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No Way, E.J.

From the Scrapbook.

Jan 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17
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The Scrapbook enjoys a good chuckle every morning, to start off the day. And what better way to do it than to turn to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and get a dose of E.J. Dionne Jr.? 

No Way, E.J.

Of course, The Scrapbook takes E.J. Dionne Jr. very seriously: He is, in addition to being an ex-Rhodes Scholar, twice-weekly Post columnist, and the author of three books, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, and a commentator on (where else?) National Public Radio. 

He has also—there is no other way to put it—become an unapologetic partisan hack. It’s never very difficult to discern when Dionne has been the lucky recipient of a special briefing at the White House or club sandwiches in the Senate majority leader’s dining room. Republicans are forever “mouthing” outlandish notions or “claiming” something ridiculous or “shouting down” people of decency and otherwise disgracing the body politic; Democrats are the party of the sensible center, good ideas, clean living, and the wisdom of experience. Like any popular newspaper feature, a Dionne column is entirely, incessantly, unremittingly predictable.

Take his recent tribute to Nevada senator Harry Reid, Democratic boss and mastermind of the health care “reform” spectacle (“Two cheers for Harry Reid,” December 28). It would be difficult to find a more personally unpleasant or officially repugnant figure on Capitol Hill than Reid, whose prickly, defensive demeanor hides a nasty disposition and is likely to lead to defeat this fall. But tell that to E.J. Dionne Jr.! “You bet he made deals,” Dionne writes, to produce a bill “that is the most far-reaching piece of social legislation since the 1960s.”

That is one way to look at it, and Dionne is entitled to his opinion. But what caught The Scrapbook’s eye the other morning was the thoroughly disingenuous means by which Dionne set the stage for his fawning tribute. One common practice of journalism in Washington, he says, “involves almost everyone beating up on the same politician at the same time.” For awhile the victim of this ritual was Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who “was cast as a ‘San Francisco liberal’ out of touch with the ‘real America.’ ” But as Dionne points out, Pelosi is really like her late father, a 1950s Baltimore mayor, “a highly practical local politician more concerned with delivering the goods than with passing ideological litmus tests.”

Sounds like Speaker Pelosi to us! So having recognized the error of its ways about Pelosi, the capital press corps pushed her out of the crosshairs and substituted Harry Reid—which infuriates Dionne. “There is a rote quality to the attacks on Reid that flies in the face of what he’s accomplished,” he explains. 

To which The Scrapbook can only ask: Is E.J. Dionne Jr. living on the same planet as anyone who follows the news and reads opinion journalism? It is true that both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have been subject to criticism—perhaps even derided as “out of touch with the ‘real America’ ”​—but not by Washington pundits, or the mainstream media. Conservative blogs, certainly, and right-leaning publications, no doubt—but the Washington press corps?

This is what is known, in the column-writing business, as setting up a straw man in order to accomplish what is otherwise impossible. Which, when you think about it, was the task confronting E.J. Dionne Jr. when he set out to write “Two cheers for Harry Reid.” 

The Archbishop Weighs In

Seldom has a country been more frightened by a number than Great Britain was in October by the projection of its Office of National Statistics that the country’s population would rise to 70 million by 2029—mostly due to immigration. Sixty million people now live cheek-by-jowl on that sceptred isle. An increase of 10 million means 15 percent population growth by the end of next decade, heavily concentrated in the most crowded parts of England, with the great bulk of it due to immigration.

A broad coalition has now been founded to reconfigure immigration policies to prevent that projection from becoming reality. Balanced Migration is chaired by Frank Field (a rather conservative member of parliament for the Labour party) and -Nicholas Soames (a Tory MP and Winston Churchill’s grandson). The group issued a declaration last week noting the worrisome rise of the fascistic British National party, which got a million votes in last summer’s European elections, including 10 percent of the vote in Yorkshire. 

The BNP is on the rise because it is the only party that has dared mention immigration of late. Soames and Field warn, darkly but logically, that “failure to take action would be seriously damaging to the future harmony of our society.” The manifesto is backed by a surprising mix of politicians from left and right, including the Keynes biographer and historian Robert (Lord) Skidelsky and George Carey, a member of the House of Lords who was formerly the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England.

Carey’s participation is stunning for several reasons. The Anglican church has been in the forefront of bien-pensant thinking on immigration and multiculturalism. Two years ago, Carey’s successor, Rowan Williams, controversially called for more sharia in British life. In a January 7 column for the London Times, Carey speaks in the same tone, welcoming “the contribution of both economic migrants and asylum seekers to our lively cosmopolitan culture.” But he goes on to profess disdain for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s exclusive praise of such universal values as “tolerance, fair play and pluralism.” Carey likes those things as much as the next guy, but he thinks that what makes Britain British is British values and he calls on immigrants to “respect the Christian nature and history of our nation.”

This may sound minor to anyone steeped in the American culture wars. But in the context of the much tamer British debate, Carey’s participation in the Balanced Migration manifesto is a debate-changing defection from the consensus of the British cultural establishment.

Stealth Unionization Revisited

Readers who shared our wonderment at the state of Michigan’s bizarre unionization of home day care providers (see our December 28 issue) will be interested to learn the outcome of the lawsuit challenging the state’s move: The Michigan Court of Appeals last week dismissed it without explanation.

The practical effect is that tens of thousands of home day care -entrepreneurs will continue to have their pockets picked by the Michigan Department of Human Services. The department will continue to subtract “union dues” from the checks it sends to day care providers who look after children receiving a public subsidy so that their parents can work. These “dues” redirect nearly $4 million a year from the modest earnings of women who watch children to the coffers of the CCPTM, an entity ginned up by the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to extend their power.

The political effect? How about a campaign issue for whoever carries the Republican banner in this fall’s election to replace term-limited Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm? Sure, Michigan is a union-friendly state. But its voters can recognize a con. Sherry Loar, one of the day care providers on whose behalf the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation sued, is married to a union member. But she knows she personally never joined a union. How could she when she’s self-employed? By what right, she asks, does the government take “union dues” out of the reimbursements it owes her?

Whether or not the Mackinac Center decides to appeal, it’s an issue that just might resonate in a year replete with indications that voters are sick and tired of government highhandedness.

The Profiler

"Profiling” would seem like common sense—a Nigerian Islamist is more likely to try and blow up an airliner than, say, a Canadian grandmother. Of course that doesn’t mean you can just assume that the 83-year-old Canadian woman sitting next to you on the plane isn’t plotting to kill you. But you should be more concerned about the 23-year-old Nigerian sweating bullets on the other side of the aisle while he flicks his Bic in the vicinity of his underwear. 

Right? Not so, said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, on the website of the New York Times this week, which hosted a debate on the topic “Will Profiling Make a Difference?” “Profiling communities in counterterrorism efforts is ineffective,” Marayati asserted.

 Focus on one particular ethnicity or country of origin, and the terrorists will recruit from somewhere else. Many terrorism suspects came from within the United States and European Union countries.

You would think it would be a major accomplishment in the fight against violent extremism (or whatever we’re calling it these days) if al Qaeda were suddenly forced to recruit from among Scottish Presbyterians or the Pennsylvania Mennonites. Al-Marayati, though, is only delivering the conventional left-wing message that increased scrutiny of suspicious looking men with suspicious sounding names is .  .  . suspicious. 

But Al-Marayati is an odd messenger for the Times to have selected. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, he took to the airwaves in Los Angeles to speculate about the perpetrators. The Times itself quoted Al-Marayati in October 2001 as having said,  

If we’re going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list, because I think this [the 9/11 attacks] diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.

So Marayati isn’t opposed to “profiling,” after all. He just wants to focus on one particular country of origin.

 Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"I confess to feeling only slightly more rational than Misery’s Kathy Bates. I want to strap Ellen Goodman into a chair and make her keep writing columns. Goodman, whose prose has graced newspaper pages for more than four decades .  .  . ” (“To Ellen with Love,” Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, January 6).

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