Noonan: ‘Jumping on anyone who publicly expressed a religious feeling after the San Bernardino massacre. Where are we heading?’Posted: December 4, 2015
The San Bernardino massacre and “prayer shaming.”
Peggy Noonan writes: What gets you about what happened in San Bernardino is the shattering sameness of it. Once and not so long ago such atrocities, whatever their cause, whether the work of schizophrenics or jihadists, constituted a signal and exceptional moment. Now they’re more like this week’s shooting. We are not becoming blasé but increasingly inured. And, of course, armed up.
“This managed to enrage the progressive left. You can take your prayers and stuff ’em. The answer and the only answer to this tragedy is gun control, and if you’re not for it you’re not allowed to be part of the conversation.”
You can see a coarsening in how we respond and react on social media. No one feels ashamed to exploit the tragedy for political purposes even while it is happening.
“All this immediately won a name: ‘prayer shaming.'”
We are all free to say what we think, and must be, for without this freedom we will no longer be America. More on that below. But you always hope what is said will be constructive, helpful, maybe even at some point heartening. You have a responsibility as an adult to do your best in this area.
“Wow. You might think he was aiming this at President Obama, who when he was a popular president with an overwhelmingly Democratic House and Senate did not prioritize gun control.”
But as soon as the story broke Wednesday afternoon, and while it was still going on, there were accusations and bitter words flung all over the Internet. The weirdest argument came almost immediately. A person named Chris Murphy, who is a U.S. senator representing Connecticut, sent out what struck me as the most manipulative message of recent political history.
“But it was clearly aimed at all those Republicans and religious people who were praying, saying they were praying, and implicitly asking you to pray, rather than doing what they should do, which is supporting the senator’s cause.”
The background is that Republican presidential contestants responded online to the shootings with the only helpful thing you can say—or do, frankly, from faraway—when a story like this occurs. “Praying for the victims, their families & the San Bernardino first responders,” said Jeb Bush. Mike Huckabee said he was “praying.” John Kasich: “My thoughts & prayers go out to those impacted.”
This managed to enrage the progressive left. You can take your prayers and stuff ’em. The answer and the only answer to this tragedy is gun control, and if you’re not for it you’re not allowed to be part of the conversation. “Please shut up and slink away,” tweeted a reporter. Another: “Your thoughts and prayers don’t mean a damn thing.” A reporter at the Huffington Post damned public officials’ “useless thoughts and prayers.” Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos: “How many dead people did those thoughts and prayers bring back to the life?”
Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist noted that all these denunciations were literally coming in while victims of the shooting were sending out requests for prayer.
Journalists, bloggers, contrarians and citizens jumped into the fray. Then the U.S. senator, Chris Murphy, came forward rather menacingly. “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing—again.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Clintons are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption
“No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office.”
By the end I was certain of two things. A formal investigation, from Congress or the Justice Department, is needed to determine if Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned, at least to some degree and in some cases, as pay-for-play operation and whether the Clinton Foundation has functioned, at least in part, as a kind of high-class philanthropic slush fund.
I wonder if any aspirant for the presidency except Hillary Clinton could survive such a book. I suspect she can because the Clintons are unique in the annals of American politics: They are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption. It’s not news anymore.
“Mr. Schweizer tells a story with national-security implications.”
They’re like . . . Bonnie and Clyde go on a spree, hold up a bunch of banks, it causes a sensation, there’s a trial, and they’re acquitted. They walk out of the courthouse, get in a car, rob a bank, get hauled in, complain they’re being picked on—“Why are you always following us?”—and again, not guilty. They rob the next bank and no one cares. “That’s just Bonnie and Clyde doing what Bonnie and Clyde do. No one else cares, why should I?”
[Order Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” from Amazon.com]
Mr. Schweizer announces upfront that he cannot prove wrongdoing, only patterns of behavior. There is no memo that says, “To all staff: If we deal this week with any issues regarding Country A, I want you to know country A just gave my husband $750,000 for a speech, so give them what they want.” Even if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t destroyed her emails, no such memo would be found. (Though patterns, dates and dynamics might be discerned.)
“President Obama pressed for a memorandum of understanding in which the Clintons would agree to submit speeches to State’s ethics office, disclose the names of major donors to the foundation, and seek administration approval before accepting direct contributions to the foundation from foreign governments. The Clintons accepted the agreement and violated it ‘almost immediately.'”
Mr. Schweizer writes of “the flow of tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation . . . from foreign governments, corporations, and financiers.” It is illegal for foreign nationals to give to U.S. political campaigns, but foreign money, given as donations to the Clinton Foundation or speaking fees, comes in huge amounts: “No one has even come close in recent years to enriching themselves on the scale of the Clintons while they or a spouse continued to serve in public office.” Read the rest of this entry »
The president’s desperation for a foreign-policy legacy is leading toward a bad nuclear deal—and a dangerous one
“The Arab world has entered a war phase that may go for decades. Its special threat is that the struggle is not only an essential one—Sunni vs. Shia, in a fight to the end—but that it engenders and is marked by what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called ‘the death cult.’ Many in the fight have no particular fear of summoning the end of the world.”
Syria, red lines, an exploding Mideast, a Russian president who took the American’s measure and made a move, upsetting a hard-built order that had maintained for a quarter-century since the fall of the Soviet Union—what a mess.
In late February, at a Washington meeting of foreign-policy intellectuals, Henry Kissinger summed up part of the past six years: “Ukraine has lost Crimea; Russia has lost Ukraine; the U.S. has lost Russia; the world has lost stability.”
“Nuclear proliferation has been a problem for so long that we no longer talk or think about it. But in the current moment in the Mideast, we’re not talking ‘nuclear proliferation’ in the abstract. It’s more like talking about the spread of nuclear weapons among the inmates of an institution for the criminally insane.”
What Barack Obama needs is a foreign-policy win, and not only for reasons of legacy. He considers himself a serious man, he wants to deal constructively with a pressing, high-stakes international question, and none fits that description better than Iran and nuclear weapons. And so the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Here is the fact. The intention behind a deal—to stop Iran from developing, and in the end using, nuclear weapons—could not be more serious and crucial. The Arab world has entered a war phase that may go for decades. Its special threat is that the struggle is not only an essential one—Sunni vs. Shia, in a fight to the end—but that it engenders and is marked by what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called “the death cult.” Many in the fight have no particular fear of summoning the end of the world.
“There are many reasons nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945. One is that the U.S. was not evil and the Soviet Union was not crazy. It was also a triumph of diplomacy, of imperfect but ultimately sound strategic thinking, that kept the unthinkable from happening.”
Once Iran has what used to be called the bomb, there will be a race among nearby nations—Persian Gulf states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey—to get their own. As each state builds its arsenal, there will be an increased chance that freelancers, non-states and sub-states will get their hands on parts of it.
The two most boring words in history are “nuclear proliferation.” Jimmy Carter made them so on Oct. 28, 1980, when, in a presidential debate, he announced that his 12-year-old daughter, Amy, had told him that the great issue of the day was the control of nuclear arms. America laughed: So that’s where the hapless one gets his geopolitical insights. Read the rest of this entry »
“‘Worthy Fights’ is highly self-regarding even for a Washington book.”
Peggy Noonan writes: There’s the sense of an absence where the president should be.
Decisions are made—by someone, or some agency—on matters of great consequence, Ebola, for instance. The virus has swept three nations of West Africa; a Liberian visitor has just died in Dallas. The Centers for Disease Control says it is tracking more than 50 people with whom he had contact.
“Publicly Mr. Panetta has always been at great pains to show the smiling, affable face of one who is above partisanship. But this book is smugly, grubbily partisan.”
The commonsense thing—not brain science, just common sense—would be for the government to say: “As of today we will stop citizens of the affected nations from entering the U.S. We will ban appropriate flights, and as time passes we’ll see where we are. We can readjust as circumstances change. But for now, easy does it—slow things down.”
[Check out Panetta’s “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace” at Amazon.com]
Instead the government chooses to let the flow of individuals from infected countries continue. They will be screened at five U.S. airports, where their temperatures will be taken and they will be asked if they have been around anyone with Ebola.
A lot of them, knowingly or unknowingly, have been around Ebola. People who are sick do not in the early stages have elevated temperatures. People who are desperate to leave a plague state will, understandably if wrongly, lie on questionnaires.
“He is telling partisan Democrats on the ground that he’s really one of them, he hates those Republicans too, so you can trust him when he tells you Mr. Obama’s presidency is not a success.”
U.S. health-care workers at airports will not early on be organized, and will not always show good judgment. TSA workers sometimes let through guns and knives. These workers will be looking for microbes, which, as they say, are harder to see. A baby teething can run a fever; so will a baby with the virus. A nurse or doctor with long experience can tell the difference. Will the airport workers?
None of this plan makes sense. Read the rest of this entry »
Peggy Noonan writes: Watching Season 2 of “House of Cards.” Not to be a scold or humorless, but do Washington politicians understand how they make themselves look when they embrace the show and become part of its promotion by spouting its famous lines?
“America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars…”
Congressmen only work three days a week. Each shot must have taken two hours or so—the setup, the crew, the rehearsal, the learning the line. How do they have time for that? Why do they think it’s good for them?
“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there. Why would powerful members of Congress align themselves with this message? Why do they become part of it? I guess they think they’re showing they’re in on the joke and hip to the culture. I guess they think they’re impressing people with their surprising groovelocity.
Or maybe they’re just stupid.
But it’s all vaguely decadent, no? Or maybe not vaguely. America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars. Suggesting this perception is valid is helpful in what way?
STATE OF THE UNION
A Grand Tradition… But only if people are listening
“Because when I imagine Barack Obama’s State of the Union, I see a handsome, dignified man standing at the podium and behind him Joe Biden, sleeping. And next to him John Boehner, snoring. And arrayed before the president the members, napping…”
In a State of the Union a president tries to put his stamp on things. Here we are, here’s where we’re going, all roads lead forward. We can face whatever test, meet whatever challenge, united in the desire that we be the greatest nation in the history of man . . .
Peggy Noonan: ObamaCare Is Taking On Water: It’s not just a buggy website, it’s a disaster of Titanic proportions.
“We should not lose The Headline in the day-to-day headlines. This is big history, not small. The ObamaCare rollout is a disaster for the White House, not a problem or a challenge or an embarrassment, not a gaffe or a bad few weeks. It is a political disaster, and the only question is whether it is partially recoverable, meaning the system can be made to work in a generally satisfactory way in the next few weeks. But—it has to be repeated—they had 3½ years after passage of the Affordable Care Act to make the program into something the American people could register for and feel they were benefiting from. Three and a half years! They had a long-declared start date: It would all go live Oct. 1, 2013, and everyone in the government, every contractor and consultant, knew it.
The president put the meaning of his presidency into the program—it informally carries his name, it is his brand. It was unveiled with great fanfare, and it didn’t work. For almost anybody. Crashed systems, frozen screens, phone registration that prompted you back to the site that sent you to the 800 number, like a high-tech Möbius strip.
All this from the world’s greatest, most technologically sophisticated nation, the one that invented the computer and the Internet. And from a government that is able to demand and channel a great deal of the people’s wealth.
So you’d think it would sort of work. And it didn’t. Which is a disaster. . . . It was Bill Daley — accomplished political player, former commerce secretary and, most killingly, former chief of staff of President Obama — who Thursday, on “CBS This Morning,” admitted the scale of the problem. Asked whether Kathleen Sebelius should be fired, he said: “To me that’s kind of like firing Captain Smith on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.”
The Titanic. Some will see his comments as disloyal. Actually they were candid and realistic. Although in fairness, the Titanic at least had three good days, and Edward Smith chose to go down with the ship.”
We used to launch men to the Moon. Now the U.S. government can’t launch a website.
“And there is the enduring mystery of why the president, who in his career has attempted to persuade the American people to have greater faith in and reliance on the federal government’s ability to help, continues to go forward with an astounding lack of interest in the reputation of government.
He talks but he doesn’t implement, never makes it work. He allows the IRS under his watch to be humiliated by scandal, waste, ill judgements prompted by ideological assumptions. He allows his signature program, the one that will make his name in the history books, to debut in failure. In response he says bland, rounded words that leave you wondering what just got said.
We’re all reading of Jack Kennedy. He stayed up nights with self-recrimination after failure. “How could I have been so stupid?” he asked about the Bay of Pigs. A foreseeable mistake and he’d blown it, listened to the wrong people, made the wrong judgments. That man suffered over his missteps. He worried about his reputation, and the reputation of his government, and of America.
It is disorienting to not see this in a president. It is another thing about this story that feels not only historic, but historically strange.”
Our president is historically strange, and I predict that future historians will find themselves marveling at just how strange.
Peggy Noonan recalls: Oh what it was like. “Mission Control, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” “America on the moon.” “Godspeed, John Glenn.” “Come on and light this candle.” “A-OK.” “Four 3, 2, 1, and liftoff, we have liftoff.”
Oh, we did. Those are words and phrases of America’s space program, especially the Mercury program, one of whose astronauts died this week, 88-year-old Scott Carpenter. In 1962 he became the second American to orbit the Earth. He was the one they couldn’t find for a while, when he missed his splashdown point by about 250 miles. It’s tempting to write that all of America was on the edge of their seats while Navy planes searched for him and his capsule, but we weren’t. We knew it would be fine.
But what an era of dynamism, of breaking through, of pushing out, of daring.
A civil libertarian reflects on the dangers of the surveillance state
By PEGGY NOONAN
What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?
Is it just some prissy relic of the pretechnological past?
We talk about this now because of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency revelations, and new fears that we are operating, all of us, within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state. They log your calls here, they can listen in, they can read your emails. They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and yours. This of course is in pursuit of a laudable goal, security in the age of terror.
Is it excessive? It certainly appears to be. Does that matter? Yes. Among other reasons: The end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country.
“…the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”
Who said that?
Alexander Hamilton, that’s who.
The WSJ’s Peggy Noonan lays out the known facts of the IRS case and concludes that it requires a special prosecutor. She’s right, and frankly, it’s amazing how in a week, the American media has pretty much come around from the question of if a special prosecutor is needed for the IRS investigation, to how broad should be the limits of the special prosecutor’s investigation?
But here’s where Noonan gets it wrong. Right in the last paragraph:
“Again, if what happened at the IRS is not stopped now—if the internal corruption within it is not broken—it will never stop, and never be broken. The American people will never again be able to have the slightest confidence in the revenue-gathering arm of their government. And that, actually, would be tragic.”
Actually it wouldn’t be “tragic” if the American people were not to have confidence in this or any arm of their government. It would be exactly what the Founders called for.
My favorite quotation from the entire 85 editions of the Federalist Papers is this one from Federalist 25 by Alexander Hamilton:
“The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”
In fact, you could almost sum up the gist of the entire Constitution with that single statement, as the Constitution attempted to set up a system where no branch of government was in sole possession of the means of injuring our rights. How far we have strayed, however, when the wing of the government that determines how much of our labors are to be taken into the Federal trough also inquires about our associations, our religious practices, and soon, our medical care.
Peggy, you are right to call for a special investigator. But you are wrong to assert that it is a tragedy if, as a result of this scandal, we no longer have confidence in the IRS. The real tragedies would occur as a result of believing that any branch of government was deserving of our unsuspicious confidence.
Political abuse of the IRS threatens the basic integrity of our government.
By PEGGY NOONAN
We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they’re seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration’s credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don’t look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.
Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.
The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He’s shocked, it’s unacceptable, he’ll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you.
But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.
A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.
The IRS scandal has two parts. The first is the obviously deliberate and targeted abuse, harassment and attempted suppression of conservative groups. The second is the auditing of the taxes of political activists.
In order to suppress conservative groups—at first those with words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names, then including those that opposed ObamaCare or advanced the Second Amendment—the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings. Among its questions: What are you thinking about? Did you ever think of running for office? Do you ever contact political figures? What are you reading? One group sent what it was reading: the U.S. Constitution.
The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal’s Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who’d donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government’s attention. He told ABC News: “It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized ObamaCare.”
Franklin Graham, son of Billy, told Politico he believes his father was targeted. A conservative Catholic academic who has written for these pages faced questions about her meager freelance writing income. Many of these stories will come out, but not as many as there are. People are not only afraid of being audited, they’re afraid of saying they were audited.
All of these IRS actions took place in the years leading up to the 2012 election. They constitute the use of governmental power to intrude on the privacy and shackle the political freedom of American citizens. The purpose, obviously, was to overwhelm and intimidate—to kill the opposition, question by question and audit by audit.
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved.