Peter Berkowitz, senior fellow at Hoover Institution presumes to give president-elect Obama advice on how to behave in a bipartisan fashion in the Weekly Standard.
The problems we face are rather larger than our partisan differences. Our problems go to the core of our society, a core George W. Bush and his coterie of rogues damaged in ways we will not fully understand for decades to come. Nor is it something we as a people can undo, we have done our part by electing a decent man. We are a republic, we give mandate to our leaders for a set period of time, and nothing short of an impeachment can oust them from that mandate. Now we know Bush not only authorized the torture in writing but actively lied about it all. Before Obama can consider this Republican wish list, a period of benign pragmatism must elapse, wherein the Augean Stables of the White House, the Department of Justice and many other departments must first be cleaned, hopefully with Republican assistance.
Berkowitz has s proven a vocal cheerleader for George Bush over time. In Opinion Journal, writing about the Insanity of Bush Hatred, he says:
And lord knows the Bush administration has blundered in its handling of legal issues that have arisen in the war on terror. But from the common progressive denunciations you would never know that the Bush administration has rejected torture as illegal. And you could easily overlook that in our system of government the executive branch, which has principal responsibility for defending the nation, is in wartime bound to overreach--especially when it confronts on a daily basis intelligence reports that describe terrifying threats--but that when checked by the Supreme Court the Bush administration has, in accordance with the system, promptly complied with the law.
A moment of stunned silence, if you will. The scope and grandeur of this hubristic lie requires a moment to fully comprehend.
Berkowitz writes in Weekly Standard:
As a result of his decisive victory on November 4, Barack Obama will have the opportunity to match deeds to words by governing as president not only of the 53 percent of the electorate who voted for him but of the 47 percent who did not.
It won't be easy. All of his professional and political life, Obama has made his home on the left wing of the Democratic party. And, though to listen to the mainstream media one would think that only John McCain and Sarah Palin played political hardball, Obama's successful campaign was highly partisan, which is natural in the rough and tumble of electioneering, with the highest office in the land on the line.
Nevertheless, when accepting his party's nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, before 80,000 cheering supporters at Denver's Invesco Field, Obama reaffirmed his belief in a common American core beneath respectable partisan differences:
The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America--they have served the United States of America.
Part of America's greatness, Obama rightly observed, is its "promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort." And after the votes had been counted, late on Election Night, in front of a jubilant crowd jammed into Chicago's Grant Park, Obama sounded this theme one more time:
[W]hile the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends? ??though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn--I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.
All Americans should hope that the 44th president of the United States has the courage and sober judgment to honor these solemn commitments.
It is to be expected that Obama will govern as a progressive. But there are measures he could back as president and appointments he could make--consistent with the larger progressive spirit--that would show respect for conservative concerns and accord with principles that, at their best moments, both right and left in America embrace. Here are seven:
1. Don't pursue criminal cases againt the Bush administration
If criminal cases emerge, well, Berkowitz must now trust the courts George W. Bush did not trust to issue warrants and try terrorists, . George W. Bush trusted only his inner corps of advisors. Several desultory hours of scouring the Internet have not turned up any evidence Peter Berkowitz had any reservations about Bush's course of action, nor was he above resorting to the courts when he felt aggrieved: quite the opposite, Berkowitz ran to the courts when he did not get his way at Harvard.
2. Re-appoint Robert Gates secretary of defense
I cannot speak to Gates' personality or his relationship to the Joint Chiefs. If Gates takes his marching orders from Obama, I see no reason to hang onto him a while longer, but he cannot stay long. Much breathless talk of Lincoln's Team of Rivals, but there were troublemakers on that Cabinet, notably Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War. Stanton was a competent administrator but a thoroughly bad man who tampered with witnesses and pursued draconian punishments of those he suspected of treachery. Lincoln did not like him and usually worked around him when he could, but said he could not find another man to replace Stanton. Lincoln pardoned several of the targets of Stanton's wrath, notably George Vaughan, a Confederate spy, whom he pardoned the day of his death in the interests of peace and reconciliation, saying "I think that will have precedence over Stanton."
Will Obama have similar precedence over Gates as he did with Stanton?
3. Consider Merrick Garland for a next SCOTUS appointment
Berkowitz indulges in some astonishing cheek, recommending Merrick Garland to SCOTUS. Merrick Garland ruled against Gates in Parhat v. Gates No. 06-1397 (D.C. Cir.)
Berkowitz! Wake up! The buzzards are circling! Robert Gates and Merrick Garland cannot be simultaneously wonderful choices.
4. Consult regularly with Republicans, once a month, in the White House
As for Berkowitz's suggestion of regular consultation with Republicans, I am sure there will be some of that. These Republicans will get to meet Rahm Emanuel, in their offices. He will relay the President's objectives and relay their objections. Washington was ever about power. Obama's management style is consensus building. Consensus has no place for Republican intransigence or Democratic revenge. All will dine well enough on half a loaf: expect none of the old corporate welfare which sustained Republican influence.
5. Back school choice
Should Obama support school choice, as Berkowitz wants? I am not at all sure. Charter schools have not proven uniformly wonderful, nor have the possibilities of the public school been exhausted. The Republicans have given lip service to educational reform with No Child Left Behind, taking Ted Kennedy's bill, ripping out the funding parts and scrawling "George Bush" in crayon on the flyleaf. This will not do. Liberals and Conservatives alike believe K-12 education has been given short shrift. Conservatives make reasonable complaints saying public schools have failed to produce a good crop of students, but will not apply the Family Values they love to the problem: may this old Liberal be so bold as to state the most accurate predictor of any student's success is parental involvement.
Republicans must stop their endless damnation of teachers' unions. It is counterproductive and disheartening: teachers burn out faster than infantrymen: the NCO corps of the Marine Corps has a higher retention rate than teachers over time. Most teachers leave the profession after four years. The job doesn't pay, it's dangerous. Teachers are routinely assaulted. They do not receive the support they need to do the most significant job in the nation.
No job is more important to national security than K-12 education: it's awfully tough to read the manual for that fire-and-forget missile or operate that radar if you didn't graduate from high school. Our recruiting standards for the military have slipped terribly: now we are recruiting all sorts of unsuitable troops. Let Berkowitz and his sort spend a whole year teaching in a public school to see how resistant teachers are to change. It is the sheerest idiocy: the one constant in K-12 education is fad after fad. This semester we're including the special ed kids in the regular classroom. Next semester we segregate them because the special ed kids were holding back the rest of the class and dragging down the NCLB scores. Public school teachers are micromanaged within an inch of their lives.
Berkowitz should buy a teacher a cup of coffee and listen to him for a while. If you think soldiers are dedicated to their country and to their men, teachers are no less dedicated. Despite all this ignorant yawping about those terrible teachers' unions, the money's so bad nobody would willingly enter the profession for any other reason than love and the rewards of doing a great service to the children of this nation.
The simple fact is, Republicans hate unions and especially hate teacher's unions. Never mind that teachers have a unique form of compensation, being paid almost exclusively with property taxes. Any teacher could walk out the door and instantly get a 50% raise doing what anyone else with a Master's degree could make on the outside. The link between K-12 education and the military should give every reader pause. There are bad teachers and there are bad soldiers and neither profession is adequately compensated.
I do not see Berkowitz damning our troops, urging this country to sell the Basic Training units of Fort Jackson, Fort Sill and Fort Leonard Wood to karate dojos and our Marine and Army battalions to Blackwater Worldwide for conversion to mercenaries. The parallel is very exact, for the private schools poach the best teachers from the public school system as Blackwater poaches its mercs from our Special Forces and SEAL units.
6. Oppose the Fairness Doctrine
Berkowitz opposes the Fairness Doctrine, urged upon us by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senators Dick Durbin and Charles Schumer. He fears the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine will oblige talk radio to give equal time to liberals. I am a Liberal: I find the Fairness Doctrine is a bit silly. Note the age of the proponents: a bunch of tremulous oldsters intent on returning us to the halcyon days of old, when people believed what they heard and saw on radio and television. I hope, with Berkowitz, that Obama gently shoos these blue-hairs off the stage before they try to impose any such nonsense.
Let me tell you a little story of how the press gets things wrong. When Walter Cronkite stood on top of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon and misread the whole Tet Offensive, saying the war was lost. The smoke over his shoulder was a city block burned to the ground by the ethnic Chinese of Cho Lon, Saigon's Chinatown. The Chinese had trapped a number of Viet Cong inside the block after the VC had massacred several hundred ethnic Chinese. Never in modern history had war reporting been so completely bungled. LBJ is reported to have seen the episode, turned off the television and said "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost the war."
You are reading this on a blog. You know better than to believe this is anything but opinion. It's written in response to another opinion, that of Peter Berkowitz. There is no need of a Fairness Doctrine. You don't believe a tenth of what you read on the Internet, and that tenth you triangulate against other sources. You don't believe what the politicians tell you. After the last eight years, you know better.
7. Oppose speech codes on public university
Berkowitz wants to repeal speech codes. In this he becomes as silly as the aforementioned Democratic blue-hairs with their ridiculous Fairness Doctrine. There is nothing more depressing than a Young Fogey, Berkowitz: stop behaving like one. A university was once treated as an independent entity: the great medieval universities were always at odds with the authorities and enforced their own rules within their colleges. The old alchemists were shouted down, the theologians and astrologers run off in high dudgeon and the spirit of inquiry ran rampant in the halls, thumbing its nose at any who dared to oppose it. There are codes of behavior enforced by many organizations both public and private, universities are no exception. A university may impose any restriction upon its fellows with the consent of the governed. Don't like it? Go to Liberty University and you will also find speech codes and many another prohibition besides: some liberty that is! I see Young Republicans in every public university. I do not see any impairment of their right to peaceably assemble nor to publish or any other defect in their First Amendment rights arising from these speech codes. If public universities are generally liberal in tone, the endowers are not. It all balances out. Perhaps Republicans ought to go a-missionarying to the universities, for their doctrines are much in disrepute these days on the college quad.
Wherein a brief sermon is preached
The book of Jonah, tucked away among the Minor Prophets in the last few books of the Old Testament is far and away the funniest book in the Bible and one of the shortest: it's two and one half pages of text. We all know of Jonah and the Whale, for it figures large in many people's objections to the literal interpretation of the Bible. My sermon to the Republicans is taken from Jonah,
Jonah was called to preach destruction to the city of Nineveh, a city in modern Iraq. Jonah thought this an exceedingly bad idea and goes to sea. The King James gets the story somewhat confused, for the term used is ship-of-Tarshish, which could be any large freighter of the time. The ship is beset by a storm and the sailors set to praying to their gods. Blame settles upon Jonah, who seems to be a complete cipher to the sailors. They demand to know where he's from, what he does, even what country he's from, such an unknown was Jonah. But they did know he was running away from the Hebrew God, that much he'd told them, and very likely that business about Nineveh's destruction. They demand a solution: Jonah says to throw him overboard. The bits about the whale you know.
Now here's where it gets funny. God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. Off he goes, most unwillingly, and preaches impending doom with a forty day fuse. Nineveh apparently took him seriously, for the city repented en masse in sackcloth and ashes. The king of city gets very existential, praying God might not destroy them, as the sailors had prayed in their ship-of-Tarshish. Note that Jonah hadn't preached any possibility of repentance, he'd only preached destruction. The repentance idea was entirely that of the king of Nineveh, and a very wise idea it was, too, for God relents and spares the city. It must have been quite a sight, for even the donkeys and camels were made to wear sackcloth and ashes, and nobody got to eat or drink during this period of abject groveling before God.
Jonah is enraged. We get to see why Jonah fled away from God the first time: Jonah was a bigot. He hated the people of Nineveh. In the back of his mind, he'd been thinking if he didn't warn Nineveh, God would just go ahead and press the Big Smite Button and roast the whole town. Jonah hangs around on the outskirts of Nineveh, generating pints of stomach acid, furious that God would actually spare these Ninevites. He even prays for his own death, going so far as to blame God for being so merciful.
Never let it be said The Almighty doesn't have a sense of humor: as Jonah sits there, fermenting in his own bile, God causes a little gourd plant to grow up, "that it might grow up over his head and deliver him from his grief". Jonah sits in its shade and is very glad of it. Then God sends a caterpillar to eat the stem of the gourd then sends a hellacious east wind and bright hot sunlight to torment poor Jonah. Jonah again prays for death.
The Almighty has finally had enough of Jonah and confronts him with his own bigotry. Is your anger about that gourd plant justified, asks God. Yes, whines Jonah, to the point where I'd prefer death. Okay, says God, you had pity on the gourd: I had pity on the city of Nineveh. Hundreds of thousands of innocent children are in that city who don't know their left from their right, and all those animals too. The book of Jonah ends abruptly with this exchange.
What does this have to do with Berkowitz and his prescriptions for Democratic politics? Berkowitz is Jonah, he pities the gourd. Every one of his seven points is petty to the point of hilarity. Is this what really bothers him? Aren't there larger issues at hand, Berkowitz? What about the savage wasteland we've created in Iraq, where American soldiers are literally dying in the historical city of Nineveh? Isn't Conservatism about keeping us out of prescriptive wars and nation building? Instead of staying at Harvard, preaching repentance to that bastion of liberalism, Berkowitz sailed off in his ship-of-Tarshish to George Mason and now presumes to lecture the Democratic winners, who appear to be a fairly merciful lot, all things considered. Hasn't Judas Lieberman been spared the entirely justified consequences of backing the Republicans? Isn't Obama reaching out to Hillary Clinton, who savaged him on the stump? Hasn't most of the Conservative punditry stalked off the Republican stage and backed Obama before the election?
Tolkien once said "To crooked eyes, truth wears a wry face". Berkowitz should give Obama a chance. Obama shows a propensity to inclusiveness, leveraging his weaknesses, co-opting his opponents to the goals of a better country. Obama's a team player. Is he afraid of what might happen if Guantanamo is closed? If we leave Iraq, is this not what the Iraqis themselves want? If Obama chooses to talk to our enemies, ending this stupid policy of refusing to admit anyone else might have a point or grievance, what is this to Berkowitz?
Here is a new message for Berkowitz to preach: repentance to his own Republican Party.