Published for The Wall Street Journal Online, January 8th, 2013
On a summer’s day in 1981, a college kid stepped off a Manhattan elevator into a place he had imagined himself only in his dreams: the offices of The Wall Street Journal.
I was there to meet editorial writer Adam Meyerson. He was seeing me on behalf of the editors of the American Spectator, to assess whether I was worth the $129 investment in a round-trip plane ticket to Bloomington, Ind., for a job interview.
Mr. Meyerson managed to put me at ease without in the least diminishing the awe stirred by the environs. At the time, I had no way of knowing that three years later I would join him on the editorial page, for a Journal career that would see me stationed in Brussels and Hong Kong, and dispatched to war zones from Lebanon and Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It has been a rollicking good ride.
I use the past tense because this shall be my last Main Street column. Come Friday, I take up residence as editorial-page editor at the New York Post, another fearless newspaper whose own proud history dates back to Alexander Hamilton. As I bid farewell, I offer a few thoughts about what it is about The Wall Street Journal that has made it such a congenial home for me.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2012
One week from today, the University of Notre Dame’s church bells will herald the birth of a child in a Bethlehem manger. Two weeks after that, the Fighting Irish will travel to Miami to compete against the Crimson Tide for college football’s national title. Two weeks after that, busloads of exhausted Notre Dame students will arrive in Washington to march for life on what will be the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
There’s an opportunity for America here. Remember that the phrase “Fighting Irish” originated as an ethnic and religious slur. It was partly for that reason that millions of new Americans—not just Irish but Italians, Poles, Germans—saw in Notre Dame’s victories on the football field a reflection of their own struggles and aspirations in this new promised land. Notre Dame now has the opportunity to do something similar for the unborn.
Let’s stipulate that, at this moment in history, this work could not look more unpromising. Notwithstanding recent polls (CNN, for example) that continue to show a majority of Americans leaning pro-life on abortion, the leading institutions of American culture—the press, television, academe—are lopsidedly stacked against the pro-life side. In such a world, Notre Dame’s public witness would be a powerful counterweight.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2012
Barack Obama admits that he got the Bush tax cuts all wrong.
That’s not how he would put it, of course—and it’s plainly not what’s being reported. Even so, President Obama’s recent statements about the expiration of these tax cuts on Dec. 31 have put paid to the most widely accepted political slander of the past decade: that the Bush tax cuts rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
That proposition simply cannot be reconciled with President Obama’s latest position, which is that America’s middle class will find itself hammered if Congress doesn’t extend President Bush’s middle-class tax cuts.
Here’s how President Obama put it during a recent White House event with a group of middle-class Americans: Unless Congress acts, he said, “starting Jan. 1, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up.”
He went on: “A typical middle-class family of four would see its income taxes go up by $2,200. That’s $2,200 out of people’s pockets. That means less money for buying groceries, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers. It means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. And middle-class families just can’t afford that now.”
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2012
In this time of peace on Earth and good will to men, we give thanks for the little things that help to make the season bright: chestnuts roasting on open fires, tiny tots with their eyes all aglow—and the entertaining progressive pageant that is Lincoln Chafee at Christmastime.
This performance has its origins in a public embarrassment last December, after the governor of Rhode Island decreed that the majestic blue spruce standing in the State House rotunda would be referred to as a “holiday tree”—on the grounds that calling it by its obvious name would be an affront to diversity.
Alas, a flash mob of carolers showed up at the lighting ceremony and delivered themselves of a rousing rendition of “O Christmas Tree.” To avoid a repeat, this year Gov. Chafee announced the tree lighting ceremony only 30 minutes before it happened.
In short, Mr. Chafee has proffered the traditional gift of the enlightened class. A joyous ceremony was transformed into an occasion of acrimony and division. The decision was justified with an addled reference to religious liberty. And the American people were again reminded of the apparent inability of so many of our bluest bloods to distinguish between upholding religious pluralism and enforcing anti-religion.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2012
The name of the program now escapes me. Several months ago, while flipping channels with the remote, I stopped on an MTV show about a working mom whose whole life was upended when her partner announced that he was splitting. It caught my attention because this mother lived in a nice apartment that looked like one in my suburban New Jersey town, and she was applying for food stamps.
This wasn’t your caricature “taker”—the woman had a real job. With her partner leaving, however, she could no longer afford the rent, and she would have trouble providing for her two young boys alone. As she walked up to an office to sign up for food stamps, she said something like, “I can’t believe I am applying for public assistance.”
Her situation provoked two questions. First, how could her boyfriend just abandon his sons without having to pay child support? Second, what is the conservative response to a woman who finds herself in this situation?
The show comes back to me in wake of the thumping Mitt Romney took in the presidential election among the demographic this mom represents: unmarried women. During the 2012 campaign, we conservatives had great sport at the expense of the Obama administration’s “Life of Julia”—a cartoon explaining the cradle-to-grave government programs that provided for Julia’s happy and successful life.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2012
Of all the story lines to emerge from l’affaire Petraeus, surely the following three are widest of the mark:
First, the idea that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a victim of America’s puritanical mores.
Second, the idea that, whatever the legal fine points, an FBI investigation involving a mistress accessing an email of a CIA director does not become a de facto investigation of the director.
Third, the idea that a CIA director can have a private email account, wholly personal and separate from his job.
All extramarital affairs are human tragedies. That would be true even if this one involved a factory worker and secretary cheating, not two high-profile, high-achieving West Point graduates. The difference is that the pain and injustice are even more monstrous for the innocent spouses and children here, because their private humiliation is playing out across our front pages and television screens.
At its core, however, the scandal that felled David Petraeus has public dimensions only tangentially connected with sex. An affair that was truly private might be buried quickly and quietly. Now that the affair has been broadcast to the world—beginning with Mr. Petraeus’s own resignation statement—honor itself requires honest answers to awkward questions that affect the public trust.
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Published for The Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2012
Judging from their numerous appearances on our TV screens, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama have come through Hurricane Sandy just fine. The same cannot be said for their brand of governing. Of all the vulnerabilities exposed by this storm, the biggest hit may have been to Blue State Liberalism.
The damage goes well past the obvious embarrassments. Those include Mayor Bloomberg’s initial insistence that a yuppie marathon in Manhattan proceed—requiring a massive police and sanitation presence, as well as power sources—even as citizens on Staten Island were pleading for disaster relief. The embarrassments surely ought also to include Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign vow that his election would slow the rise of the oceans.
The silliness of those episodes speaks to a serious point about the great vulnerability of 21st-century American liberalism: an inability to set the priorities necessary for good government. As a result, government grows both bigger and less capable, especially for people who do not have the resources to fund other options. As Walter Russell Mead argued recently on his blog at The American Interest, our biggest cities represent a “colossal failure of blue social policy to create sustainable lower middle class prosperity.
Mr. Mead was writing in reference to the hell that our inner cities have become for many African-Americans. But the failure is larger than that, because so many of the government agencies that citizens depend on have morphed into jobs programs, where pensions take priority over performance. Compare, for example, the response of Verizon—which within 24 hours of Sandy’s landfall had 95% of its cell service up and running in affected areas—with the glaring lack of hard information from the government for people shivering in cold homes without power.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2012
Mitt Romney had it only half right when he attempted in the second presidential debate to score Barack Obama for his reluctance to concede that Benghazi was a terrorist attack. The real issue is not how long the president took to call the assault on the U.S. consulate an “act of terror”—but that he still has not called it an act of war.
Plainly this is no oversight. On “The Late Show with David Letterman” a week after the attack—late-night television having become our commander in chief’s preferred venue for addressing the great public issues—Mr. Letterman asked President Obama directly whether the Benghazi attack was an act of war, one that meant we were at war. Mr. Obama said “no”—and went on to say that terrorists had attacked not only the Benghazi compound but a “variety of our embassies.”
There was a reason for that addendum, and, as odd as it may seem, a logic. As anyone who has been part of a White House communications team knows, words are chosen (and un-chosen) for a reason. In President Obama’s case, calling a textbook act of war by its rightful name would undermine a foreign policy based on a single idea: He’s the man who gets us out of wars, not into them.
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Published for the Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2012
On the ballot, the two candidates for president in 2008 were Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. Even so, Mr. Obama largely refused to run against Mr. McCain. On those occasions he deigned to acknowledge his rival’s existence, he presented the Arizona Republican as little more than a Bush clone.
Now we are entering the final weeks of the 2012 campaign. As we saw during the Monday debate in Boca Raton, Fla., once again President Obama is campaigning against his opponent as a Bush retread. The bet seems to be that whatever his own policy shortcomings, the American people will overlook them if he can characterize the alternative as a return to the Bush years.
In 2008 that proved a winning strategy. It worked because that election occurred against a backdrop that underscored the price of the Bush foreign policy. Weary of two wars abroad (not to mention a devastating flood and a financial crisis at home), American voters were not inclined to inquire too deeply about an attractive new candidate who promised to bring our troops home, talk to our enemies instead of invading them and restore our reputation abroad.
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Published for The Wall Street Journal, October 15,2012
After President Reagan’s listless performance in the first presidential debate of 1984 raised speculation that he was too old for the job, the Gipper took command in the second debate. Of his opponent Walter Mondale, Reagan famously said that he wouldn’t try to score political points by exploiting his opponent’s youth and inexperience.
Perhaps Barack Obama can likewise reassert himself in Tuesday evening’s town hall in Long Island. But his problem is this: In Denver he didn’t just lose a debate—he lost the carefully cultivated illusion of a larger-than-life figure who was Lincoln and FDR and Moses all wrapped in one.
Mostly this image was the making of his own immodesty, starting the night he clinched the 2008 Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama might have simply declared victory and congratulated Hillary Clinton on a valiant fight. Instead it became the backdrop for one of his more infamous egoisms. History, he said, would look back at his victory as the moment “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
This was no aberration. A man who interviewed for a job on the campaign was told by Mr. Obama: “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.”
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