Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Double Standard, cont.

I haven't commented on the passing of West Virginia Democrat Senator Robert Byrd. I wouldn't have found very much kind to say, so I thought it best to keep my mouth shut. I did note, however, along with several others like Aaron Goldstein of The American Spectator, the difference in tone and content of the obituaries Byrd received as compared to those received seven years ago by South Carolina Republican Senator Strom Thurmond when he died. I'll let Goldstein make the case this time, but is anyone really surprised?

Hit or Myth?

One might think that the title of Robert Wright's New York Times column, "The Myth of Modern Jihad", would signal his argument. And that argument is that the hostility currently directed at the U.S. from the Muslim world is mostly defensive, rather than offensive in nature. That Muslims are mostly reacting to the violence we are visiting on them, rather than initiating it on us as a necessary consequence of Islam's ambition and intention to rule the globe, which is the substance of the "myth". For your average Muslim terrorist, it's more about revenge, and therefore justice, than it is about naked aggression.

But Wright never actually makes that case. Instead, he merely asserts it and then places one of his principal antagonists, an advocate of the "myth", Daniel Pipes of the Hoover Institution, on the couch and psychoanalyzes him. You see, Pipes, and by extension all of us who insist on confronting these Muslim murderers directly, suffer from an extreme form of cognitive distortion. Wright argues that "Once you decide that some group is your implacable enemy, your mind gets a little warped. Virtually all incoming evidence is thereafter seen as consistent with that model."

And that "model" is of course, the "myth". As a result, when we witness the Iranian hostage crisis, the bombing of the Marines barracks in Lebanon, the first Twin Towers bombing, the USS Cole, 9/11, etc. etc. etc., we distort these facts and images in order to force them to conform to our misplaced notion that these bad guys are in fact really bad guys.

Well, allow me to place Mr. Wright on the couch for just a moment. My diagnosis is that he shares a "sickness unto death" with, unfortunately, millions of other self-loathing liberals. These are people who always interpret an insult, coupled with a slap in the face, as somehow their fault. No, that's not quite right. They interpret it, rather, as their conservative neighbors' fault, for which they still justly suffer, but are somehow made morally superior thereby.

God help us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gorey Details

When the Cold War ended, Al Gore needed a new gig. To that point, he had worked very hard in Washington to earn a reputation as one of the more serious and knowledgeable legislators on the subject of arms control. But with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, that issue became passe very quickly and the ambitious young Senator was forced to reevaluate his career direction. In short order, he emerged from his soul-searching a wild-eyed tree hugger. His over-the-top screed, Earth in the Balance, was published shortly thereafter and he earned as a result a new reputation in Washington as one of its most serious and knowledgeable environmentalists. It was precisely then that I began to think Senator Al Gore a bit weird.

As he has remained a very public figure, my falling opinion of him has been regularly re-informed and re-enforced over the years. One example. During and immediately after his failed presidential run in 2000, I began to notice a change in the manner and cadence of his speech. I kept insisting to anyone who would listen that Al Gore increasingly sounded like a slow-witted sissy. One day I was listening to talk radio (Can't recall who. Not Rush.) and a tape was run in which Gore was asked to comment on some subject or other. When it was finished the host asked his audience, "When did Al Gore start sounding like a gay 'Forrest Gump'?" "Exactly!", I screamed. "The guy's weird I tell ya."

Well we're beginning to learn just how weird, aren't we? The "Portland Problem" isn't getting any smaller and, as Byron York points out, the accusing woman appears quite credible. Not that she needs to prove her case. As we learned during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy from everyone on the Left, most especially the feminists, no woman would ever make up such a story.

So, think about it. If not for a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling against Gore's challenge of Bush's win in 2000, this "crazed sex poodle" would have been president. (Imagine the Sage visibly shuddering.) How did those five justices know?

The "Stimulus" Package?

Read it and weep...or laugh.

Remember that children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? How about, If You Give a Dem a Dollar?


No sooner had the news services reported the Supreme Court's ruling that the city of Chicago's gun ban was in violation of the Second Amendment, than a determined Mayor Daley held a press conference announcing that if they couldn't ban guns in the Windy City, well, then, they'd regulate them out of existence.

With absolutely no sense of irony, Mayor Daley said that,"We are a country of laws not a nation of guns." That is, of course, except for the supreme law, the U.S. Constitution, and the Second Amendment thereto, securing, not creating, the peoples' right to keep and bear arms.

But then this debate has always been mostly theological for the gun control cult. They are impervious to the mountain of empirical evidence undercutting their creed, not to mention common sense appeals to the contrary. Pray for them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Appeasement. Doesn't sound any better in French, does it? (Probably because it's so, well, French.) Nevertheless, Yale University historian Paul Kennedy of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers fame has written a provocative piece about the subject, the chief purpose of which is to rehabilitate not only the word but, get this, the practice as well.

Apparently the most immediate reason for this effort is our pressing need to extricate ourselves from what in Kennedy's judgment is the lost cause that is the war in Afghanistan. We have a problem, however. We all, but most especially a liberal Democrat Administration, are constrained from doing so for fear of being slandered with the "n" word of all foreign policy making, "appeasement!"

While our looming failure in Afghanistan is Kennedy's most immediate reason to disengage, he is convinced there are other, more compelling reasons at work as well. He begins by acknowledging the inescapable significance of America in world affairs.
America must come to grips with its place in the world as the twenty-first century unfolds and the strategic landscape alters. This great hegemon, like all who have preceded it in that role, cannot escape the constraints of history and geography. Its culture, ideology and domestic politics mean that it can never become Alexandrian, Roman or Napoleonic. Yet its sheer size—the very footprint that the United States places upon our planet—also means that it cannot occupy the small niche that, say, the Norways and New Zealands of the world enjoy: noninterventionist, nonimperial, prosperous and self-satisfied, carrying limited liabilities.
But for Kennedy, America "coming to grips with its place in the world", means that the U.S. must deny something essential to its self-understanding. He writes: "This is not a country which is comfortable with being compared to earlier great powers and empires; the curse of American exceptionalism—“this time it is different”—is too strong here." According to Kennedy, this increasingly dangerous delusion simply must be faced up to. We are a power in relative decline, whether we acknowledge it or not.
This privileged nation—one is tempted to say, overprivileged nation—possesses around 4.6 percent of the world’s population, produces about a fifth of world product, and is, amazingly, willing to spend over 40 percent of all the globe’s defense expenditures. At some time in the future, sooner or later, there is going to be what economists call a “convergence,” that is, we are going to have to trim our sails and no longer try to bestride the world like a colossus. As we do so, we shall make a concession here, a concession there, though hopefully it will be disguised in the form of policies such as “power sharing” and “mutual compromise,” and the dreadful “A” word will not appear.
I guess he's still smarting from the fact that the imminent decline he predicted in the mid-1980s hasn't happened...yet.

No matter, to make his case for the rehabilitation of appeasement, by whatever name, Kennedy marshals a bunch of history to demonstrate that it was in fact practised quite routinely and honorably for centuries, most especially by Great Britain in its relationship with the United States. Here I think he engages in a bit of sleight of hand as he equates cutting deals and cutting losses in foreign affairs with appeasement.

He is, however, honest enough to ask the very difficult question.
So, what do you do: Appease, or not appease? Appease here, but not there? Declare some parts of the globe no longer of vital interest? And, yes, there comes a time when you have to stand and fight; to draw a line in the sand; to say that you will not step backward.
"Appease, or not appease?" should, I hope, never be a question a great nation asks. But when to cut deals or losses is one that is virtually always open. As I thought about this highly practical and prudential question, a very famous essay by the late, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick came to mind.

In 1979, Ambassador Kirkpatrick penned "Dictatorships and Double Standards" for Commentary magazine largely as a reaction to and critique of the foreign policy of the Carter Administration. Among other things in the piece, she argued that there is a meaningful distinction to made between an authoritarian and a totalitarian regime. Both are ruthless, to be sure, but while the former demands mostly tribute, the latter insists on, well, everything, i.e., not only your property, but your mind and your soul as well.

So, should we make deals or, if you like, should we appease a ruthless regime? I suppose if the costs of confronting the regime directly were prohibitive, and there existed a serious expectation that the terms of the deal would actually satisfy the regime's appetite, then...maybe. If the regime is chiefly authoritarian in nature, that is, defined by more limited appetites, it might even work. But if the regime is totalitarian, then the satisfaction of its appetites is excluded by definition. In the twentieth century, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were totalitarian regimes described by just such limitless appetites.

How would you describe the core nature of 21st-century jihadist Islam? Authoritarian or totalitarian? Can it be appeased? An academic debate aside, a whole lot rides on your answer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Double Standard, cont.

I know. It's been said so many times that we almost don't hear it anymore. But that doesn't make it any less necessary. In fact, it makes it more so, so here goes. Regarding Al Gore's, uh, "Portland Problem", can you imagine what would have happened had the story, true or false, involved a prominent conservative Republican? Read what did happen.

Score one more for "objective journalism."

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Having It Both Ways

Well, he did it. President Obama relieved General McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan and replaced him with, you guessed it, General David Petraeus. You can't make this stuff up.

This is the same General Petraeus whose intelligence, if not his integrity (that was left for Senator Hillary Clinton and others), was directly challenged by none other than then Senator Barack Obama. The occasion was the September 2007 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Democrats were organized to posture and relentlessly question in such a manner as to discredit any report from either General Petraeus or Ambassador Ryan Crocker that the "surge" in Iraq was in fact working.

The whole tawdry episode was accompanied, you'll recall, by a full-page ad taken in The New York Times by featuring a picture of the general with the label, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn sponsored a resolution condemning the ad, as well as and it passed 72-25. Senator Clinton was among those voting against the resolution. Senators Biden and Obama did not vote. While Biden was conveniently out of town, Obama was on hand but refrained from voting. Rather, he dismissed the resolution as a "stunt", stating that, "By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against these empty politics."

Oh to be a liberal Democrat for just one day. Free from any obligation to admit you were wrong or say you are sorry, feeling no shame, untroubled by hypocrisy, without any sense of irony.

Then again, I never want to be a liberal Democrat.

MoDo on McChrystal

Look, in my last post, I was pretty tough on General McChrystal myself, but this from Maureen Dowd is just silly. In order:

"Military guys are rarely as smart as they think they are..."

Neither are bitter, spinster, op-ed columnists.

"It's just another sign of the complete incoherence of Afghan policy. The people in charge are divided against each other. And the policy is divided against itself. We're fighting a war against an enemy that we're desperately trying to co-opt and win over in a country where Al Qaeda, which was supposed to be the enemy, is no longer based."

They are no longer based there because we sent an army to drive them out.

"Even our corrupt puppet doesn't think we can prevail. As Dexter Filkins recently reported in The Times, Hamid Karzai told two former Afghan officials that he had lost faith in the Americans and was trying to strike his own deal with the Taliban and Pakistan."

Maybe he's lost faith because he's judged that this Administration, and liberal Democrats in general, lack the stomach for long, difficult struggles like this one and are simply looking for a quick way out. And if they follow Dowd's counsel, he would be exactly right.

"After nine years, more than a thousand troops dead, and hundreds of billions spent that could have been put toward developing new forms of fuel so that all our miseries and all our fun doesn't derive from oil, we've fought our way to a stalemate."

Let me get this straight, if the U.S. were energy independent, the radical Muslims would leave us alone. Right? But what about Israel? OK, if we were energy independent and ended our relationship with Israel, then the radical Muslims will leave us alone. What about Europe? Alright, already, if we became energy independent, ended our relationship with Israel, and that which we have with Europe, then the radical Muslims will leave us alone. What about...? Please.

"But he has met his match in Afghan warriors, who have clobbered every foreign invader since Alexander the Great. The average Afghan fighter lives on grain, a bowl of rice, a bottle of water. How much does it cost by comparison to have a foreign soldier in Afghanistan?"

How much does it cost to repair or replace the Twin Towers? What price do you place on the 3,000 murdered on 9/11?

Why this woman is taken seriously is beyond me. But then I just did, didn't I? Shame on me.

General Thoughts

Sorry I didn't get to the subject of General McChrystal's Rolling Stone interview yesterday, but real life intruded.

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more questions it raised:

1. Why in heaven's name would a seasoned general, one in fact bitten by the press before, agree to an in-depth interview with Rolling Stone magazine of all media outlets? That, in and of itself, reveals a serious lapse in judgment.

2. Frankly, insofar as the piece is accurate and a fair representation of the principals, and to this point that has not been challenged, it makes the general and his aides look somewhat juvenile. If you've ever been in the military, you know that it absolutely teems with inside jokes and gallows humor of the sort that invariably look fairly ridiculous and tasteless when witnessed by anyone from the outside. Still, even if he wasn't a general, McChrystal is 55 years old. At some point you leave that part of your life behind.

3. Up-close and in-depth, no one either appears or is that good, that smart, that decisive, that handsome, etc.. Honest scrutiny always reveals our shortcomings, our pettiness, our vanity. CBS's 60 Minutes became famous in part because of their practice of signalling who they had decided to make the villain of the report by focusing their cameras close in on his or her face. The print medium achieves the same effect when a reporter is allowed more or less full access and actually reports what he sees and hears. If they're either star-struck or just friendly with the subject, ideologically or otherwise, they'll withhold the unflattering aspects. But rest assured, the unflattering aspects are always there to be reported. Is there any doubt about Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hasting's biases?

4. Although numerous McChrystal supporters from within the military have made their way into print or onto the airwaves over the last couple of days, that support is not anything like universal. The current, extremely restrictive, ROE (Rules of Engagement) in Afghanistan are a very sore subject for most of the soldiers serving there. Byron York reports, in fact, that McChrystal's "real offense" is just that. If McChrystal is the warrior general some insist he is, then he ought to know better than to tie his troops hands in a fashion that exposes them to unnecessary harm and ultimately frustrates and jeopardizes mission accomplishment. This war without casualties is the dangerous dream of dilettantes. Perhaps he's following orders. But if so, then he needs to protest,...privately. If to no avail, then he should resign and then do so publicly.

5. President Obama is fully within his prerogatives to replace the general. Frankly, under similar circumstances, I think if I were president, I would. At any rate, I, for one, do not think either McChrystal or anyone else indispensable. And particularly so if the strategy has slowly become the avoidance of offense rather than the pursuit of victory. You don't need stars on your shoulders to manage that enterprise.

6. I just don't get it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Barone Barometer

Wow! Michael Barone is an unapologetic conservative. But he's usually steadfastly temperate, measured, and downright clinical in his analysis and commentary, even when he's criticising a liberal administration. So when he writes about the Obama White House and uses words like "thuggery" and purposely communicates anger and disgust, you can be sure something's really amiss.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"They're baaaack!"

For some reason, this struck me as funny. It's from a conservative Australian publication and, as you can see, the burden of the piece is about keeping the heat on the presently discredited, but still stubbornly insistent, global "warmers".
The global warming movement is in heavy retreat in every Western country. But, as we have learned from the rise of leftist leaders like President Obama and Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, modern collectivists are resilient. If they can recover from the collapse of Communism, they can certainly rebuild the environmental movement. Now is not the time to celebrate, but to press home the exposure of their bogus claims and hidden interests.
The comparison with Leftists is what tickled me: "If they, 'leftist leaders like President Obama', can recover from the collapse of Communism..."

It does seem as though nothing less than a silver bullet or a stake through the heart will stop these undead bloodsuckers, doesn't it? Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Common Sense Environmentalism

While likely to make some short-term political hay, these attacks on British Petroleum and all things fossil fueled will backfire soon enough. (Followed closely by backpedaling politicians.) Soon enough, as we learned a couple of summers ago, is when gas at the pump nears $4.00 a gallon. The price is steady now, falling even, but that's mostly because the economy is flat.

And the price of gas is only part of it. It seems we need constant reminding that Big Oil is only partially represented by the image of the gas station and the fuel pump. Virtually everything of every-day use is in part or whole a petroleum product. Go ahead, gaze around the room your in right now. Not a pump in sight and I'll wager that at least half of what you're looking at is made in some fashion or another from fossil fuels. Grandstanding politicians can, and will, demonize petroleum as long as you'll fall for it, but at the end of the day, we're still going to need, want, and demand oil and that which proceeds from it.

I think one of the reasons (certainly not the only) our government representatives think picking on Big Oil is a political no-brainer is that they over-interpret the broad support that so-called environmentally friendly policies enjoy. If you poll the average American on just about anything "green", he's very likely to say, "Sure, I support that."

He's likely to support it, first, because he really hasn't stopped to consider the cost in either money or freedom of implementing whatever policy the pollster asks him about. Those costs are not always immediately evident, but if and when they become so, ask him again. I suspect the results of the poll will change.

But I think there's another reason the average American supports, at least initially, almost anything packaged as "green". He does so because although he thinks of himself as an environmentalist, he means something entirely different by it than does your typical self-anointed, anti-progress, chicken little-like, misanthrope who claims to speak (lecture, actually) for the cause on virtually every cable TV news channel that'll provide him with a soap box. (Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.)

Instead, your average American adheres to what I call "common sense environmentalism". Its meaning is captured most succinctly by the old saw that "you shouldn't crap where you eat." (It's usually voiced more colorfully, but this is a "family" blog.) He really means nothing more than that. As a result, politicians who share this common-sense view should be emboldened to oppose the ridiculous schemes and constraints advanced by the more formally credentialed crazies who have dominated this issue for far too long.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Importance of Signature Issues

It would appear former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is considering a 2012 Presidential run. To this point, however, he's still playing coy. While I'm not sure about his chances, I do know of one large obstacle he'll have to overcome.

Don't misunderstand, Santorum seems a thoroughly decent and capable fellow. He's a Reagan Republican, a conservative standard bearer, and a very articulate spokesman for and from the Right. Moreover, he's solidly identified with the Pro-Life movement. And therein lies the problem, but not for the reason you may be thinking.

In 2004, while in the middle of his second term, Santorum campaigned for fellow incumbent Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, then still a Republican. Specter was as unreliably conservative and steadfastly pro-choice as Santorum was the reverse. That he would support Specter against his Democrat opponent in the general election, despite their differences, surprised no one. But that he would campaign for Specter during the primary season against Pat Toomey, a candidate as conservative and pro-life as Santorum himself, surprised a lot of Pennsylvania Republicans. So much so, I believe, that it contributed greatly to the nearly 20% loss he suffered in his own reelection bid two years later. When you lose by that much, your base has abandoned you.

As I mentioned, Santorum has been closely identified with the Pro-Life movement from the beginning of his political career. So why did he campaign for the pro-choice Specter? No doubt he felt pressure from both his party and his President. Bush was still in office at the time and he supported Specter's reelection. Loyalty to a party and its leadership is no small thing. Without it, party cohesiveness suffers and along with it the ability to form a congressional majority that can actually govern. Moreover, in a democracy, politicians both do and must compromise. Give a little, get a little. Maybe even get a lot, is the very nature and art of democratic politics. To stand adamantly on principle on each and every issue is a sure recipe for failure as a politician.

But to fail to stand on principle when it's necessary is a just-as-sure recipe for electoral defeat. Fail to stand and the voters will dismiss you as yet another, well, un-principled politician. But when is it necessary? There are without question many occasions, but at least one stands out: A politician who compromises on what are his signature issues, does so at his own electoral peril.

Santorum, over the course of two terms as senator, doubtlessly compromised on a host of issues and paid no, or very little, political price for it. But campaigning for Specter over Toomey, and thereby appearing to abandon a signature issue, made him look to many Pennsylvania voters as yet another cynical politician and he paid the price by being voted out of office in 2006.

If you remain unconvinced, consider as well the plight of former President George H. W. Bush. After the successful prosecution of the first Gulf War in 1991, forcing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, Bush enjoyed approval ratings that were stratospheric. But less than a year later he lost his reelection bid, managing only a bit more than 37% of the popular vote. What happened?

Some would say Ross Perot happened. But what made Ross Perot happen? When Bush campaigned for the presidency in 1988, to assure the Republican base that he would carry forward the Reagan era fiscal policies, he very famously promised, "Read my lips, no new taxes." Refusing to raise taxes became for Bush, a signature issue. Then, as we know, he raised them anyway. A base that was always wary of Bush's ideological fidelity anyway, abandoned him almost as quickly as they had rallied to him during the build-up to the Gulf War.

Can Santorum overcome this? I'm not sure. If I was forced to guess, I'd say no. But the lesson is clear nevertheless. When a politician takes office, he would do well to make for his desk, as a reminder, a plaque that lists his two or three signature issues, the issues with which he is most closely identified, and every time he is pressured, every time he is tempted to vote, to campaign, to argue otherwise, he should remember the potential cost.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Great Reckoning, cont.

Has the Governor been reading this blog? No matter. Rising GOP star, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivers yet another pitch perfect speech to an increasingly convinced N.J. electorate. You need to watch it. Note that he uses the term "reckoning" throughout. And he seems to mean it in the same way I do.

In our collective national journey, we have finally arrived at a fork in the long, winding road where we simply have to choose. Faced with such a choice, the emotion we might anticipate experiencing is one of fear. But it's not. Rather, that which we are experiencing, and somewhat surprisingly, is relief. Why?

We have come to a place where Truth confronts us. No matter which way we turn, Truth is there, looking us square in the face. We cannot escape it, nor should we wish to. For men and women of goodwill, Truth is a friend. Embrace it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh, the Insanity

Need a chuckle? Check out this column on the oil spill by The New Republic assistant editor, Bradford Plumer. I don't know the guy, but I think he needs to get out more often. Note his subtitle: "Why our reaction to the oil spill absolutely scares me." The clinching line is in the middle of the third paragraph.
But a deeper problem is that, as Cass Sunstein argues in his book Worst-Case Scenarios, humans seem to have an inherently difficult time preparing for low-probability catastrophes—we tend to vacillate between total panic and utter neglect, with little middle ground.
I'm giggling again even as I type. "Humans have an inherently difficult time preparing for low-probability catastrophes." Oh really? Does he mean to imply that humans are more inclined to prepare for high-probability catastrophes? Who'd of thought?

I'll bet Plumer's prepared though. While the rest of us poor fools, "tend to vacillate between total panic and utter neglect", he's no doubt perched over his keyboard eager to punch out yet another primal scream of a column like this one if necessary.

Good grief.

"My name is Bill and I'm a billionaire"

You'll have to forgive me if I'm more than a little cynical about this "secret" meeting of billionaires to discuss ways for them to give away at least half their considerable fortunes. (Funny how the meeting made it into the press anyway, ain't it?) So tell me, what's stopping them from giving it away now? Do they actually need a meeting in order to do so? A support group for the wealthy? This is silly.

Look, it's their money and they can do with it as they please. Unlike far too many others, I don't feel some right to a share of it just because the pile is big. But don't insult me, I know grandstanding when I see it.

The Power to Destroy

I guess he'll solve the Gulf oil spill by taxing it out of existence. Taking a page from Former Chief Justice John Marshall in the famous 1819 McCulloch vs. Maryland case in which he ruled that "the power to tax is the power to destroy", President Obama announced his intention to plug the leaking oil rig by...increasing energy taxes?

But taxation, for liberal Democrats, not only destroys, it can do all things. It's like fairy dust. Spread it around and it redistributes the wealth, heals the economy, creates jobs, improves health care, cleans the air and water, and, apparently, plugs oil spills as well.

Again, if we can't pummel these clowns this fall...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

See, I Told You So

Didn't a famous radio personality write a book with that title? Oh well, I'd like to appropriate it and steer you to Deroy Murdock's piece comparing the Left's reaction to Sir Elton John's recent gig at Rush Limbaugh's nuptials with their non-reaction to the cancellation of a planned concert of his in Egypt for the explicit reason that he was a practicing homosexual.

If you've followed this blog for long you know I'm inclined to argue that a Limousine Liberal is the only kind of Liberal there is. I used to think, however, that while hypocrisy was an identifying feature of contemporary liberalism, it was still mostly incidental to it. I'm reconsidering that. More and more it appears it's essential.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Party with Attitude

Check out a rambling piece by Lee Harris at Policy Review titled, "The Tea Party vs. the Intellectuals." I say rambling because in a few short pages Harris ranges from "Polite Company Conservative" intellectuals like David Brooks and David Frum to George Orwell and the Italian communist thinker Antonio Gramsci to the "iron law of oligarchy". Whew! But relax, it's not as imposing as it sounds. (Nor as rigorous as it probably should be.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Tea Party movement is defined more by attitude than ideology and that attitude is best captured by the slogan from the Revolutionary War period, a slogan many Tea Partiers have adopted as their own, "Don't Tread On Me!" A more contemporary way to say the same thing might be, "Leave me alone!"

According to Harris, the fact that the movement is more attitude than ideology is important because as attitude it becomes largely immune to counter-argument. "I'm mad as hell, I said. Do you mean to tell me I'm not mad as hell?" But it is also immune to counter-argument for another reason, and this is the real meat of Harris's piece.

Because the Tea Party movement is mostly made up of people who were not previously politically active, nor particularly attentive even, they are virtually impervious to elite opinion, liberal or conservative. They don't know who people like Brooks and Frum are, nor do they read the New York Times or watch network news. As a result, they can't be humiliated when they're dismissed by them as bigoted, shrill, or even violent. In fact, just the opposite happens. The more the organs of elite opinion scorn them, the more justified they feel in their contempt for them in reverse.

Both of these aspects seem to mean the Tea Party movement is with us to stay, at least for a time.

I think Harris overstates the case that the Tea Party movement is short an informing ideology. A call for, a demand for a return to constitutionally limited government sounds like a plan to me. But no matter, his conclusion is sound nonetheless.
The only truly effective check on elite rule is the fear that the people will become fed up with it. When the people decide to try to rule themselves, their first step toward self-government will be to toss out the old elite. True, the people may simply end up by bringing in a new elite, but this is little consolation to the elite that has been replaced. Hence, any ruling elite that wishes to maintain its hold on power will learn to exercise its power within prudent limits, not overreaching and creating dangerous resentment and backlash among the people. This formidable check on elite power does not arise from flimsy constitutional safeguards, which can always be circumvented, but from the suspicious, even paranoid attitude of defiance displayed by ordinary citizens, which is much harder to get around.

The lesson of history is stark and simple. People who are easy to govern lose their freedom. People who are difficult to govern retain theirs. What makes the difference is not an ideology, but an attitude. Those people who embody the “Don’t tread on me!” attitude have kept their liberties simply because they are prepared to stand up against those who threaten to tread on them. To the pragmatist, it makes little difference what ideas free people use to justify and rationalize their rebellious attitude. The most important thing is simply to preserve this attitude among a sufficiently large number of people to make it a genuine deterrent against the power hungry. If the Tea Party can succeed in this all-important mission, then the pragmatist can forgive the movement for a host of silly ideas and absurd policy suggestions, because he knows what is really at stake. Once the “Don’t tread on me!” attitude has vanished from a people, it never returns. It is lost and gone forever — along with the liberty and freedom for which, ultimately, it is the only effective defense.
I wrote some time back about the spirit and the letter of the law, of the Constitution. No matter how dead the letter, if the spirit is alive, we'll be fine. But God help us when the spirit, the attitude, dies as well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Un-, Anti-, Non-, or Post-American

Over at National Review Online, Mark Steyn has once again hit one out of the park. I'm telling you, this guy is a national treasure. He manages to be both serious and humorous, often laugh-out-loud so, like no one else in punditry. His only real competition comes from his colleague at NRO, Jonah Goldberg

Anyway, while this piece is focused on Barack Obama, it's actually about the type he represents. Steyn reports that, "In recent months, a lot of Americans have said to me that they had no idea the new president would feel so 'weird.'" The weirdness they now sense is of a piece, I think, with what Dorothy Rabinowitz was last week trying to describe in her Wall Street Journal column about "The Alien in the White House." The silliness of the efforts to discredit the president by the so-called "birthers" aside, many are beginning to realize that this guy just doesn't feel like, well, one of us.

But Steyn is careful not to simply dismiss him as the other. He's, as they say, more nuanced than that.
It is hard to imagine Obama wandering along to watch a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade until the job required him to. That’s not to say he’s un-American or anti-American, but merely that he’s beyond all that. Way beyond. He’s the first president to give off the pronounced whiff that he’s condescending to the job — that it’s really too small for him and he’s just killing time until something more commensurate with his stature comes along.
But it's not just Obama. Steyn captures beautifully this, as I say, type.
There are millions of people like Barack Obama, the eternal students of a vast lethargic transnational campus for whom global compassion and the multicultural pose are merely the modish gloss on a cult of radical grandiose narcissism. As someone once said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” When you’ve spent that long waiting in line for yourself, it’s bound to be a disappointment.
Perfect...almost. I'm afraid Steyn's a bit too generous.

While this type may not be fairly described as either un- or anti-American , and are perhaps better defined as non- or post-American, for all practical purposes it amounts to the same thing. In a pinch, you can't count on'em. And shouldn't.

Friday, June 11, 2010

BaRock 'n' Roll

Speaking of music, Rolling Stone, of all magazines, has just released a lengthy expose criticizing the Obama Administration's handling of the Gulf oil spill. Evidence of the Left, facing real crises, abandoning their ideology, not to mention their uber-president, for common sense solutions? Not a chance.

The most revealing part of the article, if you can make it that far, is found in the last paragraph.
President Obama pushed to expand offshore drilling, in part, to win votes for climate legislation, which remains blocked in the Senate. The political calculus is understandable – the risk of an oil spill weighed against the far greater threat posed by global warming – but in the end, he may have succeeded only in compounding one environmental catastrophe with another. Even if the climate bill is eventually approved, the disaster in the Gulf will serve as a lasting and ugly reminder of the price we paid for our addiction to oil. "It was a bargain with the devil," says Steiner, the marine scientist who helped lead the response to the Valdez disaster. "And now the devil is gloating." (my emphasis)
The far greater threat posed by global warming!? These people are certifiable. If the GOP can't make record-breaking headway against this crowd this November, the leadership ought to be taken out in the street and,...and,...well, let's just say they ought to be replaced with more competent leadership.

"Hugo!" The Musical

Does Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone need to rethink his love letter of a movie about Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez? Think I'll wait for the DVD. Then again, maybe not.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Entertainer's Story

You need to read this piece by John McWhorter at City Journal. It's about the life, career and, frankly, the meaning of the late Sammy Davis, Jr. If you're my age and are familiar with Davis, it's in part a stroll down memory lane. But it's a painful walk, and, in the end, I think it's both unnecessary and unkind.

McWhorter, an interesting fellow in his own right, begins by questioning Davis's star quality: "I never quite got the Sammy thing." I'm with him there as I never got it either. With the article's subtitle, he questions it even more: "The extraordinary gifts and fleeting legacy of Sammy Davis, Jr." I'm afraid I agree again. While the legacies of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, his "Rat Pack" cohorts, remain secure, I suspect that if you're under a certain age, you've never even heard of Sammy Davis, Jr., and this is so despite the fact that during the 1960s and 70s, he was nearly omnipresent on the television.

As McWhorter sees it, the reason Davis is increasingly unknown is that actually his chief talent was for mimicry, at which he was apparently extremely good. And for precisely that reason, he never established for himself an identity as an entertainer that was fundamentally his own. But it's worse than that according to McWhorter. For the same reason, he also failed to establish an identity of his own as a man. He writes that,"Before the sixties, Davis imitated whites; afterward, as he tried to go with the times, the best he could do was to imitate being black."

It's sad, but I think there is something to what McWhorter observes. Besides not quite getting the Sammy thing, I remember that Davis's on-stage persona always made me squirm a bit when I watched him perform. He was obviously very talented, but he seemed to me to be forever trying just a bit too hard. As if, and this is really the point of the piece, he wasn't really comfortable in his own skin. Apparently for McWhorter, who is himself African-American, this fact about Davis makes him a fitting target of scorn.

As I read this article, I couldn't help but remember A Soldier's Story, the 1984 movie screen-written by Charles Fuller, who also wrote the 1981 play from which the film was adapted. I love this movie and highly recommend it. It's superb on so many levels, the story, the back-story, the setting, the music, the acting,...everything! It's about an all black Army unit comprised mostly of Negro League baseball players who are whiling away World War II at a post in Louisiana. Their sergeant is mysteriously murdered and a black captain/lawyer is sent from Washington to investigate. The suspicion is that local Klan members killed him and that the post's white leadership is covering it up. The setting, the Jim Crow South, makes getting at the truth by a black attorney of the murder of a black soldier difficult at best, but that obstacle is what drives the drama.

In the course of the lawyer's investigation, through a series of flashbacks, we learn much about the character of Master Sergeant Vernon Waters, the slain black soldier. It turns out he was a self-loathing black man who directed much of his anger for being so at other members of his own race. He was angry at them for not living up to his own ideal of what they should be, and what they should be is more like white men. This made him mercurial and mean and his men hated him for it.

Save one, that is, the team's star player, C.J. Memphis who surprisingly pities the sergeant. At one point he explains his sentiments to his fellow soldiers: "Any man ain't sure where he belong, gotta' be in a whole lotta pain." But his goodwill is never requited as Memphis epitomizes for the sergeant the very kind of black man he despises. Memphis was an otherwise ignorant, inarticulate, backwoods Mississippian, whose very existence the sergeant cannot tolerate as it serves chiefly, in his judgement, to bring further shame to the entire race. As a result, in order to dispose of him, he frames him for a serious crime and has him imprisoned. At one of his visits to the jail we learn precisely what makes Sergeant Waters tick as he explains why he had no choice but to do what he did to the young soldier/ballplayer.
Them Nazis ain't all crazy. Whole lot of people just can't seem to fit in to where things seem to be going. Like you, CJ. See, the Black race can't afford you no more. There used to be a time, we'd see someone like you singin', clownin', yassuh-bossin'... and we wouldn't do anything. Folks liked that. You were good. Homey kind of nigger. When they needed somebody to mistreat, call a name or two, they paraded you. Reminded them of the good old days. Not no more. The day of the Geechee is gone, boy. And you're going with it.
As it happens, and I can't help but spoil the ending in order to make my point, no whites were involved in Waters' murder. He was killed by another soldier in the unit who hated him for the way he routinely treated them all, for the way he treated Memphis specifically, and for the way he seemed to be ashamed of the black race. When the lawyer breaks the case, he challenges the murderer with these words: "Who gave you the right to judge? To decide who is fit to be a Negro and who is not?"

Could we not ask these same questions of John McWhorter? As far as I know, Sammy Davis, Jr. never hurt anyone. In fact, he brought a great deal of joy to a lot of people, white and black. If he was a conflicted man who sometimes failed to summon sufficient courage, well, it was a conflicted age and courage was often in short supply. Might he, along with many others besides, be more deserving of our sympathy than our contempt?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

All the Crap I Learned in High School

The title is from a line in singer/songwriter Paul Simon's early-70s hit Kodachrome: "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all." Loved that song then, and now, and it came back to me in a wave as I listened to this pathetic exchange between Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton Press Secretary, and the regulars on MSNBC's Morning Joe. The subject was (are you ready?) the always present racist component to any and all criticism of President Obama. And on MSNBC, who'd of thought?

Maybe this'll tell you something about who I am: It is impossible for me to express just how fingernails-across-a-chalkboard grating it is for me to listen to a conversation of this nature. And I'm not referring to the subject matter, which riles me up too, but for another reason. Listening to these people talk brought me back to the early 1970s and high school student body meetings in which I had to listen to a bunch of middle and upper middle class white kids debate and lecture and posture about subjects over which they had absolutely no control. And they would do this with all apparent earnestness. I say apparent earnestness, because in very short order it would become clear that their concern about the subject at hand, if concern it was, was limited to the room in which, and the hour over which, the meeting transpired. This was amusing to me then. But unfortunately for me it didn't stop at amusing, it served also to make me more than a little cynical about this type of person, the type represented by those gathered around Joe Scarborough's table in the clip. EVERYTHING about it is "crap". Hence the memory of the song and the line from it.

I'm not nearly so cynical now as I was then. That early cynicism has mellowed and matured with age and has settled into a very healthy and reliable realism. And my realistic opinion of these people and their conversation: Crap!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Russia, Weeping for Her Children

Just in case you needed one more piece of evidence to convince you of the absolute evil of socialism, please read Anne Applebaum's report on a new book, Children of the Gulag, about the plight of children in the Soviet system. It is oh so sad and oh so predictable. But it also says something very important about the nature and effect of unremittent propaganda.

"The Deformations of Sympathy"

This post's title is taken from a phrase in a short piece for the City Journal by Theodore Dalrymple. The article is a cautionary tale about the law of unintended consequences when socialists, full-blooded or Fabian, are moved mightily to abolish "poverty" in their respective countries, if not the world. If you have any common sense at all, you already know this. But, as you also know, "the poor you have with you always", common sense, not so much. Take up and read.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who is "Bo Snerdley"?

I just finished An Army of One, the new Zev Chafets' biography of Rush Limbaugh. It was a very welcome birthday present from a very good friend (Thanks again Blue State Patriot!) and while it's no Life of Marlborough, it's a good, and quick, read for any of you who want to get to know "America's Anchorman" a little more intimately. I recommend it. I do, however, worry a bit about Mr. Chafets. He couldn't help but paint what is, overall, a quite favorable picture of Rush Limbaugh and I suspect his card-carrying liberal bona fides are in some jeapardy as a result. Oh well, the money he stands to make from the considerable sales will no doubt help ease the pain.

But this post is not about the new biography as such. Rather, it's about "Bo Snerdley", Limbaugh's long-time call screener. The man whose voice we rarely hear, but whose name we routinely do, mostly to play the role of silent straight man to whatever it is Rush is about to serve up to his listeners. If you didn't know it already, you will learn from the biography that "Bo Snerdley" is actually one James Golden. You will also learn, again, if you didn't already know it because Rush hardly ever mentions it, that James Golden is a black man.

In the course of the biography, Chafets tells his readers that at one point he challenged Rush with the fact that with respect to the issue of race in America, he might a have a blind spot. Apparently Rush gave the matter some thought, because the day after the challenge, he walked in on Chafets and Golden who were chatting and interrupted them with a direct question for his black call screener.
"James,...would it ever bother you to go to a school named George Washington or Thomas Jefferson because they were slave owners?"
Golden laughed, "Well, I can tell you that when I was in school, I was the one who stood up in English class and gave a speech about why the Black Panthers are needed."
Limbaugh looked befuddled. "But James, you're a conservative," he said.
"That's right, I am."
"You're an American patriot."
Golden nodded. "I am. Absolutely. But I don't celebrate the Fourth of July--that's not my Independence Day. That's white people's Independence Day."
This little anecdote stopped me in my tracks.

Don't misunderstand, as you gather from other parts of the biography, James Golden loves Rush Limbaugh and takes great personal exception to the charge of racism that is often leveled against him. But here a proud, unapologetic black conservative, who has doubtlessly suffered more than his fair share of "Uncle Tom" taunts for being such, not to mention for being so closely associated with Rush Limbaugh, still does not completley and comfortably identify with this country and its history. This saddened me.

But while I think I understand the sentiment (no blind spot here), I still can't agree with it. And not just because there is in this country no living memory of chattel slavery, nor will there be in the not too distant future any living memory of Jim Crow either.

Each year on the fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of this admittedly flawed, but still uniquely great and good country, this exceptional country. Our founding neither established the heinous practice of slavery, nor did it carry with it its future institution. Slavery was an already well-established, widely-practised, and broadly-tolerated institution at the time.

Rather, our founding brought with it the seeds of the end of this terrible trade in human flesh, the end of this noxious notion that one race is superior to another. To be sure, the seeds were slow to germinate, too slow, and the field took far too many years of cultivation in blood, toil, tears, and sweat to bear fruit. But bear fruit it did. And the fruit was sweet, sweet indeed. God be praised!

The fruit was so sweet, in fact, that when finally afforded both the liberty and the means to express their profound disappointment with this undeniably imperfect country, very few African-Americans chose to do so by leaving it. When they finally could, they did not return to the motherland of Africa. Perhaps it was too poor and too far. But neither did they leave for wealthy and neighboring Canada, a country which had to recommend itself no stain of slavery in its history. Not only did they not leave when they finally could, instead they proudly donned the country's uniforms and fought and died for it both here and overseas. Why?

They did not leave because they were not fools and because the fruit of America was sweet. They knew that inspite of its sins, sins against them directly, that this country was still exceptional. And what's more, they knew that it was by birthright their country too.

So, Bo Snerdley, this Fourth of July, join us, your fellow countrymen, "red and yellow, black and white", as we used to sing in Sunday School, and light a firecracker, will you? I know you want to. And when Old Glory passes and they play the Star Spangled Banner, shed a tear with us too. But then I suspect you already do.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It is Written

The Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, Jr., apparently thinks he has unloaded some coup de grace with his enthusiastic report of retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter's recent Harvard commencement address, a speech in which Souter directly challenges the "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution. But by doing so, Dionne reveals that he is out of his intellectual league and needs to restrict himself to commenting on who's up and down, who's in and out, in Washington.

Dionne, through Souter, imagines that "originalism", which Souter calls "the fair reading model", suffers a "fatal flaw". While the misplaced enthusiasm for the challenge is Dionne's, the argument is Souter's and I'm afraid it suffers a fatal flaw or two itself. Souter summarizes his argument thus:
The fair reading model fails to account for what the Constitution actually says, and it fails just as badly to understand what judges have no choice but to do. The Constitution is a pantheon of values, and a lot of hard cases are hard because the Constitution gives no simple rule of decision for the cases in which one of the values is truly at odds with another. Not even its most uncompromising and unconditional language can resolve every potential tension of one provision with another, tension the Constitution’s Framers left to be resolved another day; and another day after that, for our cases can give no answers that fit all conflicts, and no resolutions immune to rethinking when the significance of old facts may have changed in the changing world. These are reasons enough to show how egregiously it misses the point to think of judges in constitutional cases as just sitting there reading constitutional phrases fairly and looking at reported facts objectively to produce their judgments. Judges have to choose between the good things that the Constitution approves, and when they do, they have to choose, not on the basis of measurement, but of meaning.
Where to begin?

First, Souter is guilty of constructing a straw man. No originalist interpreter ever imagined that the Constitution was free of conflicting principles. Even a cursory reading of the debates at the Constitutional Convention, not to mention the arguments presented in The Federalist, shows that the Framers were acutely aware of the fact that they were struggling mightily to strike an acceptable balance between, prominently, the competing values of liberty and order. A balance that would be a fair expression of, among other things, the American mind. It was, after all, the American people through their representatives who would ultimately ratify the document. When conflicts between differing principles arise in the law, it is perhaps the chief role of a Justice sitting on the High Court to adjudicate between them. And what's more, no originalist ever argued that the process of deciding would be always easy. In fact, as often as not it's likely to be difficult, even extremely difficult.

Second, and most importantly, when there is a tension, when a judge must decide, how, then, will he go about it? This is actually the crux of the matter. In the last sentence of Souter's quoted above, he employs the word "meaning" and although he doesn't say as much, he invests it with all the post-modern epistemological doubt that is the bane of our age. According to Souter, and far t0o many like-minded others such as Dionne, a judge must search for the meaning of the words of the Consitution because the meaning has changed, or the way we understand them has changed, or, get this, they really have no meaning at all, and never did.

Can he not see that if this is so, then it it is the end of constitutional government altogether? The very purpose, and genius, of a written constitution is to fix the nature of the originating social compact. If it's not fixed, then the society will inevitably be governed by caprice and the arbitrary will of the strongest. If indeed the words of our Consitution are that malleable or that meaningless, then whence Souter's authority as a judge? Why is his conclusion as to the meaning of the words any more authoritative than any other judge, than any other branch, than any other resident power, in or out of government? His argument is worse than fatuous, it's dangerous.

That which is "living and breathing" is the society itself, not the Constitution. To say that "times change" is to state the obvious. It is because they change that an originalist returns to the written document. To remark that even an originalist brings to his interpretation of that document his own limitations and prejudices is to state the obvious again. Two-hundred and more years since its ratification makes ascertaining the meaning and intentions of the Framers sometimes difficult. (Although not nearly so much as people like Souter would have us think.) But if a judge's understanding of his proper role is that he is constrained by those words, then no matter how strong his personal preferences and prejudices in a case, he is at least armed with a substantial reason to set those biases aside. By contrast, a judge of Souter's sort has absolutely no reason to do so. By his own argument, he has denied himself those reasons and that reasoning. Hence, his recourse, his only recourse is always to conclude that it is so "because I say it is so."

Good riddance! Now, if we can only get E.J. Dionne, Jr. to retire as well.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

America, UnLtd.

Today's title may fool you. I mean, who could oppose the unlimited extension of the blessing that is America to ourselves and our posterity, indeed, to the world? But by the absence of a "limiting principle", Claremont's William Voegeli means something else altogether.

George Will does a nice job summarizing Voegeli's Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State by comparing the informing and animating principles of "progressivism" with those of the Founders. But I think a simpler explanation for the limitless government of progressivism is available.

Progressives are in the first instance motivated by the pursuit of equality. The Founders were moved to reach for the "blessings of liberty" instead. These two principles, as Alexis de Tocqueville instructed us in Democracy in America long before progressivism was even defined, much less fashionable, are in the final analysis on a collision course with one another.

The problem with equality as a goal, especially an eschatological goal directed by capital "H" History, is that it is not only illusive, it is impossible. Impossible ends, however gloriously described, justify any and every means, i.e., unlimited means, for their achievement. In fact, the very impossibility of the end means that yet another means is always available. There are an infinity of roads that lead to nowhere, to utopia.

So, can we reasonably expect progressives, i.e., contemporary liberals to one day concede, "Enough"? Never.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Call Me Crazy

Democrat Party strategist (what does that mean, really?) Donna Brazile watches the oil spilling into the Gulf and concludes, what? Why, we need more and bigger government, of course. And Brazile's fairly typical of your average liberal Democrat. So, healthcare's a mess? More and bigger government. Economy's faltering? Same. Need I continue?

What's that definition of "insanity" by Einstein? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Depressing, ain't it?

Anyway, for a slightly different take on the same subject, check out the never depressing Jonah Goldberg over at National Review Online.

Soldiering On

It appears the various service chiefs are not quite as eager to abandon the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy regarding homosexual service in the military as we were lead to believe. In fact, it seems a serious disagreement has developed between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, who supports the Obama Administration's determination to end the policy, and the heads of the other services, who apparently don't.

I suspect complicating their deliberations are reports such as these about innocent sunbathers on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. How does one integrate transgender, uh, what, people? Incorporating "straight" gays and lesbians seems by comparison a piece of cake. I mean, which uniform will these people wear?

Anyway, one thing is certain, denying these loyal Americans an equal right to serve their country is simply intolerable and neither the White House nor the Democrat Party will stand for it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Serious Crisis Gone to Waste

Whoa! Have you noticed the growing number of liberal pundits turning on the President? And I don't just mean disagreeing with him here and there over this or that policy. The watershed , of course, is the now over-a-month-long Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Are we to conclude that these otherwise card-carrying Lefties are now having "second thoughts" about their commitment to liberalism?

Not a chance. As they see it, the oil spill is tailor-made for national government intervention and growth, not to mention profound justification of same. And the opportunity, like the oil in the Gulf, is slipping away. If anything, they worry that Obama's bungling will do great, if not irreversible harm to the noble cause that is Big Government.

And to think that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously said, even before the Administration took office, that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”