Sunday, December 12, 2004

Victor Cuvo, Editor
Volume I, No. 2


Music

After Pavarotti

Terry Teachout
from COMMENTARY MAGAZINE

Who was the most significant opera singer of the second half of the 20th century? The question, of course, is unanswerable. But ask who had the most significant career, and there can be only one possible answer: Luciano Pavarotti. Along with Leonard Bernstein, Van Cliburn, and Vladimir Horowitz, the Italian tenor was among the handful of postwar classical musicians whose name was generally known to the public at large. Though he retired from the operatic stage last March—he will continue to appear in concert until he turns seventy next October—he remains a star.

Now Pavarotti is the subject of a tell-all memoir by Herbert Breslin, his former manager and publicist. Written in collaboration with the music critic Anne Midgette, The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti’s Rise to Fame by His Manager, Friend, and Sometime Adversary dishes up a generous helping of the gossip that its subtitle promises.1 If you long to know all about Pavarotti’s compulsive eating and womanizing, The King and I is the book to read.

Renée Fleming’s The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer, by contrast, is as decorous as the author herself, who in the past decade has become the best-known American opera singer of her generation.2 Instead of recounting the travails of her private life (which include a painful divorce), she has chosen instead to concentrate on purely professional matters:

As I set about my education as a singer, I devoured the autobiographies of my predecessors, hoping to find the kind of advice that would improve my singing, but mostly what I found were entertaining accounts of celebrated lives. . . . I searched for such a long time for the book I wanted to read that finally I decided my only recourse was to try to write it myself.

At first glance, it would seem that these two singers have little in common except their celebrity. Unlike the unschooled, incurious Pavarotti, who never sang art songs or modern classical music, and who found it all but impossible to learn new operatic roles of any kind, Fleming has appeared in contemporary opera (she created the role of Blanche DuBois in André Previn’s operatic version of A Streetcar Named Desire) and is widely admired for her song recitals. Yet to read The King and I and The Inner Voice in tandem is to be reminded that, like all of today’s opera singers, she too lives in the shadow of her older colleague. No singer in our time has done more to reshape the face of major-house opera than Pavarotti, for better or—mostly—for worse.



How good was Pavarotti? Will he be remembered a century from now, as we remember such indisputably great tenors of the past as Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, or Lauritz Melchior? Possibly, but not necessarily.

To be sure, he was in his prime a remarkable singer, without doubt the foremost lyric tenor of his day, and well beyond his fiftieth year his luminous, pointed tone and crisp diction retained much of their quality. On the other hand, Pavarotti was never a distinctive interpreter, and his acting was at best barely competent. Instead, he cultivated an expansive, outgoing manner (“He plays the part of being Pavarotti with succulent delectation,” Nicolas Slonimsky quipped) that charmed his listeners at the expense of the dramatic credibility of the operas in which he appeared.

As a result, he had less and less to offer once the natural beauty of his voice began to succumb to advancing age. As I wrote in a New York Daily News review of a recital he gave eight years ago at the Metropolitan Opera House:

Vocally speaking, Pavarotti is no longer consistently comfortable above high A, and moves from soft singing to loud only with audible grinding of gears (he doesn’t have much of anything in between). . . . Why does this matter? Because Pavarotti has nothing to offer but his voice. Most singers who perform into their old age do so in order to share new musical insights. But Pavarotti’s artistry has not deepened with age, nor has he shown any serious interest in exploring unfamiliar repertoire.

I enjoyed seeing Pavarotti on stage and in concert as late as the early 90’s, but I cannot claim to have found his performances illuminating, and for the most part his studio recordings lacked the imaginative idiosyncrasy needed to make them truly memorable.3 Yet it was at that precise moment that he succeeded in establishing himself as the world’s most popular opera singer.



What made him stand out from the crowd? Herbert Breslin supplies the answer in The King and I, and while it is self-serving, it is also correct. Pavarotti’s unique popular success was made possible by shrewd promotion. An unabashed vulgarian with a knack for salesmanship, Breslin handled Pavarotti less as an artist than as a product:

I kept him in front of the public with one performance, one event, one “first” after another. First U.S. recital, first “Live from the Met” broadcast, first solo recital from the Metropolitan Opera stage, first American Express commercial, first solo concert in a 20,000-seat arena. . . . I brought that tenor out of the opera house and into the arms of an enormous mass public.

Breslin was not the first promoter to use the mass media to sell classical music; opera singers had been hiring publicists as far back as the 30’s. Nor was he the first to recognize that for singers, the big money was not in opera, with its limited per-service fees and high overhead, but in solo concerts, where the artist performs for a percentage of the gate. What made Breslin exceptional was his ambition—and his good timing.

When Breslin and Pavarotti began working together, it was still possible to get classical musicians into the pages of Time and Newsweek and on TV programs like The Ed Sullivan Show. Recognizing that his client’s rough charm made him a natural for mass marketing, Breslin promoted him as aggressively as “a bar of soap,” working closely with Decca/London, the tenor’s record label, which hawked his albums no less energetically.

Not all of Breslin’s ideas worked. Pavarotti’s appearance in the feature film Yes, Giorgio (1982), for instance, was disastrous. And as the 70’s gave way to the 80’s, it became steadily harder to get the tenor, or any other classical musician, on network TV. But by then he had become sufficiently well known to sell out such huge arenas as New York’s Madison Square Garden. When the Hungarian promoter Tibor Rudas had the idea of presenting him in concert with Placido Domingo and José Carreras, billing the group as “The Three Tenors,” Pavarotti no longer had to rely on TV—or on Herbert Breslin. He had become a self-sustaining media phenomenon.



Pavarotti’s appearances and recordings with the Three Tenors, though of negligible artistic value, were not in and of themselves a bad thing. Here is what I wrote of them in 1996:

In a way, the Three Tenors are the closest thing we have to the lost middlebrow culture. Far coarser in their approach than, say, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (that quintessential middlebrow institution), they are still capable of lifting aspiring music lovers from a more debased level of culture to a less debased one.4

But as was to be demonstrated by the rest of Pavarotti’s later career, the Three Tenors phenomenon also had an unintended consequence: inflating the commercial expectations of the recording industry to a dangerous degree. The major classical labels thereafter sought to reproduce the unprecedented success of the Three Tenors by “encouraging” their top artists to record “crossover” versions of popular music (Pavarotti was a prime offender) and similar projects meant to reap maximum short-term profit.

This fateful shift in emphasis, coupled with the equally unforeseen effects of digital recording and web-based file sharing, led in a few short years to the implosion of the classical recording industry. The long-term effects of this development will be of incalculable significance in the immediate future, since recordings were the engine that drove the international star system on which the culture of classical music had hitherto been based.5



In The Inner Voice, Renée Fleming describes the realities of a post-Pavarotti singing career. A “heavy” lyric soprano whose core repertoire consists of the operas of Mozart and Richard Strauss, Fleming is one of the last classical singers to have been signed by Decca/London, Pavarotti’s label. A beautiful woman with a warm, engaging offstage personality, Fleming was an ideal candidate for mass marketing, and though her artistic priorities could hardly have been more different from those of Pavarotti, she was handled by her promoters in similar ways.

Matthew Epstein, Fleming’s manager, pushed her to restrict her wide-ranging repertoire so as to make her more attractive to opera companies; Mary Lou Falcone, her publicist, sought to place her on a “steady upward trajectory” of media exposure. Like Pavarotti (though for different reasons), Fleming then began to cut back on opera in favor of concert appearances, and Decca/London capitalized on the success of these events by releasing a series of glamorously packaged recital CD’s with such titles as By Request and The Beautiful Voice.

So far, Fleming has managed to steer clear of at least some of the pitfalls that can befall so aggressively marketed a singer. As she proudly explains in The Inner Voice:

If I wanted to capitalize on my commercial potential entirely, I would sing only the most popular classical arias, not in their original forms, but arranged stylistically to fit everything from techno to Hollywood film music. I would sing even less opera, and then only Italian opera and not the lesser-known Strauss and French rarities that I adore. I would tour only my recordings in pursuit of ever larger sales, rather than performing world premieres and the concert repertoire of Strauss, Berg, and Schoenberg.

All this is true—and that she has tried to resist the trap of marketing is admirable. Yet, as Fleming herself suggests, she may have paid a price for not resisting harder. “These days,” she writes, “it sometimes feels as if I spend more of my time on the logistics of singing than I do on the art and performance of it.” Might this preoccupation be affecting her artistry? In recent years, it seems to me, Fleming’s singing has not developed, either expressively or technically, in the ways once expected of it, to the point where one can no longer be certain that she will become a truly great singer (as opposed to an exceptionally good one). Whether this can be attributed to the heavy emphasis she and her handlers have placed on career development cannot be known—but neither can the possibility be discounted.



Renée Fleming continues to make much of her great gifts. But The Inner Voice suggests that she knows there are limits to what she can hope to achieve in the diminished world of post-Pavarotti opera.

The major houses where Fleming sings, after all, rarely if ever produce the new operas she longs to perform, just as Decca/London no longer records new full-length performances of the older works in which she most frequently appears.6 And though her publicists continue to make heroic efforts to get her on network TV and into national magazines, the media long ago stopped paying more than cursory attention to the fine arts, making it unlikely that she will ever attain more than a fraction of Luciano Pavarotti’s singular celebrity.

As for Pavarotti himself, his day is nearly done, and all that remains is for posterity to render its final verdict. It may be that my own judgment of his singing will ultimately prove too harsh, and that he will indeed be remembered as one of the great voices of the 20th century. But no matter what tomorrow’s listeners make of his recordings, they will also have to reckon with the other part of his legacy: the effect that he and his promoters have had on the culture of classical music.

Herbert Breslin sums up that effect in his characteristically crude manner:

This book is really the story of two people who came from nowhere. I started out with nothing and worked my way to the very top of this little pissant business and helped change it and alter its limits and redefine the way people see it. Luciano started with nothing and became the most famous opera singer of a generation.

So they did. And so it was that a “little pissant business” that for five centuries had been one of the supreme glories of Western culture suddenly became inflated beyond recognition, then popped like a toy balloon filled with too much hot air. Needless to say, Breslin and his most famous client made out like bandits before the bubble burst. As for the rest of us—including, alas, Renée Fleming—we can expect to live in the wreckage they left behind for a long time to come.


TERRY TEACHOUT, COMMENTARY’s regular music critic and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, also writes about the arts at www.terryteachout.comwww.terryteachout.com. His latest book is All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, published last month by Harcourt.

1 Doubleday, 308 pp., $25.95.

2 Viking, 222 pp., $24.95. Although no collaborator is credited on the dust jacket, it is evident from the acknowledgements that Fleming wrote The Inner Voice together with the novelist Ann Patchett.

3 Two notable exceptions are the spectacularly sung performance of Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment that he recorded in 1968 with the soprano Joan Sutherland (Decca/London 414 520-2, two CD’s) and a 1974 recording of a Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly, whose interpretative distinction is in large part a function of the conductor, Herbert von Karajan (Decca/London 417 577-2, three CD’s).

4 “Battle of the Brows,” COMMENTARY, October 1996, reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader (Yale).

5 I have written about this in a series of pieces for COMMENTARY, the most recent of which is “Why Listening Will Never Be the Same” (September 2002). “Life Without Records,” a longer essay based on these pieces, is included in the Teachout Reader.

6 Signatures: Great Opera Scenes, Fleming’s 1996 debut album for London, contains scenes and arias by Mozart, Dvorák, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and Benjamin Britten that give a clear idea of her promise (Decca/London 455 760-2). Of comparable interest is I Want Magic!: American Opera Arias, conducted by James Levine, which contains selections from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe, Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (Decca/London 460 567-2).


East Carolina researchers study Christmas tree specimens East Carolina University




Features
Searching for the perfect Christmas tree

On a plot of land near Falkland, just west of Greenville, wannabe Christmas trees — Nordmann firs and other species — offer themselves up for science. These trees, property of East Carolina University’s biology department, were planted to see how well they tolerate the hot, dry summers typical in eastern North Carolina.

Christmas trees are a $92 million-a-year business in North Carolina; the state is second in the country, behind Oregon, in the number of trees harvested, and first in dollars earned per tree according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

But currently only one percent of the state’s trees are grown in the Coastal Plains. Fraser firs, by far the most popular species with consumers, are not well suited to the local climate. So East Carolina biologists face a challenge: if they want Christmas trees to be the East’s next cash crop, they must find a commercially viable species that will thrive in the region.

Or they’ll have to make one.

Looking for a Contender
In the eastern part of the state, where pine trees are pervasive, varieties like the Scotch, Virginia and white pines often stand in for the favored Fraser at Christmas time. For 30 years, Bobby Brock, president of the Eastern North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association, has raised Scotch pines on a 3-acre former tobacco field in what he calls “a very one-horse operation.” He’s become quite familiar with the limitations of the species.

“Some trees, like the Virginia pine, really don’t want to be a Christmas tree,” he said. “They have �bad’ genes. They grow crooked and have bare spots. It takes a lot of work to get a good tree.”

Dr. Ronald Newton, a plant physiologist and chair of ECU’s biology department, hopes to provide eastern North Carolina growers with another option. For nearly 25 years he has studied trees and their ability to cope with environmental stresses such as heat, disease and drought. When he came to East Carolina five years ago, the department was just starting to look at Christmas trees as a potential replacement crop for tobacco farmers.

“We’re interested in bringing in Christmas tree species that are adaptable to this area,” Newton said. “The tree that is revered by consumers is the Fraser fir, but it doesn’t do well here, which is understandable when you think about where Fraser firs come from.”

Frasers, which account for 96 percent of the Christmas trees raised in North Carolina, grow almost exclusively in the mountains. So scientists must either create a tougher Fraser through genetic engineering or find an alternative. They are working on both.

“Our goal is to have a Christmas tree species that has all the attributes consumers like and that can be produced in this part of the state,” Newton said. “We’re using two different approaches to accomplish the same thing. With Fraser fir, we are interested in providing resistance to drought and phytophthora, a root-rot disease, and we’re interested in bringing in some new species that might tolerate the environment and increase North Carolina’s share of the national market.”

Those species so far have included the Nordmann fir, Turkish fir, Momi fir, Canaan fir and balsam fir.

“We’re excited because there are some possibilities with those species, particularly the Nordmann, because the Nordmann has characteristics similar to the Fraser fir,” Newton said. Those characteristics include soft needles, a pleasing A shape, strong branches and good needle and moisture retention. “Nordmann is one of the primary Christmas tree species in Europe, particularly in Denmark and the Netherlands,” Newton said.

So far, the Nordmann has proven most resistant to heat and dry conditions. Tests are under way to figure out just what it would need to prosper in this region. Considerations such as the amount of water and fertilizer required are important in determining if the trees can be grown profitably.

Developing a Winner
While researchers look for alternative trees, they have not given up on the Fraser. Genetic engineering might be the key to developing a fir that can take the heat and fight disease.

“If you’re very selective, you can bring in genes to provide resistance to environmental stress or disease,” Newton said. “We have isolated genes from other trees that are induced by drought. We can tell that these genes are very effective when the tree is experiencing drought stress.”

The Aleppo pine of Israel, for example, is a drought-tolerant species that could provide a gene to boost the Fraser’s resistance to hot, dry weather. The Fraser has other enemies, such as fungi and insects, that could also be fought with genetic engineering. That would be a great help to the industry, according to Linda Gragg, executive director of the N. C. Christmas Tree Association, which is based in the western part of the state, where large areas of native trees have been devastated by the phythophtora fungus.

“Just a deer walking across where phythophtora is will spread it from one field to another,” Gragg said. “It is that easy to transfer.”

Genetically modifying plants is not new. Researchers at Cornell University created a variety of papaya tree that resists a virus that threatened to destroy the industry in Hawaii. A type of corn, Bt , produces its own pesticide, thanks to a gene from a bacterium. Cotton and other crops are made to resist a herbicide that kills off the weeds around them. Newton hopes to accomplish similar transformations with the Fraser fir, but the research still has a way to go.

“There are genes out there that would be effective against insects and drought,” Newton said. “We’ve isolated the genes so we actually have the DNA, but we’re not sure exactly how those genes work. Pine trees can have thousands of genes. We don’t really know all their functions.”

So researchers test the genes by inserting them into a plant using an engineered bacterium. Tobacco is commonly used because it grows quickly, allowing researchers to see the results of their work sooner.

The Clone Wars
Getting the right tree is only half the battle. Scientists must also consider effective propagation techniques to produce enough baby trees for research and to start an industry.

“It takes trees a long time to produce cones and seed, three to five years in most cases. That’s a long time to wait,” said Newton, who points to cloning as a much faster way of creating a supply of plants for the lab or the field. Once a technique for clonal propagation is developed for each species, commercial labs can create thousands of trees from the genetic material of one.

Breeders have spent years in small seed orchards carefully transferring pollen from one tree to the cone of another to produce better trees. This laborious process of selective breeding has been around for millennia. East Carolina collaborates with N.C. State University, which provides top-quality Fraser fir seeds for ECU’s cloning experiments.

“A tree out in the forest can clone itself. Even in your yard, you can see shoots coming up off a tree’s root system. That’s cloning. That shoot that comes up is identical to the mother plant,” Newton said. “We’re doing the same thing Mother Nature does. We’re just accelerating it.”

But it hasn’t been easy; fir trees have proven terribly difficult to clone.

“We’ve been working on it for four summers,” Newton said. “We’re tenacious — and perhaps stupid — but we’re going to continue to do it. Fraser fir in particular has been very tough to work with, but we feel like we’ve cracked the problem with Fraser. But with Nordmann, contamination still seems to be a problem for us.”

The contamination comes from microbes on the seeds scientists are working with. They are cloning the trees by embryogenesis, a process by which a callus (a mass of undifferentiated cells) is formed from the embryonic tissues in the seeds. Tiny but complete plants form on the surface of the callus where they can be harvested and nurtured into what most people would recognize as seedlings but are called plantlets because they don’t come from seeds. During this process, the microbes gain access to plant tissue they normally wouldn’t in the wild, and they usually kill the plant. Faculty and students are trying dozens of techniques to sterilize the seeds.

“It’s been very frustrating, almost embarrassing,” Newton said. “We thought we could make some real progress, but we’ve spent a lot of time trying to get rid of microorganisms.”
Frankentrees?

Newton is well aware that cloning and genetic engineering are technologies that can make people nervous.

“Consumers are going to accept a tree that is based on traditional genetics, where you take the pollen of one tree and place it on another. But some consumers may not like the idea of your taking a gene from bacteria and putting it into a Christmas tree,” he said.

Environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, worry that such technologies are moving too fast and that modified species of plants are being introduced before their interaction with their environment is fully understood. They are concerned about plans to create trees that grow faster or produce their own pesticide, often referring to them as “frankentrees” after Mary Shelley’s slapped-together monster. And as Frankenstein’s monster did, critics are concerned that these new life forms will behave unpredictably.

Newton is just as concerned, but more optimistic about the promise of genetically engineered trees.

“Is it going to happen? Yeah, it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s the kind of research that we have to do. We have a gene now that we could use to make trees more efficient users of nitrogen. If we can do that, we can perhaps enhance growth. It can take 10, 11, 12 years to produce a 6-foot Fraser fir. If we can cut off a couple of years, that’s money in the pocket of the grower.

“But we are very concerned about the environment, and we’ll have all kinds of safeguards in place.”

The most important consideration when creating an engineered tree, he said, is to make sure it can’t reproduce or spread its genetic material to wild trees.

“Once you get these things genetically modified, you want to be careful what you place out there,” Newton said. “You make sure the trees you put out there are sterile, so they don’t produce any cones. There are many people in large labs throughout the country looking at producing sterile trees.”

Benefiting the State
Would more Christmas trees grown in the East hurt the growers in the mountains? Gragg, from the Christmas tree association in Boone, doesn’t think so.

“We don’t want to flood the market, but at the same time, we want to keep our market share,” she said, pointing out that West Coast producers have dramatically increased the number of trees they plant each year.

“Our main competition is the artificial tree; it should not be each other,” Gragg said. “We should work together getting the research done, getting the best tree that will grow on both sides of the state and get that tree out as a North Carolina tree.”

Ultimately, whatever tree East Carolina settles on will be patented so that it can be grown only in North Carolina.

“We’re trying to benefit the people of North Carolina so we’re careful to protect the rights of the citizens of North Carolina,” Newton said. As he sees it, the taxpayers have a large stake in this project, and they are the ones who ultimately should reap the rewards.





This story was originally published in East, the magazine of East Carolina University, and was written by David Etchison.

washingtonpost.com

Can the Democrats Fight?
Cold War Lessons for Reclaiming Trust on National Security

By Peter Beinart

Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page A33

At the beginning of the Cold War, liberals had a national security problem. As the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop wrote in 1946, liberals "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: The Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, the Alsops warned, "it is the right -- the very extreme right -- which is most likely to gain victory."

Over the following three years, it did change. Anti-communism, a minority view among liberals in 1946, was by 1949 a cornerstone of liberal belief. Much of the credit goes to Harry Truman, who rallied liberals and other Americans behind containment and the Marshall Plan. But Truman didn't do it alone. At the Democratic grass roots, organizations such as Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) put the struggle against communism at the heart of a new liberal worldview. When former vice president Henry Wallace tried to ally liberals and communists in 1948, the ADA helped defeat his third-party candidacy. And after Republicans took back the White House in 1952, the ADA helped ensure that anti-communism never became an exclusively conservative faith.

Today liberals have a national security problem again. The current "great political reality" is the threat from al Qaeda and totalitarian Islam. And in the shadow of that threat, the right -- including the extreme right -- has won two straight elections, partly because Americans don't trust Democrats to keep them safe.

The problem is deeper than John Kerry. Since Sept. 11 liberals have not created institutions, like the ADA, that make the fight against America's totalitarian enemy central to their mission. To the contrary, key organizations, echoing Wallace, see liberalism's enemies almost exclusively on the right. The result is a lack of liberal passion for winning the war on terrorism -- a lack of passion that has cost Democrats dearly at the polls.

Consider MoveOn.org, which the online journal Salon has called "the most important political advocacy group in Democratic circles." MoveOn was founded in the late 1990s to oppose Bill Clinton's impeachment. But it responded to Sept. 11 by opposing the war against the Taliban. In 2002 it incorporated 9-11peace.org, which also opposed the Afghan war, and questioned the need for greater CIA funding. In the years since, MoveOn has depicted the war on terrorism in overwhelmingly negative terms -- as a menace to civil liberties and a distraction from domestic concerns. Like Michael Moore, it has minimized the al Qaeda threat.

MoveOn didn't turn liberals against the Afghan war. Many of its more than 1.5 million members probably didn't even realize that their organization's leadership opposed it. But MoveOn has done something subtler: Because it is largely hostile to U.S. power, it has not cultivated a desire among liberals to use that power to defeat totalitarian Islam. Partly as a result, the three candidates who placed winning the war on terrorism at the center of their campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination -- Joe Lieberman, Bob Graham and Wesley Clark -- each failed to arouse liberal excitement. And when the New York Times asked delegates to the Democratic convention which issues were most important, only 2 percent mentioned terrorism, and homeland security and defense were each mentioned by 1 percent.

In the late 1940s the ADA saw the battle against Soviet totalitarianism and the battle against domestic injustice as morally intertwined. It used the Cold War to frame its calls for civil rights and civil liberties -- arguing that unless the United States respected human rights at home, communism would gain strength abroad. And it supported large funding increases for defense and foreign aid, insisting that it was the GOP, with its fidelity to tax cuts and a balanced budget, that would not aggressively wage the Cold War.

These arguments are available to liberals again today. The Bush administration's blind eye toward torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay has hurt U.S. efforts to convince the Muslim world that the war on terrorism is a war for human rights. The president's massive tax cuts are draining government of the revenue it needs to adequately fund homeland security and the military. And President Bush's democracy-promotion efforts in the Muslim world have been mostly talk.

Among Democratic foreign policy thinkers, these critiques are hardly novel. Sen. Joseph Biden, for instance, has called for a massive effort to promote secular education in the Muslim world. But Democratic candidates won't stress these ideas unless they gain a following among the party's base. They did during the Cold War because Democrats boasted organizations that connected the party's rank and file to the struggle against the Soviet Union -- building liberal support for efforts such as the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps. The ADA did that crucial work, as did the vehemently anti-communist labor movement. But no one is doing it today. The result is a technocratic Democratic foreign policy establishment, isolated from its own party, and a liberal grass roots that views the war on terrorism in largely negative terms, reserving its positive energies for domestic issues such as health care and abortion rights.

This can change, but only if Democrats build institutions that make the fight against America's totalitarian foe a liberal passion. A half-century ago, they did just that. Now they must again.

The writer is editor of the New Republic. He writes a monthly column for The Post.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company



What Did Goldwater Mean?
On Roe and more.


Phoenix — They continue to celebrate Barry Goldwater. An Institute, now 16 years old, gets in speakers, most of whom reflect on the achievements of their favorite son. Goldwater was an enormously accomplished man, indulgent of life’s amenities and challenged by its perversities. He attracted an extra-political following by cultivating pursuits not easily done by those more timorous than he. He inclined to do that which was risky, including national politics, and he emerged in the early 1960s as spokesman for the conservative wing of the Republican party. A question arose at the Goldwater Institute’s proceedings last week when the speaker dwelled, for a few moments, on the later Goldwater. The story is as follows:

A few years before his death in 1998, Goldwater started taking positions different from those of the conservative constituency at large. Conspicuous here was his defense of Supreme Court decisions involving abortion, gay rights, and the separation of church and state. Most followers of the senator were surprised, and abashed, especially at his defense of abortion. What emerged as a question, at the meeting in Phoenix, was whether his abortion position was owing to judicial ultramontanism, or to his general devotion to individual rights. It is not challenged that Goldwater defended abortion as though it were a closed issue, closed in the sense that the Supreme Court had ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that abortion was a constitutional right.

By one line of reasoning, a woman has the right to do what she chooses with her own body. That position can be taken, and was taken before Roe v. Wade came into town, by many who defended the right to abort. What the Supreme Court contributed was a constitutional validation. If abortion is a “right,” then perhaps the people who exercise that right are no more contumacious than people who write articles and take political positions. That would be a fundamentalist view of human rights, and there are those who believe that Senator Goldwater, when he affirmed the right to abort, was doing nothing more merely than affirming the exercise of human rights in general.

Other analysts believe that the senator was fooled by the respect he felt for the Supreme Court. Since the Court had ruled that abortion was okay, what more argument was there to dwell upon?

There is, of course, the difficulty that the Supreme Court is capable of judgments which, on reflection, observers are free to question, and even to oppose. The overriding question being, of course, whether in the exercise of a “right,” the right of someone else has been transgressed upon. In this case, obviously, the right of the unborn child. If the child has a right, surely it is to live. Therefore, to end his life is to go beyond the plausible limits of the mother’s right.

There were two responses to the Court in the Dred Scott decision. One of them can be characterized, roughly, as Lincoln’s. What he said, pure and simple, was that the Court had reasoned incorrectly. The slave was not “property” in the conventional sense. If so, then an owner who wished to transport that slave to another state or territory, where slavery was not institutionalized, could not do so without imperiling his title to the property.

Others defended the decision, sometimes for political reasons — states rights was a sundering national issue. Therefore great relief was wrought by the positive reasoning: If the Court said it’s okay, then it’s okay.

One visitor to Phoenix recalled that Senator McGovern, during his campaign for the presidency, was asked his views on busing. He replied, “The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the question.”

Which was true, but which did not answer the question: What were the senator’s views on busing?

On abortion, the views of some, pre-Roe and post-Roe, were that no judicial reasoning can validate the expression of freedom when it is invoked in order to obliterate another human life.

Was Senator Goldwater acting as a constitutional exegete? Or was he reasoning for himself that the right of the unborn child was irrelevant? The question was not answered, but Goldwater’s memory had provoked curiosity on the matter, and it is reassuring that how Goldwater thought on a great public question continues to concern thoughtful conservatives.















Security lost and found


By Joel Mowbray

Lost in the flood of attention focused on the defeats suffered by House conservatives — most notably Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner — in the recently passed intelligence bill are some key security-related provisions that made the final cut, despite being initially ignored or opposed by the Senate.
While it's true that Mr. Sensenbrenner lost his bid to close security loopholes that could be exploited — particularly drivers licenses for illegal aliens that could be used to board flights — he was perhaps the biggest winner in terms of ensuring the inclusion of controversial clauses in the bipartisan bill.

Ironically, the steely Wisconsin Republican scored several significant victories precisely because his even more controversial immigration provisions dominated the Democrats' focus.
Notes one veteran Capitol Hill aide: "We wouldn't have won the criminal law changes if the Democrats didn't have to direct all their fire at the immigration stuff."
What did Mr. Sensenbrenner win? Plenty.
Over the past year and a half, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out as "unconstitutionally vague" the federal definition of what constitutes "material support" for terrorist organizations. In conjunction with the Department of Justice, the Judiciary Committee drafted a new definition that would still have teeth, while also addressing the court's concerns. Democrats, however, opposed the new language.
Another victory was the so-called lone wolf provision. Under current law, tracking terrorists who are believed to be acting separate from a terrorist organization — or as a lone wolf — must be pursued and investigated under criminal, not counterterrorism, law. This places often-severe hurdles in the path of investigators, with a silly double standard of affording civil liberties protections only to suspected terrorists who appear to be acting alone. Yet Democrats opposed this reform.
The Judiciary chairman also won passage of stringent mandatory-minimum sentences for certain terrorism-related convictions. The production, construction, import, export, possession or use of dirty bombs, nukes, surface-to-air missiles and smallpox will now carry a statutory sentence of 25 years to life. If someone is killed, the penalty becomes either life in prison or a death sentence. Democrats opposed these mandatory minimums.
The new Sensenbrenner provisions will strengthen the positions of investigators and prosecutors alike in terrorism cases — yet they would have been deemed "too controversial" in final negotiations if the Democrats had not been forced to worry about his immigration proposals.
Less controversial House-authored provisions, which were nonetheless excluded from the original Senate bill, also were included in the final package.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, Republican of California, won on a number of fronts, especially on the so-called terrorist travel sections. Most important, though, was a change in the process for renewing the official designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).
Every two years, the FBI, CIA, Justice Department, and the State Department must go through a lengthy and cumbersome process to renew the FTO designation of any terrorist group, including for the likes of al Qaeda and Hamas.
So, to free up thousands of man-hours of highly skilled and intensely valuable counterterrorism officials, the intelligence bill includes a Gallegly authored clause that changes the renewal period to every five years and significantly streamlines the process. FTO-designated groups can still petition to be dropped from the list — few ever have — but now the burden of proof is on them to show that they are not engaged in any forms of terrorism.
In order to help the State Department in its task of preventing terrorists from entering the United States, Mr. Gallegly successfully pushed an increase in consular officers by 150 each year and for beefed-up training in detection of fraudulent documents. Both measures had the support of Foggy Bottom.
One provision opposed by the State Department, though, was requiring that all nonimmigrant visa applications — meaning those for temporary travel to the United States — must be "reviewed and adjudicated by a consular officer."
What now happens in many consulates and embassies is that although the visa may be physically stamped by a consular officer, most of the legwork is done by Foreign Service Nationals, local residents who work at the post. These workers pose grave security risks, particularly since their fraud is often punished by mere slaps on the wrist — if at all.
Though the media portrayed the final intelligence bill as a near-total loss for House conservatives, the supposedly defeated lawmakers know better. And though he didn't get some of the border security measures he strongly supported, Mr. Sensenbrenner's overall record would suggest that the Democrats only managed to throw him in the briar patch.

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.