The breathtaking ineptitude with which the Obama administration has implemented the Affordable Care Act provides the Republican Party a very real opportunity to make major gains in the upcoming midterm elections. A mere 60 days ago, the Democrats seemed well-positioned to hold on to its Senate Majority and perhaps even regain control of the House. Since then, according to a CNN/ORC survey released last week, the GOP has improved its standing among registered voters by 13 points: “Two months ago, Democrats held a 50%-42% advantage.... The new survey… indicates Republicans with a 49%-44% edge over the Democrats.”
The political poltroonery of 2012 had gained so much momentum that poor little ’13 never had a chance. In ’12, the Supreme Court decided that Obamacare was incomprehensible but constitutional, the Republicans repeatedly helped the Dems expand the national debt, Candy Crowley defeated Mitt Romney in a presidential debate and, to no one’s surprise, Obama got re-elected. 2013 just had to be better, right?
Well, not so much. Cowering in the first known case of auto-triskaidekaphobia, ’13 stumbled its way into the ash heap of history.
As ’12 ended, Speaker John Boehner told Harry Reid to do something to himself that is anatomically impossible and then wept when Reid refused. As JANUARY began, it seemed inevitable that Reid and Mitch McConnell would again save the day for MSNBC viewers and they did by borrowing enough money from China to build a bridge from one fiscal cliff to the next.
Dinner with C., a childhood friend who went on to become an extremely famous journalist and political commentator. He is precisely on the other side of many issues that are life or death to me, but he’s an old pal and I had not seen him for years. He was one of the seminal influences on my youth, with his smoking and his guitar playing. No one ever thought he would amount to much, but he became for a time a household word. We have stayed in touch for decades and while I abhor many of his views and beliefs, he is in some ways simpatico.
He came over to our home in Beverly Hills and I showed him photos of my sister from our childhood. He had always liked Rachel and I had always liked one of his two sisters. That was probably in about 1957. Time has passed. It is just beyond words that one day Dwight Eisenhower was President and John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State and then you blink your eyes and Barack Obama is President and John Kerry is Secretary of State.
“Twenty minutes,” my wonderful friend, Sid Dauman, used to say. “That’s all life is. Twenty minutes.”
In the many obituaries of and accompanying tributes to Lou Reed, in the course of which he was often referred to as a poet of genius, I was struck by how little quotation there was from his allegedly poetic oeuvre. What makes poetry poetry and not prose is that the words are crucial to the meaning (or meanings), but most of the late Mr. Reed’s admirers seemed to have contented themselves with summaries of how he had sung of his addiction to heroin or people who engage in exotic sexual practices or who overdose or die of AIDS. The actual words seem not to have been important. For them, the poetry lay in the inarticulate: the supposed authenticity and (as they say) transgressiveness of such life-outcomes and “the raw, anarchic sound” with which they were hymned. One obituary quoted its subject’s reaction to the unsuccess of an album the obituarist describes as “morbid and pretentious.” “If people don’t like Berlin,” Reed told an interviewer in the 1970s, “it’s because it’s too real. It’s not like a TV program, where all the bad things that happen to people are tolerable.
The 2013 agenda set out for the nation by our political and cultural commissars in the wake of the last presidential election could hardly have been more straightforward: They would bask in the glow of the (for real this time) End of History—We are all Morning Joe panelists now!—while humbled, hobbled dissidents, fevers broken, spent the year acclimating to permanent marginalization and fashioning tin idols to lay at the White House gates in celebration of the fast-approaching decennial anniversary of Barack Obama’s prophetic 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention—you know, the one where an obscure Illinois Senate candidate destined to be king broke open the rhetorical seals, thereby unleashing the Four Horsemen of the Hopeocalypse upon those who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.”
“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” Obama famously bellowed at these business-as-usual pundits and prevaricators, “and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.”
What do you do when you’re in a Stephen King novel, but you’re not a Stephen King character anymore? Or rather: What do you do when you’re Stephen King, but you’re not a Stephen King character anymore?
King has been knocking out horror stories since 1974’s Carrie; in 40 years he’s turned out 50 novels, three apiece in the bumper-crop years of 1983 (Christine, Pet Sematary, Cycle of the Werewolf) and 1987 (The Eyes of the Dragon, Misery, The Tommyknockers). He’s played around with a pseudonym, written up-all-night doorstoppers and unforgettable slim parables, and become perhaps the most obsessively filmed novelist since Graham Greene. Over the decades he’s returned again and again to certain settings and themes: New England and, later, Florida, overcoming helplessness, adolescence and the loss of childhood innocence, rage.
We all know who he is, he knows damn well we know, at some level he actually agrees. Self-pity is the only thing he still has going for him. He’s managed to deprive the U.S. even of this last bit of suspense. His one expressed hope is that we will honor precedent and defer our call until after the 2014 elections, as if that would change anything. As he sees it, if he repeats as Enemy of the Year a year from now, it at least won’t be recorded as a twofer. Always a doggedly slow learner, he’s begun to appreciate the false allure of re-election success.
A former Italian senator somehow came into possession of numerous tomes lifted in one of the most extensive rare-book heists in history. How could he be so illiterate to not know that people rarely read books anymore?
Crooks usually provide a clear window into what we value as a society. The best-stealer list features iPhones and Xboxes. It doesn’t feature books for the same reason it doesn’t feature Betamax. Americans have moved on, but not up.
Thieves didn’t put Borders out of business. Their indifference signaled its demise. Who swipes what is no longer bought?
Vladimir Putin is betting big in Ukraine. For weeks now, Russia’s wily president has worked feverishly behind the scenes to derail the former Soviet satellite’s tenuous pro-Western trajectory.
Until late last month, Kyiv had been on track to sign an “association agreement” with the European Union, thereby aligning its trade policies with those of countries in Europe. But Russian bullying (in the form of political strong-arm tactics and outright economic blackmail), caused the country’s pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych, to abandon those plans in favor of economic partnership with Moscow. The decision generated a groundswell of popular opposition, with hundreds of thousands of protesters rallying in Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
Scott Brown’s famous GMC pickup truck displays neither a gun rack nor an NRA bumper sticker. What it does noticeably feature is a Massachusetts license plate. And yet Brown, who spent at least part of Christmas day unpacking moving boxes in his Rye, N.H., home, is the consensus front-runner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from New Hampshire next year. Through all of this year’s national talk about Brown — his ego, his political future, his chances against Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — the real story has been lost. It isn’t Brown. It’s the New Hampshire Republican Party’s inability to recruit top-tier candidates.
Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book That Defined the “Special Relationship"
By Peter Clarke
(Bloomsbury Press, 347 pages, $30)
Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI
By Kenneth Weisbrode
(Viking, 208 pages, $26.95)
The same question has been asked of almost every book on Winston Churchill published over the past three decades (excepting Sir Martin Gilbert’s official biography): Do we really need another book on Churchill? When the book in question is of the caliber of Peter Clarke’s Mr. Churchill’s Profession or Kenneth Weisbrode’s Churchill and the King, the answer is yes indeed.
If 2013 were a beauty pageant, it would be the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. If it were a movie, it would be “Titanic.” If it were a song, it would be “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.
Obamacare is its defining story and should be. Learning that the foundational promises of Obamacare – if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor and if you can’t afford care, you will be able to – were colossal lies from the beginning and would have been enough to ruin 2013 for people either stuck with significantly higher health insurance bills or faced with losing life saving care no longer covered under the new legally compliant plans.
But it is as if it were one long stream of bizarre, sometimes life threatening, other times life-diminishing spectacle, like a play co-written and performed by al-Qaida and Lady Gaga.
It is the year Americans found out that some of us were more deserving of Internal Revenue Service scrutiny than others and the year that Edward Snowden revealed every American’s rights are equally violated by the National Security Agency.
Is Donald Trump the conservative version of Nelson Rockefeller? The Rich Guy with unimaginable name-ID, talent and endless energy who would love to be President of the United States and possessing what some will say is all but one credential?
That missing credential being major elective office?
Coincidentally, Mr. Trump, who recently met with New York Conservative Party leaders making the case for a Trump gubernatorial candidacy, is, like the late four-term New York, Governor Rockefeller, a life-long New Yorker. The real deal. In Trump’s case hailing from the precincts of Brooklyn and Queens.
Like Nelson Rockefeller, Donald Trump has frequently been connected to presidential aspirations. And like Rockefeller, most observers presume that to be elected president, getting the GOP presidential nomination is the way to go.
WASHINGTON — In a recent and very good book, John L. Allen comes to the judgment that “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet,” and he concludes that “the transcendent human rights concern of our time is this rarely noted persecution.” In the affluent and comfortable West we take for granted a tolerance that is not shown Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, or Eritrea, much less North Korea.
Yet the war against Christians exists here at home too. It is not as ugly, but it exists and with it Americans have witnessed an amazing reversal in our history. After all, this country was originally a Christian country. It was a refuge for all Christians, and, as the years passed, all Western faiths—eventually all humane faiths. America became a land of religious tolerance. Given the intolerance toward Christianity that we see in America today, possibly it is time for Christians to rethink this tolerance. Possibly, tolerance can go too far.
From our December 1997 issue.
To write about the weather, you have to be where the weather's interesting, or preferably lethal. Here winter has been punctuated in a cadence of blizzard, dead cold, wild chinook — at twenty below, thin ribbons of smoke from chimneys and exhaust pipes rise upward for what seems a hundred yards or more, finally fading into the cobalt sky. Tires rolling on the frosty pavement make a sound like ripping Velcro, and at night you can just about hear the firmament throbbing. It is the paradox of the frozen: cold brings quiet, yet in the quiet you hear everything. In Wyoming, madmen hear the stars.
From our December 2000 issue.
Propsects for a Merry Christmas in St. Peter's Square dimmed a bit at news that Jörg Haider would be bringing the tree. A visit by the Austrian politician infamous for his praise of the Third Reich is bound to recall the Pope's meetings in the late 80s with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim (veteran of a German army unit that committed atrocities in World War II). This year's encounter may be even more embarrassing to the Holy See; Haider is not a head of state, nor is he known to be especially religious. Yet there was no diplomatic way for the Vatican to hack out. It accepted the pledge of a tree from the province of Carinthia, which Haider governs, back in 1997--long before his party joined the Austrian government, bringing on sanctions from the rest of the European Union. For the governor, of course, the trip to Rome is a magnificent chance to claim international respectability.
From our December 2011 issue.
Fifteen Christmases ago I prepared to leave Washington, D.C., and a five-year stint in politics, to return to journalism. It was a perilous journey.
The plan was straightforward: Finish work as a Capitol Hill staffer on Friday the 20th; spend Saturday loading my little Saturn; crash that night on a friend's sofa-bed in the suburbs (where a loaded car would be less likely to be broken into); drive to a maternal aunt's house near Asheville, N.C., on Sunday; and arrive home in New Orleans on Monday the 23rd (with a jaunt Christmas Day to my paternal grandparents' in Pass Christian, Miss.), there to logistically regroup for a while before my new job in Little Rock.
From our December 1995 issue.
This time last year, I happened to be in the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, chartered on Christmas Eve, 1852. I drove down Candy Cane Lane, hung a right on Rudolph Drive, then swung left on Mistletoe Circle, a pleasant journey only slightly marred by the fact that all these agreeable thoroughfares are part of the exclusive Christmas Lake development. You have to go through an armed security gate to get in. As an image of the beleaguered American Christmas, it’s hard to beat: defensive, ring-fenced, and largely seen as the preserve of middle-class whites.
Unbelievably the crash of Communism in Eastern Europe occurred all of 24 years ago, culminating with the dramatic and less than peaceful overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, a Dracula-like figure, although lacking the vampire’s panache. After their attempted escape, the bloodsoaked tyrant and his equally culpable wife were quickly tried and executed by a hastily organized people’s court on Christmas Day. Fa-la-la-la indeed.
The Iron Curtain’s fall, followed by the Soviet Union’s collapse two years later, were magnificent works of Providence, one of whose instruments was Ronald Reagan, who almost uniquely understood the earthly vulnerabilities of the 70-year-old totalitarian empire so intrinsically at odds with humanity and God. For this reason, among others, Reagan ranks among the last century’s greatest presidents, and his hymns are justly sung, and not just by conservatives.