Saturday, February 27, 2010

Arguing About the Weather

"Hottest January Ever Say Climate Experts" Unbelievable. It must be nice to have a theory that survives no matter what the evidence. If it's hot, it's global warming. If it's cold, it's global warming. Snowing, or not, global warming.

A long time ago I learned to be on the lookout for arguments that seemed impenetrable to counter-evidence. At the time, I was then an undergraduate, I was debating a friend about whether or not all human behavior was motivated by self-interest. His contention was that it was. When I protested, "But what about charitable giving?" He quickly replied that even that was self-interested as you only did it because you sought, for yourself, the approval of man, the approval of God, or both. Ahhh!

Whenever you suspect you're hearing just such an argument on any subject, STOP! Immediately ask your antagonist what, if any, counter-evidence they will accept to disprove their contention. If they can't, or won't, dismiss them for the unscientific sellers of snake oil they are and move on.

For me, the global warming/climate change business (evolution theory as well, I might add) has long had this quality about it. Don't engage them unless and until they provide you with the conditions by which they are willing to be proven wrong. If they won't, abruptly shift the conversation to safer subjects like religion and politics.

Who's against a Common Culture?

Boston College professor Alan Wolfe no doubt means well when he calls for a ceasefire in the culture wars, or at least for a cessation of hostilities on the battlefield that is our public schools. To that end, he uses the occasion of his review in Christianity Today's Books & Culture of E. D. Hirsch's new book, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools, to make the case that we have become overly habituated to discussing our children's education in terms of Left and Right. He insists that we should strive to subdue this practice as it hinders one of the public schools' more important tasks: creating, communicating, and sustaining a common culture. Regrettably, his characterization of the disposition of blame for this problem is inaccurate and unfair.

According to Wolfe, one of the more valuable things about Hirsch's book is that it spends some time examining the case for school choice, one of the current enthusiasms of the Right. Hirsch, we gather, is sceptical about its benefits, but Wolfe leaves no doubt that he thinks it does more harm than good. He writes that, "School choice by its very nature militates against one of [Hirsch's] major recommendations: the adoption of a common curriculum that all students must learn."

Fair enough, I suppose, but he then proceeds to identify the drive for school choice with the motivations that also inspire homeschooling and private schooling, in particular those motivations that are religious in nature. What these three movements share, finally, is the inescapable pursuit of a particular and specialized education. That kind of education, according to Wolfe, institutionalizes its own form of illiteracy, an illiteracy which makes it incapable of nurturing the common culture we desperately need in our diverse country.

Wolfe begins his review, as I mentioned, by calling on us all to lay down our ideological swords. But there is no way of escaping the fact that the thrust of his case is directed against the Right, and in particular the Religious Right. Why? Because, in his judgment, the Religious Right has too often escaped its share of the blame for the cultural fissures that plague us. He encapsulates his plea for ending the divide with a culminating sentence that, despite its universality, is clearly directed at the Right: "The truth is that Americans of all persuasions need more factual knowledge."

There is so much wrong with that sentence:

1. The Left is currently enjoying a long and, from its perspective, productive run disparaging the very kind of factual knowledge that used to inform without controversy our common understanding of the "exceptional" nature of our country. We all know the drill: Columbus was an imperialist, Washington a slave owner, J.P. Morgan a robber baron, etc.

2. The Left has for some time now been in the grips of a post-modern, deconstructionist, epistemology that denies there is anything like a fact that one can know anyway. Moreover, and consistent with that epistemology, the identification of a fact, we are told, is itself merely an exercise in raw power disguised as an otherwise objective endeavor.

3. While even the Left cannot practice consistently this self-contradictory epistemology, it embraces it nevertheless as it affords the leverage needed to replace the traditional teaching with, as even Wolfe himself mocks, "the wonders of race, ethnicity, and gender", in a word, multiculturalism. (Could anything be more transparently contrary to the goal of a common culture?)

4. It was the Left who ridiculed the old pedagogy as unnecessarily fact saturated, not to mention undemocratically didactic and overly reliant on simplistic rote memorization.

It was for these aspects of the Left's education agenda, and more, that the Right, including the Religious Right, fled the public schools. Quite simply, up against a powerful, large, and growing public education bureaucracy controlled by the Left, they felt they had no choice but to open private schools or pursue homeshooling. And they did this at great cost to themselves. Whether they sent their children to private schools or homeschooled them, they were still taxed for the public education they no longer used.

Yes, in America a common culture needs to be defended. But first we need to identify, correctly, the enemy of that enterprise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

ZZZZzzzz, cont.

A foreign correspondent awakens long enough to file this report. Oh, sorry. You can put your head back down now.

Just Warming Up

"The O.J. tactic" ? That was the editorial headline over at the Los Angeles Times and I just couldn't resist. It seems one Bill McKibben is accusing those of us sceptical about global warming of using a maneuver akin to the one used by O.J. Simpson's attorneys when they defended him against the charge of murder in the 1990s. He argues that because the evidence demonstrating O.J.'s guilt was so overwhelming, his "dream team" of lawyers forced the focus onto the few cracks in the case instead. The most famous "crack", of course, was the racial slur of LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman.

Similarly, the evidence for the science of global warming, or against the sceptics, to keep the analogy consistent, is overwhelming. Therefore, all we doubters/deniers (he uses both) have left to argue with is, well, "the O.J. tactic". That is, we are forced to cynically shift the attention away from the mountain of evidence that supports global warming and onto the recently revealed cracks in the case, cracks that amount to nothing actually.

Clever, I guess, but the analogy won't hold. Simpson's attorneys knew their client was guilty and shifted the focus because they had no choice. We global warming sceptics know nothing of the sort. Our scepticism is simply and honestly a product of being unconvinced, and we are joined in that scepticism by a host of scientists with credentials just as impressive as those who disagree.

These guys know they're losing the public argument as they increasingly descend to ad hominem attacks. A climate change sceptic is the same as murderer O.J. Simpson. A sceptic is the same as a doubter/denier. Highlighting the most recent problems with the global warming case is the same as employing some underhanded lawyer trick.

But "methinks" they "doth protest too much." Might it be that it is they who are guilty of the disingenuousness of which they routinely accuse us?


If the summit continues in this insomnia curing vein, we'll remain in good shape. Without fireworks, opinion will not change. OK, you can go back to sleep now.

Which Blair Project?

I'll admit it, I'm nervous. At the end of this day, what will be the result? Obamacare? Obamacare Light? Or, my preference, continued gridlock? While the GOP has remained amazingly unified this past year, unfortunately, the sight and sound of cameras rolling has over the years made more than one Republican congressional leader melt. Is it the prospect of some curvaceous, eye-batting network reporter fawning and flattering them over the possibility they'll "grow" in office? Or is it just the klieg lights? Scary stuff.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shrinking Shoreline

Remember the adage that politics ends at the water's edge? This may or may not have anything to do with global warming, but apparently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks it would be wise to step even further back from the shoreline.

Personnel is Policy

Someone else as sceptical as I am about former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson's presence on President Obama's commission to advise on reducing the deficit. Be warned!

The People and Their Government

Roger Cohen's column yesterday is actually about encouraging support for President Obama's health care agenda, not to mention insulting anyone who disagrees with it. But before he makes that point clear, he attempts to construct some philosophical scaffolding upon which to build his case. Over in The Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg does his usual outstanding job of pointing this out and then dismantling his real argument. But I would like to linger a bit longer on Cohen's philosophical underpinning as it is useful for highlighting a key difference between the left and the right.

One distinguishing characteristic of the left is that it too often conflates and confuses the people with their government. I've touched on this distinction in a previous post, but I want to elaborate a bit. In his column, Cohen briefly recapitulates what is actually a fairly common and longstanding critique of the sometimes alienated and often lonely nature of life in the modern West. He writes that:

Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

Cohen then stretches for the conclusion that we should support the public option, i.e., government-run health care, for many reasons, but significant among them is that it will be something we do together, a shared sacrifice, and anything we do together will help recover our "vanished and eroded" community. Leaving aside the ridiculous leap to health care legislation, the general critique is fair enough, at least as far as it goes. But where Cohen and the left go awry is in trying to restore what has been lost (i.e., a sense of community, of wholeness) artificially through an activity of the government, rather than more naturally through the people, which is where it originates.

Ideally, I suppose, a close connection, an identification even, between the people and their government would make for an extremely stable country. But in the West, and especially within the the Anglo-American experience, i.e., our experience, the two have always remained at least intellectually separate. To demonstrate the point, consider our Declaration of Independence. After the familiar words in which the people's unalienable natural rights are listed, the Framers posit that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." That is, the people, who possess rights, are one thing, and the government, charged with securing them, is another.

The immediate and purely instrumental reason for this distinction, as well as one explantion as to why it has remained intact, is because we value liberty, because we want always to remind both ourselves and those who govern us, that it is the government that serves the people, and not the other way around.

But yet another, and deeper reason the distinction has survived is because it represents something fundamentally true about human nature. We understand instinctively that whatever it is that comprises a people, it is something that occurs naturally. A government, by contrast, even a good government, maybe especially a good government, is always an artifact. Those things that most efficiently and most authentically contribute to the sense of community that the left senses is lacking, are things closer to the people, and arising more naturally from them. That is, things like family, as in shared blood relations; neighbors, as in people who literally live and work near you and because they do, share with you very local and practical common interests; faith, as in a body of shared beliefs so fundamental they trump, when challenged, any and all other obligations to the state.

It is here that genuine community is found, and only from here that it can be nourished. If the left understood this, they would hound the government to encourage the natural community that issues only from family, friends, and faith. Or at least they would demand it not interfere. But, instead, they vigorously pursue measures that disrupt and damage all three.

To be sure, there is more than just one reason why they, the left, do this. (An overvaluing of equality is another.) But significant among them is that they imagine the government legitimate and competent where it manifestly is not. Hence, when the government meddles here it is often met with resistance from the people. And even when it is not met with resistance, it is met with failure.

President Obama's proposed legislation may or may not improve the quality and/or lower the cost of health care. I happen to think it won't do either. If it passes, I guess we'll see. But one thing I'm sure of, it will do nothing to restore the lost sense of community among us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Halfing the Double Standard

As the case for global warming/climate change continues to collapse, Charlie Martin over at PajamasMedia reports that Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is calling for the Obama Administration's Department of Justice to investigate whether or not what he calls "the greatest scientific scandal of our generation" involved criminal activity as well. He has also called for bringing former Vice President Al Gore before the Senate to defend himself and his movie, of which, Inhofe says, "every assertion has been rebutted."

While most conservatives are more than happy to witness the public discrediting of environmental extremists and their all too often crazy policy prescriptions, Senator Inhofe's demand for a criminal investigation will no doubt make some extremely uncomfortable. "This is what THEY do!", I can hear them protesting. "We've complained for years about the criminalization of policy differences and now we're expected to participate in the same process?" They needn't worry as there is absolutely no chance the Obama Administration, nor the congressional Democrats, will ever act on the senator's demands. But the episode does raise once again the question of how conservatives should play this game. For those of you who follow this blog, you know I've tackled handling the Double Standard here before. And, without apologies, here I go again.

First, just in case you can't see the Double Standard at work here, try to imagine an alternative universe in which the sympathies of all the relevant players were reversed. (It's hard, I know, but try.) Is there any doubt the Obama Administration's Justice Department would have already appointed a Special Prosecutor and the Senate Democrats would have months ago formed a select committee armed with subpoena power to investigate? Seriously, is there any doubt?

So, in light of that undeniable truth, what should we do? Should we refuse to engage? Should we, rather, proudly stand on principle and silently hope that over time, even if it's a long time, the people will eventually recognize the ugly game played over and over again by liberal Democrats and punish them accordingly? My answer is that while this strategy may succeed in preserving our integrity, as well as protect us from that admittedly uncomfortable feeling of dirty hands, the cost to the country in the meantime will remain intolerably high.

Or, should we, like Senator Inhofe in this case, fight back with exactly the same weapons they bring to every political disagreement, major or minor? I'm with the good Senator from Oklahoma. I'll say it again, unless and until we establish something like political Mutually Assured Destruction, this fight for the soul of the country will never be fair. And I'll say this again as well, in anything like a fair fight, our ideas will never lose.

Slap Happy Senator

For a man who will soon be unemployed himself, these comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are strange indeed. Didn't he box in a former life? Someone should tell Mrs. Reid to keep her left up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"What manner of man is this...?"

Although probably not the way he envisioned, nor his, um, disciples expected it to happen, but it does appear President Obama has made good on at least one significant campaign promise.

On June 3, 2008, in St. Paul (Where else? Corpus Christi maybe?), then candidate Barak Obama gave his now famous "This was the moment" speech. As he celebrated clinching the Democrat Party nomination for president that evening, he avowed that, "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

Well, it took 20 months, but he did it. While the details in the report never quite rise to the stylistic standard established in the King James Version, the headline is nonetheless undeniable, "Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels."

Judging George

Through the years I've chewed on this question from time to time: Which is the more significant achievement, founding a new political order or maintaining an existing one? The lion's share of political philosophy is, if I may generalize, focused on founding. It is surely the more glamorous of the two enterprises, almost by definition. The end of the task is, after all, something new. Maintaining by comparison is, well, maintenance, mostly patching and painting.

A founder, however, does no patching and paints only on a more or less clean canvas. The very likely extreme nature of the crisis that afforded the opportunity for the creation of something new altogether, means the constraints will be few and the freedom of action broad, very broad. As a result, unlike any other individual, the founder is able to make his mark, create in his own image even, if he is suitably talented, and sufficiently bold. (I can almost see and hear those inclined toward intellectual Romanticism rising to applaud.)

But life experience (coupled with a contrary nature) has forced me to question this perhaps too easy conclusion. That experience taught me that the restrictions imposed by an established order are very great indeed. In even the most humble of institutions like, for example, your local church, attempts to simply start over are usually met with tremendous resistance, and this is so even when the institution is faced with a life or death emergency. The fixed patterns of behavior, the governing mores, and even the simple habits of the heart conspire together to severely limit the menu of options available to the maintainer, making his task extraordinarily difficult. More difficult, perhaps, than even that of the founder.

In American political history, the surpassing models of these two types, and our two greatest presidents, are, of course, Washington the founder, and Lincoln the maintainer. I will anticipate some of you protesting that Lincoln, too, was a founder. That he indeed did create anew, essentially midwifing "a new birth of freedom" for our country. My only response would be that whatever we may think of him, he apparently didn't see himself filling that role. Rather, he viewed his purpose as that of calling us always back to the founding, to the original principles expressed most clearly in the Declaration of Independence. Even his language, "mystic chords of memory", revealed a reforming, and not a revolutionary sensibility. Now, if I'm right about the relative significance of the founder versus the maintainer, and also correct that Lincoln typified the latter, then just maybe Lincoln, and not Washington, deserves instead a place first in the hearts of his countrymen.

But then what of old George, the father of our country? Hasn't he suffered enough already at the hands of contemporary academics and the PC revisionists beyond number? You do know he owned slaves, don't you? Well, in spite of all this, I think it might just be possible to both rescue and secure his position as number one.

Founding, as significant as it is, should never be celebrated in and of itself. It should always beg another question: Was the founding of something good, or not? In answering that question, can there be any doubt that founder George Washington played the indispensable role in the creation of this, the greatest, in every sense, country that ever was created? For that, I'll raise my glass and say with a host of others, "Happy Birthday Mr. President!"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Populism, cont.

PLEASE see Michael Knox Beran's piece on populism at National Review Online! I couldn't have said it better myself. No, really, I couldn't have.

#$%& Populists!

What, exactly, is populism anyway? You know, the ideology that, presumably, populists everywhere embrace. Or is ideology the right word? Phenomenon perhaps? No matter. One thing I do know is that whatever else I might be, I sure as hell don't want to be a populist. And if you call me one, true or not, well, them are fightin' words. Or at least they ought to be.

Please! Can't we do better than this?

The focus of George Will's Washington Post column yesterday was an otherwise balanced assessment of Sarah Palin. (She's stupid, but it's not her fault.) Nevertheless, he uses the occasion to work in a few shots at populism, a perennial bete noire of his. I think his characterization is shallow, ripe for challenge, and I want to ask the rest of us to resist employing this once again fashionable epithet until we at least consider a bit more seriously what it is we mean when we use it.

Will begins by offering a partial description of populism as "a celebration of intellectual ordinariness." Really? Is that anything like championing common sense? Anyway, to prove his point, he proceeds by listing a few of the usual suspects in a long roll that apparently began with Andrew Jackson. William Jennings Bryan, George Wallace, Jimmy Carter, and Ross Perot, he implies, rightly deserve our derision as they were all, successful or not, habitual practitioners of the populist art. But, and perhaps not surprisingly, his list fails to include one Ronald Wilson Reagan. Do I need remind him that Reagan, a president he genuinely admired, was also dismissed by many at the time for his simplistic appeal for common sense solutions and was similarly derided as a populist for many reasons, among them his, well, popularity?

Will continues: "Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess. Populism does not wax in tranquil times; it is a cathartic response to serious problems. But it always wanes because it never seems serious as a solution." OK, but doesn't this beg the question of whether my, and millions of others', support for Reagan was a similar expression of resentment and whininess? Or, were the late-1970s with its stagflation, emasculating hostage crisis, "malaise", etc., actually a more tranquil time than I remember? It depends. Doesn't it?

In the 1980s, "ideologue" served a similar rhetorical purpose for the Left. Reagan (him again) and those who advised him were often described by political adversaries as dangerous ideologues. I remember a quip at the time by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. of The American Spectator that an ideologue was anyone with whose ideology you disagreed. I'm afraid the amorphous quality of the label "populist", along with the manner in which it is increasingly used as an all-purpose slur, makes it a target for similar sport. A populist, it seems, is anyone who engenders some appreciable degree of popular enthusiasm , but whose ideology, whose policies, programs, complaints, or even style, you find disagreeable.

I'll say it again: Can't we do better than this?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Don't Do It!

If we're lucky, President Obama's creation of a commission to advise on deficit reduction will turn out to be nothing more than the usual waste of time that typifies these extra-governmental bi-partisan efforts. But unfortunately, if it's taken seriously, it could do real harm to the economy and increase the deficit even more.

First, if the commission is charged with finding otherwise politically difficult ways to both cut spending and raise taxes there is already a problem in the two men he's chosen to co-chair the endeavor, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former GOP Senator from Wyoming, Alan Simpson. Bowles is an unapologetic big-government liberal. While he will eagerly embrace raising taxes, he will never seriously contemplate non-defense spending cuts of any kind. Simpson, however, is not his mirror opposite. A decent man, to be sure, but when serving he was one of those reach across the aisle quasi-conservatives who would consider both tax increases and spending cuts. If compromise they must, where is the one place they agree? Tax increases. So what do you think will be the likely thrust of their commision's final recommendations?

Second, even if we concede that tax increases will not further hobble an already lame economy and actually increase revenue to the government (which I don't!), is there any evidence to suggest that the increased revenue will ever be used to reduce the deficit? Or, will it be treated as it has always been treated? That is, will it be seen as a windfall that can be immediately spent on this or that pet project?

Ronald Reagan used to tell a parable of his own about an overspending child demanding from his parents an increase in allowance in order to cover his debts. Reagan would ask his audience rhetorically, what would they do? Bargain with the kid by offering to increase his allowance if he, in turn, would better discipline his spending habits in the future. Or, would they cease funding of his bad habit altogether by withdrawing the allowance? Could the answer to this be any more common-sense?

The ONLY way to reduce the deficit is to reduce spending. Now, I will allow that the political reality is such that actually cutting spending on anything other than defense (and it's hard there too) is difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, a freeze on spending is the best way to go. (Liberals, in good Orwellian fashion, already call a freeze a cut anyway.) As the economy sputters to recovery, if not hindered by tax increases, the revenues to government will increase and the ratio of revenue to spending will improve.

And then the politicians, all of'em, will feel the political noose loosen, and feel as well a return of the urge to spend and we'll have this to do all over again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Friedman's Temptation

In his New York Times column about "global weirding" (you have to read it), one would expect Thomas L Freidman to focus on backfilling the increasing number of holes in the global warming assertion. (One really can't call it an argument any more, can one?) But in the column he not only stubbornly ignores the, for his side, embarrassing revelations of the past week, he also manages once again to conclude with praise for the current Chinese government, this time for their, to his mind, more enlightened energy and environmental policies.

I say "once again" for this is not the first time Friedman has found the present Chinese administration worthy of admiration. Nor is it, by the way, only the second. I suppose I could stop at this point and simply mock his apparent ardor for this brutal regime by suggesting something like an office pool. You know, how many times will Tom Friedman write yet another love letter to the Chinese communists before the year's out? But I'm afraid his, and others, enchantment with this government is much more serious than that.

Sadly, I include 'others' for I suspect Friedman is not alone in his infatuation. Rather, he is all too indicative of a dangerous disposition on the part of many who occupy the political Left. Their absolute confidence in their ability to know exactly what is best for you and for me, leaves them vulnerable to what Jean Francois Revel many years ago identified as the "totalitarian temptation". While they are beyond doubt about what is necessary, they are also aware of their lack of power to impose it. For many, fulfilling this deficit of power remains, we may be thankful, only a temptation. But for Friedman and others apparently unashamed of praising this tyrannical government, it seems it is fast becoming a lust.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Left Alone Among Thousands

Over at The American Spectator , Neal Freeman posts a very nice piece using this past weekend's Daytona 500 as the backdrop.

He captures beautifully a distinguishing trait that I still maintain is the most American of all as he somewhat humorously chastens politicians in both camps, including Sarah Palin (gently and obliquely), for misinterpreting both the Tea Party Uprisings and the current climate of opinion about most things political. Consider, for example, these three passages:

I was trapped in conversation this week with a candidate for high public office who, anticipating my rude question, blurted out that she was "running to restore people's trust in government." All I could think to say in return was, "Why would you want to do that?"

Here we are, stuck in a political cycle where almost nothing has gone right. We have taken a beating on politics, on economics, on culture. It's tough out there for everybody without Federal fix or favor. The only ray of sunshine is this healthy skepticism of government that's been rekindled among the citizenry -- and now, here comes our well-coiffed candidate with the straight seams determined to stamp out all the sparks before personal freedom breaks out in unplanned ways.

The point is that, as wired as they are just now by the politics of the day, they care a lot more about their families. And their communities. And their churches. And lots of other things that never pop up in the box slugged "Today's Events" in the Washington Post...What I'm saying is that these folks are real Americans, which means that they have better things to do than mess with politics.

I'm convinced that what our Founders hoped most to achieve, as it was also what most Americans at the time expected them to achieve, was the creation of an old-fashioned liberal (Isn't it tiresome to have to qualify "liberal" all the time?) republic in which politics were largely and properly marginalized. A republic in which the big issues were either already settled or widely agreed to be left unsettled. A country where people were for the most part left alone and left others alone in turn.

I suspect that last sentence immediately raised the hackles of communitarians and the innumerable critics of liberal democracy. The "liberal" in liberal democracy, they might protest, serves chiefly to institutionalize an atomized society of rootless, anomie suffering individuals who pass their otherwise pointless time bowling alone. But it is exactly here that these critics make the huge mistake of conflating and confusing government with society. Americans can and do distinguish quite easily the difference between the meddling in their lives done in the name of all by the government and their own freely expressed craving for the company of others. They resist and resent the former, desire and cherish the latter. They insist on the right to be left alone, so that, without contradiction, they can gather freely with family, friends, fellow congregants, and, if they like, 200,000 other screaming NASCAR fans.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bye Bayh!

In the wake of the reports of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh's retirement, I'm waiting with breathless anticipation for the media to focus on what his departure reveals about the potentially disastrous ideological fault lines that exist within the Democrat party. You know, the line that is actually a chasm between the liberal wing and the less liberal wing of the party. About how this fissure threatens to tear the party apart. That if the party elders do not act quickly to wrest control back from the liberals, then the less liberals, finding no home there, will leave in increasing numbers. All this making maintaining majority control of the congress less and less likely. I'm still holding my breath. I'm turning blue in the face. I'm feeling faint...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Biden vs. Cheney

It occurred to me that releasing the current vice president on the networks this weekend in order to land the first punch, so to speak, was only part of the White House's strategy. The larger part was to try and frame this as a battle between Biden and Cheney, rather than Obama and Cheney. Like him or not, EVERYONE listens to Dick Cheney. But NO ONE pays attention to Joe Biden, unless of course they're looking for a laugh. I think they're counting on the interested public hearing Biden's voice and bellowing, "That buffoon! Must not be important," just before they tune the whole debate out. Not a bad strategy actually.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lincoln the Liberator

Over at First Things Allen C. Guelzo has written a very nice piece correcting some misunderstandings about our 16th president. Check it out.

The apparent determination to understand Lincoln chiefly as the equivalent of some 20th-century civil rights champion ignores a distinction that used to be obvious. Always remember that Lincoln's moniker was "The Great Emancipator", as in emancipation, as in liberty. That title and what it implied about Lincoln positions him safely within the main currents of the 18th- and 19th-century American political tradition, that is to say, the founding tradition. The increased, and increasing emphasis on equality is a European import that gained purchase mostly in the 20th Century and has been working its mischief on the American body politic ever since.

Happy one-day-late Birthday Abe!

Friday, February 12, 2010

PC Soldiers

The recent release of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review ( represents for me the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. If you're inclined to investigate, you will discover within its pages that "climate change" has now taken a place among the more recognizable threats to the security of the United States. I can almost hear you bellowing: "Are you serious?" I'm afraid so, and what's more, I'm afraid those charged with producing the review are so as well. How did we come to such a place? I have become convinced that one very important reason is that the authors of the QDR include now a generation of soldiers, our most senior officers, who have spent the entirety of their careers rigorously disciplined by the strictures of political correctness.

What prompted me to this conclusion (and one of the other straws) was the immediate aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre last fall. You'll recall that at that time one of the items batted about in the press to help understand how the jihadist Major Hasan could fall through the cracks was the presence of political correctness in the Army. The thinking was that while Major Hasan's superiors knew his prior behaviour was over-the-top and potentially dangerous, they felt constrained from taking action either because they felt it would be a waste of time, i.e., their concerns would be dismissed for the very reason of political correctness, or, worse for them, their careers would be jeopardized as they would ever after be labeled bigots.

But if political correctness played a part in that bloody event, it played even more of one in (another straw) the official Defense Department report of the incident. If you had relied solely on that account for your information, you would never have learned that Major Hasan was a "Muslim" motivated to open fire on his fellow soldiers by his fidelity to an extremist understanding of "Islam". Those two words are found nowhere in the report.

Finally (and the penultimate straw), was President Obama's call in his recent State of the Union address for the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. As there is no evidence that the current policy is in any sense defective, and as the military is currently preoccupied with more pressing matters, this initiative is nothing more than an attempt to institutionalize yet another aspect of political correctness. As a man of the Left, President Obama's call for this change was not surprising. But what was surprising was that he was joined in the effort by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Well, maybe not so surprising if my thesis is correct.

When did this begin? When did the codes, explicit and implicit, of political correctness take their place alongside "Duty, Honor, Country" as guiding principles for those charged with defending the country? I think the answer is during the immediate aftermath of the Viet Nam War, the mid-70s, more or less. But if I were forced to supply a defining moment, (at the risk of appearing to pick on the women) I would say the admission of females to the various service academies in 1976 is as good as any.

That event formalized the imposition of the codes of political correctness onto the one institution that, because of its mission, had to that point seemed safely beyond their reach. As it will soon be 34 years since that seminal event, now almost every currently serving officer, and importantly, virtually all the senior officers, have grown up under their sway. From that time forward, the pressure to conform to the PC codes within the military has grown immeasurably. To be sure, some soldiers did then and do now embrace them enthusiastically. But others, many others, and I would argue most others, have done so grudgingly and buckle to the pressure now only because they know, because everyone knows that to challenge them publicly is a very real threat to one's career.

Don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that we've promoted, as a result, a generation of dishonest and cowardly soldiers. That's not the way the pressure to conform works. Rather, it works by forcing those soldiers whose principal concern is military effectiveness (and thank God there's still plenty of them) to simply accept the PC codes as part of the "given" in any problem they face. Political correctness is, with a "can do" shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, simply accepted as one more obstacle to be overcome. The effective officer figures out a way to work around it.

But the way around it is always inefficient, sometimes dangerous and far too often dispiriting. My son is a U.S. Army First Lieutenant currently serving in Iraq. When I asked him about his training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi immediately prior to his deployment he answered with this: "Dad, I'm not sure how we'll perform in combat, if and when we engage the enemy, but one thing I do know, we'll sure as hell not sexually harass them."

Now I suspect some of you may think I'm overstating the case. If so, ask yourself this question, or better yet, ask it of anyone you know (male or female, straight or gay, white or not) who holds a position of command in the military, at any level of responsibility: Is their duty of disciplining a poor performing soldier complicated or simplified if the individual in question is a straight white male? We all know the answer to this.

As the saying goes, is this any way to run a railroad? Maybe, maybe not. But it is certainly no way to run an efficient army. At a time of war, heck, at any time, should we be saddling our commanders with the added problems that invariably attend mixing men and women, straights and gays? Should we be forcing them to divert their focus and limited resources away from the very real threat of extremist Islam and towards ridiculous phantom threats like climate change? You tell me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Haitian Mountains

It seems there is an old Haitian proverb that goes, “Deye mon, gen mon” — ”Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” While it's not new in English, I only learned it from my TV set a week or two ago during a break in a football game I was watching. Its purpose there, no doubt, was to communicate to U.S. viewers some well-established dignity on the part of the Haitian people, now suffering anew in the aftermath of the recent earthquake, and thereby sustain sympathy for the ongoing relief effort. I have no doubt that to some degree at least it achieved its intended purpose. But as the adage was new to me, I chewed on it a bit. And the more I chewed, the more I wondered.

"Beyond the mountains, more mountains." It's undeniable that this has the ring of wisdom about it, a mature conclusion drawn by a mature culture. A culture that has endured countless years of trial and error and become as a result acutely aware of the hubris that tempts younger people and younger nations and far too often attends their singular and collective enterprises as well. Our phrase, "a bridge too far", might serve as a reasonable corollary.

But then it could mean something else altogether. Rather than stemming from maturity, it might instead be the product of national fatigue and represent the fatalistic conclusion of a tired and hopeless culture. Our saying, "What's the point?" might sufficiently capture the same idea.

If it's the latter, then the relief effort in Haiti has far more before it than simply rescuing the wounded and repairing the infrastructure, such as it is. Even if those immediate goals are achieved with unimaginable success, then, well, more mountains.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm SCREAMING "Danger Ahead"!

This is my third post with "Danger Ahead" in the title. Each communicating (I hope) with increasing volume that the GOP had better be very careful about pursuing compromise over healthcare reform with congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration. Yuval Levin over at "The Corner" on National Review Online makes a very important point about the nature of the differences on this issue between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

He concludes with, "The difference between the Left and the Right is not a difference of degree, but of direction, and each side tends to think that moving even a little in the wrong direction is worse than doing nothing. That’s why a compromise won’t be so easy." I would go even further than Levin and insist that if clarity of thinking prevails, compromise will not only be difficult, it will be impossible.

Whether they meet with the other side or not, the Republican leadership must not allow the differences between the two parties to be framed as those between some who want a little and some who want a lot. If this were the case, then it would be easy to simply split the difference. But this is most definitely not that kind of dispute and, moreover, the stakes are far too high. A step in the wrong direction here would not be a compromise; it would not even be a misstep. Rather, it would signal retreat and surrender. The only sensible way of resolving a difference of this kind and of this magnitude is by winning. And for the first time in a long time, we just might be.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Handling the Media

I suppose if we really needed one more piece of evidence to demonstrate how thoroughly "Bush Derangement Syndrome" had been supplanted by "Palin Derangement Syndrome" this manufactured flap over her jotting notes on the palm of her hand has got to be it. But her instinct in responding to this attack is sound. Don't engage, don't defend, don't explain. Rather, mock them by embracing it. To that end, it seems she wrote, and very publicly exposed, yet another controversial note to self: "Hi Mom." Beautiful! Now do it again and again and again and....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Right with Reagan

If you've watched or listened to any news today, you know that it would have been Ronald Reagan's 99th birthday. Many have noted and commented on the elevated status our 40th president now enjoys among not just conservatives, or within the Republican party, but with everyone across the entire American ideological spectrum. Now, it seems, everybody wants to be right with Reagan.

All this reminded me of the time of our country's founding when two other Americans enjoyed a similar status. (Actually, it would be more accurate to say these two Americans set the standard for just such a status.) During the debates over the ratification of the proposed constitution, both sides, the Federalists, who were for it, and those who came to be labeled Anti-Federalists, who were opposed, felt the need to, if I may, be right with these two men. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were easily the most prominent and broadly trusted Americans of that era. As it happened, both were in favor of the new constitution and the Federalists were eager to point to their support in order to assure allies, allay fears, and, ultimately, ensure ratification. The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, had the unenviable task of opposing that which Washington and Franklin advocated. And they knew it. When one reads their arguments against ratification today, you can almost feel them tiptoeing around the presence of Franklin and Washington in the debate. Such was the status of these two men that those who publicly disagreed with them had to do so carefully lest they alienate their larger audience.

This kind of standing is extremely unique, the most rarefied. By this I mean that virtually everyone, that is, politicians, policy entrepreneurs, pundits, and even historians, feel the need to have people of this stature on their side in whatever endeavor they are undertaking. Or, if not, and they desire to retain any hope of actually succeeding, they simply must take the time to explain why not.

As far as I'm concerned, besides Washington and Franklin, in American political history only Lincoln possesses that selfsame quality. Until now. Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, and...Reagan? We can, and no doubt will argue, but that's a lineup I can get behind. Happy Birthday Gipper!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Them "R" Fightin' Words

Here we go again. The "again" to which I'm referring is of course the Double Standard by which conservatives and liberals are publicly judged. (See my January post, "Reid's Comment and the Double Standard.") In the current case of Obama Administration Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's use of the words, "f***ing retarded", when referring to some fellow liberal activists, we simply have to ask the obvious first question: Can you imagine the public consequences of any conservative uttering exactly the same words in exactly the same context? We all know the answer to this. But it's the answer to the second question of which we are less sure. That is, how do we respond?

Sarah Palin, very prominently the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, made up her mind about how to respond quite quickly. She expressed public outrage over Emanuel's comment and called for his immediate dismissal. Did the Left, the proud authors of political correctness after all, rally to her cause? Of course not. Instead, already on the alert to diminish her standing in any way possible, they set about dismissing her outrage as selective and political. They insisted that she was merely posturing, cynically using this minor indiscretion as a blunt weapon with which to inflict injury on one of their own very loyal soldiers. (There is a strong temptation to dwell here on the always delicious irony of liberals being, as they say, hoisted on their own petard. But I'll resist.)

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Left found a tentative ally over at the conservative The American Spectator online. Jay D. Homnick, no fan of Rahm Emanuel and a self-confessed Sarah Palin supporter, nevertheless mildly chastised the former Governor for her over-reaction and more or less forgave Emanuel for his transgression.( He concluded with the very measured, the very temperamentally conservative, "So we forgive you, Rahm, even if we have to forfeit a political advantage." High minded, to be sure, but is it wise?

To come to the point, frankly, I don't care if Sarah Palin's response in this controversy is overwrought. In fact, I don't really care if, truth be told, she is feigning outrage simply for political advantage. At this point all I care is that she wins. I know, I know, this goes against the grain of almost everything it means to be a conservative. It sticks in my craw. It leaves a foul taste in my mouth. But is Homnick, and any of you inclined to agree with him, really so naive as to think that in the future when some fellow conservative sticks his foot in his mouth the favor will be returned? Whether we like it or not, we're in a fight. Our ideological opponents have made clear their willingness, if necessary, to duke it out in the mire. Should we concede the bout simply because we insist it more properly take place in a ring? Should we, on principle, demand strict observance to Marquis of Queensbury rules when our antagonists wear brass knuckles underneath their gloves, and hide a knife in their shoe just in case?

As I see it, there are two ways of dealing with the Double Standard. First, we must call loud attention to it whenever it's employed against us. Over time it will lose its effectiveness as people simply grow cynical about it. "Yea, yea, yea, she's a racist, he's a sexist. We've heard it all before." The second way is to use it as Palin does in this instance, against them. Effectively done, it just might achieve something like political Mutually Assured Destruction. If it succeeds in that, then they'll have to come up out of the pit and into the ring. And in a fair fight, we'll never lose.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I mentioned in yesterday's post about pragmatism that no matter what labels I attached to the two kinds of pragmatists I was trying to identify, we would invariably get sloppy in our actual use of the words. That helps explain why to be called a pragmatist is sometimes a compliment and sometimes an epithet. Actually a discussion of pragmatism is richer still.

In today's National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg tackles the subject from a different angle. Apropos of President Obama's assertion at the meeting with congressional Republicans last week, Goldberg contrasts pragmatist, which Obama claims he is, with ideologue, which he insists he's not.

For those of you familiar, a discussion of Pragmatist versus Ideologue parallels quite nicely with investigations of Realism versus Idealism in international politics, and Induction versus Deduction in philosophy/epistemology.

Anyway, check out Goldberg's piece at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pragmatist versus Pragmatism

My last post asserted that Bill Clinton was no pragmatist, that he was, rather, an almost perfect caricature of the utterly unprincipled politician. But as I thought about it a bit more, it occurred to me that perhaps an important clarification was in order. To that end, allow me to tender a distinction between a pragmatist, which if not altogether good, is at least acceptable, and a practitioner of pragmatism, which is always bad. Confusion about the two types is what sometimes leads to the charge of 'unprincipled' or the praise of 'pragmatic' being leveled unfairly. I'll concede from the start that I, you, all of us will invariably conflate these labels, which will only add to the confusion. No doubt there are more concise and elegant titles I could use. (Maybe you can help?) Nevertheless, I think an appreciation of the distinctive types will hold, even if the labels do not.

What both a pragmatist and a practitioner of pragmatism share is a willingness to compromise. They approach any debate with a prior understanding that splitting the difference not only may, but in some cases will be necessary. But that's where the similarities end.

The key difference between the two types is fidelity to principle. The pragmatist is ultimately defined by this quality, the practitioner by its absence. This can be somewhat confusing because, on the surface, the scrapping of principle, rather than fidelity to it, sounds like a fair definition of compromise. And, as I said, a willingness to compromise is the quality the two types share. But that definition is in fact insufficient because it leaves unanswered the important question of what would motivate one to compromise and thereby at least appear to abandon principle. I'll get to that in a moment.

Because he is faithful to principle, a pragmatist, unlike a practitioner of pragmatism, comes to a debate with a clear desire for victory. His opinion is already well-formed and he is convinced of either the rectitude of his own position, the deficiency of his opponent's, or both. As a result, his overriding goal is always unqualified victory. He never loses sight of this. But because of either tacitly understood, or previously agreed upon rules of the contest (the forswearing of the use of violent force, the adherence to broad democratic norms, or particular constitutional provisions, etc.), his pursuit of victory does not include the use of every conceivable option. Hence, he understands that he may not only have to compromise, he is even willing to do so. But, and this is crucial, he is willing to compromise only with a view toward ultimate victory. Informed by principle, he can actually measure whether the compromise he is offering, or being offered, is in fact a good one. His challenge is twofold: On the positive end, he must keep the target of total, unqualified victory always in view. On the negative, he must draw and honor a line behind which he will never retreat.

The practitioner of pragmatism desires, by contrast, not victory, but the agreement itself, the signing ceremony, the photo opportunity it affords. Identifying the winner, the party that got the best of the deal, is of no importance and, untethered to principle, is impossible to declare in any case. At the end of the day, the deal is the thing.

Could there be two more different kinds of people? The next time you're tempted to either dismiss or praise someone for compromising over some issue important to you, for being pragmatic, ask yourself which of the two types better describes him. A pragmatist you can at least stomach, if not unreservedly praise. But a practitioner of pragmatism is at best useless. At worst, he's actually harmful to the side he's supposed to represent.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bill Clinton a Pragmatist?

Are you kidding me?

The recent electoral defeats suffered by the Democrat party have prompted many sympathetic pundits to urge President Obama to abandon, for a time, his ideologically driven agenda, and "pivot" to a more pragmatic approach. Typically, they point to the strategy employed by then President Clinton after the disastrous for Democrats mid-term elections of 1994. That election cycle gave majority control of both the House and Senate to the GOP for the first time in 60 years. As the story is told, master pol Bill Clinton understood like no one else the altered political climate and developed as a consequence the new strategy of "triangulation", ingeniously playing the left liberal base of the Democrat party against the hard right of the Republicans, thereby saving his party from itself and embarrassing the overreaching Newt Gingrich-led GOP.

The problem with this story is that it's bull#$%&, as it was even while it was being manufactured, as is most everything to do with Bill Clinton.

Clinton "pivoted" and "triangulated" because he had no choice. (By the way, may we please dispense with these silly words? How about "changed" and "compromised"? No, no, no. Those words simply won't do as they fail to carry the cachet necessary to convey the insider status most reporters and pundits crave. But I digress.) The truth is Clinton was in a politically weak position as president from the beginning as he was elected in 1992 with only a 43% plurality. The 1994 election returns served to confirm that status. In 1995, and thereafter, he was able to make deals with the Republican congress chiefly because he abandoned his liberal policy agenda and the rhetorical justification along with it. Please recall that, "The era of big government is over."

But none of this ever had anything to do with Clinton's pragmatism, the same pragmatism that is now being urged on Obama. Bill Clinton was the singularly most undisciplined and unprincipled president of the twentieth century. He changed and compromised not because he was a pragmatist, but simply because it was the path of least resistance. This man ultimately wanted most only to list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as his address. I'll leave his desire for the perks that came with it to your imagination.