Thursday, November 24, 2011

Making Americans

by Jeff Jacoby

WITH OUR MUSIC TEACHER, Mrs. Feigenbaum, at the piano playing the melody – the Toreador's Song from the opera "Carmen" – and the lyrics handed out to us on mimeographed pages, my 4th-grade classmates and I practiced one of the songs we were learning for our school's Thanksgiving assembly:

Thanksgiving Day comes once each year
Our president proclaims it far and near.
Thankful for the bounty of our land,
The harvest that makes this nation grand,
Bestowed us from above,
God bless this land,
This precious land we love.

I was a student at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, a Jewish day school where half of the curriculum was devoted to religious studies and the school year conformed to the Jewish calendar. Most of the kids in my class came from Orthodox Jewish homes, and many of us were the children of Eastern European immigrants who spoke Yiddish more fluently than they spoke English.

Yet there we were, kids whose parents may have gotten off the boat only 10 or 15 years earlier and whose family life bore little resemblance to The Patty Duke Show, singing songs about the Mayflower and turkey dinners without a hint of irony. The inculcation of Jewish values and learning was the Hebrew Academy's chief priority, but it was understood that raising kids to be good Jews went hand-in-hand with raising them to be good Americans. Parents and teachers alike took it for granted that the story and traditions of Thanksgiving (or Columbus Day or Washington's Birthday) should be as familiar a part of our cultural identity as the Passover story and its traditions.

I didn't know it at the time, but what my classmates and I were experiencing was the classic model of American assimilation: the process by which immigrants and ethnic minorities, and the children of those immigrants and minorities, had for decades been successfully turned into Americans. In a world filled with ethnic antagonism and religious violence, the United States had found a paradigm for unifying the most ethnically, racially, and religiously varied population on the planet into a relatively tolerant and unified culture.

We rarely reflect on what an astonishing achievement this was. But how many other societies have managed to maintain national cultural unity in the midst of ethnic diversity? Cyprus? Rwanda? Sri Lanka? The former Yugoslavia?

The key to what Peter Salins, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, calls "assimilation, American style" was a balancing act. On the one hand, newcomers streaming to the United States found out quickly that they were expected to become honest-to-God Americans. That meant learning English, getting a useful job, embracing America's democratic values and institutions, and eventually taking the oath as new citizens.

On the other hand, immigrants weren't obliged to shed their ethnic pride, or to drop the foods and customs and festivals they brought with them from their native land. They were free to be "as ethnic as they pleased," writes Salins. The goal of assimilation was not to make all Americans alike; it was to get newcomers, however dissimilar their backgrounds and cultures, to believe that they were "irrevocably part of the same national family."

There was one other key ingredient, which we too easily overlook. Immigrants understood that the country they had come to was in some indispensable way better than the one they had left. They might retain a soft spot for the scenery or clothing or rhythms of life in the old country, they might always prefer their mother tongue to English, they might even pay tuition at a private or parochial school so that the religious or linguistic values they had grown up with would be passed on to their kids.

But underlying everything would be the awareness that they had chosen to be Americans. America was better than their native land -- perhaps because its rulers were corrupt, or because it was riven by war, or because economic opportunities were limited. Perhaps, as in my father's case, because totalitarian tyrants – first Nazis, then Communists – had made life there a hell on earth. Perhaps because, like the Pilgrims, they sought a peaceable society where they could worship as they saw fit without being "hunted and persecuted on every side."

As my fellow 4th-graders and I belted out the lyrics to another song -- "P-I-L-grim fathers landed here on Plymouth Bay" -- we probably assumed that Mrs. Feigenbaum was just getting us ready for the Thanksgiving assembly. She knew, of course, that she was doing something far more important. She was getting us ready to be Americans.



So-Called Electability and MSM Bias

It is open season for the liberal media on any GOP presidential candidate who displays the audacity to surge in the polls, the latest targets being Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. A reasonable case can be made for some of these criticisms, and conservatives often concede the weaknesses, but there is no justification for this same media's ongoing cover-up for the current White House occupant.

Can you imagine how differently our political climate would be if the mainstream media had the slightest inclination toward fairness and balance? The liberal media have never, to my knowledge, shined the spotlight on Obama's many embarrassing gaffes. They have rarely called attention to his deceit, broken promises and policy failures.

Part of the reason is their presupposition that because he's a credentialed left-winger, he is brilliant, and any departure from that is a mere aberration, an exception that couldn't possibly detract from his presumptive brilliance. And as a bona fide "progressive," he is imbued with superior moral standards, and his misdeeds must be excused in exchange for his dedication to policies the liberal media deem are ethically unassailable.

From the mainstream media's perspective, conservatives, on the other hand, are presumptively dimwitted or morally bankrupt, because you can't be intelligent and conservative unless you're morally depraved. Ronald Reagan was an amiable dunce, despite his unparalleled ability to communicate; Dan Quayle was irredeemably simple because he misspelled "potato." George W. Bush was too stupid to tie his shoes (but inexplicably cunning enough to con erudite liberal congressmen into supporting him in his devious plot to depose Saddam Hussein).

GOP candidates magically become less competent or more corrupt the instant they show any signs of electability. Meanwhile, the MSM continue to ignore, defend and lie about Obama's abundant gaffes, policy failures, deceptions, divisiveness and extremism.

Think how different our discussions of electability would be if the liberal media were to:

--Dan-Quayle Obama for his "57 states" and Navy "corpse-man" gaffes.

--Play a video loop of his brain freezes and verbal stutter-steps.

--Showcase his shoutout to Dr. Joe Medicine Crow during what was expected to be a solemn expression of sorrow for the victims of the Fort Hood murderer.

--Air a montage of his bellicose attacks against Republicans, followed by clips in which he bitterly complained of their partisanship.

--Remind him of his immodest pledge to be a post-racial president while having ushered in an acutely race-conscious climate.

--Call him out for wasting $868 billion on a "stimulus" that Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf admitted would have "a net negative effect on the growth of GDP over 10 years."

--Refuse to ignore his cynical admission that he hadn't been altogether honest in claiming there were abundant "shovel-ready" jobs waiting in the wings.

--Point out that he promised to improve America's international image but has turned out to be even less popular in the Muslim world than President George W. Bush and has repeatedly offended our allies and their leaders, the most recent being Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

--Highlight that Obama expressed solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of whom have been arrested for criminality, but demonized law-abiding tea partyers.

--Challenge Obama on his disingenuous commitment to make abortion "safe, legal and rare" while his administration has actively promoted the proliferation of abortion domestically, through its unswerving support for Planned Parenthood and its 900 abortions per day and through its taxpayer-funded lobbying for pro-abortion policies in Kenya and other nations.

--Report that Obama crammed through Obamacare on the false representation, aided by fraudulent accounting, that it would bend the health care cost curve down, even though it actually will greatly increase costs.

--Provide even the most rudimentary scrutiny of the twin scandals of Solyndra -- and its many green cousins -- and "Fast and Furious."

--Tell even part of the sordid tale of Obama's symbiotic relationship with ACORN and the Service Employees International Union.

--Ask Obama how he can be so high and mighty in condemning enhanced interrogation techniques on moral grounds despite knowing that with the implementation of those techniques in just three instances, many American lives were actually saved.

--Press him to explain his shaming Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary race for proposing a health care insurance mandate and then brazenly making such a mandate a foundational component of Obamacare.

--Underscore his phony, though tepid and "evolving," opposition to same-sex marriage while he unleashes a full-frontal assault on traditional marriage through his extraconstitutional refusal to enforce it in court and his active effort to repeal it legislatively.

I speak of an imaginary world, but imagining it should serve to illustrate the extent to which the liberal media conspire to perpetuate a lingering illusion, to the immeasurable detriment of the nation.



Not Herman Cain, please

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain formed a political action committee (PAC) last year, ostensibly for the purpose of supporting other Republicans seeking elective office in the 2010 elections. That’s what Mr. Cain announced in an e-mail to his "Hermanator's Intelligent Thinkers Movement," an online extension of his motivational speaking business, T.H.E. New Voice, Inc.

He called it the “Hermanator PAC.” It raised more than $220,000. Two Republican contenders each received $1,000 from the PAC money (about nine-tenths of 1%). Cain spent the rest of the loot – at least $218,000 (about 99.1%) -- on himself according to federal election commission records.

"By agreeing to help The Hermanator PAC, either by volunteering or by giving a monetary donation, you will be helping to elect conservative candidates that share our principles and values," Cain represented to potential donors. "Let's send President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid a message for the right kind of change."

But Cain, the Hermanator, used almost all the cash instead on five star first class hotel stays, lavish restaurant meals at pricy high-end establishments, and luxurious private airplane travel for expensive jaunts across the country.

The problem for Mr. Cain, according to Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, is that candidates who create PAC’s like these are supposedly legally barred from using any of the funds collected on themselves.

In this case the poor saps who donated to The Hermanator PAC thinking that their contributions were going to help other Republicans get elected were simply duped into establishing a big cushy slush fund for Herman Cain’s personal use.

This news comes on top of earlier reports that a Wisconsin tax-exempt charity called Prosperity USA, founded by Mark Block, Cain’s chief of staff, and Linda Hansen, his deputy chief of staff, doled out some $40,000 worth of iPads, private chartered airplane fees and other high-end expenses for Cain’s fledgling campaign.

Once again, these kinds of payments are supposedly illegal under federal tax and election laws, because nonprofit charities are not allowed to donate money or services to political campaigns.



Free the Market. Save Lives

The prohibition on human-kidney sales is a perfect example of uncompensated third-party harms – negative externalities – inflicted on innocent people by political decision-making. A chief (tho’ not the only) reason given to justify this prohibition is that many people find the thought of a free-market in kidney sales to be distasteful. As a fellow student at UVA Law informed me 20 years ago, “I [my fellow student] just don’t want to live in a society that allows such commerce.” She advised that it’s just so distasteful that it shouldn’t be allowed to occur.

This woman was willing to vote for a policy that results in unnecessary suffering and premature deaths simply so that she and her tender sensibilities might be spared what for her is the unsavory knowledge that somewhere in America some people voluntarily and peacefully engage in exchanges that are mutually agreeable and, frequently, life-saving. Having her ‘say’ in other people’s lives – without her having to pay to exercise that say or to compensate those people harmed by her vote – is an instance of a politically induced negative externality....

More broadly, this example highlights the strength of Carl Dahlman’s important 1979 argument (in the Journal of Law & Economics) that, ultimately, what is and what is not a policy-relevant externality is not a matter of objective science but, rather, of value judgments.

My law-school classmate from long ago might well reply that the psychic harm inflicted on her by the knowledge that legal kidney sales are taking place would itself be a negative externality unleashed by the legalization of such sales.

And she’d be correct. Or, at least, neither I nor anyone else would be able to disprove her positive claim of being severely psychically harmed by knowing that such legal sales occur.

Some value judgment must be exercised to weigh the value of saving people from suffering and dying prematurely against the value of saving the tender psyches of people such as my former classmate.

Most people, I believe, value saving innocent lives and preventing unnecessary physical suffering more highly than they value preventing the ethically sensitive among us from having to endure pangs of anguish caused by the knowledge that other people are buying and selling human kidneys. (This case isn’t close to being ‘close’ – for example, as between valuing the farmer’s desire to grow crops without worrying about those crops being set afire by sparks from a passing locomotive, and the railroad’s desire to run its train at top speed over its tracks that abut a cornfield.)

Trouble is, each person is intimately familiar with and concerned with his or her own personal psyche – each person gets the full measure of pleasure from gratifying that psyche and suffers the full measure of disappointment or anguish from irritating that psyche. A busybody – especially one unaware of the unintended economic and medical consequences of banning kidney sales – is too likely, then, to gratify his or her psyche by imposing uncompensated burdens on those people who wish to purchase kidneys and on those who wish to sell their kidneys.

If we agree that saving lives is more important than saving tender psyches, then the policy of preventing the buying and selling of kidneys at market prices inflicts on innocent third-parties a policy-relevant negative externality – and, frankly, one that is especially heinous.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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