I'm late to this but want to weigh in, about a tawdry aspect of DC politics that I hope has finally gone so far that it will impeach itself. I'm referring to the "bigot" accusations about former Senator Chuck Hagel (official photo at right).
One of the strongest arguments in favor of Susan Rice's (now-withdrawn) candidacy for Secretary of State was the hypocrisy of the ostensible arguments against her. The same Senators McCain and Graham who had no problem approving Condoleezza Rice as Secretary eight years ago, despite the mis-information she had conveyed about WMD in Iraq, were now righteously dead-set against Susan Rice because of the (vastly less consequential) mis-information she had conveyed about the Benghazi attack. If you've forgotten how amazing these contortions were, I direct you to, of course, Jon Stewart.
But that's over, and the Secretary-of-State presumptive, John Kerry, is well qualified for the job. Now the next delegitimization fight is coming into view. It concerns Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, who appears to be Barack Obama's favorite as the next Secretary of Defense.
You can argue in favor of Chuck Hagel for this role: a bipartisan pick, combat-veteran cred, cautious realist-centrist record over the years. Or you can argue that someone else would be better: perhaps Democrats should promote their own Democratic national-security team; others have worked more closely with Obama; maybe Hagel's worldview has grown more dovish than Obama's, and so on. That's all fine.
What is poisonous, and should be resisted, is the effort to rule out Hagel through the bogus charge that he is anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic. This campaign is charmingly being led by William Kristol (also here) and others at Kristol's Standard, with predictable backup from the WSJ op-ed page, the WaPo's right-wing blogger, and its often-neocon main editorial page. Incredibly, this is part of the Post's ed page case against Hagel: " 'The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated,' [Hagel has said]. 'So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down.' " It's amazing that the paper offers the quote as if it discredited Hagel. In fact it is an argument in his favor, and it echoes what, for instance, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has said about a military budget that is twice as high as it was ten years ago.
But the nastiest comments have been about Hagel's views on Israel. The WSJ delicately puts the point this way, under the headline "Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem":
Prejudice--like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations--has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," the odor is especially ripe.
And, just as subtly from Kristol today, "Hagel also has a record of consistent hostility to Israel over the last decade."
There's an olfactory element here all right. It's the stench of trying to remove someone whose policies you dislike with the damning accusation that underneath it all is outright bigotry. One of the big, supposedly damaging bits of evidence against Hagel is his having said to the author of a book on US-Israel relations:
"I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator... I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."
Of course, that is what any United States senator should say -- whether the other country in question is Israel, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan, or any other allied but different power. And any Israeli, British, German, etc official should and would put the interests of his or her country first.
Four years ago, a just-elected President Obama gave in to a similar campaign to remove Chas Freeman from consideration as head of the National Intelligence Council. He was wrong to do so. Obama has learned about his opposition since then, and is in a much stronger position. Whether or not Hagel is the person he really wants for the job, he should make clear that he's not being steered by these bully-boy tactics.
* For instance, Judis about Hagel: "I can't confidently say that he would make a good or great Secretary of Defense, but I can say with confidence that Hagel is a honorable man who served with distinction as a senator and that his foreign policy views, including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination."
**From a Tweet today: "Totally disagree with this WashPost editorial criticizing Chuck Hagel for defense: ... Hagel would be excellent."
UPDATES: 1) As nearly all the items linked to above point out, Hagel was wrong to use the phrase "the Jewish lobby" in one instance, rather than "the Israeli lobby," which includes Jewish and non-Jewish members, notably large numbers of evangelical Christians. But Aaron David Miller, the person who quoted Hagel that way, rejects the "odor" interpretation. As Peter Beinart pointed out:
Aaron Miller, the well-respected former peace processor from a distinguished Cleveland Jewish family who quotes Hagel as saying that ["Jewish lobby"], also calls him "a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values." Or that Miller himself writes that "political pressures have taken a serious toll by conditioning a key branch of the American government [Congress] to be reflexively pro-Israel." Maybe Miller has a Jewish problem too?
2) The Washington Post editorial opposes Hagel for being too much of an anti-defense leftie, especially about Iran, rather than explicitly for being anti-Israel. But its out-of-the-blue quality -- Hagel has not even been nominated -- and strained logic are why I mentioned it in this sequence.
UPDATE^Update A former Republican Senate staffer writes:
I agree about Hagel, without qualification.
I wonder about how good a Secretary of Defense he would make, on account of his recent experience so remote from the massive administrative burden and unique political environment of the Sec Def job. But unlike with Susan Rice, there is not a clearly superior candidate from what I can see.
The particular issue here is that SecDef has vastly more policy autonomy than almost any other Cabinet official. If Hagel's views really did diverge from Obama's on an important issue, it would be very difficult. But with that caveat, I really wish Obama would just go ahead and nominate his candidate for this and other jobs, and suspend his instinct to look for confirmations without controversy.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics.
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, in which he laid out his plans for what his children and grandchildren would devote their lives to. Having himself taken the time to master “Politicks and War,” two revolutionary necessities, Adams hoped his children would go into disciplines that promoted nation-building, such as “mathematicks,” “navigation,” and “commerce.” His plan was that in turn, those practical subjects would give his children’s children room “to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.”
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, this progression—“from warriors to dilettantes,” in the words of the literary scholar Geoffrey Galt Harpham—plays out much as Adams hoped it would: Once financial concerns have been covered by their parents, children have more latitude to study less pragmatic things in school. Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell, looked at National Center for Education Statistics data for me after I asked her about this phenomenon, and her analysis revealed that, yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Most adults can’t remember much of what happened to them before age 3 or so. What happens to the memories formed in those earliest years?
My first memory is of the day my brother was born: November 14, 1991. I can remember my father driving my grandparents and me over to the hospital in Highland Park, Illinois, that night to see my newborn brother. I can remember being taken to my mother’s hospital room, and going to gaze upon my only sibling in his bedside cot. But mostly, I remember what was on the television. It was the final two minutes of a Thomas the Tank Engine episode. I can even remember the precise story: “Percy Takes the Plunge,” which feels appropriate, given that I too was about to recklessly throw myself into the adventure of being a big brother.
In sentimental moments, I’m tempted to say my brother’s birth is my first memory because it was the first thing in my life worth remembering. There could be a sliver of truth to that: Research into the formation and retention of our earliest memories suggests that people’s memories often begin with significant personal events, and the birth of a sibling is a textbook example. But it was also good timing. Most people’s first memories date to when they were about 3.5 years old, and that was my age, almost to the day, when my brother was born.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of urban neighborhoods. Can collective land ownership keep prices down permanently?
AUSTIN, Tex.—Not long ago, inner cities were riddled with crime and blight and affluent white residents high-tailed it to the suburbs, seeking better schools, safer streets, and, in some cases, fewer minority neighbors.
But today, as affluent white residents return to center cities, people who have lived there for years are finding they can’t afford to stay.
Take the case of the capital city of Texas, where parts of East Austin, right next to downtown, are in the process of becoming whiter, and hip restaurants, coffee shops, and even a barcatering to bicyclists are opening. Much of Austin’s minority population, meanwhile, is priced out, and so they’re moving to far-out suburbs such as Pflugerville and Round Rock, where rents are affordable and commutes are long.
Chicago has seen a double-digit increase in the percentage of kids graduating from high school. Skeptics say educators and kids are manipulating the numbers—but does that even matter?
Desiree Cintron’s name used to come up a lot during “kid talk,” a weekly meeting at Chicago’s North-Grand High School at which teachers mull over a short list of freshmen in trouble.
No shock there, says Desiree now, nearly three years later.
“I was gangbanging and fighting a lot,” she says, describing her first few months of high school. “I didn’t care about school. No one cared, so I didn’t care.”
Had Desiree continued to fail in her freshman year, she would have dropped out. She is sure of that. It was only because of a strong program of academic and social supports put together by her teachers that she stuck it out. Desiree pulled up a failing grade and several Ds. She gave up gangbanging and later started playing softball. She connected with a school determined to connect with her.
One reason for the continued resistance to the Affordable Care Act is a badly distorted narrative of how it became law.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s remarkable 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell saves the Affordable Care Act from evisceration, although Obamacare will undoubtedly face a continuing pattern of guerrilla attacks from Congress, the courts, and Republican governors and state legislatures. Still, as many observers have pointed out, the core elements of the plan, including the exchanges, the subsidies, the individual mandate, the expansion of coverage in family plans to children 26 and under, and the elimination of lifetime limits and of preexisting conditions as bars to coverage, are almost certainly here to stay.
This is, of course, a huge victory for President Obama. But the passage, implementation, and ratification of Obamacare continue to be plagued by a widespread belief that it was tarnished by the way it was proposed and debated. A raft of reporters, commentators, and politicians argue that the president made a huge mistake in taking up healthcare at the beginning of his term, before building relationships of trust with Republicans, and then compounded that error by jamming it through quickly without any Republican input or efforts to find common ground.
The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.
Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”
Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*