Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

Mr. Cohen is in Berlin.  In “Merkel the Great” he says behind her face-in-the crowd demeanor, the chancellor has changed Germany — and Europe — more than people acknowledge.  Mr. Nocera has a question in “Shrugging Off the Shooting:”  Have we reached the point where mass shootings are the new normal?  Mr. Bruni considers “Ted Cruz’s Flinty Path” and says as he rails against Obamacare and raises the specter of a government shutdown, the Texas senator clumsily pursues his dearest cause: himself.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Henry Kissinger famously asked what Europe’s phone number is. Well, now he knows: Dial Angela Merkel.

After eight years in office spanning an economic crisis that has shaken nations from the United States to Greece, Merkel lifted her Christian Democratic party to a share of the vote not seen for two decades. In an election devoid of a theme, she was the subject matter. Her slogan was “The Chancellor.” It was a personal triumph, this near-absolute majority, and it was that alone.

“Larger-than-life great, Angela Merkel,” pronounced Thomas Schmid in a front-page commentary in Die Welt.

Yet she is the face in the crowd rather than the face that stands out. Rumpled, awkward, with her de rigueur blazer and slacks (the former often just a touch too tight), Merkel can seem a study in orchestrated ordinariness, a brilliant creation of election strategists attuned to the post-traumatic German psyche. Perhaps it costs a lot of money to look this plain. But over time it becomes clear that she just is who she is, unchanged by power; a woman, like Margaret Thatcher, who is “not for turning.”

Merkel is a phenomenon. She has captured something in the zeitgeist. In this look-at-me age of image traffickers and spin merchants, she is the sobering antidote. She works hard and is humble. “Power to the Imagination,” went the slogan of the 1968 revolutionaries in Europe. The chancellor is the diametric opposite of that. She is a study in predictability. In the words of Rainer Stinner of the ousted Free Democratic Party, she is “the ultimate incrementalist.” For a post-ideological age, that works.

This Germany does not indulge in experiments. It is stable and rich, with its 5.3 percent unemployment rate, balanced budget and steady growth. Europe’s largest nation, with its taste for doing one thing at a time, is in a phase of consolidation. Here again Merkel fits the spirit of the moment. A leader issued from the former East Germany, she is knitting together the united country with prudence. She represents a pragmatic Germany generation whose dictum seems to be: After the big debates, after the agonizing, let’s just get on with being prosperous.

It is easy to forget that agonizing. Yet what is perhaps most striking, returning here a little over a decade after I finished a tour as a correspondent here, is the intellectual timeout Germany has taken. With each postwar German generation another debate was engaged: The silence of the Adenauer years gave way to angry demands for an accounting from the 1960s generation; and then there was Willy Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto; and the back-and-forth over détente; and the polemics over the stationing of Pershing-2 missiles; and the miracle of unification; and the immense cost of that long process; and finally the pained self-questioning as to whether, after Auschwitz, Germany could ever be “normal” and Germans “proud” — questions that found an answer in the flag-wrapped euphoria of the 2006 World Cup.

Merkel closed the book on all that. She is the great consolidator. That is why she is loved in a nation weary of self-questioning. Sell cars, balance the books, stay competitive, avoid surprises and live happily ever after.

Is this enough for Europe’s most powerful state? Schmid entitled his commentary: “Will the Chancellor Finally Emerge from Under Her Covers?” I suspect she has already emerged: This is who Merkel is. Legacies are not her thing if legacy involves some artificial straining for historical achievement.

She has walked the fine line between her nation’s demand for fiscal prudence and the salvation of the euro. She has also walked the very fine line for Germany between demands for leadership and perceptions of ominous dominance. Perhaps, in a likely grand coalition with the Social Democrats (the people’s party no more), and without the neo-liberal Free Democrats, she will show a little more growth-oriented indulgence toward the likes of Greece. She should, but any change will be marginal.

What else? Merkel, more drawn to the Anglo-Saxon than Gallic world, will do all she can to keep Britain in the European Union, probably trading some devolution of powers back to nation states in return for fiscal integration. She will push hard for a more competitive Europe. She will exercise quiet power in Germany’s mold: Against militarism and interventionism, for a more balanced world order where American leads but accepts its limits. The legacy she wants is a strong Germany in a united Europe in a freer world.

She has already changed Germany more than people acknowledge. A generation ago anyone suggesting that a childless woman from the East could lead the Christian Democrats and Germany with a gay foreign minister and a vice chancellor of Vietnamese descent would have been dismissed as crazy. She has afforded Germany the space to evolve.

Giovanni di Lorenzo, the editor of the weekly Die Zeit, told me that the other day he was out with his five-year-old daughter who, seeing all the election posters of Merkel, turned to him and asked: “Is this woman the leader of the world?”

Good question.

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

Last Tuesday, the day after Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, gave a lengthy interview to Piers Morgan on CNN.

Warren is perhaps the best-known clergyman in the country, the founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and the author of the best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” Five months earlier, his son Matthew, who suffered from debilitating mental illness, had used a gun to commit suicide.

Matthew had tried for years to get ahold of a gun, his mother told Morgan, but he had never been able to obtain one legally. That’s because California has laws preventing people with serious mental illness from buying a gun. “We’re grateful that the laws kept Matthew from getting the gun for as long as they did,” said Rick Warren. But, after years of trying, Matthew finally found someone on the Internet who was willing to sell him a gun illegally. He filed down the serial number so that the gun couldn’t be traced, and a month after taking possession of it, he killed himself.

Watching the interview, I couldn’t help but reflect on Alexis, who also had the kind of history — including an episode of hearing voices just five weeks earlier — that should have kept him from getting a gun. In Virginia, however, he was able to legally purchase a Remington shotgun. Remington is part of the Freedom Group, a company owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital. Adam Lanza used a gun from the same company in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

I was about to say that, once again, the intersection of mental illness and gun policy is top of mind. But that’s not really true, is it?

What has been most stupefying about the reaction to the Navy Yard rampage is how muted it has been. After the horror of Newtown, people were galvanized. This time, the news seemed to be greeted with a resigned shrug. “Is this the new normal?” David Gregory asked Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association on Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC. It’s sure starting to feel that way.

Mass shootings “ought to obsess us,” said President Obama when he spoke on Sunday to the grieving Navy Yard community. “It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.” But it never does.

We know that most mass shooters have this one thing in common: They have usually shown signs of mental illness in the past. And while keeping guns out of their hands won’t put an end to gun violence, it might at least mitigate against these ritual slaughters of innocent people.

It wouldn’t even be that hard to accomplish. “You have to create a net that will weed out people who are likely to commit acts of gun violence,” says Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

It would require universal background checks, for sure, with criteria built around past acts of violence, commitments to mental health facilities, and addiction to drugs and alcohol, among other things. California, in fact, has such criteria, which is why Matthew Warren had such difficulty getting a gun. (You would also have to crack down on illegal gun sales.)

But it does require a political will that the country simply doesn’t have. In recent months, it’s been the hard-line gun owners who’ve been galvanized in defeating an effort to institute national background checks in April, openly taking guns into Starbucks — forcing Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive, to issue a plea that they stop — and, most recently, successfully recalling two Colorado state legislators who had supported tougher gun laws. After Newtown, Cerberus announced it would sell Freedom Group. Nine months later, there has been no sale, and one wonders whether there ever will be. (A Cerberus spokesman said a sale was still the plan.)

When he spoke on Sunday, the president seemed to almost seethe with frustration. But he also noted that the politics were “difficult.” And though he said that we should never view mass shootings as “the new normal,” he also made it clear that he won’t lead the charge. There’s no political upside in trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Earlier on Sunday, Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia who had courageously led the effort for universal background checks back in April, was asked on “Face the Nation” on CBS if he were willing to give it another try.

“I’m not going to go out there and just beat the drum for the sake of beating the drum,” he replied.

Meanwhile, we nervously await the next mass shooting, knowing with a painful certainty that it will come. And that it could likely have been prevented, if only we had the will.

“Well regulated” are the most ignored words in the Constitution.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The fall television season kicks into gear this week, with tons of new stuff, but before you check out any of it, you owe yourself a bigger treat. Go back and watch Chris Wallace’s interview with Ted Cruz on “Fox News Sunday.”

That’s entertainment. For starters there’s Wallace’s demeanor: I would almost swear I caught him holding his nose. There’s his bafflement, the bafflement of an entire nation, about what Cruz hopes to accomplish with his doomed campaign to defund Obamacare. (Hint: he keeps himself in the spotlight. Could a cause be worthier?)

There’s Cruz’s sickly look after Wallace recites derisive statements about him from fellow Republicans and he’s reminded that even in his party and even on Fox, the distaste for him is robust.

But the best part, the belly laugh, is when Cruz is asked to respond to those digs.

“There are lots of folks in Washington that can choose to throw rocks,” he says, “and I’m not going to reciprocate.” Because he’s nobler than that. Because he takes the high, unrocky road.

Please. Cruz has been casting stones since he first moved into his Senate offices nine months ago. His quarry is bottomless. Let us not soon forget the hearings into Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense, when Cruz wondered aloud whether Hagel had taken honorariums from countries hostile to the United States. This insinuation was groundless and shameless, but it paid off, in a fashion. A newcomer to the Senate, Cruz was the dark star of the proceedings.

A brute was born. He went on to pelt Dianne Feinstein, a Senate elder whom he condescendingly lectured about the Constitution. And there were yet more stones for his Republican colleagues, whom he dismissed as “squishes.” It matters not if you are foe or friend: if Cruz can besmirch you in a manner that bolsters his purer-than-thou, blunter-than-thou, braver-than-thou pose, brace yourself.

This week he is blithely putting the lawmakers in his party between a rock and a hard place. If they fail to match the anti-Obamacare passion that he flexed anew in a Senate speech Monday, they’ll land on the far right’s watch list. But if they match it and the government shuts down, there’s a good chance that the Republican Party takes the blame and a hit it can ill afford.

It’s all the same to Cruz. His own notoriety is cemented. He won’t be a hero to many, but to the few who see him that way, he’ll be a veritable monument.

Which seems to match how he regards himself.

“He has come to the reluctant but unavoidable conclusion that he is simply more intelligent, more principled, more right — in both senses of the word — than pretty much everyone else in our nation’s capital,” writes Jason Zengerle in a profile of Cruz in the new issue of GQ. That’s not just a skeptical journalist’s take. That’s many exasperated Republicans’ assessment of Cruz, too.

He has eschewed the slow route to Senate prominence, which would have involved building alliances, for the fast track, which means playing the firebrand, playing to the cheap seats and playing to a news cycle that thrills to conflict.

And he’s lusting to do the same in the 2016 presidential race, especially if Rand Paul’s isolationism means that he can’t seize the role effectively. Cruz has bought into the notion that as a true conservative, he’d mimic Ronald Reagan’s success and avoid Bob Dole’s and Mitt Romney’s failures. This rewrites history, ignoring that the Republican nomination doesn’t go to the firebrand and that two Bushes won three presidencies by lofting words like “kinder,” “gentler” and “compassionate,” adjectives no one would ever affix to Cruz.

But then he’s selective with facts, a trait on jaw-dropping display during the Senate speech. He bemoaned the brinkmanship that other lawmakers engage in, spoke as if there’d never been adequate debate over Obamacare and pretended that the law had been implemented fully enough to be definitively appraised.

He also said, “This country will be better off if we work together.” Because he’s all about harmony.

Here’s more history he forgets: most of the politicians who’ve gone all the way had not just his ambition but also a geniality that’s alien to him and a degree of affection from peers that, by week’s end, he can say a permanent goodbye to. He’s grandstanding and bloviating his way to obsolescence.

To wit: on Monday evening, the Senate’s two highest-ranking Republicans, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, rejected Cruz’s particular strategy to defund Obamacare. And Cruz doesn’t come across so winningly in a recent profile in The Weekly Standard, which, like Fox, is supposed to be friendly turf.

Its author, Andrew Ferguson, describes a car ride in which he mulls hurling himself out the door, no matter how rocky his landing, rather than listen to Cruz for another second. The Senate can relate.

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