Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let the Sun Shine

Allow me to use the occasion of the publication of a new biography of Arthur Koestler to encourage you all to read his most famous novel, Darkness at Noon. As I haven't read the new bio, I can't say anything about its quality. I do note, however, that Jerry Brennan over at The American Spectator thinks it well worth the time. But be warned! Koestler's private life was apparently an abomination, and his biographer faithfully chronicles it. However, his public contributions, as yet another "witness" against the evils of socialist totalitarianism, were, and still are, invaluable. But, as I say, I haven't read this latest biography and, as a result, I can't recommend it, or not.

What I have read, however, is Darkness at Noon, and I highly recommend it. It's short, captivating, and, I assure you, will not disappoint. First published in 1941, the plot is basically the imprisonment, show trial, and execution of a former Bolshevik who is accused of becoming an enemy of the state. An enemy, that is, who was once himself a prominent leader of and intellectual apologist for that very same state. As such, he understands like few others, even more so than most of his accusers, the stakes associated with his arrest and trial. But his recollections, ruminations, and conversations with interrogators throughout the novel make it clear that what is actually on trial is the utilitarian ethic that guided the state's vanguard. An ethic that serves to justify any and all means, no matter how hideous or brutal, so long as the end pursued is glorious enough.

The title is an obvious allusion to the gospel accounts of the mid-day eclipse that attended Christ's suffering and, three hours later, death on the cross. Alongside the title of another work which Koestler edited, The God That Failed, a non-fiction collection of essays by former communists, he demonstrated his acute understanding of the perverse religious quality which defined these otherwise haters of all things religious. "Immanentizing the eschaton," as someone once said, creating heaven on earth, is not only what motivated them, it is also what ultimately justified their every crime, even the most heinous.

I can't read Darkness at Noon without becoming angry all over again at every Western intellectual who defended, and persisted in defending, the murderous communist regimes that described for much of the twentieth century, China, Russia and all their unfortunate satellites. (I know, China's still formally communist. But, with absolutely no intention of defending its continuing abuses, it's Arcadia compared to what it was under Mao.)

So why read it now? The Cold War's over after all. It has long been my contention that in the West, those who constitute the political Left were, and remain, the chief ideological heirs of Lenin. For that reason, I've always sensed that lurking beneath and behind all their reasoning and all their justifying is a willingness to sacrifice, quite literally, the few, and often a very large few, for the sake of the many. A many they imagine will one day enjoy untold spiritual and material riches in the brave new world that only awaits their construction. Read it!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Defending Sarah Palin

While I am not a Sarah Palin fan, I am a Sarah Palin defender. I was heartened to learn that among my tribe is one very authoritative, among conservatives anyway, Norman Podhoretz.

The poor reviews this woman routinely receives from some on our own side has puzzled me from the start of her brief career on the national stage. I, like Podhoretz, have attributed most of it to snobbery of one kind or another. That is troubling in itself. But the suicidal element that seems to energize the criticism is more than troubling, it's dangerous.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Richly Rewarded

And you will be, too! With a belly laugh, that is, if you read Frank Rich's latest missive in The New York Times. Can this actually be what now passes for a sober, informative opinion piece? I guess it's a great gig if you can get it. Anyway, the Old Gray Lady, she definitely ain't what she used to be.

By the way, my more serious take on Rich's column: We're winning.

Is Federalism a Dead Letter?

The broad public dissatisfaction with the new health-care law has already prompted many states' attorneys general to file suit against the federal government. Among their several objections, the particular feature of the law on which they have focused their attention is the measure mandating that all citizens purchase health insurance. In response to this objection, some of the law's defenders have quickly employed the language of "states' rights" and "nullification" to describe it, and thereby, they hope, to discredit it as well. Both terms are useful to that end as they raise the sad specter of our country's history associated with slavery and Jim Crow. The one thing you can always count on from a liberal is that if you disagree with him, sooner or later, he will call you a racist.

Nevertheless, the issue does serve to raise the important question, once again, of whether or not our federal republic remains in any meaningful sense, federal. James Madison argued in Federalist No. 51 that the proposed constitution afforded a "double security" to our liberty. The two securities to which the "double" referred were the separation of powers and federalism. The former measure, separation of powers, securing liberty by dividing power within government, remains undeniably viable. Witness only the recent drama in the Senate and House to pass President Obama's health-care initiative. But the vitality of the latter measure, federalism, securing liberty by dividing power between governments, is presently suspect, and has been so for at least since the Civil War.

In fact, the direction of pretty much all of our political history since the Civil War, through the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and all the Great Society initiatives can justly be described, at least in part, as one very long scene in our constitutional drama in which federalism is dying a very slow death.

To be sure, federalism is, and always has been a problematic constitutional measure. The theory that it is possible to divide sovereignty between the whole (the U.S.), and the parts that make up the whole (the states), in any sustainable way, runs smack into the very practical reality that the prerogatives of the whole and those of the parts often conflict. When they do, who wins? There is something necessary, it seems, to the whole predominating over the parts. Or, to switch analogies, the survival of the body is more important than that of its members.

But, as I say, the present case of the very controversial Obamacare law raises the question again over whether the several states that comprise the union remain semi-sovereign or have they in effect been reduced to little more than mere administrative districts? As to the letter of the law, over the years the courts have routinely ruled on the side of the national government, thereby increasingly circumscribing the latitude of the states. Whether they will rule similarly in this case is an open question. But what of the spirit of the law? The spirit, that is, of the original law, the Constitution?

It seems to me that the spirit of federalism, however dead the letter, has remained very much alive in America. And as federalism was in the first instance a measure to secure liberty, that is of crucial importance to the body politic. While I am a very big fan of written constitutions, inscribed bills of rights, and the like, I have no ultimate faith in their value as securers of liberty. Mere "parchment protections" Madison dismissively called them. But insofar as they reflect a livng spirit that gives the letter, however attenuated, a pulse, they are invaluable. And the pulse of federalism beats on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Case You Thought Otherwise

Montana Democrat Senator Max Baucus.... Wait, let me say that again, MONTANA Democrat Senator Max Baucus showed all the cards yesterday. If you were tempted for one moment to think that maybe, just maybe, Obamacare was chiefly about health or heath care or health-care insurance or reforming any of the three or controlling costs or improving delivery, or, well, you get the picture. If ever you thought any of those things, then now you know the truth.

If a senator from Montana, not California, not Massachusetts nor New York, but Montana, views redistributing the wealth as the principal purpose of the new health-care law, can you guess what President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Congressman Frank, et al, think of it?

Friday, March 26, 2010

With Malice Toward None, Mr. President

President Obama traveled to Iowa yesterday presumably to "sell" the bill that he has already signed into law. I'll leave aside the easy "cart before the horse" comments to focus, instead, on his predisposition to mock opponents of the legislation. While this behaviour demonstrates at least a lack of class, it's actually worse than that: It's unpresidential.

Someone close to the president needs to remind him that Obamacare only narrowly passed. That it did so along rigid and increasingly bitter partisan lines. That the fight over its passage was long and the rhetoric heated. That having been signed into law only last Tuesday, the wounds are still raw and the scars that, we hope, will eventually cover those wounds are likely to remain for some time nevertheless.

As a result, the president's most obvious immediate political task is to pursue the unification of the country. He should be playing the part of the gracious winner, humbly sticking out his hand to shake those of his opponents. He should look for opportunities to recognize the good will and effort of the opposition. He should assuage lingering fears, appeal for extra measures of trust, seek to soothe ruffled feathers, etc.

But for someone who was lauded for possessing a personality that was uniquely post-partisan, cool and detached, he appears, to this point anyway, not up to this part of the job. If he doesn't figure it out quickly, he risks not only the health of his presidency, but, more importantly, the health of the country.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Castro's Kudos

Now he says something! Waiting until to today to comment on the signing into law of Obamacare, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro heaped applause on the young president for the achievement, but still managed to chasten the nation for taking 234 years to realize what his country accomplished the very first year he assumed power. Understandably, the President and the Democrat congressional leadership accepted the praise with reservations. They all knew that had Castro spoken out earlier, before last week's momentous vote, they might have achieved party unanimity not only in the Senate, but in the House as well, and assured much easier passage of the historic bill.

But what's done is done. Look for relations with the island nation to improve nonetheless as the Administration looks to it for guidance in implementing the new legislation.

Music to My Ears

Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor shows us all how the game is played in the big leagues. Responding to the calumny hurled by Democrats against Obamacare opponents, charging them with participating in or inciting violence, Cantor swung hard and hit the pitch deep into the Left field seats, the cheap seats.

Cantor has only been a congressman for a few years, but he's quickly worked his way off the bench and onto the starting lineup. Keep an eye on him. In the meantime, if you can, call or e-mail his office and let him know you appreciate what he did this afternoon.

By the way, until today I had no idea he was Jewish. Highlighting, once again, a key difference between conservatives and liberals. We conservatives rarely count, or even notice for that matter, race, color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc. Liberals, by contrast, do so almost by nature. They also routinely play the victim and had Cantor been a liberal Democrat instead, is there any doubt that he and his party would have long ago played his Jewishness for sympathy and political leverage?

American Expatriates at Home

It seems at least one other besides myself is moved to comment on the Left's penchant for Europhilia. (Or is that Euromania?) At any rate, the difference between those Americans who feel a strong natural kinship with Europe and those whose devotion to all things European is of another order altogether is telling.

I was stationed in England for a little over three years in the mid-1980s. A wonderful experience. Both my children were born there in fact. But while the experience was great, it was also instructive as it served to confirm virtually everything I was later to learn more formally about the differences in political culture between Anglo-America and the Continent, as well as between the U.S. and Great Britain.

While the distinctions are several, the relevant one here is deference to the state. The European reflex towards compliance is noticed immediately by the average American, or at least by the average American who volunteers to serve in the armed forces and happens to be posted in Europe. What makes it so obvious is that this deference is operative even in otherwise small matters. One anecdote may serve to illustrate.

In Great Britain, like here, one had to pay an annual tax/registration fee in order to operate your car. The shorthand for the fee was the "MOT", for Ministry of Transportation. As we Americans would say, no big deal. But for the British it was a big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that they could become agitated about it. If your windshield sticker showed you were overdue, they would not only notice it, but also point it out to you, and even become upset when you would with nothing more than a shrug of your shoulders promise to get around to it when you had a chance. This behavior on their part was so noticeable that among my squadron-mates it became the source for humor. We would joke that were there a five-car pile-up on the dual carriageway (interstate highway), the police, rather than attending to the dead and wounded among the piles of twisted metal, would first inspect the surviving windshields to ensure the MOT was indeed paid up.

For me, as an American, this difference between Americans and Europeans, that is, our less than reflexive deference to the state, is more than simply noteworthy, it is also a genuine source of pride. And I'll wager I'm not alone. Therefore, among the many other things wrong with this new health-care law, is that it violates this aspect of the American character and the political culture that springs from it.

The difference also explains why so many on the Left wish America were more like Europe.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What We're Up Against

While yesterday's post was intended, after Sunday evening's setback, to buck us all up a bit, you need to read today's Richard Cohen column to know better what we're up against. For Cohen, and the Left Wing of American politics of which he is fairly representative, America's promise will be most fulfilled when it returns to its roots--its European roots. That is, America will finally "arrive" when it is no longer America.

Cohen's short piece is in the main about health care and how President Obama's and the Democrat's legislative victory has brought us closer to what he insists is the far superior European version. While there is much to challenge in his general assertion, I'll limit my response to only pointing out that when one doesn't have to bear the burden of one's own defense, a lot of cash is freed up for other things. But, as I say, I'll stop with that because yet another round in the health-care bout is not what's most instructive about Cohen's article. Rather, as even he concedes, the health-care debate is, and always has been about something more, something larger. He writes, "There is something cleaving this country, something represented by the election of Barack Obama -- the very change he either promised or threatened, take your pick."

"Something cleaving this country"? After you read his piece (as I said, it's short), let me ask: Is compromise with someone who thinks like this possible? Is there anything about which his side and our side can effectively split the difference? I, for one, don't think so.

So, what does this mean for us? As I see it, it means our politics will remain for some time to come, loud, fractious, and even ugly. Are you weary of this? So am I. As a conservative, I know that what you and I want mostly is, like Greta Garbo, to be left alone. But I'm afraid that peace will only return after a clear and decisive victory is won by one side or the other. Nothing less will suffice. So steel yourself. This is not going to be easy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nothing Concentrates the Mind...

While it may not be the end of the world, I do think we can see it from here. But that sight, please God, just might galvanize liberty loving Americans like nothing has before.

Make no mistake, the Democrat's legislative victory last night, the latest and greatest step toward their long-sought goal of European-style socialized medicine, changes everything. Over at National Review even Mark Steyn, who has played the role of Paul Revere as eloquently and energetically as anyone over the past year or two, sounds dispirited. But as sad as last night inarguably was, this morning is still the beginning of a new day. And this new day, like all new days, carries with it new hope and another opportunity for victory.

First, we should acknowledge the obvious. The Democrats exercised party discipline and a willingness to use raw power in a manner of which Republicans typically only dream. With every measure of public opinion against them, and with all the energy on the other side, they quite simply got it done. Guided as they are by an ideology that reliably informs them that the end always justifies the means, we were foolish ever to think otherwise, to hope against hope that anything like polls or rules or traditions would ever give them pause. For heaven's sake, they've effectively ignored the constitution for a hundred years now. Wasn't that warning enough?

To be sure, the GOP has remained solidly unified in opposition for over a year now and are to be congratulated for it. But when they last held the reins of power in Washington they were predictably timid, and just as predictably paid for it. Those days are over. The stakes are simply too high.

And what are those stakes? Our backs against the wall, we should no longer allow this debate to descend into quibbling over whether or not you can keep your current health-care plan or your doctor, whether it'll cost too much, who'll pay for it, or even the presence or absence in the plan of the public funding of abortions. THE stake in this fight is liberty. Nothing less. Is it possible to be anything more? The coming battles should always be framed in that light.

We can win. Yes, after last night, victory will be more difficult, much more difficult. But I, for one, will not go down without a fight, and the still great thing about this still great country, is that I know I'm not alone.

Fear not!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You're a Grand Old Flag

This, from the man who famously refused to sport even an Old Glory lapel pin during the presidential campaign, is, I suppose, not surprising. As a result, I'm more saddened than angered. Which, in turn, makes me question myself. You are indeed a Grand Old Flag and deserve better.

Geez, the Left can wear you down, can't they?

The "West" in the West Bank

Charles Krauthammer responded to the Obama Administration's manufactured emergency over the misspoken words of an Israeli bureaucrat about his country's plan to build new housing units in Jerusalem by asking, "Why did Pres. Barack Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?" After several paragraphs of pointing out the double standard by which the Administration judges Israeli policies and actions versus those of the Palestinians, Krauthammer returns to his opening question and answers with a shrug of his shoulders, "Who knows?"

Well, I think I know: Israel is an otherwise successful outpost of the West in a wilderness of mostly failed, but always hostile non-Western states. The mere existence of a Western state always grates on the sensibilities of your average self-loathing liberal. But the stark contrast of a successful Western state smack in the middle of the non-West drives them absolutely mad. Therefore, any occasion that affords the opportunity to at least embarrass the Western state of Israel is one they simply cannot let pass.

That's it. It's no more complicated than that. Don't waste your time looking for simmering subconscious antisemitism to explain it. That may or may not be present, but it's not necessary to understand what transpired the week before last. Expect more of it.

By the way, the always-too-short vacation was great. Thanks for asking.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In a Less Than Pacific Mood

From a very great (but oh so glorious) distance it appears that far too many in the GOP have allowed their opposition to the health care bill to be reduced to mostly complaining about the unseemly process employed by the President and the congressional Democrats . In doing so, they are in danger of not only looking like petulant whiners, but, more importantly, losing the higher ground upon which they should be making their stand.

I'll agree the process has been ugly. And the ugliness of it should be something of which the GOP reminds the public routinely. But it is the substance of this initiative that is most objectionable. This bill would be wrong even if the process of passing it were as clean as a grade-school class election. It would also be wrong even if, as Mark Steyn likes to say, Bill Gates agreed to foot the entire bill.

It is wrong because it does nothing to enhance health care and very little to improve its delivery to those who currently receive it problematically. But it is mostly wrong because it is an affront to liberty. God help us if we, as a country, have moved to a place where such an affront is not by itself enough.

Now, where's my sun tan lotion?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering

The Sage is currently vacationing at an undisclosed location. He may or may not post anything until next week. Aloha!...oops! #$%^!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Darwin's Defenders

I came across a piece the other day by one Michael Ruse, a historian and philosopher of science, who happens also to be a big fan of Charles Darwin. He is troubled by, and his article was about this, recent attacks on Darwin and evolutionary theory by eminent philosophers, three in particular. The article was gracious to a fault, lacking all of the sparks and heat that usually attend discussions on this subject. In it, however, he employs in defense of Darwinism a line of argument I've noticed before, one that really does nothing to advance the case.

Among the several pieces of evidence he marshals to defend Darwin against the critique of the philosophers, he mentions recent research regarding the fruit fly. It seems that humans and not only apes, but even fruit flies are very similar at the molecular/DNA level. We are to conclude, of course, that similar DNA implies a similar ancestor, which is yet more proof of the truth of evolutionary science.

Except, that it proves nothing of the kind. First, the fact that two carbon-based life forms coming from the same planet share similar DNA is really not surprising at all. If I knew nothing else about them and was asked to guess, my first guess would be that they would be similar at the molecular level. But even if it were surprising, if we were shocked to discover that fruit flies and humans are remarkably alike, it would still beg the question about the differences. That is, what exactly are the differences between them and are those differences significant? One doesn't have to be a scientist to notice that, as between a human and a fruit fly, there are very real differences.

And this is precisely where one important part of the controversy over evolution lies. If all living beings are essentially, that is, in essence the same, then why are there so many differences? Pointing out that their DNA is 90%, 95%, or even 99.99% similar, tells me nothing about the differences and resolves none of the controversy.

Sick Unto Death

The Obama Administration and the Clinton State Department establish yet a new level for liberal self-loathing. But still there are those who defend them, insisting that, no, they really do love their country. Really, they do. May God help us.

Except For This

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review have made the case again for unapologetic American Exceptionalism and you need to read it. As a response to the always lurking, but recently resurgent liberal embarrassment over and apology for our great country, their argument is most welcome. But an unexpected challenge to their thesis has come from someone we might otherwise have thought an ally. Conrad Black has written a piece for National Review Online titled, "Less Exceptional Than You Think" and you need to read it too. I did, and discovered, to my surprise, that I had to agree with most of his counter-arguments.

Except, that is, for one phrase near the end of the article. Black has elsewhere argued that America is in decline (although not irreversible) and he admonishes Lowry and Ponnuru for effectively trying to rally their fellow countrymen through "the time-worn mantra about American virtue and superiority."

That phrase held my attention and as I thought about it, it occurred to me that the notion of American virtue and superiority cannot be dismissed simply as a mantra. That is, it is not merely a phrase we repeat out of habit in order to convince ourselves of something we no longer believe to be true. Rather, aside from liberal elites, that is, it is indeed something that a very large majority of Americans actually do believe to be true about their country, and persistently so. Why?

I suspect a couple of reasons, neither of which are original with me. First: Liberty. We are, and have been for some time now the freest country on earth. And I don't mean exclusively political freedom. Many countries can match that. It's an attitude more than anything else, cultural rather than legal. Historian Walter A. McDougall captures it well with his descriptive phrase that we are "a nation of hustlers", in both senses of that word. That quality, I believe, is a direct result of our liberty.

Second: Our stubbornly abiding religiosity. Even if it's not very deep, the sheer breadth of the presence of religion in our country serves us in a couple of very important ways. First, it disciplines our liberty. Free to do what we will, our religion helps keeps us from always doing the worst. But perhaps even more important is that our religiosity provides us with hope. I don't mean "keep your fingers crossed" hope. I mean, rather, hope as in "it'll work out" or "it's worth it."

Real freedom and real hope means a real future. The average American knows this and celebrates it. He is not foolish for doing so.

Where's the Footnote?

OK, first Jonah Goldberg, now this guy? No respect, I tell ya, I get no respect.

"Huh?", you're no doubt asking. Please compare with this.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Salt Talks

Yea, salt talks, and I'll tell you what it's saying. The proposal to ban salt and fine its use by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz , D-Brooklyn, is easy, very easy, to ridicule. I mean the puns on "salt" are probably beyond numbering. But the occasion of his bill is actually much more useful to highlight something much more serious.

There is absolutely nothing in principle to distinguish the thinking that led to his proposed salt ban from the thinking that leads to every other nanny state initiative you can think of, large or small, to include the very large health care proposal that is currently before us. Ortiz may be just a lowly Assemblyman, but in this he is no different that President Obama, Speaker of the House Pelosi, or any and every other liberal Democrat politician of the last half century. Oh, the President and the Speaker may, and likely will join in the poking fun at Ortiz. But neither of them can make a principled case against his initiative.

Among the many dangers of the Democrat's health care bill is that it's a slippery slope in reverse. You see the slippery slope objection usually works the other way around. That is, if one surrenders in a small matter, it invariably leads to a much larger concession down the road. But in this case, if you concede that the government should have some very large, if not complete role in the delivery of health care, then controlling whether or how much salt you can shake on a plate of french fries not only follows logically, it's necessary.

Come to think of it, you shouldn't be eating those fries either.

By the Numbers

Counting anything can get very dry, very quickly. And reading about counting is drier still. But if anyone can make that endeavor tolerable it's Michael Barone. His report on the current status of the votes in the Congress for and against the health care bill is easy to follow, and if you're a conservative, good news as well.

Texas Temper Tantrum

Although hailing from the uber-conservative Lone Star State, Democrat Brent Budowsky of The Hill still predicts a bright future for his party this fall. He lists no fewer than eleven variables, all currently unfavorable to Democrats, that he believes will turn on a dime and become net positives for his party by the time of this fall's elections. Eleven's a lot, so I'm not so sure.

But what I am sure about is what he thinks of his opposition: "America is not a nation of right-wing extremists, haters, pessimists, nut-case secessionists or admirers of obstruction."

Whew! If that's in any way representative of the style and substance of the conversations being held within the Democrat party command structure, the GOP should collectively kneel and thank God for its enemies. And while they're down there, pray for a few more like Budowsky.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Count Me In

I received a letter from the government in the mail the day before yesterday informing me that I would be receiving also the census next week. Besides being annoyed that tax dollars were wasted on this utterly unnecessary preliminary letter, I was also disgusted by the suggested motivation for my prompt completion of the form: To be sure to get my fair share. What have we come to?

Anyway, even before it came I had been thinking about how and whether to answer many of the questions that are frankly nobody's business. Mark Krikorian on "The Corner" at National Review Online has a great suggestion for answering question #9 about ethnicity. If you're as tired as I am with the color counting that is done, and it's done mostly just for the purpose of dividing the loot, then let's make this a movement.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ramming Speed

"[R]am the damn thing, Mr. President. Ram it!" Wow! If you were looking, on the subject of health care, for a veteran pundit from the Left to offer you some reasoned deliberation leading to a sober conclusion, you'll not find it in Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's most recent piece. Instead he reads more like Melville's Captain Ahab. The Great White Whale of socialized medicine is now within sight, within reach even, but, alas, it is not quite yet within grasp. The difference, of course, is that this Moby Dick is not to be killed, but rather to be saved. (Liberals saving whales? Who'd of thought?) In any case, like it did Ahab before him, the whole business is driving him and a host of other liberals mad.

Cohen's madness is demonstrated in at least a couple of ways. First, he has apparently lost patience with the people, who just can't seem to see what he sees so very clearly. As a result, he's lost patience as well with the system of government that otherwise gives them voice. "The baleful fact is that the country suffers from a surfeit of democracy." "A surfeit of democracy"? And this coming from a man who, from his side of the ideological divide, normally champions the franchise for everyone, to include illegal aliens, convicted felons, and even dead people? Madness I tell ya.

Second, the failure of the people to not only recognize, but also embrace what he is metaphysically sure is in their best interest, can only mean one thing: They must be led. As a consequence, he vents his frustrations with President Obama for failing to do so. Of course, leadership for Cohen means a willingness to "ram", which, in this particular case, means using the otherwise arcane Senate rule of "reconciliation" to achieve what may be impossible to achieve through normal procedures. To encourage the president, he provides examples of other successful presidential "rammers" like Lincoln, FDR, Truman, and LBJ.

But he conveniently forgets (or his madness blinds him to them) the facts in each case. For Presidents Lincoln and Truman, the Emancipation Proclamation and the desegregation of the military, respectively, were the products of executive orders. Both presidents were within their constitutionally defined role as Commander-in-Chief when issuing those orders and neither required authorizing legislation from the Congress. And the "ramming" of FDR and LBJ was actually nothing of the kind. The Lend-Lease Act and the Civil Rights Act passed both houses of congress with solid bipartisan majorities. (Lend-Lease Act: House: 317-71, Senate: 60-31; Civil Rights Act: House: 290-130, Senate: 73-27)

But as important as those issues were for their time, health care, for Cohen, and apparently for most liberals, is of a different, and higher order altogether. For him, "this bill is as dramatic as the difference between sickness and health--the great divide of mankind." Is he serious? The great divide of mankind is between those who have health insurance and those who don't? I would have thought those who are free or those who yearn to be free would have made at least one of the two teams. Madness.

As his side currently wields the power in Washington, we on the other side are mostly reduced to hope. But who knows? If we're lucky, at the end of this long, sad tale, we may find ourselves like Ishmael, floating on the ocean, clinging desperately to a coffin for life. (How apt an image is that?) Meanwhile, in the distance, we will spy Cohen, along with countless other liberals, tangled in the ropes that are themselves tangled around the whale. The saved White Whale that drags them down, beneath the water, to their political death. Later, once we paddle safely to shore, we'll set about cleaning up the mess.

I'd Rather Not

Dan Rather is, literally, old news. The strong temptation then, is to let this story go without comment, much as the rest of the media will do without so much as reporting it. But the Double Standard is at work again, and I've promised before to call attention to it whenever it presents itself. So, here goes.

We begin, as always, with the obvious question: If Brit Hume, for example, had said exactly the same thing, in exactly the same context as Dan Rather did, i.e., putting Barak Obama and watermelons in the same sentence, do you think the reaction would be different? Is it hard for you to imagine the Reverends, Jackson and Sharpton of course, outside Fox studios, bull horns in hand, sign carrying rent-a-crowd behind them, demanding that Hume be fired? Moreover, is it a strain for you to see the same Chris Matthews, host of the show where the crime was committed, later commenting with furrowed brow and an insufferable air of superiority, that while he doesn't think Hume a racist, he surely, by now, should know to be more careful in his choice of words?

Is this as tedious for you to read as it is for me to write? That is yet another difference between a conservative and a liberal. But one must do one's duty, and I promised.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Speaking of Conspiracies

Has Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online been peeking at my blog? You decide. More likely it's just a case of great minds... I've told you before, NEVER miss anything this guy writes.

Brooks is Done

"The Wal-Mart Hippies"? Is David Brooks for real? Besides using his column to toss yet another insult the way of movement conservatives, does he actually believe that the Tea Party membership has anything of substance in common with the Left. Apparently, in his zeal to express regularly his distaste for the re-energized Right, he is now willing to reach so far to make a sneering point that he strains not only credibility, but brings his judgment into question as well.

The Left, new or old, always understands itself as radical, as in attacking the root, starting over, year zero, etc. The Tea Party membership, by contrast, sees itself as reformers, as in calling for a return to form. In this case, a return to the form described and prescribed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. What these two groups currently share, and frankly, the only thing they share, is zeal, if not outright anger. But even all anger is not the same. There is the anger of the adolescent temper tantrum, and there is the anger of righteous indignation. Can you guess which typifies which? Who wanted to blow up buildings and watch things "burn, baby, burn!"? But still, they are both made of the same stuff? Please.

Although I only know Brooks in the flesh, so to speak, from TV, he seems like a pleasant enough guy. But I must admit that I haven't seen him very much lately, at least not since I stopped watching PBS's NewsHour. (Is that show still on?) On Friday evenings, he offered political commentary by playing the role of the Right Winger to Mark Shields' Left. I couldn't stand it for long, however, as Brooks spent most of his allotted time agreeing with Shields. But, to be fair, he did replace David Gergen in that role, and Gergen had established it as that of a Right Wing poseur who spends the lion's share of his air time agreeing with Shields as well. No, wait! Didn't Paul Gigot play that role in between Gergen and Brooks? That's right! But he didn't last very long, did he? He was a real conservative and I guess PBS only wanted an actor.

Oh, by the way...

There is yet another, admittedly more pedestrian, reason the pursuit of the omnicompetent state invites distrust, if not outright cynicism. Quite simply, it promises too much. So much, in fact, that it can't possibly deliver. And when it doesn't deliver...well, you get it.

Not What It Seems To Be

It looks like I'm getting stuck with this theme. Oh well. Glenn Harlan Reynolds has written an interesting piece about the loss of trust in government and how that bodes ill for our country. It seems a recent Rasmussen poll reported that only 21% of those questioned believe our federal government enjoys the consent of the governed. "Consent of the governed"!? Holy smokes! To my mind, that's more telling even than the simpler low "trust the government" number. Reynolds, half tongue-in-cheek, I'm sure, begins his observations by comparing that low trust measure with the demise of Schlitz beer. As I'm no beer expert, I can't comment on that side of the comparison, but the stuff about the loss of trust in government is grist for the mill.

Why, indeed, is trust so low and apparently falling lower still? Tough economic times doubtless explains a large part of the small number. War weariness, I suspect contributes its share to it as well. And while the current partisan rancor is for many (me included) a fight worth having, it cannot help but be yet another source for the low poll numbers.

But these things can all change and, much as it may be hard to believe just now, in relatively short order. And when they do, we can expect the trust number to rise again. But will it climb as high as it was before this current decline? While these measures of government trust can, and do, wax and wane, there is evidently a trend that began in the 1960s (them again) showing a residual low trust number that seems to inch always upwards with every passing year regardless of the circumstances. Why?

I once had a teacher who would harp on what the eighteenth-century politicos meant when they used the word corruption. He wanted us to know that it was different from the way we use it now. We tend to use the word to describe a politician who unethically, if not illegally, uses his position of power and influence to improve his life's standing, i.e., taking gifts from constituents, receiving sweetheart deals from lobbyists, accepting the attention and favors of attractive women, or men, etc. In effect, political corruption means using one's public position to move to the front of the line in otherwise private endeavors.

But, as I say, my teacher pointed out that the word was used differently during our founding period. When the Founders complained about the corrupt British government, what they meant was that the system was not working as it should, as it was intended and expected to work. It may have been corrupted slowly or quickly, through superior wits or through guile, but it was nonetheless a departure from form and was recognized as such.

I think the corruption of our government in that older sense helps explain a great part of the loss of trust in it. However sophisticated one's understanding of the Constitution and the system of government it established, most people nevertheless know that we have strayed far from it and in some quite serious ways. That we acknowledge straying from it, but persist in pretending otherwise, troubles the soul. And what's more, I think it is troubling even to those who are happy with the corruption. Why? Because we are, in effect, living a lie. So, when the pollster asks us to what degree we trust the government, more and more answer less and less because whatever else it is, good or bad, it's not what it seems to be.

Put simply, it is impossible to square the steady pursuit of an omnicompetent state with a government of constitutionally limited and enumerated powers. Our acceptance of this all-purpose leviathan, either deliberately and enthusiastically, or merely by default, signals that we are now ruled by a corrupt, in that antique sense, government. In extreme cases like world wars and economic disasters, prudence may have demanded the corruption, and for those reasons it was permitted, embraced even. But the fact that it was indeed a corruption was nonetheless widely understood and never completely forgotten.

Since those national emergencies of the 1930s and 40s, the grasp of the national government has expanded steadily, and since the 60s, aggressively. I won't bore you with the long and growing list of federal interventions that now touch virtually every aspect of our lives. It seems we've arrived at a place where we no longer need emergencies to justify the expansion of government, and if we do, we'll simply call anything and everything an emergency, including even, for example, the current national plague of truck driver texting. (See an earlier post of mine on this vexing problem.)

But these increases in federal reach have come at a cost. And by cost, I'm not referring here to the obvious financial impositions, nor to the restrictions of our liberty. Real though those costs are. If my argument is sound, then there is yet another, and perhaps more serious cost: A persistent and growing cynicism about our government, a cynicism that is a direct result of corruption, a corruption, that is, from the constitutional order that once defined it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Get Real

As yesterday's post almost screams for this obvious objection, I was surprised no one rose to the occasion. Allow me:

"Sage, your and the Framers' scepticism about founding a government on trust is ultimately a counsel for cynicism. No government, no society even (as that distinction seems particularly important to you), can long last if it is described by a creeping cynicism. Moreover, as cynicism feeds on itself, its creeping presence will soon become a thoroughgoing one and the society will not only corrode, in short order it will collapse."

How's that? Close enough?

The answer to this challenge is quite easy actually: The corrective to a foolish trust of government is not cynicism, but instead realism. I'm a Scots-Irish Calvinist. (Which all the Founders were as well, even if they weren't.) As such I hold to the truth that all men are sinners, and are so fundamentally. That is, their sinfulness is not an aberration, but rather a very significant part of who they are. Some are worse than others, to be sure, but the label holds nonetheless. Not a Christian, you protest. Not even religious. No matter. Your source for this truth needn't be ecclesiastical authority nor sacred scripture. Consult only your own mind and soul, and consider, honestly, the inclinations and behaviors that sometimes flow from them. Ask yourself , again honestly, whether or not you invariably abide by even the principles of your own creation and embrace.

We all know the answer to this, and so did the Framers. They were, and we should be as well, hard-nosed realists about what makes people tick. As a result, they constructed a system of government that accounted for it. They had faith in that system, if faith is what you mean by trust, because it wasn't naively built on trust.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You Gotta Believe!

"In Government America Must Trust" Yep, you read that correctly. Without me even telling you, you know that only a liberal Democrat, in this case William Galston, would ever write something like that. And, to be fair, not only write it, but actually believe it. Even passionately believe it. (Although one does wonder if he was ever moved to pen a similar piece during the Bush Administration.)

In the first place, that sentiment (sentimentality just has to be part of the explanation, doesn't it?) ignores completely the philosophical foundation upon which our system of government rests. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, famously wrote, that "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." But as men are most definitely not angels and, therefore, need governing, the problem then is to construct a government, comprised of similarly non-angelic men, that can itself be controlled. Our whole system is built not on trust, but rather the lack of it.

Secondly, the sentiment flies in the face of years and years and years of experience to the contrary, and especially so of late. As a practical matter, you don't really need to know all that much about the how and the why of it, i.e., the philosophy. You just need to know that to place your trust in government is, well, foolish. How do you know this? Did I mention years and years of experience?

At a gun show years ago (yes, a gun show), there was, not surprisingly, a sign posted that read, "Love your country, but never trust your government." Speaking of sentiments, could it even be possible to express a more fundamentally American one than this? As I've written about before, many liberals stubbornly insist on conflating the state with the nation, the government with the people who authorize it. But, you see, the thing you should trust is not your government, but rather your own judgment in electing leaders who will best represent your and your country's interests. But even then, keep your eye on them. Better yet, every two, four, and six years, if not more often even than that, remind them that you're keeping your eye on them.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are We There Yet?

Yesterday, President Obama threw down the gauntlet. Without using the exact words, he nevertheless encouraged the Congress to use all means necessary to pass his health care legislation, and to do so quickly. As of now, the Senate appears more or less divided along party lines. In the House, the Republicans remain unified in opposition, and while there are some defections among the Democrats, they hold such a substantial majority it is reasonable to think they can overcome the objections of a few apostates. It is presently unclear whether the Democrats will stand firm on this issue and emerge victorious. Equally obscure, at this point anyway, are the long-term electoral consequences of this action, whether they win the immediate legislative battle or not.

Is it just me, or does this feel like a crisis? I don't mean a crisis in the overused sense it now carries, but rather in its root meaning of a decision, a judgment, a separation. Moreover, and is it just me again, or does this crisis feel like none we've faced in a long while, warranting, as a result, the definite article "the" in front of it?

Or am I over-reacting? Am I a victim of 24/7 cable TV news, sonorous talk radio, and Internet saturation? Bombarded with too much information, often contradictory, and shell-shocked by too much noise, have I become unable anymore to sensibly separate wheat from chaff? Maybe. But I don't think so.

Typically, politicians avoid these moments if at all possible. That they avoid them we often attribute to a self-serving gutlessness on their part, and we are usually correct to do so. But, to be fair, sometimes a crisis is to be avoided because to face it, i.e., to decide, to judge, is to risk as well, separation. Skilled, nimble, and farseeing politicians know this and know also when it is not so much their own survival that is at stake, as it is the survival of the political unit itself. Or at least its survival as it is currently constituted.

But as wise as doing so sometimes is, you can only kick the can down the road for so long. So I ask, are we there yet? Who would have thought that plugging the few holes in what is still undeniably the best health care system in the world would have brought us to this point? I would have predicted a different issue, for example, one in which peace or war hangs in the balance, or a cultural hot button issue like abortion or gay marriage.

Nevertheless, and despite its surprising provenance, the question we are currently facing seems to me bigger, much bigger, than simply whether or not we take another (yes, another) step towards socialized medicine. To me, it feels more like we are deciding, yet again, who and what we are are as a people. And for that reason, the stakes couldn't be higher. A crisis? The crisis? Maybe. But are we there yet?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Boys Will Stay Boys

Yesterday, I was sure that if the labels "the Mommy Party" and "the Daddy Party" stuck, referring respectively to the Democrats and Republicans, then it could only redound to the advantage of the GOP. I mean, in things political at least, who wants to be viewed as anything less than manly, right? Well, that was yesterday. George Will comments today on what is apparently not only the fact of the perpetual adolescence of far too many of the male of the species, but also the increasing desire among them for the same. Have we finally reached a place where it has become impossible to even shame young men into releasing the apron strings? If so, then the long predicted decline, death, suicide of the West may well be complete. God help us!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Parent Trap

I absolutely love this metaphor and pray it survives as shorthand for the differences between the Left and Right, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. While few will ever admit it, most everyone can at least understand the desire to get something for nothing. But you'll not find many who will sit still after being called a "mama's boy".

Greek to Me

The intellectual incoherence of people like Roger Cohen of the NY Times never ceases to amaze me. In today's column, he writes with poignancy about Greece's current fiscal woes, reporting as well the apparent reluctance to come to its rescue of the more financially sound countries of the European Union, concluding with the lament that it does indeed seem that "the integrative dream has faded."

He drags the U.S. into this sad tale by comparing the current troubles of the European Union with those faced by America at its founding. The savior of America at the time was Alexander Hamilton and one senses Cohen wondering whether or not even now some similar rough beast slouches toward Brussels to be born. But, in fairness, he does concede, albeit with regret, that the distinctions between us are large. The final line is the most telling. "The differences between America and Europe go beyond the political to their very nature."

They do? How nice of him to notice. Ahh, but then that story is only for today, isn't it? Yesterday we read a different story. Yesterday's tale was the one about how we simply must embrace European-style, single payer, socialized medicine. No matter what! Or else!

Relax, we'll see that one again tomorrow.

The "Sowell" of Wit

Thomas Sowell gives new and improved meaning to "in a nutshell." You MUST read this brief piece to understand all you need to understand about the government and health care.

Foul Ball!

Sorry, but with Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning as the central character in the story, the baseball headlines are irresistible. Oh well, at least I'm not alone.

Anyway, we know now, if we didn't already, that soon to retire Senator Bunning has a nasty side that makes him often difficult to get along with. In fact, we've learned that even his relationship with fellow Blue Grass Sate senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has long been strained. A man easy not to like it seems, but that does not excuse the utterly dishonest reporting of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Milbank writes of Bunning:

For four days, he has been on a one-man campaign to cut off unemployment benefits, kick the unemployed off of health insurance, cut Medicare payments to doctors, deny satellite TV to rural Americans, shut down federal flood insurance and highway projects, and furlough thousands of federal workers.

Bunning has done nothing of the sort, and that is both clear and undeniable. Rather, he has, plainly, loudly, and no doubt embarrassingly if you're a Republican, demanded that all this stuff be paid for first. This stand is probably politically foolish and will likely reduce even further the number of people in Congress Bunning can call friends. But Milbank's role in this melodrama is that of the umpire. As such, he has a duty to call the balls and strikes honestly even if he despises the pitcher.

Primum Non Nocere

Michael Lind presumes to know why Republicans want gridlock. It is, of course, because it's a party composed chiefly of a rapidly decreasing number of white bigots who can see the end of their national political dominance coming soon and will do, as a result, anything and everything to forestall their sure demise, to include frustrating the morally superior political claims of the growing rainbow majority.

If that sentence was too long, allow me to summarize: Republicans want gridlock because they're racists.

Geez! Does it ever occur to people like Lind that the gridlock might be more simply explained by the fact that the GOP is currently the minority party in Congress and, within the rules, it's the best it can do to oppose those policies proposed by the Democrat with which it disagrees? Or, perhaps, it can be explained more simply still because apropos of the stand they are currently making in opposition to the Democrat's health care proposals, they are motivated and informed by the old maxim: First, do no harm.

By the way, after insulting all the white people in the Republican party, Lind goes on to suggest constitutional amendments that would, he argues, better represent the new rainbow majority. His proposals are interesting and worth reading if for no other reason than to force you to consider more seriously why the Framers were right in the first place.

Ford Fission

In a letter to the NY Times, very publicly declaring his non-candidacy for the New York Senate seat currently held by fellow Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. took a few very hard shots at his party elders. Using words like, "bully", "heavy-handed", and "intimidate" to describe the treatment he received at their hands, Ford left no doubt he is more than a little upset. Moreover, the other words he employed in the letter could just as easily flowed from the pen of a moderate Republican. He made clear that he holds his party leaders responsible for jeopardizing Democrat control of the Congress by pursuing an out-of-step overly partisan national agenda.

While I'm by no means the first to say it, better keep your eye on this guy. When he first emerged as a national figure in 1996, winning as a very young man Tennessee's 9th congressional district centered in Memphis, I thought then that he'd one day run for president. I've watched him over the years and have remained impressed. While clearly a liberal, he has always demonstrated conservative sensibilities. His southern roots I suspect. On television (I've never met him personally), he is without fail friendly, smooth, articulate, and, most important, reasonable. He virtually never comes across as an angry, inflexible partisan like so many others who are the public face of the Democrat party. And his record matches his rhetoric. This stands him in sharp contrast with President Obama, who also comes across as a reasonable fellow, but has governed nevertheless in an extremely partisan fashion. Frankly, as a nation, we chose to ignore the clear warning signs. As was reported during the 2008 campaign, during his short time in the Senate, Obama achieved that body's most liberal voting record. And need we even mention his unfortunate associations with the likes of Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, et al?

If Ford's letter is any indication of deeper and broader fissures within the Democrat party, we can all take heart. It's not only good for the short-term prospects of the GOP, it's great for the long-term future of the country.