Saturday, January 14, 2012

John Rabe

Ever think you'd watch a movie in which the hero was a member of the German Nazi party? Well, okay, Oscar Schindler in the movie Schindler's List, was a party member, I guess, but I can't think of any other candidates, or at least I couldn't until I watched the movie John Rabe the other evening.

Rabe's story was very much like that of Oscar Schindler. He was a German businessman, working for Siemens in Nanking, China in 1937. This was the year the Japanese invaded China and perpetrated the mass slaughter of what became known as the Rape of Nanking, brutally raping and slaughtering some 300,000 Chinese. The horrors perpetrated by the Japanese in Nanking are beyond imagining (see link), but the movie gives a glimpse of what it was like.

Since the Germans were allies of the Japanese in 1937 Rabe was able to use his Nazi Party credentials to carve out a demilitarized safety zone in the city in which Chinese civilians were able to find relative safety from the savagery of the Japanese troops. It's believed that Rabe and a dozen or so other foreigners working together were able to save the lives of some 200,000 Chinese.

The movie (2009) stars Ulrich Tukur as John Rabe and is very well-acted. I strongly recommend the film to anyone who wants to know more about one of the most savage episodes of man's inhumanity to his fellow man ever recorded, and who also wants to watch a film about real heroism during these terrifying days.

There's a biography of Rabe at Wikipedia. The tragedy of his life seems to have been compounded after he left Nanking and returned to Germany, but what he and his associates did for the Chinese is something which should never be forgotten.

Democrat Difficulties

National Review's Yuval Levin lays out the difficulties the president faces in coming up with a viable campaign strategy:
I know we’re all supposed to think that the primaries are poised to turn out a weak Republican nominee and that President Obama will swoop in this fall and carry the day with some brilliant pincer move that simultaneously dubs the Republican too extreme, too moderate, too boring, and too weird. And I suppose it’s possible that the president and his team will suddenly turn out to possess keen political skills they have been hiding somewhere for the past three years. But can we spend a moment pondering the approach that team Obama seems to be hatching so far? Looking at what the administration and the Obama campaign have been doing and saying in the buildup to the general election, it has been awfully difficult to find evidence of a plausible strategy.

Obama has some very daunting problems to contend with, of course. His record of accomplishments, amassed mostly in his first two years in office, is extremely unpopular and so could not be the centerpiece of a reelection campaign. He has presided over the largest deficits in American history and nearly doubled the national debt. He pushed through a large stimulus bill in 2009 that is taken to have been a failure (in no small part because the administration defined metrics for success, like keeping unemployment from rising above 8%, that have plainly not been met) and a health-care reform in 2010 that started out quite unpopular and has gotten only more so with time. Meanwhile the economy remains weak, unemployment remains high, and 80 percent of voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country.

This has left the president in an exceptionally challenging political position in a re-election year. At the beginning of November of 2010, on the day Republicans took 63 House seats and 5 senate seats from the Democrats, Obama’s job approval in Gallup’s daily tracking poll was 44 percent; today it is 43 percent. Party identification in November 2010, according to Gallup, was 31 percent Democrat, 26 percent Republican, and 41 percent independent; in December 2011 it was 27 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, and 42 percent independent. Republicans held a 5 point lead in Rasmussen’s generic congressional ballot that November, and today they have a 6 point lead.

All this suggests there is no self-evident path to reelection for the president. He can hope for significant improvements in the economy to change his fortunes (although the unemployment rate is a good bit lower today than in November 2010 and that doesn’t seem to have done the trick), but he can’t run on his record or rely on some cushion of public confidence and satisfaction. He needs a positive strategy to improve his circumstances. But the campaign strategy his team appears to be putting into place would seem to be very poorly suited to doing so.
To further consternate the Democrats, it looks as if the Republicans are poised to take the Senate and keep control of the House. If this happens, Obama, if he's reelected, will find it very hard to do much of anything which, given his apparent ambitions for the country, is probably a good thing. Not only will Republicans block his legislative agenda and prevent him from naming radical judges to the federal bench and Supreme Court, but they'll surely press investigations of some of Mr. Obama's more suspect cabinet members, particularly Attorney General Eric Holder.

There are thirty three Senate seats up for reelection in 2012 and only ten of them are currently held by Republicans. The remaining twenty three are occupied by Democrats (and one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and several of those twenty three look very vulnerable. Given that in order to take control of the Senate the GOP need only capture seven more seats - and hold on to the ten they have - it looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a very glum year for the Democrats.

Anyway, Levin has some interesting things to say about Mr. Obama's campaign options at the link. It's an interesting read. One of the things we can expect the Republicans to press him on is what, exactly, he intends to do with four more years in the White House. As Levin observes, nothing he's already done is popular (Stimulus, Obamacare), and the only thing he's talked about doing in the future is raising taxes on the rich and imposing more regulations on business. There's nothing innovative, positive or even specific in his message. It's all vague platitudes about everyone doing their "fair share," etc.

One gets the feeling that the only reason he wants to be reelected is so he can continue to take extravagant vacations and play more golf. Of course, if Republicans wind up with control of Congress that's about all he'll be able to do.