Category: Michael Gerson
Gerson: George W. Bush, A Principled President
| April 29, 2013 | 9:43 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, April 25, 2012

The dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum here has been an occasion for both friends and critics of the former president to press their case. According to the polls, the number of critics has fallen over time. They make up for it with enthusiasm.

I fall into the friend category, having worked for President Bush for several years beginning early in the 2000 campaign. There are a number of reasons to join a presidential campaign, not least of which is the main-stage, high-wire excitement. But I can recall the day I decided that my guy was the guy. Bush, campaigning at a town-hall meeting in Gaffney, S.C., got a question demanding to know how he would stop the flow of illegal immigrants. He took the opportunity to remind his rural, conservative audience that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande” and that as long as “moms and dads” in Mexico couldn’t feed their children at home, they would seek opportunity in America.

Read full post here

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Obama’s drone policy, rooted in self-defense
| February 11, 2013 | 1:03 pm | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for Washington Post, February 7, 2013

“If George W. Bush was whacking American citizens on the basis of secret legal memos,”writes Dick Polman, “Senate liberals would be conducting hearings.”

“If George Bush . . . had done this,” argues Joe Scarborough, “it would have been stopped.”

On the right, this argument is an accusation of hypocrisy. On the left, it is an expression of horror. In reality, it is an indication of continuity.

The Obama administration’s defense of drone strikes against al-Qaeda and associated groups — including U.S. citizens who are part of those groups — is based on a certain concept of self-defense in an age of terrorism. In this view, a threat does not become “imminent” when a terrorist boards a plane or straps on a bomb vest. It emerges when terrorists plot, train for and incite attacks. “The Constitution,” says Attorney General Eric Holder, “does not require the president to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning.” The recently leaked Justice Department memo argues similarly, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

Full post here

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Does Obama want a deal on immigration?
| January 28, 2013 | 5:28 pm | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, January 28, 2013

President Obama has grown testy about reporters who have a “default position” that policy debates have two sides. “On almost every issue,” he recently told the New Republic, “it’s, ‘Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree’ — as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?”

His insight is undeniable. If Republicans didn’t have all those pesky convictions and objections, agreement in Washington would come as surely as a river flows to the sea. This is the best description yet of Obama’s second-term governing vision: the invincible assumption of his own rightness. To him, objectivity requires the recognition that reality has only one side, which the president fully occupies.

On the budget, Obama has applied this vision with rigor and consistency. In his second inaugural address, he defended entitlements against the assault of social Darwinists. The goal was not to engage his congressional opponents but to delegitimize them. He sought to polarize the fiscal debate, confident that a majority can be rallied to his side.

On immigration reform, the divisions have not yet similarly hardened. In fact, the prospects are surprisingly good. Democrats are beholden to Latino voters; Republicans are justifiably terrified by an electoral future without them. Leaders of both parties seem to recognize that our immigration system is inhumane and economically counterproductive. A bipartisan group of eight senators has set out principles of reform, including improved border security, an orderly system for guest workers and a rigorous path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. Republican senators and staffers express the rarest of opinions in Washington: trust for a leader of the other party. They generally believe that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the immigration subcommittee, wants a bipartisan solution.

Read full post here

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Obama shoves idealism into its grave
| January 22, 2013 | 9:38 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for Washington Post, January 21, 2013

A  young reporter who has covered only President Obama’s first term has already witnessed several political epochs.

Obama’s election was a symbol of reconciliation in America’s longest, bloodiest conflict — the one that produced Antietam. It was followed by a partisan lunge to fulfill the dreams of the Great Society by delivering universal health care. Which was followed by an ideological backlash that shifted control of the House, led by activists who talked as if the whole welfare state might be undone. Which was followed by Obama’s victorious reelection campaign, which turned the mobilization of partisans and ethnic groups into an exact science and reengaged the culture war on abortion.

The compression of these ideological mood swings into four years has left an impression of political instability, perhaps bipolarity. Both parties overreach. Their tone is often frantic and overheated. They focus mainly on energizing the faithful rather than persuading the undecided.

Such polarization has deep roots. Parties, communities and regions have sorted themselves by ideology, producing citizens who operate in separate partisan worlds. Partisan media outlets succeed through the reinforcement and exaggeration of grievances. Most House members represent safe districts in which their greatest political fear is offending those who vote in primaries.

What can a presidential inaugural address do to oppose these centrifugal forces? Probably not much. Maybe admit some mutual fault and call for a new beginning. Maybe direct attention to unifying national values beyond current controversies. Maybe just assert the moral duties of kindness and civility we owe each other in a democracy.

Read full post here

 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Crying at the movies
| January 8, 2013 | 9:54 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, January 8th, 2013

Following the “Les Miserables” incident on Christmas Day, I suspect I will never persuade my teenage sons to attend a movie with me again. At various moments of high emotion — and there are few other kinds in the movie — their father was a sobbing, embarrassing mess. And I agree with them that weeping for the imaginary suffering of fictional characters played by highly paid actors requires explanation.

I could blame biology. There is a neurochemical basis for empathy. People who view a hand being touched respond with the same sensory portion of their brain as if they had been touched themselves. Humans have an extraordinary talent for feeling the distress expressed in other faces — particularly when Anne Hathaway’s gaunt, anguished face is two stories high, crying tears that could fill a baby pool. Hormones spike, unable to distinguish between real and imagined images. The lacrimal system produces and drains tears. Charles Darwin, that old sentimentalist, said that weeping is “an incidental result, as purposeless as the secretion of tears from a blow outside the eye.”

 Full post here
Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: This Christmas, joy wrestles with grief
| December 24, 2012 | 10:11 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, December 24, 2012

This is a Christmas season shadowed by sorrow. We know, of course, that human beings, even small ones, sometimes die in horrible, unfair ways. But all the horror and unfairness seemed to arrive at once in Newtown, Conn., where some parents wake on Christmas Day, if they slept at all, to mourn their absent children.

These events brought to mind a sermon by William Sloane Coffin, delivered 10 days after his son Alex was killed in a car accident. “When parents die,” he said, “they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way, it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head high, instead of — as we must — marching as the latest recruit in the world’s army of the bereaved.”

This army is easy enough to join. All of us build imaginary worlds of security that can be smashed in a moment by a drunk driver, a cancer diagnosis or an unnoticed patch of ice on the road. The death of a child may be the worst of our fears. But many of us find tragedy of some sort, with a little patience. It is the sad reality of grief: each loss infinite but not unique. And each loss sharpened during the holidays. A dark thought in a season of light.

There are no easy philosophic or theological explanations for unnatural death — no greater, cosmic good that neatly justifies unfair suffering. And those who try to find God’s will in an earthquake, a cancer ward or a mass killing are engaged in a particularly cruel and arrogant exercise. Coffin would have none of it: “Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. . . . The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, ‘It is the will of God.’ Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

Read full post here.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: We are not helpless against gun violence
| December 18, 2012 | 12:08 pm | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, December 18, 2012

The intercom had been switched on. “At first we heard a bunch of kids scream,” said a therapist at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “and then it was just quiet and all you could hear was the shooting.”

It is the silence that seemed particularly haunting. The methodical silence of the killer. The unnatural silence of children. Even the apparent silence of a bystander God.

But among those not directly affected, the silence did not last for long. We attempt to regain control of lurching events by explaining them. And we explain according to our pre-existing beliefs. The religious see a God-shaped hole in American society. Those concerned about mental health see a nation inattentive to the broken. Those committed to gun control see a Bushmaster .223. Those who despair of a violent culture see a “first-person shooter” emerged from a video game.

One way we try to beat down death with a stick is by turning helpless horror into a familiar cause.

It is discrediting to any cause when its advocates steal someone else’s grief for their own ideological use. But in this case, the search for the political implications of tragedy is unavoidable. It is the primary purpose of government to protect the innocent from the evil. At Newtown, Conn., none could be more innocent; none could be more evil.

Full post here

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: The overlooked plight of black males
| December 14, 2012 | 3:26 pm | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, December 13, 2012

A president’s first term is a fresh track in the snow. His second term moves on a set of rutted paths. The shiny cause has become a vast machine, its wheels spinning on internal impulses unrelated to presidential priorities or pressing needs.

As President Obama moves toward his fourth State of the Union address, he will be looking for policies that appeal to the country, but he will also try to rekindle the purpose of his administration. Inertia and intellectual exhaustion are fought with presidential initiatives.

One issue in particular cries out for attention while receiving almost none. Our politics moves from budget showdown to cultural conflict to trivial controversy while carefully avoiding the greatest single threat to the unity of America: the vast, increasing segregation of young, African American men and boys from the promise of their country.

America is in the process of managing, accommodating and containing a crisis that should be intolerable. More than 50 percent of young black men in inner cities are now dropping out of school — making high school graduation the exception to this dismal new rule. They consequently lag behind other groups in college attendance and graduation. Their rates of incarceration are disproportionately high and rates of workforce participation disproportionately low. “For virtually each outcome considered,” Harry Holzer of Georgetown University has written, “young black men now lag behind every other race and gender group” in the United States.

Full post here

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Obama must learn to negotiate
| December 11, 2012 | 9:35 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, December 11, 2012

In order for an ambitious budget deal to emerge, an awkward conversation must take place. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) needs to tell President Obama: “I can give some on rates for the wealthy, but I need cover on serious, structural cuts in entitlement programs.”

The call would be Boehner’s. But the groundwork for that conversation must be laid by the president. And Obama has been actively making it harder for Boehner to cry uncle. Obama’s initial budget offer was a calculated insult, involving, by some accounts, an actual spending increase. He has demanded unlimited debt-ceiling increases — a constitutional innovation of Mohamed Morsi-like ambition. And Obama has been in full, anti-Republican campaign mode around the country, as if the election had never ended.

The president has cultivated an atmosphere of distrust, in a relationship with a House speaker never characterized by trust. The moment Boehner concedes on rates, Republicans fear a leak and a Democratic victory dance, before any serious outcome on spending cuts can be locked in.

Part of the art of the deal is giving your opponent a soft place to land. Seeing no soft places, Republicans are increasingly concluding that Obama doesn’t want a deal.

Full post here 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
Gerson: Obama’s Overreach
| December 4, 2012 | 9:36 am | Michael Gerson | No comments

Published for The Washington Post, December 4, 2012

The endorsement of a continental nation being a powerful stimulant, all victorious presidents face the temptation of overreach.

Following his reelection in 2004, President George W. Bush undertook 60 stops in 60 days to sell the nation on Social Security reform. America remained unsold. In 1992, President Bill Clinton attempted and failed to reorganize the country’s health-care system — then the Democratic Party promptly lost both the House and Senate for the first time in four decades. “The fundamental political mistake committed by Bill Clinton and his aides,” argue political scientists Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro, “was in grossly overestimating the capacity of a president to ‘win’ public opinion and to use public support as leverage to overcome known political obstacles.”

President Obama, prone to overestimate his own capacity at communication, is now on the verge of serious overreach in two areas:

First, his opening budget bid — a repackaging of his previous budget, which got precisely zero votes in Congress — was a calculated insult. Obama proposed spending reductions of $60 billion a year — about 1.6 percent of a $3.8 trillion budget. He asked Congress to cede its control over the debt limit. And then he undertook a clumsy campaign swing, accusing Republicans of offering a “lump of coal” and a “Scrooge Christmas.” It was a policy joke, wrapped in a taunt, delivered with a puerile touch.

Full post here 

 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)