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Political Hay

Cultural Tyrants

By 6.25.15

The aftermath of the Charleston church massacre has been an interesting thing.

Following the nine killed by 21-year-old ninth grade dropout and troglodyte Dylann Roof at the Mother Emanuel AME Church last week, the people of that venerable South Carolina city have given the nation one of our more inspiring spectacles — thousands gathering in prayer and demonstrating for unity and civility. Had the reaction of Charleston been the major story, the massacre — disgusting and tragic as it was — would have told us something good about the basic character of the American people.

Your author will go so far as to say Charleston’s reaction has told us something true, as well — about most of us, at least.

Culture Vultures

One Nation, For Better or Worse

By 6.25.15

For days on end, we’ve been pelted with the sudden and inconsistent outrage over the Confederate battle flag, which, apparently, has moved thousands to commit heinous acts in the name of a long-since disbanded secessionary force that may or may not have been defending an agrarian way of life against an industrialized interloper that threatened to force them to abandon their hoopskirts and post-supper porch tobacco. The flag has, of course, existed in some form or another since the mid-1800s, and until two weeks ago, had lived a relatively unmolested life, flying over Southern statehouses and in the windows of four-door diesel trucks with fake testicles hanging from their rear license plates.

Ben Stein's Diary

I Love South Carolina

By 6.24.15

A few humble thoughts on race, violence, and South Carolina.

The crimes of Dylann Roof were spectacularly horrible. To murder in cold blood nine men and women who were praising the Lord is unfathomably evil. There is simply no excuse for it. The moral power and restraint of the Charleston black community is historically magnificent. Nothing less than that. The love and forgiveness of the victims’ families is breathtaking, one of the great moments in human history.

And while I don’t think that the rebel battle flag flying over the statehouse in Columbia had anything to do with Dylann Roof’s horrible crimes, the flag has to go on government property. For black citizens, taxpayers, voters, soldiers, war widows to have the flag of an army that fought to maintain their ancestors in chains, as less than human, is painful and cruel. That flag has a place in museums and homes and restaurants but not on the statehouse lawn.

Another Perspective

Richard Thompson (Mostly) Lets the Music Do the Talking

By 6.24.15

You may not know his name but for nearly half a century Richard Thompson has been performing and recording music. Although the British born guitar player has never attained stardom, his songs have been covered by the likes of R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, and the Pointer Sisters. Consequently, Thompson has steadily built himself an audience of fans on both sides of the Atlantic. This fan base came out in full force over the weekend in Boston for a performance at the Wilbur Theatre in support of his new album Still (produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco), which was released yesterday.

A Further Perspective

VA Still Sabotaging Veterans’ Choices

By 6.24.15

Veterans Administration top brass are trying again to sabotage the Choice program, which supposedly allows vets to see a doctor outside the delay-plagued VA system. On Thursday, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson will ask Congress for permission to raid the $10 billion Choice fund and spend the money elsewhere. It’s an underhanded betrayal, but no surprise. Since the celebrated VA reform law was passed last August, VA administrators, from Secretary Robert McDonald down to union underlings, have been trying every trick to block sick vets from getting outside treatment. The bureaucrats are more concerned with keeping the money inside the dysfunctional agency than caring for vets, even if that means they languish and suffer on wait lists. 

From Day One, the law was designed to promise vets choice but make it hard to get any. Public employee union bigs like Alma Lee of the American Federation of Government Employees fought against the law, warning that sending vets out for private care would hurt the VA’s bottom line. She meant union jobs.

The Current Crisis

New Faces In the Race

By 6.24.15

The Republican Party, the political party of commerce (and of jobs!), has two aspiring candidates for the presidential nomination who are drawn from the business community, one, who evokes unwarranted snoozes, the other, who rather astonishingly evokes derision. I am speaking of Carly Fiorina late of Hewlett-Packard and Donald Trump the billionaire developer. Those who offer their expert appraisals of these two candidates are retired politicians, political advisors, and pundits. In other words, these appraisals are coming from those who have left the field of political combat for whatever reason, or those who have never stood for election yet whose assessment of candidates are taken very seriously by journalists who, incidentally, have themselves never stood for election. Political commentary is unusual. It is as though the leading culinary critics in the country were all vegetarians, or at least fruitarians.

Special Report

The Culture of Smugness

By 6.24.15

Whether or not South Carolina retains a Confederate flag on state grounds is clearly a matter for the state to decide. But the media couldn’t permit GOP presidential candidates to limit themselves to that position. It had to hector the candidates into support for the flag’s removal. On all matters racial, the media polices not only sins of commission but sins of omission. By the media’s estimate, insufficient enthusiasm for the flag’s removal is evidence of a troubling racial attitude.

The hate on display in the controversy is coming not from the flag’s defenders but from a smug liberal elite that can’t rest until every inch of America conforms to their liberal prejudices. Jon Stewart’s supposedly anguished remarks about the Charleston horror seemed more like childish pouting and sophomoric South-bashing, with the glib host demanding that even the streets of the South be renamed: “In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate Generals who fought to keep black people from driving freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. You can’t allow that.”

Buy the Book

The New Federalist Papers

By 6.24.15

Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document
Sen. Mike Lee
(Sentinel, 244 pages, $27.95)

Sadly, the American public has become disconnected from its founding document, the Constitution. Knowledge of civics is so deplorable that few people can identify the three branches of government, let alone the constitutional bases for them. Most Americans have never read the Constitution. Even law students studying Constitutional Law learn mainly about Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution—and arcane “theories” of interpretation— not the actual text. This ignorance has permitted the Supreme Court (and elected officials) to manipulate the Constitution, in the process allowing the Leviathan state to expand beyond the narrow limits intended by the Framers.

Ben Stein's Diary

Wedding Bell Bliss

By 6.23.15

June 23, 1968 was fantastically hot, as is usual for D.C. in the summer. I was living in an adorable rented house on Benton Street, NW, in what is called Glover Park. I got up, put on my white tie and tails, or morning coat or whatever it was, and drove over to Arlington to Fort Myer to go to the chapel. I believe my friend Joel Block drove me to the event.

I was nervous. Extremely nervous. I was 23 and I was getting married. True, I was getting married to the most beautiful girl in the world, but marriage is a big step.

It is a terrifying step. Just want to let you know.

The chapel was well air conditioned. There were a lot of flowers. My grooms were my brother-in-law, Melvin, my pals Duncan Kennedy, now a superstar law professor at Harvard Law School, Joel, Marvin Goldberg, who had been my friend since kindergarten, Calvin Kline, still a close friend, and I do not recall who else.

Another Perspective

The Church Shooter and Capital Punishment

By 6.23.15

It is fitting, if late, that South Carolina’s political leaders seem ready to evict the Confederate flag from the grounds of their state Capitol in response to the vile shooting that left nine African-Americans dead in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last week. In a Monday news conference while flanked by Democrats and fellow Republicans, Gov. Nikki Haley noted that many in the Palmetto State see the Confederate flag as a tribute to their Southern roots but said, “Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” She urged state lawmakers to act next week.

Haley is also right about another way to demonstrate her state’s outrage. She told NBC’s Today show, “We will absolutely… want him to have the death penalty.”

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., opposes the death penalty. Still, he noted, “If you are going to have a death penalty, then certainly this case would merit it.”