Saturday, August 29, 2009
Through his own suffering, Ted Kennedy became more alive to the plight and suffering of others — the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from. The landmark laws that he championed -- the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children’s health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act –all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy’s life’s work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.Was Obama referring just to our societal sins or to Kennedy's as well? Melissa Lafsky had the honesty if the poor taste to write about the catalyst of Kennedy's self-empowerment. Weren't all those great initiatives worth one accidental drowning, she suggests? It still surprises me that he got the chance to try. Mark Steyn describes the British way of atonement for disgraced politicians:
Six years before Chappaquiddick, in the wake of Britain’s comparatively very minor “Profumo scandal,” the eponymous John Profumo, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, resigned from the House of Commons and the Queen’s Privy Council, and disappeared amid the tenements of the East End to do good works washing dishes and helping with children’s playgroups, in anonymity, for the last 40 years of his life. With the exception of one newspaper article to mark the centenary of his charitable mission, he never uttered another word in public again.While in British politics, redemption is generally much harder to come by, plenty of Americans have gotten the Profumo treatment. Richard Nixon of course comes to mind. One may wonder whether Kennedy could have roared back so effectively as a conservative, Vietnam- and Iraq-supporting, tax-cutting, anti-illegal immigration lion of the Senate. But Americans can be equal opportunity Puritans. Kennedy's former liberal Senate colleague John Edwards, despite his lessor transgressions, would at this point in his career probably have trouble getting Profumo's children's playgroup gig.
In the end, politics, like life, is all about the story, and Ted Kennedy's was irresistible. The college-cheating, adulterous son survives the violent deaths of three seemingly worthier brothers. His family's influence and Americans' sadness over his family's serial tragedies enable him to survive his worst crisis. He grows into a loving father, uncle, and patriarch and is transfigured by the love of a good woman from Louisiana. That he writes 300 bills liberal commentators and biographers love doesn't hurt. His greatest gift to us may be that he so obviously enjoyed the life God gave him and showed how to earn the devotion of those closest to him, who, after all, knew him best. Anyway, aren't we supposed to party whenever the Prodigal returns? We each are he often enough.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.Actually, we probably do know. Like most people, Kopechne would've wanted to spend her life on her potentiality, not someone else's. Hard to believe HP ran Lafsky's distasteful article.
Before Sept. 11, no President would've dared mount a war to unseat the Taliban, notwithstanding their oppressive policies, especially toward women. After the attacks, which the regime enabled, defeating them became a vital national interest. As recently as 2008, Barack Obama could portray Afghanistan as the good (or at least the better) war, arguing persuasively that President Bush's obsession with Iraq had prevented him from finishing the job against the Taliban.
Have politics and the perils of best intentions now drawn Obama into the same treacherous straits that wrecked the British and Soviets? The question for the U.S. must be whether there's a way to protect ourselves and our friends from terrorist attacks mounted in Afghanistan without being drawn any deeper into a war that looks as though it could rage for another eight years.
As Tall As Lions. "Love's not a grave, it won't decay on you/Too many days I was afraid of love." Amen!
Hat tip to St. John's colleague Janice Hellie-Dennis (always good to know what the young people are listening to!)
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
"Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
George Orwell's truth comes to mind as one reads that Eric Holder has named a special prosecutor to go after the "rough men" who, to keep us sleeping peacefully at night, went too far in frightening Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the engineer of the September massacres....
[Obama] and Holder may not like what was done...but who does? And where is the criminal intent? These agents are not sadists. They were trying to get intel to abort plots and apprehend terrorists to prevent them from killing us. And they succeeded. Not a single terrorist attack on the United States in eight years.
Do we the people, some of whom may be alive because of what those CIA men did, want them disgraced, prosecuted and punished for not going strictly by the book in protecting us from terrorists?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Obama’s great opening to the Muslim world, a strange blend of realism and multiculturalism, seems so far only to have imbued the Muslim world with the sense that in the cause of reconciliation with Israel it need exert itself no more, because it has at last been understood.
I am not one of those Jews who are maddened by American “pressure” on Israel, but I do not take kindly to it when it is accompanied by a bow to the Saudi king.
If all truth is relative, then the statement "All truth is relative" would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely true, then not all things are relative and the statement that "All truth is relative" is false.
In the single year before the Lockerbie bombing the IRA murdered 20 people, mainly civilians, and maimed thousands of others — 11 dead and many more injured in one single atrocity in Enniskillen in November 1987. That campaign of terror, waged against British citizens for more than 30 years, was bankrolled by donations from the USA — and in those 30 years not a single terrorist was extradited from the US to face charges here, despite our repeated requests. Both federal and local US courts refused extradition requests almost as policy, while the funding of the IRA continued without interruption and was still raking in the money even after 9/11, when the Americans suddenly decided that they ought to start proscribing certain terrorist groups. The IRA was not, for some time, one of the groups so proscribed.
Billy Bob Thornton (who takes Rick Danko's verse on "The Weight" and sounds eerily like the late, great Band-man) was among the special guests at Levon Helms's Midnight Ramble in Woodstock in August 2008. My music buddy Gary Baker and I are making the pilgrimage in November, although we should probably act our age...Hey, wait a minute: We are!
In the Senate, as elsewhere, 80 percent of the important work is done by a talented 20 percent. And 95 percent of the work is done off the floor, away from committees, out of sight, where strong convictions leavened by good humor are the currency of accomplishment. There Ted Kennedy, who had the politics of the Boston Irish in his chromosomes, flourished.Since I read newspapers on-line (and on-Kindle, where I proudly pay for content), I rarely see the marvelous way great papers still express themselves in page layout and headlines. Here in a Starbucks in San Diego, I caught a glimpse of a grandiloquent banner headline in the New York Times: "Senator Kennedy, Battle Lost, Is Hailed as a Leader."
I wonder who wrote that: A baby boomer authentically mourning the end of an era, or a younger editor who had gotten himself or herself into the spirit of the moment. While the "battle lost" bit is elevating, it's a battle many of us will join as well. I'm in San Diego to conduct a committal service for a less-well-known man who battled cancer no less bravely, as millions do and shall. So perhaps that element could have been skipped, at least in the headline.
As for Kennedy as a great leader, all notable people should be given their due in the wake of their deaths, as the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby does. But Jacoby's summary of Kennedy's foreign policy legacy is startling:
Abroad, he failed to take seriously the stakes in the Cold War. “Today, with the exception of East Germany, Russia has no more satellites,’’ he wrote in 1968, the year Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia. He hailed Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet dictator, as “a warm individual . . . completely committed to peace.’’ He fought to cut off aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975 - aid that might have prevented a communist bloodbath. In recent years he was willing to consign millions to Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, opposing not only the 2003 liberation of Iraq but even the 1991 campaign to undo the occupation of Kuwait.
On domestic affairs, Kennedy used most of his influence promoting ways to spend other people's money. While Kennedy has been hailed this week for his courage, in politics, being a big spender is courageous only to the extent of sometimes exposing one to being voted out of office, which would have caused no meals to be missed in Kennedy's household.
As for the issue with which he is most closely associated, in 1971 he missed a chance to provide health insurance to virtually all Americans when he opposed President Nixon's national health insurance plan. His subsequent efforts amounted to de facto acts of expiation for failing as a young man to exhibit the bipartisan temperament for which he being so fulsomely if selectively praised today. The thing is, 38 years ago, he actually could've pulled it off. So whose fault is it that 43 million Americans remain uninsured?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Daniel Schorr made it perfectly clear on CBS. In February 1971, President Nixon proposed requiring employers to buy insurance for 150 million working Americans and their families and pay up to three-quarters of the cost of the premiums. The poorest Americans would've gotten 100% government-funded policies. Older Americans would've had their Medicare premiums covered by the feds. The self-employed would have gotten government help for their premiums as well.
Sen. Kennedy called the $2 billion-a-year Nixon plan a boondoggle for the insurance companies and held out for a $60 billion-a-year government takeover of the health care system. The Nixon plan died in Congress. Meeting the former President in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton said that Congress had erred in failing to embrace his proposal.
[Israeli PM Netanyahu] reiterated his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.As if there's been any uncertainty about that since 1948. I can understand why the explicit concession of Israel's Jewishness is problematical for the Palestinians. There are 1.5 million Arabs in Israel, and the demographic trend is on their side. But I can't figure out why the two issues, settlements and Israel's Jewishness, don't get equal play from U.S. and British reporters, especially because they're two sides of the same coin. After all, from the Palestinian perspective, the settlements are an intrusion on the West Bank's essential Arabness.
Ironic that Arabs in the Holy Land will tell you that the U.S. media is endemically pro-Israel.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
In his halting November 1979 interview with Roger Mudd, Sen. Kennedy's operative word was "restoration." But just because his brother was cut out to be President didn't mean that he was. Instead, he helped define what it meant to be a great United States senator.
In May 2008, when we learned that Kennedy had cancer, a former Nixon White House aide, Geoff Shepard, published a book accusing him of having manipulated the Watergate scandal for the sake of a, well, Kennedy restoration. In the annals of publishing, a stroke of bad timing. With the country awash in sympathy, I decided it would be in poor taste for the Nixon Foundation to host a planned book event for Shepard with the federal Nixon Library. The gesture endeared us neither to the author nor the feds, but it seemed like the right call at the time.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Netanyahu's comments came just hours before Wednesday morning's meeting in his London hotel, the Intercontinental, with US Mideast envoy George MitchellIndeed no mention of the issue in this New York Times article about a new Palestinian National Authority road map for a state of Palestine within two years. It assumes east Jerusalem as the new nation's capital, which Netanyahu flatly ruled out in in his London press conference.
during which the settlements, much more then Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland, are expected to be the focus of discussion.
[M]uch of the American people, especially evangelical Christians, expect less in terms of human rights from their own government than Iranians do of theirs'. In fact, American evangelicals are much more pro-torture in this respect than many Iranian Muslims.
Someone out there will doubtless claim that the Skyrest travel pillow changed their travelling life. But if you're going to prop a pale blue cushion the size of a television on your knees and sleep on it, you will look absurd.Oh, like people trying to sleep on airplanes ever look good, such as with their heads wedged between seats and drool running down their chins. This guy might look absurd; he also looks asleep.
Now, mainstream Republican leaders are reading from the same hymnal.
Monday, August 24, 2009
"Love Me Do"...loses its dusty, distant haze of age, and "The Long and Winding Road" no longer has what [chief engineer Allen] Rouse described as a "muffled" quality to it. Otherwise, it's a matter of suddenly noticing details: McCartney's nimble bass line on "And Your Bird Can Sing," the vivid three-dimensionality of Starr's opening and closing high-hat on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the cinematic quality of the choirs and orchestra on "Good Night."The RS cover story, by Mikal Gilmore, recounts the band's slow-motion breakup. It wasn't just that Lennon tried to force his mates to accept Yoko Ono as the fifth Beatle, as most seem to believe. It was also differences over money and management and Lennon's self-consciousness about McCartney's greater output (at that particular moment) as a songwriter. After Lennon announced the breakup at a 1969 meeting where McCartney was trying to persuade the Beatles to go on the road again, Ono told a journalist:
We went off in the car, and he turned to me and said, "That's it with the Beatles. From now on, it's just you -- OK?" I thought, "My God, those three guys were the ones entertaining him for so long. Now I have to be the one to take the load."What do you expect from four young guys with all that money and fame? Of course I had to spend the weekend listening to their albums. First, "Beatles 1," with their 27 #1 hits. The first dozen, from "Love Me Do" through "Day Tripper" (who wrote that opening lick, the Beatles or Eric Clapton?) are miraculous, but then you hit some mediocre songs, beginning with "We Can Work It Out," in which freshness gives way to self-importance. For the bridge, Lennon wrote, "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend," while McCartney wrote in the verse, "Try to see it my way...Why da ya see it your way?" We can work it out, as long as I win. The song doesn't synthesize competing melodic and thematic ideas and ends with a ponderous, awkward cadence. The Beatles wouldn't part for another four years, but the seeds were planted.
I can also do without "Paperback Writer" (ambitious pop stars making fun of ambitious writers), "Yellow Submarine," "Eleanor Rigby" (faux empathy), and "Lady Madonna" (as if the Beatles were conducting their home lives particularly admirably).
The Beatles' last #1, "The Long and Winding Road," has a sappy string accompaniment which was added on, I learned from the Gilmore article, by Phil Spector and recently removed by McCartney for a pared-down re-release of "Let It Be." At the time, Spector said of producer extraordinaire Martin, "I don't consider him in my league. He's an arranger, that's all." In retrospect, Martin comes out on top, and not just because the "wall of sound" is behind bars. After "Beatles 1," I listened to the Martin-produced "The Beatles" (aka the White Album) straight through for the first time in years. Maybe it's because I first heard it when I was an impressionable 14 (I got it for Christmas in 1968), but it's still astonishing in breadth and scope. It rocks, it soars, it shimmers, it tantalizes. As Gilmore writes, the Beatles had been listening to the Band, and you can tell from "Rocky Raccoon" and "Don't Pass Me By." It's got a song about candy, George Harrison's "Savoy Truffle," and social commentary that works, especially the "Piggies" out on the town eating their bacon (even as the Beatles were in the process of cooking the goose that laid their gold records).
Is "Back in the USSR" the greatest Beatles song? It's certainly their most confident straight-out rocker, plus an affectionate Chuck Berry and Beach Boys parody. And that's what's most amazing about "The Beatles" -- its tongue-in-cheek sophistication, as if the band is letting us in on something. They parody things that have been barely invented, such as heavy metal with "Helter Skelter." Songs fall apart at the end Wilco-style, like Lennon's "Dear Prudence." "Long, Long, Long" and especially "Good Night," with its soporific vocal and creepy strings (Spector should have done so well), sound pre-apocalyptic. In "Revolution," the Beatles refused to pander to the prevailing elite Zeitgeist. (Lennon probably wouldn't have liked that statue of Mao at the Nixon Library.) But something was going on. Something was about to happen. This amazing record captures it.
Aides said Holder himself was so troubled by some of the reports [of alleged abuses by CIA interrogators] that he felt a prosecutor might be needed – even though the move is likely to be viewed as an unwelcome distraction by the White House.
In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Obama has also left some Arab leaders with whom he recently met confused and doubtful about his intentions on Middle East peace. They have reported to aides that the president acknowledged that he has failed thus far to secure matching concessions from Arab countries and Israel as the basis for new negotiations.
The Arabs complain that they have been offered no tangible incentives to move toward normalizing relations with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian deal is reached. They dismiss both Obama's publicly undisclosed demand for a one-year freeze on Israeli settlements and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's counteroffer of a six-month freeze as equally meaningless.
"Incrementalism and the step-by-step approach has not, and we believe will not, achieve peace," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Washington on July 31. The comments by Saud, who did not see Obama, echoed the broad Arab consensus that Obama has not been bold enough. "Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace," the Saudi prince added.
I don't understand how anything but incrementalism will work in the Middle East, as long as it is moving the right direction. What do Arab leaders expect from Obama? Israel is a sovereign democracy that can be pressured but not forced to stop West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements. Do they want the U.S. to punish Israel by slashing its aid budget, which runs around $3 billion a year? Hard to imagine how that would work at home politically unless we cut authoritarian Egypt's $1.7 billion take as well.
Beyond that, Obama doesn't have many cards to play. He took a courageous risk by going to work on the Middle East so early in his Presidency. Responsible conversation partners in the region might want to return the favor by joining him on the path to peace, baby steps and all. If they don't, he's entitled to wonder how much they really want his initiative to succeed. It's also worth noting that when Bill Clinton brokered a bold, comprehensive peace deal in 2000, it was Yasser Arafat who blinked.
It may be that the critics, who are asking federal Library director Tim Naftali to remove the statues, are mistaking an exhibit for a memorial. As the Nixon aide (later, private Nixon Library director) who supervised the design of the display in which the statues appear, I can say with absolute confidence that they weren't intended to honor anyone. We asked President Nixon to pick the ten leaders he'd met who'd had the most decisive impact on the postwar world. Four of his choices were leaders of communist regimes -- the two Chinese plus Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchev. The idea was to give visitors an idea of what they looked like and illustrate RN's proposition that the U.S. could be a force for stability and constructive change by finding ways to be in dialog even with leaders of unfriendly or unsavory powers.
Nixon would have been the first to say that the Chinese regime was odious. He dedicated much of his career to opposing communism. And yet there's considerable evidence that his overtures and policies were good for the Chinese and Soviet peoples, in the same way that the North Koreans and Iranians might end up being better off if relations with the U.S. improved. While Library officials may well decide to replace the whole exhibit one day, Soviet- and PRC-style airbrushing of the politically incorrect or even morally repugnant is a terrible and an anti-historical idea.