The Obama Complex



President Obama couldn’t resist confiding to a recent interviewer, “I am comfortable with complexity.” In fact, he is comfortable with a kind of pseudo-complexity that lends itself to pseudo-thoughtful formulations.

Thus, in his State of the Union address last week the president explained to his benighted and presumably bellicose fellow citizens: “You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power​—​including strong and principled diplomacy.” (The “you see” is particularly condescending, even by Obama’s standards.) The point is, with respect to Iran, “we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

The trouble is that, in a world of complex threats, diplomacy won’t succeed unless backed up by the other elements of our power. And Obama has abandoned everything but diplomacy. Sanctions are being dismantled. The threat of military action has virtually disappeared. ...


Rumors of al Qaeda’s Demise


For five years, the Obama administration has touted its success in the war against al Qaeda. In formal addresses, daily press briefings, and campaign speeches top administration officials have celebrated the “decimation” of al Qaeda and predicted its imminent extinction.




President Obama has just announced the creation of a new program, which he calls myRA, as part of an overarching agenda he’s implementing, which could well be called myConstitution. 

Under the heading “Year of Action: Making Progress Through ...


A Real Equality Agenda

Let’s redistribute power, not income.



Barack Obama’s latest State of the Union address was a dreary, tiresome affair—which, to be fair, could be said of most such addresses by most modern presidents. The only real surprise was how he soft-pedaled the problem of inequality. Pre-speech hype had promised this would be the centerpiece theme, and it’s certainly one that has been a hobbyhorse of his Democratic party since its founding. But perhaps, on deeper reflection, we should not be so surprised that the word itself was only mentioned once.

President Andrew Jackson’s veto message regarding the Second Bank of the United States is a mishmash of bad economic reasoning and dubious constitutional arguments, but at its most persuasive it rails against the capacity of government to reinforce the divisions between the rich and the poor. A half-century later, the Democrats rediscovered their inner Jacksonian as William Jennings Bryan ...

Henry Payne

Washington’s Blockheads

The perpetual adulation of Herblock.


Herblock: The Black & the White, a documentary about the editorial cartoonist Herbert Block, had its cable premiere on HBO last week, and we can expect repeated showings for many weeks to come, creating a low-buzz Herblockfest interspersed dizzily among re-airings of ...

Syria’s camouflaged reactor

In Iran We Trust?

If Tehran breaks its promises, we’re unlikely to know.


President Obama is rushing to implement the six-month interim agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran that went into effect last week. Together with five other world powers, he is now working to negotiate a long-term agreement aimed at keeping

Shouldn’t the arrow be pointing down?

Top-down Parental Involvement

Another federal education boondoggle?


Athens, Ga.
As the nation observed the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in early January, the 2014 Georgia Family Engagement Conference here drew over 1,200 participants, up from 800 at the inaugural state conference in 2012. About a dozen states have held ...


Let’s Move

A better approach to poverty.


President Obama’s State of the Union speech brimmed with ideas to increase upward mobility and spur job creation—most of which have been tried previously, without good results. From calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to announcing the creation of six new “high-tech ...


‘Kelo’ Revisited

Properties were seized and a neighborhood razed in the name of ‘economic development’ that never came


Tim Cook / The Day

New London, Conn. 
"See that pole with the transformer hanging from it?” Michael Cristofaro asked me. “That was where my family’s home was.”

I looked up at a line of high telephone poles marching diagonally against a blanched winter sky across a vast, empty field​—​90 acres​—​that was entirely uninhabited and looked as though it had always been that way. New London, population 27,000, a rundown onetime whaling port on the Atlantic coast that never recovered after the whaling industry died at the end of the 19th century, is a desolate-looking city. Cristofaro, a 52-year-old New London-born computer network engineer, and I were in its most desolate neighborhood​—​actually, ex-neighborhood, for there was not a residential property left standing on the entire tract. Just below us lay the mouth of Connecticut’s Thames River (unlike in London, “Thames” rhymes with “James,” and the “th” is pronounced as in “thumb”) where it joins the ...

Books & Arts

Opiate of the Elites

The gentrification of the American left.


Thomas Eagleton, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Edmund Muskie (1972)

After the 2012 election, Mitt Romney’s loss prompted questions about the future of conservatism. A year later, the ongoing drama of Obamacare’s failures has seen similar concerns voiced regarding the future of liberalism. So what, exactly, do we mean when we talk about “liberalism”? Conservatives used to equate it with the New Deal and Great Society, with the social and cultural liberalism of the late 1960s mixed in. Recently, conservatives have dug deeper and found a different foundation for modern liberalism: the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The assault on progressivism started with the writings of people associated with the Claremont Institute, like political scientist Ronald Pestritto, and reached a wider audience with Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (2007). These writers explain how “progressives” turned away from older ...

‘A Friend in Need’ (1900) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge

Social Animals

Pondering the limits of anthropomorphism.


I could, if I chose to, make this sentence go on and on and on—forever, really. Don’t worry: I’m not going to do that, but it’s noteworthy that I could. In fact, I have the ability to write a sentence that’s longer than the longest sentence previously written, just by adding ...

Maimonides, philosopher and Jew.

A Second Moses

Maimonides, philosopher and Jew.


"One spring Martin Buber came to Chicago,” Seth Benardete tells us in his Encounters and Reflections, “and [Leo] Strauss was asked to introduce him. .  .  . ‘I have the great pleasure to ...

Thomas Kean presents the 9/11 Commission report  to George W. Bush (2004).

How Do We Know?

The politics of the post-9/11 reforms.


Of the thousands of books on Congress and the legislative process that adorn the shelves of libraries, few tell the story of how bills actually become laws—least of all in a way sure to capture the attention of both practitioners and curious laypeople. Here, ...

German troops transporting Signorelli’s ‘Crucifixion’

Monuments Men

The battle to rescue Europe’s art from the Nazis.


"Historical treasure. Do not enter.” 

Why, I wondered as a young student in Florence, was this tattered sign attached to the door of a Renaissance palazzo? Not until years later did I learn that it had been posted by the Monuments Men, a small ...

Everett Collection / Newscom

The Red Warbler

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014.


Pete Seeger’s death at the age of 94 has brought forth scores of celebratory tributes. America had long ago showered him with honors, which all but made up for the scorn with which he was once held in the age of the blacklist. Seeger received the National Medal of ...


Buster Qua Buster

Andrew Ferguson ponders Buster


Buster the dog.

For reasons too boring to go into, I have recently inherited custodial duties of the family dog. When Buster first arrived, more than a decade ago, we spent a fair amount of time together. I took responsibility for training him with a rigorous program lasting several weeks. To this day, if you ask him to fetch, sit, roll over, shake hands—any of your basic doggie tasks—he will instantly lie down and close his eyes. In the early days I walked him a lot too. 

Time passed. Work obtruded. My wife, at home with young children, became Buster’s primary care giver. I didn’t pay much attention to him, to tell the truth. And now, 10 years older, we are getting reacquainted, settling into a comfortable routine as old family members do. I don’t have much choice anyway. Most days he has me under constant surveillance. We take long walks in the early morning. He lies on my office floor during the day, follows me to the kitchen for lunch, ...


Blame Game



The State of the State of the Union

Where you stand on President Obama’s State of the Union address last week depends, to some degree, on where you sit. Liberals thought the president was feisty, determined, basking in the glow of historic achievements, throwing down the gauntlet at obstructive Republicans. ...


Please, Release Me

The Scrapbook has devoted plenty of column inches over the years to detailing the incestuous relationship between public employers and public employee unions. Every election cycle, union dues—paid with taxpayer dollars—go to Democratic politicians, who, when in office, thank their ...


Lower-class Krugman

A remarkably depressing Pew survey released last week found that a full 40 percent of Americans now consider themselves “lower class,” or “lower middle class” versus 44 percent who see themselves as “middle class.” As recently as 2008, 53 percent of Americans considered themselves ...


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