Archive for November, 2009

Why Tiger Woods Should Be Left Alone

November 30, 2009
Tiger Woods, his wife Elin Nordegren, and their daughter in Palo Alta, CA at a Stanford football game on November 21 (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Tiger Woods, his wife Elin Nordegren, and their daughter in Palo Alta, CA at a Stanford football game on November 21 (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Over the weekend, I wrote a column for The Daily Beast arguing that sports fans would be better off if we all ignored whatever happened in Tiger Woods’ driveway.

Every aficionado knows that sports are worth playing and watching as a simulacrum of life. Contriving various games with sets of rules, and leagues of competitors, we’re meant to enjoy the beauty of athletic prowess, to be awed by bodies that can do things ours can’t, to experience the suspense of live competition, the thrills of victory, and the lows of defeat—and to learn from the spectacle, all without the consequences of actual battle.

The effect is ruined when real life intrudes, even if only in the mind of the viewer, just as a movie is diminished when an actor’s real-life personality is as much a presence as the character he is playing, or a play suffers when a stagehand is heard sneezing behind the scenery during a climactic scene.

Basketball happens to be my favorite game. I’ve rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers ever since my father sat me beside him as an infant to cheer on Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. There are game-winning shots—Magic’s hook against the Celtics, Brian Shaw’s banked-in three-pointer against the TrailBlazers, Derek Fisher’s heave with less than a second on the clock to beat the Spurs—that caused me to involuntarily leap off the couch, shout aloud with joy, and crash back down, heart pumping, grin plastered upon my face. In exchange for these highs, I suffer the Lakers’ losses, but at worst I am slightly grumpy the evening after they are eliminated from the playoffs. Awaking the next day, it hardly matters to my life that another victory will have to await next season.

It is sometimes inevitable that real life intrudes on this bargain, as when Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, an event I hardly knew how to process as a 12-year-old kid who idolized him. Kobe Bryant’s rape trial is another event that a Lakers fan couldn’t help but have to know about. And could any of us enjoy his on-court performances quite as much during that fateful season?

In contrast, Tiger Woods isn’t retiring, or deathly ill, or accused of a serious crime that could cause him to miss a year of golf, or even send him to jail for life.

We can ignore this story. We should take advantage of that fact!

The piece is currently the most popular on that site — I’m not sure how they measure that exactly — and the comments section is, surprisingly, as heated as any I’ve seen there, despite the fact that I often write about America’s most polarizing political figures. As Freddie from The League of Ordinary Gentleman noted on Twitter, “People are awfully offended by the idea that they should mind their own business.”

Kashmir Hill says this about my argument:

But every aficionado* also knows that psychology is a huge part of sports. The success and failure of sports teams and athletes are determined not just by how well-trained their bodies are, but also by their mental focus. Next time Woods is on the green, you know this will be on his mind. Knowing this and judging whether it impairs his play or not is all part of the spectacle.

Actually, if I had to bet, I’d guess that Tiger Woods won’t be thinking about this incident the next time he is on the green — my guess is that Mr. Woods, like many exceptionally successful professional athletes, finds that being on the course is the most thorough escape he ever has from the concerns of real life. That’s what Kobe Bryant said during his rape trial, when he would fly back from Colorado court sessions to play in evening games. I don’t think he was lying, both due to his stats that season, and because even an amateur high school athlete like me escaped from the stresses of life on the tennis court, despite having nowhere near the focus or concentration of a superstar athlete.

It is also worth noting that by the standards that Kashmir suggests, we are entitled to know literally everything about professional athletes, since anything might affect their mental focus. As I wrote in my piece, “…goings on inside a gated community that involve the private life of an athlete and his wife? I no more want to know the details than I want to know how often Tiger masturbates, another bit of gossip that would do good traffic on the Internet.” I wasn’t merely being provocative with that line. I think it neatly demonstrates that there are some things we obviously haven’t any right to know about an athlete, even though it makes us curious, or lends insight into his mental state… or affects his abilities as an endorser of products.

That’s the other argument you see from folks who defend the media circus surrounding the Woods incident. Again, here is Kashmir:

Woods is very much a celebrity. He has graced the covers of many magazines and, more importantly, he has sold his brand to an assortment of advertisers: Woods has earned more than $100 million annually and, according to Forbes, more than $1 billion during his career thus far, thanks, in part, through endorsement deals with companies such as Nike, Gatorade, Electronic Arts, TAG Heuer and Gillette. – via “Tiger Woods’ Accident Shakes Advertisers” – ABC News.

Another company that has packaged and sold the Tiger Woods brand is the consulting company, Accenture. On its website, Accenture says: “As perhaps the world’s ultimate symbol of high performance, he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses.”

Woods has profited mightily from people’s fascination with him. Having accepted over a billion dollars for the marketing and selling of his personal brand, it’s hard for Woods to now make the argument that his brand is entitled to privacy, or for anyone to argue that he is not a public figure.

That Accenture tag-line is worth emphasizing. It calls Tiger Woods a “symbol of high performance,” not a symbol of personal rectitude, or marital excellence. If I am a manager who hires Accenture to help downsize my workforce, I am expecting consultants who perform capably under pressure, not Wharton grads who do community service on the weekends and bring their wife chocolate covered strawberries every Thursday evening.

It’s obviously true that Woods’ is considered a “safe” celebrity endorser among the companies who hire him, which increases his value as a spokesperson, but is anyone under the illusion that he was chosen by Nike or Cadillac due to his high morals? There are any number of upstanding citizens on the PGA Tour whose name no one knows, and who Nike won’t endorse even if they give a kidney to a dying Somali child in between tournaments. Woods’ brand is inseparable from his stature as the best golfer in the world, and ultimately separable from his personal life. (How many people didn’t even know until this weekend that he is married?).

The people arguing that by accepting endorsement deals, Tiger Woods cedes any right to be upset about violations of his privacy have chosen a particularly poor example for their argument, because Mr. Woods never had any choice about being a celebrity. The kid played golf since before he can even remember. As the first black man to make it to the top of a lily white sport, jumping from a stellar amateur career to early majors victories, he was always going to be a household name, even if he never signed a single endorsement deal. Put another way, so long as he wanted to play the sport that has defined his life since he was a toddler, he had to give up much of his privacy, and who among us, put in his position, wouldn’t accept millions of dollars of extra monetary compensation in exchange? Would we then be giving up whatever privacy we had left? Given how much Tiger Woods makes from golf alone, it is quite plausible to me that if he could, he’d trade all the endorsement checks for the ability to dine in a restaurant or take his kids to Disneyland without being mobbed.

As I said in my piece, “Except in the most extreme circumstances, athletes shouldn’t be treated as public figures when they are off the court, the field, or the course. It diminishes what they add to society, irrationally elevating their private lives in ways that do a disservice to them and to us.” I remain unconvinced by the counterarguments I’ve seen that say otherwise.

Ignorant Attacks on Gays and Lesbians

November 25, 2009

Via Rod Dreher, I see that the Ochlophobist has some mighty wrongheaded views about gays and lesbians (emphasis added).

This is the I’ll have my cake and eat it too phenomenon – I’ll send my $500 to the Christians Rightly Allied Against Perversion (CRAAP) fund to have them lobby against homosexual marriage, but I still want my 4 large screen TVs in the house so that my 2 kids can each play their video games while my wife watches Desperate Housewives and I watch the instruction DVD which explains to me how to operate the DVD players in my new 26 foot long Ford Explosion. What I do not “get” when I do this is that when I live in a manner that assumes the correctness of grossly gratuitous consumption, I live in a manner that assumes that homosexuality should be socially accepted. Why? Because like calls out to like. Homosexuality as a lifestyle and as a moral act is a decadent, gratuitous form of consumption in which the human person becomes commodified. In fact the normative accoutrements which gays and lesbians themselves often heartily embrace as representative of their lifestyle convey a pervasive quality of consumer oriented decadence (yes, there are exceptions; they prove the rule). It would seem that such a false ontology would naturally follow from a relationship based upon a sexual act which can never rise above entertainment.

When I read this kind of nonsense, stated as though it were self-evident, I cannot help but think that there is a significant body of orthodox religious believers whose views on homosexuality require the maintenance of breathtaking ignorance about how actual gays and lesbians live in the real world.

Is it possible to count average gay couples as close friends and to regard all their relationships as gratuitous consumption decisions? Can one be aware that homosexuality exists in every impoverished country on earth, and persist in the belief that it is somehow intrinsically tied to fancy accoutrements? After listening to a long established gay couple discuss the anguish of how to handle intimacy when one partner is HIV positive and the other isn’t, can one possibly describe that sexual act as one that “can never rise above entertainment”?

It is stunning how confident some people are in pronouncing on the nature of homosexuality as though they could reason it out deductively from first principles, starting with the fact that it is verboten in the Bible, and inexorably reaching the required conclusions, worldly evidence to the contrary be damned. These people’s conclusions are about as sound as the insights you’d get if you gave an immortal alien race that never reproduces the story of Abraham and Issac, formal training in theology, and little if any contact with any actual human families, and asked them to make their best effort at stating the nature of the parent child bond among modern Christians.

Are Republicans or Democrats Bigger Spenders?

November 25, 2009

Addressing my recent post on America’s dire fiscal situation, Jamelle writes that “the reflexive, evidence-free dismissal of the CBO scores at the beginning of Conor’s post is enough to convince me that he isn’t actually interested in hearing liberal ideas for bringing the United States back on a firm fiscal footing.” Actually, my belief that the CBO scores are misleading isn’t a reflexive one. It is based on reading numerous pieces on health care legislation that note how the Democrats who wrote it intentionally did so in a way to get a favorable score. I’ve been particularly attuned to this because I follow the work of my friend Peter Suderman, even when he writes about stuff that wouldn’t otherwise interest me.

He writes:

When the Congressional Budget Office scores a bill, its looks at the budgetary effects over the immediate ten year window. So on the health care bill, the headline cost of $849 billion covers the period between 2010 and 2019. Problem is, it’s a misleading figure since most of the new programs don’t actually kick in until 2014, and, as a result, most of the spending—99 percent, according to the CBO—doesn’t occur until the final six years. That means it’s not actually a very good reflection of how much it’s going to cost to run the bill’s new programs over a decade-long period.

Think of it this way: If you decided to add the cost of a gym membership to your budget next year, at $100 a month, it would cost you $1200. But if you decided to wait until July to join, the cost would only be $600 in next year’s budget. Cheap, right? Well, not really, because the following year, and every year after, the membership would cost you the full $1200. That’s basically what Democrats are doing here: Holding off on implementing the bulk of the reform’s new programs and new spending in order to make the initial total seem less expensive.

Online and in conversation I’ve sought out counterarguments. As best as I can tell, Peter’s analysis is correct. I’m unsure why Jamelle would assume that I took my stance reflexively, let alone assume that my thoughts on one particular instance of CBO scoring implies that I haven’t any interest in Democratic efforts to fix the budget deficit.

Jamelle goes on to say this:

it’s worth reminding Conor that in the three decades since the Republican Party became the dominant political coalition in American politics, the deficit has been reduced exactly once, and that was during Bill Clinton’s presidency. All three Republican presidents of the “conservative era” – Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush – were responsible for significant increases in the deficit, and in the case of the latter, a tremendous increase in the overall national debt.

This is a paragraph out of a Gene Healy nightmare. Implicit in it is the notion that the President of the United States determines the federal deficit. My own political analysis figures Congress as a relevant factor in weighing which party is most fiscally responsible. It is a rather uncontroversial reading of history to say that Ronald Reagan, given his druthers, would’ve cut domestic spending more than he did, while Congressional Democrats were the staunches opponents of his government shrinking agenda. I haven’t reviewed George H.W. Bush’s tenure for quite some time, but President Clinton, given his druthers, would’ve passed a costly universal health care bill at the very least, and it is rather strange to give Democrats all the credit for the deficit reduction that happened during his watch given the explicit fiscal conservatism of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 House takeover, the peace dividend the United States enjoyed at the end of the Cold War, and an economic boom unprecedented in history.

I certainly credit President Clinton for being a better domestic policy president than his successor, and it is fair to say that Republican presidents fail the test of fiscal responsibility when it comes to defense spending. When it comes to electing Senators and Congressional Representatives, however, a perfectly rational case can be made that voters in many districts are better off pulling the lever for Republicans. In fact, my intuition, which I haven’t studied enough to confirm, is that the country is best served by a centrist Democratic president and a Republican led Congress hell bent on improving the efficiency of government. It is fashionable now for Democrats to cite the fiscal discipline of President Clinton, and the profligate spending of George W. Bush, but they never include the fact that Bush’s massively expensive prescription drug benefit was very popular among Democrats in Congress, and that insofar as there were voices calling him out for his spending, they were more often than not coming from the right.

Obama and American Exceptionalism

November 23, 2009

Victor Davis Hanson:

After all, Obama has rejected in explicit language the notion of American exceptionalism.

Barack Obama:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

The Purpose of Journalism — Attacking A Common Definition

November 21, 2009

David Cohn, an acquaintance from my journalism school days in New York City, is an innovative thinker whose work I follow eagerly, and whose success I desire greatly, but I disagree vehemently when he defines the goal of journalism as follows:

At its best the aim is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” This is one of my favorite quotes on the purpose of journalism.

That’s one of my least favorite quotes about journalism. Sometimes the comfortable achieve their perch justly. And the afflicted occasionally get their just deserts. Captain Sullenberg is awfully comfortable these days. Osama Bin Laden is hunted by the most powerful military on earth. Is it journalism’s goal to bring balance to that situation? When the distinctions are finer than the ones in the extreme examples I’ve cited is journalism even capable of deciding who it should afflict and who it should comfort? Doesn’t asserting that the end of journalism is “comforting” and “afflicting” imply that truth is incidental, insofar as lies can often comfort and/or afflict better than anything else?

The goal of journalism is to convey reality as accurately as possible, and as enjoyably as possible so long as accuracy isn’t sacrificed. Or at least that is a much better purpose than pretensions about deciding who should be comforted and who should be afflicted, and manifesting one’s value judgments. Journalism is not the earthly incarnation of God on the day of reckoning.

That said, the journalism David Cohn does is top notch. And check out his project Spot.us. He is helping to figure out what’s next.

Why I Write About Sarah Palin, and Other Critics Should Too

November 20, 2009

Damon Linker:

No one who cares about the health of American political culture can be pleased about the emptiness of the whole Palin phenomenon, let alone the prospect of such a cipher running for president. But how to respond? Most Palin critics (from the casual to the obsessive) have done what one would expect: they have hit back, pointing out her lies and deceptions, mocking her mediocrity and unsuitability for high office.

Criticism has its place, of course. And yet, on Palin I’ve come to favor a different approach—one that refuses to collude with the media-driven farce. To respond to an opponent, even harshly, even rudely, is to accord her a certain respect—to treat her as worthy of a response. But Palin is worthy of no such thing. She stands for nothing beyond her own self-promotion. She craves attention, and negative attention is a form of attention. Even ridicule can be a form of flattery. Better to bow out, to decline the provocation, since responding to her perpetuates and legitimates the illusion that she’s a serious player in our nation’s politics. I, for one, refuse to play that silly little game. And I wish more of her critics felt the same way. Instead of wasting their analytical and polemical talents on the topic, they could work to change the subject to something more substantive and deny Palin what she most greedily craves: the spotlight.

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Though I find myself wanting to be persuaded by this argument — and despite wanting to read Damon Linker on 6 dozen topics before I’d even suggest that he write about Sarah Palin — I think the arguments he presents here are flawed. Many of Ms. Palin’s critics aren’t “responding” to her, they are making arguments about how fellow citizens judge her. Political discourse overflows with examples of responding to folks who deserve no respect. Were critics of Joseph McCarthy saying anything by criticizing him except that he had power and abused it? Ms. Palin isn’t a sitting senator, or a despicable McCarthyite, but whether critics write about her or not, she will remain a force in present political debates. Her words, disseminated through right-leaning media and her 1 million Facebook followers, are as influential as anyone on the right. And she is a possible presidential nominee for the Republicans in 2012, something that might not bother a liberal like Mr. Linker, since she’d almost surely lose, but that does bother someone like me, who’d love to back a viable, responsible Republican alternative to Barack Obama, a president with whom I have substantial disagreements.

Ms. Palin’s political critics can no more deny her the spotlight than they can stop her appearances on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, or demand that Oprah’s producers ignore her, or remove the book displays at Barnes and Noble. Insofar as unfair criticisms of Ms. Palin cause Americans who’d otherwise tune her out to rally around, critics can diminish her influence by refraining from wrongheaded attacks and unfair arguments. But denying her the spotlight wouldn’t be within our power even if we could all coordinate our actions, which we can’t.

Do I think that we should obsess over Ms. Palin? I do not. Mr. Linker alludes to her staunchest critic, my former colleague Andrew Sullivan. When he decided that The Daily Dish would go silent for a day to delve into Going Rogue, I wished that he hadn’t — I admire the impulse to pull back from immediately publishing on complicated matters where you’ve got a deep emotional investment, in favor of gathering and analyzing facts and hashing things out with colleagues who dissent from your own viewpoints, but I want to read The Dish’s take on Iran, see reader accounts of their health care experiences, get links to exceptional arguments elsewhere in the blogosphere, etc. There are all sorts of issues that matter more than a former Alaska governor’s quixotic attempt to… well, what she’s doing is a subject for a different post.

As one of the opinion journalists who has written about Ms. Palin in the past, and plans to do so again in the future, I do want to make a case for my approach, and explain why I don’t merely ignore her. The column I’ve filed this last go ’round is a piece at The Daily Beast that is written partly in response to Matthew Continetti’s stream of recent articles about how Ms. Palin might actually turn things around and win the presidency in 2012. His advice — to sum up two lengthy articles in a few words — is that she adopt a free market friendly populism, and do various things to burnish her image as a serious voice on various issues of domestic policy.

Though I object to political books that tell people presently unqualified for higher office how they might achieve it, I recognize that Mr. Continetti is an elegant writer whose intelligence and persuasive abilities aren’t to be underestimated. He is the leading intellect offering his advice to Ms. Palin. What I found striking, both in his articles and general discussion about Ms. Palin’s chances in 2012, is that the former Alaska governor’s defenders aren’t troubled by her utter lack of foreign policy experience — or to be precise, they aren’t sufficiently concerned to advise that boning up on foreign policy be included in her preparation for a 2012 run. This seems to me unusual as a matter of political advice. Would Americans be comfortable with Ms. Palin as Commander in Chief given her current dearth of experience or serious thought on foreign policy? It also reflects a peculiar irresponsibility among her backers, who are touting the political future of a woman who is utterly unprepared to shape our foreign policy, guard our homeland security, or lead our military.

As a voter, I tend to privilege foreign policy above all other matters in presidential elections. It just strikes me as the most important thing. Certainly it is a major responsibility of the office. So as I watched the debate over Sarah Palin’s political future take place, with neither side (and no one I saw in the media) pointing out what I regard as her biggest failing as a potential candidate, or even acknowledging that foreign policy preparedness is a relevant metric — I thought, hey, Ms. Palin’s supporters and journalists like Mr. Continetti who are offering her advice should be called out on this apparent failure to grapple with foreign policy. Hence this column.

It did pretty good traffic judging by the number of comments.

Hopefully, its impact on public discourse is to persuade some readers, “Wow, Ms. Palin’s foreign policy problem really is being ignored here.” I hope it undermines the case being made by her defenders by pointing out a glaring weakness, and makes it marginally less likely — obviously the effect of any one piece like this will be quite small — that she, or future politicians bereft of foreign policy bonifides, will be successful candidates for national office.

There Isn't Any Politician Who Can Save You

November 18, 2009

Ross Douthat writes:

From Glenn Beck to the Tea Parties, much of the energy in the post-Bush G.O.P. is with people who have grasped, albeit sometimes in inchoate ways, that big government and big business are increasingly on one team, and the champions of free markets and limited government are on the other. But they don’t know what to do about it, and what they do seem to know — cutting taxes, and letting the rest take care of itself — is often non-responsive, not only to the problems the country faces, but to the problems they themselves have diagnosed.

As I pointed out in my recent Bloggingheads with Julian Sanchez, the populist right is bound to fail in its quest to oppose big government so long as its efforts are aimed at electing trustworthy politicians. There is this faith so many on the right have that Sarah Palin is different, or that Ron Paul is different, or that somewhere there is another Ronald Reagan who is different, trustworthy, and unwilling to sell out “regular Americans.” But the steady growth in government that’s proceeded apace since the New Deal isn’t driven by personality, or politicians who are unusually duplicitous. It is a structural phenomenon. It is driven by an electorate that wants a free lunch from its government, by lobbyists who successfully shape legislation that benefits special interests, by a lack of transparency when it comes to the cost of government programs, and by a dozen other factors.

If the populist right wants to change anything, it should stop imagining that the answer is a particularly trustworthy leader, and start pressuring every elected leader to adopt specific reforms.

Making Light of Gitmo

November 17, 2009

I’ve had mixed feelings about Pajamas TV since it began. Roger Simon is a real talent, Andrew Klavan often has intelligent points to make, and Glenn Reynolds, a pioneer of the blogosphere, alerts me to a good link I wouldn’t have otherwise seen almost every time that I read his blog. The guy who interviewed me when I appeared on the site was very nice. Instapundit also regularly sends traffic to Megan McArdle, Mickey Kaus, and Radley Balko, so Professor Reynolds and I obviously have overlapping tastes in journalism.

But I am dismayed at some of the content that the folks who run PJTV host on the site. Take the PJTV item that Instapundit teased today. It is a video titled “The Real Guantanamo Bay.” The segment has its merits. I enjoyed seeing some of the faces of men and women serving over there — whatever you think about the existence of Gitmo, it’s a fact that lots of folks serve honorably there. But things start to go downhill when the heavy-handed 9/11 footage is invoked to “remind liberals” that Americans are the actual victims “in all this.”

The most shameful single line in the piece is surely this one:

Maybe we should ship these guys to American prisons. I personally believe that prison should be as unpleasant as humanly possible. Let them bring their prayer rugs and everything. They’re already on their knees five times a day. While they’re at it let’s let them make a few new friends.

But it’s the disingenuous way that the whole debate about Gitmo is rendered that rankles most. The folks who exercise editorial control at PJTV never produce work this shoddy, so they are clearly capable of insisting on better content. I hope they start doing so.

When Should Dissent Happen?

November 17, 2009

That is one of the many questions that Julian Sanchez and I discuss on Bloggingheads.

Discretion is the Better Part of Statemanship

November 15, 2009

The latest complaint from Conservative Inc. blogger Dan Riehl is that President Obama — on a visit to Japan — sidestepped a question about the nuclear attack on that country that concluded World War II.

Mr. Riehl writes:

Asked whether or not the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the appropriate decision, Obama initially ignored the question. Then in an exchange immediately after when reminded of his failure to answer the question, he simply moved on. Evidently that one’s above his pay grade.

Says John Hinderaker at Powerline: “Every time he goes abroad, he embarrasses himself and sells out his country.”

How dismaying that a loud subset of the right so consistently demands that President Obama privilege their childish desire for self-righteous rhetoric above the actual demands of statesmanship. What good would it possibly do to tell the Japanese, “Yes, I think it was right to incinerate your cities”? It wouldn’t do any good. On the other side of the ledger, it would antagonize an allied nation, put its leadership in a difficult spot that might impede its ability to help the United States. President Obama is also endeavoring to slow nuclear proliferation, so it would hardly due to have headlines in Iranian newspapers pointing out that even as he demands that other nations give up nuclear weapons, he is saying that their only actual use in history was justified.

Asked whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, President Obama correctly calculated that answering either yes or no would harm American interests, so he gave neither answer, the wisest course available to him, even if it didn’t satisfy the jingoistic vanity of certain critics.