By inviting Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins has polarized the Catholic community nationwide—and raised a question. What does it mean to be a Catholic university in post-Christian America?
Are there truths about faith and morality that are closed to debate at Notre Dame? Or is Notre Dame like London’s Hyde Park, where all ideas and all advocates get a hearing?
To Catholics, abortion is the killing of an unborn child, a premeditated breach of God’s Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The case is closed for all time. Any who participate in an abortion are excommunicated. Catholic politicians from Nancy Pelosi to Joe Biden who support a “woman’s right to choose” have been denounced from pulpits and denied Communion.
Obama, however, is the most pro-abortion president ever. On his third day in office, by executive order, he repealed the Bush prohibition against using tax dollars to fund agencies abroad that perform abortions.
He supports partial-birth abortion, where a baby’s soft skull is sliced open with scissors in the birth canal and its brains sucked out to ease its passage, a procedure Sen. Pat Moynihan said “comes as close to infanticide as anything I have seen in our judiciary.”
In the Illinois legislature, Obama helped block the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill to save the lives of infant survivors of abortion. He voted to allow doctors and nurses to let these tiny babies die of neglect and be tossed out with the medical waste.
Barack is committed to signing the Freedom of Choice Act, which would repeal every federal and state restriction on abortion. He has smoothed the path for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
Notre Dame, a university that teaches that all innocent human life is sacred, will thus honor a leader determined to ensure that a woman’s right to destroy her unborn child in the womb remains unrestricted.
There is thus a direct clash between what Notre Dame professes to stand for and what Notre Dame is doing.
Says Ralph McInerny, a philosophy professor since 1955: “By inviting Barack Obama to be the 2009 commencement speaker, Notre Dame has forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic University. … (T)his is a deliberate thumbing of the collective nose at the Roman Catholic Church to which Notre Dame purports to be faithful.
“Faithful? Tell it to Julian the Apostate.”
McInerny calls Father Jenkins’ invitation to Obama worse than the “usual effort of the university to get into warm contact with the power figures of the day. It is an unequivocal abandonment of any pretense at being a Catholic university.”
An honorary degree, writes Catholic author George Weigel, is a statement that here is a man we should admire and emulate. But how can a Catholic university say that about a man who means to appoint Supreme Court justices who will keep constitutional and legal the systematic slaughter of the unborn that has taken 50 million lives in 35 years?
Can Father Jenkins not see the contradiction here that renders Notre Dame a morally incoherent institution?
Diocesan Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has told Father Jenkins he will not be attending commencement because of Obama’s support of embryonic stem cell research.
Said the bishop, “While claiming to separate policies from science, (Obama) has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”
Pope Benedict has yet to be heard from. But on his visit to the United States, he declared that any appeal to academic freedom “to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.”
Does not honoring the most visible pro-abortion advocate in America “betray the identity and mission” of Notre Dame?
Father Jenkins says the invitation “should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life.”
But what Notre Dame is saying with this invitation is that Obama’s 100 percent support for policies and programs that bring death to more than a million unborn children every year is no disqualification to being honored by a university dedicated to Our Lady who carried to term the Son of God.
Chris Carrington, a political science major, regards the opposition to Obama’s appearance as un-Catholic: “To not allow someone here because of their beliefs would seem a little hypocritical and contradictory to what the mission of the university and church should be.”
The obtuse Carrington has stumbled on the relevant question: Is Notre Dame still a repository, teacher and exemplar of eternal truths about God and Man, right and wrong, whose mission is to convey and defend those truths in a hostile world?
Or has Notre Dame joined the secularists in their endless scavenger hunt to seek and find truth in the marketplace of ideas?
If 9/11 “Truthers” are wacky for believing the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government, what about the conspiracy theorists who tried to convince Americans that 9/11 was orchestrated by Saddam Hussein?
For starters, the 9/11 Truth conspiracists have arguably more circumstantial evidence for their case than men like Stephen Hayes or Dick Cheney ever did for theirs. But the most significant difference is that while 9/11 Truthers are relegated to the internet with no mainstream media support, 9/11 Saddam Hussein conspiracists like Hayes were the media, and worked in conjunction with the government to perpetrate their fraud.
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The Confederate flag has become identified not only with a lost cause but with a now publicly condemned one. Confederate flags have been removed from government and educational buildings throughout the South, while Confederate dignitaries whose names and statues once adorned monuments and boulevards are no longer deemed fit for public mention. The ostensible reason for this obliteration or dishonoring of Southern history, save for those civil rights victories that came in the second half of the twentieth century, has been the announced rejection of a racist society, a development we are persistently urged to welcome.
Up until the last generation or so, the South, we have been told, was a viciously insensitive region, and the Southern cause in 1861 was nothing so much as the attempt to perpetuate the degradation of blacks through a system based on racial slavery. We should therefore rejoice at the reconstructing of Southern society and culture in a way that excludes, and indeed extirpates from our minds except as an incentive to further white atonement, the pre-civil rights past, also known as the burden of Southern history. This last, frequently encountered phrase is from the title of a famous study of the South by C. Vann Woodward, who in his time was a liberal-minded Southern historian.
Arguments can be raised to refute or modify the received account of Southern history now taught in our public schools and spread by our leftist and neoconservative journalists. One can point to the fact that a crushing federal tariff falling disproportionately on Southern states contributed to the sectional hostilities that led to the Southern bid for independence. One can also bring up the willingness of Southern leaders to free blacks and even to put them in grey uniforms, as the price of the freedom that Southerners were seeking from Northern control. And even if one deplores slavery, this commendable attitude, which was also shared by some Confederate leaders, does not justify the federal invasion of the South, with all of its attendant killing and depredation. This took place, moreover, in violation of a right to secede, with which several states, including Virginia, had entered the Union.
A comparison is drawn nowadays between two supposedly equivalent evils, the Old South and Nazi Germany. This comparison has entered the oratory of the NAACP and Black Caucus; it has also appeared with increasing frequency in social histories that have come from the American historical profession since the Second World War. A bizarre variation on this comparison, and one frequently heard from the American political Left, is between the Holocaust and Southern slavery. First brought up by the historian Stanley Elkins when I was still an undergraduate, this seemingly unstoppable obscenity is resurrected whenever black politicians demand reparations.
Not surprisingly, those who claim that the Holocaust was unique and that comparing it to any other mass murders, particularly those committed by the Communists, is an impermissible outrage have never to my knowledge protested the likening of American slavery or segregation to the ghastliness of Auschwitz. The benign acceptance of this comparison by would-be Holocaust-custodians has more to do with leftist political alliances than it does with any genuine reaction to Nazi atrocities.
At the very least, reason would require us to acknowledge that Southern slave owners were vitally concerned about preserving their human chattel, even if they sometimes failed to show them Christian charity and concern. Unlike the Nazis, these slave-owners were not out to exterminate a race of people; nor did Southern theologians and political leaders deny the humanity of those who served them, a point that historians Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese have demonstrated at some length.
But all of this has been by way of introduction to the gist of my remarks. What interests me as a sympathetic outsider looking at your culturally rich region goes back to an agonized utterance made by someone at the end of William Faulkner’s magnificent literary achievement, The Sound and the Fury. The character, Quentin, who has journeyed from Mississippi to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study at Harvard, and who will eventually take his life, tries to convince himself that “No, I don”t hate the South.” This question is no longer a source of tortured embarrassment but part of a multicultural catechism that requires an immediate affirmative answer. That is to say, every sound-thinking (bien pensant) respondent is supposed to hate the real South, as opposed to warm-weather resorts that cater to retirees and in contrast to places commemorating Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King. The South, as the location of the Lost Cause and of Confederate war monuments, is one that we are taught to put out of our minds. It is something that a sensitive society should endeavor to get beyond.
Looking at this anti-Southernness, in whose filter displaying a Confederate battle flag, particularly in the South, has been turned into a hate crime, one may wish to consider the oddness of such an attitude. Why should those associated with a defeated cause, and one whose combatants were long admired as heroic even by the victorious side, become moral pariahs for their descendants? Is there anything startlingly new about our knowledge of Southern history since the early 1950s, when my public school teachers in Connecticut spoke with respect about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, which would account for the present condemnation of the same figures?
A few years ago, following my viewing of Gods and Generals, a movie that deals with the personality and military career of Thomas Jackson, I was struck by the widespread attacks on the movie director, Ron Maxwell. Apparently this celebrity had failed to use his art to expose Southern racism. In fact there was nothing in the movie that suggests any sympathy for human bondage. In one memorable scene, for example, Jackson’s black manservant raises a question in the presence of his master, about whether it is proper to hold a fellow Christian as a slave. The devout Presbyterian Jackson, who ponders this question, has no answer for his manservant, with whom he has just been praying.
How any of this constitutes a defense of slavery is for me incomprehensible, but it does confirm my impression that there is something peculiarly twisted about the current repugnance for the Old South”and indeed for any South except for the one reconstructed by federal bureaucrats in the last fifty years.
On visits to Montgomery, Alabama, I have noticed two local histories, which, like parallel lines, never intercept, but nonetheless confront each other on public plaques. One is associated with the birthplace of the Confederacy; and the other with the political activities of Martin Luther King and the distinctly leftist Southern Poverty Law Center. The headquarters of this watchdog of Political Correctness stands obliquely down the street below the state capitol.
It may have been a pipedream that the two historical narratives, divided by culture as well as race, could be either bridged or allowed to function simultaneously. What has happened is entirely different. One of the two competing narratives, the one about the South as a bigoted backwater until the triumph of revolutionary forces aided by the federal government changed it, has not only triumphed but has been used to drive out its rival narrative. It might have been a happier outcome if Southern whites and Southern blacks could have agreed on a single narrative that would not demean either race. The second-best outcome would have been if both had retained their accounts of the Southern past, as separate non-intersecting ones that nonetheless remained equally appropriate for different groups. The worst outcome, however, is the one that we now have. It is one in which the descendants of the defeated are taught to vilify or treat dismissively their ancestors, so that they can demonstrate their broadmindedness and remorse about past racism. As a result of this inflicted attitude one is no longer allowed to speak about the South as an historical region without focusing on its real or alleged sins.
But this has not always been the official situation. Certainly this was not the case, even in the North, from the years after Reconstruction up until the second half of the twentieth century, when even veterans of the Union army praised their former foes. It was also not always the case even afterwards, as Shelby Foote’s treatment of the losing side in his work on the Civil War, a classic that has gone through multiple printings, would indicate. The venting of hate and contempt for the South, as found in such predictably unfriendly authors as Eric Foner and James McPherson, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It underscores the fact that the Old South has been defeated twice”and the second time at the level of historical memory even more disastrously than in a shooting war that it lost in the 1860s.
The American white South has fallen victim to the politics of guilt, a dreary subject albeit one on which I have written widely. The Yankee victors of the 1860s, who overwhelmed the Southerners by virtue of their numbers and superior industrial power, did considerable wartime damage. They also subsequently occupied the land of those whom they had vanquished militarily, but then did something that was equally important. They went home, and permitted their devastated opponents to rebuild without an occupying army. This indulgent description may not please everybody who is gathered in this room; but what I mean to say is that the first occupation was morally and psychologically less destructive than the ever deepening humiliation that is going on now.
The first victors were mostly Yankee Protestants, who in some ways were similar to those they had invaded and occupied. Once the passions of fratricidal war had cooled, these Yankees were able to view their former enemies as kindred spirits. Although they were establishing a bourgeois commercial regime, one that differed from the prevalent Southern way of life, the winning side had also recruited farmers and those whose culture did not diverge significantly from that of those who had fought on the Southern side.
In a certain sense Socrates” observation about Greeks once applied to Americans as well. While they could fight brutally with each other, they were still brothers, and so (diallage) “reconciliation” was eventually possible for the former enemies. And both North and South came up with a narrative about their past differences which bestowed honor to the heroes on both sides. This was possible with the Yankee Unionists, who wished to draw Southerners back into their community, even after a terrible war had been fought to keep the Southerners in a Union that they had tried to leave.
But the second civil war seeks the utter humiliation of those who are seen as opponents of a society that is still being imposed. The Southern traditionalists from this perspective are particularly obnoxious inasmuch as they are a full two steps behind the project in question. Those who insist on these changes are no longer Victorian capitalists or Methodist and Congregationalist villagers from the North. They are post-bourgeois social engineers and despisers of Western civilization, a stage of development that these revolutionaries identify with discrimination and exclusion.
In Southern traditionalists they see those who are still celebrating a pre-bourgeois, agrarian, and communally structured world. It appealed to hierarchy, place, and family; and its members displayed no special interest in reaching out to alien cultures. Such ideals and attitudes and the landed, manorial society out of which they came point back to a nineteenth century conservative configuration. For our post-bourgeois intelligentsia, this point of reference and model of behavior cannot be allowed to persist. It clashes with feminism and the current civil rights movement, and would hinder the acceptance of a multicultural ambience.
The fact that people like you are still around and still honoring the national flag of nineteenth century landed warriors from the American South might have the effect, or so it is thought, of making others equally insensitive. Even worse, those who engage in these celebratory rites do not express the now fashionable guilt about members of their race and tribe. Those being remembered had owned slaves, and they would have denied women, whom in any case they treated as inherently different from men, equal access to jobs. Needless to say, non-Westerners are not required to dwell on similar improprieties among their ancestors or contemporaries, and so they may celebrate their collective pasts without disclaimers or reservations. The hair-shirt to be worn only fits Western bodies, and in particular impenitent Southern ones.
It is against this background that one might try to understand the loathing that the political, journalistic, and educational establishment reserves for the unreconstructed white inhabitants of the South. You seem to bother that establishment to a degree that Louis Farrakhan and those unmistakable anti-white racists who are often found in our elite universities could never hope to equal. You exemplify what the late Sam Francis called the “chief victimizers” in our victimologically revamped society, an experimental society that fits well with our increasingly rootless country. But your enemies are also the enemies of the West, or of the West that existed in centuries past.
You may take pride in those whom you honor as your linear ancestors but equally in the anger of those who would begrudge you the right to honor them. What your critics find inexcusable is that you are celebrating your people’s past, which was a profoundly conservative one based on family and community, and those who created and defended it. For your conspicuous indiscretions, I salute you; and I trust that generations to come will take note of your willingness to defy the spirit of what is both a cowardly and tyrannical age.
This essay originally appeared in The Southern Partisan, April 24, 2008.
How “911 Truth” conspiracy theorists who believe the U.S. government orchestrated 911, aren’t any more “crazy” than those who believe Saddam Hussein did.
Which of these four things is inherently incompatible with the other three? a) Egalitarianism, b) Self-esteem, c) Equal Outcomes d) Academic Excellence
President Obama recently offered up his solution to America’s educational deficiencies, notably merit pay for teachers, more early childhood intervention and national standards, all topped off with the expected paean to achieving educational excellence to compete in the knowledge-driven 21st century. These initiatives, nothing more than clichÃ© policies with proven records of failure, will, no doubt, be wildly successful in generating new jobs for the education establishment; they will be insufficient, however, in inspiring any kind of academic excellence.
The reason for the coming foundering is simple: America is currently mired in the egalitarian mission of gap closing, and closing gaps is inherently antithetical to academic excellence. This conflict is not reversible by more spending, gimmicks such as vouchers or even hiring star teachers using miracle curricula. Nothing in today’s educational reform repertory, regardless of ideological pedigree, can bring excellence so long as we strive to close group differences in academic attainment. This contradiction between equality and excellence has long been recognized but let me explain just how this contradiction works, and the underlying force that drives this leveling.
First, let’s visit a parallel universe in which President Obama pursues genuine educational excellence. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he reads from the tele-prompter,
American education is a disaster. We are obsessed with the facade of excellence but not its substance. It is just too easy to appease students with sham grades and meaningless diplomas. Past policies have encouraged counterfeiting with coercive gap closing measures and lax test enforcement standards. Under my “Nearly All Children Are Stupid” law, tests will be made extraordinarily tough, cheating will carry criminal penalties, the FBI will enforce these, and no data will be sub-divided by race, ethnicity or gender. Scores will be posted by name on the Internet, in schoolyards and in local grocery stores. There may be only a few geniuses, but rest assured, we will find and nurture them.
The goal is academic distinction, not whether one group outshines another. Laggards will receive generous tutoring, but help does not mean disguising incompetence to shield delicate egos. Self-esteem must be earned from performance, not administratively bestowed in the hope of jump-starting excellence. So young Americans, when the Day of Judgment comes, and you have to spell words like “obsequious” just think of it as that long-anticipated fantasy moment when the basketball game is on the line, the clock shows .8 seconds, and you get the ball at the top of the key, and everything rides on your shot before 25,000 screaming fans and a national TV audience. So start practicing now.
Nothing in the above speech is unreasonable or unfair. Why it’s utterly impossible that such words would come out of a president’s mouth tells us much about the ideology of “education” in America.
Achieving academic excellence first requires calibrating it, and refusing to sort the very best from the better-than-average is the equivalent of sports competition with mush-brain statistics. This is a familiar problem in higher education where the once F-to-A scale has virtually vanished, compressed into “A” or “B.” Just attending class or trying really hard suffices for a “B” so the mediocre only differ slightly from the truly accomplished. The opposite occurs in sports, hardly surprising since athletics far outranks academics as our national passion”in baseball, for example, batting titles often come down to, say .351 versus .352 and, of the utmost importance, these figures are always honest. Lumping all at-bat outcomes into some all-encompassing middling metric, and then adding a few mysterious fudge factors (e.g., “had good cut”) to shield weak hitters from humiliation is unthinkable. The public would be outraged. America wants championship teams and individual stars, even if this requires calculations down to the third decimal point, not trophies to those “performing okay.”
It is a rock-solid psychometric principle that only tests incorporating difficult items can separate outliers from those just a step below. If a spelling bee among 8th graders only included “hat” “cat” and “sat” the outcome would collapse into a murky middle. Egalitarians might welcome this leveling but the exercise would, obviously, make no distinction regarding spelling skill. Now add more challenging words like “hospital” or “elephant” and it becomes possible to glimpse genuine distinctions though they are still a bit fuzzy. Finally, to uncover the true champion, sharply reduce the easy words and substitute dozens of killers like “desideratum” and “euphonious.” The range between adequate spellers and extraordinary ones will widen, so the harder the tests, the greater the uncovered excellence, and this is immutable. Excellence and grim tests are inexorably linked; this is a law of nature.
Spelling bees hardly bring much political fallout. But as academic testing (including the SAT or LSAT) grow more arduous and widespread, politically awkward gaps explode. Experts can argue forever whether demographic disparities reflect nature or nurture, are genuine or just test anxiety, are permanent or remedial but they are inevitable if the test aims to uncover the very best. Winners in particularly gruesome national academically-related contests such as Intel Science Prizes or Merit Scholarships never resemble a cross section of America though as newspapers happily point out, winners are a diverse bunch“a Russian immigrant or two, assorted Asians, even a few native-born Americans, plus a few girls. Typically absent are African Americans, those of Hispanic backgrounds, and others from demographic groups notable for poor school performance. For the Mother of All Egalitarian nightmares, look at Noble Prizes in science.
While politicians and grievance group leaders might tolerate a demographically unrepresentative collection of Spelling Bee champs, tolerance evaporates as test scores apply to broader academic subjects. The “close-the-gap” industry now emerges, and enthusiasm for the enterprise cuts across the political spectrum. A few self-designated conservatives even call racial gaps the civil rights issue of the modern era. Sadly, private reservations aside, no educator or public figure will say “group differences in academic accomplishment are inevitable, have always existed, and it is far wiser to focus on the best possible education for every student than chase the unreachable.” That honest admission is career suicide and even qualifying these heresies with “it would be wonderful if we could close them” or “perhaps in some distant future they will be closed” fails to avert banishment.
Absent honesty regarding this turn squares-into-circles enterprise, an orgy of messenger shooting is inevitable. Most of the obscuration of bad news is technically “honest” in the sense of being objective and mechanical, not outright lies. So, for example, items that are “too hard” (i.e., they excessively discriminate between proficient and middling student) are just excluded or, as anxious to please college professors might prefer, curves are shifted to rescue those on the edge. Going a bit further, replace tough fact-based tests with mushy personal portfolios, reject standards of conventional English when grading essays (“it’s the idea that counts”), cover failure with euphemisms (report cards award “ready to learn” versus an “F”) and rely on social promotions to reduce stigmas.
Portland, Oregon, like other cities with minority students challenged by high school exit exams now permits would-be graduates an options of three exit exams”a national one, the state version, or a local one that might include just a portfolio of projects (several other states are, too, toying with this option). Similarly, Newark and Camden, New Jersey, have de facto surrendered to reality and now award “alternative diplomas” for those failing the regular tests. Here exams can be endlessly taken and re-taken with only the highest scores counting (and this may include tests for the HS diploma); and if that comes up short, award “extra credit” for trying hard. Thus, with scarcely any effort, all students, from the dull to the exceptional, can be lumped into meaningless mile wide “proficient” categories. Major league baseball becomes co-ed slow-pitch softball where the score is secondary to having fun.
What makes this “honest” dumbing down so alluring is that outsiders will hardly ever notices (and many, frankly, doesn”t even care). In 2007 the New York state Regents exam, which certifies high school graduates as earning the highest academic degree, carried the strategy to absurd lengths. This exam was once a highly regarded gauge of New York State’s outstanding educational system but unacceptable race-related disparate outcomes have emasculated it. Flunking it requires now willful stupidity. In the 2008 exam one picture showed students outside of Little Rock’s Central High in 1957 with troops guarding the door. The caption tells of a white student being admitted while a black student (Elizabeth Eckford) was turned away. A second picture shows this black student surrounded by a mob. The exam question is: What happened to Elisabeth Eckford when she tried to attend Central High School? A different photograph from this event is captioned “On September 25, 1957, federal troops escort the Little Rock Nine to Central High School.” The question is: “Based on this photograph, what was the job of the United States Army troop in Little Rock, Arkansas?”
How is a parent to discern that their offspring is a functional illiterate if classified as “average” given classmates equally unable to read or write? In Georgia, for example, a student need only pass 17 of 40 questions to advance to fourth grade, and 16 of these items are classified as “easy” by the state’s department of Education. In Texas the state’s accountability exam can be passed by correctly answering 29 of 60 questions. When Michigan found that it had 1500 “failing schools,” officials promptly adjusted the pass standard from 75% to 42% correct, and the number of failing schools dropped to 216. Firms supplying and scoring tests also have powerful incentives to weaken standards; better to keep clients happy with “good news” than risk an even more compliant rival stealing customers. The Educational Testing Service years back became alarmed as some colleges dropped their SAT’s requirements since scores exposed large racial disparities that complicated diverse admissions. To “solve” this deficiency, and keep the testing fees coming, the ETS systematically eliminated individual items with wide racial disparities. Though SAT results continue to be unequal, they are now undoubtedly smaller.
If “honest” dumbing down tactics are inadequate, just move over to the dark side, and, hardly surprising, uncovering rampant education-related cheating has become a thriving cottage industry. Falsification is helped immensely since this data cooking is rarely a criminal offense, “good numbers” can reward the entire school administration and it is often impossible to detect without snitches or complicated statistical analyses. Cheating is so commonplace that there is even a private firm”Caveon”that probes accusations. Its website offers copious examples of educational fraud. Smoking-gun proof is often of the “too good to be true” variety. For example, Camden, NJ is an historic educational calamity, the worst of the worst, but a Philadelphia Inquirer story revealed how its test scores suddenly shot up to be among the highest in New Jersey, and this decidedly implausible outcome triggered a state investigation. Suspecting out of control test fraudulence in its schools, the Chicago schools hired two professors of economics to investigate, and they found evidence of cheating in 70 classroom. Doris Alvarez was a former national Principal of the Year (among other honors) at San Diego Preuss School where low-income and minority students had achieved spectacular academic results. Newsweek rated it 10th of the nation’s top 1,200 high schools. Alas, a review of the school’s transcripts found that three-quarters of them had at least one grade altered.
This approach to narrowing of gaps is, of course, totally illusionary, a rubber yardstick and undoubtedly impedes learning by awarding students a false sense of accomplishment. Why struggle with Algebra II if guaranteed a “B” for just trying or the pressured teachers will teach the test? Indeed, every participant in this ersatz gap closing enterprise, from the lowest first-grader to the handsomely paid Superintendent of Schools enjoys incentives to avoid hard work, i.e., make everything “hat” and “cat” and the President will give you a prize. Imagine basketball played this way”the hoop was lowered to six feet, widened to two feet across, and anything hitting the backboard counted and bonus points awarded for snazzy uniforms and enthusiasm. Even benchwarmers might average 30+ points a game, just about Michael Jordan’s lifetime average. But, who would follow sports if the headlines declared, “Season again ends with everybody just about tied.”
Pushed further, tough measures, not the opposite, best serve in the long-term self-interest for struggling students. What is gained by “passing” a high-school exit exam with pictures and self-evident answers? Future employers will surely discover this deceit and those who venture off to college will waste tuition on remedial courses and probably fail to graduate. This is empty calorie accomplishment and, sadly everybody knows it. Perhaps only the dumbest of the dumb cannot recognize that their “accomplishments” are gifts bestowed by craven professionals paid to obscure politically unwelcome achievement gaps.
This willingness to accept dumbed-down, if not fraudulent, educational outcomes is best explained by America’s passion for self-esteem. This is true both for those who “protect” group sensitivities (e.g., the ever-outraged-over-some-slight Rev. Al Sharpton) and individuals who favor self-puffery over harsh reality. Indeed, the “right” to feel good about oneself has de facto become America’s measure of “pursuit of happiness.” Do not forget that the original Supreme Court ruling banning state-imposed school segregation (Brown v. Board of Education (1954)) partially rested on how segregation damaged black self-esteem, and this theme has continued on among African American educators.
But make no mistake, craving self-esteem on the cheap is now almost ubiquitous. White middle-class Americans are also regularly seduced by this almost narcotic allure. Why else have a dozen valedictorians or choose from among a growing array of grade-boosting Mickey Mouse courses at all levels? Prestige schools like Harvard are famous for grade inflation, gut courses and cum laude degree by the carload. And unlike monetary inflation, academic deflation seems unstoppable, a sort of arms race in which schools “print up” increasingly stellar outcomes so as not to be disadvantaged by rivals similarly inflating the academic currency. Will there ever be a newspaper headline, “Harvard Grading Scale Collapses; thousands find that “As” are now worth only Cs? What school would wish to emulated Reed College and “disadvantage” its graduates with an old-fashioned grading system with lots of Cs? What school of advanced learning is really interested academic excellence?
For a few fleeting, horrifying moments this past week the fault lines that underlie the global economic crisis erupted into plain view. With deft and quick effort leaders in Washington, Europe, and Asia papered over the fissures and fears largely subsided. But the shock of plain truths which resulted in violent currency movements are the latest reminder that the 21st-century economic order will bear little resemblance to the world we now know.
The tremors began in Beijing, where a essay from the governor of the People’s Bank of China seemed to favor the creation of an IMF currency to replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve. In Europe, the rotating president of the European Union, outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, characterized America’s plan to combat the widening global recession as the “road to hell.” At same time, British Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan made headlines the world over with his stinging rebuke of the inflationary and debt-focused policies of the current UK government.
As a result of these clearly voiced frustrations, the U.S. dollar suffered a drubbing. However, Treasury secretary Geithner and his ministerial counterparts in Berlin, Paris and London did their best to convince everyone that the world is pulling together as one to combat the economic crisis. The charm offensive was effective in restoring calm.
Given the size and scope of the remedies that the Obama Administration is cajoling the world to adopt, it is likely that the unease will grow until many countries emerge in open revolt to America’s plans.
President Obama and the majority of our leadership on both sides of the aisle are confident that the right mix of monetary and fiscal policy can restart the spending party that defined America for a generation. And as the bleary-eyed revelers wisely reach for a cup of black coffee or stumble into a rehab center, Obama is pouring grain alcohol into the punch bowl hoping to lure the walking zombies back onto the dance floor. Europe and Asia fully understand that Obama will ask them to lend the booze.
Washington is telling us that our problems result from a lack of consumer spending. Therefore, the solution is for government spending to pick up the slack. However, if Americans are too broke to spend, then how can our government spend for us? The only money they have is taken from us through taxation. To postpone immediate tax hikes (adding interest for good measure), Washington plans to borrow more from abroad. However, if our foreign creditors refuse to pony up, much of the money will simply be printed instead.
Printing money is merely taxation in another form. Rather than robbing citizens of their money, government robs their money of its purchasing power. Many people assume that if government provides the funds we can spend our way back to prosperity. However, it’s not money we lack but production. If the government simply prints money and doles it out, we will not be able to buy more stuff; we will simply pay higher prices. The only way to buy more is to produce more. It is production that creates purchasing power, not the printing press!
Our current predicament resulted in part from our efforts to maintain consumer spending at unsustainable levels, primarily by the reckless extension of consumer credit. Pushing up consumer credit to levels not supported by market realities required government subsidies and guarantees. In addition, Wall Street pitched in with securitization and credit default swaps, which created a false sense of confidence among our creditors that high risk consumer loans could actually be repaid. However, now that all those gimmicks have blown up, the entire farce has been exposed. There is simply no way to sustain an economy based on consumer credit.
The Administration argues that more debt will restore growth which will then allow the repayment of borrowed money. First, our government has never, and will never, repay anything. Second, the assumption that additional borrowing and spending will restore growth is flawed. In fact, more consumer debt and government spending will undermine our economy and restrain growth.
To solve our problems we must first come to terms with their source. That is what the voices from abroad are telling us. We borrowed and spent ourselves to the brink of bankruptcy, and now we must save and produce ourselves back to prosperity.
Of course, this simple solution is rejected by Keynesian economists who insist that we must keep spending. The “paradox of thrift,” as they call it, holds that if we stop spending the recession will worsen. While this is true, it is hardly a paradox. As they say in the fitness game, “no pain, no gain.” No one said this was going to be easy, but the only way to rebuild a viable economy is to let the phony one collapse. If we follow the Keynesians, the fault lines will continue to widen until our wealth, our lifestyle, our very ability to prosper is swallowed up. The calls from abroad will only get louder until we face this ugly truth.
There have been many different takes on the controversy over the stimulus money going toward AIG bonuses, everything from the general public not understanding corporate payment structures, to politicians knowing full-well about the bonus payments and grandstanding after the fact. Much of this is true, but it misses the larger point. Many, if not most of the politicians who passed this legislation had no clue what was in it “ they never know “ and simply vote as partisans, void of principle, and go whichever way the ever-changing political winds take them.
If the American people were consistent, they would be outraged not just now, but everyday “ as spending billions of dollars with little knowledge of where the money is going, passing legislation without even knowing what it is, or even knowingly wasting taxpayer money, isn”t something new or an aberration, specific to AIG “ but business as usual on Capitol Hill.
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“In 1877, Lord Salisbury, commenting on Great Britain’s policy on the Eastern Question, noted that ‘the commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies.’
“Salisbury was bemoaning the fact that many influential members of the British ruling class could not recognize that history had moved on; they continued to cling to policies and institutions that were relics of another era.”
“Relics of another era”—thus did Stephen Meyer, in Parameters in 2003, begin his essay “Carcass of Dead Policies: The Irrelevance of NATO.”
NATO has been irrelevant for two decades, since its raison d’etre—to keep the Red Army from driving to the Rhine—disappeared. Yet Obama is headed to Brussels to celebrate France’s return and the 60th birthday of the alliance. But why is NATO still soldiering on?
In 1989, the Wall fell. Germany was reunited. The Captive Nations cast off communism. The Red Army went home. The USSR broke apart into 15 nations. But, having triumphed in the Cold War, it seems the United States could not bear giving up its role as Defender of the West, could not accept that the curtain had fallen and the play was closing after a 40-year run.
So, what did we do? In a spirit of “triumphalism,” NATO “nearly doubled its size and rolled itself right up to Russia’s door,” writes Richard Betts in The National Interest.
Breaking our word to Mikhail Gorbachev, we invited into NATO six former member states of the Warsaw Pact and three former republics of the Soviet Union. George W. Bush was disconsolate he could not bring in Georgia and Ukraine.
Why did we expand NATO to within a few miles of St. Petersburg when NATO is not a social club but a military alliance? At its heart is Article V, a declaration that an armed attack on any one member is an attack on all.
America is now honor-bound to go to war against a nuclear-armed Russia for Estonia, which was part of the Russian Empire under the czars.
After the Russia-Georgia clash last August, Bush declared, “It’s important for the people of Lithuania to know that when the United States makes a commitment—we mean it.”
But “mean” what? That a Russian move on Vilnius will be met by U.S. strikes on Mother Russia? Are we insane?
Let us thank Divine Providence Russia has not tested the pledge.
For can anyone believe that, to keep Moscow from re-establishing its hegemony over a tiny Baltic republic, we would sink Russian ships, blockade Russian ports, bomb Russian airfields, attack Russian troop concentrations? That would risk having some Russian general respond with atomic weapons on U.S. air, sea and ground forces.
Great powers do not go to war against other great powers unless vital interests are imperiled. Throughout the Cold War, that was true of both America and Russia.
Though he had an atomic monopoly, Harry Truman did not use force to break the Berlin blockade. Nor did Ike intervene to save the Hungarians, whose 1956 revolution Moscow drowned in blood.
John F. Kennedy did not use force to stop the building of the Berlin Wall. Lyndon Johnson fired not a shot to halt the crushing of Prague Spring by Soviet tanks. When Solidarity was snuffed out on Moscow’s orders in 1981, Ronald Reagan would not even put the Polish regime in default.
In August 1991, George Bush I, in Kiev, poured ice water on Ukraine’s dream of independence: “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.”
Many Americans were outraged. But outrage does not translate into an endorsement of Bush’s 43’s plan to bring Ukraine into NATO and risk war with Russia over the Crimea.
Bush 43 bellowed at Moscow last summer to keep hands off the Baltic states. But his father barely protested when Gorbachev sent special forces into all three in 1991.
Bush I’s secretary of state, Jim Baker, said it was U.S. policy not to see Yugoslavia break up. Bush 43 was handing out NATO war guarantees to the breakaway republics.
“Washington … succumbed to victory disease and kept kicking Russia while it was down,” writes Betts. “Two decades of humiliation were a potent incentive for Russia to push back. Indeed this is why many realists opposed NATO expansion in the first place.”
Few Americans under 30 recall the Cold War. Yet can anyone name a single tripwire for war put down in the time of Dean Acheson or John Foster Dulles that we have pulled up?
Dwight Eisenhower, writes Richard Reeves, in his first meeting with the new president-elect, told JFK, “‘America is carrying far more than her share of the free world defense.’ It was time for the other nations of NATO to take on more of the cost of their own defense.”
Half a century later, we are still stuck “to the carcass of dead policies.”
How the controversy over the AIG bonuses imbedded in the stimulus obfuscate the root problem of spending in general.
So, one more winter season is kaput, the best snow conditions in 50 years gone the way of all things. Like the song says, referring to a girl, every time I say goodbye to the Alps, or to the Med six months later, I die a little. Mind you, the sea is feminine, especially in her rages, but the mountains are as masculine as they come, majestic, dangerous and permanent.
This has been the Madoff season, and I didn’t make any new friends by naming names and expressing certain opinions about them. How strange people are. They take innocents down the Swanee and then howl that they’re being hard done by. Too bad. I read somewhere that Madoff was fond of Savile Row suits, expensive watches and very large houses in Palm Beach, on the Côte d’Azur and in the Hamptons. He would be, of course, but what bothered me the most was the fact that he owned three boats. Crooks and conmen try to clothe themselves in establishment credentials, and until recently—and the arrival of the oligarchs—boats were reserved for gentlemen. Al Capone never owned one, nor did my friend Frank Costello, the real life Godfather, who once upon a time got me out of a hell of a scrap with some very nasty people.
What I find outrageous is that Bernie’s crooked family is getting the benefit of the doubt. He supposedly managed billions in a small space run by a handful of his family and a few associates. His ghastly wife, Ruth, supervised the firm’s accounts, yet she’s walking around free and claims his ill-gotten gains as her own. When I was approached by a good friend last August and asked to invest in Madoff, no one could tell me anything about him except that I had to keep it quiet. Thank God for the mother of my children, who put her foot down for reasons unknown. He certainly fostered a climate of fear, and now we know why. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is an old trick and discretion is paramount.
While we are on the subject of gullibility, what I’d like to know is why this Binyam Mohamed is taken at his word when he claims he underwent medieval torture in the hands of the Americans in cahoots with the Brits. The other thing I’d like to know is why I, a poor little Greek boy, cannot insult militant Muslims who boo British troops in Luton by calling them towelheads, yet they can call the troops murderers and child killers? I realise the sainted editor has to adhere to certain modern conventions, but being called a towel is less of an insult than being called a murderer. Muslims vilify Christians and Jews, seek death for apostates, call for Jihad against the West, yet only Taki is silenced for pointing out the fact that they wear tablecloths on their heads. A Dutch MP is banned from entering England, and a British MP is banned from entering Canada (lucky him), both men judged to be dangerous to the peace, as ridiculous an excuse as the one about Madoff’s wife not being in on the con.
Freedom of speech is not for everyone, certainly not for those who dare point out that militant Islam is the greatest danger to our way of life in the past two centuries, and that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians constitutes war crimes and genocide. Incidentally, I am very proud of my betrothed, the deputy editor of The Spectator, whose dispatch from Gaza was as fair as it was timely. Israeli ‘religious’ soldiers were exposed by their secular brothers-in-arms for killing unarmed civilians, women, children and babies. And this from a country conceived to shelter the weak from just such crimes. Religious nationalist elements in the Israeli army have totally changed the principles of the occupiers, and it will get worse now that Netanyahu and his gang are in power. ‘Iran is Germany, and it’s 1938,’ said Netanyahu on CNN in November, ‘except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America.’ Nothing like framing the issue in Holocaust terms in order to get American Jews to open up their wallets. Heaven help the Palestinians.
If Netanyahu is a warmonger and a zealot, what can one say about Gaddafi, the clown who has run Libya into the ground these past 40 years and is now playing nice with the West. Nothing works in that oil-rich country, absolutely nothing, except that the Gaddafi children are getting richer and more arrogant by the minute. Some of you may remember that I met one of the sons at Nat Rothschild’s in New York, mistook him for a drug dealer but made no offers to buy. He looked arrogant and cheap, like dealers tend to do. The other one, grandiosely named Hannibal, was arrested with his vile wife in Geneva for allegedly beating up and mistreating his servants. The Swiss caved in quicker than you can say oil, once the head clown threatened to cut off the black stuff. They let the couple go and most likely apologised. We should have invaded and overthrown these clowns years ago, if only to stop the cruelty they inflict on their people. Instead we went after Iraq and Afghanistan doing Israel’s bidding. The Israelis don’t mind Gaddafi. He is the perfect example of what is wrong with Arab potentates, and he wears funny costumes to boot.