Dec 01

The presumption is revealing.

‘We, the media, should have known better’ was the message and the admission, or confession, in some cases. Confession, because some now see how they treated, or disregarded, the people who decided.

Some commentators in various types of media went at least as far as admitting to arrogant bias all along, and the need to learn from such (egregiously) flawed dissemination of information as they were practicing in their various outlets throughout the whole, long campaign for the presidency.

This wasn’t a new self-awareness by the entire pack. Back in May, New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote this ’Confession of Liberal Intolerance’. How prophetic it would turn out to be. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” It was mostly about American universities, disciplines like the Humanities, the (apparent) lack of conservatives on campuses. But it prevails over the political culture.

It’s easier to find a Marxist in Academia, studies found, than a Republican, Kristof wrote. And he admitted that “bias on campuses creates liberal privilege”. It shows. And whole populations of Americans across the country, ‘flyover country’ so often sneered at among cultural elites, not only noticed, they kept their resentment in check for years.

In the aftermath of Election 2016, I’ve been traveling a lot and abroad, working on other news stories but gathering an interesting collection of post-election analysis pieces that reveal ‘out of touch’ media trying to reckon with their stunning failure to know or even notice such a wide swath of America and the Americans who live there.

This CBS News commentary just after the election captures “The unbearable smugness of the press”.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it…

They hate us, and have for some time.

And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.

That line captures it well.

But the admission continues.

There’s a place for opinionated journalism; in fact, it’s vital. But our causal, profession-wide smugness and protestations of superiority are making us unable to do it well.

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

What’s worse, we don’t make much of an effort to really understand, and with too few exceptions, treat the economic grievances of Middle America like they’re some sort of punchline. Sometimes quite literally so, such as when reporters tweet out a photo of racist-looking Trump supporters and jokingly suggest that they must be upset about free trade or low wages.

We have to fix this, and the broken reasoning behind it. There’s a fleeting fun to gang-ups and groupthink. But it’s not worth what we are losing in the process.

Fun? To gang up on people, fall in with groupthink, chuckle and snicker at ‘those people’ who ‘don’t think like us’?

You’d think that Trump’s victory – the one we all discounted too far in advance – would lead to a certain newfound humility in the political press. But of course that’s not how it works…

Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.

Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.

That the explainers and data journalists so frequently get things hilariously wrong never invites the soul-searching you’d think it would. Instead, it all just somehow leads us to more smugness, more meanness, more certainty from the reporters and pundits. Faced with defeat, we retreat further into our bubble, assumptions left unchecked. No, it’s the voters who are wrong.

As a direct result, we get it wrong with greater frequency. Out on the road, we forget to ask the right questions. We can’t even imagine the right question.

He, they, should go back to this intention, admitted several paragraphs earlier:

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

Emphasis added.

Such self-examination cut across different levels of media. Take this blogger, for example.

It was all a lie.

Time for some truths: America’s governing class is bound together more by geography, education, and manners than anything else; it does not understand and cannot relate to the lives of most of their countrymen. Socially and economically the led and the leaders are distinct. In less than two decades, this elite has launched this country into three wars, and lost each of them. None were punished or held accountable for doing so. They plunged the earth into recession, a recession entire regions still feel–but none were punished or held accountable for doing so. This class is fundamentally unaccountable: bankrupt Americans, bankroll cartels—in the end, none of that matters if you’ve made the right connections and you speak the right shibboleths. The gateways into this class are shrinking. The privileges it claims grow larger…

It is time to destroy the lies.

This stinging rebuke of fellow travelers is almost hard to read. Almost.

The Democratic Party is without a leader. The President and his administration are packing up shop…The DNC is a mess. A civil war is brewing. The battle for your party’s soul is coming—and when it is over, the winners must be people with better judgement than those who ran the last campaign.

That is only the first part. The second may be more important—the cadre of “thought leaders” who led you all into this mess must be cast aside…

These men and women…built an echo chamber and mistook its confines for the world outside it. They sold their self-deceptions to you as fair and reasoned truths—but they are and always were deceptions. You and I were fed a diet of lies. Now the liars and those who believed them both find themselves locked out of power, utterly unprepared for the age about to dawn. These people need to be held accountable.

‘The New York Times publisher vowed to rededicate the paper to reporting honestly‘. A lot could be said here. The publisher says enough, for now.

It’s rather rich that he promises readers to rededicate the paper to its mission of journalism that will strive “always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences” in the stories the paper carries, given its record on some political perspectives and certainly some “life experiences”. And “to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly”. Now that a wild card Republican will be in the Oval Office.

You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

The same as what? I would have liked to have seen Arthur Sulzberger Jr. finish that sentence, or that thought, that comparative assertion. I’m a subscriber, a reader, therefore one to whom the publisher penned that letter, asking for our “continued loyalty”. I’m not going anywhere, I like to read the Times and will continue to for its smart and especially international reporting, where and when its found in those pages, and the arts and culture and book reviews and entertainment culture features, and food and film and sport. The crossword puzzles. The editorial and op-eds, and very often especially the op-eds.

But we want to see improvement.

New York Post columnist and former Times reporter Michael Goodwin wrote, “because it [The Times] demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president.”

Kudos due here.

Sulzberger’s letter was released after the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, took the paper to task for its election coverage…

Spayd wrote, “Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”

Maureen Dowd tasted humble pie at Thanksgiving. Good for her.

But already, the Times is in a quandary (along with other media, apparently) over how or whether to cover Trump’s tweets, if he keeps posting them (and one hopes he doesn’t, for everyone’s sake).

It was a rare and unexpected surprise to see Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi publish this column, although the title ‘President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong’ seemed to signal a blame piece coming, against Americans who voted for Trump. There was plenty of blame alright, but self directed, for a change. Though Taibbi gets his shots in there, he takes plenty himself, on behalf of his style of writers with influence. Who didn’t seem to notice when things were wrong if their guy, or their party, were the ones in charge.

On President-elect Trump…

He takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens – powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

Right.

Trump made idiots of us all. From the end of primary season onward, I felt sure Trump was en route to ruining, perhaps forever, the Republican Party as a force in modern American life. Now the Republicans are more dominant than ever, and it is the Democratic Party that is shattered and faces an uncertain future.

And it deserves it. The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party spent most of the past two years not only ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumors of its creeping unpopoularity as vulgar lies and bulled anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the party’s willful blindness symbolized a similar arrogance across the American intellectual elite. Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of the Establishment. The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn’t want to see…

Those of us whose job it is to cover campaigns long ago grew accustomed to treating The People as a kind of dumb animal, whose behavior could sometimes be unpredictable but, in the end, almost always did what it was told.

Whenever we sought insight into the motives and tendencids of this elusive creature, our first calls were always to other eggheads like ourselves. We talked to pollsters, think-tankers, academics, former campaign strategists, party spokes-hacks, even other journalists…

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Yes, he’s finally got something right.

When Barack Obama was elected president, a great many Americans felt that their voice would finally be heard, that he represented them and their beliefs and best interests. Now, a great many other Americans feel the same thing about Donald Trump. President Obama has handled the election outcome and beginning of the transition of power with gracious dignity, crediting President George W. Bush for doing the same for him, and vowing to carry on the tradition seamlessly and with the same goodwill.

It would be nice, to say the least, if the press corps “who should know better” would rise to the occasion as well, and serve “The People” whose trust they need to earn again. If they ever will.

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Jan 14

President Obama’s final SOTU was a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ snapshot.

Starting with the political theater of the whole thing. Which is embarrassing for everyone.

Political commentator Ed Morrissey saw it as “a parody of monarchical excess“, altogether unnecessary and irrelevant. Right. Return to the Jeffersonian practice of sending in a report and save us all from the “droning, laundry-list campaign speeches of grand spectacle, but very little import.”

Fact-checkers looked at the speech on paper, and laid out a list of claims the president got wrong.

Bill McGurn had keen foresight of the single visual that would capture what the president got wrong, even before he arrived to great fanfare or spoke, because

a White House teaser reveals one of his planned props for the evening: “We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”

Every time I think this president can’t outdo his audacity, he does. He recently held an emotional press conference to announce executive action on gun violence, choked up over the innocent children gunned down senselessly. Where has this emotion been for the past seven years of his presidency while in his and my hometown, innocent children, women, men, grandparents, teens, promising youth have been shot and killed in gun violence every single day on the south side of Chicago, the very familiar territory of his early days as a community organizer and fledgling politician? Even some community leaders there who hold rallies have called out the president for his lack of presence or voice on this most notorious of neighborhood turf wars by street gangs, year in and year out. I recall once when he virtually phoned in a message to be delivered at the rally, delivered by proxy. Why seven years of the bully pulpit not directed to that, to them, to promising young lives snuffed out by guns and gangs? Only to have the final SOTU address gun violence with an empty chair, for the missing?

How symbolic, McGurn continues.

The spectacle is made for President Obama. After all, this is the man who strode out on a stage of foam Greek columns when he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. How appropriate that in his last State of the Union he now opts for the empty chair routine used to such derision by Clint Eastwood at the last Republican National Convention.

Then again, for Mr. Obama the maneuver has always been the message. From his 2008 campaign appearance before the Berlin Wall (where he declared himself “a fellow citizen of the world”) to his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize before he had in fact done anything, the stage has always upstaged the substance. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s penchant for the beau geste carries a high price for Americans, not to mention other, less fortunate citizens of the world.

Start with foreign policy. Though Candidate Obama inveighed mightily against the U.S. intervention in Iraq, he also campaigned on the idea that Iraq had distracted us from winning “the necessary war” in Afghanistan. When he announced to the American people his own surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, the cadets at West Point were drafted to serve as the dramatic backdrop.

Today we can see the same speech shows that more important to him than winning this war was the withdrawal date he tucked in the next sentence. Later his own defense secretary, Robert Gates, would record in his memoir how he came to the conclusion that his boss “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” Meanwhile, Americans in uniform would continue to die for this strategy.

The painful truth.

The domestic side has also been decided by high theater. When Mr. Obama was first elected, such was his popularity (and the low standing of the GOP), he could have done almost anything. On cue he opted for what he called “the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history,” an $800 billion stimulus that never did stimulate.

ObamaCare followed a year later. Notwithstanding lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses, Mr. Obama still had trouble getting his signature issue through. A more modest president might have found ways to address the problem—i.e., the millions of Americans who could not afford health insurance—without upending the entire market…

This has been the steady fare of the Obama years. Overseas his insistence on the grand gesture has led the president to pretend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan means we’re no longer at war. This may be popular in the faculty lounge, but in the real world Islamic State beheads Americans, Afghanistan teeters on chaos and Iraqi cities such as Ramadi, liberated from al Qaeda in the original surge, now have to be re-liberated all over again from Islamic State.

At home the president’s Big Ideas (unintended consequences be damned) have seen millions of citizens losing the health-care plans the president promised them they could keep, a record number of Americans giving up on work, and an anemic growth rate of 2%.

The gimmick Mr. Obama has now chosen for his final State of the Union, meant to highlight his end run around the Second Amendment, is fully consistent with this past. But seven years in, an empty chair in the first lady’s box only reinforces images of an empty suit at the podium.

And one more thing, the one thing that got to me more than any other, and there were plenty of others. It was the moment I talked back to the TV, the galling moment when he lectured us all once again, and this time, once too often. Columnist Stephen Hayes had the exact same reaction I did, and expressed it on television in a panel roundup following the speech.

Hayes told Bret Baier he found it a little unbelievable that the president devoted a whole section of his speech to lamenting our broken politics and calling for civility.

Bingo. A jaw-dropper. He was lecturing us on civility.

He brought up a White House advisor comparing the GOP’s fight on the budget to “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” Obama himself saying Iranian hardliners have “common cause” with the GOP, and the president saying Republican candidates are “doing the work of the terrorists.”

“And now this guy’s gonna lecture us about civility?!” Hayes bewilderedly cried. “The president––it’s not just that he misdiagnoses the problem, the fact that there is this incivility… it’s that he doesn’t understand he’s the cause of so much incivility in our politics!”

There it is. That was the moment when I said the same thing to the television. Our country is more fractured, splintered, divided, intolerant, angry, hostile and uncivil now than it was before he came into office, or so it seems. The president who has used his office in a very unpresidential way, beneath the dignity of the Office of the President, to target for criticism political ‘enemies’, a whole cable news network, particular reporters, the party opposing his party and politics, citizens who hold certain beliefs he opposes, his predecessor, police officers in certain locales, religious groups and others, now lecturing us on incivility in our country, was just too much.

The state of America is actually better than that, but it’s up to Americans to prove it now.

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Aug 07

It’s about time.

Atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities have been perpetrated for months and have grown more ferocious and dire in recent weeks. Then overnight, the horrific account of the Yazidis running for their lives and stranded on a desolate mountain in Kurdistan finally got the world’s attention, those elite media and world leaders who were saying and doing next to nothing or nothing until now.

Elizbabeth Scalia has used her megaphone and all social networking media to call attention to the problem and point to possible avenues of relief. Take a look at just that handful of examples of Christian cleansing from their ancient homeland. With no government response and practically no media mention at all.

Then overnight, this happened and hit the collective consciousness.

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

…“Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food,” Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. “My people are being slaughtered,” she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

Tireless human rights activist Nina Shea had issued this warning about issuing only a statement on so massive a humanitarian crisis. And she describes it in more gruesome detail.

On Wednesday, Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, came under assault from the Islamic State, and all 50 to 60,000 of its residents have fled to Erbil in Kurdistan. In June, Qaraqosh’s residents had fled in terror when Mosul was taken but, some 80 percent of them had since returned. The recent exodus was triggered when jihadists’ mortars killed two children and a 30-year-old woman.

Yesterday, the Christian residents of other Nineveh towns and villages, Bartilla, and Bahzany, also left and sought safe haven in the monastery of Mar Mattai, as well as in Erbil and Duhok. Ba’ashiqa and the Ba’ashiqa Monastery are being evacuated by their inhabitants and the displaced civilians who had recently sought refuge there. The Yazidi and Christian families who lived in Ein Sifni are all fleeing.

The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.

The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.

Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.

This is horrific. The ‘international community’ surely could not allow this to continue….one could only hope and pray.

The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:

Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.

Read these numbers as human lives, each and every one. Men, women, children, very young and very old, terrorized and driven by fear and self-preservation to the mountains with nothing but what they were wearing and who they could carry or help make the climb along the agonizing, torturous way. While we sit comfortably in the West either unaware of the ‘headlines’ (behind which there is so much massive human atrocity and unimaginable suffering) or aware and engaged but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

In booking Catholic Near East Welfare Association Communications Director Michael La Civita to come back on my radio program this Friday for the third time in three weeks, I learned that listeners had opened their hears and resources to respond to the persecuted religious minorities in dire need, and they were so grateful. But guest after guest on radio, experts all, expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the crisis by government and media.

I talked about it again on Thursday’s show, calling for awareness of a crisis of epic proportions that grew horrific overnight, citing Pope Francis’ latest appeal for relief. Its tone had increased in extreme urgency.

Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,”…

Think about that, having your very fate in the hands of people in other parts of the world even noticing that you are in mortal need and then doing something to help.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters the pope was appealing “to the conscience of all people and every believer,” repeating what he had said July 20 after a similar forced exodus of Christians from Mosul: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace. Let us pray in silence, asking for peace.”

Meanwhile, people were suffering the most extreme measures just to hang onto their lives.

This proved to be a turning point.

Overnight Aug. 6-7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh and other villages in Ninevah province, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In an appeal, the patriarch described the scene as “an exodus, a real ‘via crucis’” or Way of the Cross. “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat” toward Iraqi Kurdistan. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

The central Iraqi government appears incapable of protecting its citizens, the patriarch said, and there is no cooperation or coordination with the regional government.

The Islamic State fighters, he said, are taking advantage of the power vacuum “to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

That’s an understatement. The situation went from torturous to horrific.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the Islamic State militants are “chasing out thousands of Christians.”

“We are facing a serious humanitarian situation,” Cardinal Filoni told Fides, the congregation’s news agency. “These people have been left to their own devices with a closed border in front of them and they don’t know where to go.”

“The Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, and barefoot they were forced toward Iraqi Kurdistan,” a region already overwhelmed with displaced people, the cardinal said.

Relief organizations and some Christian and (few) sympathetic media had been calling on governments and citizens on different continents to intervene in this horrifying crisis. Pope Francis made an urgent appeal when the crisis grew catastrophic late this week, from August 6-7.

Something about the overnight turn of events, something in the Yazidi call for help that made it to the West, reached a US administration well aware of the ISIS problem for about a year. The president referred to that cry for help when he addressed the nation to announce a mission of humanitarian intervention had begun, finally.

The United States has authorized targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night.

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraquis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said he directed the military to “take target strikes” against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in Iraq’s city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. “We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad,” the president said.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘there is no one coming to help,’” Obama said. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

He added: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

News media coverage of that address and the aftermath of political analysis was in full swing breathlessly trying to come up to speed with a crisis some of us have been talking about and warning of in blogs and columns and news articles for weeks and months.

They played a sort of parlor game in advance of the president’s appearance Thursday night predicting what he would say and how he would say it. Having little patience for that sort of punditry, I turned the volume back on when Obama appeared…not behind the desk in the Oval Office looking squarely into the camera and addressing the world, as some of my colleagues noted, correctly, but at a podium with the left and right teleprompters he’s so used to and comfortable with, before the assembled world press. He looked and sounded determined and resolute, which is rare outside political campaigning for this president. I was impressed with his deliberation. He talked about “adhering to a set of core principles; to support allies when they’re in danger; to stay true to fundamental values, like human dignity’, which was great to hear. This isn’t the time to apply that to a test. And again he talked about “the dignity of our fellow human beings”, finally.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this about the US mission.

The stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer, and today’s crisis underscores the stakes profoundly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States.

In the news analysis following the president’s address, one military expert expressed this concern about President Obama’s intentions and tolerance for a protracted engagement: “What does he do next, even if he stops genocide? What will he do to stop march of ISIS toward Baghdad?”

That is for tomorrow. For today, the US government finally stepped up to the role of international relief and aid when the balance of the world seemed to be teetering between chaos and some reconstructed form of moral order. Help had arrived, we learned, and we will learn what will come in the days ahead.

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Apr 03

That headline fires the imagination.

The visit was the long overdue, according to the protocol and history of presidents meeting with popes over the decades. Former Ambassador Francis Rooney made that point in a USA Today op-ed column last October.

The past few years have seen cordial but cooling relations between the United States and the Vatican. Since President Obama took office, he has visited the Vatican just once, and the administration has demonstrated little more than a perfunctory interest in the Holy See’s diplomatic role in the world. This is a lost opportunity at a critical time for America. U.S. foreign policy has much to gain from its relationship with the Holy See, the governing body of the Catholic Church. No institution on earth has both the international stature and the global reach of the Holy See — the “soft power” of moral influence and authority to promote religious freedom, human liberties, and related values that Americans and our allies uphold worldwide.

Ambassador Rooney was my guest on radio to talk about all this, because he has unique insights into this relationship, and he feels strongly about the importance of maintaining strong US-Vatican relations.

His commentary deserves attention.

The United States and the Holy See remain two of the most significant institutions in world history, one a beacon of democracy and progress, the other a sanctum of faith and allegiance to timeless principles. Despite these differences between the first modern democracy and the longest surviving Western monarchy, both were founded on the idea that “human persons” possess inalienable natural rights granted by God. This had been a revolutionary concept when the Catholic Church embraced it 2,000 years ago, and was equally revolutionary when the Declaration of Independence stated it 1,800 years later.

The Church is one of the leading advocates and providers for the poor in the world, fights against the scourge of human trafficking, and advances the cause of human dignity and rights more than any other organization in the world. The Holy See also plays a significant role in pursuing diplomatic solutions to international predicaments. In 2007, for example, the Holy See helped secure the release of several British sailors who had been picked up by the Iranian navy. Its long-standing bilateral relations with Iran and the lack of such relations by the British and other western governments created an opportunity for successful intervention.

And more recently, the Holy See issued its diplomatic note concerning the civil war in Syria, calling for a “concept of citizenship” in which everyone is a citizen with equal dignity. It is urging the commissions which are working on a possible future constitution and laws to ensure that Christians and representatives of all other minorities be involved. This immediately helped place a spotlight on the plight of Christians and the ongoing exodus of all non-Muslims from most Middle East countries for the last 30 years. The power and influence of the Holy See is often underestimated. A benevolent monarchy tucked into a corner of a modern democracy, the Holy See is at once a universally recognized sovereign representing more than a billion people (one-seventh of the world’s population) — and the civil government of the smallest nation-state on earth. It has no military and only a negligible economy, but it has greater reach and influence than most nations. It’s not simply the number or variety of people that the Holy See represents that gives it relevance; it’s also the moral influence of the Church, which is still considerable despite secularization and scandals.

The Holy See advocates powerfully for morality in the lives of both Catholics and non-Catholics, and in both individuals and nations. One may disagree with some of the Church’s positions and yet still recognize the value — the real and practical value — of its insistence that “right” should precede “might” in world affairs. At its core, the Catholic Church is a powerful and unique source of non-coercive “soft power” on the world stage — it moves people to do the right thing by appealing to ideals and shared values, rather than to fear and brute force. America’s foreign policy is much more likely to succeed with the support of the Holy See.

His book The Global Vatican elaborates on that, and I was interested in his recently expressed optimism at seeing the president planning a visit with Pope Francis on his travels last week. I asked how he saw that visit, given conflicting reports on what the two leaders talked about in private, but the certainty that they agreed on some mutual goals while differing on certain principles. Ambassador Rooney responded “Well, we are, after all, a people of hope.”

What did they talk about? In advance, big media speculated the two would focus on points of agreement, on economic inequality and immigration, human trafficking and humanitarian relief. But that issue agenda was laden with problems some media ignored, especially in the areas of the administration removing the US bishops’ human trafficking relief aid, and the humanitarian relief provided by the US being tied to ‘reproductive justice.’

I’m always interested in the facts and the truth and the basics, so I wanted to cut through the spin. Fortunately, we have more of an idea of what happened between the pope and the president than we could expect from such a high level, closed door meeting. Top Vatican watcher Sandro Magister wrote this:

In his meeting with Barack Obama a few days ago, Pope Francis was not silent on what divides the American administration from the Church of that country on weighty questions like “the rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection.” And he stressed this in the statement issued after the discussion.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio does not like direct conflict, in public, with the powerful of the world. He lets the local episcopates take action. But he does not conceal his own disagreement, and he is careful to maintain his distance. In the photos of his official meetings he poses with a stern expression, unlike the exaggerated smiles of his counterpart of the moment, in this case the head of the world’s greatest power.

Nor could he do otherwise, given the radically critical judgment that Pope Francis fosters within himself regarding today’s worldly powers.

It is a judgment that he has never made explicit in a complete form. But he has offered many glimpses of it. For example, with his frequent references to the devil as the great adversary of the Christian presence in the world, seeing him at work behind the curtains of the political and economic powers. Or when he lashes out – as in the homily of November 18, 2013 – against the “sole form of thought” that wants to enslave all of humanity to itself, even at the price of “human sacrifices,” complete with “laws that protect them.”

Apparently, these issues came up, diplomatically, in that meeting.

In their first face-to-face meeting, Pope Francis reiterated the Catholic Church’s concerns with President Barack Obama’s policies on abortion, conscience rights, and freedom of religion.

A source familiar with the talks told LifeSiteNews that the Vatican press release on the meeting was “remarkably forthright” in emphasizing the fact that the pope raised these issues with the president.

According to the press release, the pope launched a discussion with the American president about the proper role of church and state, raising “questions of particular relevance for the [Catholic] Church in that country.” These included “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection,” according to the Vatican.

The 52-minute-long meeting marked Obama’s first audience with Pope Francis. The divide between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church has deepened since his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, with broiling arguments over the president’s promotion of abortion-on-demand, same-sex “marriage,” and the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate.

Just to note, a 52 minute meeting with Pope Francis by a head of state is almost half an hour longer than the usual.

Then it ended with the cordial exchange of gifts.

Pope Francis presented President Obama with a copy of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which criticizes some public figures who attempt to marginalize the pro-life message by presenting it as “ideological, obscurantist, and conservative.”

“This defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right,” Pope Francis wrote. “It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”

The president said he may look at it. “You know, I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office,” Obama responded, “when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down.”

A source of hope.

For his part – perhaps signaling a wish for a new springtime with the church – Obama gave Francis a collection of seeds used in the White House garden. The kicker, however, was the chest they came in: custom-made and engraved with the occasion and date, the case was fashioned of wood from the US’ first cathedral, Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption, which the Jesuit founder-Bishop John Carroll and Benjamin Latrobe – the future architect of the Capitol – designed as a monument to religious freedom in the American experiment. Against the backdrop of the Obamacare contraceptive mandate which has roiled the Stateside church for going on three years, the significance is rather rich.

With religious freedom being at stake in the two HHS mandate lawsuits before the Supreme Court, one can only hope the president does follow through a read Evangelii Gaudium in the Oval Office or anywhere, and take to hear the message Pope Francis so incisively delivers in that document. The president admires the pope. Maybe he’ll consider his teaching.

But as Ambassador Rooney repeated by the end of an hour’s discussion of ‘The Global Vatican’ and the importance of US-Vatican relations, “we remain a people of hope.”

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Jan 13

Starting from the top.

So many times during so many press conferences or reading news stories, I’ve wanted to ask this question.

Mr. President, do you hear yourself?

 

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Sep 03

As The Economist expressed it for everyone else who wants to know: “One question, Mr. President…just what would you do with another four years?”

They asked on the newspaper’s cover.

From the Leader story:

In Denver four years ago, an inspiring presidential candidate announced that he would change America. Barack Obama promised to put aside partisan differences, restore hope to those without jobs, begin the process of saving the planet from global warming, and make America proud again.

[This] week Mr Obama will address his fellow Democrats at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with little of this hopeful agenda completed. Three million more Americans are out of work than four years ago, and the national debt is $5 trillion bigger. Partisan gridlock is worse than ever: health-care reform, a genuinely impressive achievement, has become a prime source of rancour. Businessfolk are split over whether he dislikes capitalism or is merely indifferent to it. His global-warming efforts have evaporated. America’s standing in the Muslim world is no higher than it was under George W. Bush, Iran remains dangerous, Russia and China are still prickly despite the promised resets, and the prison in Guantánamo remains open.

So far, so underwhelming

The defence of Mr Obama’s record comes down to one phrase: it could all have been a lot worse.

The Economist raises some good points and questions in the piece, poised as everyone is to hear the president and his party draw distinctions between their vision and the Republicans as the Democratic National Convention begins.

[H]e needs to distinguish between a creditable desire to help the weak and a dangerous preference for the public over the private sector. The jobs that poor Americans need will be created by companies. Smothering firms in red tape is not the way to help them; Mr Obama should vow to stop adding to it, and to start cutting some of it away. The party faithful in Charlotte might not like centrist ideas much. But they would appeal to the voters Mr Obama needs to win over and, should he be re-elected, they will strengthen him in his dealings with the Republicans in Congress.

We’re watching and listening.

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Aug 08

Today, even the teleprompter didn’t help.

As the US markets opened Monday and began responding to Friday night’s downgrade of our credit rating, everyone waited for the president’s response. After some delays, it finally came in the afternoon.

But amplifying the uphill task for Mr. Obama as he seeks to restore confidence in the country’s leadership: most networks broadcasting his remarks included, at the bottom of their screens, trading in the New York Stock Exchange, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped almost 50 points during the ten minutes that the president spoke, dipping to below 11,000 at one point.

And then, the markets fell lower.

Despite Mr Obama’s comments, the Nasdaq index fell even further, losing 6.9%. The S&P’s 500 index also saw a sharp decline, falling 6.7%, its biggest drop since December 2008.

Prior to Mr Obama’s speech, the Dow had only been 2.5% lower.

So this brings to mind something Peggy Noonan just wrote for the WSJ. After all, everything is political, including the bruising budget battles and the dysfunctional debt deal. Which was followed by the Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade…

Mr. Obama’s poll numbers continue to fall, his position in the battleground states to deteriorate. From Politico: “Obama emerges from the months-long [debt ceiling] fracas weaker—and facing much deeper and more durable political obstacles—than his own advisers ever imagined.” The president seemed to admit as much when he met with supporters at a fund-raiser in Chicago. “When I said ‘Change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say, ‘Change we can believe in tomorrow.’ Not ‘Change we can believe in next week.’ We knew this was going to take time.” When presidents talk like that, they’re saying: This isn’t working.

One fact emerged rather starkly during the crisis, and it will likely have implications in the coming year. It is that the president misunderstands himself as a political figure. Specifically, he misunderstands his rhetorical powers. He thinks they are huge. They are not. They are limited.

His conviction led to an interesting historic moment, and certainly a dramatic one, during the debt-ceiling negotiations.

***
It was late Wednesday afternoon, July 13, in the Cabinet Room in the White House. Budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans had been going on for months. The president, the vice president and congressional leaders on both sides were meeting again. Late in the meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor asked the president a question. As Mr. Cantor told it this week, he was thinking about how the White House and the Republicans were still far apart on the size of budget cuts. He felt the president and his party were hung up on an insistence on raising taxes. Mr. Cantor asked Mr. Obama if he would drop his stand that the debt ceiling should be raised without dollar-for-dollar cuts. At that point, said Mr. Cantor, the president “turned to me and said, ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff.’ He said, ‘I’m going to take this to the American people.’” Then he got up and left.

The president was confident he could go over the heads of the opposition and win the day with his powers of persuasion. On July 25 he made his move, with a prime-time national address.

Boy, did it not work.

She nails it here.

The July 25 speech was of a piece with most of the president’s rhetorical leadership through the debt-ceiling crisis. Some of his statements were patronizing: We have to “eat our peas.” He was boring in the way that people who are essentially ideological are always boring. They bleed any realness out of their arguments. They are immersed in abstractions that get reduced to platitudes, and so they never seem to be telling it straight. And he was a joy-free zone.

Yes! That’s exactly what occurred to me in thinking through the daily news drama. He looks fairly miserable. He looks distinctly unhappy and unconvincing. Obama looks like he doesn’t even believe himself.

But the president is supposed to be great at speeches. Why isn’t it working anymore? One answer is that it never “worked.” The power of the president’s oratory was always exaggerated. It is true that a good speech put him on the map in 2004 and made his rise possible, and true he gave some good speeches in 2008. But people didn’t really vote for him because he said things like: “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” They voted for him in spite of that. They voted for him for other reasons.

This is one of Noonan’s best of many good columns in recent times. It is all the more insightful because she was there when Reagan was there.

The president has been obsessing on Ronald Reagan the past few months, referring to him in private and attempting to use him to buttress his position in public. They say Republicans can’t get over Reagan, but really it’s Democrats who aren’t over him, and who draw the wrong lessons from his success. Reagan himself never bragged about his ability to convince the American people. He’d never point a finger and say: “I’ll go to the people and grind you to dust.” He thought speaking was a big part of leadership, but only part, and in his farewell address he went out of his way to say he never thought of himself as a great communicator. He thought he simply communicated great things—essentially, the vision of the Founders as applied to current circumstances.

Democrats were sure Reagan was wrong, so they explained his success to themselves by believing that it all came down to some kind of magical formula involving his inexplicably powerful speeches. They misdefined his powers and saddled themselves with an unrealistic faith in the power of speaking.

But speeches aren’t magic. A speech is only as good as the ideas it advances. Reagan had good ideas. Obama does not.

The debt-ceiling crisis revealed Mr. Obama’s speeches as rhetorical kryptonite. It is the substance that repels the listener.

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Jul 01

It’s family vacation elsewhere, but they’re feeling the heat in and around Washington.

July doesn’t bode well for President Obama in yet another summer of discontent, according to NBC News.

In the five years we’ve been covering Barack Obama on the national stage — first as a presidential candidate, now as the president — he’s always experienced his toughest months in the summer, particularly in July. In the summer of ‘07, he was trailing Hillary Clinton in the primary horserace, and donors were whining about lack of movement; in the summer of ‘08, he saw his poll lead over John McCain narrow as he struggled not to look like he was being coronated; in the summer of ‘09, we saw those health-care town halls; and in the summer of ‘10, the Greek debt crisis and the BP spill helped lock in what was going to be a brutal midterm season for the Democrats. You’ve been able to see it in his poll numbers, too. The summer of ’09, according to the NBC/WSJ survey, was when Obama’s approval rating declined from the 60s to the low 50s. And in the summer of ’10, it went from the low 50s to the mid-40s. He’s now at 49%, per our latest poll.

How the White House is trying to minimize any summer pain: And this summer has the potential to be another summer of Barack Obama’s discontent, especially with the polarizing and high-stakes debate over the debt ceiling. But the White House is doing a few things to try to minimize any damage. For starters, they’re not traveling overseas as they did in the summers of ’09 and ’10; don’t underestimate the impact of the president’s absence and the impact of him being in DC this year to be more responsive to Capitol Hill madness. In addition, they’re trying to reframe the debate on their terms — something they never were able to do on health care. Wednesday’s news conference was the first try to be on offense; it’s why it took many by surprise. All that said, Obama IS headed to Camp David for the weekend after scolding Congress to roll up its sleeves on the debt ceiling…

Will Geithner leave? Bloomberg News was the first to report it yesterday. “[Geithner] signaled to White House officials that he’s considering leaving the administration after President Barack Obama reaches an agreement with Congress to raise the national debt limit, according to three people familiar with the matter.” But in an appearance with former President Bill Clinton at a Clinton Global Initiative event last night, Geithner said he would remain in his position for the “foreseeable future.” Bottom line: We’re told it’s accurate that Geithner is “thinking about it,” but we’re also told not to read as much into it as some others are…

But it would be a big surprise if Geithner did actually leave before the election. Why? Do note that confirming a new Treasury secretary would be very difficult — and painful — for the White House, because the confirmation hearings would only serve to re-litigate the administration’s economic policies at a time the presidential campaign is getting started. Obama cannot afford this, period.

(well that’s an interesting admission)

And if Geithner did leave, other cabinet secretaries who also may be burning out would raise their hand, too. It’s a snowball effect that would take a toll on the West Wing.  Of course, the West Wing is still struggling with USING its Cabinet secretaries effectively; perhaps this Geithner scare will re-focus those efforts.

Anybody getting the sense that this country acted on the visceral reaction to sheer slogans in the last election? And that it’s been painfully obvious and getting clearer for a long time?

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Jun 14

All the news stories seem to be about his.

It’s natural that a president seeking re-election would be the center of scrutiny when the economy is so down and unemployment so high. But the story of how tough times are impacting Americans is buried under the headlines of what impact it all has on President Obama’s political future.

Like this Reuters story.

Most polls have shown Obama defeating any of the current Republican White House contenders next year, but the continuing fiscal woes are cutting into his lead. A Reuters/Ipsos survey this month showed 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, amid higher gasoline prices, stubbornly high joblessness and a weak housing market.

“Despite his or his handlers’ rhetoric, the electorate — if the various polls are an indication — has given plenty of feedback that it wants specifics and definitive action, not pablum, and most definitely not the ‘I feel your pain’ response to the seeming endless stream of negative economic news,” said Gerald Shuster, a political communications expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

See, this is what bothers me, even while I understand political news coverage and especially as the campaign starts to heat up. The stories are quoting political communications experts and spin doctors. And they wind up with bottom lines like these:

Mayer suggested Obama’s best strategy might be to sidestep Congress and work directly with state governors, many of them Republicans, on a stimulus plan targeting state governments, given steep budget cuts and layoffs at the local level.

“The numbers coming out of state capitals are looking pretty horrendous,” he said. “These are very significant job losses and if you could save some of those jobs, that would have some positive outcomes for Obama.”

Not to mention the individual people and their families.

Who are otherwise known as voters. This piece edges closer to considering them as more than just that…barely.

In 2008 Mr Obama represented change. This time he will have to fend off charges that he is to blame for the achingly slow recovery by arguing that it would have been worse without his actions, such as his $800 billion stimulus package and the takeover of GM and Chrysler. That may be true but it is not easy to sell a counterfactual on the stump

a counterfactual“?

(as the first President Bush learned). And there are other holes in Mr Obama’s record. What happened to his promises to do something about the environment or immigration or Guantánamo? Why should any businessman support a chief executive who has let his friends in the labour movement run amok and who let his health-care bill be written by Democrats in Congress? Above all, why has he never produced a credible plan to tackle the budget deficit, currently close to 10% of GDP?

Now they’re thinking outside the 2008 media box.

A serious Republican candidate must come up with answers to the two big problems facing America’s economy: how to get more people back to work, and how to fix the deficit.

Yes. How to get more people back to work, that’s the point.

And raising taxes means taxing individual citizens and families already hurting in their homes, if they still have them. So if it must be done, people must be convinced and brought on board a tough reform program.

An honest Republican candidate would acknowledge this and lay out the right way to do so—for instance, by eliminating distorting loopholes and thus allowing revenues to rise. He (or she) would also come up with a more systematic plan on the spending side. No Republican seems to understand the difference between good spending and bad. Investment in roads and education, for instance, ought not to be lumped in with costly and unreformed entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare. Defence should not be sacrosanct. That Mr Obama has no strategy either is not an excuse.

Thanks for the honesty, finally.

In most elections promising toughness is not a successful tactic; but this time Americans know that their country has huge problems and that their nation’s finances are the biggest problem of all. In Britain the Conservatives made the incumbent Gordon Brown seem ridiculous by spelling out the austerity that he at first barely dared mention; now another tough-talking centre-right party has won in Portugal (see article). If ever there was a time for pragmatic conservative realism, it is now.

How about that…realism as a tactic. It sure beats the alternative.

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May 03

Why did they start dancing in the streets in Washington and New York immediately after President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid on his compound in Pakistan? Why did young adults in many college towns across the country pour out into the streets to celebrate on Monday as the fever spread? Was this as jarring as it seemed?

Some of us were on the fence about the immense relief…beyond description really…of so long a dry spell of despair and darkness being so suddenly and bracingly snapped with the jolt of Sunday night news flashes that bin Laden was dead. I’ve been focusing lately on the power of the message John Paul II brought to the dispirited Poles that reminded them of their human dignity and what their heritage as Christians ennobled them to do.

That message transfers well and intact to America today. In this nation too, Christianity is the dominant religion of the people, but people have been dispirited and disheartened and in need of a spark to rally the nation around ideals it seems we’ve long dropped in the politically correct halls of academia and the pages of press and very much in the press statements of politicians. Things got called by new names that didn’t really describe their reality. The ‘war on terror’ became an ‘overseas contingency operation,’ and terms like ‘enemy combatants’ were sanitized though they didn’t change and their attempted operations were stopped just short of hitting the homeland again.

Media articles have been pondering the decline of American exceptionalism, the dollar has been weakened and nothing decisive seems to be happening in Washington these days to break the general malaise.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, this happened.

And so the US rejoices.

After nearly a decade of anger and fear, America rejoiced Monday at the demise of Osama bin Laden, the terror mastermind behind the horrific 9/11 attacks. Navy SEALs who killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist seized a trove of al-Qaida documents to pore over, and President Barack Obama laid plans to visit New York’s ground zero.

Big media are back to calling him the terror mastermind, and the attack horrific.

Bin Laden’s death after a decade on the run unloosed a national wave of euphoria mixed with remembrance for the thousands who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Crowds celebrated throughout the night outside the White House and at ground zero in Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood. Thousands of students at Penn State University and in other college towns spilled into the streets and set off firecrackers to mark the moment.

I’ve assilmilated this better now, after the initial relief mixed with dismay over some of the rhetoric about this dead man who, granted, has haunted the West and mostly America for so many years. As one priest said about what disturbed him most, “dancing in the streets over killing someone is what they do, it’s not what we do.” Right.

But I came to think about this visceral eruption of relief across America that there was finally a triumph of enormous importance for our troops, as those SEALs descended on that compound for such a daring and critical mission. It’s of enormous importance to much of the world, too.

It’s too great a leap to expect an end to terrorism or a new era of peace, but it’s not too great a hope.

[Vatican press spokesman Father Federico Lombard] reflected upon the crimes Bin Laden stood accused of.

“Osama bin Laden – as we all know – was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the end of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end.”…

“Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event is an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”

Amen to that. Let the celebration be about a new resolve toward the tough love that’s going to require. Starting with ourselves, and our leaders who proclaim this as a new rallying call for unity.

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