March 11, 2014 Leave a comment
March 10, 2014 Leave a comment
Just when you think California Democrats can’t sink any lower, they prove you wrong:
In endorsing a bill in the California legislature that would require “affirmative consent” before sex can occur on campus, the editorial boards of the Sacramento and Fresno Bee and the Daily Californian advocated that sex be treated as “sexual assault” unless the participants discuss it “out loud” before sex, and “demonstrate they obtained verbal ‘affirmative consent’ before engaging in sexual activity.”
Never mind that consent to most sex is non-verbal, and that rape has historically been understood to be an act against someone’s will, rather than simply a non-violent act that they did not consent to in advance. Perhaps in response to the bill, the University of California, on February 25, adopted a policy requiring affirmative consent not just to sex, but to every form of “physical sexual activity” engaged in.
The affirmative-consent bill, Senate Bill 967, does not expressly require verbal permission to demonstrate consent, although it warns that “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding.”
But supporters of the bill are very clear about their desire to require verbal discussion or haggling prior to sex.
Read the rest here.
Legal satirists with a talent for contract law, take note.
February 28, 2014 Leave a comment
A wonderful and constructive colloquy with an atheist commences down-thread.
This whole conversation came up in response to “Why Are So Many Atheists Such Insufferable Assholes?” My interlocutor helpfully proved my point.
(Some comments wandered off-thread and are not included here, but you will definitely get the idea.)
Update: Looks like my interlocutor deleted his tweets.
Here’s a series of screen caps; fortunately I left a browser tab open:
February 21, 2014 Leave a comment
A truly remarkable essay, penned by one Sandra Y.L. Korn (who describes herself as “a joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator,” whatever that means), appeared in The Harvard Crimson on Tuesday: “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom: Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice.”
Ms. Korn’s argument is symptomatic of the reflexively totalitarian mindset of the Left; the essay reads like The Onion channeling Herbert Marcuse For Dummies, but her unintentional self-parody provides a valuable glimpse into the Leftist worldview. (Scratch a Leftist, find a totalitarian.)
The piece begins:
In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”
Alas, the link that the author provides to the cited article is a three-paragraph excerpt. One would think that, if Ms. Korn wanted to hang her rhetorical hat on one article (from 1971, no less), she would have provided a bit more context than an excerpt where the quote she references does not appear–and which might have given more context to Herrnstein’s argument.
Since The New York Times notes (in his obituary) that “Dr. Herrnstein expanded his views” in additional books, perhaps those books deserved passing mention. But since Ms. Korn merely aims to frame Herrnstein as a racist, unworthy of being heard in academe, it should be noted that he “was regarded with respect because ‘he understood and honored data,’ said Dr. Jerome Kagan, a psychologist at Harvard. Dr. Herrnstein was chairman of the Harvard psychology department from 1967 to 1971 and editor of The Psychological Bulletin from 1975 to 1981.”
And if we’re going to cherry-pick quotes, here’s an interesting one:
Just as with The Bell Curve, only a small portion of Herrnstein’s 1971 article dealt with differences among groups, and only a portion of that portion dealt with possible genetic influences on those differences; and, just as with The Bell Curve, these were the passages that received the greatest attention. In his article, Herrnstein concluded that “although there are scraps of evidence for a genetic component in the black-white difference, the overwhelming case is for believing that American blacks have been at an environmental disadvantage” (emphasis added).
But I digress. The question is not whether Herrnstein became an object of controversy; he did. The remarkable subtext of Korn’s essay is that being controversial is, in itself, sufficient cause to be cast out of academia, in the interest of “justice.”
When he returned to campus for fall semester 1971, Herrnstein was met by angry student activists. Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with a bullhorn and leaflets. They tied up Herrnstein’s lectures with pointed questions about scientific racism. SDS even called for Harvard to fire Herrnstein, along with another of his colleagues, sociologist Christopher Jencks.
I suppose Ms. Korn thinks this was all just swell–to drown out the voices of academics (and anybody else) when pampered Ivy League Stalinists like the SDS disapproved of what they had to say. Her nostalgic envy for that time is palpable.
Herrnstein told The Crimson, “The attacks on me have not bothered me personally… What bothers me is this: Something has happened at Harvard this year that makes it hazardous for a professor to teach certain kinds of views.” This, Herrnstein seems not to have understood, was precisely the goal of the SDS activists—they wanted to make the “certain kinds of views” they deemed racist and classist unwelcome on Harvard’s campus.
Poor Dr. Herrnstein, who “had been on the left for much of his life and liked to brag that he knew more labor songs than his SDS attackers did,” must have been quite surprised to be deemed a “racist and classist.”
Now it gets really interesting (emphasis added).
Harvard’s deans were also unhappy. They expressed concerns about student activists’ “interference with the academic freedom and right to speak of a member of the Harvard faculty.” Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask. Student and faculty obsession with the doctrine of “academic freedom” often seems to bump against something I think much more important: academic justice.
Ah. Well, OK, maybe SDS thugs did wage war on academic freedom (nice “air quotes”), but so what? We’ve got bigger fish to fry here, people.
In its oft-cited Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the American Association of University Professors declares that “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results.” In principle, this policy seems sound: It would not do for academics to have their research restricted by the political whims of the moment.
Or would it?
(You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)
Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?
And so, dear reader, “academic freedom” is largely an illusion; an amorphous abstraction with no real meaning. So why not embrace an even more amorphous, unreal abstraction called “academic justice”?
(And by the way, “heterosexism” gives me a bad case of the giggles; as does the assertion of a “liberal obsession with ‘academic freedom’”–unless Ms. Korn is reverting to a more classical definition of liberalism.)
Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
A “more rigorous standard”? Rigorous in what sense? In what way did Herrnstein’s research promote or justify “oppression”? Are we to reflexively condemn concrete, empirical data that puts the lie to the airy, politically-correct presumptions of the hard-Left? And who constitutes the “academic community”? Neo-Stalinist “activists,” but not tenured, published, respected academics?
The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do. Two years ago, when former summer school instructor Subramanian Swamy published hateful commentary about Muslims in India, the Harvard community organized to ensure that he would not return to teach on campus. I consider that sort of organizing both appropriate and commendable. Perhaps it should even be applied more broadly. Does Government Professor Harvey Mansfield have the legal right to publish a book in which he claims that “to resist rape a woman needs … a certain ladylike modesty?” Probably. Do I think he should do that? No, and I would happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop him from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position. “Academic freedom” might permit such an offensive view of rape to be published; academic justice would not.
Subramanian Swamy’s article is here. I won’t defend it (at least the more inflammatory aspects of the piece), but simply ask whether an “academic community” committed to “academic justice” would have condemned an Islamist making similar arguments. The answer is fairly obvious: It all depends on whose political ox is gored, etc.
But it’s an Olympic-sized leap from Subramanian Swamy to Harvey Mansfield. The context of Mansfield’s remarks was a critique of radical Marxist feminist Shulamith Firestone. Here is the paragraph from which the cherry-picked quote is taken (emphasis added to highlight the cherry-picking):
Of course, men at their worst, as Firestone conceives them, are not really at their worst. Somehow her men are led by sexual appetite alone and do not commit acts of violence against women. Perhaps they do not need to if women do not feel any modesty and are never in the mood to resist. Resistance, after all, would imply that a woman is being choosy and is committing the error of “sex privatization.” Later feminists certainly take notice of male violence and rail against rape, but that stance, while more realistic, doesn’t solve the problem. To resist rape a woman needs more than martial arts and more than the police; she needs a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment. How dare you! But only a woman can be a lady, and the feminists have deconstructed “woman” because they think it is a product fashioned by men. According to them, being independent from men requires women to embrace the extreme of abandoning any difference between women and men. Becoming manlike is a strange way of proving you are independent of men (ladylike would seem to be a better way). But from the beginning, the desire for independence is compromised when you pursue it with a view to men. The desire to be independent of men leaves you still in the grip of men. This will show them! We’ll refuse to be women. In response one may say that women and men have this in common–they are happier and more attractive when they live for the sake of something above themselves on which, in a sense, they depend. That something might be making a family together, a task that creates something independent. Being independent is not just sitting there without a commitment to other human beings but doing something with them so as to be entitled to the respect of leading a useful life.
That hardly seems a valid reason to be cast out of Harvard, unless one is a radical Marxist feminist, fairly “obsessed” (two can play at the air quotes game) with hearing only that with which one agrees.
And now, on to The Jews! (emphasis added):
Over winter break, Harvard published a statement responding to the American Studies Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. Much of the conversation around this academic boycott has focused on academic freedom. Opponents of the boycott claim that it restricts the freedom of Israeli academics or interrupts the “free flow of ideas.” Proponents of the boycott often argue that the boycott is intended to, in the end, increase, not restrict, academic freedom—the ASA points out that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.”
The temptation to invoke Orwell in this instance is positively overwhelming.
Obviously we must have no dissent from the self-evident proposition that Israel is the most oppressive regime on the face of the earth. This is an article of faith on the Left, and they will brook no disagreement with that precept in the name of mere “academic freedom.” And that, in turn, will make us all more free.
In this case, discourse about “academic freedom” obscures what should fundamentally be a political argument. Those defending the academic boycott should use a more rigorous standard. The ASA, like three other academic associations, decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. People on the right opposed to boycotts can play the “freedom” game, calling for economic freedom to buy any product or academic freedom to associate with any institution. Only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.
If you can make sense of the paragraph above, please let me know. I can’t. It has to do with only the Left caring about justice, I believe. But don’t quote me.
It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.
Yes, I am indeed tempted to consider restrictions on academic research as attacks on academic freedom. The temptation to do so is so great, in fact, that I shall yield to it.
Shorter Sandra Y.L. Korn: Freedom is oppressive. I suppose that, for someone so firmly in the grip of the Leftist mindset, that is very true.
February 19, 2014 Leave a comment
So says the one human being on the face of the earth with whom I most frequently agree:
If we learn nothing else from the bitter tragedy of the war in Afghanistan, it should be that we should put an end forever to the self-indulgence of thinking that we can engage in “nation-building” and creating “democracy” in countries where nothing resembling democracy has ever existed.
Thomas Sowell is an American treasure.
February 17, 2014 Leave a comment
First there was this general comment:
In case you missed it, the Left just makes stuff up. Up to and including the President.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
In response to which a Twitter friend referenced this:
The GOP’s Working Mom Schizophrenia
Republicans are slamming Wendy Davis for abandoning her kids to go to law school, even as they praise Cathy McMorris Rodgers for being a working mom in Congress.
The Republican Party has mom schizophrenia. It seems that some members and supporters of the GOP can’t seem to make up their minds about whether being an ambitious, successful working woman with children in politics is something to be vilified or lionized. That’s going to be a problem in a few months when the 2014 mid-term elections roll around. It’s no secret that the Republicans know they have a woman problem. They announced it themselves with the creation of a program to “train” their members on how to engage—and not to engage—with women. Yet, they are quite content to do some serious mom trashing when it suits them.
And so on.
I couldn’t care less about refuting the piece. It’s the usual SSDD tripe that we’ve come to expect from the Left. Davis was rightly taken to task (even by her estimation, but in different words) for playing fast and loose with her bio. Aside from the tu quoque logical fallacy, it’s a pedestrian piece notable only for its remarkable resemblance to every other whining Leftist piece on the topic.
No, dear reader, I took umbrage with her at best inappropriate use of the word, “schizophrenic.”.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
And a bit of subtexting:
“Schizophrenia is probably the most misused psychological term in existence.” –Neil R. Carlson, Physiology of Behavior.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
Oh, and the publication date was 1990. So if you’re going to write for a living, try to know what the hell you’re talking about.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
The author responded:
@ConservativeLA Thanks so much for the kind words
— Joanne Bamberger (@JLCBamberger) February 16, 2014
Back to me:
@JLCBamberger You know that’s an utterly discredited interpretation of the word, and has been for several decades, yes? No? Doesn’t matter?
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
@JLCBamberger Seriously, it would behoove you to google discredited theories and cultural distortions of the term.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 16, 2014
@ConservativeLA Thanks! And perhaps you could see past the literal definition!
— Joanne Bamberger (@JLCBamberger) February 17, 2014
Wow, this is Algonquin Roundtable stuff here, people!
@JLCBamberger If I could make words mean what I want them to mean so that they fit an agenda, I’d still be on the Left. But thanks.
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) February 17, 2014
Ouch. I bet she had a snappy rejoinder to that one, eh?
@ConservativeLA ha, ha!
— Joanne Bamberger (@JLCBamberger) February 17, 2014
And that concludes another installment of That’s All You Got?
February 13, 2014 Leave a comment
One of the interesting side issues in the now-resolved (except for President Obama’s signature) firestorm regarding the (at best) ill-advised career military pension COLA reductions, is the use of the word “entitlements.” The punditocracy, nearly as one voice, have clucked that reversal of the cuts will make future “entitlement reform” more difficult to achieve:
Reuters: “Supporters of the cut hailed it as an initial step toward curbing spending on costly entitlement programs that are consuming an ever-greater share of spending.”
New York Times: “The moves on both sides of the Capitol illustrate how difficult it will be to wring savings from automatic government programs — like pension and health care ‘entitlements’ — which are swelling with an aging population but remain politically untouchable.”
Washington Times: “Rep. Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, said Wednesday that the fight over repealing cost-of-living adjustment cuts for military retirees included in the 2013 budget deal shows how difficult it will be to make any type of permanent, broad entitlement reform.”
There are plenty more examples of this line of thinking, but you get the idea.
Leaving aside the issue of whether, in fact, “entitlement reform” is now less likely than it would have been (absent the COLA cuts restoration which headed for the President’s desk yesterday), I’m interested in a more fundamental question:
What do people mean when they talk about “entitlements”?
[Entitlement programs are the] kind of government program that provides individuals with personal financial benefits (or sometimes special government-provided goods or services) to which an indefinite (but usually rather large) number of potential beneficiaries have a legal right (enforceable in court, if necessary) whenever they meet eligibility conditions that are specified by the standing law that authorizes the program. The beneficiaries of entitlement programs are normally individual citizens or residents, but sometimes organizations such as business corporations, local governments, or even political parties may have similar special “entitlements” under certain programs. The most important examples of entitlement programs at the federal level in the United States would include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, most Veterans’ Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and agricultural price support programs.
Wait, “military retirement plans” and “agricultural price support programs” are both entitlements? Then the term no longer has any useful meaning–not when it comes to airy discussions about “entitlement reform,” at least. Career military personnel have an inarguable moral claim to the benefits they receive; any argument that a similar moral claim exists in the instance of agricultural price supports is absurd on its face.
As many (including Hugh Hewitt) have said, career military personnel need to be at the back of the line for cuts, not the front.
In order for society to intelligently debate a particular subject, the first task is to agree on common terms. The Left does the opposite, and alters the meaning of language to help achieve their ideological ends. And we on the Right invariably, at some point down the road, adopt the assumptions implicit in that distortion of meaning.
In short, not all “entitlements” have equal moral weight; ignoring that fact simply confuses the issue, and makes it more difficult for society to prioritize spending in the face of massive Federal debt.
February 10, 2014 1 Comment
As wise men have noted, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Many Americans who follow current events are alarmed about revelations concerning NSA surveillance activities, and there is an ongoing national debate (which often strongly confirms the old aphorism that politics makes for strange bedfellows) about those activities. So far, so good.
While I understand the reasonable concerns expressed about some NSA activities and the Congressional oversight thereof, I frankly have no time to entertain the naive prattling of those who would abolish the agency and its functions entirely.
As aggressive an adherent as I am to the Tenth Amendment, I also understand that the primary purpose of the Federal Government is national defense.
The National Security Agency’s headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., will go dark if a cohort of Maryland lawmakers has its way.
Eight Republicans in the 141-member Maryland House of Delegates introduced legislation Thursday that would deny the electronic spy agency “material support, participation or assistance in any form” from the state, its political subdivisions or companies with state contracts.
The bill would deprive NSA facilities water and electricity carried over public utilities, ban the use of NSA-derived evidence in state courts and prevent state universities from partnering with the NSA on research.
State or local officials ignoring the NSA sanctions would be fired, local governments refusing to comply would lose state grant funds and companies would be forever barred from state contracts.
The bill was filed as emergency legislation and requires support of three-fifths of delegates to pass. It was referred to the chamber’s judiciary committee.
NSA facilities in Maryland use a massive amount of water and electricity, the supply of which might be jeopardized by the legislation….
The legislative wave is spearheaded by the Tenth Amendment Center, which along with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee launched the OffNow coalition last year seeking to cut off water to the NSA’s just-built Utah Data Center.
Legislation hasn’t yet been introduced in Utah, but lawmakers in Arizona, California, Tennessee, Washington and other states have filed bills based on model legislation from the Tenth Amendment Center….
Shame on the Tenth Amendment Center for promulgating such an asinine piece of legislation. It makes serious arguments for adherence to the Tenth Amendment that much more difficult. (And I seriously doubt its Constitutionality, as well.)
Once again I am struck by the “so close, yet so far away” element of some extreme strains of libertarian thought (the People For A Perfect World mindset with an odd temperamental affinity to the hard-Left, even as it poses as the polar office of the latter); suffice it to say that it represents a self-evidently anti-conservative impulse in American politics–even as it attempts to claim the mantle of true conservatism.
(Of course the libertarian responses to this post will accuse me of being a statist, a neo-con, a ProgLite, a tool of Fox News and the GOP and all the rest. Whatever. Knock yourselves out. It’s a dumb piece of legislation, and I would expect nothing less than dumb ad hominem from those who support it.)
Addendum: “Let’s Agree To Disagree” by Buck Owens came up in the evening’s music rotation. Heh.
January 27, 2014 Leave a comment
It’s a long article, but worth the read: “Going the Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama,” by David Remnick. Here are a few amusing excerpts:
He sighed, slumping in his chair. The night before, Iran had agreed to freeze its nuclear program for six months. A final pact, if one could be arrived at, would end the prospect of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the hell that could follow: terror attacks, proxy battles, regional war—take your pick. An agreement could even help normalize relations between the United States and Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. Obama put the odds of a final accord at less than even, but, still, how was this not good news?….
The question is whether Obama will satisfy the standard he set for himself. His biggest early disappointment as President was being forced to recognize that his romantic vision of a post-partisan era, in which there are no red states or blue states, only the United States, was, in practical terms, a fantasy. It was a difficult fantasy to relinquish. The spirit of national conciliation was more than the rhetorical pixie dust of Obama’s 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, in Boston, which had brought him to delirious national attention. It was also an elemental component of his self-conception, his sense that he was uniquely suited to transcend ideology and the grubby battles of the day….
The structures of American division came into high relief once he was in office. The debate over the proper scale and scope of the federal government dates to the Founders, but it has intensified since the Reagan revolution. Both Bill Clinton and Obama have spent as much time defending progressive advances—from Social Security and Medicare to voting rights and abortion rights—as they have trying to extend them. The Republican Party is living through the late-mannerist phase of that revolution, fuelled less by ideas than by resentments. The moderate Republican tradition is all but gone, and the reactionaries who claim Reagan’s banner display none of his ideological finesse. Rejection is all. Obama can never be opposed vehemently enough….
“We didn’t expect the floodgates would open and Boehner would be Tip O’Neill to our Reagan,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the President, said….
The popular opposition to the Administration comes largely from older whites who feel threatened, underemployed, overlooked, and disdained in a globalized economy and in an increasingly diverse country….
“You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government—that it’s distant, that it’s bureaucratic, that it’s not accountable—and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments. But what’s also true, obviously, is that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states’ rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and Calhoun. There’s a pretty long history there. And so I think it’s important for progressives not to dismiss out of hand arguments against my Presidency or the Democratic Party or Bill Clinton or anybody just because there’s some overlap between those criticisms and the criticisms that traditionally were directed against those who were trying to bring about greater equality for African-Americans. The flip side is I think it’s important for conservatives to recognize and answer some of the problems that are posed by that history, so that they understand if I am concerned about leaving it up to states to expand Medicaid that it may not simply be because I am this power-hungry guy in Washington who wants to crush states’ rights but, rather, because we are one country and I think it is going to be important for the entire country to make sure that poor folks in Mississippi and not just Massachusetts are healthy.”…
For the moment, though, the opposition party is content to define itself, precisely, by its opposition. As Obama, a fan of the “Godfather” movies, has put it, “It turns out Marlon Brando had it easy, because, when it comes to Congress, there is no such thing as an offer they can’t refuse.”…
In 2011, at an annual dinner he holds at the White House with American historians, he asked the group to help him find a language in which he could address the problem of growing inequality without being accused of class warfare….
“The President always takes the long view.”…
As Obama ticked off a list of first-term achievements—the economic rescue, the forty-four straight months of job growth, a reduction in carbon emissions, a spike in clean-energy technology….
This is the archetypal Obama habit of mind and politics, the calm, professorial immersion in complexity played out in front of ardent supporters who crave a rallying cry….
You could hear the murmur of security communications: “Renegade with greeters”—Renegade being Obama’s Secret Service handle….
Since taking the job with Obama, in 2009, Nicholson has played golf with the President well over a hundred times. The Speaker of the House has played with him once….
When Obama does ask Republicans to a social occasion, he is sometimes rebuffed. In the fall of 2012….
The politician sensitive to winds and currents was visible in Obama’s coy talk of his “evolving” position on gay marriage. Obama conceded in one of our later conversations only that it’s “fair to say that I may have come to that realization slightly before I actually made the announcement” favoring gay marriage, in May of 2012. “But this was not a situation where I kind of did a wink and a nod and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn.” The turn may not have been a sudden one-eighty; to say that your views are “evolving,” though, is to say there is a position that you consider to be more advanced than the one you officially hold. And he held the “evolved” position in 1996, when, as a candidate for the Illinois state senate, he filled out a questionnaire from Outlines, a local gay and lesbian newspaper, saying, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages”….
“But I can tell you that I will measure myself at the end of my Presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society”…
“You have an economy,” Obama told me, “that is ruthlessly squeezing workers and imposing efficiencies that make our flat-screen TVs really cheap but also puts enormous downward pressure on wages and salaries. That’s making it more and more difficult not only for African-Americans or Latinos to get a foothold into the middle class but for everybody—large majorities of people—to get a foothold in the middle class or to feel secure there….
And he has not hesitated in his public rhetoric to acknowledge, however subtly, the abuses, as well as the triumphs, of American power. He remembers going with his mother to live in Indonesia, in 1967—shortly after a military coup, engineered with American help, led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people. This event, and the fact that so few Americans know much about it, made a lasting impression on Obama….
The right’s response has been to accuse Obama of conducting a foreign policy of apology….Josef Joffe, the hawkish editor of Die Zeit, the highbrow German weekly, told me, “There is certainly consistency and coherence in his attempt to retract from the troubles of the world, to get the U.S. out of harm’s way, in order to do ‘a little nation-building at home,’ as he has so often put it. If you want to be harsh about it, he wants to turn the U.S. into a very large medium power, into an XXL France or Germany.”…
Obama may resist the idealism of a previous generation of interventionists, but his realism, if that’s what it is, diverges from the realism of Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft. “It comes from the idea that change is organic and change comes to countries in its own way, modernization comes in its own way, rather than through liberation narratives coming from the West,” Fareed Zakaria, a writer on foreign policy whom Obama reads and consults, says. Anne-Marie Slaughter, who worked at the State Department as Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning, says, “Obama has a real understanding of the limits of our power. It’s not that the United States is in decline; it’s that sometimes the world has problems without the tools to fix them.” Members of Obama’s foreign-policy circle say that when he is criticized for his reaction to situations like Iran’s Green Revolution, in 2009, or the last days of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, in 2011, he complains that people imagine him to have a “joystick” that allows him to manipulate precise outcomes….
Administration officials are convinced that their efforts to toughen the sanctions on Iran caused tremendous economic pain and helped Hassan Rouhani win popular support in the Iranian Presidential elections last year. Although Rouhani is no liberal—he has revolutionary and religious credentials, which is why he was able to run—he was not Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s favored candidate….
Khamenei is an opaque, cautious figure, Administration officials say, but he clearly acceded to Rouhani as he saw the political demands of the population shift….
Members of Obama’s team believe that the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, who are now allied as never before, want the U.S. to be their proxy in a struggle not merely for de-nuclearization in Iran but for regime change—and that is not on the Administration’s agenda, except, perhaps, as a hope….
“It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told me. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare….
“It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.”…
“Let’s just keep in mind, Falluja is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines”….
“But I do think that some of the anti-government rhetoric, anti-tax rhetoric, anti-spending rhetoric that began before Reagan but fully flowered with the Reagan Presidency accelerated trends that were already existing, or at least robbed us of some tools to deal with the downsides of globalization and technology, and that with just some modest modification we could grow this economy faster and benefit more people and provide more opportunity.”…
Obama has every right to claim a long list of victories since he took office: ending two wars; an economic rescue, no matter how imperfect; strong Supreme Court nominations; a lack of major scandal; essential support for an epochal advance in the civil rights of gays and lesbians; more progressive executive orders on climate change, gun control, and the end of torture; and, yes, health-care reform….
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament”…
A little while later, as we were leaving the Oval Office and walking under the colonnade, Obama said, “I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” He paused yet again, always self-editing. “Not ‘probably,’ ” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing.”