff member who met with the two of them. We were told by Penny Rue that making us uncomfortable was part of their job at university. I am positive that she did not deliver this message to the Black community a few months earlier. However, we were assured that there would be heavy security present during Apartheid week. Yet several of my friends were verbally and even physically assaulted, with no intervention from, or even appearance of, a security personnel.
The girl who hung the noose was suspended, despite her heartfelt apology. The girl who voiced support for Hamas, Hizbollah, and Jewish genocide at the David Horowitz event issued no apology-in fact, she complained that she was being victimized-and there was only silence from the administration. Not even a mild condemnation.
Which leads me to the question I would have liked to ask you this past Thursday night in Orange County: Does the UC system have established policies for how it deals with student reports of intimidation, fear, and unease? Or, as I must conclude from my experiences, is it dealt with on a case by case basis, with the Jewish students getting the shorter end of the stick?
As always, it's just my personal opinion.