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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Yewell

RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Yewell

Last Build Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2007 00:19:15 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

An Opportunity Missed

Thu, 26 Apr 2007 00:19:15 -0600

The LDS church, as it is known in Utah, is not monolithic -- witness Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, himself a Mormon. But its progressive members will not, in the long run, be served by the failure of their natural allies to defend free speech in this case. This failure has been a mistake for reasons both of intellectual honesty and political expediency.

First and foremost, the First Amendment argument is bulletproof. The left complained mightily in October 2004 when a right-wing uprising tried to derail an appearance by Michael Moore at Utah Valley State College, just miles down the road from BYU.

To appease the donors who threatened to withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school, a visit by Sean Hannity was arranged for the week before. The compromise was inelegant, but had the benefit of satisfying the ACLU argument in such cases: that the cure for objectionable speech is more speech, not less.

Second, this was a political freebie. Cheney's opponents could have bought cheap a measure of credibility by supporting their most reviled opponent's right to speak. Such opportunities don't come along often, and it is to liberals' discredit that they failed to seize the moment, appearing instead to support an attack on free speech.

Cheney's speech was an ideal moment to remind the university -- and the church that owns it -- of the value of free speech. Utah generally, and BYU in particular, have lousy reputations when it comes to academic freedom. Professors have been fired simply for expressing ideas at odds with church teaching.

In the early 1990s there was an active feminist movement at BYU -- until June 1993, when English professor Cecilia Konchar Farr was fired after giving a speech supporting abortion rights. About the same time, anthropology professor David Knowlton met the same fate for questioning the church's missionary program in Latin America. Students demonstrated in support of the two fired professors -- one sign reading "Stop Academic Terrorism" -- to no avail.

In 1996, BYU English professor Gail Turley Houston was fired for contradicting church doctrine when she suggested, among other things, that prayers be offered to "Mother in Heaven" as well as "Father in Heaven."

In December 2004, Southern Utah University political science professor Stephen Roberds was fired after using the f-word in class. Roberds, who was voted "Teacher of the Year" for 2003-2004 by students, blamed his firing on a climate of intellectual fear.

In 2005, Erin Jensen, an English teacher at South Sevier High School, was terminated after rumors circulated that she a "witch" and a "coffee drinker." She admitted to the coffee drinking.

In June 2006, BYU philosophy professor Jeffrey Nielsen was fired for publishing these and other words in an op/ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune: "I believe opposing gay marriage and seeking a constitutional amendment against it is immoral."

I am no friend of the vice president -- he would never be invited to speak at John Yewell University. And taking the side of the university and the church that have done their best to stifle free speech is hard to swallow. But I can't think of a better way of making a point than by making common cause over principle with one's worst enemies.

Feith-Based Inquiry to Make a Come-Back

Wed, 13 Dec 2006 22:30:34 -0600

The significance of this is part of the history of the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe into the alleged manipulation of prewar intelligence about Iraq. Remember that? Most people thought that issue was settled, or perhaps buried. But with the November election it is again very much alive. Here's why: The Senate Intelligence Committee's first report, on July 9, 2004, focused entirely on the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies, and did not - claims by administration supporters to the contrary notwithstanding - touch on the sensitive issue of whether the intelligence was manipulated by the administration. In Feb. 2004, before the first report was released, the committee agreed to put that off until after the November, 2004 election, when it would consider five areas of inquiry to be known collectively as Phase Two. 1. The use by the intelligence community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress. 2. The pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compared with post-war reality. 3. Pre-war intelligence assessments about post-war Iraq. 4. Public statements and testimony about Iraq made between the Gulf war and Operation Iraqi Freedom by U.S. government officials, and whether they were substantiated by intelligence. 5. Intelligence activities relating to Iraq by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, headed by Douglas Feith and the group he created there: the Office of Special Plans. This was the core of Phase Two. The OSP, created by Feith and his boss, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, is thought by many in and out of government to have been a gang of ideologues whose purpose was to manipulate intelligence to provide the justification for a fight with Iraq. Feith left over a year ago to become a distinguished fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who will take over the chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee next month, has accused Feith of fabricating and exaggerating intelligence about WMD and alleged Iraq-al-Qaeda connections in the run-up to the war, wants to know if any of its activities were unauthorized or in violation of the National Security Act and other laws. After the election, Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, stalled. A frustrating year later, on Nov. 1, 2005, Democrats invoked Senate Rule 21, forcing a closed session to hash out the matter. From that session emerged new, if short-lived, momentum to the investigation. But in a surprise move, the Pentagon agreed on Nov. 17 to start its own investigation into Feith's activities. The following April, 2006, Sen. Roberts announced that he was delaying his committee's investigation into the fifth element of Phase Two, about Feith and the OSP, until the Defense Department's inspector general had completed his investigation. But that was not to happen anytime soon. In June, Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz, informed he had become the subject of a congressional investigation himself, announced his resignation, effective Sept. 9, to take a job with a defense contractor. President Bush nominated Laufman, who had a reputation as a Bush family fixer, to replace Schmitz, but Levin blocked the nomination until after the election. Meanwhile, on Sept. 8, 10 months after the Rule 21 closed session, the Intelligence Committee finally produce it first Phase Two report. Unfortunately, only the first two of the five points were covered. Points three and four were promised soon. But then came the election, and with it Rumsfeld's ouster, Gates' nomination, and ultimately, the withdrawal of the Laufman nomination. The question now becomes: Will Gates get an inspector general who will end the stonewalling of the Feith/OSP investigation and advance the core purpose of Phase Two? If Levin pursues his own investigation, will Gates cooperate with the Democrat-controlled Intelligence Committee to get to the bottom, at long last, of the question of whether or not the Bush administration manipula[...]

Base Desires: Sensible Government, Not Campaign Slogans

Thu, 11 May 2006 00:39:57 -0600

Among the reactions was an email from Mark, an Alabama Republican, most of which I reprint here. For those wondering why the president's support is evaporating among once-loyal members of his own party, it is as clear a statement as I've read anywhere:

"As a former Republican (mostly on the fiscal side), surrounded by Republicans (friends and co-workers), I started to grow disenchanted with Bush and the Congressional leadership several years back with each new bloated spending bill that passed Congress (transportation, education, agriculture, defense, etc.). I argued that the GOP was hypocritically spending dramatically more than the previous Democratic Congress and president, despite their nonstop rhetoric about being the fiscally responsible party of small government. The Iraq War pushed me over the edge, and today I am not a Democrat, but a very passionate anti-Republican who supports anyone who can defeat their Republican opponent.

"I frequently lay out my position to my erstwhile colleagues. They tend stick to their guns, and their basic argument is: 'It would be worse if the Democrats where in charge' and even better, 'They have to spend like that to get reelected!' None of them can seriously defend our participation in the Iraq War.

"Now, I will tell my friends, their acquiescence empowered this Congress and this president to take these roads. Fox News, a slew of Republican commentators, and the core of the GOP base refused to speak up when this administration and this Congress took their initial missteps. If they refuse to acknowledge a problem, how in the world will they ever correct it?

"Most of my friends and colleagues look for reasons why I would be critical of this government, rather than addressing the substance of the argument. 'Oh, you listen to too much NPR' or 'You work for a university, I am sure that gave you leftist tendencies.' And they continue on their way, with their heads stuck firmly in the sand.

"Liberals and Democrats have been pointing out these problems for a long time, and nobody paid attention. Once Republicans recognize how serious their predicament is, there is at least a small potential for them to address and correct the disastrous state of our country, which I read as terribly divided, with a diminished world standing, and on the path to bankruptcy.

"Once the GOP has spent some time in the wilderness, the Democrats will eventually repeat their errors of the past, and there may be a place for the GOP at the head of the table again. For now, I fervently hope they do less damage as the minority party."

Those are frightening words for a cocky ruling class. Many Republican strategists - including Karl Rove, according to Newsweek's Howard Fineman - are taking no chances. They're taking their cues from Mark's colleagues: that voters can be scared into voting for Republicans by being presented with the specter of a demonic Democratic majority. James Pinkerton in Newsday made much the same point Tuesday.

Is this the best way to win back Mark, or people on the verge of following him?

The Democrats tried the same scare tactic in 1994. Responding to the Contract With America, Democratic strategists urged congressional campaigns to remind voters that Republican control would put Orrin Hatch (ouch!) at the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, give Jesse Helms (horrors!) control of Foreign Relations and, worst of all, make Newt Gingrich Speaker. We know how voters reacted.

Here's a novel suggestion: Instead of calculating ugly and divisive campaign messages - is there any other kind in Rove's world? - or pandering to special interests with a tax cut extension that turns off the fiscally responsible, why not follow Mark's advice, and try governing sensibly, from the middle, instead?

Or is it too late for that?

Republicans Can't Run From Bush Now

Fri, 05 May 2006 08:42:20 -0600

Now they want you to believe that's not how it happened.

It's all about individualism now. Democratic attempts to lump them together and make the Republican Party itself the issue is, they sniff, simply unfair.


They may find it hard to convince people that collective action doesn't engender collective responsibility. If things were going well they'd damn sure be claiming collective credit.

And yet, with polls going down as relentlessly as gas prices rise, what choice do Republicans have? Like a string of climbers pulling each other, one after another, over the cliff, they are desperately trying to separate and save themselves.

An April 27 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll painted a picture of that
cliff: only 24 percent of the American public now thinks the country is headed in the right direction. That's the question through which the public reveals its collective assessment of the party in power -- and that's the lowest level posted in nine years of records on

Amazingly, things may get worse.

The San Diego Union Tribune and the Wall Street Journal reported in the last week that defense contractor Brent Wilkes, disgraced former congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham's alleged co-conspirator, kept suites in the Watergate Hotel (of all places) where lawmakers -- no one knows how many -- were brought in hooker-equipped limos to "relax."

As for the president, whose agenda -- especially, of course, Iraq -- got Republicans into this pickle, things are hardly better.

Tuesday a USA TODAY/Gallup poll pegged Bush's job approval rating at 34 percent, two points below its previous low. CBS, Fox and CNN all put the president in the 32-33 percent range. What will happen if Karl Rove is soon indicted in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame?

In an irony-laden note, MSNBC reported Monday that at the time Plame's cover was blown she was monitoring the Iranian nuclear program.

Not only did her outing harm that effort, according to reporter David Shuster's sources, but the Iraq war has since constrained U.S. leverage in dealing with the growing Iranian nuclear threat. All this starts with Bush's insistence on pursuing the bogus Iraqi nuclear threat revealed by Plame's husband Joe Wilson, for which she was punished.

With or without Bush as an effective campaigner, the Republican Party still has a friend in the gerrymandered congressional map. But the coalition they've been trying to hold together for years is unraveling fast.

On Monday the libertarian Cato Institute, once a reliable partner in the Republican juggernaut, published a report, "Powersurge," which details Bush's "relentless push for power." And they find fault with the rubber-stamp Congress now trying to distance itself from the president.

"The Bush administration's view of executive power," wrote study authors Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch, both well-known, and rabid, anti-Clintonistas, "amounts to the view that, in time of war, the president is the law, and no treaty, no statute, no coordinate branch of the U.S. government can stand in the president's way."

According to Boston Globe report last Sunday by Charlie Savage, this has led to Bush purposefully to break as many as 750 laws -- while Congress looked the other way -- in the belief that he has the inherent right as president to ignore them. That, says Cato, is a fundamental violation of his oath of office.

Come November high gas prices may be the least of anyone's worries. But if George Bush is still kryptonite, and congressional Republicans are seen as his lackeys, it makes one wonder if it wouldn't be in their best interest to impeach Bush themselves -- not just for high crimes and misdemeanors, but in order to set themselves free.

Time to Bury Cheney Doctrine, Go on an Energy Diet

Thu, 27 Apr 2006 07:37:01 -0600

On the level of political theater, it's great sport watching the most oil industry-conflicted administration in the history of history try to weasel out of responsibility for consumer anger over pump shock. If we're paying $5 a gallon in October, Dennis Hastert might as well invite Nancy Pelosi in early to measure the drapes.

For Democrats, meanwhile, Bush's August energy bill has become a symbol of largesse to big oil. But they forget that blue-collar state colleagues, like Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, wrote into the bill more lenient auto fuel consumption rules designed to preserve jobs in Detroit at the expense of the environment - and, now, consumption-driven gas prices.

We're so busy assigning blame that we've forgotten that there are people who support higher gas prices, and for defensible reasons. I'm not talking about oil execs, with their $400 million dollar retirement packages and who this week report their latest exploding profits.

I'm talking about the same liberals who, ironically, are now bashing Republicans over those prices.

Liberals and greens have long argued that European-style gas prices would result in more efficient energy use - including greater use of public transportation - and, in the long run, less pollution. They'd rather it had been accomplished through higher taxes rather than higher profits, but the fact remains that around the country, that's exactly what's happening. Higher prices may even lower your auto insurance rates, according to a recent report, because you'll be driving less.

We're all unwittingly engaged in a huge market study that may finally reveal at what gas price yours and my driving habits are moderated.

The political calculation of who's causing the increases may not even be based on the right questions. A recent CNN poll revealed 48 percent blame the oil companies, 20 percent lawmakers, 19 percent gas-guzzling vehicles, and 13 percent OPEC. CNN didn't include a fifth option: Me.

Regardless of how you frame it, the complexity of the issue won't mitigate the criticism the party in power deserves over the fiasco. But it's also time for a little honesty on the left. Liberals assume they're the ones with credibility on this issue, but whether oil industry profits are obscene or not, it's disingenuous to celebrate the benefits of higher gas prices and simultaneously lash out at them.

Admitting that high gas prices are achieving long-cherished environmental goals would mean giving them up as a political cudgel. It's much safer to talk about price gouging (which may well be taking place) and windfall profits taxes (maybe a good idea, although not if they result in lower production and even higher prices). Republicans have eagerly jumped on these bandwagons-cum-political life rafts, hoping to escape the angry mob.

In the end this may all be about something as simple as calories. We consume them inefficiently, in our bodies and our cars, and we have become fat and lazy.

It's time to bury the last vestiges of the Cheney doctrine and put America on an energy diet, which liberals and conservatives alike should embrace. If American oil companies won't use their profits to make the kind of investments in renewable alternatives that their European counterparts have made, then the public will insist, rightly, that those profits be taxed and the money given to someone who will do the job.

Meanwhile, both sides should focus less on the 2006 election and more on seizing this moment in history to craft a real energy policy for the 21st century - five years after it got off to an abortive start in Toronto.