Eunomia · October 2006

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It is a sign of the times for Republicans that the political survival of Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), a five-term incumbent and straight-laced U.S. Naval Academy graduate, may now depend on a woman in a duck suit. ~The Hill

I implore my fellow New Mexicans in District 1: do not let a woman who is using someone in a duck suit in her campaign return to Congress.  We have endured enough. Madrid is indeed ridiculous, but Wilson cannot be allowed to get away with her awful record again.  Against illegal immigration?  She voted against the Sensenbrenner bill.  Against the war?  She has consistently voted in support of it.  Against the expansion of government and runaway spending?  She voted for Medicare Part D.  Pro-life?  She isn’t.  Conservatives of the First District: vote her out!

P.S.  I don’t know where The Hill gets its information, but Wilson was in the Air Force.

Here George Allen–former governor, favorite of the conservative movement, and one-term Republican senator of no particular distinction–is being challenged by the most sophisticated right-wing reactionary to run on a Democratic ticket since Grover Cleveland. ~Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard

Via Ross Douthat

I don’t know what exactly is reactionary about Grover Cleveland.  He was, after all, a solid gold standard man, then the rallying cry of the progressive party of the time (and, like all progressives, their economics were injurious to the farmer and small property-holder), though he had plenty of redeeming features (especially his anti-imperialism).  But comparison with Grover Cleveland is not a bad thing; he was probably the last Democratic President who took the Constitution seriously and believed that it actually had something to do with how a President should govern, and he opposed the annexation of Hawaii.  If there were more Jim Webb Democrats around, well, the Democrats might start to resemble the party of my great-great grandfathers.  This article sums up in this one paragraph why Allen’s traditional conservative voters should be thrilled to have an alternative like Webb on the ballot.  If Webb wants to do well in southwest Virginia and the Southside, he would make sure that everyone sees the quote from Born Fighting that Mr. Ferguson quotes at the start of the article.     

So today is Halloween, which was originally in some parts of Europe the Christian answer to the pagan autumn festivals that marked the end of summer and the coming of winter and, symbolically, death.  The Irish festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-wain) had previously marked the end of the harvest and commemorated the dead.  The Christian answer in western Europe was to commemorate the faithful departed and, through them, to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and the hope of the Resurrection, thus turning the logic of the annual raging against the dying of the light on its head.  The modern Mexican dia de los muertos, about which we were often taught in New Mexico when I was growing up, actually seems to retain more of this Christian sense of the celebration (though it has, like everything else, also been transformed into an excuse to throw a party). 

There is still some small element in the modern Halloween in which the original facing down of death and the attempt (with costumes) to ward of demonic and destructive forces is present, but one notices in the conventional celebration of Halloween a frequent misunderstanding that misses that the ghoulish and frightening costumes were once meant to scare away evil spirits.  Now, for most of the people who are really into Halloween, it is a time to endorse the evil spirits. 

The festival is undoubtedly a holdover from old superstitious practices, and today it has become worse than worthless in its increasingly ridiculous use as little more than a candy-buying extravaganza and an excuse for adults to dress transgressively or shamelessly.  As much as the part of me that is Irish wants to hang on to Halloween if only as a part of my heritage, and as much as I did enjoy Halloween as a kid (growing up as a completely secular kid, I found it was just about the most “spiritual” and “mysterious” day of the year), there really isn’t much to it that holds my interest anymore.

It’s races like Ryun getting closer that is driving the “wave theory” among the prognosticators. They figure if he’s vulnerable, Republicans are in big trouble. But I was talking to a GOP type about this and he says it’s kind of funny—races like that are coming into play, but they haven’t seen a corresponding deterioration in other races that have been toss-ups all along. In other words, you figure if a formerly safe GOP seat is coming into play, all the former toss-ups would be titling Democratic. Republicans say they aren’t seeing that. Also, they think some of the Republicans you would write off this year in tough areas—Shays, Johnson, etc.—are doing better than expected because they already have built in a certain independence from the GOP. So, if you’re mad at Bush, you might not take it out on them. They hope this is true in places like CT, NY, and PA. ~Rich Lowry

There are two explanations for why there has been a sudden endangerment of many previously safe Republican seats (or at least those seats considered to be safe): the first is that they were always endangered all year long but no one was paying attention before now and so they are not proof of a growing wave of discontent, and the second is that they have become endangered because the wave continues to build.  In one sense, it is irrelevant which it is, because the same number of districts is at risk no matter how we understand how it happened.  But the dismissive Republican reply that they are not seeing increasing Democratic strength in the hotly contested races that have been on everyone’s radar all year is not convincing, and here’s why: because the GOP has spotted the weaknesses in some of their “hurricane shutters,” as Chuck Todd often calls them, they have moved to repair and upgrade their defenses against the coming storm.  So, even as the storm rages around them, the well-known vulnerable districts continue to remain as “toss ups” rather than shift clearly into the Dem column as Lowry’s Republican contact thinks they would.  Meanwhile, in the process of focusing on these relatively few districts, they have neglected equally vulnerable spots elsewhere, in part because they never expected the storm to be as bad as it actually seems to be. 

It’s as if they prepared the outlying coastal areas well for a hurricane but didn’t bother doing anything further inland on the assumption that all they had to defend against was storm surge and not massive flooding in the interior.  Now that the storm seems to be even bigger and is hitting even more territory than they anticipated, they are rushing to shore up their defenses at the last minute while they hope that the reinforced “shutters” they have put up in the better-known endangered districts in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, New Mexico and Kentucky continue to hold while they try to save other districts that are being buffeted by gale-force winds and heavy rains.  (They are also hoping that the Dem candidates self-destruct in the final days, dissipating the storm before it makes landfall.)  The problem is that the more attention and resources they put towards these new weak districts the less they will have available for the final week elsewhere.  In the end, the reinforced defenses and the new weak points may all give way under the brunt of the storm. 

The Republicans are now banking on the hope that the Connecticut Republicans, for example, were so far-sighted and well-prepared that they will ride out the storm and make a crucial difference.  But all signs point to the relative irrelevance of the Connecticut races to control of the House at this point.  The Midwest and now, incredibly, the Plains states are becoming the main battleground where the fate of the House will really be decided (with some help one way or the other from the Mountain West).  The Northeast, long believed to be the region that would see the greatest GOP bloodletting, may also see multiple GOP losses, but it may end being, along with the South, one of their relatively better regions because they were always expecting a tough election to a degree that Ryun, Smith, Musgrave and Hayworth, among others, obviously were not.  Structures build with a hurricane or tornado in mind tend to do a lot better even in the worst storms than those that get hit with a freak storm that no one was expecting and for which no one had prepared.  

Michael Ledeen, in the unending quest to make everyone adopt the term “Islamofascism,” notes that the Iranian Prez has been making pro-natalist noises - and pro-natalism, of course, “is right out of the fascist manual,” because both Hitler and Mussolini supported it.

Well. It was one thing when Ledeen urged us to adopt a foolhardy foreign policy course vis-a-vis Iran - but now that he’s attacking natalism, well, the gloves are coming off. How about this: Both Hitler and Mussolini supported strong militaries, interventionist foreign policies, and ideas of “national greatness” - so presto, American neoconservatives are really Amerifascists! Right? Right? How do like them apples, Mr. Ledeen? Teach ya to f– with the natalists! ~Ross Douthat

I think Ross could have ended his post right there and he would have been all right, but he does go on to qualify his rather strong reaction:

No, I’m being too flip. There is something about fascism’s tendency toward blood-and-soil rhetoric - and by extension, toward an essentially biological concept of national strength - that made natalism a particularly good policy fit for a fascist regime. For that matter, I’ll go further in my quasi-agreement with Ledeen, and admit that a term like “Islamofascism,” while obviously intellectually flimsy in certain respects, almost makes sense as a quick-and-dirty way to describe the Iranian regime; there’s no obvious term for that country’s cocktail of Persian nationalism, Shi’ite radicalism, and run-of-the-mill populist authoritarianism, and if the people throwing around “Islamofascist” wanted to restrict it to Tehran’s quasi-Islamist, quasi-nationalist dictatorship, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.

But, as some of us have noted, the word Islamofascism (or Islamic fascism) is not reserved for Ahmadinejad’s supposed Sturmabteilung of Basij fanatics.  (Note: I obviously don’t find the ascription of the label to the Iranian government and its ideological cocktail very useful, descriptive or obvious, but let’s return to that later.)  Ross continues:

But of course, they don’t want to so restrict it; they want to use it describe al Qaeda as well, which is silly, and they want to use it as a rhetorical club to convince everyone that 2006 is just like 1938, or maybe 1936, and Ahmadenijad is just like Hitler, and all the rest - which is silly and dangerous.

Excellent.  But I would add a couple other points.  As some of the advocates for this term would have it, Islamofascist is supposed to extend to far more than Al Qaeda.  Thus Cliff May said:

The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria). 


So Islamofascism must embrace any and all opponents of U.S. hegemony, real or perceived, regardless of whether they are religious and jihadi or secular and Baathist.  To take May at his word, Islamofascism has to be able to embrace Deobandis in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Salafis in Jordan and Iraq, Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Baathists in Syria, and presumably also the Sudanese government, the Islamic Courts of Somalia, and Kashmiri jihadis.  According to this view, all of these groups are somehow now our problem because they fit the ever-expanding mould of Islamofascist.  Islamofascist must not only include all of these groups, but it must impose upon theme a common goal and unified purpose (I suppose it would be “they hate us for our freedom,” right?), even though it is fairly clear that they are disparate groups with divergent interests tied to their local circumstances and local grievances. 

To conflate them all into one more or less homogenous jihadi cause–thus mirroring their delusions of a concerted, unified effort to destroy Islam around the world–is not only to give substance to their recruiting rhetoric but also to ignore cleavages and fissures among different kinds of jihadis that we might exploit to our advantage.  Many of the hegemonists apparently missed divide et impera in neo-imperialist school.  All of these things tell me that the use of “Islamofascist” and “Islamic fascist” is a way to import some very dubious assumptions about the nature and necessity of U.S. intervention in various Near and Middle Eastern countries into our thinking about combating Islamic terrorism, which leads to some remarkably bad and dangerous beliefs (e.g., Santorum’s “Iran is bent on world conquest with the help of mighty Venezuela!” spiel) designed to channel the legitimate desire to fight jihadis and the vital importance of the anti-jihadi fight into public support for a hegemonist agenda that is only tangentially related to actually fighting jihadis.  I say tangentially because the main targets in the sights of the jingoes these days are not Taliban camps in Waziristan or, more outlandishly, Lashkar-i-Muhammad training facilities in Sindh, but the secular Syrian regime and the clerical regime in Tehran, which have been fishing in Iraq’s troubled waters but had been on the whole slightly cooperative with anti-jihadi efforts in late 2001 and 2002.  Rather than avoid conflict with these regimes with which we have few real significant causes for conflict, these people want to escalate our hostility against them.  Given the record of the past four years, that seems to me to be an obvious mistake, but one that does not have to keep being repeated.  Rather than build from these early successes by working with these regimes against our common foe in Sunni jihadis, our government chose to treat these regimes as part of the same phenomenon and part of the same general adversary.  To continue to use rhetoric that reinforces this kind of strategic folly is not clear-eyed truth-telling nor is it Churchillian courage–it is the throwing of rhetorical garbage for lack of a coherent strategy that can be defended on its merits.

I would just note here that nationalists in general tend to be natalist (see the Gaullists in France or the Partido Popular in Spain), regardless of whether they are necessarily actually fascist, because nationalists in general believe in blood-and-soil rhetoric and organic metaphors for nationhood.  More to the point, they think that defending and preserving the natio has something to do with the nation biologically reproducing itself. 

Ledeen’s focus on Iranian natalist policies (a policy also adopted in Aymara-dominated Bolivia, which, as Sen. Santorum tells us, will be the front line of the great Cubano-Venezuelan empire) and his labeling of them as simply fascist policies does make you wonder: do Ledeen and those who, such as Sen. Santorum, use this “Islamic fascism” rhetoric believe that natalist policies are inherently undesirable in themselves or because they are tainted by associations with fascism (or both)?  In our anti-fascist zeal, shouldn’t we stop having children all together?  That would teach the Nazis a lesson!  Ha ha!  Presumably Sen. Santorum would be rather embarrassed to find natalism, which is something I assume he does not oppose in principle and probably even actively supports in some ways because of his religious convictions, denounced as something taken out of the “fascist manual.” 

Surely the reason to be concerned about other countries’ natalist policies is not because they are fascist or proof of Islamofascism, but that they are aimed at increasing their numbers while the population growth of Western countries tends to need significant boosts from immigration to even try to keep pace.   

The thing that should leap to the forefront of our minds is this: if even the batty Ahmadinejad can see the rational advantages of encouraging more births in his country through formal policy, why are so many people in this country so instinctively hostile to the idea?  Why is the first response among this crowd to news of Iranian natalism not, “We cannot allow a natalist gap!” but instead, “See, Iranians are fascist!”?  Because they don’t want to be like the nasty Islamocylons?  Please.  (The article is yet to be written on the possible cultural significance of BSG’s ambivalence towards procreation and childbirth–associated overwhelmingly with Cylon coercion and religious fanaticism–as shown by a race on the verge of extinction as the humans in that series are.)  American suspicion of natalism is, to my mind, yet more proof of the disintegrative influence of individualism and the harmful consequences of an ethic of self-satisfaction and self-indulgence according to which appeals to the common good are always statist tricks and totalitarian plots to control your life. 

Incidentally, you could see this retreat to invoking fascist parallels in the debate at Crunchy Con last spring when the critics of the crunchy con idea only too readily associated a belief in transcendent norms and the importance of their application to everyday life with fascist ideas of transcendence (as if there were no other kind!).  To see ethical dimensions in everyday life was to “politicise” them, which in one sense was perfectly true, since ethical life is intimately connected to the life of the polity, but it was also supposedly to make a religion out of politics, which was such utter nonsense that it was embarrassing to see the charge made.   

It seems to me that in certain cases of anti-crunchy criticism and again with Ledeen’s cheap shot against natalism you begin to run up against the divisions in what Mr. Bottum described as the “new fusionism,”  the current alliance of pro-lifers and morally “serious” interventionists that he found in modern conservative and GOP circles.  People on one side of the divide do believe in a transcendental order, an “enduring moral order,” typically an order set down by God, and believe that this order has profound relevance for the entirety of everyday life, and the others on the other side of the divide may be respectful of these views and even nominally supportive of them but when the claims of transcendence come knocking on their own door they want no part of it.  They seem to be saying: we must have “moral clarity” in our foreign policy, and we all agree that abortion is horrible and ought to be discouraged because it is violating human rights, but let’s keep that self-examination and those heavy-handed claims of the eternal verities out of my personal, private business.  It does not hurt that the first instinct of some of the Moral Clarity Brigade members is to associate something as life-affirming as natalism with fascism and thus make their own ambivalence about supporting natalism into a foreign policy issue (which is what, as you may have noticed, these folks seem to make out of everything) so that the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” comes across as part of the rhetoric of a dictatorial Fuehrer who wants to destroy your individualist way of life. 

That makes you wonder: how long will the “new fusionist” alliance, to the extent that it exists, hold up as some of the basic moral and social goods valued by the religious conservatives in the alliance are (yet again) either ignored or, when noticed, mocked in the context of pointing out the supposed reactionary and fascist nature of a foreign government?      

Flanked by a banner that reads “Israel shall stand forever,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein sings a song in a rousing mix of Hebrew and English.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris is on her feet, stomping and clapping to the beat from her place on the stage.

The predominately Christian audience waves its arms to the music as Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, praises Israel.

Next, Harris gets her turn.

“Nothing that we believe in the world would exist without you,” she says to Jewish leaders in the crowd. “We’re all sort of Jewish wannabes.” ~The Herald-Tribune

Via The Plank

She followed that up by saying that unless you elect “Jewish wannabe” candidates, you will be legislating sin.  No, she didn’t really say that.  But she might as well have–it would have made about as much sense!  The Jewish wannabe thing apparently isn’t entirely a new act she has put on to do damage control after her Witness interview.  As the Post reports, she has apparently always been this batty:

Harris does love talking about Israel. She’s proud that Israelis sometimes assume she’s one of them and talk to her in Hebrew. She is a Christian but has called herself a “wannabe” Jew. During the bitterly contested recount in 2000, which she oversaw as Florida’s secretary of state, she compared herself to the Biblical character Queen Esther, who risked her life to save the Jews.

She says that when her husband of 10 years, wealthy Swedish businessman Anders Ebbeson, asked her to marry him, she first extracted a promise that they could live in the Holy Land one day. She doesn’t know why she’s always been so fascinated by the country.

“I can remember riding my bike to piano lessons and thinking about Israel,” she says. “I thought I was adopted for a while.” 

I must confess that this sort of zealous enthusiasm for Israel among Christians has always baffled me.  I have read the standard explanations behind this, which cite believing in the eternity of the covenant with Abraham and God’s grant of the Promised Land.  I have also read about the way that some evangelicals apparently associate the modern State of Israel with the fulfillment of end-times prophecies, though I genuinely find it hard to believe that this is really true of very many evangelicals.  I have to admit that I don’t really get it.  Yes, I can follow the arguments for these views, and I see what they say, but I cannot really grasp fully why any Christians would hold these views.  I find it rather mystifying, not unlike the way some white people’s enthusiasm for a Colin Powell or Barack Obama mystifies me.    

There are also more Queen Esther moments from the Queen Esther Mk 2 herself:

Harris turns stony when she’s asked what will happen if she doesn’t win.

“Haven’t even considered it,” she says in a tone that suggests a follow-up question would be foolhardy. 

Later in the evening, while talking about her love for Queen Esther, she runs to the passenger seat of her SUV and seizes a Bible.

“I’ll give you one verse,” she says. “On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.”

What does that have to do with this race?

“November 7th,” she replies.

So are the Republicans the children of Israel being delivered from annihilation in Babylon?  Right, that makes sense.  If she is such a big fan of Esther and seems to think that she is reprising the role of the Jewish heroine, does that mean that Nelson is Haman?  Who plays Ahasuerus?  She will presumably be marrying him to save the “Jewish wannabes” from extinction, right?  That should be quite a wedding!

It is surprising that more of the theocracy conspiracy theorists haven’t made Katherine Harris Exhibit A of what they are describing.  For sheer religiously-inspired zaniness, it’s hard to beat her example.  From the Post’s recent story on her imploding campaign:

They worried about what one former field coordinator called her sense of “religious mission.” Two former staffers — Rollins and another onetime campaign manager, Jamie Miller — have said Harris told them that God wanted her to be a senator. Rollins adds, “She told me that she thought she could be the first woman president.” 

Then again, maybe the fact that she is a walking political disaster doesn’t mesh very well with the whole “Christianists are seizing the commanding heights of power” narrative.

But the best is yet to come, folks: Katherine Harris will be writing a book about all of the people who have “betrayed” her!  That should be worth a few laughs.

There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq. ~The American Conservative

Amin, amin, amin.  We will have our accountability moment this time.

Charlie Cook revised a number of race ratings yesterday, and all of them show Republican weakening across the country, including some of the most unlikely places:

AZ-05      Hayworth      Lean Republican to Toss Up
CA-11       Pombo            Lean Republican to Toss Up
CO-04      Musgrave      Lean Republican to Toss Up
CO-05      Open               Likely Republican to Lean Republican
IA-01       Open               Toss Up to Lean Democratic
KS-02       Ryun               Likely Republican to Toss Up
MN-01     Gutknecht     Lean Republican to Toss Up
NE-03      Open               Likely Republican to Lean Republican
NH-02      Bass                Lean Republican to Toss Up
OH-02      Schmidt          Lean Republican to Toss Up
WY-AL     Cubin              Lean Republican to Toss Up
CA-50      Bilbray           Likely Republican to Lean Republican

Some of these can be partly explained by the local circumstances of each race, but all of them are falling in line with the national trend.  Wyoming’s at-large House race was made more competitive when Rep. Cubin apparently threatened to slap her disabled, Libertarian opponent (who suffers from multiple sclerosis) after a feisty debate, saying, “If you weren’t in that chair, I’d slap you across the face.”  Unfortunately for Rep. Cubin, she did not have Rush Limbaugh on hand to tell Libertarian candidate Thomas Rankin that he was just faking his symptoms and putting on an act–that would have shut him up!  The good folks in Wyoming apparently have taken a dim view of threatening to slap people who are in wheelchairs.  Go figure. 

Jean Schmidt, whose vulnerability I first mentioned here, is being hurt by the general anti-GOP feeling in Ohio, which is obviously intense.  But she also been hurt by her basic personal unpopularity that has dogged her since she won the special election over Paul Hackett (this is the woman, if you’ll recall, who also called the decorated veteran John Murtha a coward because of his Iraq war views, which went over like a lead balloon).  She probably didn’t help herself with her recent “nuclear waste storage in this district might be a good idea” statements

NE-3, my favourite potential upset of the year (in part because I started paying attention to it a little before most people thought it was all that competitive), really has become much more competitive and has jumped onto the radar of most of the political experts almost for the first time this week.  This is entirely driven by the combination of discontent with the national GOP, a bad Republican candidate for western Nebraska (Club for Growth doesn’t have a lot of fans out there, it seems) and a stellar Democratic candidate in Scott Kleeb.

The collapse in Hayworth and Musgrave’s support can really only be explained by the national mood.  These districts have provided fairly safe Republican seats, and both representatives are multi-term incumbents without any scandals, gaffes or wildly unpopular positions for their districts.  The relatively solid Republican Mountain West is beginning to look a lot more shaky.  Bilbray and Pombo have been getting weaker for weeks, so their inclusion here is less surprising, and Mr. Bush’s last-ditch bill-signing in Pombo’s district (for a bill that Pombo sponsored) has apparently done the latter no good.  In fact, the association with Bush may very well be the cause of this most recent weakening in Pombo’s position.  Their political vulnerability is particularly remarkable in a year when Schwarzenegger is set to win re-election handily, which ought to help Republican candidates throughout California.

Jim Ryun is an athletic legend and, to the best of my knowledge, a local hero in his district and ought to be as safe an incumbent as there is.  I must confess that I cannot explain why his seat is endangered beyond general discontent with the ruling party.  I first drew attention to the odd vulnerability of Ryun’s seat here.  This will be another one of those cases where the national party’s misdeeds and errors will end up bringing down a solid conservative representative for apparently no other reason than his party affiliation. 

It has begun to feel a lot more like 1994 now, as normally perfectly safe incumbents who shouldn’t even be in close races are possibly on the verge of being voted out in districts where they ought to have every advantage. 

Prof. John Lukacs observed in his recently published book Democracy and Populism that a common theme of nationalists (as opposed to patriots) and their sort is the constant call to a people to Awake!  In other words, to fail to agree with their diagnosis and their policy prescriptions is to be virtually unconscious, asleep, unaware of the world around you.  No one who is paying attention can seriously believe differently from the one who is trying to wake you from your dreamworld.  Achtung

This came back to me as I was reading over Santorum’s “Blathering,” I mean, “Gathering Storm” speech, in which the call to “wake up” or a remark about someone or other “sleepwalking” in the midst of great danger was repeated several times.  There is one sense in which this sort of sleep/wakefulness rhetoric is commonplace enough, but in the context of Santorum’s “the Iranians–with their mighty Venezuelan friends!–are coming to conquer the world” argument it takes on a rather more obnoxious quality. 

We entered the Cold War only after Stalin’s aggression in the Middle East and Greece. In every case the evil was obvious, the threat indisputable, but the willingness to confront was in every case late and prohibitively costly. ~Rick Santorum

Say what?  Stalin’s aggression in the Middle East?  What?  Speaking of when we entered the Cold War: when was the doctrine of containment enunciated?  1947.  What about the old Truman Doctrine?  1947.  What was at the heart of the Truman Doctrine as originally expressed in March 1947?  Aiding Turkey and Greece to make sure they didn’t fall under Soviet influence.  When did Truman begin the massive reorganisation of intelligence and military bureaucratic structures?  1947.  When did Truman formally embrace containment?  1948.   When was the Berlin Airlift?  1948.  The beginning of “active containment”?  1950.  Pretty clearly, we entered the Cold War very rapidly after the end of WWII and helped in heading off communist subversion in Greece.  To portray American policy at this time as some sort of head-in-the-sand dithering is disingenuous and insulting to the people who conceived of the doctrine of containment.   

What was prohibitively costly?  To whom?  Didn’t Stalin abandon the Greek Communists?  Didn’t the commies lose in Greece and have to settle for peace in 1949?  Weren’t we backing the Nationalists in China (albeit perhaps ineffectively) all along?  You could accuse somebody of “losing China,” I suppose, but you couldn’t say that we entered into the battle late in the day!

Why on earth should we listen to Rick “Churchill” Santorum on “the gathering storm” today when he doesn’t even seem to know the history of the Cold War? 

Hotline reports a Penn, Schoen & Berland poll taken yesterday in a one-day poll of (only) 404 LVs with a margin of error +/- 4.9% that puts Scott Kleeb, the Boy Rancher from the River Platte, ahead by six (46-40) in Nebraska’s Fightin’ Third (as Colbert would call it).  It seems impossible that this could actually be happening, and the nature of the poll suggests that the result may not be terribly reliable.  But, even though I have noted the Kleeb-Smith race as a potentially huge upset that could represent the extent of the anti-GOP backlash, I have not really believed that it was possible until I saw this poll.  The Republicans have seen it and, as suggested in an earlier post, they have begun to pour money into NE-3.  Kleeb can win.  Kleeb very well might win.  You heard it here first. 

1958 has been in some of the election commentary comparisons–Niall Ferguson’s most notably.  The last time the Third District of Nebraska elected a Democrat?  1958.

Did you know that Venezuela is the leading buyer of arms and military equipment in the world today? Did you know that Chavez is building an army of more than a million soldiers and the most potent air force in South America-the largest Spanish-speaking armed force in history?

Did you know that Venezuela will shortly spend thirty billion dollars to build twenty military bases in neighboring Bolivia, which will dominate the borders with Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil? The bases will be commanded by Venezuelan and Cuban officers. ~Rick Santorum

Sen. Santorum, did you know that Hugo Chavez is probably building up his air force as a countermeasure against the threat of a coup because his position is so weak and fragile?  Not exactly a Master of the Universe, is he?  Did you know that there has never been a less frightening prospect than a Venezuela-Cuba power axis (unless it is perhaps the old threat of the Belize-Argentina coalition)?  Did you know that demagogic blowhards say all kinds of outrageous and overly ambitious things to compensate for their own impressive weakness and international insecurity?  Did you know that Bolivia does not border on Venezuela and cannot be said to be a “neighbouring” country when it is 600 miles away and separated by the Amazon Basin?

I have been ridiculed by the media and my opponents for defining the enemy Islamic fascism - they say words don’t matter. But words do matter because words are what define the enemy we confront.  Words are needed for Americans to comprehend what motivates the deeds that the enemy is planning, so we can effectively defeat them. ~Rick Santorum

Which is why you don’t use the words “Islamic fascism”!  Obviously, no one I know of has objected to this phrase by claiming that words don’t matter.  It is because they are the wrong words, misleading words, confusing words, that deemphasise the religious fanaticism of the jihadi and pretend that we are, once again, fighting Arab and Pashtun versions of hypernationalists from Italy in a conventional war against modern nation-states full of Axis-like enemies.  Words are very important, which is why Santorum’s insistence on using words that do not reflect reality is so troubling and so frustrating.

Rather, this election has ignored almost all ideology and become a narrative about issues of scandal and incompetence. Most of all, it is about an Iraq invasion that almost everyone voted for (from both parties), but no one in the Administration bothered to think through in advance. ~David Freddoso

I am starting to develop a bad habit of disagreeing with Mr. Freddoso.  I have read on several occasions the claims that the election will not be a mandate for liberalism or against conservatism, and I think these claims are right.  That it is a non-ideological election or an election in which there is not a repudiation of some kind of ideology is something I find harder to believe.  If the invasion of Iraq is the chief reason for the GOP’s woes today, and there is every reason to think so, repudiating the administration on Iraq has as much to do with repudiating the ideologues who sold the war as necessary and just and claimed that it was the beginning of the political transformation of the Near East for the better.  There was a deeply flawed, anti-conservative theory about the nature of man and society that informed much of the intellectual support for the war, and we know it by the name of neoconservatism. 

It may suit a lot of people to let the responsibility of these ideologues slip by amid the cacophony of recriminations against the criminally negligent administration, but they should not be allowed to escape accountability for what they urged the government to do and what they worked overtime to make happen.  If Iraq had been a glorious success, they would have reaped the glory, as I suppose would be fair, but since it has been the catastrophe that certain other people always said it would probably be that ought to bring shame upon them and disrepute upon their ideology.  So if the electorate repudiates the GOP this year, they will be in no small part repudiating the theory that led to such an abominably bungled war. 

As for the neocon exculpatory claims that they have been in favour of increasing troop levels in Iraq (this is the old, “blame the actors, not the writer” excuse), this is a very nice way for them to cover over the reality that they provided the preposterous assumptions about Iraqi civil society, the universality of freedom and the universal applicability of democracy that served as the working post-war plan: show up, hand over power to the free, flower-throwing Jeffersonian Shi’ites (Woolsey, from whom we do not hear much anymore, once wrote an op-ed in the WSJ in the months before the invasion making the astonishing argument that because of their religious narrative of persecution and marginalisation that the Shi’ites were naturally inclined to democratic ideas!) and be on our way.  A thousand little platoons would bloom in the desert, and they would not be hung up by loyalties to “tribe or religion or whatever.”  Only a condescending racist could think so “poorly” of Iraqis.  Yeah, well “tribe or religion or whatever” proved a little more resilient than their condescending attitudes allowed for, and now Iraq and our soldiers pay the price.  So if there is one ideology directly implicated in the failure of Iraq, and thus in GOP failure November 7, it must be neoconservatism.  They can try to shuffle out of view and blame the administration for failure to execute the brilliant idea correctly, but their failures as public intellectuals, so called, are a matter of record and are at least partly responsible for the travails of the GOP.

That brings me to the other problem about this claim on Iraq.  I don’t know what it can mean that “almost everyone voted for (from both parties)” the Iraq war or, more technically, the resolution giving the President authorisation to resolve the Iraq situation as he deemed appropriate.  Almost everyone in the GOP voted for it.  There was one antiwar GOP Senator, Lincoln Chafee, and six House members were also opposed (their names shall be remembered with honour: Paul, Leach, Hostettler, Duncan, Barrett, Houghton).  As a percentage of the entire GOP caucus in either chamber, their dissent was barely noticeable (though I applaud them for it).  On the Democratic side, far more than half of House Democrats (126) voted against the Iraq war resolution, and 21 Democratic Senators, just under half of their Senate membership, voted against it.  If a minority of Democrats in the House and a bare majority in the Senate counts as “almost everybody,” the phrase doesn’t really mean very much.  If 30% of the House and almost a quarter of the Senate voted nay, it is simply untrue that “almost everybody” supported the war.  This is a fairy tale that war supporters tell their children so that they can all take comfort in this nonexistent national consensus (just as people who bought into the WMD stories take comfort in the nonexistent universal consensus that Iraq possessed such weapons programs after 1998) and pretend that it was an “intelligence-gathering failure” rather than a failure of their own discernment. 

The bitter reality for war supporters on the right is that the Dennis Kuciniches, Sherrod Browns and, yes, even the Barack Obamas of the world were right on Iraq and almost every Republican on record was wrong.  That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?  Even if these Democrats were just “lucky” and are actually reflexively opposed to the projection of U.S. power under any circumstances (thus invoking the “even a broken clock is right twice a day” riposte), their caution and reluctance to support the invasion have been vindicated.  The near-unanimity on the other side now appears deeply misguided.  We can all tell ourselves stories about what this election means, but one thing we cannot allow ourselves to believe is that “almost everybody” from both parties supported this war.  Say whatever else you like about them and their reasons for opposing it, some of which may not have been the right reasons or even good reasons, but if invading Iraq was a mistake–as a majority now (rightly) believes–the party that almost unanimously backed that war ends up looking a lot worse than the party that had a majority of its elected members in Congress oppose it. 

In the context of an election season, it is therefore not surprising that those who favour the former party whose members of Congress supported the war in overwhelming numbers would make claims that try to obscure the contrast between its national elected members when they got a fundamental question so profoundly wrong and the opposition that resisted the drive for war in significant numbers.  Among voters, there was even less agreement about the importance or necessity of the invasion across the spectrum.  Many conservative voters went along with it because their blood was still hot from 9/11, they believed Mr. Bush’s claims about a threat and they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in wartime, but they were never the ones pushing for it or demanding it.  A lot of the conservative apathy or defections you see this year are a product of the disquiet of a lot of people who never really wanted to invade Iraq turning into furious resentment as they come to find their trust in Mr. Bush was, shall we say, misplaced. 

If “almost everybody” from both parties had voted for the war, neither party would have much of a real advantage, even though the administration’s party would still probably bear the brunt of the voters’ outrage, but this is not the way things actually are.  I don’t say this out of any particular enthusiasm for the Democrats themselves, but out of a desire to hold accountable those actually responsible for this debacle and to keep their supporters from obscuring the predominantly Republican origins of this war.  When the war was still fairly popular and not going as terribly, the GOP benefited from this very characteristic of the war and they profited politically from the reality that it was their war.  They had shown the gumption and vision to take the fight to the enemy, and so on, and voters responded well to what they thought was a basically successful, albeit difficult, campaign.  They rolled to victory in their Khaki Elections as a result.  Now it’s come time to pay the piper, and all of a sudden Iraq is a war “almost everybody” from both sides supported.  Nope, sorry, not buying that one.  They do not get to rewrite the story and tell us how “almost everybody” from both sides of the aisle supported the project now that things are starting to go, as Sen. Warner put it, sideways.

Ross Douthat makes a lot of sense in his post where he argues that Santorum is first-rate on many important social policy questions but seems to be frustratingly stubborn in acknowledging foreign policy failure when he sees it.  In his own words:

Unlike David Brooks, I like Santorum for his willingness to make actual anti-poverty proposals and his culture-war positions; if we were starting our political parties from scratch, I’d want a lot of people with Santorum’s cluster of views on domestic policy in my camp. Yet he makes himself awfully hard to root for even so. Not only because his tendency toward slashing, tone-deaf rhetoric (that “man-on-dog” business being only the most obvious example) plays into every stereotype of social conservatives as sanctimonious prigs, but because he’s decided to make his re-election campaign be all about speeches like this one and this one, in which Hugo Chavez’s air force and Ahmadinejad’s new Caliphate and the Cuba-China axis of oil-drilling are all out “to conquer the world,” and the only solution is a Ledeenian-style campaign of “political and economic warfare” to take down Iran and Syria and Venezuela and Cuba from within. As Daniel Larison puts it, “Santorum has decided that he is going to pretend to be Churchill in his latter years, politically rejected but supposedly far-seeing and wise on matters of foreign policy.” I suppose it’s possible that he’ll be vindicated a decade or a century hence, when historians will look back and say, yes, “our survival as a free people” was indeed at stake in the Pennsylvania Senate campaign of 2006. But it seems more likely that his “gathering storm” speeches will ensure that he’s remembered not as a principled social conservative who lost his swing-state seat in a bad year for Republicans, but as exhibit A (well, okay, more like P or W) in the depressing tendency of conservatives, faced with the Bush Administration’s manifest failure in Iraq, to duck that issue by pretending that the way to solve it is to start some variant on World War III, or IV, or whatever numeral the “faster, please” folks think we’re on these days.

One of the commenters on Ross’ post made an interesting remark that caught my attention:

Maybe its because they agree with Santorum. The idea that only hacks or shills believe everything Santorum is saying is true is nonsense. We admire a man who will not trim his sails.

This makes a certain amount of sense.  Of course there are people who agree with Santorum’s wild-eyed predictions of Iranian world-mastery–the question for Santorum and these people always has to be: why would you, evidently smart and sophisticated people, fall for an idea so manifestly absurd?  It is perhaps for this reason that some people have a hard time maintaining respect for Santorum boosters as both intellectually savvy and intellectually honest–you can agree with Santorum’s diagnosis of Middle Eastern political problems, but you can hardly do so while retaining a reputation for a close acquaintance with reality.  Thus the (false) conclusion that Santorum boosters must be hacks of some sort.  No, not hacks, but just deeply and profoundly mistaken about foreign policy, as Santorum is, and as they have been for several years. 

But the commenter got me to thinking about the metaphor of the political trimmer who adjusts to favourable winds.  There is an obvious sense in which we do not want political trimmers who are absolutely unprincipled and who chart their political course according to the latest, trendy thing.  That way lies Blairism, triangulation and all of the absurdities and failures these bring with them.  But there is another sense, if we take the sailing metaphor seriously, in which someone who never trims his sails and who never strikes his sails (say, for example, in a violent, raging storm) is a very, very bad sailor.  He may be brave, clear-eyed and deeply convinced that maintaining full sails in a treacherous windstorm is the right thing to do, but he is an incompetent sailor on whose boat no sane person would want to be.  It is one thing to take matters of high principle very seriously and refuse to compromise on those.  There are some things connected to first principles that a man should be willing to sacrifice himself for, politically or even unto the point of giving his life, and then there is the option of grandstanding on a massively unpopular cause that it is unpopular because it is rather mad and declaring that you are being heroic for taking up such a cause.  It is one thing to want to go down with the ship of pro-life advocacy, but Santorum is not losing because of his virtues but clearly because of his flaws, starting with his combative and exaggerated style.  Going down with the ship if you must can be noble, but it is something else all together to lash yourself to the deck of the sinking ship of a bungled war (all the while talking belligerently about how subverting other governments is brilliant) and declare everyone who refuses to drown alongside you to be cowards and abettors of terrorism.  Don’t be surprised if the “crew” believes you to be as mad as Ahab and as undesirable a captain as Queeg.

Who are these Democrats who are insufficiently zealous in their religious outreach? Can anybody name even one? The plain fact is that every single Democrat in Congress claims to be religious, and none of them ever shows the slightest disrespect toward either Christianity or any other faith. ~Kevin Drum

Rasmussen reports precipitous weakening in Allen’s position over the past five days: he has supposedly lost seven points in the last week and now trails by five.  RealClearPolitics’ poll average now shows Webb with the tiniest of leads.  Here’s the RCP commentary:

Rasmussen has just released what is a little bit of a shocker poll showing George Allen dropping seven points in 5 days. If the direction of this poll, not necessarily the magnitude of the move, but the direction is confirmed by other major polling — George Allen is in big, big trouble. This race had already crept up to #7 on RCP’s most vulnerable Senate seats and Allen had real risks heading into election day just by his inability to shake off Webb when he was leading in the RCP Average. Now with Webb moving out to a lead in the latest RCP Average, the Allen campaign better hope this poll is a weekend produced outlier.

I guess the tawdry, pathetic “dirty books” attack didn’t work very well. 

Grover Norquist, the conservative Washington operative, has a compelling theory about declining Republican prospects in the blowout belt. Those states have been dominated by “Lincoln Republicans,” he says. The party created in Northern states by Abraham Lincoln believed in fighting slavery and preserving the Union. Once those goals were achieved, it had no ideology, no set of firm beliefs. It became an establishment party, thriving on power and patronage. In a bad Republican year like 2006, such a party has little pull with average voters, Norquist says.

He contrasts Lincoln Republicans with Reagan Republicans in southern, prairie, and western states. The Republican party that grew up in those states in recent decades was based on conservative beliefs. And this ideology holds Reagan Republicans together in good years and bad, Norquist says. Indeed, Democrats have mounted few serious challenges this year in the South, where Reagan Republicans are strongest. ~Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard

Chait at The Plank has fun with this one, and points out the oddity of modern Republicans–Barnes and Norquist, not exactly neo-Confederates themselves–using Lincoln’s name in a disparaging way.  Serious conservatives of old (and some still around today) frequently disparaged Father Abraham and rejected the politics that he represented; to the extent that the GOP really was always the Party of Lincoln, conservatives are hard-pressed to ever find a real place in it, since our tradition via the Agrarians and Bradford ties us to the Antifederalists, Jeffersonian Republicans, Southern Democrats and Populists.  At each stage of our history, the revolutionary forces of consolidation wanted to transform and do violence to the settled order of American life and sought to damage the constitutional order as well.  At each stage serious conservatives opposed them and their works, whether it was the Bank, the American System, internal improvements, Yankee imperialism or post-War overseas empire and the corrupt rule of the moneyed interest. 

There were, of course, decent Federalists who took their commitments to the Constitution seriously when Democratic-Republicans began abusing their power (John Adams was generally a model of restraint and good government; my distant cousin William Plumer stood up to Jefferson’s illegal land grab of 1803 and tried to get New England to secede, unfortunately to no avail for all concerned), and some decent Whigs were unwilling to pursue the politics of consolidation as far as others, but if “Lincoln Republican” means anything it refers to the post-1865 Republican stranglehold imposed on the country by the post-War arrangements of power, Radical Republicanism and a century of relative dominance in places like Ohio, the land of Garfield, Harding and the ultimately ill-fated Taft dynasty.  The Red Republicans of today could only dream of the sort of dominance the real ”Lincoln Republicans” had after the War of Secession.  To say that those people had no “ideology” or ideas is untrue–their idea was an energetic central government working in tandem with corporations towards a nationalist goal of consolidated, quasi-democratic, quasi-oligarchic government in a united, integrated nation-state.  Which is, more or less, what modern Republicans seem to want even to this day (the main change being that corporations now embrace “free trade” rather than the tariff and so the corporate party has likewise embraced it).  In the 19th century, corruption was the inevitable product of massive centralisation of power, military occupation of an entire section of the country and the influence of the moneyed interest on the ruling party (the concentration of power and wealth always breeds corruption of both a generic and a Walpolean kind), but it flowed from the ruling party’s ideas of how to govern–it did not just accidentally happen because the party suffered from ideological drift.  Bob Ney’s corruption was not just some isolated accident–it was part and parcel of the means by which the GOP sought to consolidate their hold on power.         

It was only ten years ago that Bob Dole lectured us about how the GOP was the Party of Lincoln and anybody who didn’t like it could get out right now.  I got the hint when I was still just 17 and never joined the Party of Corporations, Corruption and Consolidation.  Weaver’s argument from definition notwithstanding, Lincoln was certainly no conservative or, if he was a conservative, I would not want to have anything to do with such a conservatism. 

But now Norquist would have us believe that the name Lincoln in connection with the GOP summons up the image of bloated corruption and lack of vision–who knew?  (Surely the trouble with the real “Lincoln Republicans” was that they always had a little too much vision!)  But it is a little weird to find leading GOP types blame failure across the Midwest on the “Lincoln Republicans” who allegedly have no conservative beliefs.  Tell it to John Hostettler and Ken Blackwell, among others, who are probably more conservative on a bad day than Grover Norquist will ever be, but who face electoral doom in some part because the modern-day Lincoln in the White House has stirred up a lot of resentment against the party through his failed and reckless policies.  Compare the two for a moment and see why quite a lot of folks across the Midwest are disillusioned with the ruling party.  War of aggression?  Check.  Violations of the Constitution?  Check.  Sending Americans to die in an unjust war?  Check and check. 

The problem the GOP is having in the Midwest is not that its members there lack conservative convictions (which could be a liability in some parts of the Midwest, depending on where we’re talking about) or at least some guiding philosophy, but that it is the GOP.  Those areas in the South and West dominated by more conservative, “Reagan Republicans” are more likely to remain loyal to the GOP because these people remain convinced that there is some basic harmony between the party and conservatism, when the party’s history and its interests tell a very different story.  Regardless, many people in the Midwest are becoming reacquainted with the opposition between Republican rule and good government.  It is that, and not any lack of strong conviction or ideas, that has badly injured the GOP in the Midwest and the North generally. 

As the Byzantine Studies Conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis approaches in a couple weeks, I am encouraged to know that those of us attending from here will be leaving South Side Chicago for a city that is even more dangerous and one that is, as Dan McCarthy relates, now the #1 most dangerous in the nation.  It should be fun.   

Bob Casey has invested Pennsylvania pension funds in companies with ties to terrorist-sponsoring states and states that engage in genocide,” Santorum said. “Bob Casey is aiding and abetting terrorism and genocide.”

Casey has called on investment managers to assess whether any companies in their holdings have business in terrorist-sponsoring countries, Smar said. The issue is one facing treasurers across the country. ~The York Dispatch

Via Andrew Sullivan (who somehow manages to make this the result of “Christianism”)

This is a move that even George Allen, in all his pathetic desperation, would not make.  Remember that Santorum is supposed to be the serious and intelligent candidate in Pennsylvania.  May God help Pennsylvania! 

This doesn’t happen every day: An incumbent member of Congress, in the middle of a re-election battle, says that storing nuclear waste shipments from around the world in her district may be a good idea.

U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt does say that, and her support for studying the idea has become an issue in her re-election campaign, especially in rural Pike County, in the far eastern end of her sprawling Southern Ohio District, where the nuclear wastes would be stored.

“I’m not advocating for it one way or the other,” Schmidt told The Enquirer. “I’m saying it is something we need to look at.”

Schmidt said she sees potential to create “hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs” in an economically distressed part of the state, where double-digit unemployment rates are the norm. ~The Enquirer

Via The Corner

Now, strange as it may sound, this could be a popular thing to advocate in a poor area of that state.  When the feds were looking to build a nuclear waste facility in southeastern New Mexico, the people who wanted it most were the folks from Carlsbad who expected an economic boost from the facility while the main opposition to it came from people in Albuquerque and Santa Fe who would never have to go within 300 miles of the place.  But southern Ohio, it seems, is not quite like southeastern New Mexico:

“All I can tell you is that when it became known that she supports this, every Jean Schmidt yard sign in the county went down overnight,” said Geoffrey Sea, a writer whose home abuts the Piketon plant. 

There are obvious and perfectly good environmental reasons to object to nuclear waste dumps in any populated part of the country, much less a more heavily populated region.  What can it possibly say for the ideas of the free-trading GOP that its members are reduced to advocating for nuclear waste dumps to replace the perfectly good businesses and factories that have disappeared from Ohio thanks to free trade agreements and offshoring?  I can see Wulsin’s ads now: “Jean Schmidt thinks nuclear waste might be good for your neighbourhood!  Jean Schmidt wants to expose your children to nuclear waste,” etc.  Eight days to Election Day, and this is how she wants to distinguish herself from her opponent?  Yes, globalisation certainly has a bright, glowing future in southern Ohio if Jean Schmidt is re-elected.

Ohioans of the Second District, who among you now wishes you’d voted for Paul Hackett?  You have a chance to correct your earlier mistake.

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday he was taking the initial step in a bid for the presidency in 2008.Hunter, who has represented the San Diego area district for 26 years, announced the surprise bid at a news conference in front of supporters on the San Diego waterfront. ~The International Herald-Tribune

The odds of Rep. Hunter capturing or even seriously contesting the nomination are very poor indeed, but allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment, because Rep. Hunter is not without some political assets. What does Hunter represent that no one else currently in the field represents? He is, to wit, actually something very much like a conservative, while the rest of the ridiculous crowd being foisted on Republican voters is not really that at all. Where he is known for being good on border security and immigration, the others are known for being phenomenally weak or wrong on these questions; where he opposed free trade deals (which ought to make him more amenable to folks in Ohio and across the Midwest) these other people, to the extent that they have all taken positions on them, are in favour of such deals; he was also a leading opponent of the Dubai ports deal, which would distinguish him as a real proponent of border and port security in a field where the contestants seem almost uninterested in these questions.

Someone will object that Romney is some sort of conservative. I suppose. But in spite of the writing of starstruck NROniks, he is a candidate without a future in the primaries. Social conservatism is very good, but you cannot hang your hat on that alone. Romney is the new social conservative favourite, but go beyond that and he’s mostly known on the national stage for universal health care in Massachusetts and grandstanding about Khatami’s visit. The Mormon problem will be a liability, and the primary campaigns in some states will turn rather nasty on this score. Thus, the only other person espousing anything remotely looking like conservative views (assuming that Tancredo doesn’t run) will have great difficulty making it past South Carolina before he runs out of money.

Of course, money will be a huge problem for Hunter, too. But Hunter may be thinking that the timing for a populist-nationalist candidate may be just right. No one else in either party is likely to offer such a candidate, so why not try? His support for the war in Iraq will likely drag him down a bit in any general election (he’d probably be happy to have that kind of problem), but without a credible, genuinely antiwar candidate on the ballot in the primaries or the general it may matter less what Hunter thought about Iraq. As someone with a big pro-military record, he might even have the credibility with Republicans to argue that Iraq is ruining the armed forces and needs to be brought to a close. Of course, that is mostly wishful thinking on my part–I have never heard the man utter one syllable of doubt or discontent on Iraq. If he has, I will be glad to know about it, but he has certainly not been prominent among those who have come to recognise their support for the war as a mistake. Maybe that helps him with primary voters in ‘08, but it doesn’t say much for his actual judgement.

What Tennesseans will get will be a Jesus-loving, gun- supporting believer that families should come first, that taxes should be lower and America should be strong. ~Harold Ford, Jr.

Plus, he likes football and women–could he be a better match for Tennessee?  (Assuming, that is, that all of these claims are true, which is always a big if.)  I leave it to our Tennessean experts to have the final word on their home state’s Senate race, but except for the occasional small misstep Ford has run a remarkably effective campaign that taps into all the right themes where conservatives are dissatisfied with the GOP.  As of right now, Survey USA shows the Corker-Ford race exactly tied at 48.  Even should he lose, he has laid out a blueprint for how Democrats can poach conservative voters in at least the Upper South.  The trick is not a hard one to learn: actually campaign as if you took conservative issues seriously and, better yet, really take them seriously.   

I stick by my post-Foley prediction of a Democratic sweep in the seven close Senate races, and I will also stand by my prediction of a 10-seat Dem majority in the House.  The final tally in the House might be higher than that, but I don’t think so.  The “wave,” as Chuck Todd keeps calling it, will be a moderately large one but it will in all likelihood not be a cataclysmic tsunami-type wave that wins 40+ seats.   

The Senate sweep still seems like a long shot, but Talent and Allen are in real danger if they have not clearly closed the deal by this point.  Allen’s flailing, “Jim Webb writes dirty books” attack is the last gasp of the most pathetic campaign in a statewide race that I have ever seen, and if Virginians have any self-respect they will kick this preposterous Californian transplant to the curb.  (As a New Mexican, I have a particular dislike for the Californian transplant and all his works, as he very often tries to recreate the nightmarishly expensive and unpleasant place he just fled to the detriment of the people upon whose state he and his have descended like locusts.)  The monumental fraud who once fought against the integration of VMI (which he was right to do) now screams, “Remember Tailhook!” if it will help him smear his opponent, who for his part seems to be a generally decent man with fairly impeccable credentials as a veteran and former Reagan administration official.  Contempt is too good for such a dreadful jackanapes (if I were Allen, this would be where I pretend that I don’t know what jackanapes means and suggest that it has something to do with his haircut), but defeat would be satisfactory enough.  

Talent had nothing directly to do with it, so far as I know, but he pretty clearly comes out as the loser of the flare-up over the Fox ads because McCaskill has received enormous free advertising and may well win swing voters moved by Fox’s appeal.  That his appeal was manipulative and obnoxious in a certain sense will not change the fact that it is probably politically effective.  The anti-cloning ad that came out soon thereafter was effective, but it is likely that the Caviezel-Warner combo in particular was aimed primarily at evangelical voters in a desperate GOTV move to mobilise core opponents of the constitutional amendment (when he is not playing an overrated quarterback, Kurt Warner is a very serious evangelical).  Missouri is a classic bellwether state and will follow the national trend towards the Democrats.  

But my sense is that Bush is more like Kuo, too willing to believe the best about people, too easily entranced by personal testimonies, too naive about the ways of the world. And this, I think, is a significant caveat to my earlier argument that religious conservatives aren’t to blame for the worst failures of the Bush Administration. Yes, Iraq wasn’t high up on the “theocon” agenda, but there does seem to be a sense in which Bush’s personal religious sensibility (one shared by many people on the evangelical right) has played a role in enabling our blundering and naive approach to Middle Eastern politics. Christians are supposed to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents; Bush, to judge by both his actions and his words, only seems to have the first part down. ~Ross Douthat

There might be something to this.  The anecdote of the meeting with Putin where Bush claimed to have seen the man’s soul (no mean trick!) ranks high on the list of examples where Bush has seemed almost childlike in his willingness to believe whatever someone else self-servingly tells him.  Thus Ariel Sharon became a “man of peace,” because, presumably, Sharon said that he was, and Bush took him at his word.  This may have less to do with being an evangelical and more to do with being simply an unduly trusting person, which may in turn be related to having been a rather trivial and fatuous person in his formative years.  But there has been a weird tendency when Mr. Bush would introduce a new appointee or official and would feel the need to talk about how the person has a “good heart.”  Besides sounding stupid, how on earth would he know something like that?  Because he had a sit-down and chatted about agriculture or disaster-relief policy?  Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  Bush knows! 

Yet I am reluctant to go along with Ross on this one (though it is not because I am particularly fond of the rather, well, dippy, saccharine spirituality of many evangelicals–I have suffered through one Intervarsity meeting too many in my time), because it echoes too much a Sullivanesque theme that Bush’s personal religiosity–that of a “fundamentalist” freed from the blessed state of doubt that St. Andrew recommends to us–reinforces his unwillingness to consider dissenting views or his habit of being intellectually incurious.  Contra Sullivan, having absolutely firm religious convictions and an experience of conversion do not necessarily program you to be uninterested in empirical reality, and in a similar way I am unsure that evangelical piety encourages people to expect only the best in people.  Perhaps I don’t know as many evangelicals as some other folks (they are not exactly over-represented in Hyde Park), but while they may heed the counsel to be innocent as doves I am not certain that these people naively assume that everyone else is equally innocent and dovish.  While it may not be true of the Rick Warren and Joel Osteen type of evangelicalism, conservative evangelical Christianity seems to be loaded down with the assumption that the world is filled with wicked people (which is true), many of whom are out to do harm to the evangelical Christians in one way or another (which is at least partly true). 

Arguably, it might be this kind of view that has influenced the President more than anything else, since he was constantly drawn back to Hussein’s history of crimes as proof of the magnitude of the threat from Iraq (”he killed his own people!”); there was, and still is, an inability to attribute rational, self-interested motives to “the evildoers” and this tends to ratchet up the rhetoric into that of an apocalyptic confrontation.  It is possible that this derives from Bush’s religiosity, but it seems to be supported as much by the ideological assumptions of war supporters who are constantly preaching just how untrustworthy dictators are and how there can be no deals made with such governments.  The problem of the Bush administration vis-a-vis Iraq was not that it trusted in the good intentions of others too much but that it assumed the worst about everything related to Iraq even when there was little or no evidence that would suggest that the threat was anywhere near as bad as they made it out to be.  Is this a function of an evangelical mentality tied to potentially paranoid fears of persecution?  I am skeptical.  It seems much more likely that it is the product of the neoconservative morality tale in which appeasement always leads to disaster and only bold action and resolve (which, of course, means the extensive use of violence and coercion) can save the day.  Perhaps there was something in Bush the evangelical that responded favourably to this kind of hogwash, but I suspect that its role was minimal.  Only to the extent that he believed his election as President was also a kind of vocation from the Most High might we associate his stubborn, almost inexplicable paranoia about threats to the United States from the most implausible sources with his religion.  Whatever else we might say about Mr. Bush’s views, I am almost positive that he and David Kuo have a very different kind of religiosity.  If Kuo’s runs towards the mushy (it does), Bush’s runs towards the oppressively fatalistic and missionary that mixes together God (the God of universal freedom, of course) and History and American destiny in a big bowl of revolutionary activism.  He doesn’t exactly expect the best of people; he is just confident that the victorious outcome is inevitable and the details will attend to themselves. 

The DCCC has started running ads against Jim Ryun (Rep., KS-2), whose district I had mentioned a couple weeks ago as the site of a surprisingly competitive race (Chuck Todd of National Journal listed the race as 45-41 in favour of Ryun on 10/13).  (CQPolitics still lists it as safe Republican.)  Apparently, this one was so far off the radar that some national Dems joked that they didn’t know the name of their own candidate until very recently.  The Dems are certainly confident if they think they can afford to throw money at a relatively secure GOP district in Kansas, and the effort will probably force the NRCC to respond in kind.  Presumably the thinking behind this move is to make Republicans play defense in districts where they shouldn’t have to, sapping their resources for the more competitive races.  Ryun is probably safe, but this is a race they didn’t need to be thinking about at all at this point. 

Adding to the absurdity of this year’s election, the Journal-Star out of Lincoln, Nebraska reports that the NRCC may be about to enter into the Smith-Kleeb race in NE-3:

If the GOP congressional committee enters the race in the final 10 days of the campaign, it would be confirmation that poll numbers have uncovered a tight struggle between Republican nominee Adrian Smith and Democratic nominee Scott Kleeb. 

Kleeb, whom I dubbed the Boy Rancher from the River Platte, has put on a remarkable show and has made it a competitive race in what should be an impossible district for Democrats.  The district is still Republican favoured, but normally it would be rated invincibly Republican.  If he somehow managed to pull off an upset, his campaign could become the model for future Democratic efforts across the Plains states and the Midwest.  Then again, it could just be an indication of just how fed up people are with the national GOP in some of their most loyal of loyal states.  As columnist Dick Herman notes, there has been some rather amusing stunned and shocked reaction to the Omaha World Herald’s endorsement of Kleeb, including these lines from a Nebraska attorney and banker:

“The Omaha World Herald endorsed Scott Kleeb, a Democrat, for Congress in the Third District!
“Prepare for a deluge! Build an ark in your backyard!”

It is not quite that serious of a situation, but the sheer bizarreness of a Democrat running well in a Nebraska congressional race might convince some people that the end times are nigh for Republicans all over the country.

Like many people who admire his output, I disagree with Santorum on key matters like immigration, abortion, gay marriage. I’m often put off by his unnecessarily slashing style and his culture war rhetoric. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

It is not surprising that the things David Brooks dislikes about Rick Santorum happen to be some of his best features in my eyes.  Would that there were more of the slashing culture war rhetoric and less of the rhetoric for war against Iran!  More talk about immigration, and less about Islamic fascism!  But Santorum has decided that he is going to pretend to be Churchill in his latter years, politically rejected but supposedly far-seeing and wise on matters of foreign policy. 

Obviously, it is precisely these things that make Santorum so obnoxious to the bobos and the Brookses of the world that have made him an important social conservative figure–these are also the only things that are keeping him from getting completely destroyed in this election.  His position has firmed up, though he has never been able to recover enough ground to make it truly competitive, because of his positions on immigration and gay marriage, among the more hot-button issues.  This year conservatives are defecting from Santorum in considerable numbers, as we all know, because of his siding against Toomey two years ago.  In that episode the great culture warrior, such as he was, became the predictable party flack and lost a lot of the respect he had earned on social conservative issues.  Had he bucked the party then, he would not only have more loyal conservative supporters today but would also have demonstrated his independence from the national party in a way that does not involve being more hawkish than Michael Ledeen.  In the current atmosphere, it probably wouldn’t have won him the election (PA Republicans were always going to be in for a rough ride this year), but it would have made the race a lot closer.

That is, by caricaturing the American idealistic effort in Iraq as ‘no blood for oil’ when petroleum prices skyrocketed after our removal of Saddam, and other assorted slurs, the opposition on the left, along with the failure to stabilize Iraq, helped to bring back the old Scowcroft/Baker realpolitik, and, soon to follow, the “more rubble, less trouble” school of diplomacy. ~Victor Davis Hanson

This is probably the nicest thing Hanson has said about the antiwar left in his entire life, though he does not intend it as a compliment.  He earlier credits antiwar criticism from the left with having ”almost destroyed entirely neo-conservative muscular support for democratic reformers.”  If this were true (I don’t believe that it is), I would have to buy the heads of the major antiwar organisations a drink–what a service to the country and the world they would have done had they accomplished this feat!  Seriously.  It would be a great step forward towards a sane foreign policy if all of this democracy-promotion business went right out the window.

The deep thoughts quoted above appear in Hanson’s post on Darfur and why intervention in Darfur is unlikely.  After detailing why the killing in Darfur is very bad (and it is), talking about why “something must be done” (translation: why America ought to do something–which it shouldn’t), and noting that the intervention would be relatively easy (where have we heard that one before?) he says the following odd thing:

BUT, and it is a big BUT, I am also just as equally convinced that George Bush would be attacked the minute he put a soldier on the ground by the very humanitarians who are calling him to now act on the implicit premise that since there are no American economic or security interests in Darfur, we therefore should intervene.

That’s all very interesting, except that these aren’t the people who’d be criticising Bush at all.  Not only would the folks at routinely interventionist The New Republic be thrilled, as they always are when the bombs begin to fall, but the left as a whole, except for its absolute pacifist section, would suddenly have a big problem on their hands: how can they enthusiastically support an anti-”genocide” war, which they really want to support, run by someone they despise?  They would figure out a way to pull it off.  When they say “Out of Iraq, Into Darfur,” they’re not kidding around.  They’re not just picking on Bush because they don’t like him; they want a fundamentally different kind of interventionism.  You know, the kind that makes you feel really good about supporting the killing of foreigners who never did anything to you and yours. 

Progressive politicians, pundits and movie stars would be falling over themselves in Spielberg-like enthusiasm for a morally ”pure” war to stop “genocide.”  Obama would turn on a dime from opponent of the Iraq war to enthusiast for saving Darfur, and much of the “religious left” would sing hosannas as the cruise missiles and jets pounded the janjaweed into oblivion.  They would, of course, regret the need for violence, but they would get really excited at the prospect of fighting the latest incarnation of Hitler (now going on #38, I believe).  George Clooney would go on speaking tours about supporting the troops.  The comedy would be endless.  The folks on the left would, of course, necessarily nitpick how Mr. Bush ran the intervention, just as neocon supporters of Kosovo wanted more devastation and more bloodshed and called for ground troops to be thrown into the mix “if necessary.”  Any criticisms from the humanitarian interventionist left (which does a good job dressing up as the antiwar left in Republican administration years) would arise because they would be unsatisfied with a small commitment of troops.  No mere peacekeeping or humanitarian mission for these maniacs.  No, they would be crying, “On to Khartoum! Down with the genocidal regime!  To hell with the consequences”  They would probably want a larger commitment than Mr. Bush would be willing to make, because Mr. Bush, reckless and misguided as he is, does not get into foreign conflicts when they are absolutely unrelated to any and all definitions of national security.  His definition of what constitutes national security is rather more expansive and somewhat more meaningless than that of a realist, but there is at least some consistency that this seems to be an important principle in his foreign policy.  Purely “humanitarian” interventions that do not tie into some larger theme or project hold no interest for an administration like this one (this is actually a compliment of sorts), even if the White House and the House both have the need to talk about “genocide.”

The real outrage over any Bush-led Darfur intervention would come not only from the realists and non-interventionists on the right, as you would expect, because it has nothing to do with us, does not serve our national interest (but could very possibly damage it) and isn’t “genocide” in any case, but probably also from a lot of regular ”Jacksonian” Republican pundits and voters who would not be able to fathom the need to use American military resources to stop a civil war in the Sudan when the Islamowhatsits are on the march and are coming to veil our women.  They will say, “Why are Americans dying for Darfur when we have to attack Iran?”  The neocons have succeeded in so whipping people into a frenzy about the mythical Islamofascists [jihadis are very real and very dangerous; Islamofascists as such do not exist-DL] who are simply everywhere that any diversion from World War LXXVIII would be seen as an unconscionable betrayal of America.  Whether or not it would be that bad, it would be a gross waste of military resources at a time when our armed forces are already badly strained by another all together too dippy, “humanitarian” intervention in Iraq, but you wouldn’t find a lot of folks on the left complaining about that if it was their pet project that the administration was carrying out.  Pre-emption might annoy them, but getting in the middle of a war that has literally no geopolitical ramifications whatsoever will always sound like a good time to them.

In short, Democrats do not believe in the Global War on Terror. I don’t mean that they don’t support it, though they don’t. ~Dennis Hastert

I have no love for the Democrats, in spite of what my zealous trashing of the GOP might indicate, but this strikes me simply as a fairly scurrilous lie when it comes to a great many Democrats.  Democrats may not even support the war in the way that is most effective or desirable (this is why there are policy debates!), but one is hard-pressed to find Democrats who will actually admit to not supporting the war, who do not think that we are in a very real sense engaged in hostilities with jihadis.  There probably are Democrats who oppose the entire fight against the jihadis, but they are awfully hard to find.  There are a great many people who object to all kinds of things about the way Mr. Bush has conducted foreign policy in the name of this war, and many do oppose the Iraq war, which they will be quick to insist has next to nothing to do with the larger war.  There are a great many people who grow weary of Santorumesque raving about how Iran is bent on world conquest with the help of the mythical Islamic fascists, but they are weary of it because it misunderstands the nature of the threat and needlessly provokes more battles that are not necessary for and not related to the larger war.  But what Hastert presumably means is that these people do not roll over for Mr. Bush’s illegal power-grabs committed in the name of the “war on terror.”  Yet again, I am perplexed: is this supposed to make me want to vote for the Republicans?  Support the GOP, the Party of Illegality, Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency!  There’s a winning slogan for you.

But Hastert is not done:

What I mean is Democrats don’t believe the war actually exists. While Republicans believe the biggest threat to American freedom and security is the evil ideology that planned and executed the murder of 3,000 of our countrymen five years ago, and continues planning today, Democrats think the biggest threat to America is… Republicans.

Perhaps Mr. Hastert should check with Paul Hackett, Tammy Duckworth, Joe Sestak and any number of other veterans of Iraq and the war against the jihadis who are also Democrats to confirm that.  As GOP-saturated as the officers corps is, it is noticeable how few veterans have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan to take up the Republican cause in this year’s campaign, but do Republican leaders really want to question the support for the “war on terror” of all Democrats when it is manifestly untrue?  Do they really want to run on the lie that all Democrats think Republicans are the greatest threat to this country?  Can they be that stupid?  They are, after all, the Stupid Party, so I suppose it is possible.  

I know this sort of stuff goes over great at RedState, but does anyone else really believe these sad, last-ditch accusations?  In any case, I think Hastert must have confused Moby for the Democratic Party.

Beinart points out that all the Dems need do to be full Dobbsians is to embrace Dobbs’s very strong stand (”Dobbs is downright obsessive about the issue,” says Beinart) against illegal immigration.  He then produces some signs that the Dems are, in fact, doing this:

“Democratic challengers are staking out immigration positions to Bush’s right.  And Democratic incumbents are doing the same thing.  …In the Senate, a large majority of Democrats just voted to build a fence along the Mexican border. …  Many liberals would like to pick and choose their anti-globalization politics — arguing for more regulation of international trade and investment, but resisting punitive measures to regulate the flow of international labor.  Morally, that’s perfectly defensible.  But politically, it is likely to fail…..”

[Derb] Immigration enforcement is the golden amulet for the Dems.  If they pick that up and run with it, Republicans could be out of power for a generation.  You think Democrats don’t know this?  Plenty know it, and the rest will catch on.

[Amongst other things, this disposes of Stanley Kurtz’s argument for voting Republican in the midterms—that only by doing so can we be sure of good immigration-law enforcement.  A better strategy for those of us who care about the National Question would be to (a) send a copy of Peter Beinart’s article to evey Democrat we know, and (b) stay home Election Day.] ~John Derbyshire

The main worry that many conservatives have had about the GOP loss of the House has been the prospect of amnesty passing in Congress once the major obstacle to that amnesty was gone.  This is a real worry, because such an amnesty would be such a huge and potentially irreversible disaster should it actually pass and be signed into law.  In the midst of my singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead,” with respect to the impending GOP defeat (let us hope), some readers and fellow bloggers have written or spoken to me about this rather glaring problem that I have avoided for the most part, though I have not exactly papered over it.  I have tended to minimise the likelihood of this potentially disastrous turn of events, but still hadn’t really gotten into the meat of the argument.  The fear of amnesty passing a Dem-controlled House is based on the assumption that a new Democratic House majority would be heavily pro-amnesty and would have a working pro-amnesty majority.  Certainly a large majority of House Democrats is generally pro-immigration (it is the source of so many of their new and future voters that this is inevitable) and most are pro-amnesty or in favour of one of the guest-worker programs that is just as good as amnesty (which Mr. Bush still pretends is a radically different position!), but many in the House or those running for House seats for the first time (and Senate candidates such as Ford in Tennessee) are running strongly against illegal immigration and/or amnesty and sometimes sound as conservative or occasionally even more conservative on the question than the Red Republicans themselves.  If enough Democrats adopt a Dobbsian view of the question, it could at least forestall amnesty for the time being and might (and this is far less likely, but remotely possible) lead to the Democrats adopting this issue as proof of some revived sense of visceral nationalism and patriotism, the lack of which has doomed them to minority status nationally for the past six electoral cycles.  If a Sherrod Brown economic populism is a political winner on one front of reaction to globalisation, a whole raft of related populist policies, including immigration restriction and even (to be completely unrealistic) an immigration moratorium, might become legitimate topics to be debated seriously as real policy alternatives.    

It could be that these Democratic candidates are all having us on (it would hardly be the first time!), and we have to assume that they are not to be trusted, but it could be that they see public discontent with GOP dithering on a vital question and have moved–for either cynical or genuine reasons–to exploit it by taking that question seriously and adopting popular hostility to illegal immigration and amnesty as their own. 

The important thing to remember is that immigration is a fairly burning issue across the spectrum at the popular level, and it actually energises key Democratic constituencies who are absorbing most of the costs of unchecked immigration firsthand.  It is also becoming more and more of a national issue as immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere have been reaching cities and towns far away from any border or port.  If the Democrats want to return to being a national party, they will have to do it by tackling what the Derb calls the National Question and assuming a more nationalist pose.  There are entrenched and powerful interests in the party that will have none of this (the major labour unions sold out years ago on this question and will not be changing anytime soon), and it could end up creating divisions as serious in their coalition as the division immigration has created among Republicans. 

Neither major party is likely to be transformed from within sufficiently to satisfy fully the kinds of voters for whom immigration restriction is just one ”national question” among many.  What might happen next?  In my mad mind, I see the following.  One party would end up being hollowed out and replaced almost entirely by another, new party organised along populist nationalist lines.  At some point in the next twenty or thirty years, the “populist nationalists” that David Brooks identified could force a realignment of sorts as Democrats and conservatives, sick of the preening coastal elites of both parties, their “progressive globalism” and their disdain for the real America, form an opposition based on some mix of economic populism at home, economic nationalism on trade, immigration restriction, and realistic foreign policy less inclined to intervention (though open to ”Jacksonian” moments of power projection).  It would probably be conventionally socially conservative, but would be more likely to make cultural issues a priority only to the extent that they would touch on national identity.  There is no necessary reason why this populist nationalism would absolutely have to be centralist and unduly statist in character, though there is a real danger of that.  However, traditional conservatives and rightist populists could push decentralist and localist solutions to national questions. 

A decentralist politics coupled with a healthy opposition to the concentration of corporate power could possibly have quite broad appeal, bringing in greens, Perot-type “centrists” and many traditional conservatives.  Such a party would be more of a labour party than either of the two major parties are now, but might also aspire to some kind of distributist policies to ensure the broad ownership of real property (this now verges on the delusional, I realise, but stay with me) in an attempt to reestablish small firms and small farms as the bedrock of a more economically (and thus politically) independent citizenry.  (Who knows what else we might pull off!  Before the end of this fantastical journey, we might overthrow bank-rule!)  Throwing back many questions of economic regulation to the states (allow me to enjoy this fantasy while I can) would disquiet some of the progressives who would be drawn to the anti-corporate side of this populism, but this returning of power to the states would, I think, satisfy many of the constitutional and philosophical qualms of conservatives about such regulation (true libertarians would, of course, be horrified and have nothing to do with the project, which is yet another argument in its favour).  This party would emphasise state sovereignty and a diversity of policies to suit local conditions, and political decentralism within states would be the rule in order to minimise intrusive regulation that might drive people to other states, thus recreating the nightmare of mobility that has been wrecking the formation of stable communities for half a century.  (We would likely have to fight a well-entrenched and powerful Moving Lobby made up of real estate agents, trucking companies and developers, but it would be a fight worth having.)

This realignment on national questions could possibly run up against the tensions between Prof. Lukacs’ (abstract)nationalists and patriots, as this populist nationalism would appeal to people from both groups.  But here again there is the possibility that those whom Lukacs identifies as patriots will also tend to be sympathetic to many, although probably not all, the policies of the “populist nationalists” and the patriotic appeal to loyalty to place and community and rootedness–and would stress the necessary aversion to the ethic of “creative destruction” and endless unsustainable development for the sake of “growth” that would go with this loyalty–could help ground this populist nationalism in real, living communities rather than the abstract, bloodless idea of a nation that many Red Republican nationalist pundits espouse.  That localism and emphasis on rooted communities would likely leave the abstract nationalists cold and send them scuttling back to the Red Republicans, who at this point would represent little more than megacorps (which is different from now how exactly?).  

Almost all of this is an enormous piece of speculative fantasy based on a few flickerings of sanity among a few Democratic candidates on immigration, but there is some hope of at least a small part of it coming true if enough Democratic voters follow the Dobbsian route.  Mr. Derbyshire is correct that the party that gets on the right side of the immigration question and actually gets a good enforcement law passed first will be the majority party in this country for many years.  That promise of power, if nothing else, should seriously motivate the pols to make some attempt at getting this vital issue right.  The great Chestertonian reawakening will still be a long ways away.

Embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ratcheted up his high-stakes and increasingly bitter dispute with the Bush administration, telling the U.S. ambassador that he was Washington’s friend but “not America’s man in Iraq,” aides said on Saturday. ~The International Herald-Tribune

It is actually probably good news for America that Maliki is thumbing his nose at us and declaring his independence, such as it is.  First, it convinces war supporters that the man we installed as prime minister in place of Jaafari is actually the leader of a “sovereign and independent Iraq,” which will make it easier for them to wash their hands of the mess now that they have a visible leader whom they can start blaming when things become worse (the cry will be, as it is already starting to be said, “You can’t blame Bush for any of this–it’s that lousy Maliki and his minions!”).  It will provide the disgruntled American public with a new Iraqi leader whom they can resent and declare “ungrateful.”  It will also give the Iraqis (who understand that even if he is no longer our man he is still Sadr’s man) something to laugh at, even if it is with a bitter laugh, as they must be in terrible need of a good laugh right about now.

The issuing of the joint statement is something, but usually people will issue joint statements only because their relationship is so frayed and bad (as we now see U.S. relations with Maliki to be) that they have to state publicly what ought to be a long-established commitment of cooperation on something glaringly obvious, which is in this case the need to clamp down on death squads.  As diplomatic band-aids go, it’s not a bad one, but it won’t stay on so long as Maliki has to keep trying to show that he is independent (and Sadr and his ilk will keep pushing him on the inside and criticising him on the outside so that he does this).  This problem will not go away, because an occupation premised on hegemonist policy goals (which I believe is now, officially, the goal of draining the swamp with the flypaper of democratic peace on the road past Mount Doom that runs to Jerusalem) does not mesh well with an Iraqi government that assumes all of this talk about Iraq being a self-governing nation means something.

Yaar ki koi khabar lata nahi.
Daam labau par hai nikal jata nahi. ~Kiran Ahluwalia

(Before I breathe my last breath I wish someone would bring me news of my beloved.)

As I was listening to Ms. Ahluwalia’s premiere CD, it occurred to me that the word in Hindi for news, khabar, is the same word for news in the stories of Raffi, Hakob Hakobyan, that I was reading recently for my Armenian class.  I had not made the connection before reading Raffi’s stories, but then suddenly I recognised that the same word was being used.  This is just one of the many interesting borrowings and similarities between Hindi and Armenian, which both draw heavily on Persian vocabulary.  I often find such fascinating connections between the two Indo-European languages and two cultures in which I have some considerable personal interest.


And after we’ve killed Muqtada and destroyed his Mahdi Army, we need to go after the Sunni insurgents. If we can’t leave a democracy behind, we should at least leave the corpses of our enemies.

The holier-than-thou response to this proposal is predictable: “We can’t kill our way out of this situation!” Well, boo-hoo. Friendly persuasion and billions of dollars haven’t done the job. Give therapeutic violence a chance. ~Ralph Peters

Via Gene Healy

Oh, therapeutic violence.  Why didn’t he say so in the first place?  Therapeutic violence will do the trick where other violence has failed.  We’ve been using all this violence that doesn’t heal anything, but fortunately we have Mr. Peters here to tell us these things.  I do agree with at least part of his concluding lines when he says:

Our president owes Iraq’s treacherous prime minister nothing. Get tough, or get out.

The Dixie Chicks, target of the (at least) Two-Month Hate back in 2003 for daring to speak against the autocrat, have a movie coming out called (in perfect contempt for Laura Ingraham’s book of the same name) Shut Up and Sing.  The trailer reminded me of the bad old days when war supporters, so hopped up on their own sense of moral superiority and their supposed superior claims to patriotic loyalty, were only too glad to accuse opponents of the war of treason, apologising for despotism and every form of hostility to America.  Those were the heady days when certain people wrote about the evil ”unpatriotic conservatives” (and, strangely enough, they were not talking about themselves).  Actually, those habits have not disappeared, but they have become muted as fewer and fewer true believers in the war remain.  It is easier to laugh them to scorn today, but in the ugly spring of ‘03 it was not the sort of thing people with careers to worry about did very often.  Perhaps that was why the story of the Dixie Chicks and the organised hate directed against them struck a chord, because they were people with quite a lot to lose (even if they didn’t realise what they were getting themselves into) who nonetheless said something, however minor and irrelevant it was.  Too many prominent people on the right who knew better and should have said something more significant bit their tongues and covered their own, er, interests to their everlasting discredit. 

The creepy little rallies where Dixie Chicks CDs were crushed or burned en masse were a perfect symbol of the lunacy that captured so much of the country at the time.  It was said that the freedom of speech does not entail immunity from criticism, which is perfectly true.  In a sane society, however, a few words of mockery of the Leader would be met with indifference because of their irrelevance.  The normal person’s response to this sort of statement would have been, “Oh, okay, some singer took a shot at Bush.  Why should I care?”  The jingo’s reaction to it was that this was an act of subversion to be punished with coordinated boycotts and hateful speech.  No, agreement with the policy is not enough for some of these people–lockstep obedience to the presidential cult must also be maintained.  I suppose it is perfectly within the rights of people to destroy their own property because the artist has offended their servile attachment to a political leader, though I have to wonder what it says about the intelligence or wisdom of the people in question that they think this is a necessary or important thing to do. 

In my little counter-protest, my impotent gesture against the collective madness, I bought the Dixie Chicks’ new album, never having particularly cared for their music before, but found their hit “Travelling Soldier” to be a genuinely decent country song.  For some reason that I believe was actually quite distinct, though never entirely separate, from my opposition to the war, I sympathised with the Dixie Chicks.  This was not particularly because I liked them all that much; they ought to have realised there would be a negative reaction (whether there should be such a reaction is a separate question), so their exclamations of disbelief that it was happening always struck me as rather strained.  But I instinctively resented the presumption of the jingoes that these women had somehow turned against their country because they had criticised the President.  What a disgusting notion that is.  It is the antithesis of republicanism.  It is certainly not a healthy understanding of patriotism to my mind.  The jingoes’ conflation of state and nation, and also the conflation of the state and the politicians that serve in government was all rather appalling to me.  We do not say, l’Etat, c’est Bush, but to see the reaction against the Chicks’ comments you might think that these folks were all hearty followers of Bodin magnifying the glories of the absolute ruler. 

I don’t much care for celebrities who think that we care what they think about politics and political leaders, but I have never assumed that there was something inherently wrong with their doing so.  Obviously, they do not forfeit their rights when they go on stage.  I have also never cared for the strange cult of the Presidency in this country, and I suspect I will never understand why it has such a hold over so many people, and here it reached such a level of hysterical excess that I was rather stunned.  On the topic of presidential cult, NBC has refused to run ads for the movie because they “cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.”  Disparaging to President Bush!  Not that!  Heaven forefend!

What sort of person identifies his country with its head of state?  Yes, the President represents the nation in certain respects, but he is not himself the nation; presidents, even as absurdly powerful as we have let them become, are not kings; they are not sacred and anointed embodiments of the people, and normally most of us would never dream of investing them with such significance.  But for some reason on the cusp of a war that our government was planning to start, the President acquired some sort of mystical significance that apparently made him unassailable.  So the Chicks’ lese majeste could not be tolerated.  But what sort of ideological fanatic destroys a music CD because the performers who made that CD made political comments he finds objectionable?  Would they burn their own copy of a book if its writer had said the same thing?  The question is not a trivial one, as it gets to the heart of the matter. 

Obviously performers run the risk of ruining their business when they enter into the political fray, but how pathetically sensitive and insecure were these president-worshippers that they could not stand to hear someone denigrate the President?  We are not speaking of a Jane Fonda who openly cavorts with the enemy in time of war, but someone who spoke against a servant of the people who was disgracefully precipitating a war.  Note that the words that caused them all their grief were not aimed at the war itself, much less the soldiers or the country they were supposedly betraying.  They did not say, “We are ashamed of Texas,” or “We are ashamed of America,” but rather quite appropriately as patriots of Texas said that they were ashamed that Bush was from their state.  As they should have been.  Many of us today are still ashamed to have Mr. Bush as the President of the United States.  He has brought dishonour and disrepute on the country that we love, and yet somehow in the warped understanding of our times it is we who are somehow lacking in loyalty to our country when we speak against him.  Even more outrageous than the appalling war that Mr. Bush started is the sick perversion in our politics that has tried to transform loyalty to the President himself into the working definition of patriotism.          

The trailer also reminded me of this item from Chronicles‘ website from 2003 by Aaron Wolf, who concluded with these lines:

The most telling comment, however, came from National Review Online’s Stanley Kurtz, who chose, of all things, to charge the Chicks with not being Dixie enough. “No part of this nation has a better understanding of honor than the South. Natalie Maines has impugned the honor of our president, and of our nation—and done so in front of strangers.” (As I recall, the Yankees arrested President Jefferson Davis and forced Dixie to be part of their “nation,” à la the Soviets and East Berlin.)“Doesn’t she understand,” Kurtz, the bold defender of the Southern way of life, continued, “that her remarks, although certainly political, have gone beyond politics to touch and harm something deeper [the limits of dissent? John Ashcroft, are you there?]. I would like her to try to make things right. But first she needs to understand what she’s done. If Natalie Maines is really a chick from Dixie, she’ll do the right thing.” Apparently, the “right thing” is to keep your mouth shut, unless you are part of the “coalition of the willing” and are ready to sacrifice American blood and treasure for dominion over palm and pine—or, in this case, dune and well.

That our continued liberty ultimately depends on liberty elsewhere seems an inarguable, if inconvenient, truth. ~Kathleen Parker

Statements like this are simply maddening.  First, they claim something so ludicrous that virtually no one on the right in his right mind would have uttered it ten years ago (imagine Newt Gingrich saying then, “Our freedom depends on the freedom of Bosnians!”) and then say that it seems “inarguable” to them.  To dispute something that seems “inarguable” to them would probably seem pretty crazy, but here goes.  American liberty has never depended on liberty anywhere else.  There are good reasons to think that our liberty has actually been going into decline each time we make it our business to get into wars for the “liberation” of others, and that the more liberty there is everywhere else–insofar as we have become its uninvited guarantors–the more oppressive and powerful our government must become to preserve somebody else’s “liberty” at the expense of ours. 

But just think about the idea for a moment: why in the world would our liberty depend on liberty in any other nation?  It’s not as if there is some gigantic Liberty Web to which we all belong where each part depends on every other part.  There is no liberty in Zimbabwe; does that mean that our liberty will be forever imperiled and diminished until Zimbabwe has been set right?  To ask the question is to recognise that the claim is absurd.  The list of countries where there is no liberty and never has been any for the entire history of this country could go on for quite a while, and yet their lack of liberty has never substantially affected the liberties of Americans in any way.  In the end, this claim is not only not inarguable, but actually hardly seems credible.  How have so many people been taken in by something so plainly untrue?

Oh, joy. He hasn’t read the book, of course. But, according to him, it can only be two things: “daft or dishonest“. The insults these theocons are throwing my way is a sign of their real fear that the book exposes them for what they are: deeply alien to conservatism in its old, sane sense, theocratic hijackers of a great tradition of moderation and doubt. ~Andrew Sullivan

Of course, there is no “great tradition of moderation and doubt” if it means what Sullivan says that it means.  The flippant, ignorant use of the word “theocratic” in his attacks is par for the course with Sullivan (Mr. Ponnuru, who answers Sullivan here, does not strike anyone serious as theocratic in the slightest, and you would think Sullivan would have to know this), and the entire project of labeling people as Christianists and theocratic makes you wonder who is really more afraid of whom. 

I have read the book (unfortunately), and I would have to vote for the daft option myself.  Sullivan isn’t being dishonest when he says ignorantly, for example, that Christ was imperfect and full of doubt.  (He thinks this is a perfect example, as it were, that fundamentalists are not being very Christ-like in their dogmatic and moral certainty!)  I think he literally doesn’t know anything about Christology but pretends to hold forth on what real, authentic Christianity (as opposed to mean, old Christianism) is supposed to be.  The same wowzer examples might be reproduced for his views of many other things.  So, daft he is. 

Dishonesty would presuppose some considerable knowledge of the subjects about which he is writing that he has chosen to obscure or misrepresent to serve his turn.  He doesn’t have a good enough grasp of the Christian or conservative traditions to consciously misrepresent them; he understands them poorly, and then thinks he has found a killer argument against “fundamentalism” in pointing out the differences between his poor understanding and other people’s more considered views.  I don’t want to go any more into it, or else I will give away my review, but Sullivan should not find great solace that his adversaries not only don’t agree with his views (which would be one thing) but do not even take his book seriously as a product of real intellectual endeavour.  It is rather more  embarrassing and pitiable than anything else, since it is clear that Sullivan very desperately wants to be considered a big intellectual player in the conservative game.  The trouble is that he doesn’t even understand the rules or know which equipment to use.

Obama upsets that equation because of his crossover appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. ~Jacob Weisberg, Slate

This is mostly guesswork.  Hotline does have a FoxNews poll today showing that Obama does marginally better among independents in a match-up against McCain than Clinton does, but he actually does one point worse among Republicans and is five points weaker among Democrats (more become undecided when faced with an Obama-McCain matchup).  So much for the party being excited about him.  The undecideds are six points higher for Obama v. McCain than Clinton v. McCain, which is probably partly a function of so many people not knowing who he is yet.  One possible ray of sunshine for Obama: McCain’s numbers among Republicans go down against Obama (from 78 to 73), as some seem to become undecided when they do not have the obvious hate-figure of Clinton to automatically tell them that they should support McCain.  But right now Obama is mostly a name tied to a smiling, friendly guy who is trying to sell you a book about hope.  He says nice things about faith and even goes to church!  That is bound to improve Obama’s numbers.  Wait until he starts campaigning, and watch those Republican crossover numbers drop and watch the independents flee.

Obama’s bigger advantage is that the party is actually excited about him and thinks he could win. ~Jacob Weisberg, Slate

In my official capacity as the person in Illinois responsible for pouring cold water on all enthusiastic Obamania, I simply have to laugh at this one….Still laughing….There really is no other response appropriate to a column that begins by saying that conventional wisdom and political reality were first overturned by an appearance on Oprah.  I know that daytime talk shows are supposed to be the new black of political venues (last time around it was late-night talk shows), but this is too much.  Which party thinks he could win?  The Democratic Party?  I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe it because I don’t think Democrats are quite that detached from reality. 

Could John Edwards win last time?  No.  He was ill-served to be encouraged into jumping into the contest last time, as Obama is being ill-served now.  Frankly, I would be thrilled to watch him run and get creamed in the hurly-burly of the primaries; a man who has only had to appear more reasonable and normal than Alan Keyes and Bobby Rush up till now is not ready for the back-and-forth of the primary battle with serious opponents.  And it seems to me that Edwards had a better shot at winning the nomination and the general election two years ago than Obama does in ’08.  Should Obama run in ‘08 and even manage to get the VP nod, unless the ticket wins, he will be headed down the route of Lieberman and could end up boasting in ‘12 of a three-way split decision for third place in New Hampshire.  Since WWII, losing VP nominees almost never come back, and they didn’t usually come back before then, either.  Ask John Sparkman (who?), Estes Kefauver, William Miller (who?), Ed Muskie (good times!), Sargent Shriver, Lloyd Bentsen, Dan Quayle (who was, of course, Vice President at the time that he lost), Jack Kemp, and Joe Lieberman.  John Edwards is set to join this storied and noble company of also-rans.  The only ones who did lose as a VP nominee and come back to get the presidential nomination the next time (or many years later) were Walter Mondale and Bob Dole (the spirit of ‘76 lives!) and, well, you know the story with both of them.  Bottom line: if Obama doesn’t get the presidential nomination this time, he might be set up for a chance to be Vice President in someone else’s administration, but, like the ridiculous Al Gore, he will never win in his own right unless he has the tremendous good fortune of serving with an extremely popular President in good economic times. 

The candidate who gets hot early and gets all the buzz, as Dean did two years ago, seems like a major player but ultimately burns out or, in Dean’s case, crashes into the side of a mountain.  As a media favourite, Obama will get all the love and attention he could want and, like McCain in 2000, he will seem a formidable opponent until it comes time for people to actually vote.  Then he will get clobbered when he actually has to start saying things about policy and has to start defending his limited but seriously left-leaning voting record (he had a 100 ADA rating for 2005).  There is no one on the other side with a comparably high ACU rating even contemplating running for President, in part because there are relatively few people who are that consistently conservative (at least by ACU definitions) in the current GOP and none of them could expect to beat the party establishment’s preferred candidates.     

In case the fire for the South Side Kid has not been doused by ridicule, perhaps some cold, hard reality will help: he has no organisation, he doesn’t even have a PAC yet to my knowledge, and he has raised no significant sums of money.  Once upon a time, this wouldn’t have mattered two years before the big event, but nowadays serious presidential contenders need a well-staffed organisation and resources and they need to start extremely early.  For someone who has become a media darling over the past two years, his name recognition is surprisingly low (42% do not even know who he is).  His unfavourables right now are good (14%), but that a virtual unknown, junior senator has any unfavourable rating after the media lovefest he has enjoyed cannot really be that encouraging.  (Romney comparison: Romney’s name recognition is similarly limited, and his fav/unfav is almost identical.)  He is receiving press and attention from partisans because, like Mitt Romney, he serves as the empty vessel into which each party can pour all of its hopes and dreams.  Once they discover what is already inside the vessel they have chosen, they may not like what they find. 

Both are considered desirable candidates because they are not Clinton and McCain respectively.  Everyone acknowledges that Clinton and McCain are, alas, the front-runners and have impressive leads over all challengers, but almost everyone also wishes that this were not the case.  Progressives have all kinds of gripes with Clinton and the New Democrat position she represents; they believe the Clintons wrecked their party, and electorally speaking no one can say that the DLC approach has exactly worked wonders.  She supported the war, and Obama even opposed the war in the first place, while progressive antiwar folks desperately want to find somebody who is Not Hillary.  I can sympathise.  We all wish that we could just wish her away. 

Meanwhile, conservatives and party flacks alike look at Romney and see someone who seems more serious about social conservative issues (even if he is coming to it very late in the day) and who is not a “maverick,” which is to say that party faithful do not see him as a traitor and self-serving saboteur like McCain.  Party men view McCain with suspicion, religious conservatives don’t trust the man as far as they can throw him (and they would like to give him the old heave-ho) and he has a nice mix of all the most obnoxious positions to alienate foreign policy realists, small-government conservatives and libertarians.  Romney serves as a useful alternative, because there really is no one else, which is as depressing a thought as the thought that McCain is right now the likely nominee.  Many things change in the course of a campaign, but unlike the GOP, which likes to pick the pol who decides that it is “his turn” to be the nominee, the Democrats have an annoying habit of leaving the selection more in the hands of primary voters, which means that the candidates with the best organisation tend to do better (Dean’s legions of online supporters ultimately proved to be rather useless in doing the necessary legwork that a real campaign organisation would have provided).  Obama “energises” and “excites” people, but can he get a lot of them to slog through the snow in Iowa and New Hampshire for him?  He is charismatic, but can he actually run a first-rate campaign?  Nobody knows, which is why all of this talk about how “Obama can win” is meaningless and will be as transitory as the Deaniacs’ great rebellion.  If Obama wants to have a future as a credible candidate, he will stay out this time.  No smart pol wants to have to clean up after Bush’s mess in Iraq; no one wants to be the one responsible for withdrawing the soldiers from Iraq.  It would be cynical and calculating to stay out, and people are apparently supposed to think that Obama is some starry-eyed idealist come to save us from cynicism (which is the biggest lie of them all), but he will come out a winner in the long run if he does steer clear of the ‘08 race.    

Bush immediately should invite every Republican Congressional incumbent and challenger to a White House pep talk. ~Deroy Murdock

This would be excellent advice in most other years.  Two years ago it probably would have worked.  As it is, many of the incumbents do not want to be associated with Mr. Bush in any way (Steele desperately avoids the label of Republican, and John Hostettler in the Bloody Eighth refuses to allow Bush to set foot in his district, among others who are Bushophobic right now), much less be seen running off to Washington to receive their marching orders.  For Mr. Bush to lead the offense assumes that he is the quarterback, so to speak, that the other players want to follow.  They have to want to be proud that they are playing on Bush’s team for this to work, and right now many are doing their best to stress just how often they ignore his play calls.  But besides the political touch of death that Mr. Bush brings to many incumbents running right now, consider Mr. Murdock’s appeal for victory. 

It is, when you get down to it, not too different from “it’s the economy, stupid”: look at the low unemployment and the booming stock market!  They could channel Dick Cheney: “What more do you people want?”  Try that one in Ohio, and you are liable to get pelted with stones or, better yet, pieces of metal taken from the shuttered factories closed down in the shining age of globalisation.  Then comes the rah-rah on the war and the promise that “our firm hand will crush the terrorists.”  How’s that firm hand been doing in Iraq lately?  Oh, right, that one is also a losing issue across the country.  These are inevitably the dominant issues in this election, and the GOP actually does not fare well on either of them.  They can campaign on the estate tax and the AMT if they like, but anything they say on this will be made less credible by the gaping deficits they have created and will in any case not make up for the perception of their gross mismanagement and corruption.  

Santorum said Islamic fascists, led by Iran, intend to conquer the world. ~The Patriot News

Here, in all its absurdity, is one perfect example of why I cannot stand the name “Islamic fascist”: in this case it is the view that actually requires you to believe that there are legions of “Islamic fascists” marching more or less in unison with the goals and policies of the government of Iran (paying no attention to any of the mutual hatred different kinds of jihadis have for each other, their contradictory visions of Islam and their different political interests), which is leading them on to a conquest of the world.  Now, in theory, all Muslims seek to reduce the entire world to submission to Islam, and jihadis would certainly ultimately like to see this realised someday.  They would also like to recapture Cordoba and reestablish the Caliphate.  And I would like the Byzantine Empire to be someday reconstituted throughout the Near East.  Their hope and mine are about as equally realistic, even though they are working at realising theirs quite a lot.  Like every utopian political goal, it is unrealistic, unachievable and, what is more, not something that the actual government of Iran has any real means of pursuing.  Beyond Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical bombast, it is difficult to believe that the Iranian government has any interest in doing anything like this.  Their acquisition of nuclear weapons will not make them able to conquer the world.  They may be able to dominate the region (of which they are the dominant local power), which some of us find objectionable not so much because it represents the end of the world (remember August 22!) but because some of us think that we should be dominating the region.  To what end we are doing this, though, only the wise and mad can tell. 

The last attempt at anything like world-conquering launched by Iranians of any kind was in the seventh century before they were Muslims; since they became Muslims they have been on the whole surprisingly uninterested in conquering the world.  But then knowing something, anything, about Iranian history would have already stopped him from using stupid phrases like “Islamic fascist,” which manage to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the religious motivations of jihadis and the character of actual fascism all at the same time.  I don’t know who is supposed to be convinced by this over-the-top apocalyptic nonsense, but I, for one, am getting mighty tired of hearing it.  Very soon, after Nov. 7, we will have one less politician spewing it at us.

But, wait, there’s more:

“From everything I can see, Mr. Casey is unready and unqualified for high office at a time when our survival as a free people is at stake,” he said.

Casey’s qualifications are debatable.  He is certainly a wretched campaigner.  But then people who tend to have a knack for campaigning also seem to have a knack for either dishonesty or rather bizarre views of the world, so this may be a mark in Casey’s favour.  But this idea that “our survival as a free people is at stake” is also something I am increasingly having a hard time crediting.  Near as I can tell, the main culprits in endangering our survival as a free people are the clowns in Washington.  If you think Iran is leading the Islamic fascist axis to conquer the world, you might think our existence as a free people was in danger because of the mythical world-conquering axis, but in the real world a more serious problem would seem to be Santorum’s enthusiasm to have our government topple (not militarily, but by subversion) the governments of countries that have done little or nothing to the United States. 

Even some Iraq war supporters and even people inclined to view Iran and Syria very harshly must be able to see the madness of toppling two governments on either side of Iraq, thus magnifying the regional instability, chaos and uncertainty and making any prospect of stabilising Iraq–which those who want us to stay in Iraq still believe is possible–virtually impossible.  Anyone who wants to topple those regimes will directly endanger our soldiers currently in Iraq, and a more competent opponent would have nailed Santorum to the wall on this.  Unfortunately, Casey’s campaign couldn’t manage more than, “Fear is bad!”  Not exactly inspiring, but at least Casey doesn’t believe that he and his are the thin Red (Republican) line between us and annihilation.  

For toppling the existing regimes in Damascus and Tehran to make any sense, you would have to believe that successor governments would arise quickly and establish their authority swiftly and firmly throughout both countries, and you would have to assume that the successor governments were not worse, more belligerent and more hostile to American interests than the present regimes.  There is no way to know this for sure, but it seems all but certain that the chaos of a collapsing regime in both countries works to the advantage of the more militant and better-armed groups in each country; the army and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran both stand to gain greatly if the current power structures came crashing down.  What a toppled government in Syria would mean for later Syrian involvement in Lebanon is less clear, but it can only complicate an already very difficult situation and would probably make Israel’s life more difficult.  Toppling the government in Tehran could very well encourage all kinds of Kurdish fishing in troubled waters as the Iranian Kurdish rebels could use this opportunity to try to carve out their own place in the west or join it to Iraqi Kurdistan.  The Turkish government and people, already fed up with our adventures in their backyard, would become even more intensely critical and hostile to our projects in the Near East and given the intense anti-American feelings in Turkey we could see the rise of a ministry in Ankara that is openly opposed to us (which would then precipitate a coup against the government).  The uncertainty created by political chaos in Iran would send the price of oil into triple digits. 

It would obviously be the height of irresponsibility to pursue such a course of action.  Only the reckless, the foolish and the ideological want to pursue this course of action.  But this is what Rick Santorum wants to identify himself with and this is what he thinks America needs to do in the world.  Naturally, the usual suspects are swooning over the great man, while the rest of us are thanking the people of Pennsylvania that they will make sure that we will soon be free of his caterwauling.

Here at Eunomia the upcoming midterms have been the main topic of discussion for the past several weeks, and young Larison has offered a great many comments on the likely outcome of the election and why it is desirable and fitting that the incumbent party loses its hold on power in the legislature that you colonials call Congress.  While we understand what Larison means by all of this, and we think he means no harm, this has caused the rest of us a great deal of consternation, since we were all agreed that there was very little good to be said in favour of democracy and we were of one mind that elections were massive frauds perpetrated on the supposed masters of the system, the voters.  Could you imagine anything like the spectacle of an election with its parade of self-serving sycophants seeking sinecures of state, its disputes more vain than Philoponos’ mad trio of gods and its promises as transitory as a structure made of ice in the Kalahari?  Is it not clear that the Phthartocracy, for so we have named it, reaches deeply into every crevace and nook of the ruling class, and that virtually none is free–and none of us is really free–from the grasp of the moneyed interest? 

As the Phthartocracy grows ever stronger, its grip ever tighter on every aspect of our lives, we perform the august, duly appointed ritual of squabbling over which of the factions will be less likely to rob and cheat us this year, while the Phthartocrats make sure that we will be continually robbed and cheated more and more.  The factions have their loyal followers, as does every superstitious cult, but in their division not only saw the commonwealth in two but distract us from the overarching purposes of the Phthartocracy, which is to concentrate wealth and power more and more into but a few hands relative to the whole of the people and keep the people busy cheering on their respective factions like the mobs of old as they fought and bled for the colours of the charioteers.  Woe to the nation beset by faction!  Doomed is the polity that cares for its factions more than for the res publica!  The Phthartocracy feeds on division and exults in the scattered, confused and fragmented people who lack devotion to a common good; the factions are its lifeblood, the contrived battles between them its oxygen, the mutual fear they generate the source of its perpetual rule.  Buying control of high places, the Phthartocracy then buys the people with their own money and ensures that their servants are never truly out of power.  Only a national party transcending factions could hope to combat the thousand thousand tentacles of the Phthartocracy.  Only a turn to eunomia and an end to the delusions of strange contractarian notions can break out of their crushing squeeze.  We are certain that young Larison would agree.  ~Caleb d’Anvers, The New Craftsman   

For example, today I learned what pantechnicon means, as in the sentence: “Mrs Clinton comes with a pantechnicon full of baggage.”  Just try inobtrusively working that one into a conversation!

The Republican National Committee confirms it will not be on the air in the final week of Mike DeWine’s campaign, canceling its ad reservations throughout Ohio. ~The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Via Hotline

Considering that the latest Survey USA poll shows DeWine down by 20 and losing to Brown even among men by 13, I don’t blame the RNC for throwing in the towel on this one.  If the earlier reports of the national party’s virtual surrender in the Ohio Senate race were exaggerated, they aren’t anymore.  The absolute collapse of their two statewide candidates, both of whom trail by 20 or more (Blackwell trails by 30 in this same poll), almost certainly means weakness for the GOP in all other races.  Chabot and Schmidt are now in more danger than ever before, and the other two vulnerable seats (OH-15, OH-18) will almost have to flip in an environment this hostile to the GOP.

 I don’t think religious people murder. I think people are misusing religion to justify their murder. And a lot of Americans understand it that way. Maybe it’s not nuanced enough for some of the thinkers and all that stuff – that’s fine. But that’s exactly what a lot of people like me think. ~George W. Bush

Obviously religious people commit murder.  All kinds of people commit murder.  Some religions have mandated murder, which they have pleasantly called sacrifice or blood-offering, and some have mandated murder for the glory of the deity.  There have been religious people committing what we would call murder since Phineas and before that.  That doesn’t make any of it necessarily right, and certainly most if not all of it is obviously wrong, but to start with the assumption that religious people, generally speaking, don’t murder and murderers cannot be religious is to assume something not in evidence for much of human history.  Religious people who are also virtuous according to our standards of virtue, by definition, do not commit murders, but that is something all together different from what Mr. Bush has said.     

What’s happening is I’m not – remember the pictures in the Oval Office, with them sitting over the maps, picking out the targets in Vietnam? That’s not happening in this war. The Commander-in-Chief, through the Secretary of Defense, must empower the military people on the ground, and the embassy, to work – and by the way, these guys are working very closely, which is important – to implement the strategy. And if tactics need to change, change them. Just keep us posted. And that’s what’s happening. ~George W. Bush

Not to worry, Mr. Bush.  No one would accuse this administration of being intensely detail-oriented and hands-on.

Stay the course does not mean that we’re not going to constantly change. ~George W. Bush

I know that the Hinderakers and Hannitys of the world tell us that if only everyone else could meet Mr. Bush up close and personal they, too, would come away awestruck with the brilliance of the man (no, really, they do say this), but if this transcript of Bush unplugged gives us any sense of what he’s like in talking with small groups of people I am actually slightly more uneasy about him than I used to be.

Other parts of the world, and some here – and I’m not casting dispersion, I’m just giving you a sense – I’m telling you what’s on my mind. I am in disbelief that people don’t take these people seriously, as if they’re some kind of incompetent, and/or isolated people. They’re plenty competent, they’re plenty tough, and they’re plenty ambitious. ~George W. Bush

Perhaps there are people who don’t take “these people” (presumably he is referring to jihadis) very seriously.  I don’t know what other way you can take them but seriously.  It seems to me that few informed people take the danger of jihadi terrorism lightly.  This is another in a long string of Mr. Bush’s efforts to define his opposition according to some cardboard cut-out of the ridiculous appeaser who will do anything to avoid a fight.  In his addresses in the last two years, he has warned about appeasers and “isolationists,” even though no one advocates negotiating with jihadis and no one of any prominence, certainly, holds anything like an “isolationist” foreign policy view (never mind for the moment that most people who have historically been called “isolationists” weren’t really true isolationists, either, and that the term is a nonsensical bit of propaganda).  He can handily rebuke appeasement and isolationism and pretend that he has dealt his domestic critics powerful rhetorical blows, all the while ignoring what they actually say and what they actually recommend.  Now the new one is that opponents of his policy do not take the jihadis seriously, as if we were the ones who thought there would be no resistance after the Iraq invasion and as if we were the ones who didn’t expect the rise of terrorism in occupied Iraq.  We don’t take them seriously, because Mr. Bush has determined that we cannot possibly take them seriously and disagree with his policies at the same time.  He may be casting aspersions at us, but fortunately he’s not casting dispersion at anyone, for which we are all undoubtedly grateful.

And so when Mr. Fox goes on the air and exposes the uncomfortable reality of his life to millions of people, he does so from strength and from courage. He deserves respect even from those who fundamentally disagree with his position. He deserves the as someone in a war for his life and for his family, because that must be what drives him in no small part. I know that when I think of fighting for my life I think of my young daughters, and I am determined to do everything in my power to live for them and for my wife.

What Mr. Limbaugh has done belies a frightening cynicism in our politics and in our public discourse that assumes the most nefarious motives and discounts the ideal of hope and genuine belief. He should be denounced by President Bush and by Christian leaders not only because of the offense he has committed to a man willing to put himself in the arena, but also because of the hopelessness, hate, and despair his language reveals. ~David Kuo

Let me say first of all that I think Mr. Fox and Claire McCaskill are wrong on the issue, and it appears that the ad is inaccurate when it says that Talent opposes expanding all such research.  Plainly, he opposes expanding embryonic stem-cell research for well-understood pro-life reasons, and he is right on this.  McCaskill, so far as I have been able to learn, supports all forms of stem-cell research, including those that are an affront to human life.  But we should all be able to agree that Rush Limbaugh is a disgrace and an embarrassment (if some had not already reached that conclusion some time ago). 

His presumption that Fox was probably putting on “an act” and his mocking of someone with a debilitating illness are despicable.  There was an intelligent, decent way to respond to this ad, which would have involved pointing out its inaccuracies and rejecting in principle the destruction of human life inherent in the harvesting of embryonic stem cells.  (The ad opposing the proposed Missouri constitutional amendment on cloning made all the right points in just such a matter-of-fact, smart way.)  Instead, like the hack that he is, Limbaugh went after the messenger in a style reminiscent of…oh, yes, the Clintons and their hangers-on, who would always respond to every criticism by savaging the character or motives of the person rather than responding to the substance of the criticism or argument.  You can think, as I do, that Mr. Fox, like Christopher Reeve before him, is profoundly wrong to want to pursue any and all kinds of such research because of his own suffering, but to cavalierly write off the suffering itself is a remarkable act of contempt. 

Is Mr. Fox exploiting natural sympathy for his condition to pursue an objectionable policy?  It is fair to say that he is.  But if that tactic of using suffering and victimhood is what was wrong with the ad (and Limbaugh did also hit on this point), then that should have been the heart of the response, rather than denying or minisiming the nature of the man’s condition.

Christians, in any event, are called to be merciful.  Even if Mr. Fox went off his medications, which also seems improbable since he would reduced to near-immobility and would have great difficulty speaking without medication, what point would Limbaugh have been making if he was right about this?  That medicines exist to ameliorate the symptoms of a degenerative disorder for which there is as of yet no cure?  Does that not rather make Fox’s point for him about the severity and cruelty of the disease?      

Both the making of policy and moral judgement involve determining a hierarchy of goods and a setting of priorities.  In determing whether it is just and right to destroy human embryos in the vague hope of some future breakthrough that would alleviate the suffering of others, one is called to consider the dignity of human life on the one hand and the reality of that suffering on the other.  To choose to defend the dignity of human life, you must also take seriously that suffering with the understanding that there is a possibility, however remote and theoretical, that such suffering might be lessened by doing unjust and wicked things and that it is not acceptable or right to will to try to do good for these suffering people by an evil means.  To take this position one must therefore also be that much more charitable and merciful towards those who do suffer from such incurable maladies, because it is out of the same spirit of charity that you have refused to sacrifice human life that others might benefit from it.  The spirit of contempt for the sick and the injured has no place among those who would claim to defend human life, because the compassion that moves us to defend the one also requires us to show mercy to the others. 

Iraq’s prime minister said on Thursday he could get violence under control in six months, half the time U.S. generals say they need, provided Washington gave him more weaponry and more say over his own forces. ~Reuters

As many will recall, Thomas Friedman became particularly well-known for his tendency to keep putting off judgement on the state of Iraq in six-month increments, documented here.  Though Friedman no longer indulges in these fantasies, I think he must have some kind of proprietary rights over the use of the six-month estimate by now.

Why is it always six months with these estimates, and not five or seven?  How about a nice, Biblical-sounding 40 weeks?  Isn’t  the six-month estimate just a nice unit of time that sounds plausibly long enough to expect to see real changes without being too long to instill a certain indifference or weariness?  One does wonder how Maliki thinks that the mighty forces of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi government, compromised as the latter certainly is by its Sadrite wing and the Sadrites’ ties to death squads, are going to bring peace from chaos in half a year.  This appears to be a bid to play the role of the nationalist strongman who dictates to the foreigners how things will be and who will supposedly show them up at their own game of military power.  This is a belated ploy to show that he is his own man.  Besides destroying a lot of goodwill with an administration that has defended Maliki’s ineffectual government against all and sundry, Maliki has also set himself up for a fall by confirming that his “solution” to the security problems of his country is mostly bluster.  But then democratic government encourages windy promises and a lot of empty bluster, so I suppose we could consider this a sign of progress in the growth of Iraqi democracy if we really wanted to. 

I suspect that he is taking this unrealistic hard-line approach at least partly because he fears that the rumours of his impending overthrow are based in a real plot to topple his government, and he is calling for more weaponry from the U.S. possibly more as a way to bribe army commanders into staying loyal than as part of a plan to restore order.  If he can deliver the goods in terms of military hardware (which could, in a pinch, at least be sold on the black market for a nice amount of money), perhaps he thinks he can stave off an attempted coup.  Perhaps that reads too much into it, but this announcement doesn’t convey confidence so much as it does a kind of wild-eyed desperation. 

Yes, so that’s what voting Republican now means: supporting a disastrous war abroad and celebrating a tawdry pop culture and defending the gains of feminism at home. No wonder more and more conservatives are planning on sitting this one out. ~Tom Piatak

On a related note, Clark Stooksbury has some choice words for what he calls the Axis of Cretins

As I was passing the conference room this morning the President called me in.
“D____. C’mere. Check this out.” He said, sounding surprisingly upbeat. I allowed myself the hope that he was going to say we’d be leaving the bunker soon. “Have I shown you this?”
He had been leaning over a scale model of a city. He stepped back and smiled proudly, spreading his arms in presentation.
“What is it sir?” I said, dutifully disguising my disappointment. The room was a shambles; it appeared as if everything had been hastily tossed to the walls to make room for the model, which occupied a place of well-lit preeminence in the center of the squalor.
“It’s Baghdad.” He said, delighted.
“Oh, of course.” I said, still feigning enthusiasm.
“See, here’s the airport; here’s the road to the airport; see the cars? Everything’s safe and secure. See the people? They’re voting.”
“What’s that sir?” I was sorry the moment I asked, but the futuristic structure on the outskirts of the city was clearly out of place, clumsily cobbled together with what appeared to be the modified parts of a child’s toy.
“That’s the Bush Freedom and Liberty Mosque.” He said, his enthusiasm quickening. “It’s going to be open to muslims and shi’ites alike. Let me show you—“ ~Dennis Dale

I know you like French restaurants, Amy, but America isn’t France, and that brand of secularism simply played no role in our constitutional order–thank heavens. ~Joseph Loconte

What sort of a rejoinder is this?  It’s like saying, “I know you like vodka, Michael Dougherty, but fortunately we don’t have a communist gulag in this country!” [Note: This is just a for-instance; I don’t actually know that Michael likes vodka–it’s an educated guess.]  I like the tart riposte as much the next guy (and perhaps more than most), but this seems oddly strained.  He goes from objecting (correctly) that no one claims that Roberts and Alito should decide cases “purely on religious teachings” and then runs to the opposite extreme and accuses Ms. Sullivan of pushing French-style truly religion-free secularism. 

Prof. Loconte spends a good part of the first half of his second installment in TNR’s Theocons: An Epic Miniseries (as I am calling it) making playful use of metaphors for Ms. Sullivan’s allegedly shoddy argumentsWe are deluged by fish in a barrel and covered by straw men, and yet several paragraphs go by and all Prof. Loconte can offer up is a strained denial of the very position he seemed to give without qualificatiion just two days ago when he wrote:

What this critique misses, however, is the deeper challenge that Bush has delivered–politically and conceptually–to an increasingly secular culture. Take the judiciary. After the Harriet Miers debacle, Bush reasserted a political doctrine that evangelicals helped to craft: There must be no religious test for public office. [bold mine-DL] He appointed two devout Catholics to the Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who evidently affirm their church’s “culture of life” philosophy. Both probably believe that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Both clearly view religious institutions as sources of democratic strength. The intellectual and moral gravity of Roberts and Alito (not to mention a host of other Bush judicial appointments) could shift the legal culture in a faith-friendly direction for years to come.

Today Prof. Loconte backpedals furiously by insisting that while those crazy evangelicals and Bush agree with the “religious test” rhetoric, he does not:

Let me begin with what we agree on. We agree that it is false and offensive for conservatives to allege (as some have done) that Democratic opposition to judicial nominees–because of their abortion views–amounts, ipso facto, to religious discrimination.

False and offensive, eh?  (It may be false–why is it really offensive?)  It didn’t seem terribly false or offensive to him two days ago.  He certainly didn’t bother to offer the remark, “By the way, I find this stuff false and offensive.”  Perhaps he was originally playing, ahem, devil’s advocate for the evangelical view of this question and was not stating his view of it one way or the other.  But that was not clear and it is entirely clear why Ms. Sullivan would respond as she did when she wrote:

First of all, there was never any threat to the important political doctrine preventing a “religious test” for public office.

But perhaps most curious of all, and almost inexplicable in light of Prof. Loconte’s enthusiasm for “faith-based” programs (does it trouble anyone that “faith-based” programs sound about as true to the Faith as “fact-based” stories are to reality?) is his earlier assault on David Kuo, whom we learn is an eccentric and bitter man.  Either Mr. Kuo is right and the “compassionate conservative” scheme is mostly hot air and no substance, or he is not.  The frustrated resignation of DiIulio seems rather pertinent, but it goes unmentioned all the while.  Calling Kuo eccentric and bitter isn’t an argument, and since Loconte rests so much of his defense of the evangelical influence on Mr. Bush’s government on the success or failure of the FBI (the other FBI) it would be a body blow to his entire view if it could be shown that, in fact, the faith-based initiative has not amounted to very much and has been largely symbolic.  Throwing some money at AIDS sufferers in Africa may strike many people as commendable, but when it comes to “faith-based” things in this country those who favoured such a program have good reason to be miffed (and the religious conservatives who reject the entire idea in principle have even more reason to be miffed that such things are being done in the name of their religion!).  This is a sizeable flaw in his overall argument that Ms. Sullivan has not yet fully exploited, but she would be well-advised to drive the dagger home on this point.

Prof. Loconte’s argument actually gets weaker from here:

Are there some conservative Christians who demonize Democrats and their politics this way–in ways that you and I both find ridiculous and divisive? Sure. But to impugn Bush is to slip into the camp of the conspiracy-mongers, and to break bread with them.

Always watch for the first person to accuse his interlocutor of engaging in conspiracy theory.  (Sometimes it goes like this: “You obviously believe that the Rothschilds rule the world if you think that AIPAC has any influence in Congress!”)  That person is getting beaten in the debate and, what is more, he knows he’s getting beaten.  Sometimes this kind of argument that your opponent is a conspiratorial loon of some sort–or sympathetic to the conspiratorial loons–will be successful in confusing an audience, but it rarely holds up over the long haul.  Obviously, Mr. Bush thrives off of and his supporters encourage the demonisation of the godless and immoral Democrats.  He is as implicated in this as anyone.  That it has a significant ring of truth in many instances doesn’t hurt the efforts to demonise (it is not difficult to cast as rather godless those people who do not go to church and do not, well, believe in any sort of God whom Christians would recognise), and one might say that it is only fair that religious people dish out as fiercely as they receive from secular liberals, who can never stop prattling on about intolerant and bigoted Christians who are coming to stop people from having sex ever again (except to have lots and lots and lots of babies, which can be a problem for maintaining the coherence of the message).  That being said, Mr. Bush does not get to opt out of the responsibilty for the rhetorical style that fuels a significant part of his power base and which he certainly does nothing to discourage.  Perhaps this kind of demonisation is acceptable or even desirable, but Prof. Loconte does not attempt to make that argument.  No bloody barricades of the culture war for him.  No, Mr. Bush is above the fray and helps AIDS patients and abused women around the world.  Only praise is meet for the emperor.

Then, feeling his back rubbing up against something that seems very much like the proverbial wall, Prof. Loconte rides the theocracy conspiracy-mongers of the left for all they are worth:

While we’re at it [we weren’t at it, but why not?-DL], let’s talk about those conspiracy-mongers. Here’s an easy one: Since the events of September 11, what category of politician or public intellectual has essentially drawn a straight line from conservative Christianity to Islamic extremism? You know the answer: the liberal or progressive.

Try ingesting Kevin Phillips’s American Theocracy, Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming, or just about anything from the mouth of Howard Dean, Arthur Schlesinger, or George Soros, and you get a feel for what may be playing at a Democratic National Convention near you. The stupefying irrationality of it, the rank nativism, the spiritual tone-deafness–this is what prompts my bewilderment, for it makes me wonder why the Democratic Party has been such a comfortable home to so much of it for so long.

Give Prof. Loconte points for accomplishing a bold feat: he has accused liberals of engaging in “nativist” politics in the belly of The New Republic!  This is remarkable in itself.  I have to admit that I don’t really know what this means, though I assume that it is some offhand attempt to marshal outrage at anti-Catholic bigotry in the 19th century and identify that with the criticisms coming out today.  This is not nativism, but just secularist prejudice that offends equally against Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox alike.  Prof. Loconte’s point would also be a lot stronger if Kevin Phillips were not a secular Republican who doesn’t much like evangelicals and other religious conservatives in the GOP.  Like Andrew Sullivan (who is responsible for the ghastly, the appalling, the stupid label of “Christianist”) or Ryan Sager or other prophets of fundamentalist doom appearing in the GOP, he is conventionally aligned on the right but is not terribly interested in being on the right hand of God, so to speak (and even less interested in bringing God into politics).  It is true that most of the hysterical warnings about impending theocracy have come from committed liberals and Democrats, which is obvious and which is totally and completely off the subject at hand, which is whether or not evangelicals and religious conservatives have real influence in the GOP and this administration.  Are they being played for suckers, or not?  Prof. Loconte attempted to answer this the first time around, but then after a rather vigorous hiding by Ms. Sullivan he had to make for the safer, higher ground of screeching about liberal intolerance against and paranoia about Christians, which is well-known and which tells us nothing about the influence of religious conservatives, evangelicals or Christians generally on the current administration, the GOP or even the conservative movement broadly defined. 

As if to prove Ms. Sullivan’s point that the GOP hasn’t really got very much real to offer these folks, Prof. Loconte spends three out of eleven paragraphs in today’s installment summoning the demons of the crazy liberal who despises Christianity in politics and who doesn’t seem to care much for conservative Christians, either.  These people are real; they exist in considerable numbers; they think having “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the establishment clause–what can I say?  They’re rather batty.  But they are also irrelevant to the current debate.  This conclusion, which serves as Prof. Loconte’s last word on the subject, reinforces the impression that the GOP doesn’t have much to offer, except that it is a place where religious people will be ridiculed less than in the other party and will be paid lip service but will, on the things that matter most to them, generally be shunted off to the side and ignored.  In the end, the only thing Mr. Bush or his party can say, and the only thing that Prof. Loconte can say for them is, “Flee Michelle Goldberg and the Democrats!  They are coming for your Bible!”  Conservative Christians have heard all of this too many times before, and they have also seen next to no action on the things near and dear to their hearts, so the question remains whether this political marriage is a good one and whether it has a future based in anything more than fear and loathing of the alternative.

There is another battle royale over the role of theocons and religious conservatives now available at TNR (note the irony that many of the folks at The Corner seem more inclined to fall over themselves to make nice to Heather Mac Donald and her desire to keep religion and conservatism far apart while TNR gives these questions of religious conservatism surprisingly lengthy treatment in these mini-debates), but this time it is on whether evangelicals have succeeded in influencing administration policy and whether they actually draw that much water with the GOP in practical terms.  Joseph Loconte said that, on the whole, yes, they do.  (Hat tip: Rod Dreher) Amy Sullivan is the respondent.  Ms. Sullivan starts off with a zinger:

Based on your opening thoughts here, though, I think I prefer our debates when you’re drinking red wine instead of drinking the Kool-Aid.

But then Ms. Sullivan turns to Linkeresque appeals to public reason:

What conservatives really meant was that questions about a judicial nominee’s position on abortion amount to discrimination based on religious beliefs. That is nonsense. In a pluralistic democracy, it is not sufficient for a public official to base a position purely on religious teachings; he must bring other arguments to bear that are accessible to those who do not share their tradition.

It may be nonsense to speak of “religious tests” in this instance.  This rhetoric comes from the same constitutionally-challenged bunch that thinks that President has inherent powers to do just about anything he pleases in wartime and the same people who believe that filibustering judicial nominees is actually “unconstitutional,” when filibusters are based in Senate rules and can be about anything any Senator wants. (Such judicial filibusters may be “unprecedented,” but at one point the filibuster itself was “unprecedented.”)  It is certainly the case that other people don’t have to put any stock in the ideas of officials who are guided in their deliberations by religious teachings, but I have never been clear on why such a person is obliged to put forward his views in terms that are more “accessible” to those who do not share his fundamental beliefs if that in turn means conceding some basic element of those beliefs or if it means essentially ignoring the decidedly religious nature of that person’s commitments.  The secular person does not have to put his arguments in terms that are more “accessible” to me, nor do I see any reason why he necessarily should have to do so.  Perhaps it might aid in the task of persuasion, but it is not, or ought not to be, a sine qua non of holding office or being confirmed to a position in the judiciary. 

I am curious what it actually means when someone says that an adherent of a tradition should make the tenets derived from that tradition “accessible” to those outside the tradition.  For instance, Christians assume that the claims of the Faith are already eminently reasonable and “accessible” to all because of the basic concord between reason and faith and the reasonableness of Christian moral teachings.  To tell a Christian to make those claims “accessible” to non-Christians doesn’t really mean anything to him.  Perhaps a missionary argument might be made that we ought to express these teachings in an idiom recognisable and familiar to those who are unused to more traditional language, but I don’t think that Christian conservatives can really accept as absolutely necessary the constraints of such requirements of “accessibility” when such requirements presuppose that, say, Christian moral teachings are somehow presently inaccessible to non-Christians.  They are not, and we shouldn’t feel obliged to act as if they are.   

In practice, making these claims “accessible” is usually bound up in talking in terms of rights.  Who has rights, whose rights take precedence, and so on, become the relevant basic questions, and then from there we are treated to lectures on the importance of bad interpretations of the law being taken seriously as precedent.  I started becoming skeptical of using all this “rights” talk in the abortion debate after reading Dr. Fleming’s The Morality of Everyday Life (a superb book that any smart conservative or simply any thoughtful person should have or should at least read), and I am if anything even more skeptical of it now.  Besides the enormous power that such “rights” talk and all expansions of “rights” gives to those who adjudicate disputes, which is undesirable in itself, it assumes an entire society filled with people who vie with one another for recognition of their “rights” when Christian moral teaching presupposes a society full of obligations and commitments of one to another.  To endorse the “rights” regime by speaking in its language and using its assumptions about who we are and how we relate to one another is to validate and accept the war of all against all that it ultimately implies, such that we are forced to imagine that this contestation between, for example, mother and child is somehow the normal state of affairs.  Rather than condemning ideas of autonomy and all their fruits, the Christian in public office is called to speak of the teachings of the Faith as if autonomy were the natural and proper state of human beings when it is considered to be a fundamentally unnatural and disordered state.  In other words, he is forced to accept something he believes to be untrue in order to even gain a hearing, which ultimately forces him to stop speaking. 

But leave this aside for the moment.  Ms. Sullivan digs into Bush, and does so very well:

I think Bush relies on fake problems like nonexistent religious discrimination in order to paint himself as the defender of all things religious–and, more importantly, to scare religious voters into believing it is their Christian duty to keep Democrats out of office. I’m well aware of the left’s shortcomings when it comes to taking seriously many of the concerns of religious Americans.  But Bush hasn’t made the case that he’s the better choice. [bold mine-DL] Instead, he has borne false witness against the left, in the hopes that scare tactics will keep voters from looking too closely at his actual accomplishments on their behalf.   

This is very much my way of thinking about Bush and his supposedly great religiosity.  In my less charitable moments, especially when he would say stupid things about how Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I have referred to him as the Apostate (with apologies to Damon Linker, who actually wants to be called an apostate), which is really unfair, since a great many believing but misguided Christians share this kind of vapid ecumenical outlook.  The point here is actually not whether Mr. Bush himself is a deeply religious, albeit theologically ignorant, man, which by all accounts he is, but whether he uses symbolism and rhetoric to whip religious voters into a frenzy against Democrats mainly to keep them in line and keep them from seeing that they get next to nothing out of the political bargain they are making.  Why do they keep at this charade?  She has an answer for that one, too:

If the scare tactics lose their power, Republicans will have to actually start producing policy results.

And the GOP, which is still in so many ways the GOP of the Eastern Establishment, has no interest in producing policy results or legal rulings that their religious voters really want.  Then Ms. Sullivan zeroes in on the huge blind spot in the current bargain between conservative Christians and the GOP:

What about torture? An impressive collection of religious leaders–including major evangelicals like Rick Warren and Ted Haggard–issued an unambiguous statement opposing torture earlier this year. You like to argue that liberals are trapped in moral relativism and don’t believe in right and wrong, Joe. That doesn’t seem to be the case with torture–it’s Bush who has argued that the morality of torture depends on the circumstance.  

On many, many things, I would insist that liberals are trapped in moral relativism, or have their own code of morality so deeply at odds with traditional norms that it amounts to radical disagreements about what virtue means, but this is one where a lot of conservative Christians have either gone along with the GOP line (”it’s not torture, it’s coercive interrogation!”) or have not spoken against that position.   

Some conservatives said it is too late. “They honestly need a baseball bat against the head,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who helped Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) take over Congress in the 1990s. “Because if they don’t change the lexicon immediately, as bad as this election is going to be, they’re going to lose the presidency in 2008. I’ve given up on 2006. They’ve already made so many mistakes, there’s no way they can fix it in two weeks. But I’m worried now they’re going to lose all the marbles.” ~The Washington Post

Reading about the late GOP get-out-the-vote effort, I hope their appeal is more impressive than Tony Blankley’s “you’d have to be stupid” or Grover Norquist’s “you’re a bunch of crybabies” appeals.  Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich recounts that some conservatives are willing to ignore how they have been ignored:

Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, said the White House is not doing enough to repair relations with the base. “I’m not seeing anything,” he said. “Maybe they’re doing certain things with people who are closer to them. But in my case, I’ve not gotten any special treatment or invitations or whatever.”

Still, Weyrich said the White House may yet benefit from conservatives coming home. “It’ll all come down to conservatives,” he said. “For a long time, I’ve heard nothing but ‘I’m not going to vote for these jerks.’ Now I’m hearing ‘Well, I suppose we’ll have to vote the jerks back in and see what we can do.’ “ 

This sort of language of necessity, of having to do something, drives me up the wall.  This is one of those odd moments in modern democracy when citizens actually have some minor influence on their government, and some are willing to endorse a party that does next to nothing for them because they think they “have to” vote for them.  In an election, no one “has to” do anything he doesn’t want to do.  There are no GOP brands on the flanks of conservatives; they do not own us.  Why act as if they did?

Are we turning into the Ned Lamont Republicans? No, I’m not talking about Republicans racing for the exits in Iraq. I’m talking about the Ned Lamont-style party pure-o-crats of the Right: the folks who hope to punish insufficiently conservative Republicans by handing over Congress to the Democrats. ~Stanley Kurtz

I suppose the opposite of pure-o-crat would have to be corruptocrat or phthartocrat from the Greek, which would be entirely appropriate for the massively corrupt GOP majority.  There is also the small matter of this myth (speaking of reassuring fairy tales) that Ned Lamont represented some destructive purge of the unbelievers in his party.  This is preposterous.  Lamont differed chiefly over two things with Lieberman: Iraq and the attitude towards Mr. Bush.  Take those things away, and they have nothing to dispute.  To be a “Ned Lamont Republican” or, since I am not a Republican, an NL conservative, one would want to punish the majority for their grand, stupefyingly anti-conservative decision to “grant” the President the authority to do whatever he deemed appropriate on Iraq and acquiesced in the executive’s decision to start an illegal war.  To be a conservative Ned Lamont, one would want to see the GOP defeated for their continued support of that same war, as the GOP members in Congress form the significant majority of its supporters.  That is not the only reason to punish them, but it is better than most and it is something that does not expect some high level of conservative principle that would satisfy purists.  It requires only the most basic commitment to the Constitution and a refusal to engage in aggressive war.  They failed those tests, and it seems likely they will continue to roll over for every executive abuse of power and overreach that comes along.  Except when the House did pass a decent immigration bill, it is difficult to think of a piece of legislation from this Congress that would bear any resemblance to something a conservative would support.  Perhaps something has slipped my mind, but I don’t think so.  This is not a punishment for being insufficiently conservative but for being noticeably non-conservative throughout the present Congress and for the past six years.  Do I expect some magic recovery in two years?  Not really.  If Mitt Romney is already the Great Conservative Hope for ‘08, which is somewhere between laughable and embarrassing, I don’t expect to see any quality candidates for at least another four years.  The GOP in Congress will probably not understand why they were defeated, attribute it to bad luck or the sixth year in the cycle and return to their bad habits, but I marvel at the idea that the voters should forsake disciplining wayward legislators because the ones in need of punishment are incorrigible.  If they are incorrigible, all the more reason to remove them from power. 

As a matter of determining someone’s foreign policy competence, the wars he has supported in the past may be useful for highlighting his blindspots and his tendencies to believe government propaganda.  It is an even better test of good judgement about which wars were necessary to fight, since his definition of what was necessary in the past may have some bearing on what he believes is necessary in the here and now.  So Kevin Drum asks:

So: which wars did you support? Any of them? None of them? Some of them? 

Ross Douthat has given his answers.  My list now will be a bit shorter than Ross’ and shorter than it used to be.  Growing up, I was instilled with all of the good progressive nationalist myths about the endless string of “good” wars that led on ineluctably to the current fight (which was, at that time, the Cold War).  Today, having learned a bit more about all those “good” wars, I am hard-pressed to think of a war since the burning of the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbour that I could say that I wholeheartedly endorse or would have supported had I then been alive (presuming that we are speaking strictly of U.S. wars).  In spite of my appreciation for what the Loyalists represented, I can say I still support the War for Independence, though I agree with Ross that their cause for war was pretty shaky.  WWI, the Mexican War and War of 1812 all have the quaint feature of being constitutionally declared wars, which puts them way ahead of some of their successors, but none of them can really be justified–though at least the Mexican War could be amorally defended as being in the rank self-interest of an expanding nation (however, it was not in the true self-interest of the Republic to be rapidly expanding in size, since this precipitated internal strife and the rise of internal empire).  Of wars that have taken place in my lifetime, I cannot think of any I could now endorse except for the retaliatory strike into Afghanistan, and of these I only supported the Gulf War and Afghanistan at the time.  Looking back over the last century, I can at least understand the Korean War’s rationale and accept that it had to be fought once Truman’s administration blundered into it, and I acknowledge that the U.S., once attacked, was obliged to retaliate against Japan, but I am not going to start rah-rahing the “Good War” anytime soon given the nature of FDR’s provocations and schemes that got us into that final Republic-destroying war.  If I had my druthers, we would have steered clear of the whole mess.  Vietnam?  Er, no.  Panama?  An absurd crime.  Grenada?  A sad diversion.  In truth, I did support the Gulf War when it happened (of course, I was 12 at the time and knew nothing) and continued to utter excuses for it long after I should have known better.  Unequivocally, I denounce the interventions in Yugoslavia as crimes of aggression, pure and simple.  They were less morally justified than the Boer War (which was entirely unjustifiable) and twice as stupid (which makes them very, very stupid).  The only time when I waver on intervention in Kosovo is when I consider the possibility of intervening on the side of the Serbs against the KLA, but I have to rule that out as also being none of our business.  I would have rejected every petty intervention in Central America and the Caribbean had I been around back then.  The Spanish-American War and its aftermath are among the great blots on our national history, even if it was on a small scale, and William Randolph Hearst will someday have to answer for the deaths of all those killed in the war he helped cook up.  That all makes a good deal of sense to me, but I’m sure someone will be able to explain why the Tripolitanian War was also unnecessary.       

Reading this post over at Eunomia, I was struck not only by its insight but by the fact that the Americans refer to their electoral districts by number: “Arizona 8th District”, “Nebraska 3rd District”, etc. I find this very confusing, since these names don’t give any hint where in the respective states the districts are. There is no way to know, without looking it up, whether a New York congressman for the Xth District represents the Upper East Side, the Bronx, or Buffalo. In addition, these number-names are dull and colourless. Maybe the practice reflects the numerological obsessions of the early U.S. Freemasons or something, but as a Canadian, I’d like to see some changes. ~Andrew Cunningham

My thanks to Andrew for the generous link and kind words.  I don’t think our district numbering has much to do with the Masons (though I expect someone has written a book informing us how the numbers of all the congressional districts add up to form the number of the Beast), but with the impressively pragmatic and unimaginative character of most Americans.  It is odd that a country that had its own lengthy bout of romanticism and a magnificent frontier that should have spawned a great outpouring of poetry gave us transcontinental railroads and dime novels.  I would be only too glad to change things up a bit and give our districts more geographically meaningful and aesthetically pleasing names.  In my home state, NM-01 could become Rio Abajo y Sandia, NM-02 to our south could become Tierra Amarilla and NM-03 to the north could be called New California in honour of our many new transplants.  Were we to follow the Quebec approach, we could have the districts of Coronado, William Bonney and Popé respectively.  Then again, we can barely agree on what to put on the backs of our commemorative state quarters.  Naming congressional districts might ignite street fighting.

Turning to sports, the Detroit Tigers, who lost 119 games just two years ago, have whipped the New York Yankees in the playoffs. I take this as a sign of divine wrath, not against the Yankees, or even George Steinbrenner, but against the Yankee fans, whom Jonathan Swift described as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”  ~Joseph Sobran

The chancellor also asserted that hateful speech does absolutely nothing to promote understanding and tolerance.

Once again, absolutely conventional attacks on Israeli and U.S. policy are presented as heroically original. Once again, it is insinuated that the bravery of those making the point is such as to draw down the Iron Heel. Once again, no distinction is made between private organizations and the public sphere. Mearsheimer and Walt ended up complaining of persecution because they got a rude notice from Alan Dershowitz! Such self-pity. ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Naturally, it isn’t true that the things Mearsheimer and Walt wrote were “absolutely conventional attacks on Israeli and U.S. policy,” since these “absolutely conventional” claims apparently could not find an American publisher and elicited such a firestorm of controversy when made that you’d think that the authors had just murdered a bevy of defenseless, old women.  Charges of anti-Semitism flew fast and furious and a widespread effort to cast the two authors as purveyors of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory commenced.  Ignoring most of what the two authors actually wrote, the voices of condemnation preached us a sermon about how they had said that “the Jews” were behind all our problems, when the article very clearly distinguished between pro-Israel activists of all sorts and the Jewish community in this country.  In any other country on earth, their claims would have been “absolutely conventional,” perhaps considered even rather milquetoast or weak, but in America this was explosive stuff because, as everybody knew, you just didn’t say those sorts of things.  Not publicly, anyway, and certainly not in print!  As if to prove the article’s claims about an atmosphere of intimidation about this very subject, the moral hectoring and intimidation began.  Now obviously the freedom to speak is not the freedom from criticism, as some amusingly innocent people may think, but a decent respect for the opinions of others would require not resorting to ad hominem attacks and making outrageous charges of prejudice in place of a real argument.  Campaigns to intimidate and silence damage the discourse of a free society.  They reflect a basic intolerance for free debate in those who organise such campaigns and they suggest a preference for the rhetorical club with which to bludgeon an opponent rather than persuasion.

The purpose of the campaign in that case was not so much aimed at shutting up Mearsheimer and Walt, who were already obviously unconcerned about being on the receiving end of these charges (otherwise they would not have bothered with the article), but at making sure that few would come to their aid.  Tony Judt did (sort of) in a notable New York Times piece and said, among other things, the following:

Thus it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state. It is already not at all self-evident to Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans or Asians. Why, they ask, has America chosen to lose touch with the rest of the international community on this issue? Americans may not like the implications of this question. But it is pressing. It bears directly on our international standing and influence; and it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. We cannot ignore it. 

Subsequently, Tony Judt participated in public appearances with Mearsheimer and Walt (who unfortunately have had the bad judgement to play footsie with CAIR, doing themselves and their argument no credit) where they debated the question of the Lobby’s influence with those who defended the relative benignity of its influence or who denied any great influence at all.  The debate had even won pride of place in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.  Obviously, someone had to draw a line somewhere and stop all of this crazy public discussion of something that was supposed to be best left unmentioned.  It is in the context of the last six months of persistent demonisation and lies about Mearsheimer and Walt that we should view the effort to tell the Poles what they ought to do with Judt’s invitation.  Of course no one is actually preventing Judt from speaking elsewhere, and no one claims that he is being prevented from speaking elsewhere.  That isn’t the point.  As usual, Hitchens misses what the point really is.  The principle at stake here is that using pressure and intimidation (with the rhetorical spiked mace of anti-Semitism always just within reach) to derail the speaking engagements of people whose policy views you and your group reject is undesirable and smacks of trying to suppress opposing views by creating a chilling effect on those who might speak out (why take a controversial stance and be bothered with ADL harrassment, or any other kind of harrassment, when it is easier to just go along with the conventional view?) and also seems like an attempt to avoid a frank exchange of ideas.  If there were a marketplace of ideas, this would be like one of the local bosses sending Tony and the boys to give one of the shopowners a “reminder” about who runs the neighbourhood (note that I am probably even now violating the Thought Code by using such a prejudiced, anti-Italian metaphor!).  Typically people in a liberal society do not find it pleasant or agreeable that interest groups dictate the place or time where others can and cannot speak.  The Polish Consulate was, of course, completely within their rights to withdraw the invitation, and I suppose all kinds of people can complain and petition that they cancel such a talk, but the message it sends is hardly edifying and one likely to worsen and deaden the national debate on important questions of policy and politics because there are some questions the self-interested person who doesn’t want to ruin his career doesn’t ask.  Perhaps that is the way of the world, and perhaps that is simply the way things work in the rough and tumble of competing interests, but I won’t blithely excuse the use of intimidation with the lame argument that everybody does it or saying that you can always go somewhere else to speak.  The point is that the quality of the debate shouldn’t be so poor that forcing venues to boot invited speakers is the chief means that their opponents use to stymy or harrass them.  We should be better than that.  Unfortunately, we are not.   

The field of aggressive pro-Republican pundits, expanded by blogs and cable TV, has never been larger. And never have so few been so right about so little.


Hewitt’s book, like his far-more-popular blog, is nearly devoid of criticism of the Republican Party. The goal he set for the 2006 elections is a “national campaign built on a showdown over national security and ending the Democrats’ obstruction.” The lesson of Republican rule was not that the party could lose its way if it got a, or that the administration needed the occasional gut check from conservatives and libertarians—Hewitt even supported the nomination of Harriet Miers, on the grounds that her confirmation would have given black eyes to the hated Donkey Party. ~Dave Weigel

Via Jim Antle

Mr. Weigel does fine work knocking over the pretensions of the Hewitts of the world (I have had some choice words about Hewitt in the past) and pointing out what have unfortunately become the all-too-common characteristics of GOP polemicists: intellectual laziness and reflexive party loyalty.  Only a massive betrayal on immigration has managed to elicit howls of protest from some of the bigger talking heads, and they were duly called in and given their new orders.  The point is not that the Hewitts or the Limbaughs of the world always agree with the party (though Hewitt usually does), but that they can no longer make a coherent argument for why anyone else should agree with them except that the other side will usher in some apocalyptic doom or nightmare scenario.  In a crunch, they will almost always trust the party to do the right thing, and they have taken their cues from the party on what “the right thing” is for so long that they will almost invariably be proven right in trusting the party.  That is why I regard the Hewitts and Limbaughs as GOP shills and willing propagandists.    

It is one thing to be partisan, which is common enough.  But to let partisan loyalty serve as a kind of support for every bad argument you make and to use invective against the opposition all the time as a crutch to prop up your own feeble policy positions are just sad testaments to how far so many pundits on the right have fallen. 

It’s fascinating to hear media liberals speak somberly about fomenting a coup to install an Iraqi strongman. If they had any knowledge of the region (or of history) they would know that an American-run coup to overthrow Maliki would succeed as well as the coup as the November 1, 1963 coup against Ngo Dinh Diem engineered by John Kennedy. ~Jed Babbin

Via Clark Stooksbury

It may be the case that a coup against Maliki wouldn’t work.  One wonders whether Mr. Babbin thinks that if only Diem had been allowed to stay in power we might have prevailed.  Then again, the appearance of a strongman might be welcomed as the coming of a deliverer.  Given the circumstances, anyone promising order would win supporters.  Like all normal people, Iraqis abhor anarchy.  It is an old Arabic proverb that I have heard that goes, ”Better sixty years of tyranny than one night of anarchy.”  So by that calculation, taking the anarchy of the last three years as our starting point, Iraqis ought to be ready for a good, solid 50,000 years of tyranny.  That will put us a little behind on the “ending tyranny in this century” schedule, but nothing’s perfect.

But what kind of earth-shattering irony is it to have a supporter of the Iraq war and the great “freedom agenda” lecturing anyone about “any knowledge of the region (or of history)”?  Have we seen war supporters display much of either of these in the last four years?  It has gone rather something like this: Drain the swamp, “we’ll be greeted as liberators,” “democracies don’t war,” “tribe or religion or whatever,” Islamofascism, 1938, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”, burble, burble.

Well, okay, I’m not exactly live blogging it.  But I am making some decent progress so far this week.  I had started working on a draft of a fifth chapter (I am doing them somewhat out of order, so it isn’t actually chapter 5), but had gotten bogged down with outside writing projects and, well, the real world.  Next on my posting to-do list: live blogging Strauss’ Salome

Anyway, I am about two-thirds finished, which was better than the half-finished state that it was in when the day started.  What’s it all about?  In a word: monotheletes.  Consider that while I return to my dissertation writing.

Invoking God in the political realm is a conversation stopper, not an invitation to robust debate. America’s rules of religious etiquette demand that we acquiesce silently in a believer’s claim of revelation. But conservatism doesn’t need such revelation; common sense and an openness to fact will do just fine as support. Conservative principles are available to people of all faiths or no faith at all. ~Heather Mac Donald

Via Joshua Trevino

The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal. [bold mine-DL] ~Russell Kirk

The Kirk quote comes from his discussion of the ten conservative principles–which were not exhaustive, but meant to be the beginnings of an introduction–that can be found in The Conservative Mind.  The dividing line he is talking about today cuts right through the middle of the “conservative movement,” and the statement speaks for itself about the importance of a decent respect and recognition of the spiritual order and the spiritual nature of man–which is surely integral to understanding the constancy of human nature and the truth about human nature.  Conservatives are not, cannot be, monists, so long as we regard people as ends in themselves.  If we took Ms. Mac Donald’s prohibition on the non-empirical seriously, all metaphysics would have to depart from conservatism, and we would be left very simply with some kind of odd materialism that has no guiding vision or sense of what constitutes good order. 

When Ms. Mac Donald says things like, “conservatism doesn’t need revelation,” she generally seems to mean that “I consider myself a perfectly good conservative, and I don’t think we need revelation, therefore conservatism doesn’t need revelation.”  That is about as far as the demonstration goes.  Granted, this is for USA Today, but even so it is not much of an argument. 

This does not take account of whether there is much in the way of a tradition in conservative thought for thinking as she does.  There might be, but these arguments do not provide it.  But by way of rebutting this claim, I would like to recall some recent debates that Ms. Mac Donald provoked with her earlier call to rally round secular conservatism.  In the first chapter of this story, Ms. Mac Donald was writing in a symposium for The American Conservative, though her contribution struck me as being almost unique in its lack of relation to the relevant subject of “What is Left? What is Right?”  In that article, Ms. Mac Donald complained about the terrible pressures and burdens the religious conservatives were putting on their secular counterparts:

So maybe religious conservatives should stop assuming that they alone occupy the field. Maybe they should cut back a bit on their religious triumphalism. Nonbelievers are good conservatives, too. 

Of course, religious conservatives have never assumed that they alone occupied the field.  They were only too aware that they did not alone occupy the field.  So two months ago, it was all suffering and marginalisation for the secular conservatives.  Today, as we are deluged with more warnings about religious conservative madness and theocon perfidy from all sides, Ms. Mac Donald abandons the defensive crouch of the persecuted minority and goes on the offensive with the desire to clear out the opposition.  “Revelation?  We don’t need no stinking revelations!” she cries. 

Turning from the criticism that revelation is not strictly necessary for someone to be a conservative (which can be true to some degree), she has instead advanced the view that revelation is irrelevant to political problems and appropriately so (which is not at all true) and that conservatism doesn’t need revelation, either (also untrue).  Plainly any conservatism worth its salt seeks to protect and preserve the inheritance of Christian civilisation, and a vital part of that civilisation is the Faith itself.  In periods when adherence to Christianity was much more of a given than it is today, this likely needed less emphasis, but today it seems to me imperative.  You might be able to argue that one can be a law-abiding, sane member of society and uphold conservative principles without embracing that Faith or confessing belief in God, but what you have a much harder time arguing from conservative premises is that you can be a conservative and simultaneously deny the relevance and significance for public problems of the treasury of wisdom bequeathed to us over at least 2,000 years of Christian tradition. 

The secular conservative might not recognise the claims of this tradition to be truths handed down by God, but one marvels at the presumption that he is free to ignore the entirety of that tradition except for some mild aesthetic appreciation of nice Gothic cathedrals and the odd Baroque painting (”My, didn’t these religious people make nice paintings!” he will say) and determine that everything derived from what Christians hold to be revelation might as well be chucked overboard or ignored in the public square in exchange for our common sense and “openness to fact.”  A conservative subordinates himself to the traditions of his civilisation insofar as he is able and acknowledges that the traditions possess vastly more wisdom than he, his common sense and “openness to fact” will be able to amass in a single lifetime.  To neglect this and expect to make solid conservative arguments would be like trying to master a subject of inquiry without ever consulting a library.  This tradition, as my colleague Josh Trevino suggests, is largely amenable to reason and possesses reams of rational argument in exposition and defense of the claims of the Faith; should secular conservatives ever be inclined to engage it rather than dismiss it out of hand they would not only reconnect with their own cultural heritage but would discover a rich font of wisdom and truth that they do not have to acknowledge to be divine in order to recognise its importance and timeless relevance.

I’m still trying to figure out why I reacted so strongly to these scenes. I’ve seen far worse on film, and been unaffected by it. I confess that part of it must be that Scarlett Johansson has to be the most boring major actress around. Had the cad been boffing someone like Kate Winslet, someone who had a modicum of wit or mystery about her, maybe it would have been easier to watch, instead of seeing a character betray his wife with such a dumb, dull bunny. But deep down, I don’t think that’s it. I think I just couldn’t stand to watch this creep betray his good wife like this. ~Rod Dreher

It’s probably best that Rod and his wife cut the movie short, since it doesn’t exactly get more edifying after that.  Personally, I found the movie rather engrossing as these things go.  It was simply a well-told story, and unusually coherent for a Woody Allen movie.  The Emily Mortimer character, Chloe, is adorable and Jonathan Rhys Meyers again excels at playing the arrogant bastard who exploits and neglects the woman who worships him just as he did in Vanity Fair.  We hate him just as much in Vanity Fair as we do here, but here we also pity him by the end in spite of the monstrous things he does.  Being lucky, as we see, is not exactly a substitute for being good, though it may bring you more victories in the world; Allen, known to all and sundry as the most depressing existentialist in the depressed existentialist club, was probably not trying to make this point, but that is what I took away from it.  

Chris is an unattractive sort of character to watch, but there was something Dostoevskyan or at least half-Dostoevskyan (i.e., sin, but no redemption) in the character as he plots and executes his crime (an idea not-so-subtly planted in our minds by a shot of the same character reading Crime & Punishment early on) that made me find it all strangely compelling.  Morally uplifting?  Not exactly.  Here is Chris’ speech to the ghosts who come to haunt him: “It would be fitting if I were caught and punished.  Then there might be some small hope of justice, some small hope for the possibility of meaning.”  Anyone who knows Allen’s thoughts on Life can tell you how the story will end, and it is not an ending that does much for the cause of justice or meaning.  On the plus side, Michael Dougherty’s ladyfriend will be cheering on the denunciations of ScarJo from now until Kingdom come.  From Michael’s article on celebrity adoration:

For some reason, knowable only to other women, my girlfriend loathes Scarlett Johansson. At first I was a typical thick male and believed we were engaged in playfully jealous banter, the type that is meant to elicit a small dramatic re-creation of courtship, in the threatened denial and then reaffirmation of loyalty and affection. This sort of thing always ends in a kiss. Unfortunately, as I came to discover, we were engaged in a theological debate with potentially eternal repercussions. Theological debates usually end with the launching of inanimate objects (blankets, shoes) and threats of excommunication (”Swear you reject Scarlett and all her perfidious works, or else”). We don’t talk about her anymore.

So Rod is in good company in not approving of her.  Personally, Scarlett Johansson doesn’t bother me (and Vinny from Entourage likes her, so she can’t be all bad, right?), but I understand that she is for some people what Gwynneth Paltrow is for me.  I cannot stand that woman.  Oh, she may be a perfectly good actress (though she deserved Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love the way I deserve the Nobel Prize for Physics and her role in Possession made me wish I had stayed home and read The Possessed), but her real voice–not her fake, British-accented voice that you hear in most movies–drives me up the wall.  Is there a person with a more annoying American voice in the movie business?  Is there someone else who could have made Proof more boring than it already was?  Was there anyone else who could have had you rooting for the main character in that movie to be institutionalised? 

The Mark Foley scandal is a symptom of the Republican Party’s standard operating procedure. The same pattern of behavior that lead to the current unpleasantness reared its head in the sorry episodes of Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee. The lesson of the Specter, Chafee, Foley stories is a conservative one: Abandoning principle for pragmatism often backfires.


Ensuring Chafee’s and Specter’s places on their respective general election ballots were acts of political expediency that enraged true conservatives. When we griped about it we were dismissed as “purists” and “idealists,” and told that our ideological extremism and willingness to undermine the GOP’s incumbents would spell victory for Democrats.

Today it is the iron-incumbent rule—supposedly the pragmatic, prudent course—that could drive the GOP into the minority. ~Timothy Carney

If he [Savage] is a liberal provocateur pretending to be a conservative, or more likely just a performer, he is, either way, a lamentably popular one. ~David Klinghoffer

Savage’s popularity is lamentable, mostly because he is crass, blasts death metal at his audience and appeals to the worst of nationalism and the pseudo-intellectualism in which the seer can discern in every social problem the offspring of Leninism.  Perhaps Mr. Klinghoffer is skeptical about the man’s credentials, but if Savage is a liberal agent provocateur he has maintained his cover for at least ten years.  Those who have listened to his program since the beginning, or who have at least encountered it over the years, can tell you that he has not substantially changed his m.o. 

His disillusionment with Bush was complete with the President’s support for amnesty, but he has been very useful for the GOP as a major generator and distributor of anti-Democrat rhetoric; on the telling issue of the day, he is a supporter of the Iraq war and typically finds fault with the management of the war for reasons that might make a neocon blush–we are not being heavy-handed and forceful enough, and we need to bust more heads, period.  I remember driving across the country during those eerie days following September 11 and hearing Michael Savage rip into George Bush’s “cowardice” when he flew off to Nebraska after the attacks saying something like, “Where are our political leaders?”  (The contempt for the government you could hear in his voice was not something that someone stage-managed by the left could provide.)  He then began to randomly quote from the Old Testament about the coming of the Assyrians or some such (he will occasionally throw out such random scriptural citations). 

To the polished conservative pundit and intellectual, this no doubt sounds like the gibberish that it is, but in its raw, unmediated form it is the kind of red meat rhetoric that attracts a lot of supporters who are weary of a Republican and conservative establishment that sounds scarcely any different from their liberal counterparts on Savage’s trio of ”language, borders and culture.”  What Michael Savage thinks he means by “culture” is anyone’s guess (it would probably make us all either laugh or cry), but he is talking about things in a crude way that resonate with people who are tired of seeing their country transformed in front of them against their will and with the connivance of the political class.  If you think Savage is putting on an act, consider the following: this is someone who is so hostile to Muslims that he, knowing nothing about Thailand, assumed that the coup in Thailand was an Islamist takeover because Gen. Sonthi was a Muslim.  He then raged and raved about the coup because he was aghast that the military had overthrown a “democracy” and suspended the constitution.  This mish-mash of geopolitical ignorance, enthusiasm for democracy and reflexive distrust of all Muslims everywhere may be many things, but the product of a left-wing psy-op designed to confuse and mislead conservatives it is not.  It is, for good or ill, a perfect snapshot of the confused state of popular conservatism in this country.  But if Michael Savage is a walking parody of modern-day conservatism in some ways, this is not because he is what some leftie thinks people on the right sound like, but because the quality of thinking on the right has deteriorated thanks in part to the medium of talk radio and the dubious mix of hyperbole, nationalism and militarism that usually counts as proof of conservatism for a lot of people.  That Mr. Klinghoffer believes he might credibly cast Savage as an agent of the left working to divide conservatives against each other by actually holding the administration’s feet to the fire when it abandons the country on the immigration and other such issues tells us a great deal about how far out of touch some Republican and conservative pundits are.  

For the past several years, Republican elites have treated the moderates, upon whom their majority depended, as the deformed cousins of their movement. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

There are a few problems with Brooks’ column that I’ll get to momentarily, but I definitely agree with Ramesh Ponnuru when he writes:

He doesn’t really make the case that this lack of appreciation has actually shrunk the party: If Chris Shays loses, it won’t be because conservatives deserted him. And nobody yet has come up with an example where the Club for Growth has cost Republicans a seat.

But the loopiest part of the column is Brooks’s description of Rep. Deborah Pryce as “bright and effective.” 0 for 2, I’d say, and her colleagues are likely to boot her out of the House Republican leadership even if she holds her seat.

It is also the case that Rep. Pryce is being dragged down by a combination of the Foley effect and the general Ohio loathing of the GOP at the moment.  DeWine suffers from the same taint of being a Republican in a state where that is equivalent to being considered corrupt; personally, he is well-liked, but is taking the heat for general discontent about the state of the local economy and a backlash against the state party.  For a good example of official party attitudes towards moderates and, indeed, liberal Republicans, we need only remember the prominent support given to Specter and Chafee over Toomey and Laffey respectively (admittedly as part of a routine defense of all incumbents against challengers) and consider how the NRCC actively meddled in the contest for the Republican nomination in the open AZ-8 against the restrictionist Randy Graf (they have since pulled all money out from AZ-8 because they deemed Graf “unelectable,” but clearly they never had any intention of supporting him after he won the primary).  Whether or not these were possibly wise or defensible moves, they were very clearly also moves favourable to the “moderates” in the party and hardly represent a party bent on driving them into the wilderness.  If anything, conservatives have reason to feel much more aggrieved in each instance (and it is partly because of such grievances that Santorum is set to lose in Pennsylvania).

It is true that disparaging RINOs has been good fun among conservatives and talk show hosts, but this label has usually gone to those Northeastern Republicans, such as Chafee or Jeffords before he went independent, who are frequently voting with the other party on any number of issues unrelated to the agenda of social conservatives.  Many “moderates” are what you would call “fiscal conservatives, but social liberals,” and they have quite a few representatives in the party, but with someone such as Chafee you have a senator who doesn’t even always share the others’ fiscal conservatism necessarily.     

On a tangential note, if there is any danger of Club for Growth at least significantly weakening a Republican candidate, the best example would probably be NE-3 where his association with the Club and the Club’s anti-subsidy position has hurt Adrian Smith and provided a narrow opening for his more-than-competent novice challenger Scott Kleeb.  Republican advantages are so strong in this district that it will probably not flip to the other side, but the Club’s message does not resonate terribly well in Nebraska and could bring down a Republican candidate in a less secure rural district.

PA 10 voters “received an unlikely mailing” from the RNC accusing Naval Reserve Officer Chris Carney (D) of “helping start the Iraq war.” The top of the mailing warns voters: “Carney failed our nation once. Don’t give Chris Carney a chance to FAIL us again.” ~Hotline

So that’s how the GOP is going to benefit from the Iraq war: by pretending that a candidate who wasn’t in office at the time is guilty of helping start a war their candidate voted for.  (Carney is supposed to be responsible for starting the war because he was part of a Pentagon group that helped prepare intelligence on Iraq.)  If my candidate was an adulterous mistress-choker, maybe I would tell lies about the opposition, too. 

And while I remember my own case of war fever well enough to judge not lest I be judged, it’s still the case that conservatives who more or less staked their reputation on championing the invasion of Iraq ought to take a long, hard look in the mirror before they start claiming that the Family Research Council or Richard John Neuhaus killed the GOP’s chances in ‘06. ~Ross Douthat

Ross is entirely right that the piling on of certain rather self-interested parties, who are using the blame-the-theocon argument to explain the ills of the conservative movement and the Republican Party, is excessive and largely misguided.  I say these parties are self-interested because each one that discovers the imaginary nefarious plot of Christians to derail the GOP and conservatism into the ditch of religious extremism already loathed religious conservatives and everything they stood for.  When disaster struck, like a superstitious mob, they have turned on the people whom they already hated and pinned the blame on them regardless of the evidence that an entirely different group of people was really to blame.  Thus people from the “libertarian” wing find that religious conservatives are a mortal danger to the future of the party and the movement, which just happens to make their side look that much better and helps confirm their agenda as the only true agenda.   

To the extent that the war in Iraq is the reason for the GOP’s current misfortunes and the general distortions of conservatism in our time, religious conservatives generally bear little specific blame.  Like only too many conservatives, a lot of them went along with the war, most of them doing so in good faith, if you will, and in the mistaken view that they could trust the government, but they were by and large not the leading, public proponents of the war.  No one, except perhaps Andrew Sullivan, could confuse The Weekly Standard for an outpost of evangelical Christianity and religious “fundamentalism,” and no one would mistake The Wall Street Journal for Theocon Central.  Whatever role Christian Zionists may have played in bolstering the coalition supporting the war, their rhetorical and public contribution to the debate was admittedly minimal.  

The arguments for Iraq were made primarily by secular conservatives who were wedded to ideas of democratisation and military intervention as a means to project power and “values.”  These people included the neoconservatives and a broader base of nationalists who tended to emphasise the projection of power rather than talking about spreading American “values.”  For some, Iraq was a real threat, for others it was an easy target to demonstrate American resolve and power after 9/11 and for still others it was the world-historical tipping point that would change the Near East and the Islamic world.  The first two groups might be forgiven for making mistakes of fact and judgement, but the last group is almost impossible to take seriously or forgive for the delusions they brought into Iraq policy. 

To these would have to be added at least two people who are indeed “theocons” (to the extent that the term means anything) and are prominent theocons at that, namely George Weigel and Michael Novak.  It was Mr. Weigel who wrote the lengthy defense of pre-emption as consistent with just war theory in First Things in what I regard as that magazine’s lowest point, and it was Mr. Novak who went to the Vatican to present the government’s case for the invasion.  Fr. Neuhaus was nowhere nearly so blatant in his support for the war, but support it he did, and it could not have hurt the cause of rallying support for the invasion that three of the more prominent Catholic conservatives in America either openly advocated for it or tacitly endorsed it.  In this they were following the lead of others, but they did follow and they lent their names to the cause.  Now religious conservatives in general should not be blamed because a few prominent religious conservatives supported the invasion, and the label “theocon” is so maddeningly vague that I am still somewhat at a loss as to what people it does and does not include, so I would not be willing to pin much blame on “theocons” generally.  But there certainly were theocons, indeed some of the most recognisable theocons, who defended the invasion as a just and right cause and who were, it seems fairly clear to me, both terribly wrong and responsible for convincing a number of other religious conservatives who should have known better that the war really was just. 

As for the damage some religious conservative causes have done to the GOP, I will say this: they have not done very much damage, but what damage they have done has been memorable and highly public.  The Schiavo case was the best and really only example of something being done strictly out of deference to the religious conservative base, and it was on any number of grounds (constitutional, moral and, yes, religious) appalling and almost certain to alienate even pretty serious church-going, pro-life zealots, to say nothing of those less inclined to take pro-life arguments seriously.  It was also the most prominent example of where religious conservatives really did go rather wild and embarked on the most baffling campaign I think I have ever seen–well, at least since the Gonzales-mania on the right in 2000. 

As I have said in the past, it was my view that Congress’ intervention in this matter was a case of the GOP cynically throwing the religious voters a highly symbolic bone while otherwise starving them of any real concessions or policies that they would favour.  Then, when the religious conservatives complain (as they are now complaining) that the GOP has been ignoring them and neglecting their issues, the party will say, “What about Schiavo?  We went all the way for you people on that one!  Show some gratitude!”  This sort of symbolic gamesmanship is supposed to win support, but I think instead it showed to a lot of religious conservatives just how opportunistic and cynical the party could be. 

Thus religious conservatives received the opprobrium of much of the rest of the nation for this highly publicised stunt (which was what Congress’ intervention amounted to in the end) while reducing the pro-life case to the ridicule extremism always brings on a worthy cause.  They also ended up giving the impression that the GOP Congress took its marching orders from some mythical Religious Right HQ when nothing could be more untrue.  They made their enemies, of whom there are a great many, believe that they were a pernicious, all-powerful force driving the Republican Party, when they were in fact the stepchild of the GOP who occasionally gets the crumbs from the party table and, if he’s very, very good, a conservative Supreme Court justice who says that Roe is the established law of the land.  It is one thing to be feared and loathed for being powerful, and quite another to be much weaker and still be feared and loathed as a major player with tremendous influence.  This is why the religious conservatives can be vilified today with relative ease: because they do not really draw a lot of water in Washington or among a lot of pundits, and because they have never been very effective at punishing their political enemies.  There is almost no cost for a secular or “libertarian” conservative to belittle and blame religious conservatives for their troubles.  There is no disincentive to pinning all of the blame on these people, and it puts a lot of other people who are more responsible for the current debacle at ease.  When the city is on fire, it is much better to follow Nero’s example and blame the Christians than look to the actual causes.  Expect many more such “discoveries” of religious conservative influence after Nov. 7 when the need for a scapegoat will be even more acute. 

Here’s my point. Not no way, not no how, am I conceding this election. No way. No how. This election is winnable. This election is not over. And no conservative who looks at the reality of what losing this election will mean can afford to think otherwise. Not no way, not no how. ~Stanley Kurtz

Now I believe this is what one of the guards in the Emerald City (no Chandrasekaran jokes, please) when the four tried to gain an audience with the Wizard.  Besides the double negatives, what is the problem here?  The characters in The Wizard of Oz did get to see the Wizard (otherwise it would have been a rather short and anticlimactic story), so the Republicans will also in all likelihood lose this election, shrieking exclamations filled with denial notwithstanding.  Viewed this way, it suggests that everything that Kurtz is saying is just a lot of bluster to keep people from seeing the monumental fraud that he, like the Emerald City guard, is charged with defending.  Viewed another way, using the quote in this way suggests that the Republicans are like a callous guard at the Emerald City (no Green Zone jokes, please) that is denying the voters their hearts’ desires.  With clever campaign rhetoric like this, how could the GOP ever lose?       

At The Corner, the Derb has been fighting the good fight of explaining why the GOP getting trounced is not so bad and is actually essential to improving conservative influence on the GOP.  (As someone not in the GOP with no terribly great interest whether the party is “reformed” from the inside–can sarcophagoi be reformed from the inside?–the second point is less important to me, as my interest here is in arguing for how conservatives should respond to an administration and majority that have governed as if they were New Frontiersmen.)  He is, of course, being accused by the usual suspects of wanting a utopia (which he does not) and an “ideal” politics (which he doesn’t want, either) in which no compromise ever occurs.  Of course, for there to have been any compromise conservatives, particularly social and restrictionist conservatives, would have had to have gotten something that they wanted signed into actual law.  They would have had to receive some credible action on something they take seriously (and, no, mucking about in the private business of one Florida family does not count).  When confronted with rational complaints against GOP failure, the Big Picture is invoked (remember how the “future authorizes every kind of humbug”?) and, for an added touch, Ponnuru becomes rather philosophical:

You’re right that sensible voters have been following the advice I give for years, and it has yet to usher in an ideal political situation. That’s because it’s timeless advice, and because the world does not exist to make us happy.

Yes, the advice to forget your principles and keep voting for the same party indefinitely regardless of what it does is timeless.  It has been around for my entire lifetime, and has existed much longer than that.  It has always existed since men first gave thought to such political problems.  The trouble is that the people who offer this “timeless” advice are very often people with a vested personal or professional interest in the outcome (did I mention that Ponnuru’s wife works for Roy Blunt?), or they are the sort of people who say, “It is better to go along than get along.”  They are the enablers of dependency and misrule.  Theirs is the classic voice of the party functionary who tells the protesters, ”I want what you want, but by working within the system.”  This is said not to achieve the goals of the protesters by a better way, but to dispere the protesters and ensure that the party’s control over them is not endangered.  Also, pay no mind to the fact that the system is inherently flawed and biased towards the creation of ever more party functionaries who will continue to amass power in central government, where they, the party functionaries and their hangers-on, have the most access to it.  My favourite part is that “the world does not exist to make us happy,” as if conservatives were complaining about the structures of “the world” and the injustice of the universe.  One might mistakenly expect this sort of dreary invitation to fatalism from someone who actually embraces pessimism (which would be to misunderstand pessimism), but the party loyalist who is normally a little too optimistic about the party itself is much more likely to tell supporters to resign themselves to their fate because they should not expect anything better.  Thus, should someone say that the party’s recent actions were not what he signed on for, they will preach the good word to you: “Man’s lot is sad in this world, and full of toil.  So shut up, peasant, and get back to working those phone banks for Mr. Mehlman!”  

Those who listen to such voices calling for their submission and resignation to the inevitability of GOP corruption and betrayal, rather than acting to hold them somewhat accountable, will deserve whatever they get and will have hardly any right to complain in the future should the GOP somehow maintain control and things get worse.  Who in this debate is appealing to the principles of self-government, and who defends the perpetual claims of an abusive overlord?  If you are inclined to side with the latter in the fear that the next overlord will be worse (and you have some reason to think so), do not expect that the overlord will become any wiser or better in the future; he will, in fact, continue to become worse and even more unprincipled and treacherous.  He will say something like, “We had our accountability moment in 2006,” and he will be right.  The only question is whether there will have actually been any accountability for the people with the most power.   

Update: Ramesh Ponnuru doesn’t agree with my response.  I’ll stand by the bulk of what I wrote, but I will have to acknowledge that the remark about his wife working for Roy Blunt was a pretty lazy way to make the argument, and it wasn’t even necessary to say what I was trying to say.  It is obviously possible to make arguments in favour or against things regardless of any personal interests one might have, and it is always hazardous to try to perceive any personal motivations in an argument, when they are really irrelevant to the quality of the argument.  Holding Republicans accountable for their failures, mistakes and betrayals will either seem worth the risk of a Pelosi-led House or it won’t.  Again, as I see it, it has to be worthwhile to enforce accountability on wayward representatives as a matter of exercising self-government.  Otherwise, what sort of government can we possibly ever expect except the kind that routinely ignores the very people who elected it?  

With 82-year-old U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde stepping aside, the west suburban 6th Congressional District seat he has been re-elected to easily since the Watergate era is now very much up for grabs, according to a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll.

In the northwest suburban 8th Congressional District, the survey found strong re-election support for freshman Democrat Melissa Bean, suggesting that her 2004 upset of 35-year Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Crane was no fluke.

If Republican leaders feel blindsided by the turn, then they would do well to pay a call to the Wheaton home of Lois and Gerald Sheridan, for years one of the GOP precinct committeemen who rallied voters for Hyde at election time.

Fed up with the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, the Sheridans say they are backing Democrat Tammy Duckworth as Hyde’s replacement over Republican Peter Roskam. They say a lot of their friends and neighbors will be doing the same.

“It’s the war or the deficit,” Lois Sheridan said. “One of those things put them over the edge. These are die-hard, longtime Republicans, and they’re switching.”

Hyde’s 6th district sits mostly in DuPage County, which the GOP establishment is fond of calling “America’s most Republican County.” And Crane’s 8th district, rambling north of Hyde’s to the Wisconsin border, was thought a close second. Republican presidential candidates routinely have chalked up healthy victory margins in the districts, and Hyde and Crane usually won re-election by blowouts. ~The Chicago Tribune

That the 8th will likely re-elect a Democrat and the GOP could very well lose the 6th is a sign of real doom for the GOP nationally, as I have been arguing for the past couple months with respect to IL-6, and this trend also probably represents the long-term damage that the Ryan scandals have done to the Illinois GOP.  Faithful Republican voters have no level of the party, except perhaps local elected officials, in which they can be proud.  The war and the deficit together have worked to make a solid, safe Republican district hotly contested.  Talking to these sorts of disenchanted voters about the 12,000 mark in the Dow or warning them about the evils of Pelosi is worse than foolish.  It is actually insulting, because it tells them that their objections aren’t even all that legitimate–they should be grateful for the good market and the decent economy and just shut up!  The Republicans run the risk of permanently alienating people like this–and not because of anything to do with Southern social conservatism, the necessary red herring that every news reporter has to include in any story about the movement’s crack-up.  It is the case, as Mrs. Sheridan said, that the war and the deficit that are killing the GOP.  This is not exactly news, but it ought to make very concrete and tangible the consequences of reckless, irresponsible policies that betray conservative principle.  When even people in DuPage County think you have gone off track, you have no more positive appeal.

Curt Weldon is upset at the vast conspiracy that is targeting his children (one of whom is suspected of benefiting from alleged contract-rigging that her father facilitated).  I’m sure it was the “liberal media” that ordered the search of his daughter’s house (or perhaps the liberal media has controlled the FBI all this time–how clever!), and it was Joe Sestak who ordered the investigation into Weldon’s possible favouritism and corruption.  It’s one thing to complain if a candidate’s children are being dragged into an election to score some cheap point, where it clearly has no relevance, but when there are apparently solid charges of fixing federal contracts to benefit your blood relations the criticism is not really about your children but about you, the alleged contract-fixing Congressman. 

It may be the case that Weldon and his family have done nothing wrong, but one does get tired of Republicans complaining about the timing of this or the timing of that when one of theirs is implicated in salacious or criminal activity.  Note that none among them ever gets upset about the timing of things that are supposed to work to Republican advantage (no surprise there); no one was exactly overcome with angst that they passed their raft of national security legislation a month and a half before an election.  Yet when the Mark Foley bomb was dropped, it was “timing” this and “conspiracy” that and “what did Dan Rather have to do with it?” (the last one is fictitious, but it pretty well captures the spirit of the response).  Perhaps they might pay more attention to avoiding that kind of behaviour in the first place and spend less time worrying about the timing of the revelations of their (alleged) behaviour. 

The ultimate weakness of the “suspicious timing” defense, besides how paranoid it makes you look, is that, even if true, it just means that your enemies are smarter than you are.  To invoke this defense is to say, “I’m not very good at this whole political warfare bit, but vote for me and I’ll fight for you!”  When the adversary launches a surprise attack, you don’t say, “My, what suspiciously good timing they have!”  If you have any interest in staying alive, in this case politically, you would presumably take up some kind of defensive position and fight back.  You would not whine about how mean the media and your opponent are being to your children.  You would attempt, however lamely, to change the subject instead of feeding the news cycle with more quotes and soundbites that make you sound desperate.   

Second, it seems to me that one can say choosing a battle you were unprepared to fight was a mistake without contradicting one’s larger position on the war itself. I’ve seen A Bridge Too Far a million times. It never dawned on me that the lesson of movie was that WWII was wrong or that the allies were foolish for wanting to break German lines in Europe. ~Jonah “Lie For A Just Cause” Goldberg

Apparently Goldberg did not bow and scrape before the Shahanshah of War enough in his original column, as he has to keep qualifying and reemphasising his support for the war after his “worthy mistake” column.  So it was only a matter of time before he would fall back on a WWII reference (is there any other kind for these folks?).  Apparently Iraq is just a bungled, overextended attack like Operation Market Garden, but everything else about the invasion makes sense and the obvious conclusion one draws from comparisons with Market Garden is…what exactly?  If Iraq is Market Garden, our soldiers in Iraq are in more trouble than we thought; if the comparison were apt, it would mean that we ought to get out right now.  For those who missed the film, Market Garden ended rather badly for our side.  

But, in an odd way, you’d think this kind of thinking would make it easier for them to support cutting our losses and coming home from Iraq.  If you think Iraq is just one battle in the larger war, even if you deem it an important battle, you should actually be less concerned about cutting your losses and coming up with a new plan of action.  It would not be the end-all and be-all of your foreign policy, but would be, as Sen. Santorum lamely pretends to believe, just one part of the whole. 

A supporter of the war probably should be more flexible than the people who look at U.S. foreign policy and really only see the war in Iraq as “the war” these days.  For some antiwar people, Iraq has pushed everything else out of view or at least to the margins.  The rhetorical gambit of linking Iraq to the “war on terror” may have the unfortunate effects of convincing more and more people that the “war on terror” (if it consists of little more than fighting in Iraq) is not worth fighting. 

Many antiwar folks (who are only labeled antiwar because of Iraq, since we are indeed not always antiwar nor are we opposed for the most part to the war in Afghanistan) acknowledge and support the very real and important anti-jihadi war, but have never believed that Iraq has had anything to do with this.  Because Iraq appears to us to be a separate issue (and I believe that it is a separate issue), liquidating that war makes the most sense, in no small part to preserve the armed forces for the more important fight.  A majority of the public has increasingly distinguished between the legitimate anti-jihadi war and the war in Iraq, but war supporters should be able to give up on Iraq as you would give up on a failed attack against the enemy position rather than decide, like Lee at Gettysburg, that you are going to reach a decision on the battlefield one way or the other now.  Making Iraq the tipping point for your war effort, you have guaranteed that the outcome, whatever it may be, will have that much more significance than if you just maneuvered your way out of there.  Charging up that hill might seem romantic and admirable, but it is also a disastrous mistake to try to take that ground. 

It is better to conserve your strength and fight another day instead of frittering it away in one battle.  Yet supporters of the war in Iraq contradict their own conviction that it is just one theater in a larger war by making it the all-consuming definition of their foreign policy.  The war in Iraq has become the central front simply in the war in Iraq, and they have been reduced to defending perseverance in this war effort out of an understandable, but I think misguided, conviction that national prestige and security will be harmed by any possible appearance of weakness that might go with leaving Iraq. 

Now, if only we had had some generals warn us that Iraq would be a massive disaster!  Oh, that’s right, we did–his name was Zinni (remember the “Bay of Goats” crack?) and he was ignored by all these people who are suddenly discovering administration errors.  But the analogy makes so much sense–how else can you get behind the Nazi, er, jihadi lines unless you go by way of Baghdad?  It’s so clever! 

Incidentally, I am reminded of the old Blackadder III sketch where Stephen Fry as Wellington explains his strategy to the Prince (who is actually being impersonated by Blackadder):

Blackadder: And the fleet is in…?

Wellington: Alaska, Your Highness.  We thought it best to surprise Boney by attacking via the North Pole.

In any case, the hackneyed WWII references reveal a problem that keeps plaguing some of the more prominent war supporters.  At a loss for analogies for the “unprecedented” kind of anti-jihadi war we actually are fighting, they keep making references that define the jihadi war in terms of fronts and lines (”of course it’s the central front in the war on terror,” Goldberg sniffed), as if there were a way to get “behind” enemy lines in a global counterinsurgency.  They make references to A Bridge Too Far, as if the way to victory was through seizing and holding landmarks and territory rather than winning away populations from the cause of insurgents and jihadis.  Even in their vague admissions that invading Iraq was a mistake–but not one for which they are too hasty to make reparations!–they cannot be bothered to reconsider the most glaring flaw in the pro-war argument.  That is, if the world has changed and we are fighting a war unlike any we have fought before, toppling a hostile government and occupying another country are absolutely the wrong things to do.  To fight the war in this way suggests that the administration either does not believe that this is a new kind of war, or that it is so inured to old ways of doing things and old models that it cannot adapt to the new kind of war that is supposed to exist.  Neither is a ringing endorsement of current leadership, and whichever one is the truth it highlights that Iraq was not only unnecessary but remains in important ways divorced from the real anti-jihadi war effort, because as much as we claim to be fighting jihadis in Iraq we are not acting as if we are fighting jihadis but rather as if we were still fighting the dead-enders and “Werewolves” of Mr. Rumsfeld’s fertile imagination.   

Reliving WWII and using WWII as the precedent (which supporters of the war have been doing for four years), because some of these people are always reliving WWII and using WWII as their standard and precedent for all international crises, they have outdone the standard military error of fighting the last war.  They are fighting a war that was six wars ago (four if you take out Panama and Kosovo).  No wonder they cannot adapt effectively, and no wonder they are resistant to every suggestion that they alter strategies.  Their conceptual model for war-fighting, which shows up in everything they say, write and do, is the fight against the Axis, mistaking imagined ideological similarities between the Axis and the mythical Islamofascists for proof of getting to re-fight the same kind of enemy in roughly the same way as their heroes got to fight in the 1940s.  This strategic confusion is one excellent reason to end the war in Iraq, because even if successful–or perhaps especially if the war proved to be a success by some limited measure (”No more death squads” is not exactly a great victory slogan)–it would give everyone the false impression that we defeat jihadis by fighting conventional wars in set-piece battles with modernised, mechanised Muslim armies when these armies are manifestly the least of our worries and their destruction or dissolution a cause of so many woes in Iraq in particular.  Thus, even in winning, we would lose.  But someone trapped into the mental dead-ends of 1938ism, as so many Republican pundits are, cannot grasp this because he is constantly reaching back for comparisons to WWII to make sense of what he is seeing, when what he is seeing is in almost no way comparable. 

The fact that the right often debates within its ranks helps us come up with better policies and find better ways to get them enacted. That’s why we win so much more than the other side. ~David Hogberg

Liberals have a favourite sport of “discovering” conservative disagreements (”Look, they have these energetic debates about policies and principles!  How shocking!  All this time we thought they were sitting in their thatched huts and beating their women!”), but conservatives seem to outdo them in their enjoyment of waving the flag of diversity (admittedly more of the interesting, intellectual kind of diversity) and talking up how normal it is that conservatives disagree with each other.  These responses have two parts: chiding the silly liberals for thinking that they have found a chink in the armour of the movement (”Oh, Gray Lady, when will you ever learn?” [exaggerated comical laugh follows]), and then doing a quick run-down of the intellectual history of conservatism with allusions to or mentions of the great purges of the Randians and Birchers, a salute to fusionism, references to the Meyer-Kirk arguments, a rehash of the fight between paleos and neos, and the latest theories on the clash of Southerners and Westerners, and so on and so forth.  “Look at our boisterous bunch,” someone will say, “our big tent runneth over!”  In the same breath, if we are lucky, we will be told that internal disagreements among liberals and Democrats about trade, military interventions and fiscal discipline are signs of their basic incoherence and almost certain doom.  “Why can’t the liberals get their act together?” the neocon says to his friends after he has just finished purging another group of undesirables from the inner sanctum.

This is a fun way to bat away observations of real fissures and tensions in the movement and the GOP, and depending on how broad your definition of conservative is you can say that disagreement is frequent and the conversation is lively.    Looking more closely, however, especially over the last ten years, one does not see much in the way of a vibrant back-and-forth between a multitude of conflicting voices.  There is instead the slow stagnation of what was once a source of living water, and there was for a time a strict enforcement of giving the appearance of external agreement that began more and more to homogenise different parts of the movement.  It is only as the Bush Era has ushered in disaster after embarrassment after catastrophe that dissident voices have again reclaimed center stage and have regained momentum against forces of conformity.  In this sense the revival of a more combative diversity within conservative ranks is a healthy sign and a sign of a return to the old ways, but it is newsworthy precisely because it has been so lacking for at least six and probably ten years all together. 

So it is probably a healthy development, but it is hardly a source of strength in the present moment.  The irony of writing this post on the eve of an electoral debacle that follows several years of legislative failures and bad policies cannot have escaped Mr. Hogberg.  Maybe, maybe, over the long term having people on the same general “side” tearing each other down (recently we have had this exchange–Armey: Dobson is a big, fat jerk! Dobson: Armey is a buffoon! Pence: We have room enough for both jerks and buffoons!) is advantageous because of the increased creativity and exchange of ideas, such as they are, involved, but in in the short and middle term having at each other is usually a pretty good sign that you are harming your political fortunes.  Mutinies and episodes of cannibalism are not typically regarded as great success stories for the groups involved, and the current conservative-on-conservative bloodsport (which is a perfectly real phenomenon, even if it is not exactly a new thing under the sun) has elements of both of these things.  In the marketplace of ideas, the conservative suq has become a place of sectarian gang warfare. 

The movement is designed to dictate and enforce conformity, as Austin Bramwell very smartly observed in an American Conservative article, and allows a certain degree of policy debate combat provided that everyone accepts basic goals and doesn’t stray too far off of the message.  This message would be that the GOP favours small government, reduced government spending, lower taxes, free markets, free trade, curtailing abortion and controlling the borders, while invading various countries as and when the President deems it necessary.  This is the official story of what the GOP promotes.  Half of this message is not true and some of the rest of it should make conservatives nervous, but so long as the small-government, deficit hawk, “protectionist” and realist folks don’t point these things out too loudly everything will be fine.  But now that there is a sense that the ship is sinking anyway, these repressed disagreements are coming out with increasing ferocity and it has become much more like “every man for himself.”  To talk about how normal this situation supposedly is (with some variant of “and the sun rises in the east” remarks) is to be like Kevin Bacon’s ROTC character in Animal House declaring that all is well as chaos explodes around him. 

It is worth noting that the people who have led the way in dissenting from the party line on Iraq, spending and immigration have tended to be those with the least stake in the movement’s institutions and the administration (or they are people who worked for the administration but then left in disgust and/or frustration).  It is hardly impressive for a movement supposedly so defined by vibrant internal debate that the only dissonance one hears comes from the people who have gone out (or been cast out) to the margins.  Using this as proof of the vitality of conservative debate would be like bragging on the flourishing of freedom of expression and representative government in a given country by pointing to the great number of artists, intellectuals and professionals who have fled the country on political grounds. 


Such is our age, friends, when craft and corruption run amok that a most powerful need arises to discover the tricks and cunning devices of the ministers who cavort in the marble seraglios of the Columbian swamp.  With the indulgence of young Larison here we propose to ferret out lies, chicanery, double-dealing and the rank corruption of office that follows on the accumulation of power in the hands of few and the amassing of coin in the pockets of still fewer.  In the hunt, the excesses of ministerial power shall be our prey, the amassing of great properties our quarry and the rule of sterile money and the eunuch moneyed men our game. The grasping insects and noxious caterpillars who devour whole the fruit of the nation will know no peace. ~Caleb d’Anvers 

Dennis Dale recounts a chat he had with one of last of the true Bush supporters.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Slow down there, friend. I hate to say I told you so, but–”
“How about that lower than expected deficit!”

“Afghanistan is even a mess now. Couldn’t you just see that one coming?”
“The Dow hit 12,000!”

“Got any stock?”
“That’s personal.”

“Looks like the Senate’s in play, hmm?
“Tax cuts are working!”

“Can you imagine what the hearings are going to be like?”
“Cut and run! Cut and run!”

“Iraq is a disaster. What the hell are we going to do?”
“Stand up! Stand down!”

What?  You don’t think that was a real conversation?  It sounds only too real-to-life to me.

President Bush's approval rating is just 35 percent, but that would be a step up for some. Such as Rep. Don Sherwood. 

Sherwood & Bush: Laugh, And Whole World Laughs With You 

“I’m pleased to be here with Don Sherwood,” a smiling president told the congressman’s loyal but dispirited supporters at a luncheon fundraiser Thursday. “He has got a record of accomplishment.”

At a time when Republicans are struggling to motivate religious conservatives to go to the polls next month, it is not clear what benefit the White House found in sending Bush to stump for Sherwood — smack dab in the middle of what Bush, in an official proclamation, dubbed “National Character Counts Week.” ~The Washington Post

Yes, Rep. Sherwood been a very, er, busy fellow.

Dobleve looks mighty uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as Sherwood’s poor family was when Bush praised Mrs. Sherwood for her letter denouncing Chris Carney’s “Sherwood is a mistress-strangler” ad.  “I was deeply moved by her words,” the philosopher-king said.  Apparently he was less moved by what Sherwood did to his family. 

I have great hope that what Jesus taught was and is true. ~Andrew Sullivan

He has hope, does he?  Well, isn’t that something!  Presumably it would be too doctrinaire to say that what Jesus taught simply is true with no question of hoping involved.  I have read Sullivan’s book, and I have written up a review of it for Intercollegiate Review that I am about to send in, so I will abstain from commenting in any depth right now.  Let us just say that someone who talks of putting the Gospels or church authority “under scrutiny” has got things rather the wrong way round, when what we are called to scrutinise is nothing other than ourselves first and foremost. 

Imagine being lost in a dark wood with just a map and a flashlight, and thinking that the first order of business is to start banging the flashlight on a rock in order to break it open and see how it works and trying to read the map in the darkness without realising that you have it upside down.  That is Andrew Sullivan’s idea of a rollicking good kind of Christianity.   

Strickland is not much of a candidate. In Congress he’s voted as a liberal most of the time, heavy on spending and taxation. He has few ideas, and some of the few he has presented have been analyzed as unworkable. He has no daring, no noticeable personality or charisma. But he’s a nice man who works well with others — and that’s the main reason why Blackwell is losing this race. ~The Courier in their “un-endorsement” of Ken Blackwell

I have followed politics for a while, and I can’t remember ever seeing a paper retract its endorsement of a candidate, unless there was some personal scandal or unless he had been indicted or convicted of something.  Losing an endorsement by being, for lack of a better description, mean has to be close to unprecedented.  This tends to confirm my view that our mass democracy rewards the more inoffensive candidate and that elections have next to nothing to do with policy.  That is why scaring people about the Dems’ bad policies–when we even know what they are–and Republicans’ talking up the GOP’s supposedly better policies don’t do very much this year or really in most years.  Above all, a candidate cannot scare or unsettle the voters; he cannot appear abrasive or short-tempered or hysterical.  If he does any of these things, he will almost certainly lose.  This why we are led by a race of mindless nebbishes.  That is what democracy gets you.  But, if it is the system we have (and, unfortunately, it really is), we may as well use it to throw out the incompetent and corrupt nebbishes and get some new nebbish blood in there.


“The Republican leadership spent $1 million on helping Chafee, and then it wonders why conservatives don’t think they’re wanted in this party,” Mr. Shaftan said. “They think the leadership wants them to come out every year, shine your shoes, then go sit in the back of the bus, take their Bibles and read them and shut up.” ~The Washington Times

The exploitation of religious conservatives is very real and very tiresome, but could we possibly avoid the “back of the bus” remarks?  There is nothing sillier than conservative white people appropriating the legacy and rhetoric of the civil rights movement (and there is almost nothing sillier than the mandatory MLK lovefest that breaks out among conservative columnists every January), yet we run across this kind of thing all too often. 

Ditto with the slightly different, but de rigueur invocations of the abolitionists every time someone wants to talk about religion in politics.  (Indeed, the abolitionists are as good of an argument against having religion influence politics in this country as you will ever find.) 

Besides, the metaphor’s all wrong.  It’s far too generous to the GOP.  Like women used to have to do in Borat’s version of Kazakhstan, religious conservatives can only travel on the outside of the bus.

…we’re going on a GOP guilt trip:

An e-mail sent this week by the conservative group carried the subject line, “Don’t you dare not vote,” and featured a column by veteran activist Doug Patton appealing to Republican voters’ patriotism.

“As you contemplate how to express your frustration with Republican leaders who may have mishandled the power we have entrusted to them,” Mr. Patton wrote, “consider how you would explain your apathy to the 1.2 million brave men who have given their lives in America’s wars over the last 230 years.”

You have to love that “may have mishandled” bit.  Perhaps this sort of cynical use of patriotism works with some people, as if it were somehow not also a citizen’s right to opt not to vote in order to express his dissatisfaction with the government.  I am left unconvinced that America’s war dead would take it terribly ill if such voter “apathy” caused the party that led an aggressive war to lose an election.

Rod Dreher responds to the criticisms leveled by Mark Shea (something roughly similar to this column appeared at his blog about a week ago) about Rod’s conversion post.

I suppose a critic might say I’m simply defending the place I grew up in and the country of my dreams against the fucking nightmare of the Homeland Security 24-hour television state that is trying to wipe it all out, even the memories.

The Empire — by which I mean the national government, the military-industrial complex, Hollywood, Wall Street, and the perpetual warfare state — is the enemy of my America. It would efface it, trample it, deny its existence. You gotta choose. Do you take your stand with your town, your home, your folks, or do you choose the Empire? You can’t have both. ~Bill Kauffman

Most of the strongest ads this cycle are attack ads, but not all of them. This ad plays up the deep Nebraska roots and classic good looks of Scott Kleeb, a fourth-generation Nebraskan whose grandfather was born in a dug-out outside of Broken Bow. (You won’t learn a lot about the Ph.D. Kleeb got from Yale.) In this Hallmark card of an ad, talking heads praise Mr. Kleeb while the sun-dappled candidate rides a horse in iconic cowboy style. Mr. Kleeb is running in a district that President Bush won 3-1 in 2004, but one recent poll shows him nearly even with his Republican opponent, Adrian Smith. ~Adam Cohen, The New York Times

Does anyone else get the sense that Scott Kleeb represents at least some of the old Democratic and Populist spirit of the Plains states?  Doesn’t it say something about how miserably the GOP is doing this year that a district like NE-3 is even competitive?  According to Wikipedia:

It is generally a safe seat for the Republicans; since 1935 the seat has been held by the GOP for all but two years. 

How is Kleeb doing it?  Well, The Yale Herald (Kleeb is, alas, a Yalie) reported last week:

Kleeb’s centrist campaign reflects his complex political background. Nebraska’s Third is solidly red, and Kleeb is a Democrat with an “A” rating from the NRA who opposes abortion except in emergencies.

That last point puts him well to the right of some of Nebraska’s Republican representatives.  He probably won’t win, but he is keeping it far, far closer than it should ever be:

Twenty-six days remain until the midterm election and Scott Kleeb is active on the campaign trail, which for him means visiting farms, marching in parades, and shooting clay targets with his 12-gauge shotgun. In his campaign’s most recent poll Kleeb is down only four points, at 41 percent to 37. However, those figures represent “definite voters”; among “likely voters,” Kleeb is trailing 31 to 40. “My district hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since 1958,” Kleeb said simply. When discussing Kleeb’s chances for success, David Mayhew answered, “Yeah, it’s not likely—but I wouldn’t rule it out.”   

CQPolitics has changed its rating from Safe Republican to Republican Favored.  This is a district, as the Times reports, that elected the outgoing Tom Osborne with 87% of the vote in 2004.  Bush won 75% of the district’s votes in 2004.  For anyone to be mentioning this as a remotely competitive race is a confirmation that this year will be disastrous for the GOP.  The Post picks up the AP wire to add to the Kleeb buzz here

If the Democrats can pick up more Scott Kleebs and drop more Cynthia McKinneys they might just become a permanently serious contender on the national level again.

Ken Blackwell’s gubernatorial campaign today distributed harsh comments by radio talk show host Bill Cunningham related to Ted Strickland’s sexuality and about a former campaign aide arrested in 1994 for public indecency. ~The Enquirer

Now I happen to think a little more highly of Mr. Blackwell than does Dave Weigel (”I’m embarrassed for the conservatives and libertarians who ever supported this warm bucket of scum”), since he had the virtue of being both conservative in the land of Voinovich and law-abiding in an age of extensive corruption, but besides being a cheap shot this attack on Strickland is just weak and desperate.  (Hey, at least it’s not as bad as Vernon Robinson’s campaign in NC-13!)  Memo to Blackwell campaign: you played the gay card last time; there is no more mileage in that one.  How bad is it that the Blackwell campaign has resorted to such lame tactics in the final stretch?  Pretty bad:

Democrat Ted Strickland has a nearly 2-1 lead over Republican Ken Blackwell with three weeks left in the race for governor, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Quinnipiac University poll, conducted Oct. 10-15, found that 59 percent of likely Ohio voters favored Strickland, a congressman from Lisbon, while 32 percent backed Blackwell, Ohio’s secretary of state - a lead of 27 percentage points.

I hate to make the comparison, because the two men are not really all that similar, but the margin here does suggest a Keyes-like humiliation for Mr. Blackwell.  Ohio is shaping up to be not just a bad state for the GOP, but also something more like a political slaughterhouse.

Doolittle discussed war in Iraq, the economy and other topics at the banquet held at the upper level of the restaurant. He said he “still believe(s) they will find the WMD” in Iraq and added there were other reasons to invade the country.  

Mr. Kristol argued that the Bush administration was suffering politically for applying too little force, not too much. “I am struck that people have the sense in North Korea and Iran that things are spinning out of control,” he said. ~The New York Times

What a surprise–Bill Kristol thinks the President hasn’t been belligerent enough.  By “people,” he means, of course, himself and those of like mind.

The lines from the Nietzsche poem adapted by Mahler in his Third Symphony, which I heard performed brilliantly tonight, seem particularly appropriate for Mets fans tonight as they watched their team go down in the most painful fashion.  After the symphony, I caught the tail-end of the game as I had dinner in a nearby restaurant. 

Having given up a two-run HR in the top of the ninth, the Mets seemed set to make a comeback, though the odds were obviously against them.  The first batter made contact–a short blooper fell into center-right.  One man on.  Then a shot to left.  Two men on, still no outs.  Then, as I recall, a strikeout by Floyd, followed by Reyes flying out to center.  Then Wainwright walked Lo Duca, and the bases were loaded as Carlos Beltran came to the plate.  He got behind in the count, and then, as the tension mounted…he looked at a called third strike and the game was over.  What a way to go out.  To strike out looking is the most bitterly unsatisfying way to end a season.   

Again, again, the lousy Cardinals advance to the World Series (raise your hands if you are extremely tired of Tony La Russa).  But take heart, Mets fans–the Astros went down to a similar defeat in the ‘04 NLCS and came back the next year to get humiliated by the White Sox in four straight.  This, too, can be yours someday.

But let us be cheered by thoughts from Nietzsche:

Lust tiefer noch als Herzeleid!
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit!
Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!

Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader, I was alerted to the fact that The Chicago Tribune has quoted me in today’s paper.  I don’t always read everything in the opinion section on the Trib website, and I didn’t get to the Tribune today between Armenian, other blogging and going to the symphony this evening.  No one is more shocked than I am when people quote me, since I am as unrepresentative as can be.  It appears that my recent criticisms of Obama have earned me the role of hard-line Obama opponent #1.  I graciously accept this role, and will do all that I can to keep it.

I received my absentee ballot today (the ballot requires that we use a No. 2 pencil) and I cannot find my pencil sharpener to save my life. 

Update: No pencil sharpener yet, but I did find an already-sharpened pencil!  Now it’s time to vote.

Second Update: The pencil I found just broke.  I am now using just the piece of graphite that broke off.  Voting is harder than I remember it being.

Despite the evidence Kuo presents in Tempting Faith, liberals simply don’t believe him. They’ve spent so much time fear-mongering about American theocracy that a book illustrating the opposite simply makes no sense to them. In fact, the real revelation of Kuo’s book is not that the Bushies don’t care about evangelicals; it’s that liberals are too wedded to their views to capitalize on it. ~Amy Sullivan

Yes, if you’ve drunk deep at the well of Michelle Goldberg and Damon Linker, and accepted the notion that the GOP is held hostage by religious conservatives, it would be hard to acknowledge the duplicity of the party that jumps out at a fair number of religious conservatives themselves.  But it is neither convenient nor flattering to think that secular people just like themselves can fashion policies they loathe so much; no, it must be the mythical irrational, Bible-beating yahoos that they already despise who are also the source of their political defeats and the cause of the policies they oppose.  Saying, Die Christen sind unser Unglueck” is so much more appealing than confronting an adversary who is in so many ways like you and who shares many more of your fundamental values than you might be willing to admit.

Nagel is not impressed by Dawkins’ “attempts at philosophy.” One of Dawkins’ pet arguments against God as an explanation of design in the world is that it leads to an infinite regress: “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.” As Nagel points out, this argument would only have force if theists conceived of God as a complicated brain rather than as an incorporeal being. ~Stephen Barr, First Things

The bigger problem with Dawkins’ formulation, in connection with the ignorance it betrays of the entirety of theological and philosophical speculation and reflection on the nature of God, is not that it makes God out to be a big brain but that it makes Him out to be complex at all.  Basic teachings of the unity and oneness of God integral to Christian doctrine, which can be found in Neoplatonism and Greek philosophy as welll, emphasise that simplicity is a natural attribute of God.  Multiplicity and complexity exist here below in a realm subject to change and corruption.  Tracing all movement back to the Unmoved Mover or tracing the origins of creation to the will of a Creator leads you to the conclusion that the origin of all other things from a Being Who could not be composite or complex.  To solve precisely this problem of infinite regress, God must be simple, which is also why He must be One (even, indeed, as God has revealed Himself to be Three Persons in perfect unity). 

What Dawkins might have said was that you cannot take a philosophical or theological account of a designer God and make that claim into an all-purpose explanatory tool for everything in a complex system that we do not yet understand scientifically.  In other words, you should not confuse an understanding that God made and ordered the cosmos with the work of science that tries to understand the workings within that cosmos.  But Dawkins target is not principally ID-as-science, but is the belief in God itself, which he attempts to demonstrate is unreasonable.  As everyone before him has failed in this vain effort, so has he.  Rather like Andrew Sullivan, Dawkins ignores the content of the Faith he derides and ridicules and then thinks he has accomplished something when he has demonstrated the weakness of the non-existent beliefs he has attributed to his opponents.   


Mr. Bush is also quite good at this when he attributes positions to his opponents that none of them has ever espoused.  Having handily “refuted” the opposition by rejecting ideas that no one holds, Mr. Bush can then proceed with the rest of his remarks untroubled by any unfortunate encounters with reality.  Here are some of the sorts of “arguments” Mr. Bush might use:

“There are some good and patriotic people who seem to think that we can surrender our first-born children to the dark god Moloch and he will save us from Bin Laden, but I’m here to tell you that this is a mistake.”

“We cannot win the war on terror by adopting the failed vision of Marxism-Leninism, as some critics have proposed.”

“Those who believe that we will be protected from terrorist attack by Brazilian power crystals are well meaning, but deeply misguided in their beliefs.  I call upon the leadership of the Democratic Party to repudiate these irresponsible and extreme ideas.”

“I know there are some who say that I am actually robot sent here by invading space aliens to prepare the way for their overlordship, but what we need in this country is responsible and constructive disagreement about our Iraq policy.” 

Let’s pretend the 600,000+ number is all wrong and that the minimum is the correct number: nearly 400,000. Is that better? Prior to the war, the Bush administration kept claiming that Saddam killed 300,000 Iraqis over 24 years. After this latest report published in The Lancet, 300,000 is looking quite modest and tame. Congratulations Bush et al. ~Riverbend

It’s somehow gratifying to know that Riverbend is still around and blogging, even though it would probably have been better for her in the long run if she had found some way to get out of the country.  Her post on the Lancet study is worth reading.  Perhaps it doesn’t mean anything that Iraqis find the 600,000 figure to be only too plausible, but it surely ought to give us pause before being too quick to ridicule it.

It is important to try to determine whether the Lancet study is accurate, and it would tell us just what kind of damage this war has done to the country that we have tried to “save.”  That might be an important factor in determining what we ought to do: should we try to prevent an even greater bloodletting that some fear might occur if we withdraw (thus probably doing nothing so much as maintaing a relative balance of forces and prolonging the bloodshed even longer), or should we say, “Do no more harm” and get out?  Longtime readers know that my answer is unequivocally the second, but we could stand to know just how badly this war has harmed Iraq.  It is the indifference to this information, the unwillingness to confront consequences of their policy that characterises only too many war supporters. 

It seems to me that the pro-war reaction to the study has been typical of their reaction to every bad development in Iraq (they will say that the bad news is supposedly exaggerated, the media is only reporting the “bad news,” things will get better, we’re turning a corner, etc.).  The same people who feared the remotest chance of the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud (unlikely in any event and, as we now known, simply impossible) are also the people who somehow cannot imagine that three years of violent occupation and insurgency that has spawned sectarian death squads and massive terrorist attacks could kill so many people.  Hyperactive imaginations only work when it comes to exaggerating threats, I suppose, and not in imagining how bad things could be as a result of a war of “liberation.” 

Some of these people (and quite a few of the people who oppose the war today) were up in arms when a couple thousand Albanians had died in Kosovo; genocide was the cry: we must stop genocide in Europe! There was no genocide, but by gum they made sure that NATO made Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia something of a living hell.  When the janjaweed started devastating Darfur and killing tens of thousands and driving hundreds of thousands more into the desert, we heard about the imminent genocide in the Sudan.  One shudders to think what “humanitarian intervention” might do to those poor people. 

So what about some hundred thousand or, at worst, multiple hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis?  Well, the pro-war fellow will tell you as he snaps his suspenders, those numbers are probably inflated, and you can’t trust these studies.  Having been such willing dupes for interventionist propaganda in the past about the extent of a foreign crisis, many of these people are surprisingly unable to consider just how horrific the war may have made conditions in Iraq.   

Hey, seven years of mandatory Spanish didn’t go completely to waste!  (Note: I make no claim that the Spanish title above is anything like proper or accurate Spanish, but I gave it a shot.) 

The November issue of Chronicles, The Disappearing Border, has many articles on the state of the border, immigration and its consequences on society, culture and the natural environment.  In that issue Tom Piatak, fellow blogger who writes at Cultural Revolutions Online, has a review of Pat Buchanan’s State of EmergencyClark Stooksbury, our man in Knoxville, reviews Beating the Powers That Be by Sean Scallon.  Of interest to a great many, I think, will be Andrea Kirk Assaf’s Letter From Rome about “Lebanon, Israel and the Holy See.”  Be on the lookout for the new Chronicles, or better yet you can subscribe.

Now comes the lame self-promotion.  I have a short article in the new Chronicles for November on the possible political significance of the likely election of Keith Ellison in MN-05 as the first Muslim in Congress and as a politician with close personal ties to the leadership of CAIR.  (Hint: it aint good.) 

The Iraq war was a mistake. ~Jonah “Lie For a Just Cause Goldberg” in “Iraq Was a Worthy Mistake”

Via Kevin Drum

There then follows an entire column with every caveat, “yeah, but” and qualification in the book, boiling down to rehashing the same sickeningly tiresome nonsense that we have heard a thousand times before: we must press on, victory is our exit strategy, blah blah blah.  If it was not in our interests to fight this war, as Goldberg now condescends to allow, it is not in our interests to keep fighting it today.  It really is that simple. 

Iraq did not magically become vital to U.S. national security after we eliminated the government that also didn’t pose a significant threat to us.  What is perhaps most dreadful about this war is just how tangential to all our vital interests it really is.  If Iraq were the “central front” in the “war on terror,” it would only be so because of our presence there; the jihadis came to Iraq because we were there, and they will focus their attentions on wherever Western forces are.  That is rather the whole point of the “drive the Crusaders out” rhetoric.  Yes, they would theoretically like to establish control in Iraq, but then we might like to do the same and it isn’t happening.  Contra Mr. Bush’s obnoxious lectures, there is not going to be a “Taliban-like” state in Iraq after we leave.  There might end up being an Iran-like state, but then critics of the war knew that before it started. 

While we’re at it, let me call b.s. on one of Goldberg’s first claims:

In the dumbed-down debate we’re having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war.

No, not exactly pro-war (they are very often against other people making war in their legitimate interests against terrorists or foreign enemies–see Yugoslavia), but can you think of a single American war that prominent supporters of the Iraq war have ever opposed?  No, you cannot, because these people are reflexive supporters of any and every war that the U.S. government has fought.  More than that, they tend to be apologists for every outrageous excess committed in the course of all those wars.  How many of them have written about how “necessary” it was to incinerate hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German civilians?  Those, too, were deemed ”worthy” things to do. 

Besides their most well-known neo-imperialist, Max Boot, who thinks every ugly deployment for U.S. Sugar or seizing Latin American customs houses or suppressing the Boxer Rebellion was a grand and noble cause (and, of course, it never had anything to do with corporate interests!), you would be hard-pressed to find someone at NR, The Wall Street Journal or Weekly Standard, to name just the most obvious, who did not support every military intervention of the last century from the Philippines to Kosovo.  You might find someone who objected to Kosovo, but usually this was because Clinton had taken the option of sending ground forces into Yugoslavia off the table–when they are critical of an intervention, it is not typically because they find it appalling, wrong or even misguided, but because the government has not applied enough force to crush the enemy with sufficient viciousness (whether “the enemy” needs crushing or not, they tend to be in favour of it). 

No, they’re not “pro-war” as such (oh, how they cry for the victims of Chechnya!). They’re just hegemonists and imperialists, who often support wars in the name of the “liberation” (frequently meaning the domination) of others, which is much better.  They are such fans of hegemony that they even support wars to advance it that are not waged by our government (see Lebanon). 

Every time there is an international crisis, their thinking turns to WWII and the dangers of seeking peace.  Munich is their watchword.  Never do they think of WWI and the dangers of the willingness to go to war.  Peace through strength used to be a handy Republican motto, and it made sense.  Now the motto is just “strength.”  To no particular purpose.  America must be “strong” and have “resolve”…in order to keep fighting more wars that have nothing to do with us.

On democratisation, Goldberg is less compelling than usual:

Bush’s critics claim that democracy promotion was an afterthought, a convenient rebranding of a war gone sour. I think that’s unfair, but even if true, it wouldn’t mean liberty isn’t at stake. It wouldn’t mean that promoting a liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world wouldn’t be in our interest and consistent with our ideals.

But promoting a “liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world” (the nearly half billion Muslims who live well east of Iraq might dispute that last point) was never in our interest.  Besides being impossible, it would be undesirable even if it had succeeded.  Does America really want governments in the Near East that reflect what their peoples think of us?  Think about that for a second before regurgitating yet another talking point.

In the short term, this law all by itself could add a few more Democratic Congressional seats in the fall elections. We are talking about a lot of people (an estimated 23 million Americans gamble online) who are angry enough to vote on the basis of this one issue, and they blame Republicans. ~Charles Murray

I understand the principled objections to gambling, online or otherwise.  It can be a scourge of the poor, and evangelicals have been right to point to these dangers.  Personally, I thought the introduction of casinos to New Mexico was appalling, almost more because of the crassness of it than because of anything else, and it is not necessarily clear to me that the boost in revenues for the tribes has not probably also had many negative social consequences for them and the rest of the state.  However, in this case, Murray makes an outstanding argument why a law that is both obnoxious and unenforceable will encourage contempt for the law.

While gambling can be self-destructive, it often isn’t and doesn’t have to be.  Furthermore, it is particularly rich (no pun intended) that the party of Bill Bennett would have the gall to ban any form of gambling, much less the online variety which is probably the least potentially iniquitous of any kind there is.  More importantly, it is baffling to me how these people have managed to make banning online gambling a higher priority than coming up with a meaningful border enforcement law (and I don’t consider the half-measure of the Secure Fence Act to count towards this).  In one blow, they have interfered with freedom of millions of people to…do what exactly?  Stave off moral degeneration?  That sounds like it might be worthwhile.  By the way, how did the President’s visit with Don Sherwood go?   

“Do we have an interrogation program against guys like Khalid Sheik Mohammad or do we not?” he asked rhetorically. “Do we have a Patriot Act or not? Do we have surveillance? Do we have missile defense? A whole series of things that don’t involve Iraq.” ~MSNBC

Ken obviously forgot the fourth T of Torture.  Is this really what Republicans want to be identified with?  Granted, missile defense, insofar as it is practicable, makes a certain amount of sense and might even resonate a bit more with the North Korean nuke out there, but if I were Howard Dean or one of the other Democratic leaders I would go straight at these things and ask: Are we a nation that tortures people?  Should we scrap constitutional protections against arbitrary government searches and illegal surveillance?  Can the President make up the law as he goes?  If yes, vote Republican.  The best part is that the Republican defense is this: “But the President can make up the law as he goes!  We’re at war!”  You can vote for the Republic, or you can vote for the Republicans.  That’s all there is to it.

The Democrats are running against George Bush and the Iraq war. To the extent that they succeed, it will largely be because of the president’s low job-approval numbers — which are at rock bottom mostly because voters can’t see that he is leading us in a new and “different kind of war, an insurgent war” against Islamic fascists. The last president to lead us “for the first time in a different kind of war” was President Harry Truman. The war was the Korean War, which started in the summer of 1950, and which was going badly that fall. “People thought at the time that the Korean War was a failure,” Mehlman said. “Now we look back and see that it was an incredibly important success.” It defined the Cold War, a war America won. ~Howard Fineman, MSNBC

Got that, kids?  Korea was “an incredibly important success.”  Never mind that the “important success” might never have happened had Dean Acheson not made a list of countries under our protection (forgetting to include South Korea–whoops!), or that the “important success” was only reasonably “successfully” concluded in a stalemate by Eisenhower.  Ike “cut and ran,” as it were, from a position of strength. 

But, no, pay no attention to that.  Bush is Truman, Korea is Iraq and we will win every bit as much as we won in Korea.  Say, how’s Kim Jong Il these days?

Fineman notes that this analogy is not a great one for the election:

But if Bush=Truman and Iraq=Korea, then the GOP is in for a drubbing next month. In the midterm elections of 1950, the president’s party, the Democrats, lost 29 House seats and six Senate seats. Eerily, those numbers are in the plausible upper reaches of the Beltway consensus about the amount of seats Republicans will lose on Nov. 7.

Sadr asks: Deal or No Deal?

Via The Washington Times

The third reason Obama should run for president is his worldview. At least in the way he conceptualizes the world, he is not an orthodox liberal. In the book, he harks back to a Hamiltonian tradition that calls not for big government, but for limited yet energetic government to enhance social mobility. The contemporary guru he cites most is Warren Buffett. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Hamiltonianism and admiration for Warren Buffett?  I know it can be worse than this, but I am having trouble imagining what it might be in our present circumstances.

Heather Wilson also supports embyronic stem-cell research.  Someone remind me why I am supposed to be sorry to see the GOP lose.

Nor is Morrison alone. In a state that voted nearly 2 to 1 for President Bush in 2004, nine former Republicans will be on the November ballot as Democrats. Among them is Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who changed parties to run for lieutenant governor with the popular Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius.

“I’d reached a breaking point,” Parkinson said, preparing for a rally in Wichita alongside Sebelius. “I want to work on relevant issues and not on a lot of things that don’t matter.” ~The Washington Post

This is an interesting development, not least because it reconfirms that Thomas Frank’s ideas, such as they were, are finished and irrelevant.   

There are times when K’Lo’s innocence is almost touching. Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Lucky Charms leprechaun–she believes in them and, more importantly, they believe in her. But perhaps she should leave her naivete at home when she ventures out into adult society unsupervised. There are too many people out there willing to exploit her wide-eyed wonder. ~James Wolcott

This was a much needed bursting of the Mitt Romney Love-In bubble.

Obama’s speech and his persona are effective politically because, like Reagan, they communicate a worldview that generously includes what should be his political enemies. Jane Right-wing voter may irrationally fear that Hillary Clinton will ban children from reading the Bible but Jane won’t think that of Obama. Obama doesn’t radiate hostility toward your average, church going conservative voter - just as Reagan, no matter what his policies, didn’t seem to hate union men and working class Democrats. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

All kidding aside, Michael makes a good observation here.  As off-putting as I find the man’s gladhanding ways (perhaps this is why I am averse to politicians in general), they are effective and they put his natural enemies at ease.  They think, “He’s not so bad.  He goes to church, and he’s so very, very…nice!”  Nice politicians can be fine, though they tend to go the way of David Cameron: very squishy and opportunistic.  Smooth politicians are the same way, but not because they want to be thought of as nice and respectable exactly, but because I think they enjoy the waves of admiration that follow a triangulating trimmer’s clever adaptations to the popular mood.  Obama is one of those rare combinations of someone who radiates this respectable, nice quality, who also possesses Clinton’s smoothness and who exudes Reagan’s energy and hopefulness, the old “twinkle in the eye” that still makes some Republicans get misty-eyed even now, and the reassuring, smiling face that says, “The best is yet to come.”  Americans love this stuff.  They can’t get enough of it.  Which is why they overwhelmingly stuck with Clinton once he made the necessary adjustments to get back on the right side of the public (just think of “build a bridge!”, “fill the breach!”, “mend it, don’t end it” and other banalities that littered our airwaves for eight years), why they re-elected him, and why Obama will go far (alas!). 

But I would still bet a good amount of money that he will not run in ‘08.  Not if he wants to have the successful career that he and everyone else knows that he could have given the right timing.  It is not even certain that he would have a chance to run successfully in ‘12; it depends on whether the Democrats win in two years and whether that President decides to run again (he/she almost certainly will).  He might, like Reagan, challenge an unpopular incumbent President in the primaries in one cycle and earn his [fill in the blank] bona fides before returning in the next cycle to dominate the field and win the nomination.  If he is as lucky in his enemies as Reagan sometimes was, we might one day speak of the Obama Ousting along with the Reagan Revolution.  But Reagan was known and on the scene a lot longer before he ever dared make a stab at entering the big dance, and I frankly get the sense that Obama is not as shrewd as Reagan was.  I can’t put my finger on why, but there’s just something missing.  He is certainly untested.  A rookie Senator who defeated Alan Keyes in Illinois has not really proven anything.  If he were faced with real competition in a close race there is no telling how he would do.  He might flourish, and then again he might fail horribly. 

Perhaps more revealing, only 16 percent now approve of the job Congress is doing — its lowest mark since 1992.


What’s more, in this latest poll, just 32 percent of respondents see the Republican Party in a positive light, while 49 percent view it negatively. Those are the party’s worst marks in the history of the poll. ~MSNBC


White people are funny like that. There is a reason Morgan Freeman has played God in film. A lot of white people automatically credit articulate black men with special spiritual wisdom. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Funny, and I thought it was just because George Burns was no longer with us.

As Mr. Bush might say, never put a comma where George Burns has given humanity the gift of universal freedom.

To criticize the White House or even the president is to criticize, not to commit heresy. The issue people should be considering is whether idolizing politics is heresy. ~David Kuo

Mr. Kuo is quite right in this post that the hysterical, venom-filled attacks (my description) on him from conservative Christians have served largely to prove his point that they are too deeply enmeshed in their loyalty to the All-Father of the GOP (to be clear, that is also my description of the party, not his).  The ranting by some about the “suspicious timing” of the book release in particular betrays their partisanship, their generally paranoid outlook on life and their ignorance about the book business.  You have to have almost Abe Foxman-like delusions of grandeur to think that everything that happens is aimed at the defeat and humiliation of you and yours.   

Of course the publisher (Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster) released it before the election.  Can you imagine how much money they would lose if they released it after the election?  Who would be interested?  Where would they get the free publicity they are now getting?  The publisher may now make a profit, assuming that enough of the people exercised by the claims in the book actually buy the book, while they might well have had to choke on the costs of production had they released the very same book around Thanksgiving or later.  This is the kind of book that people interested in politics and elections buy, so you release it when they demand will be at its peak, the same way that you bring out your snazziest products (be they toys, movies, DVDs, etc.) just in time for Christmas.  For people who are so desperately loyal to the party of the “moneyed interest” as some of Kuo’s attackers are, some of these folks don’t seem to understand even the basic principles of marketing.    

Perhaps we are entering a new stage in history in which the demographic flaws in liberalism will become more apparent, paving the way for the return of a communitarian social model. This may still leave democracy, liberalism and mixed capitalism intact. But it will challenge modernism, that great secular movement of cultural individualism which swept high art and culture after 1880 and percolated down the social scale to liberalise attitudes in the 1960s. Cultural modernism has accompanied technological modernisation in the west, while the non-western world has usually modernised its technology rather than its values. Daniel Bell prophesied that modernism’s antinomian cultural outlook would prompt a “great instauration” of religion as people sought spiritual solace from the alienation of modern life. Bell has so far been proved wrong, but history may yet vindicate him as we bear witness not to spiritual revival, but to a religious reconquista based, ironically, on the nakedly this-worldly force of demography. ~Eric Kaufmann, The Prospect

Via Ross Douthat

McCain, on a visit to Iowa to campaign for Republican congressional candidates, was asked his reaction to a potential Democratic takeover of the Senate in the November 7 elections.

“I think I’d just commit suicide,” McCain told reporters, to accompanying laughter from Republicans standing with him. “I don’t want to face that eventuality because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” ~Reuters

We here at Eunomia don’t want to encourage any suicidal tendencies in Sen. McCain, but if you’re a Republican loyalist who wants to get really depressed just consider the fact that the main obstacle to Dem control of the Senate appears to be…George Allen!

Also, unlike Dreher, I never thought that things would be so much better on the other side of the Tiber.

I wish him the best, really. But I fear that he expects altogether too much from religion. ~Jeremy Lott

As I have mentioned to a few people recently, I have held off from commenting on Rod’s conversion post because I am pretty sure I would have nothing “interesting” to say that would also necessarily be terribly constructive (I know, I know, since when have I been concerned with being constructive?).  I still think that’s true.  However, I am not limiting myself from commenting on at least some parts of others’ responses to that post.

Aren’t there Catholics on both sides of the Tiber?  These days, there might be Muslims, if we are speaking literally, but as far as conversion metaphors go this one is the least impressive I have come across.  Going to Constantinople, okay.  Crossing the Bosphoros (which I would not recommend trying to actually do in today’s Bosphoros if you value your health), perhaps.  Even tap-dancing across the cracking ice at Lake Ladoga would be better, not to mention both more entertaining and polemical at the same time.  But if you “cross the Tiber,” religiously speaking, you haven’t gone anywhere.  

What exactly does it mean to expect “too much” from religion?  If someone expected “religion” to make him breakfast every morning, he would be expecting the wrong kind of thing, certainly, but when you consider what it is that religion, in particularly Christianity, promises it is almost impossible to expect too much from it when what is on offer is deliverance and eternal salvation.  Maybe if you expected salvation and a brand new car, you could be said to expect too much, but in all honesty I don’t know what this means.  It is possible to expect too much from religious people, and many people have done this and become disillusioned afterwards when the people they lionised proved to be all too human or when they discovered that people they trusted committed grievous errors, but to expect meaning, solace and the hope of life eternal is to expect what all Christians are called to expect.  In fact, if we expect any less, we shouldn’t expect to receive very much at all. 

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the “Eye of Mordor” has been drawn to Iraq instead. ~Bucks County Courier Times

Just when I start to feel sorry for Rick Santorum, he opens his mouth and reminds me why I am pleased to see him defeated.  How many things are wrong with the analogy?  Let me count the ways.  1) It presupposes that the war in Iraq and the war with jihadis are of one piece, which they are not; 2) on the other hand, it would suggest that it is merely a distraction to keep the Enemy busy and confused until “the hobbits” (who plays their role in this fantasy, I cannot say) destroy “the Ring” (which would imply that the war with “Mordor” would then be over), which means that Iraq is at best some kind of misdirection or feint that occupies the Enemy long enough to deliver a knock-out blow somewhere else…which we have no means of doing while Santorum has no idea of how to do such a thing even if we did have the means; 3) it conceives of the war waged by the jihadis as stemming from the single will of some Dark Lord somewhere who guides all of the actions of the enemy forces (much as Santorum’s continued use of the ridiculous phrase Islamic fascism also does), when the war is in fact being fought against disparate and semi-independent groups that do not necessarily follow the will of a single authority; 4) the Iraq war was a war of aggression, which is all together very Mordorian and hardly a good analogy for a defensive struggle against the aggression of “Mordor”; 5) the Eye focused on Aragorn’s army mainly because of Aragorn’s presence in the army, and for scarcely any other reason, and we have hardly encountered our version of the returned King (unless we are expected to believe the absurdity that Mr. Bush is that man);  6) The Lord of the Rings is an epic designed to teach the inherent corrupting influence of power and domination and so teach a moral lesson about the evils inherent in power, and it is perhaps the single worst story to invoke as a source for the justification of a hegemonic war. 

Update: Colbert takes apart the analogy in a slightly different way.  Best line: “And Gollum, well, I guess he’d be John McCain.”

Well, Cassandra wasn’t very popular, either, but she was right, and so was I. Within a year, the conservative revolution was all but over. When Republicans forced a showdown with Mr. Clinton over the budget, they ended up blinking. After that, Republicans in Congress lost their reformist zeal and settled into playing the political game pretty much the same way the Democrats had for the previous 40 years: using federal money to buy votes to hold on to power any way possible.

My Democratic friends no doubt feel the way we Republicans did in those heady days of 1994 before political reality came knocking. Many probably think they will finally get the truth about what the White House knew about Iraq before the invasion. They may think they can use the power of the purse to force a withdrawal. Some may even imagine that articles of impeachment can be brought against President Bush, while others plan to enact national health insurance and other pet liberal schemes.

To all this I say: Ain’t gonna happen. For starters, President Bush will still occupy the White House for the next two years. And although his veto pen may have been misplaced for most of the last six years, he found it again this summer.

For another thing, Democrats are unlikely to get more than a very thin majority in the House. If they get the Senate as well, it will not be with more than a one-vote margin. Consequently, effective control will be in the hands of moderates who often work with Republicans on specific issues. In a delicious bit of irony, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, lately excoriated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate. ~Bruce Bartlett

From the point of view of a campus activist, “Why should I spend my time reading about Albert Jay Nock or Irving Babbitt, when I could be out changing the world?” asks Emporia State University Professor Gregory Schneider, a historian of the conservative youth movement. ~Dan McCarthy, The American Conservative

Yes, why bother reading at all?  It is a distraction from the Cause!  We can listen to Limbaugh on the way to the rally in support of torturing terrorists!  Onwards!

James R. Lawrence III doesn’t look like a campus misfit. The North Carolina State University senior has the kind of clean-cut, buttoned-down appearance one expects of a major in biomedical engineering, a field whose academic rigors leave little room for an “Animal House” or Abbie Hoffman way of life. But Lawrence is more unusual than his demeanor might suggest. He’s distinctly in the minority of a minority, as both a campus conservative and one who’s against the Iraq War.

In the eyes of some of his friends on the Right, that makes Lawrence really a kind of leftist. When he published an editorial for the anniversary of Hiroshima criticizing Harry Truman’s use of nuclear weapons against Japan, one of his colleagues on the campus conservative paper, The Broadside, suggested he was its “token liberal.” That isn’t surprising—student conservatives across the country tend to resent any suggestion that U.S. foreign policy could be immoral. But it is ironic, considering that one of the classic texts of postwar conservatism, Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, was written in response to the horrors of the Second World War, including America’s use of nuclear weapons. “The atomic bomb was a final blow to the code of humanity,” Weaver wrote to a friend in 1945. ~Dan McCarthy, in a preview of the Nov. 6 TAC issue.

Ironic, yes, and also sad.  Sad that an entire generation of “conservatives” has grown up thinking that the vaporisation of innocent people could be justified and, indeed, lauded as a brave and necessary act.  Perhaps almost as sad is the likelihood that only too many of them, when presented with the quote from Weaver, would ask, “Richard who?”

But can Americans really believe that Nancy Pelosi should be shaping the nation’s policy on war; our safety; the economy; or nail polish regulation? John Conyers, aging Commie, running the Judiciary Committee? Charlie Rangel at Ways and Means? There are, we are all aware, real threats out there. ~Lisa Schiffren

Of course, most Americans have no idea who Nancy Pelosi is.  The extreme vagueness of future Democratic policy, normally a weakness for them, has proved to be a blessing in disguise.  Voters cannot be frightened of Pelosi’s wild-eyed agenda because…she has no discernible, concrete agenda besides raising the minimum wage (something, by the way, that an overwhelming majority in places such as Ohio support on a state level and would probably also support at the federal level).  You cannot scare people with the demonic Nancy Pelosi because most people have never heard of her, or don’t remember who she is if they have.  Charlie Rangel?  Which one is he again?  Of course, political junkies, bloggers and pundits know who these people are, but we are so unrepresentative of the nation that it is sometimes painful to consider just how little the voters know about elections by comparison.  Simply put, the slogan of “better the devil you know” is not a winning one.  Another losing slogan: “Yes, we’re failures!  But we’re not dangerous failures like the other guys would be!”  These people at NRO (with the exception of Robert Moran, who makes the credible argument for why losing wouldn’t be so bad for conservatives) sound like the liberals in their salons in 1994, “There is simply NO WAY the American people will ever vote for a boorish monster like Newt Gingrich!  Ha ha!  Pour me some more chardonnay, darling.”  The results that year were enough to make them choke on their manchego.  The disconnect from the people of the country is what is most striking about NRO’s little “symposium” on GOP strategy and the elections.  They speak about winning on the “issues” and how Republicans are better on judges (does anyone think that that old song and dance is going to motivate very many this year?), and seem to think that it is 2004 all over again.  But the old terrorism-gays-judges spiel is old and does not resonate as it once did.  Things have changed, and the GOP has not adapted; worse, they don’t even understand that they need to have adapted.  They can bang the terrorism tocsin if they choose, but no one will be rallying to them.  The simple reason why is Iraq.  Voters make a simple assessment: “You said Iraq was vital to fighting terrorism.  It is having the opposite effect.  Iraq is mainly your fault, and it is because we are concerned about terrorism and national security that we must now vote you, the failures, out of office for your misjudgement.  “Stay the course” has not simply been the failed strategy in Iraq, but has effectively been the defining phrase for the GOP for the last four years.  Both the government and the war in Iraq need a course correction.  Maybe if there is someone, even if it is the dreadful Nancy Pelosi, holding Bush’s feet to the fire a little more often, that correction will happen sooner rather than later.  So it may be for the good of us all that few people have any idea who she is or what she represents, because if more people did know how awful she is they might very well stick with the incompetent bunglers we have now.

So the next best option is to use the remaining weeks and days to make this a choice between the parties and not a referendum on the GOP alone — to focus voters on the Democrats’ weaknesses on national security, judges, and the economy. The best things the GOP has going for it is that despite all its disappointments, the Democrats actually pull off being worse. That has to be conversation topic number 1, 2, and 3 every day left. I’d bet money on some candidates doing that, but none on the media covering it aggressively. ~Gerard Alexander

First off, Mr. Alexander wants something that isn’t possible.  He wants midterm elections to be about the opposition party, which is never what midterm elections are about.  Especially in unified government, and especially in a second term of unified government, it will necessarily be almost entirely about the people currently in charge.  That is a rule of midterms.  Republicans succeeded by that same rule in the past (usually), and they have benefited from that same rule when times were good for them (’02, ‘04); they will now suffer when times are bad.  The GOP can no more “make” this election about the future Democratic majority in the minds of disgruntled voters than they can make it rain.  Everybody knows that the Democrats are what they are, but the beauty of being deeply disgruntled is that it makes no difference because, almost by definition, the people who are not in power cannot appear worse than the folks who have caused you to be disgruntled.  Even when they are worse, and it is not exactly obvious to me that there are enough sharp differences between the parties in terms of what they actually do to make that claim. 

Oh, yes, Republicans believe in the sanctity of life.  That’s excellent.  Except, that is, when it comes to launching an aggressive war, which is less admirable.  Republicans, unlike those death-cultist Democrats, value the dignity of the human person.  Also excellent.  Except, that is, when said person is an accused terrorist and needs to be tortured, er, “coercively interrogated.”  They guard the Canadian border, they guard the American dream, as a famous “poet” once said.  But they are moved to guard the Mexican border only in an election year and, even then, fail to achieve even that, prompting the desperate half-measure of the Secure Fence Act which, as of right now, still has not been sent to the White House because the House GOP believes it can maximise its advantage by delaying it until closer to the election.  In other words, even when they get the policy right, they treat their constituents like chumps and delay enacting some small part of what they should already have achieved in order to dupe people into voting for them so that they can continue to pass half-measures and quasi-amnesties.  This feels like trickery and dishonesty, even if it is just ordinary politics.  If the Sensenbrenner bill were law right now, they might have proof of a real, significant accomplishment.  It isn’t, and they don’t.   

Why would the GOP want to run on the economy?  Yes, the stock market has hit new highs, which is fantastic if you own a good deal of stock.  For people who own only a little or none (and these people still make up a sizeable portion of the population), the gains they may have seen because of a strong market may not be enough to make up for other costs. Whether it is stagnant wages or suffering from the conseqences of offshoring, there is a sizeable number of people who may not be all that badly off right now but who feel as if they have been gipped.  The party that waves the flag of “free trade” ueber alles is the party that is going to take a hit in this environment.  The party that makes fun of “protectionists” on the other side will receive the reply, “At least protection is better than abandonment!”  Bragging about DJIA numbers to these people will likely make them want to take a swing at you. 

The economy, by all technical standards, is good, but tell people in Ohio how good it is.  Job insecurity in Ohio is a powerful factor in driving people towards the populism of Sherrod Brown.  Brown “gets” this and is winning in a walk.  DeWine doesn’t get anything (on the illegal surveillance controversy, he famously said that he didn’t think we should worry too much about things like constitutionality–we’re at war, after all!), and will shortly be returning to Ohio permanently.  Even though unemployment there is “only” a point above the national average, that doesn’t convey the sense of upheaval and instability that faces people in Ohio; it certainly doesn’t match up with their sentiments.  It doesn’t matter whether Sherrod Brown’s economics are garbage or not, whether his policies will make things better or worse; he is playing up Ohioans sense of grievance and their feeling that they have been done wrong by somebody…and it might well be the Republicans whom they choose to blame, especially in a state where the word Republican = dirty, rotten crook these days.  

Albuquerque is a booming, thriving city.  Economic woes are not even the main issue.  So why is Heather Wilson in trouble?  Republican incompetence on the war certainly is a big issue, though, so whenever the GOP brings up “national security” (at which point the Democrats remind voters who it was who wanted the Dubai ports deal) voters think, “Oh, yeah, Iraq.  Iraq is a gigantic mess!  Too many Americans are dying.  Maybe things should change in Washington and we might get a better strategy, or maybe we need to leave and we should start thinking about how to do that.”  The public mood has shifted and people who talk of remaining in Iraq virtually indefinitely (or whenever the Iraqis get their act together, which is as good as forever) are going to be run out of town.  The Foley business has certainly hurt Wilson as well, but it was simply the confirmation of a growing sense that Wilson wasn’t doing the right sorts of things.  But “national security” doesn’t work very well for her as a general theme since she voted against the Sensenbrenner bill, which was the GOP caucus’ one real claim to decent legislative accomplishment.  It may not be fair that the House majority hinges on “moderates” such as Heather who don’t represent most Republicans on immigration, but you fight elections with the corrupt majority you have, right? 

These reactions to GOP failure and current state of affairs are not ridiculous and they are not, contra Blankley, stupid.  It is the rational selection of a new configuration of power in Washington that might possibly get the job done better.  Things were good under divided government, people will tell themselves, and things have tended to be less than good under unified government.  Maybe letting one party make all the important national security decisions is a bad idea…maybe letting the other party avoid responsibility for those decisions, even those with which they have agreed, is also a bad idea.  Keeping the GOP in power after the messes it has made?  Definitely a bad idea.     

They appear to have fallen victim to the false syllogism: 1) Something must be done; 2) not voting is something; therefore, 3) I will not vote.
    Of course the fallacy of the syllogism is that the second category could be anything. For example, number two could as well read “eating dog excrement is something.” I rather suspect that they will feel about the same afterward, whether they chose the non-voting option or the scatological one. They are both equally illogical — and repulsive — and would deserve the moniker, “Stupid.” ~Tony Blankley

I know voter apathy is considered a Big Problem by people in the chattering classes, but do they really consider it to be quite so…foul?  It must be frustrating to be an important figure in the “movement” and Republican circles and watch as your supporters take one look at your guys, shrug in indifference and walk away.  It must be infuriating that your own supporters would actually expect significant results or some of that “advancing” of conservative principle that the party is supposedly so good at doing, and then have the nerve to repudiate the party when it failed to live up to its end of the bargain!  What do they think this is, a representative government?  So I suppose you would not view these folks kindly.  But surely such a person can do better than to start yelling, “You’re a big, fat stupidhead!”  How “stupid” are conservatives who stay home this year?  Well, he’ll tell you: really, really stupid.  What would it be like?  He’ll tell you that, too.  It is like:

2) When the prettiest cheerleader asks the nerd to take her to the prom, he turns her down — just because he can.

Presumably in Mr. Blankley’s world the GOP is the hot cheerleader and the poor conservatives are the lame, lonely nerd who should be grateful that the party even gave them the time of day.  If she wants to go to the prom, the conservative nerd had better get down on his knees and thank God that she has noticed him!  Oh, happy day!  I have the chance to vote for the Republicans!  Oh, GOP, where have you been all my life?

What might happen if some conservatives sit this one out?  This is one possible “bad” outcome: 

The Democrats have virtually promised to scandalize the Republican administration (with subpoena and impeachment-seeking oversight hearings) for the next two years — in preparation for defeating the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

Egads, the President might be investigated!  He might even be held accountable for his violations of the Constitution!  Not that!  Not the Glorious Leader!  Minions, protect your Leader!  I command you!  Of course, it is hard to “scandalise” an already scandalously bad and abusive administration.  It is impossible to overestimate just how disgusted some people on the right are with Mr. Bush, which makes framing the appeal to vote in terms of protecting Mr. Bush all the more hilarious.  This is supposed to persuade the disaffected and the angry?  Call them stupid and remind them of one of the reasons why they are angry?  If this is the best argument the GOP has (and it has been their main argument for the entire year), they not only deserve to lose but deserve to get their heads handed to them for the arrogance and self-importance the argument reveals.   

If the hypotheses developed in this book make some sense, the established view of modernity is challenged in at least two fundamental ways.  In the first place, the lineage of the modern turns out to be much less ancient and glorious than is usually suggested.  Modernity is an upstart rather than a scion of an old and celebrated line.  Just like any parvenu on his way to the top it has fabricated a grand genealogy, whereas in truth its ancestry is ‘buried in the dirt’.  But if the roots of modernity in the world are much less secure than we have long thought, that leads to the further question how deeply modern the modern really is.  Concentrating, as the ruling approach does, on the new in the old, a blind spot for the old in the new is a priori built in.  If the demise of the old, as the author believes, was a matter of rhetoric rather than reality, if the old was driven underground rather than extinguished, if the old represents something deeply engraved in our souls, the romantic suggestion that we have become estranged from ourselves needs to be taken much more seriously than most of us, who define ourselves as moderns, are prepared to admit. ~Andreas A.K. Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History: Classicism in Political Thought

Ah, NYC. The Vampire City. That wart, that chancre, that evil carcinoma befouling the face of the earth, as Edward Abbey once rhapsodized. The domination — or should I say perversion, or poisoning — of American culture by the Manhattan-based corporate media has been an absolute catastrophe. God I hate that place. I travel thereto only under duress, and escape with a breathless celerity.

I mean, look: my America is Johnny Appleseed and Sinclair Lewis and Bob Dylan and Mother Jones and H.L. Mencken. NYC is network TV and Rosie O’Donnell and knocking down and paving over anything — even graves — just to make a buck. It’s Henry Luce’s Time-Life empire, which propagandized for war — any war, every war — and did its damnedest to substitute its upper-case Life for our lower-case lives. NYC contains people who think Philip Roth is a good novelist. Inexplicable. But you know what: I’m willing to leave NYC alone if it will leave us alone. Alas, it won’t.

That girl you spoke to was a fool. Hating one’s hometown is a sickness. One need not idealize it: God knows I don’t, certainly not in “Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette.” Batavia is scarred, even mutilated. Often unlovely. But why are we here if not to love the unlovable? ~Bill Kauffman

Via Clark Stooksbury and Dan McCarthy

Or, as Chesterton said, love means to love the unlovable or it is not love at all.  We make things lovely by loving them.  Those who have ever mistaken idealising a woman for loving her understanding the vast difference between idealism and love.  It is no so different with a place.  Chesterton again (roughly): “The true patriot never boasts of the largeness of his country, but of its smallness.”  That might be put another way: “The patriot never boasts of the beauty of his country, but even of its ugliness, or more precisely, of the beauty he finds in even the flaws of his country that the foreigner cannot see and will never appreciate because it is not his country.” New Yorkers will find things to love about their city that I will never understand, being entirely alien to it (indeed, I take it as a small point of flyover country pride that I have never been to NYC once), which would be fine if so many of them didn’t think that their city was the beating heart of the nation.

As for my view of New York City, well, I inherited some mixed attitudes from my father, who grew up in central New Jersey, so close and yet in so many ways so far from the Metropolis.  One of NYC’s pseudonyms, Metropolis is actually a misnomer, since New York City does not give birth to new cities as a mother does, but swallows old cities like Chronos devouring his children.

Even to this day, though my father has not lived there in forty years, he will speak with some passion about the awful New Yorkers who “stole” Staten Island from the people of New Jersey, even though everyone can see that it ought to belong to New Jersey. I learned to hate the Yankees–who doesn’t?–at my father’s knee, and at a young age took a disliking to the Mets when they drove my team out of contention for the World Series in 1986.  What sort of a name, I might have asked sneeringly back then, was Metropolitans anyway?  The Astros have since made it to the Series (and lost), so the old injury is now mostly forgotten, but who still alive can forget that heartbreaking Game 7?  The Mets now have their shot to get back to the Series for the first time since those glory days, and I wish them well, though I do not envy them the mauling they will receive at the hands of the Tigers.

With apologies to my New York-centric friends, who are not NYC imperialists and are probably embarrassed by the whole “Empire State” business, I grew up in the firm belief that New Yorkers–who claimed the mantle of ueber-cosmopolitans–were the most provincial, parochial people, who imagined the end of the world to begin somewhere just on their side of Philadelphia. The New Yorker could mock this, but only because it was The New Yorker.

There is, of course, nothing wrong and quite a lot right with parochial people and probably something very wrong with cosmopolitan people (many people attend a parish, but how many are able to attend to the entire cosmos?), but the supreme importance they have attached to their own New Yorkishness was never permitted by them to others to bask in the mild, simple satisfaction of DeKalb-ian-ness or Boiseanness or, in my case, Albuquerqueanness.  Albuquerque, after all, was the butt of a stock joke in a cartoon; New York was capital of the world.  Yet I have never wanted to go there, and I have often wanted to return home.  I do not begrudge the New Yorkers their place, but I do not want to visit it.

Going to school in Chicago has not done much to alleviate my resistance to the Big Apple.  After all, it was through an apple that man fell of old, and the bigger the Apple, the harder the Fall, right?

Republicans are the Party that works to keep taxes low and exercise fiscal discipline. ~Rep. John Boehner, 10/16/06 Memo to House Republicans

Who’s he trying to kid?

While Harold Ford is getting positive coverage on CBN (”He’s hip, young, articulate and talking about Jesus”), Corker failed to gain Tennessee Right to Life’s endorsement because he had been pro-choice in his earlier Senate run.  Funniest of all: Corker apparently accused Ford being “too religious.”  That’s a problem more Democrats wished they had.

It is evidence that the Republican Party has not been captured by evangelical Christians. Rather, the evangelical Christians have been bamboozled by the Republican Party. ~Prof. James Kurth

When George Bush has said that America is the light of the world, that is clearly a heretical paraphrase of the true statement that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. And that statement is a heresy. And to persist in that and act upon that belief can only bring about a debacle. ~Prof. James Kurth

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical Houston-based preacher. ~Religion News Service (via Beliefnet)

Well, you don’t hear that one every day!

On the recommendation of ISI’s Mark Henrie, whose New Pantagruel essay can be found here, I picked up Andreas Kinneging’s Aristocracy, Antiquity and History: Classicism in Political Thought (Transaction, 1997).  I will probably get to reading it fairly soon and may have some posts related to it in the next few weeks.

In front of us is an opportunity. For the next twenty-four months candidates for president, congressman, senator, governor, representative, judge, county clerk, and sheriff will be seeking the Christian vote, and our money, and our energy. Every politician needs evangelicals. And like a teenage boy on a date with a beautiful girl, they will say anything and everything to get what they want.

Let’s not give it to them. Let’s tell them we are fasting from politics for a season. ~David Kuo

I have to say that this sounds like a good idea, at least in certain respects.  As a blogger and something of a political junkie, I am only too aware of the potential toll focusing on such things can take on more important priorities in life (he says as he writes on his blog about a political question).  I am not even particularly politically “active” in the sense that Mr. Kuo is talking about, but I can imagine how much more distracting and exhausting actual campaigning and regular activism would be.  Still, I am reluctant to adopt this proposal straightaway, even though I can see a great many advantages to what he proposes.  It seems almost undeniable to me that if Christians in this country put the energy they put into supporting the GOP or this or that ballot initiative or railing about liberal perfidy, they would probably accomplish more in their own communities, would build stronger families and would raise more God-fearing children.  (The story of the conservative Congressman or staffer who goes to D.C. to shore up moral values but ends up wrecking his own marriage in the process has been an all together too common one.)  But I am not certain that we can temporarily suspend our responsibilities as citizens. 

The country will not go to rack and ruin (or at least not much more than it would have anyway) if we sat out for one cycle, but whether or not there would be negative consequences does not answer the question of whether we are free to dissent, that is to sit apart, from politics all together for such a time.  And if we are free to do so, what does oblige us to enter the arena in the first place?  Now the Catholics learn from their Catechism that as “far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1915) which comes in the context of having an obligation to work for the promotion of the common good.  To koinon agathon, a concept unfortunately derided of late by some because of its popularity as a phrase among left-liberals (which should make conservatives wonder how they ever allowed these people to hijack the concept in the first place and why there is not a robust conservative understanding of the common good widely known today), is the standard by which Catholics would judge how and when to participate in public life, and it includes the conditions that contribute the most to the fulfillment of our nature and true human flourishing.  If seems clear that if it is plausible that Christians can do more for the common good outside of party politics for a couple years than they can do in the middle of them, they not only can but ought to pursue those other activities with the same zeal with which they have pursued their political goals.  If Christians judge that they can contribute more to the common good through political action, the same obligation to act in the political realm would be there.   

But there is much wisdom to the idea that a man won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, as the old saying has it, and that the GOP has to earn the support of conservative Christians before they lend it their support in the future.  Letting them have a taste of what a completely demobilised, disenchanted Christian base would be like for them and what it would mean for their election prospects would bring a number of the party’s leaders to their senses, at least for a short time.  We would need to understand that this would almost certainly ruin the GOP’s chances in 2008 and guarantee a Democratic President.  The simple response to this would be: yes, and what’s your point?  What good has GOP rule been?  Certainly, conservative Christians should be a lot less forthcoming with their support unless they see the chance of some real return on what they are giving.  The parable of the wicked servant should be foremost in the minds of Christians who have been entrusted with even one talent, as I think too many Christians have taken that one talent and, instead of burying it as the wicked servant did, donated it, so to speak, to the local Republican candidate for Congress or a PAC aimed at stopping the godless liberals.  Stopping godless liberals is all well and good, but perhaps there are better ways to use what you have been given.  To ponder the question is not to betray anything.  When the Master comes to make an accounting of what we have done with what we have been given, He may look dimly on frittering away our gifts on something unworthy. 

The advantage of Kuo’s recommended “fast” seems obvious to me because I see how things are in the Orthodox Church in this country, or at least how they have been in my three years as an Orthodox convert in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  We are, with the exception of a few concentrated areas, too small of a church in America to wield any great influence, and there are numerous jurisdictional boundaries that prevent widespread cooperation across the country, which has many disadvantages for church life but which also has the advantage of making concerted political action by a united front of American Orthodox next to impossible.  Therefore secular politics does not enter into the Church to the degree that it seems to do in other churches, and the kind of cultural warfare that evidently takes place in parish life elsewhere is largely absent.  There is no question of what is to be preached in our parishes.  It has been and will continue to be the Gospel, and homilies almost always are about the Gospel reading.  I have never heard a homily on a contemporary political issue in an Orthodox church.  The closest to something “political” I have ever seen was a moleben for the Orthodox victims at Beslan, which was an entirely appropriate commemoration of deceased Orthodox Christians.  Thus politics does not enter into the equation, and I am able to be united to fellow Orthodox who I happen to know hold sometimes radically different politically views.  It also creates the beginnings of unity in Christ that make it possible to speak intelligently and soberly to one another about these questions and, often enough, we find (especially the green and paleocon Orthodox out there) that we have much more in common politically than we would ever have supposed had we not encountered each other in church. 

I have heard it said that those who do not participate in the fasts of the Church do not participate as fully in the joy of the feast when it finally comes.  Certainly the move between the kenotic work of fasting and the fullness of the feast is a powerful one that has the greatest meaning for those who have faithfully kept the fast.  Moreover, fasting reminds us of the transitory nature of all things here below, it reminds us of the sacrifice and death of the Lord and of the call to die to ourselves, and it is through fasting that we make a few small steps in this denial of ourselves.  As a priest once told us, “Fasting is to be called into the company of the saints.”  In denying the world and the will of the flesh in ourselves through actual fasting, we become more alive to the work of the Spirit and possess more of the mind of Christ.  There is a sense in which the denial of the world represented by renouncing political activity for a time fits very well into this experience of fast and feast in the life of the Church.  Ironically, I fear that Mr. Kuo’s appeal will make the most sense to those of us, like myself, who belong to a church that is not terribly politically active in the first place.  It will unfortunately likely be met with hostility in precisely those churches where it is most needed because it comes from someone who (gasp!) once worked for Democrats in some capacity; in my view, the worst thing that can be said about Mr. Kuo’s political record is that he worked for the Bush administration, but he seems suitably aggrieved by this as well so I won’t hold it against him.     

Naturally, at NRO they are not enthusiastic about this.  Says Ponnuru on Kuo:

Kuo sometimes writes as though they’re [conservative Christians] the only kind of Christians around, which is a bad habit.

It would be a bad habit if Kuo were doing this.  But it seems clear that Kuo doesn’t claim to be addressing all Christians here, but very clearly has targeted this message to Republican-voting, conservative Christians.  The entire context of the post tells you as much.  Ponnuru says that you shouldn’t expect politics to save your marriage (no kidding! I thought that was a recommended method!), which badly misses Kuo’s point about divorce.  The point, surely, is that while evangelicals have, for example, been banging the war drums to stop gay “marriage,” no one has been doing very much that has been successful in creating more stable heterosexual marriages.  While they have been successful in many states in protecting the definition of The Institution of Marriage, real marriages continue to break down at the same rates they have done before.  Surely the real point is that this is far more socially and culturally destructive and also something that churches might well be able to do more about if they weren’t distracted with highly symbolic, oftentimes seemingly irrelevant pitched battles with radical leftists.  The more that the Faith can be understood and embraced as a living, transforming Faith rather than a battle standard in a political conflict, the better.  If I were a GOP flack, I would, of course, be very nervous that that any prominent Christian is saying things like this, because the GOP needs Christians to keep serving as useful idiots and cannon fodder, so to speak, for each election cycle.  It can’t start letting the cannon fodder think too much about whether they should even be in the army. 

Update: Poor David Kuo!  Not only is he getting all the usual grief for being part of an overarching liberal conspiracy to sap our purity of essence (I exaggerate only slightly), but because of links to his blog from Rod Dreher the Con Crunchy hyenas have descended upon his comment section.  If you need confirmation that Kuo’s proposal is an idea whose time has come, just read the comment thread that follows his post. 

Now I gave Trent Lott a hard time for saying that he didn’t understand the sectarian rivalries in Iraq.  “How do they tell the difference?  They all look the same to me,” he said.  Indeed.  Well, apparently, Lott has a lot of company in Washington among people who couldn’t tell the Twelfth Imam from the closed doors of ijtihad.  They wouldn’t even get the references I just made.  (For the uninitiated, the “closing of the doors of ijtihad” is a metaphor for the end of Qur’anic interpretation among the Sunni; the Twelfth Imam, as we all know, returned on August 22 of this year in a blinding flash of light and now rules the world in glory with Jesus…oh, wait, that’s Bernard Lewis’ line!)  Here is some of the report from The New York Times:

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” [bold mine-DL]

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.” [bold mine-DL]

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

It suddenly makes a lot more sense to me that Mr. Bush would be completely at a loss that these sects existed.  “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims,” he declared in his befuddlement at the prospect of two different Islamic sects existing in the same country.  Apparently, that is about as much as the responsible committee chairs in Congress knew about Iraq and the differences between the different groups.  I now understand how the idiotic tactic of lumping all Islamic fundamentalists, regardless of sect, and secular Baathists together in one big “Islamofascist” blob can work and can take hold with our political class.  For a time, I thought these people just had to be willfully perverse in their ideological need to distort the realities of the Near East and draw connections and alliances between mortal enemies.  That dubious honour belongs to the likes of Ledeen and Hanson alone; the politicians truly are clueless.  I am beginning to understand that these people are horrifyingly ignorant to a degree I didn’t believe was possible.  A word of advice: whenever someone says, “The government knows more than you do,” it’s time to start looking for the exits, because people in government by and large almost certainly do not know more than a reasonably well-informed citizen.  Apparently not when it comes to history, culture or the religion of our avowed enemy.  No wonder the buffoons could keep going on about the “religion of peace” for years without any sense that they were being had by CAIR and the renegade apologists for Islam.  Granted, these people are politicians, and in their line of work actually knowing something can be a real drawback, but come on!  A genuine moron who takes a basic world religions class in college will end up knowing more about Islam than these people.  Unfortunately, it isn’t limited to ignorant Congressmen:

It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.   

A well-connected Republican source who was running through the most competitive House races this morning said, “If we lose Heather Wilson, we lose the House.”  The explanation was that Wilson has faced tough reelection races in the past and so knows what she’s up against.  She’s aggressive, knows how to fight for her seat, and raises plenty of money.  The reasoning is that if she is knocked off this year, there is little hope for incumbents facing their first real challenge. At the end of September, polls had Wilson tied with New Mexico’s attorney general Patricia Madrid.  Recent polls give Madrid an edge of about 8 points. ~Kate O’Beirne

Back on 5 May, I wrote the following on the NM-01 race and the reasons why Wilson might lose:

What Sager misses is that Heather Wilson’s vote “against a GOP immigration crackdown bill” may very well be putting her out of sympathy with voters in a state where our Democratic governor, never one to miss a political opportunity, has declared a state of emergency along the border. She had already lost my vote with the war, along with both of my parents’ votes, and I’ll wager she is not doing herself any favours by playing the “moderate” this year. If she works hard enough, she may get to Patricia Madrid’s left on immigration and lose the election.

What Sager also does not tell you, perhaps because he does not know, is that no incumbent Republican has ever lost NM-1 since the seat was created, and no Democrat has ever won that district. Madrid seems poised to make the strongest challenge of any to date, and if she succeeds by tapping into resentment against the local Bush loyalist Heather Wilson will lose her seat for embracing he mi casa es su casa view (it really isn’t fair to this very pleasant phrase of old-fashioned hospitality to associate it with subversion of the law and sovereignty of the U.S., since a hospitable invitation presupposes that the guest will at some point return to his own home).

I believe there are two factors making this election competitive like none before it has been: the war and immigration. And Wilson is swimming against the tide on both, while Madrid seems to be catching the political mood a little bit better. Immigration may be working against the GOP in the border states, but not because the Republicans are taking a hard line on the problem; it is the perception of drift and complete failure to do anything that I think will be killing the GOP in the Southwest.

While we’re recalling the reasons for Heather’s impending likely failure, don’t forget Heather’s fun with anti-price-gouging legislation!  And last month I described NM-01 as a bellwether for the national mood:

New Mexicans, including this New Mexican, want her gone and they are just waiting for a sign that Madrid is not completely incompetent.  We are still waiting.  But look for Wilson’s numbers to be a good indicator of the overall trends this year.

In my reckless predictions, which now appear relatively tame and reasonable, I wrote:

The House will flip, as there are definitely 14 Republican-held seats that are already leaning the other way, and the flip will be made possible by the late rally of Michelle Bean in Illinois’ 8th, and will be secured by Heather Wilson’s late collapse in New Mexico’s 1st and the possible damage done to the GOP candidate in Ohio’s 18th by Ney’s refusal to resign (and, possibly even more damaging because it would be rather chaotic, the need for a special election to replace Ney if he does resign).  Wilson continues to poll well below 50% in a district that has always gone to the GOP from the time of Manuel Lujan through the Schiff years until today.  Wilson does always benefit from a sizeable absentee vote that gave her a comfortable margin two years ago, but this time I don’t think the late surge can save her this time.

Finally, in one last self-congratulatory citation, I remarked on Heather’s likely downfall earlier this month:

We are likely to see a number of these close races shift more in the Dems’ favour as the past few days’ revelations spread and sink in throughout the country.  Watch Heather Wilson to be one of the candidates to sink in coming weeks.

If the House goes Democratic, the nation will either be thanking or cursing the people of Albuquerque and myself.  Note to the GOP: this did not have to happen.  The party decided to pursue the course that is bringing them their repudiation.  From the very first Heather Wilson’s “moderate” politics were pushed on the Republicans of Albuquerque when Domenici openly interfered in the special election to replace the deceased Steve Schiff to the advantage of Wilson.  Conservatives, who supported Wilson’s opponent, Bill Davis, were very angry at the heavy-handed favouritism doled out to Domenici’s hand-picked candidate.  But for a time Wilson started out more or less on the right foot.  My litmus tests were impeachment and Kosovo, and Wilson was on the right side of both.  But once Mr. Bush arrived in Washington it was all downhill from there.  I didn’t much care for her vote for the Patriot Act, but obviously Iraq, the prescription drug bill and her weakness on border enforcement all confirmed me in my opposition to her.  In the process, Heather has also lost the support of members of my family and, it seems, quite a few other people.  Her tangential connection to Mark Foley through some donations he gave her campaign and her presence on the House Page Board until 2004, while not in themselves particularly damning (it seems that she left the Board before anything was made known to that group), certainly didn’t help her already poor reputation with conservatives.

The push was evident in a Baltimore radio advertisement targeting African American listeners that was sponsored by the Washington-based National Black Republican Association. The ad identifies Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican and pins the founding of the Ku Klux Klan on Democrats.

One woman says: “Democrats passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws. Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan.”

“The Klan?” her friend replies. “White hoods and sheets?”

First woman: “Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s. Democrats released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks.” ~The Washington Post (9/21/06)

To its credit (and a good sign that Steele is fairly savvy), Michael Steele’s campaign denounced the ad.  Now the ad has the virtue of being mostly true, as far as it goes, and I suppose I can understand why black Republicans think this is a pretty withering indictment of the Democratic Party in the past.  It is presumably for reasons such as these that some relative few black people become Republicans today; it is certainly why the GOP had a great many more black supporters in the past.  And if the Democratic Party were anything like what it was before, say, the 1980s, there might be some point to bringing this up now.  Unlike the GOP, which continues its fine traditions of plutocracy, collaboration with corporations, executive abuses of power, wars of aggression and the consolidation of wealth and power, the Democrats of yore are no more, as some have mentioned recently.  Most of the voters became Republicans in the hope that there they would find some refuge from the radicalism that had swept over their party.  Obviously, it had everything to do with the civil rights revolution and the massive intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of the states and the people.  How did it become the government’s business how I conduct business at my firm, who I hire and fire and why?  Egalitarian claptrap and the use of coercion.  A different generation of conservatives, not necessarily all Republicans (and not representative of a lot of GOP politicians), saw this process as a great leap forward for the forces of consolidation and unconstitutional government, and opposed it at least for this reason. 

The move of these Democratic voters to the other side was a choice made almost out of necessity, and has not really had terribly happy results; instead of remaking the GOP into a more Jeffersonian and authentically decentralist-populist party, the GOP has absorbed these voters and made them into reliable supporters of their age-old commitments to consolidated nationalism, centralism, state capitalism and imperialism.  It has reeducated many of them to believe that conservatism is a doctrine that preaches egalitarianism against the “real racists” of the left. 

Of course, it should be noted, progressive and leftist racism has always existed, and many of the racial codes instituted in the late 19th and early 20th century were the fruits of progressives in the South and elsewhere; these codes, along with an enthusiasm for eugenics and sterilisation of the “unfit,” did catch on with the cutting-edge progressives of their day.  To the extent that they departed from a civilised and humane modus vivendi in the Era of Good Feelings, they represented a final revolutionary assault on the remnants of the Old South.  Jim Crow law were the products of progressivism and populism, and if there is one thing to take away from the story of Jim Crow it is that mass democracy and appeals to “the people” can, when unchecked by higher principles, lead to manifest injustices.  But throughout this period the Democrats remained far and away the conservative party of this country, which changed when the party leadership took the path of social engineering, centralised planning and rationalisation and often left their constituents’ interests behind.    

One can also make a credible argument that the Dems today exploit their black voters with a cynicism equalled only by the way the GOP exploits its Christian voters, and that it does not serve the real interests of black voters to be so fully committed to one party.  Perhaps black voters should heed those sorts of arguments.  But I, for one, find tiresome the frequent invocations of the KKK and Jim Crow by Republicans, black or white (especially in the context of foreign policy!).  Not a month goes by, it seems, that we are not treated to some gaseous windbag holding forth on the former KKK membership of Robert Byrd.  Okay, fine, we get it, we know all about it.  But this observation is usually recently made in the context of attacking Byrd for his denunciations of the war in Iraq or executive abuses of power; the ”Byrd was a Klansman” meme has a high correlation to the defense of atrocious, unconstitutional policies that used to make these very same conservatives sick when Bubba was engaged in something similar.   

I am terribly weary of how elements in the GOP, including many in the leadership, seem to have taken pride that it used to be the progressive, left-wing party in this country.  (In this sense, the dalliance with conservatives over the last five decades has been the odd exception, the interlude between the main acts of progressivism.)  Besides the obvious two-faced nature of this hostility to the old Democratic South, whence comes an important part of their present political power and their most loyal voters (most of whose ancestors were the very Democrats being slammed in such attacks), it perpetuates the weird support for egalitarian politics that has become a virtual requirement in GOP politics over the last 20 years.  It is, of course, fun to hit affirmative action for being discriminatory (and there are perfectly good arguments as to why affirmative action mostly harms it alleged beneficiaries without ever needing to mention equality), as Republicans now do in criticisms of progressives, but historically conservatives have not been quick to attack structures of inequality because we fundamentally do not believe in equality as a guiding principle in politics.  That is basic.  (In truth, many conservatives today attack affirmative action because it works to the disadvantage of our constituencies and to the advantage of others; some may object to any kind of spoils system, but many object to being on the losing side, which is predictable.)  Not only do we assume that there will be, perhaps sometimes even should be, a certain degree of natural inequality in the world, but we are wary of the kinds of coercion and upheaval required to eradicate it if, indeed, it proves to be unjust. 

The shift towards a belief in equality has been marked, in my view, with the steady erosion and deterioration of conservative thought, as modern conservatives have been forced to do some deft maneuvering to make sense of their current egalitarianism in light of a tradition that has always been, almost by definition, anti-egalitarian.

David Kuo, a former deputy in the White House Office of the Faith Based Initiative, has taken it upon himself to author a book where he maintains that the Faith Based Initiative falls terribly short of it promise and that White House officials routinely mock prominent Evangelicals describing them as: “nuts, goofy and boorish.” Perhaps, Kuo should take a closer look in the mirror. ~Jason Christy

Mr. Christy’s article has the charitable title of “David Kuo: An Addition to the Axis of Evil.”  I have no particular brief for Mr. Kuo or the “faith-based initiative” idea, which I regard as a dangerous intrusion of the federal government into the work of religious charities and churches and the establishment of an unhealthy dependence of churches and charities on the state.  I am not sorry to see that it has by and large failed.  I do not consider it a proper way of bringing Christian leaven into politics, since it leavens nothing and serves mainly to expand the power of the state. 

But the way that the hacks have brought out the knives against this man for stating the merely obvious (the Bush administration exploits and uses Christian believers, whom they then disparage and belittle as fools in private) is remarkable.  The hatred directed against Mr. Kuo in the article cited above would be inexplicable if the conservative Christians who launch such attacks were seriously concerned about the dangers of political power corrupting a faithful witness to Christ; if their main good is seeing Republican power extended and preserved, the viciousness of the assault makes a little more sense.  In a bitterly ironic conclusion, Mr. Christy writes:

David Kuo forgot one important lesson: Judge not lest ye be judged.  

What a joke!  These ravenous, vicious little men invoke Our Lord when it pleases them but, when a real witness is required, they scurry out of the light while singing hymns to the All-Father that is the GOP.  You will note in Mr. Christy’s article that he nowhere effectively refutes anything that Mr. Kuo has said, but like some spinmeister notes all the money that is being spent, as if this were proof of either good policy or the administration’s good faith.

In other news, David Kuo now blogs at Beliefnet.

On his Web site, Mr. Medved wrote how Mr. Bush spoke about his commitment to his immigration plan in terms of the fight against terrorism. He said the president made a case that if he were to give in to conservative complaints, “the nation’s enemies (and the rest of the world) would take away the belief that the president could be bullied, prodded, overwhelmed and intimidated.” ~The New York Times

Via The Plank

Oh, now I understand.  It isn’t because Mr. Bush is in hock to the interests of Big Business and the ideological vision of The Wall Street Journal.  It isn’t that mass immigration and the “nation of immigrants” are integral to the believers in the “proposition nation” lie.  It isn’t that he has been committed to amnesty since 2001.  It isn’t because he thinks “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.”  No, he wants to show the jihadis that he cannot be pushed around…by his own constituents!  You can’t start appeasing your own voters–where would it end?  If you start there, heeding the will of the voters, soon enough you’ll be surrendering the Capitol building to Bin Laden!  If you give your own people an inch, the enemy will take a mile! 

The democratist insanity has reached its natural despotic conclusion: the process of accountable, representative government itself must be actively suppressed and denied to preserve democracy against the external threat.  There can be no wavering and no change of course in the fight ahead, and that means the autocrat will set policy and the subjects will learn to like it–for the sake of freedom, no doubt.  Even after they were presented with this insulting display of presidential contempt for the people, these radio hosts will continue to repeat faithfully, ”Islamofascism, 1938, burble, burble.”

The race in Tennessee really has the folks at the NRSC stumped.  “How do we fight against someone who is more conservative than our candidate on immigration and who has more charisma in his little finger than Bob Corker has in his whole body?  I know, let’s make fun of how stylish he is!  The rubes will love that one!”  Thus you have the spectacle of a website called Fancy Ford (I think the producers of the cat food Fancy Feast might sue).  The website’s spiel goes something like this: Ford is stylish, he is a ladies’ man, he dresses well, he goes to parties!  Aiee!  It might be enough to win an endorsement from Michael Brendan Dougherty

Presumably the metrocon vote is not large in Tennessee–though perhaps I shouldn’t assume too much–so it is unlikely that this could actually help Ford’s campaign. But this kind of attack (if you can call it an attack) seems to smack of desperation and cry out, “Yes, Ford is a better candidate, and he is actually to the right of Corker on some issues, but just look at his outrageously good fashion sense!”

Consider some of the particulars listed in the indictment of young Mr. Ford:

If you’re a host of one his receptions, expect to receive a fancy thank you. In 2005, Ford spent more than $8,900 on gifts for reception hosts at such fancy outlets as Alfred Dunhill, Davidoff of Geneva, and Thomas Pink ( Federal Election Commission Website,, Accessed February 21, 2006). For those of us not quite living the life of Reilly, Davidoff was named “Most Exclusive Brand” of cigars in the last 30 years by the Robb Report, a magazine which ” has been the authoritative expert on the luxury lifestyle for some of the world’s most affluent and acquisitive individuals” since 1976.

Ford’s not just a spendthrift for his friends. His campaign spent $2,549 on an Armani suit for him to wear at a speaking engagement  

And just to make sure he’s always surrounded by beauty, Ford’s campaign spent $19,200 on flowers.

Now maybe this is supposed to be some kind of clever way of showing that Ford pretends to speak for the common man but lives high on the hog in Washington.  Therefore, Ford is being a hypocrite. [Update: Yes, this is what they’re trying to do.]  Okay.  But do the Republicans really want to start an argument about the personal free-spending and high-life habits of their Congressmen in the year of Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham?  Does the party that glorifies materialist acquisition as one of the deeper expressions of human freedom have any credibility to preach ascetic renunciation to Rep. Ford?  Does the party of the “moneyed interest,” the party of The Wall Street Journal and Larry Kudlow, have any authority in mocking someone who savours the finer things in life?  I don’t think so.

Update: Our political observer in Tennessee, A.C. Kleinheider, points out this Ford ad that delivers a powerful blow to Corker.  For the Tennessee environment, Ford has the perfect credentials on Iraq: supportive of the war in the past, but willing to change strategy as necessary.  Full-blown opposition and withdrawal arguments wouldn’t work very well in Tennessee.  Watch as Ford nails Corker to the wall by focusing on the latter’s use of the “stay the course” line.

Second Update: Hotline notes the odd NRSC decision to hassle Ford about his dating life in connection with the “Fancy Ford” attack.  Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is still set to campaign for Don Sherwood in Pennsylvania, whose “fancy” life included a mistress whom he allegedly tried to strangle (Sherwood denies the second part!). 

Time has an excerpt from Obama’s new book (when exactly does the man find the time to “write” all these books?), The Audacity of Hope (other bad titles that were already taken: The Insolence of Optimism, The Impudence of Faith and The Derring-Do of Confidence). 

The problem with the excerpt is that we have heard it almost all of it before, and we were not impressed by it the first time.  The doctor from the University of Chicago urges him to use “fair-minded words” in his rhetoric about abortion, and Obama, ever-conscientious, heeds the good doctor’s advice.  Okay, it’s a nice story.  Maybe it’s even a true story–wouldn’t that be remarkable in itself?  But how dull is it that the first part of the excerpt put up in the Time coverage is the very same anecdote recounted by Obama at his June “look at me, I’m religious, too!” speech

“The message from the doctor at the University of Chicago” is beginning to become Obama’s signature anecedote, and it isn’t that good of an anecdote.  The end of the excerpt is his recounting of his election debate with Alan Keyes, where the preposterous Keyes (preposterous for a very different set of reasons than those Obama would give) said, “Christ would not have voted for Barack Obama.”  Yet again, this was a main part of his “Call to Renewal” speech from June.  The text of the Keyes section and the commentary that follows appear to be lifted virtually verbatim from the book’s manuscript and inserted into the speech, or vice versa.  One wonders what else there is in this book, since the things Obama apparently prefers to talk about are Alan Keyes, the problems progressives have with religion in politics, his religious upbringing and the doctor from UofC.  Nothing in these remarks is terribly interesting or new.  What is supposed to be interesting is that Obama is saying them–a real, live Democratic politician is talking about these things and seems to have some working familiarity with Christianity!  This did not used to be a remarkable, stop-the-presses event.  It says volumes about how warped the Democrats’ relationship with Christianity is that Obama’s commonplace statements are supposedly so powerful and resonant.  I mean, he…actually…believes…in…God!  Look out, fundies, here comes Obama! 

The rest of the excerpt is the recounting of another story related to abortion politics, where we are again treated to just how fair-minded (and pro-choice) Obama is (”I understand your deep conviction on this matter, which I am now going to dismiss with stock soundbites about the safety of women”), which apparently ought to make other “fair-minded” people happy enough to notice that he hasn’t really addressed the central question of whether abortion can be morally justified or not, whether it is right for a Christian man to sanction or tolerate the constitutional fraud that gives legal protection to the murder of unborn children. 

Of course, it can’t be justified and it isn’t right, which is why “fair-minded” Senators who might one day like to be President have to engage in roundabout justifications for their position, saying that they support “choice” for the sake of poor women everywhere.  The phantom of the back-alley abortionist, whom the pro-choice pol has summoned from the ether, hovers nearby and is supposed to cloud the judgement of people who recognise a moral abomination when they see it.  But the phantom just provides a comforting excuse to endorse something that it would be politically dangerous for a Democrat in most places to oppose.  All of this is supposed to show us that Obama is thoughtful, rather than callous, profound rather than predictable, but it does not.  It is the tactic of the man who says, “I appreciate your point of view,” when in fact he does not appreciate it and wants to neutralise your criticism by deflecting the question in an entirely different direction.  President Bush uses this same kind of tactic when he says, “Good and patriotic people hold this view, but I just strongly disagree.  I believe freedom transforms regions, burble, burble.”  He then concocts a straw man position, “Those who say that Iraq would be better off as a fetid wasteland filled with suicide bombers are simply wrong,” and declares victory. 

Recourse to the phantom of the back-alley abortionist is an old stand-by on the pro-abortion side,  which is suppoed to work because we are supposed to believe that having the option of outlawing a vicious practice that does kill millions of children would be worse than banning said practice and potentially risking the lives of a relative handful of women.  But Obama is telling us that we should be grateful that he is so thoughtful that he has chosen to condescend to us with the tired old trope. 

Let’s grant that Obama is “thoughtful,” after a fashion.  Is it really better to have a pro-abortion Democrat who seems to sound eminently reasonable and supposedly does not vilify his opponents, but instead claims to “understand” their views even as he waves them away with the flick of his wrist?  I doubt it.     


Via Sullivan

In an election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District today, 10/16/06, Democrat challenger Patrica Madrid tops Republican incumbent Heather Wilson by 8 points, 53% to 45%, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted exclusively for KOB-TV Albuquerque. Since an identical SurveyUSA KOB-TV poll released 9/21/06, Madrid has gained 7 points and Wilson has lost 6 points. Wilson had led by 5, now trails by 8, a 13-point swing. ~Survey USA

It’s almost too good to believe.  This was supposed to be a race that went down to the wire.  I believe it is also a race that will represent the direction of the election and the extent of GOP defeat, as NM-01 has been a traditionally Republican-leaning district since it was formed in what is more or less its current shape.  Wilson always finishes strong, so it still isn’t over yet and she might still make a comeback, but as I recall she has never been this far behind an opponent at this stage of the race. 

She benefits disproportionately from absentee voters (not this absentee voter, I would add), who are often military voters or who are travelling for business, but this time I think Republican voters are so dispirited (there are many fewer likely Republican voters in NM-01 now than there were a month ago) that her absentee advantage will disappear or be insufficient.  Obviously, I am pleased to see this, as I have been banging the drum for Wilson’s defeat all year long and wanted to see her defeated two years ago for her support for Iraq.  Besides being a “moderate,” pro-choice Republican, Wilson went from being someone I could support for her opposition to Kosovo (she opposed it mainly because it was a waste of military resources, which is one good reason) to someone who has backed the Iraq war to the hilt in spite of the much greater damage it has done to the armed forces.  Perhaps Kosovo bothered her more because she was in the Air Force, and the degradation of and strains put on the other services don’t bother her as much, but the main difference is that one of her party launched an unnecessary war that is slowly ruining the military and that is fine by her. 

There are three other districts polled by Survey USA (CA-50, AZ-5, MN-02) that are all showing different degrees of weakness by the Republicans.  AZ-5 is J.D. Hayworth’s district.  His race shouldn’t even be competitive.  That it is tells us just how bad this year will be for them.

And, driving the point home:  “The price for same-sex marriage is paid by children.” ~Kathryn Jean Lopez, quoting Mitt Romney

Perhaps I am confused, because the last time I checked homosexual couples by themselves don’t typically have all that many children.  This is usually one of the things raised against them.  One of the primary reasons why homosexuality itself is deeply disordered and wrong is that it is contrary to nature and will never result in procreation.  Yes, nowadays you have stories (and even plotlines in a cable television show) about a number of lesbian women who have children as a result of artificial insemination, and you do have the possibility of gay couples adopting children.  But surely, if opposition to gay “marriage” is all done “for the children,” which would be legitimate, those would be the things that need outlawing as much as gay “marriage,” and perhaps more.  It is those things that probably have an even greater negative impact on the well-being of children than the mere existence of legal recognition of homosexual “marriage.”  Anyone can oppose gay “marriage,” since the name itself is nonsense and the concept absurd.  Romney is good at saying just enough to get the crowd behind him, but what exactly does he do that has some people so excited? 

“Children of two parents who are working don’t need more things. They need us! In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them really don’t need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do. Some are working because they think they must buy their kids and themselves more things that they `need’ - instead of giving of themselves to their kids. And for some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home. But in this world, at a time when it is increasingly difficult to raise children well, we should all recognize that our kids really need fewer things and more mom and dad.” ~AP (quoting Santorum’s book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good)

When I see things like this, I remember the things about Santorum that I like.  It also reminds me that it is particularly dreadful that someone who understands so many social conservative ideas so well can be so bafflingly wrong on foreign policy such that listening to him talk about Islamofascism in Iran and “the WMDs we found in Iraq” makes your ears bleed.  Oddly, the NROniks seem to think this citation is some kind of political hit job against Santorum (as if liberals at the AP needed to step on his head while he was drowning on his own) that is designed to “stir things up.”  Why?  Isn’t this what most social conservatives already believe?  How does it do anything but emphasise one of Santorum’s strengths with his key supporters? 

Arguably, if this wire report circulated widely a lot of the conservatives alienated from Santorum over the Toomey betrayal might briefly remember why they used to support him and come back to him; this is perfect free advertising designed to appeal to Santorum’s core supporters.  However, the bitterness over the Toomey business and general discontent in Pennsylvania will end up outweighing any small positive items like this one.

I was just asking my usual ice-breaking question these days to a smart political observers: Tell me something optimistic about November. This Smart Political Guy said this time: “For the GOP?  I think they got taken away in some of those boxes taken out of Curt Weldon’s daughter’s house yesterday.” ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

I’ll give the Goppers something to look forward to in November.  I can be optimistic every once in a while.  How about this: “It will all be over soon.”

To say that terrorists and adversary nations want to hobble the president with a Democrat Congress is not to say that the Dems are in league with bin Laden or Kim Jong-il. ~Jed Babbin, The American Spectator

Via Clark Stooksbury (who describes Babbin as “about ready for the lollipop factory”)

It’s refreshing to have this kind of bipartisan amity in a time of war, isn’t it?  ”Your victory will aid the enemies of this country–of course, I wouldn’t possibly dream of suggesting that you are actually working for foreign governments and terrorists.  But, just for the record, are you working for them?” 

Now Mr. Babbin is worried that nefarious foreign agents of influence are working hard to tip the influence against the GOP in the midterms.  (Remember, kids, these are the people who regard talk of an Israel Lobby as crazy and far-out conspiracy theory.)  We can’t be too careful!  The dangers are legion and might appear at any time!  For example, have you ever considered this scenario

It’s a very good thing that Osama bin Laden isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. If he were, he’d send one of those European-looking al-Q members to Havana to kill Castro. With Fidel dead and the assassin suitably shot to pieces, the world would be in an instant uproar, and we’d see a media feeding frenzy in Turtle Bay that would make the UN look like the courthouse in the Michael Jackson trial. America would be blamed and Chavez (Fidel’s most ardent admirer and greatest supporter since Brezhnev) would go to Havana personally to supervise the restoration of the Castro regime. The Cuban-American community would be up in arms — literally — and President Bush would be caught in the middle. And what a fine mess that would be. Like I said, it’s a good thing OBL isn’t that smart. But both Bad Vlad Putin and his funny-named sidekick, Hu Jintao, are.

His “funny-named sidekick”?  Mr. Babbin really does want a war with China.  If that turn of events sounds slightly unlikely to you, perhaps you will be wowed by Mr. Babbin’s powers of prognostication:

I think the Dems have missed the single key point: Americans believe that the real reason we haven’t suffered another 9-11 is that we’re wreaking havoc on the terrorists Over There. They understand that the best defense of their homes and families is an offense that takes the battle to the enemy. Prediction #2: Americans have assimilated the Iraq conflict sufficiently to reduce its impact this year. Unless something catastrophic happens, Iraq will be only a marginal factor in voters’ decisions.

Certainly the average American voter’s grasp of geography is roughly this good.  Afghanistan and Iraq really are just places in a big land called Overthereistan, and if you are fighting them Over There you can’t possibly be fighting them here!  Ha ha!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Except that a majority believes the war has increased the threat to the United States, a majority believes the war is a mistake and Americans are beginning to turn towards some form of gradual withdrawal, believing that “we” have done enough for Iraq.  Hard-core supporters of the GOP are still true believers, but independents and “moderate” Republicans are running away from this war in droves.  What is more, every poll taken lists Iraq as the single most important issue this election, as it should be, while Mr. Babbin thinks that the public has just gotten used to it and won’t think on it too much.  Those opposed to the war are particularly energised about the midterms, while quite a few supporters are dispirited by the string of setbacks this year and the apparent lack of any workable strategy.  Rather than face this, Mr. Babbin concocts all sorts of anxiety-ridden scenarios in which Putin (who just might have more pressing things to worry about in the Caucasus and North Korea at present) and Mr. Funny-Name are preparing to…change the control of Congress!  Have you ever heard anything so dastardly?  We could retaliate in kind, of course (and it goes without saying that we have never interfered in any other nation’s elections, because that would be Very Wrong), but Putin and Hu are clever enough to have legislatures for which elections are either fairly irrelevant or do not exist.  Those guys with funny names are really clever! 

This disillusionment with the administration and GOP majority, believe it or not, is not the result of the clever terrorist manipulation of our television signals, nor the fruit of an ingenious intelligence operation by the FSB.  Neither is it the product of mass brainwashing achieved by polluting our precious bodily fluids.  Our purity of essence remains intact, Mr. Babbin, and no amount of Chinese flouride will change that.  No, it may have something to do with the administration’s manifest failure on matters of policy. 

But Hu Jintao (you know, the guy with the funny name) couldn’t take a chance with something so important as the American midterm elections!  We will discover in the end that Mark Foley was actually a member of the People’s Liberation Army (Internet Branch) all along and had been lying in wait for 12 years to bring down the GOP with him in an act of political subversion so brilliant that no one would ever see it coming (except for the members of the House GOP leadership who knew about the problem in advance).  How did he get the NRCC to think that it was their idea to have him run for re-election this year?  These foreign agents are really good at what they do, obviously.  That must be it., which operates trades on what you might call event futures, has seen the GOP retention of the Senate plummet to 59.3 (down 9 today) and their retention of the House has fallen to a close of 31.  This collapse of confidence (the Senate price was almost 80 just last week) still gives the GOP some hope of holding the upper chamber, but the smart money abandoned the GOP House control contract a long time ago. 

The question is whether this is a case of justified confidence — based on Bush’s and Rove’s electoral record and knowledge of the money, technology and other assets at their command — or of self-delusion. Even many Republicans suspect the latter. Three GOP strategists with close ties to the White House flatly predicted the loss of the House, though they would not do so on the record for fear of offending senior Bush aides. ~The Washington Post

If the election goes the way most of us assume it is going to go, perhaps we can call it “Reality Strikes Back.”

Mr. Snow said the president supported both men and was comfortable appearing with them. “George Allen is not a bigot. Period,” he said.

As to Mr. Sherwood, Mr. Snow said the president “believes that we are all sinners and we all seek forgiveness.” ~The New York Times

So why didn’t Mr. Bush implore Mark Foley to remain in Congress?  Maybe even campaign for him?  Doesn’t sound very charitable to me to not give him another chance.  Or could it be that Dobleve considers those “naughty emails” (to use Tony Snow’s description) to be more troubling than accusations of assault on the woman with whom you’re committing adultery?    Question: is it not some kind of unprecedented low for the Republicans to have the President of the United States campaign for an adulterer accused of mistress-strangling?

Yet another Republican congressman faced a corruption scandal last night after the FBI raided the homes of his daughter and a close friend to investigate whether he had illegally helped them to win lobbying contracts.


Curt Weldon, who has represented Pennsylvania’s 7th district since 1986, was already in a tight race for re-election, but the raids threaten to rob Republicans of another seat in next month’s mid-term elections. ~The Times

The race between Sestak and Weldon had already become extremely competitive before the revelations of possible corruption on Weldon’s part.  Now the FBI raid all but guarantees that the scandal will dominate the final weeks of the race.  In the current atmosphere, with corrupt and unethical GOP Congressmen dropping like flies, Weldon seems almost certain to lose. 

Update: Weldon questions the timing of the raid in a “they’re out to get me” moment worthy of Jim Traficant.

Via Republicans for Duckworth:

She believes our troops can start to come home if the administration puts money and its efforts in training Iraqi troops to handle their own security. She seeks accountability on the war from the administration to Congress on a regular basis. ~The Daily Herald

Accountability for the war!  What a novel idea.  This is what really terrifies the NRCC and the party as a whole: being held to account for what they have done.

Sullivan picks up on a dishonest NRCC commercial aimed at Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic candidate for the House in IL-6, DuPage County.  The ad claims, among other things, that Duckworth supports amnesty for illegal immigrants.  On that point in particular, the NROniks have undermined this particular smear campaign, as they have a post showing a Duckworth advertisement in which she specifically rejects this claim and makes clear her opposition to amnesty.  What is most egregious about this sort of ad campaign is that the biggest, most prominent proponent of amnesty is none other than Mr. Bush.  The ridiculous Tom Reynolds and his NRCC, which has defunded one of the most credible and forthright restrictionists in Randy Graf in AZ-8 after they actively opposed him in the primary, have shown their real loyalties when it comes to backing up Republican candidates who oppose amnesty.  They have zero credibility on this question.

Separately, in another Illinois politics-related note, I noticed a hilarious bumper sticker on the back of the SUV of a proud Roskam supporter.  Next to the Roskam sticker was one that said: “Fight Corruption. Fire Blagojevich.”  Now Blagojevich is certainly corrupt, but you have the admire the chutzpah of Illinois GOP voters in getting on anyone’s case for corruption.

Rarely has so widespread a view been so wrong. In fact, Bush is not merely conservative; he is more conservative than Ronald Reagan, the man whose ideological legacy he has supposedly betrayed. ~Peter Beinart

Ross and Reihan will be pleased (sort of) to see their point about discretionary domestic spending supported in this article, but beyond that I don’t think any conservative who has ever given the problem a moment’s thought will be in the least convinced.  Most entertaining of all was the claim that conservatives should apparently be happy about the passage of Medicare Part D because it is being run through private companies!  Oh, yes, I forgot, conservatives support public-private condominium arrangements and new entitlements, just like our hero, FDR!  Ahem.  Mr. Bush’s commitment to privatising Social Security was not terribly serious, but in fairness to him the failure of this reform can be laid at the Congress’ door just as much as it can be laid at his door.  This illustrates an ongoing theme: failure to fight for anything that conservatives might actually support, while forcing through abominations of government expansion that no one on the right wants.  The insane expansion of the instruments of the security state and homeland security bureaucracy is one of the clearest marks of the administration’s abandonment of conservatism–it is indeed Rooseveltian or Trumanesque in the absolute worst sense.  Above all, it is in his foreign policy that Mr. Bush has demonstrated his radical departure from conservatism, or rather gives expression to his own radicalism.  

The point is not that Reagan was ever exactly the paragon or model of conservative government.  He wasn’t, and people who try to make him into the gold standard of all conservatism wind up with some pretty strange positions.  The important distinction that sustains a positive memory of Reagan among conservatives is the awareness that he a) actually knew what conservatism was and b) was capable of articulating some of these ideas.  He had to confront at least one house of Congress under the control of the opposing party for the whole of his time in office.  His top judicial appointments, Scalia excepted, were therefore considerably weaker than Bush’s, and there was every reason to fear that Bush was going to blow both of his opportunities (the possibility of Justice Gonzales was always there); the Miers debacle was confirmation that the man didn’t even know what the question was.  He relented under pressure, which shows that he is a politician, not that he is deeply committed to “strict construction,” or any of the things he claims to favour.  Indeed “strict construction” is a view of the Constitution so far from his own that it is not even in the same galaxy.  On immigration, Bush has taken a Reagan-like position, which is not to say that he has taken the conservative position. 

Beinart thinks he has his silver bullet with Iraq, and here most conservatives have given him all the fodder he will need.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lock into everyone’s minds that Iraq is somehow quintessentially a “conservative” project if you are on the left: it would not do for people to remember that this kind of damned idiotic interventionism and nation-building is exactly the left’s cup of tea, and that the “conservatives” in government have created a disaster by imitating JFK and LBJ. 

The few in the conservative opposition to the war can say in all seriousness that they objected to the war because it was unconservative, indeed anti-conservative, an ideologically driven war of revolution, but the Johnny-Come-Latelies to Iraq war skepticism and the “Bush isn’t conservative” meme have a lot more explaining to do.  They don’t really get to wash their hands of the violence they did to the meaning of conservatism and say, “Uh, Bush made me do it!”  If Bush wasn’t advancing the “conservative policy” on Iraq, what were all of you people doing following him? 

Beinart here has not succeeded in showing Bush to be a super-conservative, but has shown instead that a lot of people in the “movement” have lost their way and have embraced plenty of things that never were conservative positions in the first place.  Aiming to “tar” Bush with conservatism–as a roundabout way to attach conservatism to every failed policy of Mr. Bush–Beinart missed the much bigger, more tempting target, which is the philosophical vacuity of large parts of the conservative “movement.”  The way out of this predicament for conservatives is to try to recover at least some of what has been lost, cast down the idols of interventionism and Big Government conservatism and make it clear that GOP failures in the Bush years have stemmed from the sorry attempt to use the Leviathan for “conservative purposes” rather than smashing it and reducing it to something more like its constitutionally designated limits.  The lesson of the Bush era is that big government solutions, social engineering and massive spending simply fail, no matter who is running them and no matter the ostensible goal; finding “market solutions” for entitlement programs works mainly to make those undesirable programs more expensive. 

Second, Reagan articulated the case for limited government. He didn’t say that when people were in pain, the government has a responsibility to move. Bush hasn’t built the case for conservative ideals the same way. ~Ramesh Ponnuru

As I mentioned before, Jim Antle, Doug Bandow and Leon Hadar have pieces in the new American ConservativeMichael Brendan Dougherty also has a new article in the same issue, a fun review of Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon, but he got his last article online, so this one is not available electronically. 

Jeremy Lott (defender of hypocrisy) and Patrick Hynes (defender of the Religious Right) have a good article in USA Today calling the left on the double standard of their approving of progressive Christians’ importing religion into politics while denouncing Christian conservatives for doing basically the same thing.  It is a point that could stand to be emphasised a bit more often, though it will presumably provoke the predictable, “But progressive Christians make appeals to universal ideas of equality and justice!  That’s nothing like the growling of the snaggle-toothed fanatics from Nacogdoches!”   Damon Linker has already presented us with a foretaste of this kind of argument in his dispute with Ross Douthat:

Still, the abolitionists and Martin Luther King Jr. were not theocons, out to increase public religiosity as an end in itself. They were, instead, lovers of justice whose piety motivated them to fight for the civic equality of black Americans–an equality at once promised and denied them in the nation’s (secular) Founding documents. The abolitionists and King may have been inspired by their faith, but the goals for which they worked–the emancipation of the slaves, the right to vote, economic opportunity for all citizens–were perfectly defensible in secular-civic terms.

Bingo. You see, progressive Christians aren’t mixing their religion and politics unduly, as their piety motivates them to love justice and hate social evils, which is different from the theocons and religious conservatives because the former don’t really do it for their religion. They do it for some good already defined outside of their religion.  Justice!  Equality!  The Rights of Man!  Anything But Christ, I suppose, must be the key phrase.  In other words, you can be inspired and motivated by religion, as long as you don’t take it all too seriously. 

Even though the progressive Christians’ very conception of what justice is only exists in the framework of their religious teachings, you cannot frame your arguments in explicitly and primarily religious terms or advance an ideal of public religiosity (even if, let us say, you believe that increased public religiosity would better guarantee social justice!) because, well, that would be all together too religious, which Linker has already determined is unacceptable.  Having appropriated progressive Christians of the past as models of socially-engaged Christians who did not push their religion among those who do not accept it (since that Christian religion was more or less universal, if often informal, and the appeals to the language of the Bible a lingua franca of American culture that cut across all boundaries), he can pretend that religion is an ointment that you generally keep separate from public affairs but can occasionally daub on a wound when necessary. 

In all this he does, of course, conveniently ignore those populist and reformist religious impulses that yielded temperance laws and later came back in the big way with Prohibition.  There is an argument to be made, and it has been made, that the temperance movement produced a real social benefit in reducing the astonishingly excessive consumption of alcohol in the first half of the 19th century, but the temperance folks did it absolutely with appeals to a mix of respectability and piety and channeled the revivalist enthusiasms of the time to stamping out the impact of Demon Rum.  This kind of moral reformation through legislation and public religiosity is exactly the sort of thing that a secularist such as Linker cannot stand, which may be why he never acknowledged it as an episode in the religious history of this country.  To acknowledge any precedent of highly religious reform movements focused so intently on personal behaviour and public morality would not help the cause of the secularists at all.  Indeed, it is odd that Blue Laws haven’t come up more often in the course of this debate, since they are in many cases a clear example of laws being passed to endorse religious commitments.   

In Linker’s world, we know temperance laws and Prohibition to be excessive applications of religion to public affairs because, well, progressives don’t like the results.  That is what finally determines whether a progressive Christian or a secularist would acknowledge the legitimacy of religion in politics: whether or not they can use it to advance their political agenda, or whether it advances a contrary agenda.  If the former, the saints are marching in, and there’s gonna be some stomping out of the grapes of wrath; if the latter, theocracy is coming!   

Caleb Stegall reviews Bill Kauffman’s Look Homeward, America in the Fall 2006 Intercollegiate ReviewHere is a .PDF form of the review.

Speaking of The Intercollegiate Review, I will be reviewing Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul for them.  That’s going to be some good fun, if I can just make it through the book… 

LET’S LEAVE 1986 AND TAKE A LOOK at the following randomly selected events from recent headlines.

* Leftist students shut down a presentation by representatives of the Minutemen border patrol group at Columbia University.

* New CBS anchor Katie Couric’s ratings plummet after barely a month on the air.

* North Korea tests a nuclear weapon after promising the Clinton administration that they would never do so. Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledges that the North Koreans cheated on their promise.

Each of these issues touches on core principles of the conservative revolution which Reagan led and why he had so much long-term confidence in the response of the American people to those conservative principles. ~Jeffrey Lord, The American Spectator

You might be surprised, gentle reader, to know that Katie Couric’s ratings problem touches on a “core principle of the conservative revolution.”  One would have thought that it had something to do with the vapidity of Ms. Couric or the decreasing popularity of the Big Three newscasts, which is a function of the growth of cable news and alternative media as much as anything else.  Not so.  It’s all about Limbaugh, you see, “America’s anchorman” (yes, this is what Mr. Lord actually called him), whose brief appearance on Couric’s program, and the higher ratings that went with it, showed the appeal of Limbaugh’s perspective and underscored CBS’ underlying liberal tilt.  Well, okay, I suppose Limbaugh does draw a bigger audience than the uninformative snooze-a-thons that pass for the evening news these days, but what exactly does this have to do with “core principles”?  Is it a “core principle” that the major networks are liberally biased?  If we followed Limbaugh’s watered-down, pseudo-conservatism, we might think so. 

The other two “core principles,” we are informed, have to do with free speech (conservatives are for it!) and opposing “appeasement” (appeasement, you see, is Bad, and the alternative of large-scale war must perforce be Good).  Of course what the students at Columbia did in stifling and suppressing the speech of the Minutemen was atrocious, and it is unfortunately a standard tactic of left-leaning students against speakers with whom they disagree, but when exactly did free speech become a “core principle” of “the conservative revolution”?  There are a whole lot of conservatives who are not big fans of what is now defined as “free speech” when it comes to obscenity, pornography, flag-burning and the like, and there are good reasons why they are not big fans.  You might argue that these things are abuses or distortions of free speech, and you would have a point, but, I ask again, since when was free speech a “core principle”?  On the whole, I would rather keep speech less regulated rather than more, but there are reasonable limits to the exercise of free speech; I just happen to disagree with the rather rigorous enforcement of fairly narrow, constricting limits imposed by the unofficial permissible range of debate and the official criminalisation of speech in Europe.  (It is now a crime to deny the Armenian genocide in France, which reflects a fine idea–acknowledging a genocide that Turkey still refuses to acknowledge–and absolutely horrendous implementation that shows the relative bankruptcy of intelligent discourse in Europe when basic historical questions cannot be debated and discussed on the evidence but instead the ‘right answer’ must be mandated by law.)  

Naturally, opposing appeasement–or at least whatever the propagandists pejoratively call appeasement–has entered into the blood of many conservatives, especially those who cannot turn around for all the new Hitlers they see in the world, but no one has ever explained to me what the steely-eyed, Churchillian response to North Korea’s threats to develop nuclear weapons in 1994 would have been.  The bombing starts in five minutes?  I think not.  If that is not a realistic option today in the age of crazy pre-emption, it was even less realistic back then.  Neocons screamed and shouted appeasement in 1994, and they were quite literally correct: like it or not, Clinton pursued the course that would avoid a war with North Korea and in so doing probably saved hundreds of thousands of American and Korean lives.  In the atmosphere of enthusiastic Clinton-bashing, in which everyone on the right participated to one degree or other, finding fault with their North Korea policy was mandatory, and for some of the wild-eyed neocons war with North Korea was actually a reasonable way to “solve” that particular problem.  Had Reagan been in office, I find it hard to believe that he would not have pursued a similar, if not identical, course of action.  This is, of course, the gravest heresy to hold, because it means that Clinton probably made the best of bad choices (which loyal partisans cannot ever admit).  Reagan was wise and it is well that he was not aware of what so much of the conservative movement he did so much to promote later became when the only words that sometimes seem to exist in the conservative vocabulary are “appeasement,” “fascism,” “moral clarity,” “resolve” and the various euphemisms devised to talk about torture without saying torture.  This is not 1986,  Bush is certainly not Reagan, and this is not your father’s “conservative revolution.” 

So, for instance, in a place like Kansas-02, the Democrat already has 41 percent compared to the incumbent Republican’s 45 percent. The undecideds are probably too Republican for the Democrat to win, but still, the numbers aren’t lying right now. ~Chuck Todd (10/13/06)

Well, let us hope the appeal of Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas with the progressive crowd is now officially over.  If Jim Ryun is facing stiff competition this year in the supposedly benighted land of reaction that is Kansas, the world really is beginning to turn upside down.  If Ryun loses, do not expect a flurry of articles entitled, “Why Kansas Is Just Great!”  Expect more punditry along the lines of, “At last, those rubes saw the light!  Now we can get back to insulting their beliefs and way of life.”  What a fate: to have to choose between Khan and Sultan

Which reminds me of some lines of poetry from everyone’s favourite ashogh, Sayat Nova, which uses Khan and Sultan as forms of address for his beloved in one of his typically violent love songs (pardon the rough translation):

Ashkharooms akh chim kashi, kani vur jan is indz ama
(I’ll not cry alas, because you are dear to me.)
Anmahakan jrov like voske pnjan is indz ama
(A golden cup filled with immortal water you are to me.)
Nstim,  veres shvak anis zarbar veran is indz ama
(I sit, you cover me with shadow, you are silk to me.
Soochs imats’i, enents’ spane; Sultan oo Khan is indz ama
(You know my sin, so kill me; you are Sultan and Khan to me.) 

Obama’s personal appeal is made manifest when he steps down from the podium and is swarmed by well-wishers of all ages and hues, although the difference in reaction between whites and blacks is subtly striking. The African Americans tend to be fairly reserved–quiet pride, knowing nods and be-careful-now looks. The white people, by contrast, are out of control. A nurse named Greta, just off a 12-hour shift, tentatively reaches out to touch the Senator’s sleeve. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I just touched a future President! I can’t believe it!” She is literally shaking with delight–her voice is quivering–as she asks Obama for an autograph and then a hug. ~Joe Klein, Time

People like that worry me.  Barack Obama is a good speaker.  Certainly, in the age of the current rhetorically challenged President, anyone who can string together a few sentences with ease and aplomb will seem like a veritable demigod to the folks out in the countryside.  Beyond that, and his “I’m like Muhammad Ali, but better looking” trips to Africa, I have to admit that I don’t get it.  Yes, he’s charismatic.  But so is Harold Ford, and you don’t see legions of adoring fans beating a path to his door to touch the Once and Future King.  The funny thing is that Ford is the kind of “centrist” (i.e., he supports welfare and torturing terrorists), Southern Democrat who ought to be getting all the attention as the next great thing.  Maybe if he manages to win against Corker he will become the new star in the Senate. 

But people still seem to have Obama’s 2004 convention speech (which was effective for a lot of people with all of its harping on “opportunity” and “I believe in America,” etc.) ringing in their ears, so much so that they cannot hear the blaring of the warning: no Senator has been elected President since 1960.  I suppose if we wind up with an election year filled with Senators, one of them will have to win, but so long as there is the odd governor thrown in I will give the governor the benefit of the doubt every time.  There is no really good reason for why this should be so.  As Mr. Bush has demonstrated only too well, being governor does not make you ready for prime time, and there is no reason why governors should continually do better in all different sorts of political environments: Cold War, post-Cold War, war with jihadis, governors frequently outperform Senators in the primaries and the party that does not have a governor as its candidate typically keeps losing.  If Obama runs in ‘08, he will lose.  If he runs in ‘12, he might get the nomination, but he will lose the election.  This has less to do with race (though I won’t kid you that this won’t be something of a factor) and more to do with Obama’s history of being a consistent left-liberal throughout his career.  That may not be the kind of political burden that it once was in the ’90s, but it will make it a lot harder for him to win a general election.  There is also the matter of admittedly limited experience; Jon Edwards ran up against this obstacle, and while he managed to make the VP slot he has become the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the losing vice presidential candidate with the least experience in government?” or the answer to the other trivia question, “Which Southern Democrat thought he was the second coming of Bill Clinton?”  Obama does not want to become the Jon Edwards of the future, and therefore will not run in two years.  He may well run in six years, by which time many things will have changed, but it is difficult to know just what state our politics will be in at that point.

The exuberant response of white people to Obama, however, is something that I really don’t get.  Klein notes that the enthusiasm for Obama is similar to the response to Colin Powell (which I also really don’t get):

The current Obama mania is reminiscent of the Colin Powell mania of September 1995, when the general–another political rainbow–leveraged speculation that he might run for President into book sales of 2.6 million copies for his memoir, My American Journey. Powell and Obama have another thing in common: they are black people who–like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan–seem to have an iconic power over the American imagination because they transcend racial stereotypes. “It’s all about gratitude,” says essayist Shelby Steele, who frequently writes about the psychology of race. “White people are just thrilled when a prominent black person comes along and doesn’t rub their noses in racial guilt. White people just go crazy over people like that.”  

I guess some white people “go crazy” over this sort of thing.  Honestly, I don’t quite understand why “gratitude” would be the response to this.  Relief, maybe, but gratitude?  For what are these people grateful?  That they’re not getting harangued about racism?  I guess.  But then both of the political figures mentioned above (Obama, Powell) are in favour of affirmative action, which is nothing if not the formalised, institutionalied racial guilt-trip.  Now if you’re a white person who supports said guilt-trip, I suppose this wouldn’t trouble you.  But it still doesn’t explain the sometimes nearly hysterical excitement these figures have elicited from white admirers.  What am I missing? 

Take Colin Powell–please!  Seriously, though, Colin Powell was a reasonably competent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a career military politician who was fairly good at working in bureaucracy; the Powell Doctrine was smart and basically sound as far as these things go, and he would have done well to adhere to it when he was allegedly in a position of importance in this administration.  In the intervening years after he retired after the Somalia debacle (a debacle that he helped to bring about by refusing to give those soldiers the necessary protections the admittedly foolish mission required) he did nothing that would have distinguished him in any way.  He wrote a book!  He supports abortion rights!  Okay.  Were he not black, he would have been as unremembered in 2000 as Gen. Myers will be in a few years’ time and Gen. Shalikashvili already was in 2002.  (Say, why are there no Draft Shalikashvili campaigns?)  Then as Secretary of State, while well-liked by people at the department and reasonably capable of doing the basic drudge work of diplomacy, he was present at the creation of one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history and helped make that decision happen.  If I were Barack Obama, I would not want to be mentioned in the same sentence with this unfortunate figure.   

Were we therefore wrong to support the war, those of us who did? In terms of what we hoped and what we thought likely, we obviously were - given how things have actually turned out. But on the basis of what could have been reliably foreseen, I think it’s harder to say that. Only if the disaster was always foreseeable as the most likely outcome would I be convinced of it. ~Norm Geras

But disaster of some sort was always foreseeable as the most likely outcome.  Some people said so from the very beginning and kept saying it.  Besides the injustice of a war of aggression and the misguided nature of interventionist enterprises in principle, no one who knew the first thing about Iraq could seriously believe that overthrowing Hussein’s regime was going to usher in anything other than violent resistance and chaos.  No one who knew anything about Iraq believed that the Shi’ites were primed for Jeffersonian democracy; naturally, those who claimed such things knew next to nothing of the country beyond what Bernard Lewis had told them in his extremely tendentious pro-war arguments. 

The war has actually not ushered in as much regional chaos as some of us feared, which hardly vindicates the supporters of the war.  Instead of an immediate refugee crisis all at once, the refugees have been pouring out at a considerable, steady rate; instead of immediate civil war, we have a civil war that seems to be picking up a head of steam; instead of Kurdish independence, we have general Iraqi fragmentation and death squads.  So it could be worse–that is hardly going to be a slogan with which to inspire the true believers in the war.  We opponents often offered worst-case scenarios, and so far there have only been bad scenarios, but on every point–how Iraqis would respond to occupation, how they would adapt to political reform, how Islam would mix with democratic politics, how sectarian and ethnic hatreds would overwhelm the country, and on down the line–opponents of the war have been proven largely and substantially right.  Their predictions are a matter of record.  The ludicrous certainties of the war supporters are as well.    

I don’t dwell on this point much anymore, since there is nothing satisfying in being proven right about the incompetence of government and the foolishness of ideologues when their mistakes and crimes bring death to tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people, but people who opposed the war in Iraq from the start were very simply right about just about everything.  We were not simply right about the pragmatic questions of success or feasbility (that is, we assumed some form of significant political failure in the aftermath of the war, regarded the democratisation talk as insane Wilsonian fantasy, etc.) but we were also on the side of morality and justice because the goals set by the administration, whether in terms of improving the Iraqis’ lot or transforming the country into a successful democracy, were never realistic and never going to be realised.  This is the case also because the war was, in the final analysis, always a war of aggression, no matter how many elaborate excuses and justifications were cooked up to evade this basic truth.  Aggression cannot be just, no matter what it is you may believe you will achieve by it.  You cannot will evil that good may come of it.  Obviously.  But it was not obvious to supporters of the war for reasons that will never be clear to me.   

I appreciate that Mr. Geras has recognised the folly of persisting in Iraq, but it seems to me a fairly half-hearted conversion if he still believes that it was really very likely that the war was ever going to do anything other than fail, unless success were defined in a very narrow way as the deposition of Saddam Hussein.  If that were the definition of victory, the war should have ended almost three years ago.  That would not have prevented Iraq from collapsing into the carnage we see today (I am skeptical that anything, short of another heavy-handed ruler, would have prevented this), but had we left the Iraqis to their own devices at that point America might at least not be so directly implicated in the disintegration of that country.

Jonah Goldberg notes some tasteless, slutty Halloween costumes on sale at that community-friendly emporium, Wal-Mart.  Already I can hear the retort, “They’re just giving people what they want!”  Which is exactly the problem. 

Answer: Two.  One religious conservative/traditionalist to do all the work, and one “libertarian” to mock and belittle everything he does and occasionally call him a fanatical hypocrite.

This was occasioned by reading Jennifer Roback’s smart review of the new book by one Ryan Sager, The Elephant in the Room, according to which Sager proposes yet another corrupt bargain under the worn-out name of fusionism.  I am not a fan of any kind of fusionism.  Take it as a given that any philosophical construct that exists purely to justify a political alliance will be rather shabby and threadbare when inspected more closely.  It will likely make no sense, and it will almost certainly serve the interests of the faction within the coalition that created it.  In practice, the old fusionism meant the “libertarians” dictated on economic questions (hurray for corporations! hurray for markets!), anticommunists dictated foreign policy (hurray for internationalism! hurray for massive military spending!) and the traditionalists, like the unwanted stepchild, got to buttress both of these arguments by talking about how moral all of it was.  That corporations, the dissolving power of the market and a huge military were are detrimental to the traditional communities the traditionalist valued was one of those things best left unmentioned.  After the 1970s, the traditionalists and religious conservatives began to get more of their “own” issues, but these issues were mostly used to get them excited, keep them loyal and keep them out of the business of the other factions.    

Now Sager’s fusionism it’s not just any fusionism–it’s a “new Fusionism”!  Where have we heard this song and dance before?  But this new fusionism is perhaps even more obviously two-faced and cynical than Mr. Bottum’s dubious construct of pro-lifers and warmongers, er, I mean deeply moral foreign policy thinkers.  We all know the script: big, bad religious conservatives are just so powerful that they are messing everything up…and somehow causing government to grow at an accelerated rate.  One almost expects Mr. Sager to breathlessly cite Damon Linker’s indictment of theocons.  

The people who complain about this sort of thing tend to be more horrified at the religious stuff than they are about the fiscal disaster that is GOP rule, but often they combine the two concerns and project them onto the scary nemesis that is religious conservatism, or “theocons” or, in Sullivan’s asinine formulation, “Christianism.”  But this nonsense is, in its way, as old as the original, unfortunate idea of fusionism.  It is almost as old as the “movement” itself, and it has always, always been the people on the “libertarian” side of the line who complain about the overreaching traditionalists and Christians (these are “libertarians,” I would note, who typically have no problem with the national security state, but are absolutely horrified at people talking disparagingly of choice or the market–in this sense, the current NR crowd is faithfully carrying on a bad, old tradition).  It is always, always these “libertarians” from Frank Meyer to the critics of the crunchy cons to this Ryan Sager who are convinced that the traditionalists and religious conservatives are embarked upon some project to expand the state.  Like Fareed Zakaria, they are horrified when people use the word “community,” but instead of reaching for an oxygen mask they reach for their guns. 

The New Conservatives never could catch a break: for Meyer, they were too focused on community at the expense of the individual, and for Viereck they were too accommodating to the market to be real traditionalists!  According to this way of thinking, when the state expands–usually with the connivance or indifference of some other “libertarians” more than anyone else, especially when it is for “national security”–the “libertarians” will sometimes even attribute the expansion of government to religious conservatives, some of whom were probably more opposed to the expansion of the security state than the “libertarians” and who probably had next to nothing to do with the programs in question. 

Thus the myth of the Vast Power Of the Religious Right is perpetuated, even though there is nothing the last five years have shown us more than that the “Religious Right” has surprisingly limited influence in a party that owes its power in no small part to religious conservatives.  Sager’s new deal is not a promising one.  According to the review, he is telling religious conservatives to sit down and shut up, and buy into his program of simple fiscal conservatism:

The “new Fusionism” he proposes does not offer anything to social conservatives. He does not seem to take a single one of their issues seriously. He seems to say that the only way to win is for social conservatives to abandon the issues that matter to them, and become plain vanilla fiscal conservatives. I somehow doubt that they are going to do that. His proposal amounts to taking the religious Right for granted, since they won’t vote for the party of the pagan Left. 

But, of course, there has never been any fusionism that offered anything to social and religious conservatives.  Traditionalists are the ones who have to do all the nimble intellectual fancy footwork to stay in the good graces of the “libertarians,” constantly justifying their presence in the coalition on the terms set by the others.  These are the terms as set by the “libertarians” and their friends, more or less:

Okay, traditionalists, here are the rules.  If you stick with ‘em, everybody wins and we can all go home happy.  If you don’t, well, it could get a bit ugly.  Here we go.  You can talk about God, but try to talk about how God has made men free–and not just in any “the truth shall set you free” sort of way, but actually politically free [this is a rather obnoxious idea about God that I explode in my forthcoming American Conservative article-DL].  If at all possible, could you come up with an elaborate way to trick your fellow traditionalists into thinking that the Enlightenment was One Giant Leap for Mankind?  I don’t know, you figure it out.  Just make sure that you keep talking about rights.  You can quote the Bible, but if at all possible skip to the part that talks about how the one who doesn’t labour will not eat.  We really like that one.  But, seriously, what’s with that Sermon on the Mount?  Very discouraging stuff.  Pray for our enemies?  I don’t know–that sound a bit left-wing to me!  Try not to pay too much attention to what it says about the riches of this world–it could create problems for our corporate donors.  Charity is very good, and if we can sell people on the idea that it will effectively replace social programs it will help us out a lot, but please stop interfering in our napalming of villages with all this talk about ius in bello.  Community is very nice; the golf courses are first rate.  Oh, you weren’t talking about a gated community?  Hm, this is unfortunate.  Maybe if you talked about a community of free and independent individuals who have no particular obligations to anyone except for those that they choose.  I think we could go along with that….What do you mean that’s not a real community?  Who died and made you king?  What’s that?  Tradition, you say?  Hey, hey, how about a “tradition of liberty”?  Nifty, eh?  Authority?  Well, I don’t know.  Sounds vaguely fascist to me.  And European, too.  Better dump that one.  Hierarchy?  Do I look Catholic to you?  Morality?  I know one thing about morality–you can’t legislate it! Ha ha!  Virtue?  What does that have to do with anything?  Let people make their own choices, I always say.  We don’t want to be a bunch of sticks-in-the-mud, now, do we?

Depending on the year, you can change up a few of the specifics, but this sums up the spirit of the rather dysfunctional marriage that was and still is fusionism.  Every new fusionism is premised on the same relationship: the secular and “libertarian” conservatives say, “Jump!” and the religious conservatives say, “How high?”  Like conservatives in general in their relationship with the GOP, the traditionalists and religous conservatives have always felt obliged to stay in the rocky marriage and take the garbage dealt out to them.  Sager represents just one part of a long line of tiresome lectures telling the traditionalists to keep in their place and stop interfering with everybody else’s good time.  One day, perhaps one day soon, the “libertarians” may find that they don’t have the traditionalists and religious conservatives to kick around any more, as the latter realise that they make up a considerable portion of the coalition and it is they who should actually be calling the shots.  It is one of the remarkable things about the “libertarian” habit of lamenting the intrusive nature and supposedly powerful influence of these conservatives: it is almost entirely fictitious and based in their own aversion to the emphasis these people put on religion, morality and community.  They would be frightened of or annoyed by these people no matter how powerful they were.  The “libertarians” have never ceased running the show in the party and the “movement” and occasionally must throw up the barricades against the mob of religious and traditional conservatives whom they routinely exploit for votes and then toss aside with the occasional rhetorical nod of talking about “the culture of life” or engaging in sensationalist grandstanding about Terri Schiavo while doing virtually nothing on anything else of interest to pro-lifers.  The frequency with which they sound alarms about the excessive influence of religious people in the coalition, they must know how shaky and feeble their control is.  Maybe someday the religious conservatives and traditionalists (who are, I do realise, not identical) will decide that it is time to take that control away.  Stranger things have happened.       

A combination of lucky breaks and Democratic mistakes could still avert disaster for the GOP. But don’t count on the Republicans’ magical power. It doesn’t exist. ~John Pitney, National Review

Here is the trouble for the ostensibly conservative party: their one winning issue in the last five years, beyond the obvious one of national security (which, frankly, only a supremely idiotic ruling party could have lost in the wake of 9/11), that the GOP has successfully exploited has been gay “marriage.”  Instead of successfully fighting on immigration, they have punted due to internal disagreements about how to proceed.  Here the “big tent” approach has been the ruin of the party, since the GOP’s bread and butter is to be the nationalist party and there is no issue more powerful for a nationalist party than immigration.  In failing to understand this or take full advantage of the great opportunity it presented, they show themselves to be worse than failures.  Their great victory has been to insist upon the codification of marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous union (something largely achieved, by the way, by the grassroots and activists, and scarcely helped at all by the national party that reaps the benefits at the polls).  (Even here they have not always opposed the virtually indistinguishable “civil unions,” but let’s let them have some credit for their meager accomplishment.)   In other words, the one thing they have “succeeded” at in the national debate was to confirm what almost everyone knew or assumed to be true just 10 or 15 years ago on the most fundamental social institution there is.  How many more “victories” of this kind can we endure?  To have succeeded at something like this means that conservatives have been losing the broader culture war so badly that conservatives are supposed to be grateful that the generals were able to protect one of the main citadels that was nowhere near the frontier and should never have been threatened.  To get excited about this kind of success would be like having a triumph for the emperor after he successfully recaptured Ostia from a rabble of freed slaves.  On other fronts, such as affirmative action or reducing government, the generals are dilatory and often interested in saving their own skins rather than repelling attacks and launching counterattacks.  If the Republicans are the conservatives’ main battle army in the culture wars, then conservatives are roughly in the position of Iraqis facing overwhelming U.S. force with an army that does not fight or gives up easily.  For the same reason the average Arab has not wanted to fight on behalf of his political leadership in most wars, so, too, do many conservatives no longer want to fight for this party: it means nothing to them and has no connection to them.  All year long the election-year message has been: “Ignore all our failures and our abuses of your trust–the invader is coming!”  But, like an arbitrary despot, the party cannot rouse the people to its defense with such lame appeals.  The people know how badly the despot has ruled them.  For a moment they allow themselves to think, in spite of everything they know to be true about the invader, that perhaps the Mongols coming over the hill are not destructive pagan barbarians but actually Prester John come to deliver them from the threat of the Saracens.  This is, of course, a terrible delusion, and the Mongol yoke will weigh heavily on many of them.  Soon will come the lament of the half-hearted critic of the despot, “Where have you gone, O Master?”  For those who truly desire the defeat of the despot, however, there can be no such second-guessing and kvetching after the deed is done.  The invader will be cruel, but then we should also remember that the despot who will be overthrown this year is only a satrap, who was himself beholden to the shahanshah in the White House.  The invader will serve as bulwark against the depredations of the shahanshah, perhaps like Agesilaos’ Spartans fighting to throw down Persian rule in Ionia.  More likely, it will be more like Timur overthrowing the power of Bayezid and dragging him off in a cage: the Byzantines are spared the final blow for a brief time, but at terrible cost to others.   

Many of the people are only too aware of the danger, but in a fine tradition of subject Near Eastern peoples we await the comeuppance of the brutal master, even though we know that the next master may be even worse.  We have come to understand that there are no good masters, only more or less obnoxious ones, though it has taken us long enough to learn what we should always have known.  But the despot has betrayed them so often that they say to themselves, if only once, “Come, O Great Khan, and free us.” 

What in the name of blackest reaction has been happening to the Scene?  Ross and Reihan’s blog disappeared for a couple days, then returned briefly, and then disappeared again, and just when the blog was getting attention in the respectable blogosphere of the Big-Named Magazines and Journals.  Someone jealous over their prestigious Playboy ranking as one of the best political blogs must be having them on.

Update: Our great national nightmare is over.  They have returned (again).

An interesting development has come out of the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Joe Sestak, whose strong antiwar challenge to Rep. Curt Weldon I have had my eye on for the last six months, has managed to catch his opponent and has raised almost as much money as the incumbent in the last quarter.  CQPolitics has just rated the race as having no clear favourite (for whatever it is worth, Evans-Novak has listed it as leaning Dem), and this rating was made before revelations of possible corruption on Weldon’s part that federal investigators are looking into.  Republican prospects here can hardly be helped by a gubernatorial candidate with no real shot at victory and Santorum in meltdown. 

Take Ohio. Republicans have practiced one-party rule in the state since 1994–more than enough time to lose one’s principles. Former Gov. George Voinovich set the standard in 1992 by breaking his word and signing tax hikes. His successor, Bob Taft, with the help of the GOP legislature, in 2003 broke pledges not to raise taxes without voter permission. Some $3 billion in tax increases later, Ohio jumped to fourth place in the rankings for state and local tax burdens. (It was 23rd in 1994, when the GOP took over.) Over their first 10 years in power, Republicans increased Ohio’s general operating budget by 71%–the highest increase in the nation.

The Taft and Spend strategy socked it to the Ohio economy. Its gross state product grew a measly 1% between 2004 and 2005, while Ohio lost 150,000 jobs between 2000 and 2005. Unemployment levels have hovered above the national average. If corruption is the product of big, unconstrained government, it was no surprise to watch the GOP engulfed by scandals that swept up everyone from Mr. Taft to Congressman Bob Ney. By November of last year, Mr. Taft’s approval rating was 6.5%; if anyone had been keeping track, the legislature may have scored even lower.  

Mr. Blackwell didn’t sign onto any of this. While the rest of his party was riding down the big-government river, the secretary of state was pushing a voter initiative to create a constitutional limit on spending. He’s been running this year on tax cuts, charter schools and privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. He hasn’t been touched by the scandals.

“There hasn’t been a bigger critic of the Taft administration than Ken Blackwell,” says Ken Blackwell . . . again and again. Voters can’t find it in themselves to make the distinction. The Ohio Democratic Party understands that better than anyone, and routinely refers to its opponent as “Ken Taftwell.” Mr. Strickland is so good at keeping the focus on the failed GOP, nobody has noticed he’s a fan of the very tax-and-spend policies that landed Republicans in trouble in the first place. ~Kimberley Strassel, OpinionJournal

It’s a shame that the corruption and misrule of the Ohio GOP, to which Mr. Blackwell did not contribute and in which he had no real part, has come back to hurt his candidacy so much.  He has appeared to me to be one of the last real conservative leaders at the state level, he is favourable to religious conservatives and he is intelligent and polished without being a party lackey as Alan Keyes is.  Unfortunately, the Ohio GOP was one of the leading pioneers, along with their Illinois brethren, in blazing the trail of Republican corruption that seems to typify only too much of the party, and Blackwell has been caught in the wake of the scandal.  Add that to the gross mismanagement of the state’s budget, and you have a recipe for disaster in the state that once gave you Mr. Republican.  Now, the Taft dynasty has gone down in flames and disgrace, and has taken the GOP with it. 

Ohio stands as a stark reminder of what happens to a party when it pursues fiscal irresponsibility, presumably in the expectation of buying support, rather than pursuing the policies for which it can provide a coherent rationale and for which it has philosophical justification.  People who want to replicate the Ohio GOP’s fate nationwide, keep pushing for Big Government conservatism and the reckless spendathon that has characterised it so far.  By all means, if you would have the GOP across the country suffer the blowout they are going to suffer in Ohio, enable the irresponsible party leadership that thinks constituents are suckers to be ignored rather than the people they are supposed to serve and support the GOP in November. 

Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year’s fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said. ~The New York Times

This means that the GOP has been reduced to the “firewall” states of Tennesse, Virginia and Missouri, and their candidates are trailing in two of those states and dead-even in Virginia.  If they have written off Ohio, that frees up stretched Dem resources to solidify the leads Ford and McCaskill have been slowly piecing together and allows them to make more of a competitive bid against the far better-funded Allen in the Old Dominion.  Senate control is looking extremely shaky, but it will probably all hinge on whether the tainted Menendez can hang on in New Jersey.  The irony of a Menendez victory in the year of supposed anti-corruption politics would almost be entertaining enough to make it worthwhile.

Update: Apparently reports of GOP defeatism in Ohio have been greatly exaggerated.  But the numbers for DeWine still don’t look very good–Rasmussen has him down by five points according to the last information I saw.

On the intellectual acumen of his [Snow’s] boss: “He reminds me of one of those guys at the gym who plays about 40 chessboards at once.” ~The New York Times

Of course, this isn’t a compliment if he’s one of those guys who plays on 40 chessboards at once and never has a chance of winning any of the games.  It just means that he’s arrogant and overconfident.

Mr. Snow, who will make 16 such appearances before Election Day, acknowledged he had entered “terra incognita”; to his knowledge, no other White House press secretary has raised money for political candidates while in the job. But with his star power from television and his conservative credentials, Mr. Snow, unlike his predecessors, is in hot demand. ~The New York Times

I have heard lots of traditional Christians discuss this issue and I have never heard anyone discuss polygamy. Maybe it’s the crowd I run with, people who’ve read a lot of religious history, but what I hear people talking about is the very nature of God in Mormon theology.

They are worried about a P word, but it’s not polygamy. It’s polytheism. (Click here for a flashback to my own interviews with top Mormon leaders on this topic.) The P word then leads to the big concept that the press is going to have to face — the E word.

That word is “exaltation,” and its concept that what man now is, the God of this creation once was. Thus, there are many worlds, creations or spheres that have their own gods (and the gods have many wives) who are humans who have evolved to divinity. ~Terry Mattingly, GetReligion

Now the fair-minded liberal, who probably has a Wiccan friend or two, will say, “So what?  Big deal!”  And there might be something to the argument that, just because you believe in a materialistic doctrine of God, hold that Jehovah was more or less a guy just like you once and accept that the lost tribes of Israel somehow made their way over to the Americas (that’s a long way from Assyria, brother), voters have no reason to think that you would be more or less competent in upholding and enforcing the laws of the land than any President at least nominally from a Christian church (note that I take it as axiomatic that Mormons are not Christians in the sense that all other prominent denominations are Christian).  They might regard your beliefs as fairly kooky, but you could at least claim that you follow an all-American religion, which might satisfy some people. 

Nonetheless, if Romney wants to play on his “values” and his “faith,” it becomes relevant and significant what his faith includes and what sort of doctrine the man holds.  When Mormons say that Jesus Christ is their Saviour, they don’t mean the same thing most everybody else does, because they don’t even have the same doctrine of God the Father.  When Mormons talk about deification, this is not a deification by grace through which you become God-like or gods by grace, but you really become a god, one among many, in a manner that seems to me fairly indistinguishable from the way ancient Greeks viewed some of their heroes as having ascended to Olympus.  If I am not mistaken, when deified you can nonetheless remain with your deified family–the family that prays together stays together…for eternity, I guess.  As I understand it, you then get to run your own planet–someone please correct me if I have this wrong.  Mormon attempts to find common ground with other Christians through the doctrine of theosis have been met with, shall we say, skepticism from the Orthodox side and bemusement from the Catholics.  Since the Protestants tend to look down their noses at any kind of deification talk, this line of argument has probably hardly improved the Mormons’ case.  

That is all very significant, and it matters to many Christian people, whether or not it “should” matter to them.  Some people believe that a candidate’s policy views, his credentials and his qualifications should be what determine support for him, and those are the only things that matter.  Maybe, though I’m not convinced.  If we were talking about a Scientologist, no one would hesitate for a second to disqualify him on the basis of his religious affiliation; if there were a chance of a Muslim becoming President, his religion would be the issue.  That is inevitable when a candidate comes from an extreme minority religion or an obscure, little-understood religion that has had, at best, mixed relations with some of the churches in America.  Maybe for wonks and political junkies policies and qualifications things will win out in the end over other considerations.  Certainly evangelicals, if they are honest, have to face up to the fact that getting ”one of their own” elected has not exactly worked out terribly well for anyone, including them.  Maybe a far-out heretic would do better.  It is hard to think how he could do worse! 

But herein lies the problem: no matter what, Romney’s religion requires voters to adopt as their own someone who believes things they will never believe in a million years, and whose every reference to God will remind them that he does not believe in the same God that they worship, the One God in Trinity, uncreated, eternal and unoriginate, but a material deity imagined by a crackpot New York con man who has about as much claim to being a true prophet as Muhammad and suffers from the disadvantage of living in an age of much more copious documentation.  For the secularist who thinks every revelation is a lot of hot air, the disagreement over the finer points will seem perplexing, but for the average Christian it is a no-brainer that there is something fundamentally less rational and less credible about Mormon theology than is the case with any rival Christian confession.  

But on the question of policies and qualifications, Romney is not obviously a winner, either.  I have not heard very much from old Mitt that makes me want to run down to the Romney ‘08 headquarters and sign up.  So far, I know that he signed into law an atrocious universal health-care bill in Massachusetts and he has engaged in megalomaniacal posturing over Khatami’s recent visit to Harvard; he has, I believe, used the hated word Islamofascist, which makes me regard him as less intelligent than I would have otherwise.  Oh, yes, he was in favour of permitting abortion before he was against it, which fills the average conservative’s heart with hope, I’m sure.  This is allegedly the theocons’ main guy?  For a vast conspiracy allegedly aimed at overthrowing the liberal order these guys really need to pick more electable candidates! 

In Washington, Anthony Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said by telephone: “If you total up the number of people that are being killed, that are being wounded, that are being displaced and are being forced to leave the country, and the zones in which there is major civil conflict . . . trying to declare there isn’t a civil war borders on the absurd.” ~The Washington Post

United States President George Bush on Saturday denied that Iraq is plunging into civil war, just a day after the Pentagon painted a bloody picture of a nation caught in a spiral of increasing violence. ~The Mail & Guardian(9/03/06)


Tony Judt, the NYU professor critical of Israel whose appearance Tuesday night at the Polish consulate was abruptly canceled, has had a second appearance derailed after a protest from a Jewish leader.

Mr. Judt was to have spoken on October 17 at the Holocaust Research Center of Manhattan College, an independent Catholic institution in Riverdale. He withdrew late last week, saying the college had put him in “an impossible position” by promising to critics that he would not speak about Israel.

Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale said he had threatened to picket the college if Mr. Judt spoke at the Holocaust center.

“I am a firm believer in First Amendment rights, and would have no problem with Judt speaking at some other forum, as long as an opposing view would be heard,” Rabbi Weiss wrote to the Holocaust center’s leaders. “But having someone who is a State of Israel denier speak at a Holocaust forum is a desecration of the memory of the six million,” he wrote. ~The New York Sun (10/5/06)

So even when Judt intends to speak on a subject related to the Holocaust (about which, as an historian, he might have something interesting to say), his views on Israel somehow enter into it.  But apparently being a “State of Israel denier” (Judt has advocated a “single-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, thereby denying the ethnic majority basis for a country that is supposed to pride itself on its egalitarian, secular democracy–this and this alone has been the basis for the harrassment directed against him) is practically as bad as being a Holocaust denier and merits rather over-the-top reactions.  His position is allegedly “anti-Jewish,” full stop. 

Now it’s a good thing that the rabbi believes in the First Amendment (provided that there is an opposite point of view on hand to run interference–the marketplace of ideas can only be so vibrant at any one time), or else Tony Judt would really be out of luck. 

The New York Times provides an interesting graphic (via Kevin Drum) that shows how voter preferences seem to be shaped, negatively or positively, by the party then holding the presidency when the voter is 20 years old.  Drum, only too predictably, notes the massive gap opening up in the present generation and associates the drop in support for the GOP with the “Christian right’s social neanderthalism.”  Now, in all seriousness, if you had to name the top five things that took place in the Bush Era at Republican instigation, would anything actually related to the Christian right or “social neanderthalism”?  Yes, there was the Schiavo hysteria and there were the gay “marriage” bans, but do we really think that the twentysomethings of America are deeply engaged by these questions one way or the other?  No.  It is very simply the war that has driven so many young people to reject the GOP.  For me personally, I can’t say that I was terribly tempted to become a Republican before the Bush Era but I am certainly committed to never being one in the future; in that sense, I am part of the same trend, though I was 20 when Clinton was President. 

Speaking of “neaderthalism,” if the Neanderthals were wiped out by the Cro-Magnons in a prehistoric genocide, shouldn’t that make the Neanderthals a retroactively Officially Protected Victim Group deserving of possible military intervention via time travel?  Instead of ”Never again!” the rallying cry could be, “Never before!”  References to “neanderthalism” show just how widespread the anti-Neanderthal hate still is after hundreds of thousands of years–when will it end?  In this light, I think we can see that all of this anti-Neanderthal prejudice is just a deep-seated subspeciesist animus that reflects the narrative of power and domination of the descendants of the Cro-Magnon oppressors.  I think someone should start petitioning for Neanderthal reparations and a formal apology from the leaders of all the nations of the world that have benefited from this crime against quasi-humanity.  Fight subspeciesism!  Protect Neanderthal rights!   

Some Republican strategists are increasingly upset with what they consider the overconfidence of President Bush and his senior advisers about the midterm elections November 7–a concern aggravated by the president’s news conference this week.

“They aren’t even planning for if they lose,” says a GOP insider who informally counsels the West Wing. If Democrats win control of the House, as many analysts expect, Republicans predict that Bush’s final two years in office will be marked by multiple congressional investigations and gridlock.

“The Bush White House has had no relationship with Congress,” said a Bush ally. “Beyond the Democrats, wait till they see how the Republicans–the ones that survive–treat them if they lose next month.” GOP insiders are upset by Bush’s seeming inability to come up with new ideas or fresh approaches. There is even a heightened sensitivity to the way Bush talks about advisers who served his father. ~U.S. News & World Report

Now why would Mr. Bush lower himself to have a relationship with his servants?  It seems downright undignified for the autocrat to spend much time with the yes-men, and if there is one thing Mr. Bush promised to do it was to bring back dignity and respect to the office.   

Now perhaps Mr. Bush has confused the consequences of Iraqi elections (i.e., where there is no significant change to the political situation, and even if there is you are supposed to ignore it) with the consequences of our own, where there may be at least a bit of political change.  Or perhaps he still lives in a world where he is a “uniter, not a divider” (oh, to return to the fun days of 2000…) and still remembers watching Thirteen Days with the Kennedy clan.  Maybe he believes in the power of positive thinking.  Maybe he just never plans for anything.  That would make sense of a lot of things.

Should the GOP lose one or both houses, watch as Congressmen and Senators bare their teeth and start savaging Bush.  They have nothing left to lose and everything to gain by being the most brutal critics of the administration.  2008 waits for no man, and many of the nominee wanna-bes will need to be positioning themselves as the anti-Bush.  Anyone daft enough to claim the mantle of Bush (John McCain, this means you) will come to regret it.   

Chronicles‘ website has a lot of new, very good content up, as some of you who don’t check it regularly may not know.  Paul Craig Roberts tears into the administration on the war and the economy with his usual verve and intensity and calls for impeachment of Bush and Cheney in a second article.  Pat Buchanan surveys the mess that is the Mark Foley scandal, the cynical Democratic exploitation of it and the baffling GOP stupidity in their handling of it.  Srdja Trifkovic considers the implications of the North Korean nuke test for U.S. policy and U.S. allies in Northeast Asia in a transcribed interview from KFUO-St. Louis radio.  At Cultural Revolutions Online, Alexander Cockburn writes on the ADL harrassment of Tony Judt that led to the cancellation of a recent talk of his at the Polish Consulate in New York, which I have previously noted here.  I recommend the Chronicles website for your regular reading, and I also strongly recommend the magazine itself, which is one of the finest magazines on culture and politics on the planet.  (And, yes, I am an occasional contributor to Chronicles, but that doesn’t make the previous claim any less true.)  If you haven’t already subscribed, I think you would find it well worth the cost.

Today, while the religious conservatives and the social libertarians have their culture war flashpoints — how many crèches can you fit on the head of a publicly funded pin? — the traditionalists are interested in how to strengthen institutions that breed responsible people. How do you encourage marriage at a time when 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock? How can you embed young men in American cities, or in Iraq, in the constructive world of work, so they won’t drift into the world of violence? How can you build preschool programs so children from chaotic homes will have at least one stable place to develop self-control? How can you assimilate immigrants so they will internalize the social norms of the United States? How can parents keep cultural garbage out of their homes? ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Let’s take the first one.  You might begin to encourage marriage by, well, actively encouraging it and actively stigmatising and punishing all other sexual relationships.  That doesn’t mean that the President occasionally gives a speech in which he does the Mom and apple pie routine and says, “Marriage is an important institution.”  There has to be a lot more behind it than that, possibly including rewriting laws to remove disincentives to marriage.  And by stigmatise the other relationships, I mean really stigmatise, up to and including stigmas against bastardy.  Most of this would come in the form of social pressure, but there could be a role for legislation as well.  You could give people tax exemptions when they get married; you could tighten divorce laws; you could keep driving home the social upheaval caused by unstable and failed marriages and making it stick that marriage is not always going to be a pleasure cruise or a journey of self-satisfaction, but is hard work done for the sane and successful rearing of the next generation and the integrity of the community (to speak simply in purely secular terms for the moment).  You could openly denounce cohabitation and teach your children that it is unacceptable; landlords could refuse to rent to cohabiting couples; businesses could refuse to grant the kind of benefits to “significant others” that could be reserved for spouses.  We could stop referring to “cohabitation” by this euphemistic weasel-word, which makes it seem as if we were referring to animals that inhabited the same ecological system, and get back to very old-fashioned, judgemental-as-all-get-out phrases like “living in sin.”  Wouldn’t that be a fun throwback? 

Of course, all of that would require some kind of understanding of why these alternatives are wrong, which is a large part of the battle.  To be a credible alternative to the moral absolutists, Brooksian traditionalism would need to demonstrate that it is not social conservatism’s answer to “compassionate conservatism”: a sell-out of principle done in the name of pragmatic “problem-solving.”  One could start, Dave, by not supporting “civil unions” in a bid to cater to the notions of what is acceptable and right-minded in Manhattan.  That might be a start to show that Brooksian traditionalism isn’t driven by the “hunger for approval,” but by an interest in reducing the damage of social and moral disorder.  

We traditionalists observe that when policies fail, it’s usually because they are based on inaccurate assumptions about human nature. So we don’t base our thinking on the abstract arguments of theology. Nor do we base it on economics, with its image of profit-maximizing individuals. We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Leave aside for a moment the glaring problem that conservative assumptions about human nature–its fallibility, its fallenness, its tendency towards passionate excess–are at least partly rooted in theological teachings about human nature.  Set aside, if you can, that speaking of a common human nature must be at some level a philosophical abstraction from the variety of experience, which does not mean that it isn’t true.  It simply means that flinging the term “abstract” and hiding behind empiricism do not a coherent moral philosophy make.  But there is something even more galling about the statement quoted above. 

As some more credible traditionalists might say after reading this, ”What do you mean by we?” Consider what Brooks says: “We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like.”  Sure, Dave, whatever you say.  That has certainly been the hallmark of your writing for the last ten years.  Realistic appraisals of distinct cultures have been synonymous with your name.  I am always saying to Michael, “David Brooks sure does talk a lot about the particular character of distinct human societies; he never stops talking about the profound differences created by historical contingencies.  Yes, I can remember back in his Weekly Standard days when he just couldn’t stop denouncing the universalist fantasies of the philosophes.  Who can forget when he wrote that masterpiece on the genius of Joseph de Maistre?”      

This would be the same David Brooks, friend of progressive globalism and recent initiate into the awareness that the world is a big, scary place where cultures significantly differ and some people really don’t like each other.  This is the same David Brooks who said of Americans and Iraq:

Americans blew the postwar administration of Iraq because they assumed they were liberating a nation sort of like their own. 

David Brooks was among the Americans who believed that Iraq was a nation “sort of like” our own.  Not only did the man not pay attention to what the human beings “in particular places” were “actually” like, but he and many of his cohort of pro-war pundits did their very best to stress the universal applicability of liberal democracy in the most blinkered of one-size-fits-all ideological certainty to the exclusion of the mountain of evidence that Iraq was nothing like our nation and was beset with a host of actual problems particular to the Iraqi situation that Brooks in all his “social traditionalism” and remarkably empirically-informed moral philosophy overlooked along with the rest of democratists.  He didn’t learn his lesson earlier, saying:

The hard lesson of the last five years — that we live in a jagged world filled with starkly different and contesting groups — makes democracy promotion more difficult but more necessary. Only democratic habits will prevent the inevitable clash of the tribes from turning into a war of nuclear annihilation.

Should anyone now take his claims of profound concern for the particular circumstances of how different human beings “actually” live seriously?  I don’t see why “we” should.

The culture war has become self-parodic, so people are hungry for a morality that is neither absolutist nor nihilistic. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

When I read things like this, I am reminded of the excellent Simpsons parody of the sorry spectacles that are our presidential elections when space aliens replaced Dole and Clinton and were forced to undergo a crash-course in the weasel-worded rhetorical appeals that were vital to electoral success in a modern mass democracy.  After being booed for giving absolute support to abortion, and then being booed for absolutely opposing abortion, the alien playing Bob Dole said, to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd, “Abortions for some, small American flags for the others!”  That is about as coherent of a view as a morality that is “neither absolute nor nihilistic.”  This is a classic statement of trying to split the difference between coherent worldviews, and of trying to have it both ways.  It is the perfect example of wanting to live off the deposit of the inheritance of your civilisation while contributing nothing to and reinvesting nothing in it.  It is almost the application of via media for its own sake (well, that and the likely broader base of political support you might hope to cultivate with it), as if splitting the difference between truth and falsehood would lead to a higher truth because, in the common wisdom of the 1990s, “the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.”  (Incidentally, notice how no one ever says that about things like Holocaust denial or white supremacy?  I wonder why!)  

I wonder just how many are included in Brooks’ general claim about what “people” are hungry for these days.  Isn’t this really just an elaborate way of saying, “I want a morality that is neither absolute nor nihilistic.”  I am strongly reminded also of Jonah Goldberg’s definition of conservatism as a “partial philosophy of life.”

On a slightly related note, remembering that old debate brings back to my attention something that I wrote earlier this year about what I think is a proper conservative understanding of organicity and what the Slavophiles called integrality (which has obvious connections to my more recent criticisms of what I considered a deficient or limited use of the idea of organicity):

The “organic holism” Goldberg rebels against is the normal state of affairs for men of the conservative persuasion. There are false conceptions of that “organic holism,” which you do see in socialism, communism and fascism, just as there are false conceptions of the Good–that does not mean that we toss out “organic holism” or the idea of the Good. Abuse does not invalidate use. Remember that one?

If conservatism is a mentality or sensibility, it would permeate the whole of one’s life. If it is a “philosophy of life” (talk about your New Age, self-help language!) at all, it would inform the whole of life. How does one have a partial philosophy of life without having a “partial life”? A partial philosophy of life is moral schizophrenia. There is something false and fragmented about this approach to things, as if each “sphere” of life were hermetically sealed and preserved from interference from the other “spheres.” But what we believe to be true about God must affect what we believe about truth, beauty and virtue, and that in turn must affect what we believe about human relations, and that in turn must affect what we believe about the different sorts of relationships (political, economic, social, etc.) that men have. Goldberg has lost the sense of the what the Slavophiles called integrality–he shouldn’t feel too bad, as they believed that this was something the West had lost some time ago, but it is precisely that fragmented mind that Rod perceives and criticises. Goldberg is making Rod’s point for him, though it will undoubtedly once more be beyond him why this is so.

If conservatism is at all rooted in the Western intellectual tradition (and I rather think that it is), there is one Good in which all other goods participate and resemble. What is good in political life cannot diametrically oppose what is good in aesthetics, because of the unity of the Good. Yes, that is Plato, but I find Plato convincing here. So did Weaver. If conservatism does not understand this, it is little more than a fad, a pose, maybe a hobby or perhaps a kind of cult (in the negative sense). Worst of all, it could simply be an ideology. If someone claims to seek the Good, the True and the Beautiful, he cannot then be indifferent in practise to ugliness when it stares him in the face. That is Rod’s point. The difference between that and the idealisation of the Volk or the proletariat is so vast that Goldberg should be embarrassed to have drawn a connection between them.

Looking back on this relic of the Crunchy Wars, I think it holds up pretty well.  I might have developed a bit more the contrast between a conservatism that is actually a practical philosophy and a conservatism designed to organise a political coalition.  The former will concern itself with the affairs of the whole of everyday life because, well, that is what practical philosophy and ethics in particular do, while the representatives of the latter will beg off talking about questions of everyday life, the way of life of their supporters, because they are not particularly interested in a good vision of order.  When they think of virtue, they think of ways to stoke the fires of cultural conservative indignation over homosexuality in order to increase turnout (some of them probably also agree, at some level, that radical claims about gay “marriage” are absurd, but they are hardly staying up late at night worried about this problem).  But, pretty clearly, they are not thinking about the eunomia of the soul, which would include the restraining of the passions, the reign of the intellect over our desires and the right ordering of our intentions towards the True, the Good and the Beautiful.  Asceticism is admittedly a lousy election theme, so for conservatives who are mainly thinking about the next election talk of asceticism, sacramentality and communion is not just distracting but positively terrifying in a way (they might ask: how will talking about sacramental living win OH-18?). 

They are interested in keeping people on board with the “movement” and the party, keeping people voting and, in the case of the initial anti-crunchy explosion at NR, keeping people subscribing to their magazine.  (Just imagine if we had started laying into “stockjobbers” and “the moneyed interest” and used the full panoply of Jeffersonian attack rhetoric on “bank rule”!  Kudlow would have had a heart attack.)  In his own way, Brooks is trying to do damage control for the “movement,” declaring the path of the theocons and religious conservatives more generally to be a dead end and eschewing the “do your own thing” ethic of the libertarians.  You might call it a modified Sullivanism that makes the same moves in rejecting absolutes and rhetoric about moral truth and certainty, but which does not turn into galloping subjectivism by at least allowing for some kind of consensus standard for morality.  (One of the funnier things about the recent Cato appearance of Sullivan and Brooks is that nowhere, except perhaps in the audience, was there a perspective that affirmed abiding, eternal moral truth that was not negotiated and redefined arbitrarily by the individual or the group–and this was a discussion about the state of conservatism.  I think the participants in the discussion represented the parlous state of conservatism better than anything they may have had to say.) 

Because conservatism for many of these folks is really a vehicle to provide intellectual justifications for the preferred policies of whoever happens to run the “movement” at the moment (okay, it is not quite that cynical, but it is a lot closer than some might like to admit), and presumably few would advocate actual policies and laws that pertain to the way that people live their everyday lives they assume that every attempt to talk negatively about the cultural habits and ethos of ordinary Americans is part of some scheme to get the government involved in “legislating morality” (which, conventional wisdom has it, shouldn’t happen and can’t work–which would probably be surprising to prosecutors and judges) or, worse yet, engaging in…regulating…the…economy!  Aiee!  Knowing which side their bread is buttered on, they are not likely to run around declaring, George Grant-style, that corporations are inimical to traditional, stable societies.  Agrarianism is nice for poets (and who doesn’t like free-range chicken?), but, they are really saying to us, please don’t rock the boat.  What Brooks is saying here, by contrast, is that “the boat” itself has begun to sink and he thinks he has found a handy stopgap that will satisfy what Sullivan has started calling “the politics of meaning” without encouraging the religious conservatives who frankly embarrass people like Brooks and outright horrify people like Sullivan.  Where Sullivan wants to drive the religious folks back into their closet to pray (insert joke here), Brooks wants to appease them with some watered-down moralism that will have all the intellectual punch of that quintessential focus-group term, “Judeo-Christian values,” but a broader appeal than talking about things that are possibly very frightening, such as truth and virtue. 

We traditionalists observe that when policies fail, it’s usually because they are based on inaccurate assumptions about human nature. So we don’t base our thinking on the abstract arguments of theology. Nor do we base it on economics, with its image of profit-maximizing individuals. We begin our thinking with a study of what human beings in particular places are actually like. ~David Brooks, The New York Times

Now if most religious conservatives used “abstract arguments of theology” to make their claims, Brooks might have a point, though even then it would be mistaken.  Since religious conservatives almost always use claims derived directly from Scripture and take Scripture as revealed authority, what really bothers Brooks is not their “abstract arguments of theology,” but their fundamental claim that God has decreed certain things forbidden and that the conventions of men cannot legitimise through long practice and pragmatic experiment.  Indeed, anything in theological argument that cannot find at least some warrant in Scripture–as understood through the interpretation of an authoritative Church Tradition–would not be of central importance to these people, since they are concerned, broadly speaking, with fundamental questions of virtue and the good order of the soul and polity alike. 

Traditionalists, if they are serious, do not simply say, “The passage of time and long experience have given us such and such a practice, therefore it is of no importance whether this practice is contrary to nature or not.”  St. John Chrysostom did not say, “Enjoy the bloodsport and the chariot racing.  They are hallowed and antique Roman traditions, and they help reaffirm our identity as Romans.  Go Venetoi [Blues]!” 

Religious conservatives will always, always, always give the inherited practice the benefit of the doubt, and more than a benefit of the doubt, but they do not endorse things simply because they developed over time and people seem to like them.  Carthaginians thought the odd human sacrifice was efficacious, and had a longstanding custom to this effect.  That alone does not vindicate a practice.  Where the conservative and traditionalist object to the disestablishing of customs or the dissolution of traditions is when these things, which serve real social and political functions, are cast aside with no consideration or are actively undermined in pursuit of disordered desires.  But fundamentally basing morality on sentiment alone, on what a consensus happens to agree on and what people like, is insufficient.  It is certainly a kind of ethics, but one that will invariably encourage self-satisfying desires rather than the kind of askesis required for moral sanity.  People like social democracy to differing degrees–given the chance, they will always vote for some form of it, at least until it comes time to pay the bill.  That does not mean it is the most desirable or advantageous form of government for the promotion of human happiness or the well-being of a commonwealth.  People in this country seem to prefer not to get married, as one of the stories in today’s Times tells us.  If left unchecked or unchallenged, this habit could become a well-established one and would then become a new norm for Brooks’ supposed “social traditionalists.”  To be a “traditionalist” in this way is simply to ride along with the river god during the flood, occasionally pointing out the flood damage along the way as if you were a tourist, “Oh, look, there’s the dissolution of marriage!  Next stop, infanticide!”   

On the other hand, God has decreed certain things meritorious and desirable that human sentiments, left to their own fallen devices, would not embrace.  It sounds very clever to find a way around referring to Scripture and the theological claims derived from it, except that they are by and large not abstract (a brilliant use of traditionalist rhetoric that I have scarcely before seen Brooks use, suggesting that he is actually a defender of inherited custom and rooted identity and not the chaos of the globalist social revolution).  They are, as the faithful understand them to be, both profoundly real and personal because they are the self-revelation of the Three Persons of the One God in Trinity.  Typically, when a secular conservative, be it is Brooks or Sullivan, wants to find a problem with religious conservatism he locates it in some form of dogmatism: for Brooks, dogma is abstract and divorced from life, when serious Christians would understand that such a thing isn’t possible, while for Sullivan any attempt at formulating or expressing a dogma is a kind of violence on the freedom of the individual conscience (a faculty which he completely misunderstands).  This has the advantage of not having to address the substance of the theological claims, even though these claims are made according to reason, so that the secular conservatives who don’t want to face them can say, “They’re just so abstract!  They’re so dogmatic!  I prefer experience.” 

Experience, in its proper place and understood correctly, is invaluable and central to any conservative’s view of moral questions.  Brooks here plays on a powerful, legitimate strain in the conservative tradition that tells us to look to prescription and the argument from circumstance.  This is the tradition of Kirk and Bradford.  (The irony, or sacrilege, is almost too great to bear.)  But they both affirmed the existence of a transcendent moral order.  Indeed, Kirk, following Voegelin, recognised the commitment to a transcendent order as one of the essential features of the conservative mind.  It was what separated conservatives from every kind of materialist.  Brooks’ morality of sentiments, taken as it stands, strikes me as the fast lane to relativism as sure as anything.  Here is his description of Smith’s morality of sentiments:

Smith argued that more than just about everything else, people hunger for approval. We feel intense pleasure when we experience the sympathy of others. In a well-structured society, he continues, our desire for sympathy leads us to restrain our selfish or egotistical behaviors.

Of course, one can see the social pressure and stigma put on religious conservatives and traditionalists to adhere to new norms that violate all of the old canons of behaviour.  Particularly when outnumbered by social liberals, the “hunger for approval”–which is indeed great–can make many people falter or water down their commitment to the transcendent moral order; it can lead them to move step by step towards a position that would make our desire for sympathy and praise the standard by which we determined our moral judgements and actions.  Thus the Brooksian “social traditionalist” (please, no laughing there in the back) would presumably not do anything so gauche as defend traditional marriage if his neighbours were increasingly convinced that it was irrelevant and even oppressive in certain ways.  He would, surely, become a proponent of “civil unions” or whatever meaningless euphemism we have chosen to bestow on the legal equality of perversion, and Brooks himself has done just that.  Brooks has hijacked the language of prescription to undermine prescription itself; he is trying to steal the mantle of tradition in order to dismantle our inherited traditions and create a sort of happy-go-lucky morality that will allow him to mingle with the great and good without embarrassment and without endangering the praise of friends.  Indeed, the hunger for approval is very great, and it must particularly acute in the token conservative columnist at The New York Times.   

Category 5 Hurricane Heads for House GOP  

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: there are 25 days between now and the November 7 election and things could well change, making what follows obsolete.

That said, this is without question the worst political situation for the GOP since the Watergate disaster in 1974. [bold mine-DL]  I think a 30-seat gain today for Democrats is more likely to occur than a 15-seat gain, the minimum that would tip the majority. The chances of that number going higher are also strong, unless something occurs that fundamentally changes the dynamic of this election.  This is what Republican strategists’ nightmares look like. ~Charlie Cook


Today the faithful celebrate the feast with joy illumined by your coming, O Mother of God.  Beholding your pure image we fervently cry to you: “Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection; deliver us from every form of evil by entreating Christ, your Son and our God that He may save our souls.”


Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church and with choirs of saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and bishops worship, apostles and prophets rejoice together, since for our sake she prays to the pre-eternal God. 


We magnify thee, O all-immaculate Mother of Christ our God, and we honor thy labors and thy precious omophorion, for the holy Andrew beheld thee in the air, entreating Christ for us.

On the origin of the Feast, see here.

Presvyataya Bogoroditsa, Tya Velichaem! 

Panagia Theotokos, Soson Emas! 

Presvyataya Bogoroditsa, Spasi Nas!

There are two Conservative traditions, too. But I honestly do not see how unfettered markets, which uproot traditions, communities and hierarchies, can be reconciled with the desire to conserve things. There is a faultline and it will not be concealed by vacuous slogans. ~David Miliband, The Spectator

“So I’m anti-anti-American because if we let this anti-Americanism flow, it will spark off a disastrous fascism.” ~Bernard-Henri Levy 

The only thing more annoying that the drivel that BHL has to offer is the sense of admiration one gets from Mr. Heath, the Spectator interviewer.  “Yes, tell me more about Islamic fascism, Bernard,” you can hear him sigh with delight.  And BHL does go on and on about it:

The founders of Islamism read the European thinkers who said that democracy was not a universal value, that relativism was a law of humanity, that America was a nightmare, that the French Revolution was something that had to be forgotten, that the German theory of the good communitarian nation, well rooted in the earth of an organic society, is better than the abstract Franco-American definition of a community of citizens.

Is this supposed to convince us of the “fascist” nature of “Islamism”?  Because it isn’t working.  Democracy isn’t a value at all.  It’s a form of government.  And it isn’t universal.  This is not an argument that fascists made up.  It has been a statement of the blindingly obvious.  I don’t accept that relativism is a law of humanity (which “European thinkers” exactly are making big waves in jihadi reading circles, past or present?), unless by this BHL actually means that some types of regimes are better suited for different nations according to their history and culture than others.  Of course I don’t agree that America is a “nightmare,” though it is frightening that we seem to have a large number of people in the conservative “movement” who utter the same kinds of inanities as BHL and receive praise for it.  If only the French Revolution could be forgotten for all time, its legacy banished to the netherworld BHL says this as if it were some sort of reproach against these people that they would read things that say this.  Of course he would think this, but why should anyone reading The Spectator take it seriously?  If a Muslim read Burke he would come away with the impression that the Revolution was a disaster–which it was–and he would probably draw comparisons between what the Jacobins were doing to France and what neo-Jacobins are attempting to do to certain Muslim nations today.  He might even be inclined to view these attempts negatively, and no wonder.  Yet somehow I doubt that Bin Laden is poring over his copy of Reflections on the Revolution in France.  A nation rooted in organic society is better than an abstract definition of a community, though it is the self-serving story of ideologues to convince us that the American and French nations are abstractly defined communities bound by “values” and political principles.  What Spectator reader would seriously argue otherwise? 

BHL is France’s answer to Andrew Sullivan, only with a lot more hair.  Where Sullivan sees galivanting religious extremism everywhere (and I do mean everywhere), BHL sees the explosion of fascism and anti-Americanism–the latter just being another form of fascism–which he happily defines to fit whatever it is he wants to talk about.  They have a talent, such as it is, for throwing everything they don’t like in the world into a blender and coming up with their overly broad, incredible definition of the political foe.  It must be terribly fun to be a “public intellectual” of this stripe: take a limited, specific phenomenon, exaggerate its influence and importance, conflate it with everything under the sun, declare it to be the enemy of all things good and true and then announce to the world that the maniacs are on the loose and are coming to take us all away to V for Vendetta-style prisons where the poor Qur’an-quoting homosexuals and the officially non-fascist quislings of hegemonism will be thrown by the anti-Amerislamofascists.  If BHL is anti-anti-American, sign me up for anti-anti-anti-Americanism.  

If you were planning to vote Republican before the Foley scandal hit, I’d have suggested that you’re seriously misguided. But if you changed your mind on the basis of the Foley scandal, you’re even more misguided. There is a vast gulf separating the Democrats and the Republicans over public policy matters that affect hundreds of millions of people. Voting on the basis of how they handle a few teenagers is just silly. ~Jonathan Chait, The Los Angeles Times

Via Ross Douthat

Chait here offers another example of the fine TNR style of counterintuitive bucking of conventional wisdom.  If a scandal breaks out that promises to throw the GOP from power, get Chait on the case to argue for why people who are turning against the GOP are silly.  And Democrats wonder why they have had a hard time winning. 

Ross makes the argument for why it is rather less than silly to abandon the GOP over the Foley scandal.  I agree with that argument, and I would take it a little further.  Not only is the collapse of GOP support among “religious whites” not silly, it is entirely understandable and natural in a democratic election.  Platforms and policies do not enter into it, as they almost never do for the bulk of voters.  Political coalitions in this country are not built around unifying Big Ideas, at least not anymore, nor even around the positive appeal of this or that policy.  The coalitions are focused on a number of specific proposals, none of which can be too bizarre or ridiculous to significantly alienate a large bloc of potential voters.  Voters approve of a coalition because it contains fewer objectionable items on its agenda and fewer provocative or offensive symbols.  This is why the mushy politics of the center keeps prevailing, because the margin of victory typically keeps coming from those people whose attraction to one party or another is not motivated by that party’s positive appeal but by the obnoxious things it doesn’t say.  Right now, the appeal of the Democrats is that they don’t say obnoxious things such as “stay the course” and “we knew about Foley’s problems before we didn’t know about them, but don’t blame us.”  Very few people voted for Bush in 2004 to privatise Social Security; quite a lot of people who were out in force to ban gay “marriage” voted for Bush because they recognised in him someone who made the occasional rhetorical gesture towards the integrity of marriage and saw him as a defender of a basic social institution.  He was “one of them” on what they deemed a vital issue.  They identified with him, not even necessarily with his policies, because he had done virtually nothing to help any of the state bans on gay “marriage” and virtually actively avoided being associated with the efforts to promote the bans. 

In mass democracy, as I have mentioned a few times before, people vote for the candidates and party that they believe represents them, by which I mean the candidates and party with which they identify on a personal level.  Incidentally, this is one of the “identitarian” and leftist features of democracy that makes it still more undesirable from my perspective.  It is, in its way, profoundly non-rational (not exactly irrational, since voting in people like you makes a certain amount of sense if you expect solidarity to be rewarded with spoils from the victors). 

If you are unable to see the people running for office as people who are, in the main, basically like you, you will be hard-pressed to vote for them.  This, more than anything else, is why incendiary cultural issues centered on marriage, family and the unborn motivate such unrelenting contempt for the left among so many Christians: it is almost impossible for these Christian folks to actually imagine what other people who would approve of gay “marriage” or partial-birth abortion are like, much less actively identify with them.  Such people are strange and alien to them; they might as well be from another world or speaking a different, untranslatable language. 

It is a question of holding the same “values,” yes, but in a sense the more important aspect of this process of identification is being able to recognise yourself in the people for whom you are voting.  This is also why the great hunt for minority Republican voters will be an eternal, disappointing chase: these voters may have very conservative values in many cases, but they simply don’t see themselves in the GOP (and on this point, I can’t really blame them, since I don’t even see myself in the GOP, and by all factors of race, social background, religious practice and education I ought to be one of their most reliable members).  To be more blunt, voters who vote based on competence and policy positions would not re-elect someone like Ray Nagin in New Orleans; voters who vote based on identification with the politician would.      

For many Christians and conservatives, the GOP is still that party that represents them, but evidently for quite a few regular church-goers they no longer recognise themselves in the leadership of that party.  The Foley scandal is not silly for these people, but the final straw that demonstrates once and for all that the GOP leaders aren’t “their kind of people,” the kind of people who would intuitively and instinctively know that something was fishy with Foley.  When voters do not see themselves reflected back in this political mirror, they shrink back from the image they do see.  Most people vote based on symbolism and sentiment.  I would have thought that after the last 15 years where competence and policy have had virtually no place in determining the outcome of elections we would recognise that it is what people believe the victory of this or that party means symbolically that determines their voting.  Vacuous as they were, I suspect Clinton’s rhetorical appeals to “a place called Hope” and “building a bridge to the twenty-first century” registered more with voters than anything to do with welfare reform.  Yes, there are wonkish people who actually vote based on foreign policy paradigms, and there are people who vote their straight economic interest, but I submit to you that these do not make up a very large number of people.  Pundits will rattle off all the alleged differences between the parties on policy and try to convince people just how vast and deep the chasms between the two parties are, but that isn’t what interests voters (even if there were vast and deep differences, of which even now there are only a very few).  The questions they ask are much more basic and, from the perspective of wonks and political junkies, much sillier: is this person familiar, do I identify with him, is he “my kind of guy”?  A lot of people look at Denny Hastert now and think, “Good grief, I hope he isn’t my kind of guy–what would that say about me?”  The identification process works in both directions.  Politicians have to be people voters can identify with, but they also have to be people with whom voters would not be ashamed to be associated.  What does any of this have to do with shaping important policy and deciding the course of nations?  Absolutely nothing.  Yet another reason why I have no confidence in democracy to provide good government or good order.  But at the very least the voters are not being silly.  They are just being democrats.   

But he is clearly attracted by the US ideal of democracy. In one telling passage he compares French roads, with their unofficial fast lanes from which slower drivers move away when approached by those in a hurry, to the American ones, where no such informal rules exist. Drivers of fast cars are treated like everybody else, he notes admiringly, and in this respect America is more egalitarian than France. ~Allister Heath, The Spectator

Of all the characteristics to admire in America, BHL picks the most aggravating habit of American drivers?  You would think the man could appreciate the principle that the left lane is for passing only, but apparently that doesn’t register with hordes of drivers in this country who believe they have a moral right, nay, an obligation to putter along in the left lane–at the speed limit, no less!  Simply terrible.  Naturally one of the worst features of American life would win BHL’s praise, and it would have to be because it is “egalitarian.”  If it is, chalk that up as one more reason to be against egalitarianism.

If you register a protest vote and help the Democrats get elected, the entire conservative slate of issues will go underwater and exist in committee and sub-committee purgatory until another change of power occurs.

I’m not in the conservative lobbyist business anymore, but I sure don’t wish that frustration on the guys and gals that are.  So, I’ll just keep pulling the lever for the Elephants. ~Hunter Baker, AmSpec Blog

It may end up being frustrating for conservative lobbyists under a Dem majority, but I find it hard to believe that it could be more frustrating than having your “own” party, which is allegedly on your “side” doing next to nothing to advance the “conservative slate of issues” that you care about and in many cases pursuing policies that directly contradict things on that slate.  Forget protest votes.  I will be voting to oust the incumbents. 

For the life of me, I have never really understood the phenomenon of party loyalty.  I understand the need to build coalitions and have allies, but to attach yourself to a party as an entity almost for its own sake, or out of the misguided impression that they are actually on your side, strikes me as very odd.  There are permanent interests, and the permanent interest of political factions is to hold and wield power; the permanent interests of conservatives do not include tolerating any one faction’s possession of power for the sake of keeping that power.  It is in order to repudiate this idea, almost as much as for any other specific reason for dissatisfaction with GOP government, that conservatives ought to want to see the GOP defeated.  They do not own us; we do not have to serve them when they fail us.  Indeed, we don’t ever have to serve them unless it works to our advantage.  It would be one thing if we at least viewed elections as the hideous choices between Scylla and Charybdis that they are, but every cycle we are treated to pleasant stories about how the GOP stands for what we believe in and fights on our behalf.  Except that they don’t fight and they haven’t actually stood up for any of those things in recent years (the House bill on immigration is truly just about the sole exception). 

Of all the kinds of loyalty that exist, party loyalty has always struck me as the most forced, artificial and dangerous to a person’s integrity because it is a kind of loyalty inextricably bound up with the pursuit of power to a degree that most other forms of loyalty are not.  It is therefore more likely than any other kind of attachment to yield corruption and betrayal of principle.  

One of my teachers in high school, an extremely smart woman, told us without any embarrassment that she simply punched the straight party line button for the Democrats at every election.  What a terrible waste, I thought.  This wasn’t just because I was already very down on the major parties by that time, but because it seemed to me that this put the absolute minimum amount of thought and time into making your selections.  There almost had to be races where the better candidates came from a different party.  To keep the Democrats in power in the Roundhouse struck me then as just as wrong as it would be to keep the GOP in power in the Capitol today.  The shame of it was that very intelligent, informed voters would talk themselves into supporting an establishment that was sclerotic and flawed in so many ways because they had convinced themselves that their opponents were far worse, when it would almost be impossible for the incoming party to do worse than the incumbents.         

Update: Keeping hope alive, Quin Hillyer offers this bold counterintuitive prediction:

I’ll probably elaborate on this in my column here next week, but for now, let me just note again that I expect Republican fortunes to surge between now and election day.

Presumably this is based on the insight that they have nowhere to go but up?

…or does Andrew Sullivan’s interruption of David Brooks in the recent Cato debate (seen in the video here) bear a striking resemblance to the moment when Gaius Baltar cuts off Laura Roslin during the BSG presidential debate at the end of season 2?  Maybe it’s just the British accent, but the similarity in pomposity is impressive.

Most ludicrous Sullivan claim from this debate: The Weekly Standard “was founded to promote fundamentalist religion”!  Bill Kristol would be quite surprised.

The Mark Foley scandal is another area where the conventional wisdom is wrong. Many in the media are claiming that conservatives and evangelicals are being turned off by Republicans because of their association with Foley and their handling of the scandal. Some conservatives may be feeling like they just can’t support “the party of Mark Foley,” and that seems to be the Democrats’ best chance of success next month. The reality is quite the opposite.  While Mark Foley might have been a believer in tax cuts and a strong defense, he was certainly not living a Republican or conservative lifestyle. ~Jonathan Garthwaite

As for a conservative lifestyle, that is putting it mildly.  But what on earth is a “Republican lifestyle”?  The possible answers to that question after years of graft, abuse of power, and cynical manipulation of supporters are not exactly favourable to the GOP.  One might say that Abramoff and DeLay were living the modern “Republican lifestyle.” 

The trouble here is not so much that Mr. Garthwaite is a Red Republican bittereinder (no offense to the admirable Afrikaner patriots intended), which so many professional pundits must necessarily be at this grim time for their party, but that he and others like him literally don’t seem to understand that you cannot live by the symbols of the culture wars without also dying by them.  You cannot switch on a people’s sense of outrage at moral disorder and corruption and then expect them to conveniently switch it off when you are implicated, however indirectly, in these same things.  You cannot make rallying against a radical homosexual agenda a prominent part of your appeal while winking and nodding at the misconduct of one of your party’s own homosexuals, especially when he is engaged in behaviour that would be inappropriate for any Congressman.  With respect to Iraq, you cannot claim to be the party of responsibility and competence and preside over four years of irresponsibility and incompetence.  Eventually, your credibility runs out.  You cannot blunder along with no real strategy in the war and then accuse your opponent of having no viable alternative to fix the mess you’ve made.  You cannot betray every conservative principle in the book and then say, “You have to look at the big picture.  The other guys are really bad!” 

This is like nothing so much as a robber who, having just beaten you over the head and taken your wallet, tells you not to go to the police because they are corrupt and might hit you up for a bribe.  “How can you pay the bribe, after I have just taken all your money?  Think about it.  They’re the real enemy here.  In fact, I’m really on your side, because I also don’t like the corrupt police.  If you could just go get some more money and bring it back to me, I’m sure we could help each other a lot.”  If conservatives have any self-respect this year, they will not collaborate in their own fleecing and poor treatment any longer.  Like a battered wife who has finally had enough, they must stop making excuses for the party that has abused them for years.  They need to stop saying things like, “The world is so dangerous–what will I do without my GOP?”  For decades, like some greasy con man who has seduced the gullible mark, the party kept telling the conservatives, “I love you, and one day, baby, we’re going to make it big, and then I’ll get you all the things you ever wanted.  I can’t do it without you.  Now I just need to borrow some money….”  Now that the con man has been found out, he wants her to forget the lies and betrayal and, if at all possible, just give him a little more money.  When the GOP resembles no one today so much as Sawyer from Lost, it is time to move on.     

Then there is the predictable rallying cry:

Some Republicans have decided that the best strategy might be a quasi-suicide-turned-resurrection whereby Republicans lose Congress in 2006 so they can retain the White House in 2008. But this is no time to go wobbly. With less than thirty days left before Election Day, it’s not time to sulk over a legislative failure here and there. It’s time to pick a horse and place our bets.       

A legislative failure here or there?  That’s a good one.  Where exactly have the legislative successes been?  No, wait, don’t tell me–Medicare Part D!  Or maybe the endorsement of torture?  Perhaps the do-nothing attitude for most of the past four years on immigration?  The runaway spending?  The total lack of oversight of the executive branch?  Stop me before you’re overwhelmed with giddy excitement.  The problem isn’t just legislative failure or legislative inaction (the latter is not necessarily such a bad thing, considering the laws this crowd has been passing), but that even when they “succeed” they usually endorse abhorrent policies. 

A lot of Republicans like talking about Bin Laden’s reference to the “strong horse” and the “weak horse.”  They never get tired of using this story when they think it will help vindicate their Iraq policy.  But what if we applied this to the midterms this year?  What is the GOP if not a flea-bitten, broken-down nag of a political party right now?  Does it inspire confidence?  Trust?  Enthusiasm?  Not a bit.  If you were a betting man (and, if the GOP has its way, you will not be much of a betting man online), would you put money on the nag?  The other horse in the race might be pretty pathetic, too, but it at least seems to be well-fed and doesn’t limp.  Why should anyone back such a “weak horse,” especially when that horse has spent the last four years stomping on everything most conservatives used to hold dear (and which some of us still do take seriously)?  Why, in fact, shouldn’t conservatives take the horse out and shoot it to put it out of its misery?

The Democrats made gains across all groups in the October poll compared to the averages in previous months. But the Democratic gain (or Republican loss depending on how one looks at it) is more significant among religious whites than among the other two groups. Religious whites went from an average Democratic disadvantage of 23 points across the June through September months, to dead even in October. Less religious whites shifted only seven points across these two time periods, while the group of “all others” shifted 9 points.

A comparison of the September average to October shows a 22-point gain for the Democrats among white frequent churchgoers, a six-point gain among white less frequent churchgoers, and a 14-point gain among all others.

The comparison between religious whites and less religious whites is particularly revealing. The gap between these two groups averaged 42 points in the June through September period, and is now down to 26 points. ~Gallup

Via Andrew Sullivan

This is pretty stunning.  The Democrats have been banging the “progressive Christian” drum and talking about the importance of “faith” for the past two years, but this hadn’t moved the numbers significantly among frequent church-goers.  They have moved back and forth by a few points here and there, but never made any substantial gains.  Barack Obama could give speeches about how the Democrats needed to reconnect with “people of faith” (note to Democratic speechwriters: when you want to appeal to “people of faith,” don’t use weasel language like ”people of faith”), but nobody seemed to be listening.  They talked among themselves on their blogs and journals: “How can we trick enough Christians into voting for us with the kinds of cynical rhetorical appeals that have always worked for the Republicans?”  For some reason, this kind of talk did not inspire enthusiasm for the Democrats. 

Then came Mark Foley, the grinning pederast of Palm Beach (I’m sorry, I mean “virtual pederast”), and the bumbling GOP response to the scandal (”Uh…blame the Democrats!  No, blame the media!  No, blame the terrorists!”).  In a recent conversation I made a remark, “This Foley thing seems like some kind of divine retribution.”  Apparently the faithful saw the sign and believed that there was some sort of punishment being sent down from the Most High, because if this Gallup poll (+/-3% margin of error) is correct many of them are fleeing the GOP this cycle at a simply stunning rate in the last two months.  Between August and the first week of October the GOP dropped 15 points among “religious whites” (defined as “whites who self-report attending church weekly or almost every week”) at the same time the Dems gained 14 points, bringing them to a neck-and-neck 47%  Does anyone know of the last time something like this sort of rapid collapse happened this close to an election among one of a party’s most reliable groups of supporters?  It seems pretty unusual to me, and I have followed elections pretty closely for at least the last eight years.  So much for the great “theocratic” juggernaut that was coming to destroy us all. 

Update: The Wall Street Journal reports a poll that includes this interesting item:

When asked about recent Capitol Hill scandals involving charges of corruption and sexual improprieties, 64% said they believed those activities were the just the “tip of the iceberg,” compared with 25% who believed they were “isolated incidents.”

Whether or not it really is the “tip of the iceberg,” a sizeable majority thinks that it is, and perception is reality.  Tellingly, the “tip of the iceberg” folks included 49% of Republicans.  Tony Blankley and other Republicans who called on Hastert to resign are looking pretty smart right now; Hugh Hewitt (he of the “donate now to the RNC to fight the vast left-wing conspiracy” approach to this scandal’s politics)…well, Hugh Hewitt remains Hugh Hewitt.  After the Year of Corruption it would be hard to credit that the latest scandal does not represent a deeper disorder in Congress.  In any case, the Goppers made no real effort to stop the political bleeding; they wasted so much of their energy and attention freaking out about George Soros’ evil designs that they put almost no effort into damage control and making amends.  So confident were they that their voters would blame Foley and only Foley for the mess that they missed something important about their voters: these people aren’t stupid and they don’t follow blindly, whatever GOP elites may think about them, and they actually hold people in positions of authority responsible for their failures.

Hastert’s speech in front of a cemetery was a fitting statement on the whole mess.  He might as well have been saying, ”I come not to praise the mighty GOP, but to bury it.”  Indeed, the inept handling of the scandal has very likely buried them. 

There is no such thing as the perfect study, and all empirical work is subject to reasonable criticism. So far, the right-wing blogosphere has yet to exceed the level of the Holocaust deniers. ~Pithlord on the Lancet epidemiological study on “excess deaths” in Iraq

Also, via Pithlord, Majikthise summarises the views of critics of the study with a good sense of satire, such as:

8. Sure the study’s methodology is standard for public health resesarch. But don’t forget that public health is a leftwing plot. (Medpundit)

The sad thing is that this summary is quite close to what the person said.  This is a standard refrain from interventionists and their friends: ignore so-and-so’s extensive expertise and knowledge on Middle Eastern subject X, because he is an Arabist (so what if he’s studied the region all his life–maybe he’s studied it a little too long, know what I mean?); dismiss the criticism from that foreign policy scholar, because he is a “realist” (oh, hated realists!) who allegedly thinks “stability” is the answer (as George Will noted acidly a couple months back, the “problem of stabilty” in the Middle East has been solved); belittle the warnings of this well-informed commentator, because he also happens to be critical of Israel, which somehow makes him unfit to breathe, much less speak on policy questions, etc.  But then watch them fly into a fury when you suggest that their guys have ulterior motives or are motivated by something other than the high and noble desire to protect this country! 

Of course, it may be that the study is flawed.  It may be exaggerating the numbers of Iraqis who have died since the invasion who otherwise would not have.  If the earlier number of 100,000 two years ago was reasonably accurate, it does seem surprising that five times as many people have died since then, but then the last two years have been persistently and increasingly more violent than the first year.  Given how much analysis among war supporters seems to be .5% fact and 99.5% wishful thinking, I am inclined to think there may be some merit in the study’s findings, given that the methodology being used is apparently a standard and accepted one. 

Yes, but the secularist overreaching hasn’t actually succeeded in turning the U.S. into Europe, or anything close. If it did, though - well, Daniel accuses me of threatening Linker with an empowered, nuclear-armed Daniel Larison, but what I really meant to threaten him with was myself, the patriotic Catholic Christian who generally accepts the liberal bargain, at least as I understand it, despite having doubts about liberalism’s ultimate philosophical compatibility with my faith. If you ask me to choose between God and the liberal order, because that’s what the liberal bargain supposedly requires, I’ll choose God every time. ~Ross Douthat

I think I see where I was mistaken.  When Ross earlier warned about Linker “vindicating” Christians and secularists who believe in the opposition of the Faith and liberalism, he was saying that if the “liberal bargain” really were as narrow and limited as Linker makes it out to be Linker would have succeeded in vindicating such arguments in Ross’ eyes.  Linker would have proven these different critics of the bargain correct, forcing faithful Christians (previously friendly to what they thought the bargain was) to seek refuge elsewhere.  As interesting as the prospect of a “nuclear-armed Daniel Larison” might be (I hereby renounce the first use of such weapons, in case anyone was worried), I see that Ross’ point was simply that Linker’s conception of the “liberal bargain” could radicalise even those who are willing to embrace a more expansive definition of the bargain. 

Elsewhere, I see that Ross’ debate at TNR received some notice and some words of approbation at First Things itself.  Not surprisingly, Michael’s remarks and my posts were met with rather less enthusiasm.  Here is Neuhaus, who is referring to the posts linked in this Ross Douthat post:

Following the links from the above, you will note that some of the comments assume that my colleagues and I at First Things are trying to “baptize” the liberal tradition by equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine. That is far from the truth, as any thoughtful reader of First Things knows. Between God and Caesar, there are deep and perduring tensions, and will be until Our Lord returns in glory, at which point all Caesars will be dethroned.  

But neither Michael nor I have said the things attributed to us.  Not exactly.  Michael wrote:

My own view is that this attempt to baptize modern liberalism is misguided. Like Daniel Larison, I hold out American small r-republicanism up a productive political model. There is no reason, historical or theological to turn mixed constituionalism into anything more than a wise and practical political form. There is no reason to believe that modern liberalism is ordained in some special way by God. We don’t have to believe this in order to remain sane participants in civil society. But for some reason, certain Catholic neoconservatives and certain West Coast Straussians believe we do. I would say that they are promoting an ideology, not Catholic truth or (to use an ugly phrase) gospel liberalism.

Michael did refer to the baptism of liberalism, which is at least partly metaphorical.  He did not claim, and, so far as I remember, I have never exactly claimed that theocons “equate” “our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine.”  If I ever did say that, I would have been badly overstating my case.  No one, so far as I know, has talked of theocons’ engaging in any such equation of the two.  I have referred before to ”equating the “law of nature” with Catholic natural law tradition,” which seems to me to be rather different from equating our constitutional order with Catholic doctrine.  Perhaps that statement of mine could stand to be refined, and perhaps that statement is inaccurate, but it does not match with Neuhaus’ description.  At bottom, I “reject the presumption that unless one can concoct an elaborate theory of ideological compatibility between philosophy inspired by the Faith and liberal political philosophy that militates against basic truths of the Faith Christians are somehow necessarily opposed to or alienated from the political regime of their home country.”   

We do say that there is an attempt to link or associate the political liberalism of ”the Founding” with Catholic natural law teaching.  I have elsewhere observed that there is a similar attempt among the Straussians as they try to understand different conceptions of natural law as essentially one unbroken, continuous tradition in Western thought (a tradition, of course, only fully understood by the genius that was Lincoln).  But leave them aside for the moment.  With respect to the theocons’ basic project, it seems to me, we are in agreement with Ross Douthat, according to what he said in part of his response to Linker:

But, for the most part, I suspect that you believe that the attempt to link the American Founding to the Catholic natural-law tradition–which is at the heart of the “theoconservative project,” insofar as there is one [bold mine-DL]–marks a greater departure from America’s supposed secular ideal than did the God-soaked politics of, say, Bryan or King. 

Now perhaps Ross has it all wrong and is not a “thoughtful reader of First Things,” but I don’t think so.  As I would have thought my latest entries against Linker should have made clear, I am perfectly aware that theocons acknowledge “tensions” between God and Caesar (they would surely have no credibility if they did not acknowledge such “tensions”), but the “tension” between God and Caesar does not really address the question at hand.   

I object to the claim that there is some basic compatibility and harmony between Enlightenment liberal understandings of natural law and their Catholic/Christian equivalents.  As readers of Eunomia are aware, I don’t think there is any such compatibility between Enlightenment liberalism and Christianity generally because of the opposition of their basic assumptions about human nature.  I object to investing liberal rights language with the weight of theological claims, not least because theories of natural rights tend to be subversive of hierarchies and because they detract from a theocentric understanding of our existence. 

I have assumed one of the basic claims made by “theocons” is that there is such a compatibility and liberal rights language is significantly compatible with Christian ideas of justice and human dignity.  According to this view, so I have thought, Christians can embrace the liberal tradition in this country and its assumptions about man and society because that tradition is fundamentally in agreement with Christian teachings.  Stripped of its Continental anticlericalism and fanaticism, I understand the theocons to be saying, Enlightenment liberalism makes claims about natural rights that were sufficiently in agreement with the Faith that there is no cause for Christians to look askance on the liberal tradition.  Because Christians understand the transcendent origin of the rights of man, they are better-fitted to defend an order supposedly built up around those rights than others.  Furthermore, as I understand the argument, because this tradition is compatible with natural law arguments found in the Christian tradition, it is not only possible but imperative for Christians to be active in public affairs and also imperative for the liberal society to allow them to bring religion into the public square because it is not only relevant but essential to the survival of a healthy liberal order for them to do so. 

For my part, I don’t think most of the claims of substantial agreement between Christianity and liberalism hold up under scrutiny, and I don’t believe that such an agreement needs to exist for two reasons: one, we do not need to reconcile ourselves to a Lockean synthesis to defend the ancient, mixed constitution, and, two, we do not need an elaborate philosophical architecture to justify the participation of religious believers in the affairs of the commonwealth.  That is, in a summary form, how and why I object to the “theoconservative project,” which I do not believe I have ever claimed involved the equation of the constitutional order with Catholic doctrine (indeed, I am not even sure what that would mean).

Neuhaus concludes his post thus:

In the forthcoming November issue of First Things, I explain why a writer in Time is quite wrong to be worried by the fact that so many Christians in America say they are Christians first and Americans second. The right ordering of their loves and loyalties is what makes them, contra the proponents of the naked public square, better Americans.

This is noteworthy, if only because I just wrote something to very much the same effect earlier this week.

I’ve always had civil relations with Bennett; and he has never shown any personal animus. But when I read his writing, it is filled with fear and loathing of gay people as an alleged threat to the very families we love and belong to. So which is it, Bill? The same goes with someone like Pat Buchanan, who has always treated me with great affection and respect. And yet, in print, he regards my commitment and love for my fiance as a danger to civilization. At some point, these people are going to have to decide. And now is as good a time as any. ~Andrew Sullivan

This makes about as much sense as Niall Ferguson’s remark about the reason why “liberal Tories” have no problem with “civil partnerships” and suchlike: they have gay friends, so obviously they couldn’t take a position on a question of social policy that would inconvenience their friends!  In other words, you cannot be friendly with such people unless you buy their political agenda, and you cannot oppose someone’s political agenda without treating him with disrespect and hostility.  What a charming world these people live in, in which you always agree with your friends and are rude and obnoxious to your opponents.  Rather an odd view for someone who goes on and on and on about the “Coulterization” of conservatives and the supposed inability of his critics to be civil and respectful.  Talk about wanting it both ways! 

Presumably Sullivan would not be satisfied if Bennett and Mr. Buchanan acted more “consistently” with what he thinks is their “fear and loathing” of gay people.  Since he assumes, almost certainly wrongly, that those who reject homosexuality and a political agenda tied to normalising and approving of homosexuality loathe the people in question, he has a hard time understanding how these people who, deep down, hate his guts can be so pleasant and personally agreeable around him. 

Of course, if they started treating him personally with contempt because they allegedly “loathe” gay people, he would denounce them as bigots.  If they treat gay people with respect and civility but denounce and oppose measures that would normalise or enshrine such behaviour that they regard as immoral and wrong, he would also denounce them as bigots, and hypocritical bigots to boot (we are eagerly awaiting someone to write In Defense of Hypocritical Bigotry–it should be a big hit!). 

It seems to me that civility, decency and toleration are a pretty good deal.  Anyone who expects full approval of homosexuality with all the trimmings of legally recognised “unions” will be waiting for a very, very long time.  Hastening a “reckoning” in GOP ranks will almost certainly make that wait even longer.  Sullivan should not want the time of reckoning to come, because the reckoning will almost certainly not be in favour of his folks.  All other points aside, this sort of “reckoning” talk does a real disservice to the people whom Sullivan allegedly wants to support and defend (i.e., the apparently myriad gay Republicans who are simply overflowing in Washington), since I assume these folks have gotten where they are and work for the party that they work for because they do not want to define their identity around sexuality and probably do not buy into most of the agenda of those who do so define their identity this way.  Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems to me that a “moment of truth” where the GOP is forced to decide for or against having any homosexuals among its staffers would be the last thing these folks would want to have.  Whether the core supporters of the party will continue to delude themselves into thinking that their leaders substantially share their “‘values” on these sorts of questions remains the far more interesting and politically significant question.     

If Muslims are apparently outraged by “Apple Mecca,” they must really be incensed at the portrayal of the Mahdi Paul Muad’Dib in Frank Herbert’s Dune series.  I mean, obviously, Herbert has been distorting Muad’Dib’s teachings of peaceful inner struggle and has been giving people the idea that the Fremen are a bunch of fanatical warriors with glowing eyes.  He has been getting away with misrepresenting Muad’Dib’s jihad for decades!  Where will the madness end? 

Were it not for men like Aznar, Blair, and Bush, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

Were it not for men “like” Aznar, Blair, and Bush, some rather large number of Iraqis would still be alive who are now dead.  But, remember, it was “they” who attacked “us.”  Islamofascism, 1938, burble, burble.

Note that this comment comes in an article proposing as a desirable option the appointment of Tony Blair as Secretary General of the U.N.  Perhaps if you hated the U.N. and wanted to see it finally discredited (and I would like to see this), this would be a brilliant move.  If you thought that this would actually make the U.N. better, then I am very sorry for you.

Why is it that you, like the theocons I examine and criticize in my book, seem so terrified of the American republic falling short of Christ-like perfection? Why is it not enough that the United States be a good and decent country among good and decent countries? Why is it not enough for you and other pious Christians to enjoy the freedom to worship and pray and proselytize in peace? Why, despite your own better judgment, do you so steadfastly resist seeking your salvation outside of politics? Why do you insist on identifying the fate of your soul with the fate of your country? ~Damon Linker

There were many ways Linker could have ended his debate with Ross.  He could have ended it with civility or grace or wit.  Instead he ended it with a heavy-handed, appallingly condescending lecture that does not simply question the intellectual project of theocons or Ross’ defense of religious conservative politics, but which actually presumes to say that Ross is some immanentising, chiliastic nationalist heretic.  I have my problems with the theocons, including what I consider to be their unfortunate tendency in certain cases to privilege the policy of the government over the admonitions of their bishops, but this attack crosses the line.  It’s on now, as they say. 

Ross made some pointed arguments and scored some hard hits against Linker, which must have been frustrating for his opponent, but he never stooped so low or directed his attack against the man.  It is always a sure sign of a man who has been beaten that he goes for the cheap shot at the end in a final act of retribution.  No wonder our political discourse is in such a shambles, when a reasonably intelligent, polite debate such as this one was has to end on such a dreadful note.

The first question is the most obnoxious.  I am one of the harsher critics of First Things and their general project, but accusing them of wanting to bring ”the American republic” to Christ-like perfection is absurd.  They do not expect any such perfection in this world, and whatever I think of their attitudes towards liberalism no one could really accuse them of this kind of utopianism and chiliasm, at least not in the way that Linker has here.  This is the kind of stock insult that I would expect from someone like Andrew Sullivan, forever prating on about Christianist-this and fundamentalist-that, but not from someone who claims to know something at first hand about First Things.  Obviously he cannot have read much of Ross’ work if he attributes such a ridiculous view to him. 

Also quite annoying was this line:

Why is it not enough for you and other pious Christians to enjoy the freedom to worship and pray and proselytize in peace?

But Christians are not left to pray and proselytise in peace.  They are driven from public institutions, public scenes and public venues.  They can proselytise and pray, so long as they stay in their metaphorical closets and say nothing about the affairs of the commonwealth and do not openly pray in any government building.  Relatively few Christians in the West since the Peace of the Church have ever put up with such obnoxious restrictions on and stigmas against their involvement in the life of the commonwealth.

But the worst comes at the end when he says:

Why, despite your own better judgment, do you so steadfastly resist seeking your salvation outside of politics? Why do you insist on identifying the fate of your soul with the fate of your country?

This is as grievous an insult to a serious Christian as there is.  We might as well ask why Linker has joined forces with Satan, which he would probably find quite offensive–that is approximately how offensive this question is to a faithful Christian.  There are modern political religions that offer a kind of this-worldly salvation, but no Christian conservative actually believes that he will achieve his salvation through politics.  Some Christian conservatives, including theocons, may make poor choices, bad arguments or the wrong commitments, but to say that they seek their salvation in politics is the ugliest kind of an attack on Christians that you can make.  I may have no time for their politics, but I do not presume to know that they do not earnestly seek salvation in Christ.  The fate of Ross’ soul is in God’s hands, and I don’t presume that he identifies it with the fate of his country any more than most any other sane, reasonable Christian ever has.  This accusation is not just insulting, but completely bizarre.  It has no foundation in anything Ross has said during this debate.  It has no foundation in much of anything, excerpt perhaps the perfervid imagination of Mr. Linker. 

Update: As if on cue, Andrew Sullivan cites the same quote, names it one of his “quotes of the day” and says:

Linker nails it in these few paragraphs…

So, frankly, I’m unsure what to conclude from this little debate. I will simply note how perplexing I find your own concluding remarks–about how my construal of the liberal bargain is dangerous because it might vindicate those “Christians and secularists alike” who have contended that there is a tension, sometimes requiring that a choice be made, “between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar.” Funny, I thought it was Christ himself who pointed to just such a tension at the core of the human condition. ~Damon Linker

But, of course, Ross didn’t say “tension.”  This is what he said:

…it’s also dangerous to liberalism, because it vindicates those people–Christians and secularists alike–who have always said that faith and liberalism aren’t compatible and that everyone need to choose between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar.

There’s tension and then there’s incompatibility.  A man and a woman have tension in their relationship without necessarily being perpetually at odds with each other.  Incompatibility is the state of natural opposites or even mortal enemies.  What Ross was warning against, I think, was the victory of the sort of argument that there is no common ground between the Faith and liberalism; in this argument, the two are irremediably opposed because of fundamental differences of understanding human nature, society, and, of course, the place of religion in society.  I tend to believe this.  Ross does not quite believe it, or seems to hold out hope for some common ground.  But the point is surely that Ross wants to keep alive a relationship between the two, in spite of the occasional tension, the bickering, the odd thrown vase, while Linker wants a clearly delimited arrangement in which adherents of the Faith can operate more or less freely but have little or no influence on political life.  I would prefer trial separation leading to divorce–assuming, of course, that the two were ever really joined in the first place.  What Ross was really talking about was not the Dominical teaching about the distinction between things of God and things of Caesar, or things of heaven and things of earth, but much more basically a question of whether the Faith and a liberal order premised on indidivual rights and contract theory fit together or not.  In forcing the issue, Linker threatens, so Ross suggests, to lend legitimacy to the arguments of the real reactionaries and the hard-core secularists who want the Faith and liberalism to have nothing to do with each other.  This is presumably something Linker does not want, since he already regards theocons as reactionaries and dangers to liberalism–imagine what he would say about someone like me!

This is one more tired attempt to dress up secularism as a modest defense of the idea of the Two Cities, when it is nothing of the kind.  It is manifestly a declaration of the supremacy of the City of Man in the affairs of men, and that’s all there is to it.  Attempts to encroach on the claims of the earthly City will be viewed very negatively, and it is for this reason, and I think probably this reason alone, that Linker attacks the theocons so strenuously.   

Treating the cultural revolution of the ’60s as something planned or controlled or directed by some powerful and sinister ideological force is commonplace on the right. But it is a fiction.  (Though it is a very useful fiction, since it serves as a politically beneficial rallying cry for right-wing populist discontent with various social and cultural trends.) But it distorts our understanding of what really happened in those years. The relaxation of sexual taboos, the rise of youth culture, women’s liberation, the breakdown of the authoritarian-patriarchal family structure and its replacement by more egalitarian arrangements–there have been positive and negative consequences of these and many other social-cultural changes over the past several decades. But they were not planned or controlled, certainly not politically. (Just as there was no bohemian Comintern directing the quite similar cultural revolutions that took place all over the free world at roughly the same historical moment.)  ~Damon Linker

First, let me congratulate Ross on his ability to participate in a debate at a magazine that describes the ongoing debate with the title on its main page: “Are Christians at odds with democracy?”  Not even Linker at his most theocon-paranoid would ask such a ridiculous question (the question begs more questions–which Christians are we talking about?), so it impresses me that Ross has soldiered on in an atmosphere almost uniquely unfriendly to his perspective and acquitted himself admirably.  Ross and I have a few disagreements, but in the end we both recognise rather unhinged secularism when we see it, and I’m sorry to say that Mr. Linker is a representative of just such a secularism.

Now to the Linker claim above.  Ross has made a point in the past of specifically not attributing massive social and cultural changes that reached their crescendo in the ’60s on liberal intellectuals organising a revolution guided by a single ideology.  He is not the cardboard cutout of a Christian conservative that Linker still seems to think he is.  First of all, he is clearly too smart to have fallen into the trap of believing that broad social change is ever planned.  Basic common sense and a conservative appreciation for the complexity of human societies would tell him that this is virtually impossible.  Frankly, only social engineers, progressives prominent among them, even think that social change ought to be directed or planned according to ideological guidelines, or even that it is possible.  But that does not mean that the social engineers and intellectuals are ever actually in control, or that the transformation of cultures necessarily stems from their meddling.  They tend, on the whole, to magnify or exacerbate ongoing developments for the worse, but no one serious, on the right or elsewhere, thinks that social upheaval is planned.  Surely one of the reasons why conservatives are unnerved by upheaval is that it is chaotic and disorderly, without any clear direction or organising principle.  So right away Linker is boxing Ross into a stereotype that he, more than many Christian conservatives, does not fit.  Before he even gets to the substance of his response, such as it is, he has shown a tendentious and rather condescending streak that does him no credit.  He says to Ross, “Look, my boy, you seem to think that some sinister left-wing Blofeld was compelling people to use contraceptives through his mind control devices, and I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!”  This is supposed to be persuasive? 

That said, did an ideology of emancipation and liberation prevail in this period?  Did it or did it not encourage, legitimise and empower all of the forces of dissolution then in ascendance?  Or are we supposed to believe that, because many of these changes took place as part of the transformation of private life, the “nonpolitical” spheres of life were left untouched by the adherents of the “liberal bargain”?  Has Linker not actually tried to seal off hermetically the “liberal bargain” from any negative social and cultural consequences that might be laid at the door of left-liberal ideas?  Isn’t his recourse to the allegedly noncomprehensive liberal view, in fact, a way to duck responsibility for the negative consequences of past secularist troublemaking?

Naturally, if I were on the side of the forces of subversion I would want to insist that there was no real subversion going on.  No one was actually trying to overthrow established mores and norms.  It just sort of happened!  It’s just “change.”  This doesn’t say much of Linker’s understanding of agency in history.  But it also takes away the theocons’ claim of being defenders.  No, they are not defending against the aggression of the subversives.  They are (gasp!) reactionaries!  He says so right here:

But the theocons look far less admirable in the light of reality, which shows them to be reactionaries incapable of coming to terms with the developmental logic of societies devoted to freedom.  

Well, no.  In fairness to the theocons, whom I have given a rather hard time over the past two years, they refuse to allow freedom to be defined acccording to the tiresomely selfish and passion-soaked values of secularists, just as they elsewhere refuse to allow reason to be reduced to the most meager of instrumental faculties deprived of any higher inspiration or illumination.  Just as they refuse to let reason be reduced to its barest minimum, they refuse to let human freedom be defined according to the deficient standards of self-will and choice.  Whether their entire vision with respect to liberalism is consistent with this is another question, but once again to say that they cannot come to terms with the “developmental logic” of free societies is to reduce them to a caricature and refute the caricature.  The use of the loaded term reactionary is telling.  No one serious can call Fr. Neuhaus et al. reactionaries.  As a reactionary, I disavow their claims to reaction, and I am confident that they want nothing to do with people like me.  What is so strange about this entire debate is that Neuhaus and Co. inhabit what seems to me to be a halfway house that makes room for liberalism on certain, important conditions.  Linker wants unconditional acceptance of the liberal order as he defines it; unconditional surrender is what he desires from the theocons.  Until they offer such a surrender to his vision of the “liberal bargain”–a bargain to which they are committed just as much as he is in their way–he will cast them as the blackest of reactionaries, fundamentalists with a view to wreck our entire political system.  I might note that Linker here replicates nothing so much as a reverse image of the caricature of the conservative view of the ’60s as “ideologically driven transformation.”  He sees the rise of the Christian right as just such an “ideologically driven transformation,” he casts the theocons as the central villains of the piece and assures us that they are here to break with all precedents and overturn the existing order–which is, according to him, what we say about secular liberals of decades past.  Whether we actually say this or not is immaterial; he has already called such a view ridiculous, and so indicts himself with his own attack.

This just in from the Green Zone in Baghdad: The hot new polo shirt in the zone is white with a diplomatic security badge on it and stitching below that says “Resistance Is Futile.” ~The Washington Post

Via Kevin Drum

Now Drum assumes that this is an example of “triumphal jackassery” familiar to us from earlier stages in the war, but I think we may all be getting the wrong impression from this Borg slogan.  Maybe it’s actually a message to other people in the Green Zone that their continued resistance to reality is futile and that eventually, one day, the catastrophe that is Iraq will penetrate their isolated little world.  Anyone buying that one?  No, and neither am I.  Note to war supporters: it might help your cause of being outraged about alleged Cylon/American parallels in Battlestar Galactica if the government’s own guys in Iraq weren’t consciously imitating the rhetoric of the equally nasty cyborg enemies of humanity from another sci-fi show.  I guess the Borg phrase was catchier than “by your command, Imperious Leader.” 

If there is any valid critique of Dreher’s “crunchy cons,” surely it is their predilection to easy distraction. They, by and large, still want to be nice. Where are the crunchy bare knucklers, or better yet, brass knucklers? Where are the stem-winders and latter-day Elijahs set to call down fire upon the prophets of the liberal order? Where are the anarchists and wild-eyed populists infused with righteous rage who will say not just “no” but “Hell No!” to the Linker/Gallagher bargain? ~Fr. Jape

It is encouraging to see that Fr. Jape can bestir himself to send a carrier pigeon from the grave when the occasion requires it.  I think I know where we can find some populists, or at least some inspiration for those populists, but what about the anarchists?  Any wild-eyed anarchists out there? 


This is not a joke–well, it isn’t intended to be one…

Via I, Ectomorph

Here is the explanation of what this charming piece of modern heraldry means.

Even with the distribution challenges Versus faces, the best news for the NHL is that it still has a great game and can draw talent from around the world to play in its league. Countries in the northern hemisphere will continue to churn out great hockey players and the infrastructure for high school and collegiate teams is still growing in America, even in the south after the success of the Carolina Hurricanes. Older than both the NFL and the NBA, hockey isn’t going to disappear without a fight. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

It takes a bold man to write an article on the fortunes of professional hockey.  Fortunately, we have just such a courageous and intrepid fellow in Michael.  He gives the NHL fair treatment, probably more than it deserves, and takes us on a nostalgic trip to the salad days of hockey when the Canadiens were still respectable, there were teams called Whalers, Nordiques and Jets and there was no hockey in the bizarre setting of Arizona.

What Pew actually did over two weeks in May was ask 820 self-identifying American Christians “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?” And in this case, 42% of Christians did actually answer “Christian first.” Another 48% answered “American first,” while 7% ducked and said they thought of themselves as both.

Not surprisingly, the “Christian first” response emanated disproportionately from self-identified Evangelicals, 62% of whom said “Christian first.” By contrast, the figures for other major Christian sectors were nearly reversed, with 62% of Catholics and 65% of Mainline Protestants saying “American first”.

To some, the 42% “Christian first” number will seem a shocking bit of data. It certainly seems to be a new one. As far as Pew knows and I have been able to determine, nobody ever asked the “Christian or American?” question before. Perhaps that’s because it’s divisive on the face of it, almost un-American: why should anyone have to choose between his faith and his nationality? Doesn’t the very query assume some sort of nefarious loyalty test, or hint at a fifth-column movement? And what would be the criteria for choosing? Why are you taking us down this road? ~David Van Biema, Time

Via Ross Douthat

I think I must owe Ross a drink for pointing out this hilarious article.  What a hoot!  (I also appreciate the generous link to my latest theocon post, about which I will have more another time.)  I suppose if I believed the nation was “built on the separation of church and state” as Mr. Van Biema does, I would also be somewhat distressed at these results.  Happily, I do not believe any such thing, and I am left pondering what the other 48% might be thinking when they identify as Americans first.  Goodness knows I appreciate the principle of America First when it comes policy and politics, but how is it that a properly catechised Christian (I know, that’s quite an assumption right there) would believe that his loyalty or identity is first to a land or kingdom of this world?  I can understand why there would be some residual hesitation on the part of Catholics to give priority to their Christian identity, since American Catholics have gone to quite a lot of trouble over the last century and a half to convince their neighbours that they are good Americans and have had to put up with quite a lot of criticism asserting the contrary.  But what other answer can a Christian give?  There is no question of necessarily choosing between faith and nationality–it is a question of ordering priorities in a hierarchy, in which religious commitment and faith take precedence for Christians, as you would expect.  This does not cancel out patriotism or national loyalty, and can even serve to bolster and confirm such feelings in a way that does not have to give wild-eyed nationalism or chauvinism religious justification, and it is not a case where one must choose one or the other.  The only thing divisive about any of this is the reaction to the result, in which Mr. Van Biema first takes us through a tour of similarly worded polls used to gauge Muslim sentiments (for many secular reporters, religion is religion is religion, and the content thereof is irrelevant) and then responds to a statement of the classic opposition between the Kingdom and the world with an almost self-parodying comment:

Well, that was then… But where, I asked, might a contemporary Christian’s interest diverge from an American’s?

I’m pretty sure Mr. Van Biema really didn’t get the point of the lesson, which is that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  In that sense, you could have a fine, old Christian empire and it would still be imperative to understand that your primary loyalty as a Christian is to Christ and the Church and not to the emperor and the empire.  We are, after all, only sojourning here below.  It isn’t even necessarily a question of “interests,” though if the state intrudes upon matters of faith or becomes an abominable tyranny that would change things considerably.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Van Biema declares himself uninterested in theologically-defined “meta-citizenship.”  And he was so close to passing his meta-citizenship test!    

CARLSON: Yeah. I mean, I like John Warner, of course, and I respect him, but you know, more than three years after the invasion, only now coming to this conclusion? I think all of us are complicit in this war because the ideas behind the war, the ideological underpinning of the war is wrong. The idea that the Middle East needs democracy to be better off, all of us bought into that and that itself is a lie…

MATTHEWS: Not all of us, Tucker.

CARLSON: I didn’t. You didn’t. But the people who did aren’t apologizing for it. Instead of pretending it’s somehow Rumsfeld’s fault for mismanaging it, the problem is deeper than that. ~The Chris Matthews Show

As long as you keep Tucker Carlson away from the dance floor, he does all right.

If you’re the arbiter of what the liberal bargain means, then I want no part of it. The American experiment has succeeded for so long precisely because it doesn’t force its citizens channel their “theological passions and certainties … out of public life and into the private sphere.” It forces them to play by a certain set of political rules, yes, which prevent those passions and certainties from creating a religious tyranny. But it doesn’t make the mistake of telling people that their deepest beliefs should be irrelevant to how they vote, or what causes they support. The kind of secularism that you’re promoting–and that Neuhaus and the rest of the “theocons” were originally reacting against–is an attempt to change those rules and impose greater restrictions on religious Americans than have heretofore existed. This isn’t just blinkered, unfair, and contrary to the actual American tradition of how religion and politics interact; it’s also dangerous to liberalism, because it vindicates those people–Christians and secularists alike–who have always said that faith and liberalism aren’t compatible and that everyone need to choose between Christ and the republic, between God and Caesar. And, if you force Americans to make that choice, I’m not sure you’ll be happy with the results. ~Ross Douthat

Ross’ second installment at TNR in his theocon debate with Damon Linker, whose first installment is here, knocks down the fairly weak ripostes that Linker had offered and then proceeds to grind them into the ground.  At least for the most part.  The more I think about it, the less I am persuaded by the basic theocon claim that a liberalism that  cannot be informed by religious, and particularly Christian, ideas is in danger of failing.  I am even less persuaded that liberalism will be endangered because secularism will end up empowering those voices on both sides (like mine?) that preach hostility between the Faith and liberalism. 

If empowering people like me (and whoever my opposite number among the secularists might be) is the great danger to liberalism posed by Linker’s secularist overreaching, Linker can probably sleep soundly, since 50 years (at least) of secularist overreaching has typically empowered precisely those religious conservatives who keep insisting on what good liberals they are, how much they want to play by the rules and how important they are to liberalism’s survival.  As Ross knows, American Christians are perfectly content with the liberal order (though they will object to a thousand and one policies or legal rulings within that order), because it is the only kind they have ever known and indeed the more intensely Christian Americans are the more they (typically) invest the American system of government and political culture with quasi-religious significance.  Actual anti-liberal Christians are as rare as gold in this country, not least because so many Christians have persuaded themselves that America is a “Christian country,” and not just in a historical-cultural sense, which causes them to intellectually bend themselves into pretzels to demonstrate the religious origins of the Union.  The “Christian country” spiel is just the “proposition nation” claim for people who go to church, and is just about as substantial, but it is very effective in keeping people on board with the project. 

American Christians have seen Christianity excluded from the public square more and more each decade, and have mustered by and large limited resistance to this trend.  Who now fights for prayer in school–not a minute of silence, not “one nation under God” hokum, but actual prayer?  To ask the question is to acknowledge the extent of the defeat.  In fact, you would be fairly hard-pressed to find a religious conservative today who would lament this development in print.  Unlike Christians in fights with liberalism in Europe–which the liberals tended to lose in the early decades when they provoked the Christians about vital issues pertaining to education or social policy–American Christians are locked into some form of liberalism and, through the work of theocons, have developed an entire argument for why they are basically not only in harmony with this liberalism but are the essential protectors of it.  

They cannot mount an effective counterattack on the ravages of secularism, because they are so committed to the procedural rules of the game to which they constantly appeal in arguments with secularists, while the secularists have no scruples about altering the political and legal landscape through ever-more outrageous and preposterous readings of the law.  Each time they change the rules, religious conservatives cry foul but then set about convincing themselves that they must abide by the new rules.  If this is the backlash against secularism and liberalism, I would hate to see what accommodation looks like.  More to the point, if this is what has resulted from half a century of galloping secularism, the secularists have nothing to fear from any more serious backlash in the future.  Seen this way, the theocons are certainly not laying siege to secular America, which appears here as an entirely ludicrous claim, but might as well be opening the gates to the secularists with their half-hearted, “We’re Christians, but we love liberalism!” defense.

Ross’ final remark is a kind of appeal to the mob, in which the religious conservative warns the secularist that if he does not grant religious folks full participation under the rules of the game then the religious folks might just start listening to the Thomas Muentzers of the world and decide that they absolutely prefer Christ to the Republic (on the whole, I suspect Christians do prefer Christ to the Republic, but not to the necessary exclusion or detriment of the latter).  In other words, talking about theocons besieging secular America is crazy, alarmist talk…for the moment.  As I read this, Ross seems to be saying that the Neuhausian detente with liberalism and the involvement of religious Americans in politics more generally help to prevent a religious majority from rising up and destroying a secular liberal order, which they might otherwise do if this happy middle ground broke down.  Religious Americans are good liberals, unless you push them too far, so Linker would be advised not to do too much pushing.  That doesn’t seem likely to set the secularist at ease about the potential threat that he sees.

This seems to be an odd way to end an otherwise compelling argument.  Perhaps the spectre of a more extreme religious politics would make the mild-mannered theocons seem less terrifying and would convince Linker that it could be a lot worse than Neuhaus et al. and he could learn to live with them, “religiously informed public philosophy” and all.  Yet it is odd that Ross ends his contribution by playing on the very irrational fears of religious politics that he has spent the entire debate dismissing as, well, irrational and unfounded.          

By the way, Michael also gets into the mix this morning and makes a particularly good observation:

Linker is stumbling here as I think it is very difficult to deduce exactly what John Paul II taught on this matter - but he is right that the Church and Churchmen like Neuhaus have staked out a precarious and novel position that I’d like to call “semi-traditionalism” - if that weren’t such an awkward term. There has been an uneven tradition, embodied perhaps first by Orestes Brownson, of lashing together a form of enlightenment liberalism to Catholic natural law teaching. It should be explored in depth sometime, without Damon Linker’s “heavy breathing” or even the rhetorical demands of a debate held by the New Republic.

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis


Back last night from Mecosta, and too much to get caught up on at the office today to do much blogging. Alas. But I exchanged e-mails with Maggie Gallagher, a critic of “Crunchy Cons,” this morning on an issue that came up (unbeknownst to her) over the weekend at the Kirk Center conference. The theologian Vigen Guroian, criticizing the crunchy-cons concept in Mecosta, said that there’s something phony about the idea of trying to adopt a tradition that doesn’t come down to you organically. Vigen said it’s a very modern thing to try on different traditions (e.g., converting from one religion to another), and he’s skeptical about the whole “back to tradition” aspect of the neotraditionalism advocated in “Crunchy Cons.” If I got his argument correctly, he’s simply saying that what I propose is not feasible. ~Rod Dreher

Rod gives what I consider to be a good answer to these charges, but I’d like to offer my own as well.  It is similar, but I think it goes a bit further.  Organic traditions are best.  Ascribed identities are best.  This is true.  This is also of absolutely no use to people who have never been part of organic traditions worth mentioning and have always been bumbling along on the deserted highway of choice.  This conservatism and traditionalism says to us, “Organicity or bust!”  In which case, those of us who have not had the privilege of having received rooted, traditional identities can do nothing, because the very act of grafting ourselves onto a vine is deemed excessively individualistic and self-determined.  Furthermore, it maintains the fiction that people who have received ascribed identities and inherited traditions from their ancestors are somehow free from modernity, as if there is not today with each affirmation of the old ways on everyone’s part a self-conscious decision to adhere to that tradition rather than let it go.  It is true, as MacIntyre has argued, that even those who abandon or actively reject the traditions they have received are shaped by those traditions.  In this sense, there is no escaping where you come from.  The exile is forever shaped and haunted by his home country.  But according to the rooted, exiles are not really allowed to settle anywhere else.  Once in exile, always in exile.   

For these refugees wandering through the virtually tradition-less lands such as myself, the arguments of Prof. Guroian and Ms. Gallagher are not only not helpful, they are something of a slap in the face.  It is as if they are saying, “We’ve got ours.  You’re simply out of luck.  You can’t acquire a tradition not your own.  You will never have what I have, so you might as well give up.”  Perhaps that is not what they mean to say, but every single time they make their objections, whether to Crunchy Cons, “neotraditionalism,” simple “traditionalism” or conversion to a different church that is what it sounds like.  They say things like, “Don’t talk about tradition, live it!”  To which I say, “Well, obviously.  Now that I am doing that, do you think you might acknowledge it?”  To which they say, “But you’re still just choosing what you want.”  Perhaps they would not be satisfied until the refugees adhered themselves to a tradition they positively loathed as a way of showing everyone that it was not just the fickleness of taste that motivated them but a dreadfully serious desire to belong to a tradition in spite of itself.  Of course, this would correctly merit the charge of being perverse.

If I participated in the “tradition” in which I was raised, if we can even call it that, I could not be a Christian, because my parents never raised me as one and no one in my family going back three generations was a regular churchgoer when I was around.  In the real world, that is where the regime of pluralism, choice and intermarriage gets you.  Were it not for our family’s keen interest in genealogy, I would have had no notion that a generation or two before our family had several ministers.  The extended family I grew up with had gone to church in the past, years and decades before, but not anymore.  We were as happily (or unhappily) secularised as you please. 

So I either go “back to tradition” by picking and choosing among the various churches of my ancestors (the wonders of pluralism strike again!), which would still not be satisfactory for the rooted, since I am picking and choosing, or I can go “back to tradition” by looking to the Orthodox Church, as I have done, as possessing the fullness of Truth and the unbroken Tradition of the Apostles, which will also not satisfy the rooted (apparently not even the “cradle” Orthodox) because I have now chosen a tradition from which I cannot even claim distant descent (unless you take things back a long, long way to ancient Orthodox England).  So I may as well become a secular Republican, since that is the closest thing that I know to an ascribed identity; let my scriptures be The Wall Street Journal, let Sunday morning football be my liturgy.  That is what I grew up with.  That sounds like a fine improvement over Scripture and the Liturgy, doesn’t it?    

When it comes to religion, when your parents do not actively hold fast to the tradition of their fathers, there is not actually anything more “natural” and less “arbitrary” about turning to the tradition that your ancestors once had (in my case, say, joining the Methodists, Presbyterians or Quakers) than there is in turning to a Christian tradition that actually prizes living, organic Church Tradition, such as Orthodoxy.  Prof. Guroian, who is Orthodox as I am (though I am a convert), would seem to be suggesting that it would be preferable for me to go off to join the folks at PCUSA or the United Methodist Church because some of my ancestors were once ministers in those traditions, regardless of whether those churches even remain true to the traditions they have inherited.  In this sense, we are being told that cultural tradition ought to trump what appear to be more genuine expressions of Christian tradition. 

As a matter of descent, I could technically automatically be a Quaker, so perhaps I should go to their non-liturgical meetings and wait for the Spirit to inspire me to protest the war.  Even though my mother doesn’t typically go to Friends meetings, because she does not remotely recognise the Quakerism of her youth, I should start going.  That would be, according to this fetishisation of organicity, better and more genuine than looking for a different tradition.  But even if I did that, it would still be me who was doing the choosing and the tradition-selecting.  This fixation on ascribed identity becomes almost an equal and opposite absurdity in its rejection of individual choice: not only is it better not to choose, but if you ever choose something it is therefore by definition less genuine than if you received it.  This is a mirror image of the individualist’s declaration that “I decide who I am.” 

As I read this, this means that the person born into the tradition not only belongs to it more than you, the convert (which may be true), but in your very act of conversion you are simply replicating modern, non-traditional ways of doing things and cannot really be taken seriously.  Even if you are not a “church-shopper,” but actually stop and adhere yourself to this or that church for the rest of your life you are no different from the “church-shopper” and the person who never goes to church because he chooses not to.  Even in making a sound choice, opting for the rooted person’s own tradition, you are being arbitrary–no matter how many good reasons you have!  

Even if you, the convert, can end up teaching the “cradle” folks about their own tradition, which you have had to learn about, admittedly somewhat superficially and intellectually on one level, and which they have taken for granted (and, I’m sorry, but they have taken it for granted, because it has been granted to them without their even asking for it), you are never really part of that tradition.  In the eyes of the rooted, you will seem to be something of a parasite, living off the healthy body of an organic tradition to which you are ultimately always going to be alien.  Of course, according to a truer definition of organicity you could be metaphoricallly grafted onto one of the branches of the tree, and according to a more realistic understanding of belonging you could be adopted into the clan even though you do not share their blood.  But according to this static understanding of organic tradition, there are no ways in and it is never possible to truly attach yourself to it.      

Besides the rather glaring problem that this poses for the idea of Orthodoxy and the vocation of the Church, to jump to whether or not this or that church represents the most genuine embodiment of the fullness of the truth is precisely the move that these rooted folks expect us to make.  Even when I say, “I have come to believe that Orthodoxy represents the fullness of the True Faith,” they will say, “Aha!  You have chosen to belong to Orthodoxy, you have determined it to be the best choice, which only proves our point.”  In other words, there is no way for the refugee to win the argument and convince the rooted that he can become rooted, or at least to make a start of it.  So rather than get into weighty discussions of why, as a matter of history and theology, it is frankly obvious to me that Orthodoxy is best and the surest road to salvation–and in saying this I am affirming what I have received from the Church and the Fathers–I will instead turn back to the fetishisation of organicity and tradition behind these critiques.

Later in Rod’s post, Maggie Gallagher says:

Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods.

So we have Prof. Guroian assuring us that some people really do belong to traditions and really do inherit them, but that attempts to attach yourself to them are artificial.  Then we have Ms. Gallagher telling us that nobody today has any such tradition and that we are all simply consumers.  The latter claim is plainly false, as any visit to an ethnic Orthodox parish will confirm in two seconds.  So in the first case we have a sort of idolatry of organicity and on the other an idolatry of tradition.  In the first, organicity seems to think that there are only ever full-grown plants and never seeds.  It seems to claim that you cannot graft anything to an existing vine.  Not only is this contrary to what we understand about things that grow in the earth, but such organicity isn’t even fully alive if its partisans insist that those who graft themselves on are somehow less connected to the living tradition.  It assumes that there is no relationship between the plant and its natural surroundings, that it can continue to exist as if encased in amber while somehow also remaining alive.  In order to find fault with those who seek to return to a tradition, living tradition must be made into a caricature of itself.

For Ms. Gallagher, nothing is traditional anymore.  Not even adherence to a tradition.  This is a sort of parody of the conservative view of modernity, as if there was an Age of Tradition in which everyone adhered to what has handed down to him as if they were automatons (because in this fantasy, no one prior to, perhaps, 1500, had the ability to decide anything himself) and then came the Age of Choice in which no one received what was handed down to him but simply starting choosing all things, including the traditions to which he belonged.  Which, of course, are apparently not traditional.  Perhaps a later date would be even more appropriate, since we are really talking about the predicament of 19th and 20th century Westerners and not all moderns. 

But the central difference between pre-modern and modern man, or even between modern and late modern man, is not exactly simply the relatively greater role of individual choice in the life of the latter, but comes instead in in the relationship between choice and authority.  Submitting to authority is as traditional as it gets.  At some point, everyone has had to submit to a teaching authority for the first time–that does not make obedience to that authority artificial in any sense.  Those who want to privilege choice and make the self and the satisfaction of the self the standard by which they judge what is good and what is not are necessarily hostile to the dictates of authority.  Such an authority proposes to give them a standard outside of themselves that they must either accept or reject.  A traditionally-minded person embraces the claims of that authority, yields to it, denies his own will and tries instead to will what the authority calls him to will.  This is as basic as the redirection of our desires away from ourselves and towards God; it is the abandonment of autonomy and the entrance into koinonia, in which ourselves are no longer ours but Christ’s.  Indeed, we are called to put away ourselves, to die to ourselves, and thus become truly human and truly personal for the first time.  This is the perfect example that is dimly reflected in every submission to authority: the death of the self, the embrace of authority, the vivification of the person.  Those who claim that such submission is impossible, or is always artificial when it is attempted, are sentencing the refugees–or perhaps sentencing all of us–to the living death of selfhood.  Not only is it irritating to those of us who are trying to make the best of the measly scraps we have been given, but I believe it is fundamentally untrue.   

Arguably no one in the modern age has been traditional in the way that medieval people were traditional, because the options for the latter were perhaps fewer (though, in fact, as the proliferation of medieval heresies shows, there were always just as many haireseis available to pre-modern people as there are to us–the difference is that they did not make choosing such a privileged act), but at every step in the chain of transmission of tradition people actively reproduced and passed on what they had received.  The rulers of some European nations, some of which became Christian as recently as the tenth or eleventh century, had to decide for Christianity and against the paganism of their past, just as, at one point, Romans and Greeks had to do the same.  At some point, the most ancient and venerable tradition began when a multitude of people actively, consciously chose it.  Not only were they traditional in submitting themselves to the authorities of that tradition–which is the true measure of acceptance of a tradition (not whether you find it self-satisfying or even “authentic,” which are beside the point)–but they were instrumental in making the tradition that later generations would be able to take for granted because men such as Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Gregory Nazianzenos, and Grand Prince Vladimir chose to make Orthodoxy their own.  Was their participation in the tradition artificial or forced, or are they not in fact examples of how a living tradition adapts and embraces those that adhere to it and so becomes even more vibrant and healthy? 

It is difficult to imagine St. Paul writing, “Hold fast to the traditions that I have given to you, whether in word or by epistle, unless you happen to be a convert, in which case you may as well go back to making blood sacrifices to Apollo because you lack a sufficiently organic connection to the Church of Christ.”  It is difficult to imagine Moses telling the people of Israel, “Sorry, folks, we have to go back to Egypt, because I have it on good authority that if we departed from Egypt now in search of some so-called Promised Land we would just be engaged in a lot of self-conscious identity construction that doesn’t really count for very much.  It is better to abide in the fine traditions of the Egyptians, who, after all, have really old traditions.  The God of our fathers?  Overrated, if you ask me.  We don’t want to be a bunch of self-absorbed consumers seeking authenticity in a fabled land of milk and honey.  No, I think we should go back and be slaves.  After all, it’s what we know!”  Of course neither of them would have said anything remotely like this.  And both of them freely chose to embrace the calling with which they were called by the living God.  But, if we are to believe the rooted folks, St. Paul and Moses were precocious moderns experimenting with some new-fangled ideas.  Personally, I take my chances with trying to follow, however poorly and ineptly, their example and leave behind the fetishists of traditions to which no one (or at least no one else but them) can belong.    

The New Iraqica plotline may have started heavy-handed (no doubt in part to get a lot of press attention), and it certainly broke the wall between the audience and the BSGverse, but as the reader above notes, the show’s creative team would have to be complete idiots to sustain this strained and absurd moral equivalence throughout the season. And, they certainly demonstrated in the first two seasons that they aren’t complete idiots. ~Jonah Goldberg

As I read over Goldberg’s reaction to the third season premiere, I was surprised at how seriously he took the supposed parallelism with Iraq.  (Then again, I suspect that I am not alone in being amazed that anyone associated Roslin’s attempt to steal the election with the 2000 recount–unless, of course, one thinks that Roslin is Bush, in which case it was a harrowing counterfactual storyline showing us the horror of a Gore presidency!)  Now, as I said in my earlier response to Peter, I haven’t seen the premiere, so maybe I should hold off commenting any further until I have, but if Goldberg was giving us the damning evidence here he failed to convict.  Isn’t it odd that war supporters should be so touchy at possible backhanded references to their war?  War opponents, last I checked, were not beating their heads against the wall when BSG showed the Colonial peace movement as a front for Cylon infiltration and nuclear terrorism.  Maybe it’s a space opera.  Maybe it is just a story.  Yes, it draws on parallels from our own experience, because, well, that’s what all interesting stories do.  If you want otherworldly fluff and nonsense, Stargate is still available.  If you want gritty, more realistic science fiction, quit your whining about BSG

Update: A different NRO reader’s take on the show:

I think viewing the episodes as trying to mirror Iraq is at least a little bit of defensiveness from conservatives.  I was real worried about the moral equivalence before seeing the episodes, but after viewing it I think it reflected the French resistance (no easy jokes) and Vichy French rather than Iraq.  The last scene with the prisoners being allowed to stretch their legs and then being gunned down by surprise is almost a stereotype from WWII Nazi films.

Anyone trying to draw equivalence with Iraq will inevitably look like a fool trying to defend it for just a few of the reasons you have already listed. 

I must say that I agree with the remark about defensiveness.  Opponents of the Iraq war do not see this as an allegory about Iraq, because they do not assume that Americans are Cylons.  Why is Iraq the first thing that leaps to mind?  After all, isn’t it 1938?  Aren’t the fascists everywhere?  If you read NRO regularly, you would think so.  So, come on, folks, stick to the script you have been given! 

Second Update: As if the BSG-Iraq parallel needed demonstration of its silliness, here is a gem from Battlestar Galactica Blog:

They needed Baltar to be as much like Saddam Hussein as possible in order create an analagous situation. The United States took over Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. The Cylons liberated the humans from Baltar. If the humans had a well functioning democratic government, then the similaritiy between the two situations would be a lot weaker.

Um…what?  Gaius Baltar may be many things, but a stand-in for Saddam Hussein?  Please.  A lecherous egomaniac who has gone rather mad, yes, but hardly a brutal dictator.  Note that this comes from someone who thought that Baltar was an all right sort of guy until the mean, old writers turned suddenly transformed him into a womanising creep, as opposed to the charming idealistic man of virtue we knew from before.  Say what?  Furthermore, there was no “liberation” from Baltar; as I understand it, Baltar is still around, working hand-in-glove with the Cylons.  But this does raise the important question: if New Caprica is Iraq, who was supposed to be Hussein?  The question points out the absurdity of the entire parallel.

The core message of the research was that, “in the presence of diversity, we hunker down”, he said. “We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.”

Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, “the most diverse human habitation in human history”, but his findings also held for rural South Dakota, where “diversity means inviting Swedes to a Norwegians’ picnic”. ~The Financial Times

Via Steve Sailer

Mind you, the Norwegians weren’t too happy about inviting them (who needs to put up with the old oppressors, am I right?), but maybe the Swedes had all the good liquor. 

It is remarkable that anyone thinks this is shocking, much less “disturbing.”  I remember making a remark to one of my classmates many, many years ago at my private school to the effect that “people prefer to stay with their own kind.”  It was in the context of talking about–wait for it–the K!ung Bushmen and their, shall we say, less than successful integration into the settled societies of southern Africa.  (And this was in our 8th grade world history class, mind you.)  The girl I said this to looked as if I had just kicked her dog, as I had clearly violated one of the chief premises of our entire education, which was that diversity was good, enriching and the source of only good things.  How could it be that the kind of ethnic diversity that most peoples have studiously avoided for thousands of years could have adverse effects or be the cause for social disintegration?  Before Thomas Sowell went rather batty and started talking approvingly of bombing civilians, he wrote some very smart books about immigration patterns showing that people tended to stick to their own.  This is one reason why you can find, even today, identifiable ethnic areas of Chicagoland, and why different immigrants groups settled in fairly concentrated patterns with other people like themselves.  This is partly practical at first, but it is also a way of solidifying social bonds for all people, natives and immigrants.  Those who don’t like to see the bonds of their community weakened naturally respond poorly to the infusion of this kind of diversity. 

Those who think that talk of community is a lot of hot air and who privilege the individual in their thinking about social relations probably see less of a problem.  But the problem remains, even for individualists, that bonds of trust with the people around you weaken in these “enriched” societies, which imposes burdens on the ability of individuals to live with the same confidence and peace of mind that they otherwise would.  But, no, obviously the truth must be this: the more diverse, the merrier.  That must be the key to a stable and friendly society!   

Speaking of the Bushmen, my friends and I probably forgot most of that lesson in mandatory diversity training from middle school, but we did remember that one of the Bushmen was very agitated about the presence of SWAPO in his area, and no wonder.  Odd, the sorts of things you remember. 

It occurrs to me that I would like to have Rumsfeld “hauled before Congress every week”(or so) to justify his management of the war. And what does Bennett think will happen — that Iraq and Afghanistan will dissolved into chaos without Rumsfeld’s constant attention? That’s a risk I am willing to take. ~Clark Stooksbury

I don’t know if we can handle all of the chaos that would go with more effective Congressional oversight.  I mean, just consider how efficiently and competently things have been managed up till now.  Do we really want to jeopardise that kind of success?

Perhaps Bennett should go back to hawking his ghost-written books and leave the campaigning for others.

North Korea’s nuclear test, which caused indignation and alarm around the world, is good news for the United States for seven reasons: ~Srdja Trifkovic

Separate from the question of politicising BSG, Peter has some excellent remarks on identity and the human need to protect our own, even when it means resorting to the most extreme measures:

There’s something innate in humanity that causes us not to deal well with outsiders, even in the best of circumstances. Our country is, by most measures, about as inviting and open to those outside our cultural sphere as any, yet conflicts over immigration continue to erupt. For good and for ill, strong communities defend themselves, and the more put-upon, the more forcibly invaded and robbed of its identity a society feels, the more likely it is to take extreme action. Anyone who thinks an occupation of America (especially by non-humans who seemed to have some physical vulnerability) wouldn’t spur suicide attacks is kidding themselves. The rules of polite warfare go out the airlock when the basic integrity of your civilization is threatened.

Daniel Larison wants us to leave Battlestar Galactica out of the war debate. Like a picky eater, he seems averse to letting the two touch each other on his plate. He writes:


If you think Colonials fighting the Cylons = jihadis fighting Americans, you have your wires crossed somewhere. The Cylons are the inhuman religious fanatics, remember? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s science-fiction and doesn’t have to have an immediate political application. Maybe BSG is a more fundamental story of human survival and, as many good sci-fi stories have been, a study of human nature in the extraordinary circumstances of a fantastic alien situation.


I’m inclined to think he takes this a little too far. Regardless of what Moore intended (or says), there’s a clear connection between the show and the current war, and the night-vision sequence all but flashed the words POLITICAL ALLEGORY on the screen. And of course, the suicide bombing by the humans is tough to take without making political correlations in this age of suicide-driven terrorism. So, while I’m sympathetic to Larison’s disinclination to ascribe partisanship to the show, I’m not entirely willing to depoliticize it completely. ~Peter Suderman

Let me say first that I wholeheartedly agree with Peter’s assessment of the excellence of BSG, which is why I am a bit annoyed at myself for missing the season premiere last week.  I should note at the beginning that, lacking a television, I have not seen the start of the third season (except for the first part of the first hour SciFi offered on their website), so I cannot comment in any detail on how “relevant” to contemporary politics the third season has turned out to be so far.  And, as it happens, I am a picky eater (and I hate it when different things touch on my plate–doesn’t everyone?), but that isn’t why I wanted to throw out the NRO reader’s Iraq comparison. 

My initial reaction to the suggestion that the entire New Caprica arc was a commentary on Iraq was based in my knowledge of the first two seasons of the show and the webisodes, which had successfully avoided easy and simple identifications with any specific political problem.  It reminds us of all sorts of wartime moral and political problems because it is a wartime drama.  The Colonials represent the weaker, occupied group, and so they resort to the tactics of an insurgency.  For some reason, rather than identifying these insurgents with anti-Nazi partisans the reader concluded that it must have something to do with Iraq.  If that is the kind of political response the BSG generates, I would prefer that we ignore the show’s implications for contemporary politics and just enjoy it as an interesting sci-fi story.   Read the rest of this entry »

A new Zogby poll shows Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY 26) trailing self-funding businessman Jack Davis (D) by 15 points. ~Hotline

At meetings of conservative activists and think tankers I’ve attended over the past few days, a theme of dogged overconfidence about the November balloting was in evidence. Despite the media’s Foley fixation and the sea of blue-tinted margins visible in most polling summaries, many activist Republicans I talked to (only a subset of conservative activists, of course) continue to believe that the GOP is going to outperform expectations and maintain control of both chambers. Some otherwise-reasonable conservatives of my acquaintance, including nationally known political journalists, insist that contests such as the Maryland Senate race and Colorado governor’s race remain in play. Many have internalized the Left’s unhinged fascination with Karl Rove’s genius and expect him to pull some kind of magic trick towards the end of October to deflect the current momentum of the election cycle. 

Basically, I see a lot of people drinking Kool-Aid. It is red. But it has no flavor and no nutritional value. ~John Hood

This is good news for the Dems.  The one thing the GOP had going for it was its awareness of how bad this election could be if they didn’t make special efforts to mobilise their voters and operate their turnout machine at high capacity.  If there is a sense that things are going to magically turn around or that things are much better than they seem, the GOP will fail to do what is necessary to stave off a bad defeat and may end up suffering an even worse one.

Ross Douthat pens a solid challenge to Damon Linker at a debate hosted by TNR and pretty much covers all the bases you could want.  He hits Linker for the inconsistency of tone, by turns scholarly and alarmist, the book’s overreaching thesis (secular America is DOOMED!) and the nationalist (dare we call it nativist?) refrains about an “alien ideology” corrupting the national tradition.   

As one inclined to view at least certain kinds of theocracy in a good light, and perhaps as one of the “heirs” to “the old throne-and-altar European right” (personally, I prefer symphoneia as a concept to Thron und Altar, but we reactionaries have to be broad-minded about our differences) that does not care much for the Christianity-fortified liberalism of Neuhaus et al., I thought I might offer a few remarks to supplement what was generally a very satisfying and thorough thrashing of Mr. Linker. 

Worthy of mention is that a friend of Eunomia, Prof. Arben Fox, also receives favourable mention in Ross’ treatment for his remarks on Theocons.  It is in connection with Fox’s reading of the critique in Theocons, which I think offers the best explanation of what Linker is trying to accomplish in his attack on the theocons, that Ross takes the easiest route to polemical victory and makes a charge that doesn’t hold up quite as well as the rest of his contribution.  Ross searches through the Catholic polemicist’s bag of tricks and comes out with the attack that never gets old: Linker is indulging old-fashioned anti-Catholic tropes about the impossibility of good Catholics being good Americans.  He says:

But, for the most part, I suspect that you believe that the attempt to link the American Founding to the Catholic natural-law tradition–which is at the heart of the “theoconservative project,” insofar as there is one–marks a greater departure from America’s supposed secular ideal than did the God-soaked politics of, say, Bryan or King. (This is how your friend Russell Arben Fox interprets your argument, at least, in an exegesis of your thesis that’s somewhat more interesting than the thesis itself.)

If this is what you mean, I wish you had been gutsy enough to take your argument to its logical conclusion and to say outright what you repeatedly imply–namely that orthodox Catholicism is essentially incompatible with the American liberal order, and that Neuhaus (like John Courtney Murray before him) is wrong to tell his co-believers that there’s no great tension between Rome and the United States. You spend a great deal of time talking about the “authoritarian” political inclinations of Neuhaus and company and how they threaten liberalism, but your evidence is nearly always that they believe in accepting the Catholic magisterium’s religious authority on matters of faith and morals–with the implication being that, if you let the magisterium tell you what to think about birth control or the Virgin Birth, you aren’t fit for the responsibilities of democratic self-governance.

This argument–that American Catholics need to choose between the Pope and the republic–has a long pedigree in our political life, and it’s far from an absurd interpretation of the relationship, or lack thereof, between liberalism and Catholicism: It is held, for instance, by Neuhaus’s critics on the Catholic right, who accuse him of choosing the republic over Rome. So I put it to you–is this your opinion on the matter? Is the dissenting, the-Pope-can’t-tell-me-what-to-think Catholicism of Garry Wills the only form of Catholicism that’s acceptable in the American context? You accuse Neuhaus of hinting that Jews and atheists can’t be good citizens; do you think that Neuhaus, given what he believes, can be a good citizen himself?

Or put another way: As someone who believes in what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches–and as someone who thinks that our laws should be just and that the ultimate source of this justice is God–can I be a good American? Is there a place for me at the table of your idealized secular state?

I said that this doesn’t hold up as well because this may be the one part of the anti-theocon attack that has some purchase.  As I have talked about before, referring to my adventures in anti-Straussian argument, the problem with the theocon claim about equating the “law of nature” with Catholic natural law tradition (and thus creating the supposed historical basis for applying Catholic theology as the leaven of American political life) is the same problem the Straussians have in pulling off a similar maneuver of stuffing Aristotle, Aquinas and Locke in a nicely-wrapped box called Natural Law: it is manifestly ahistorical and rests of the slenderest of conceptual reeds (i.e., that Catholic natural law teaching and Lockean law of nature are sufficiently similar to be roughly identical).  As everyone’s favourite champion of the gentry shows us, there is on the one hand no need to indulge elaborate natural law theories to defend the constitutional inheritance of Englishmen and on the other, by extension, no need to concoct a rather preposterous alliance of Bossuet and Locke when neither one is needed to support and defend the genius of the mixed constitution.  This does not need to scandalise faithful, patriotic Catholics (Orthodox in America will not find, and do not seek, the Byzantine origins of “the Founding,” because it is not necessary for them to find such origins), because it was largely in the twilight of the Republic (i.e, post-1861) that our political language began to be saturated so heavily with the application of Biblically-derived rhetoric that took us far from the forensic and deliberative rhetoric of the republican period.  (For those who have been paying attention, yes, this is Bradford’s critique of Lincoln, and, yes, this is a paleo critique.)  In other words, it perfectly normal for Americans to be both Christian and yet not engage in the sort of conflation of religious and political ideas that theoconservatism seems to assume was the normal and natural way of things in this country.

This is not to say that Americans wanted to be “secular” exactly, since a small cottage industry of authors has successfully shown that early republican Americans were actually often enough quite thoroughly religious churchgoers and, yes, they brought their religious scruples to bear on matters of public interest as Christians had done since time immemorial.  But they didn’t confuse having established churches or public religion with claiming that the mixed constitution was exactly ordained by God, by and large didn’t go on about God-given “rights” (with some notable and unfortunate exceptions) and did not tacitly or explicitly claim some quasi-privileged status for Christians as better citizens (Fr. Neuhaus, meet Katherine Harris).  There wasn’t just a real tension between Rome and the United States (i.e., between Catholicism and America), but between the Kingdom and the Republic.  It was ever an unhappy New England tendency to collapse the two and identify the fortunes of the Republic with the earthly glory of the Kingdom–thus such blasphemies as Battle Hymn of the Republic, or John Brown’s Body, a song only a jihadi or Bostonian could love, or the Christification of Lincoln upon his death.  It has been to the unending confusion of the American mind (and, more recently, American foreign policy) that we take seriously Winthrop’s Zionification of the nation as ”a city on a hill,” as if America were the New Israel, which is properly a role reserved solely for the Church.  Fr. Meyendorff once noted that the chief problem with the Byzantine idea of symphoneia was that it denied the fundamental opposition between the Kingdom and the world; in the end, even though the emperor was crowned by God, the Roman Empire could never fully be in harmony with the Church, but must always remain part of this world.  So, too, with American order. 

To deny the implausible claim that America was born from the substantive marriage of Christianity and Enlightenment liberalism (the marriage, if it ever did take place somewhere, was surely annulled for failure to consummate) is not to deny that full-throated, serious, orthodox Christians can and should be politically active and “good citizens,” but to reject the presumption that unless one can concoct an elaborate theory of ideological compatibility between philosophy inspired by the Faith and liberal political philosophy that militates against basic truths of the Faith Christians are somehow necessarily opposed to or alienated from the political regime of their home country.  (What never seems to trouble theocons and their friends is the rather unpleasant implications this sort of ideological compatibility model has for Catholics in countries with a much more explicitly anticlerical, anti-Christian Enlightenment political tradition or countries that have only limited experience with Christianity of a century or two.) 

In trying to concoct such a theory, it is actually Neuhaus et al. who accept the assumptions behind the anti-Catholic trope by creating an entire philosophical apparatus designed to create nothing so much as a reverse image of the anti-Catholic charge.  The thinking seems to be: “Not only are we not aliens and enemies of the American way of life, but we are the best Americans!  Not only is there not irremediable hostility between Rome and Washington, as you say–there is virtually no tension between them at all!”  This tends to do violence to the very real tensions that will inevitably exist between the Gospel and any particular political philosophy, and forces the theocon to fudge on questions pertaining to the Faith.  This seems to happen most often when the government goes to war or supports a line of policy in foreign affairs that seems patently unjust.  In the eyes of the secular Mr. Linker, theocons arguably ought to be at their most “reasonable” and accommodating with the liberal political order when they are at their most enthusiastic for the government-backed bombing of other countries, which ought to make him reconsider whether he wants to have Christians who are a little too friendly with Caesar in this perfectly secular way.  It is only when they fervently and rather ineffectively rail against the evils of the “culture of death” at home that they might frighten Linker with some of their rhetoric, but even here they have framed their objections in terms of resisting judicial usurpation of representative government, which is still not exactly the call to arms of a theocrat. 

The habits of mind necessary to construct this flimsy bridge between Christianity and American liberal political theory also tend to encourage wild swings between accommodation to the demands of the liberal political order (and, in practical terms, the government) at expense of the Gospel when the two do inevitably conflict and the zeal of the religious revolutionary who, having invested the liberal and democratic political order with the dignity of divine justice, is outraged at the aforementioned judicial usurpation of liberal representative government.  This tends to make the theocon curiously passive and accommodating to official policy when confronted by the injustices of government inflicted on other nations (because the saints must go marching on, I suppose) and almost equally intense and uncompromising when confronted by legal interpretations or policies that foster or even enshrine profoundly evil and immoral things such as abortion.  Their motto might be: “Revolution on behalf of the unborn, but not one tear of compassion and not one word of outrage for the victims of aggressive war.”  Perhaps that is a touch exaggerated, but only a touch.    

It is interesting that there are Catholics and other Christians who feel, for reasons of patriotism and full assimilation to what they consider the values of their country, the need to engage in this sleight-of-hand, but I fear that the reason why they feel this need is part of the problem with their attempt to identify an important part of their religious intellectual tradition with the political and philosophical traditions of Anglo-America, and this is the need for all citizens in good standing to agree ideologically about the nature of the “project.”  This is tied in deeply to terribly mistaken ideas about the nature of American identity, which makes being American a question of accepting propositions of political liberalism rather than any other sort of belonging or historically-constituted identity.  If this is indeed an “ideological nation,” it becomes imperative to show that you are on board with the reigning ideology; this is imperative not only to show that you belong here, but also so that you can wield influence and power.  But this is easier to do than for others, and this is a particularly unwise kind of game for conservative Christians to play, since we will never be able to identify with Enlightenment liberalism or its latter-day heirs as thoroughly or credibly as others.  By playing this game, and claiming to win it, First Things encourages exactly this sort of “ideological nation” thinking and exposes conservative Christians to further exclusion from the national narrative once it can be shown (and it is not hard to show) that Christianity (and philosophical conservatism) and Enlightenment liberalism are as compatible as water and oil. 

In its way, theoconservatism is the final expression of Catholic Americanisation, or is an example of Catholic Americanisation gone too far, and represents a latter-day form of the immigrant’s strategy to prove his belonging to the nation by talking about how much he loves freedom and democracy and insisting that he’s not like his reactionary peasant ancestors from Europe (and here, as always, I mean reactionary peasant as a compliment).  This is all well and good in one sense, but when it creates a model of accommodating the Faith to the (false) claims of liberalism about human nature and society or encourages mistaken compromises of moral principle with the liberal regime out of a misguided sense of American loyalty it does no one any good.  If Linker’s book might show some small part of the problems with this theocon model, it will not have been a complete waste.  Since it is unfortunately caught up with the much bigger progressive hobby-horse of fighting a supposedly incipient theocracy that does not exist, it will probably accomplish nothing.

No, I’m not referring to Republican support for Medicare D.  I’m referring to the sense of entitlement and sometimes excessive expectations that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Yankees fans generally have when it comes to postseason success.  We all know that the Yankees are the team with the greatest resources and the biggest market, which for some reason makes us think that they will produce the best baseball team.  Just as America’s being the wealthiest nation produces the wisest politicians and greatest artists, right? 

No doubt, man for man the Yankees have an intimidating line-up, and they came out on top in their division, but were it not for the Tigers’ end-of-season weakening the Yankees would have been playing the team with the best record in the league.  By all rights, the Tigers were the better team, and it showed this past week.  Given the Tigers’ impressive showing for most of the year, if there was any team that ought to have beaten New York it was Detroit (it isn’t every day you can say that with a straight face). 

When you lose a series 3-1, it is almost always because the other side was simply the superior team.  Yet, according to Steinbrenner, losing to what is probably the best team in baseball this year is a “sad failure.”  I can see why Yankee fans would be disappointed, but is it a “sad failure”?  Give it a rest.  Contrary to Yankee propaganda, the World Series is not their private exhibition game and the championship is not always theirs to lose.  Steinbrenner, in the tradition of megalomaniac owners everywhere, will fire his manager in what is sure to be seen as a mistake.  If he hires Piniella, last seen unsuccessfully leading the Devil Rays to their regular sub-par level, he will probably have quite a few more “sad failures” in his future.  

Kevin Jones at Philokalia Republic remarks on Kleinheider’s Foley comments

There are few men lonelier than a social conservative at a College Republicans meeting. If he is vocal, he will likely never get a leadership position, or even a date. At most, he may receive a few patronising words.

Happily, I steered clear of the College Republicans at H-SC (I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Grand Old Party), and unsurprisingly found more common ground on at least certain questions of policy with the greens and liberals who worked on the college newspaper.  This was inevitable at a campus where Republicans outnumbered all others by a ratio of 90-10 and the College Democrats set record membership with six people (I exaggerate only slightly about the latter). 

If the advantage of going to H-SC was in making connections with well-placed people, I am confident that I completely frittered away that advantage with my editorials damning NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, saying positive things about A Republic, Not An Empire, criticising John McCain after his visit to campus and taking a dim view of his “let’s get involved in Chechnya!” appeal.  But judging from the moral habits of some at H-SC, my guess would be that social conservatism would go over like a lead balloon.  It’s so stodgy and hardly the kind of thing that would impress the girls from Hollins.  However, if there was one thing that virtually everyone could have agreed on at H-SC, it was that homosexuality was wrong and abominable.  But then H-SC may not be terribly representative of young Republican attitudes elsewhere, as it is one of only two all-men’s colleges left. 

But Kevin is making a more important point than the consequences of young Republican disdain for their social conservative associates:

Functional libertarianism is the order of the day among these aspiring politicos. I would be interested in learning whether the same culture is manifest among the abused page corps. Did they, too, pride themselves on their acceptance of alternative sexual orientations while they looked the other way?Considering the party’s feeder organizations, it’s little surprise that the GOP leadership shied away from criticizing Foley’s “private life” until its crapulence spilled into the public eye.

I know I just said that Kevin Drum is a good source for political analysis, but sometimes he says the strangest things.  For example, Drum on Fareed Zakaria’s declaration that the U.S. has failed in Iraq:

That’s a difficult public step for someone who’s a charter member of the conservative establishment, a man who supported the war and has been vocal ever since about the importance of getting Iraq right.

Whatever else you might say about the man’s politics, which are typically described as conservative, to call Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International’s editor, a “charter member of the conservative establishment” is to give a very broad definition to what it means to be part of that establishment and what it means to be a “charter member.”  Zakaria is well-known and respected; he has made far more intelligent observations about the nature of democracy than large parts of the entire “movement” put together.  But charter member of the conservative establishment?  I think this exaggerates how important Zakaria is to said establishment (he is relatively new to the scene and can hardly be a “charter member”), which is helpful for the point Drum wants to make, which is that Zakaria’s abandonment of the Iraq project is a Big Deal (indeed, he says, “This is a big deal”) and possibly the beginning of a massive shift on the right about Iraq.  He is a fixture in the foreign policy establishment–Foreign Affairs, the CFR, the whole nine yards–but that is not exactly the same thing as the conservative establishment.  

The article is certainly noteworthy, but Zakaria became skeptical about success in Iraq and much less willing to accept the “every day in every way Iraq is getting better and better” rhetoric a long time before this.  He was vocal about the need to get Iraq right, but he was also vocal about the reality that the administration kept getting Iraq wrong.  He might be the start of a trend.  More likely, he will be targeted by the rest of the die-hard supporters just as Fukuyama was when he turned on the neocons.  Few will follow him, because there are worse things in the conservative establishment today than remaining oblivious to reality; one could demonstrate “weakness” and a “lack of resolve,” which are obviously unforgiveable among people who treasure sheer tenacity and willpower over reason, common sense and knowledge. 

In fact, Zakaria has done nothing more than call the bluff of the Six-Monthers, those Friedmanesque robots who keep kicking the can of accountability on Iraq on down the road to say, “We’ll know more in six months.”  If these people were doctors, their patients would all have died without a diagnosis.  Zakaria finally applies the six-month timeframe and sees how much worse things have become.  Here is Zakaria, who applies the “six month” deadline to the Iraqi government, formed roughly six months ago:

When Iraq’s current government was formed last April, after four months of bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis, many voices in America and in Iraq said the next six months would be the crucial testing period. That was a fair expectation. It has now been almost six months, and what we have seen are bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis. Meanwhile, the violence has gotten worse, sectarian tensions have risen steeply and ethnic cleansing is now in full swing. There is really no functioning government south of Kurdistan, only power vacuums that have been filled by factions, militias and strongmen. It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America’s mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

In the TAC cover story on the size of the Iranian threat (not yet online), Gregory Cochran has an anecdote about the amazing Secretary Rice from 2000 when she was then-Gov. Bush’s national security advisor and her comments to The New York Times on a 1998 incident that almost caused Iran to attack the Taliban:

(Interestingly, Condoleeza Rice, back in 2000, seemed to have been unaware that this crisis ever occurred.  When she was interviewed by The New York Times, she thought that Iran supported the Taliban….

It would not have taken much to find out that the Iranians sympathised with the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan and supported anti-Taliban warlords as their proxies in their ongoing struggle with Pakistan for influence inside Afghanistan.  It apparently took more than Condi had.  That should have been a warning sign that she wasn’t up to the job.  It might also explain why the administration sometimes seems so terribly confused about Iran’s attitude towards the Taliban and Al Qaeda: as the man said, these guys really don’t like each other. 

Update: From the NYT article in question:

Of course, Afghanistan is also not Ms. Rice’s primary area of expertise.  Asked in an interview to support her assertion in her recent article in Foreign Affairs that Iran is trying to spread “fundamentalist Islam” beyond its borders, she replied, “Iran has been the state hub for technology and money and lots of other goodies to radical fundamentalist groups, some will say as far-reaching as the Taliban.”

Er, who will say that?  Some.  Oh, okay, some.  Not anyone who knew anything about Afghanistan in 2000, but “some.”  You already see here the unfortunate habit of conflating every Islamic fundamentalist into one amorphous threat, regardless of the details.  It would only get worse later.

In the 2002 congressional elections, more than half of married moms sided with Republicans while only 35 percent voted with Democrats. Two years later, in a presidential election year, married moms preferred Bush over Democratic Sen. John Kerry by 56 percent to 42 percent.

That GOP advantage has evaporated.

In the AP-Ipsos poll, married women with children split evenly on the question of whether they would vote for or lean toward the Democratic or Republican candidate in their congressional district. ~Seattle P-I

GOP incompetence has managed to erase one of their almost structural advantages that is the “marriage gap,” at least when it comes to married women.  More married women have long preferred the GOP, and for a time it was one of the unmentioned secrets that put the lie to all of the talk of a ”gender gap,” since the gap usually only existed among single women.  If they are not winning among married women, I don’t see how they avoid the coming debacle.

Still, I shall be treating the email I get from folks at Playboy Inc. a bit more coolly in the future (you know who you are). And, as a jealous defender of NRO, I’ll just have to be content with the fact that the Corner/NRO has more readers than all of these blogs — except the virtual megachurch the Daily Kos (If rankings are legit, that is). ~Jonah Goldberg

Personally, I would take it as a point of pride that Playboy didn’t select my blog (and, what do you know, they didn’t!).  But simply as a matter of ranking political blogs that produce influential, interesting and (yes) entertaining content, the Playboy list (PDF), which includes the redoutable Ross and Reihan, makes a lot of sense.  NRO has lots of readers, but it is effectively nothing but a glorified chatroom-cum-echo chamber for the NROniks to bat their tired preconceptions back and forth at each other.  Like its opposite number at  New Republic, The Plank, it disseminates some interesting items (though I have found The Plank to be better in many cases for election coverage and news-gathering), but produces very little that serves as anything other than target practice for contrarian paleos such as myself.  Occasionally Derbyshire will say something provocative or interesting, but usually it rarely rises above the level of chit-chat and a lot of link-don’t-think posts.  As a writer of many largely linkless blog entries, I don’t consider putting up links by themselves to be much of a contribution (at least give us more quotes!); it makes their blog into an information clearinghouse, which is fine, but they won’t be winning any awards for it.  In my blogging, I aim for something of a middle ground: I quote a number of news and commentary articles, but I almost always have something substantive to add beyond an, “Oh, look at this!” comment and I try to write some more extensive commentary in other posts. 

Daily Kos’ influence and traffic demand that it take a place on the list, however much we might wish it would all just go away.  Powerline is full of mad Bush lackeys, yes, but they also have a reputation for actual blog-o-journalism that The Corner and other NRO blogs simply don’t.  TPM is a real news source and its election coverage has been far and away superior to the insufficient Sixers.  Greenwald is head and shoulders above everyone at NRO as a blogger; his commentary, while usually fairly predictable, is almost always sharp and incisive.  Hit & Run is generally pretty smart and interesting, and if I can say that about the libertarians there must be something to it.  Can’t say that I’ve ever looked at Tapped, especially since TAP decided that Nyhan was basically persona non grata if he wanted to engage in actual media analysis.  I’ve come across Pandagon, but I can’t say that I’ve paid much attention to it.  As for the Scene, well, isn’t it obviously a first-rate source of commentary and policy analysis from two of the top conservative writers currently on the punditry scene?  Now if only they would post more than once every two days…

What almost all of these blogs share is a sense of fun, a willingness to not take themselves too seriously.  It is therefore puzzling that Sullivan would be included among them, as there is no one more convinced of his own righteous seriousness and importance as a Voice of Reason than Andrew Sullivan; if professional doubters can be called preachy, he is the essence of preachy.  Of all of the blogs on the list, his is the one I can see good arguments for leaving off.  He might make top 25, but not top 10.  For my money, Kevin Drum does better analysis than Sullivan and ought to be taken seriously for a spot on that list. 

In the October 23 TAC issue several of my paleo and traditional conservative blogging colleagues have articles that merit your attention: Jim Antle writes about how some conservatives believe they can win through GOP defeat this fall; Doug Bandow writes on the indifference of evangelicals towards Iraqi Christians in the evangelicals’ support for the war; Leon Hadar takes apart Bush-as-Churchill rhetoric and other poorly devised WWII comparisons.  Last, but not least, Michael Brendan Dougherty reviews James Sullivan’s Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon.  The new issue isn’t online yet, but this should give you an idea of what you’ll find in the issue.

This is probably not a question that occurs to very many people.  It apparently does not occur to scholars of the late Roman/Byzantine empire.  I have (finally) received my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284-641, which appears to be fairly thorough and very well done from what I can tell so far.  It will likely make a first-rate textbook.  But given my own preoccupations with the seventh century I went looking to see what, if anything, the book had to say about my monotheletes.  Surprisingly, even though the book ends in 641, they receive no mention whatever–not even a passing, “oh, yes, and as the empire was falling apart there were new doctrinal developments that would convulse the empire for the rest of the century…”  I didn’t expect a long discussion of the doctrine or imperial religious policy (they come on the scene only in the 630s, but then again the Muslims only appear on the scene in the 620s and merit extensive treatment), but a brief mention might have been merited.  I understand that there is only so much space in any one book and choices have to be made, which requires omitting some details, but does it make sense to cut the doctrine out of the history of early seventh century Byzantium all together? 

I have been thinking about this in connection with my dissertation quite a lot.  Monotheletism often gets short shrift from scholars for one reason or another.  Even when it is noticed, it is usually dismissed as just so much of a “political” heresy.  No other doctrine has been subjected to this kind of dismissive redunctionism for so long.  What is surprising is that the controversy over it lasted roughly as long, at least inside the empire, as the controversy over Arianism. 

Monotheletism (638-681, 711-713) was the official or quasi-official doctrine of the empire for approximately as long as some form of Arianism was in the fourth century (some form of Arianism was the religion of the Eastern emperor from 337-361 and 363-378); in exact numbers, I think you will find that it was in power slightly longer than Arianism or semi-Arianism.  At most, Arianism had existed perhaps twenty years longer by the time that other forms of it were condemned by the second ecumenical council.  Yet you cannot find a volume dedicated to monotheletism itself, nor are there terribly lengthy treatments of it in books relating to the seventh century, while studies of “the Arian controversy” and studies of fourth century patristics are overflowing with attention to the various doctrines included under the label of Arianism.  Monotheletism has gotten a raw deal, as far as being a neglected subject of history.  It is the stepchild of ancient heresies, the Cinderella of medieval religion.  What did the monotheletes ever do to us to deserve such dismissive attitudes?  I am willing to guess that there is no other heresy that has been less studied or less well understood than monotheletism, and it does tend to baffle me. 

Arkady Sarkisian has made his living by shipping containers full of ripe peaches and fish to Russia.

But after Moscow severed all transportation links this past week with Georgia, the main transit country for Armenian goods, Sarkisian has had to pay more to transport his containers by a less direct route.

Armenia’s prime minister, whose country is a close ally of Russia, insists that so far the Caucasus nation hasn’t suffered any financial losses. Sarkisian, though, angrily disagrees.

“And what about me?” he said. “What about dozens like me?”

Russia and Georgia have been locked in a bitter dispute since the arrests of four Russian officers by Georgia on Sept. 27 on charges of spying. Despite their release, Moscow has imposed a range of sanctions on its ex-Soviet republic neighbor to the south and tightened controls on Georgians living in Russia.

Politicians and analysts warn that Russia’s transport and postal blockade may end up economically isolating Armenia, Georgia’s landlocked southern neighbor. ~Seattle P-I

As if the excessive and unnecessary retribution against Georgia weren’t enough, Moscow’s sanctions on Georgia are damaging their one ally in the Caucasus.  While this highlights the undesirable position Armenia holds as a state heavily dependent on Russia for its energy resources and political support, it also points to the painfully short-sighted nature of Russia’s actions against Georgia. 

Putin seems to believe that he can inflict such costs on Armenia on the assumption that it has nowhere else to go for help; for reasons tied to the conflict in Karabakh and continued patchy relations with Turkey (related to ongoing official denial of the genocide), Armenia has been locked into tying itself more to Russia and Iran, but there is no guarantee that Armenians will receive this blockade well.  If the Russians shut off the natural gas pipelines, Armenia will suffer another one of the hard winters without resources for heating that led to massive deforestation of the Republic in the early ’90s.  There is also a basic sympathy between the two nations that Russia risks provoking.  Georgians and Armenians, though of different confessions, have lived side by side since late antiquity and the two peoples possess much shared history and culture (to give one of the better known examples, the great Armenian bard Sayat Nova was the court poet of the king of Georgia and lived in Tbilisi for many years); the heavy-handed and unjust mistreatment of Georgians at the hands of the Russian government can only sour Armenian views of Moscow and possibly encourage them to follow the Georgian example of pursuing a more pro-Western course in foreign policy in the future.  Stupid hegemonist overreaching is unwise whenever a government tries it, and especially in a case where it is not really warranted.  What is more, Moscow is playing perfectly into the hands of the Russophobes in the West who have been braying about the new Russian imperialism for years.  The neocons who have shilled for the causes of Yushchenko and Chechnya must be thrilled to have a new chance to vilify Russia–and this time Putin has given them good reason to vilify the Russian government.  Meanwhile, Putin is inflicting unnecessary suffering on two ancient Christian nations.  This ought to be condemned in the strongest terms. 

America and Europe are unfortunately fairly ill-suited to the task of mediating this conflict, given their one-sided and entirely biased intervention in Ukraine in 2004.  The two Caucasian republics are at the mercy of Putin, who is famous for nothing if not ruthlessness.  In the meantime, Western attachment to Azeri oil and the Turkish alliance have pushed our government into a rather ugly bargain, putting us at odds with Christian Armenia and her attempt to help fellow Armenians in Karabakh, which is what now makes the current blockade so damaging to Armenia.     

By contrast, David Cameron is representative of a genuine and profound change within the Conservative Party. With a few exceptions, my generation – who were born in the 1960s and attained political consciousness in the 1980s – have always combined liberal and conservative views. To put it simply: we are liberal on the whole gamut of social issues because some of our best friends are gay, but we do want conservative economic policies because we know free markets work. ~Niall Ferguson, The Daily Telegraph

So having gay friends obliges a Tory to become incoherent and drippy on moral and social questions?  This is distinctly odd, as if you couldn’t have certain types of friends without buying into specific political programs or positions associated with their political, ethnic or “sexual orientation” lobby.  I have several green and left-liberal friends; I do not therefore feel the need to embrace the Kyoto Treaty.  Why one would feel obliged to embrace the absurdity of “civil partnerships” or gay “marriage” because you know nice homosexuals whom you have befriended genuinely escapes me.  I have met many nice Turks, but that doesn’t make me an enthusiast for Turkey entering the EU; I have met some very decent Muslims, but that does not make me think any better of Islam.  It is is precisely this kind of “I have a gay friend, so I will support something that might otherwise seem absurd or wrong to me” thinking that expresses the stunning superficiality and incoherence of the conservatism of the “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.”  Its motto might as well be, “Show me the money–which I am about to reinvest in a market-oriented ‘empowerment zone’ for the underprivileged!”  Hug a hoodie, indeed.     

But it gets worse.  Sir Robert Peel–no hero to agrarians or all that many Tories thereafter–is now the model to follow?  Conservative economics consists of…adopting old liberal economics?  To be blunt, what is left of conservatism in this hodgepodge?  What can it say for Dave Cameron that Mr. Ferguson cites the likes of Schwarzenegger and Mayor Bloomberg (who was simply a liberal and a Democrat not that long ago) as his American counterparts?  I suppose all of them together form a trend, but a trend towards what exactly?  Vacuous rhetoric and the abandonment of many traditional policy positions associated with their respective parties?   

In the Times, David Brooks writes an unusually entertaining and uncharacteristically pessimistic column:

Aeschylus writes: “God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

This is how a true Mets fan greets impending loss. And come to think of it, this is not bad preparation for what’s about to befall Republicans, either.

I suspect everyone’s favourite Mets fan will object to the comparison of the Mets and the GOP.  Besides the doom of defeat, what could they possibly share?  But will he share in this Brooksian lament, or has he been swept up in the ecstasy of the 3-0 sweep?   

Some of the blog-specific talk out there in the past couple weeks has related to the well-known Iraqi blogger who went by the name of Riverbend.  I discovered this recent “where’s Riverbend?” theme after I, too, remembered her blog today and wondered if she had written anything new.  She had not.  Her last post was three months ago, and began with the ominious line: “Residents of Baghdad are systematically being pushed out of the city.”  It ended with these anxious remarks:

I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever know just how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left the country this bleak summer. I wonder how many of them will actually return. Where will they go? What will they do with themselves?  Is it time to follow? Is it time to wash our hands of the country and try to find a stable life somewhere else?

Let us hope that she and all those fleeing Iraqis have found some safe refuge.  Let us hope that the reason she no longer writes of Baghdad is that she has long since gotten out of that city and out of the country all together. 

These people cannot find basic security in their own country, which this war has ruined, perhaps irremediably. 

Update: I have previously linked to Riverbend a few times herehere and here.

That got him thinking about the formula itself. One element was partisanship, certainly, but another ingredient, he suspected, was loneliness – like what he felt when he started Kos. It reminded him of how homesick he felt as a Chicago Cubs fan in the Bay Area. ~Ana Marie Cox, Wired

Of course Kos is a Cubs fan.  Only a Cubs fan could create such organised whining.  Cubs fans already have their own abundant need to whine about their long drought and the Curse.  It makes the perfect introduction to the politics of irrational grievance. 

An activist who has succeeded in mobilizing so many passionate users might next head for a career inside the political machine. Run for office. Start a PAC. Become a consultant. But no. At what’s arguably the top of his game, Moulitsas says he’s “going offline” next year, taking his obvious knack for building online communities and applying it to that other great American pastime: sports. And once he gets his network of sports blogs ramped up, he’ll turn to building communities in the real world, a chain of giant meeting places “replicating megachurches for the left” – complete with cafés and child care. Moulitsas has shown he can harness people’s enthusiasm, but he says he doesn’t want a leadership role in these “democracy centers.” ~Ana Marie Cox, Wired

What on earth is the rationale for such things?  Could you come up with a name that has more of a Newspeak ring to it than “democracy center”?  Perhaps “freedom factory” was already taken by Wal-Mart?  How about justice dispensary?

Update: Maybe Kos wants “democracy centers” like the “Information Centers for Democracy” the government started setting up in Central Asia?  Or is a “democracy center” like a shopping center: full of a lot of unnecessary and trivial junk? 

For the first time since 2001, the NEWSWEEK poll shows that more Americans trust the Democrats than the GOP on moral values and the war on terror. Fully 53 percent of Americans want the Democrats to win control of Congress next month, including 10 percent of Republicans, compared to just 35 percent who want the GOP to retain power. If the election were held today, 51 percent of likely voters would vote for the Democrat in their district versus 39 percent who would vote for the Republican. And while the race is closer among male voters (46 percent for the Democrats vs. 42 percent for the Republicans), the Democrats lead among women voters 56 to 34 percent. ~Newsweek

If we can’t rely on our stable stereotypes of the Democrats as morally indulgent and incompetent on national security–two mantles that the GOP seems very keen on acquiring for itself lately–the world will be thrown into chaos!  How will people be able to scare themselves into supporting the torture-endorsing, government-expanding, Islamist-enabling, war-starting, Constitution-gutting, monocracy-loving, ideological and utopian GOP if they lose their ability to distrust the Democrats on morality and national security?  Are Republicans aware of just how badly they have screwed up that the public trusts Democrats on moral values (42-36%)?  The “culture of corruption” charge wasn’t going to appeal to anyone, eh, guys?  I guess that prediction was not quite accurate.  Do they grasp how badly they have failed when they see that more men support the Democrats?  Perhaps they still retain their traditional edge among white men, but to be losing among men is an extremely bad sign.   

It was just yesterday, or so it seemed, that we could all laugh at the genuinely pathetic attempts of Democrats trying to rustle up people from their ranks who actually, well, believed in God, went to church and weren’t afraid to say so in public.  Was it not just two years ago that the “values voters” saved Bush’s re-election in their rejection of galloping cultural liberalism?  Were we not on the cusp of the new governing majority, chockful of the security moms?  Presumably most of those core conservatives are still convinced that the GOP is better on moral questions (as it happens, they actually are better, at least in terms of their rhetoric and symbolic appeals) and also on the “war on terror,” but it is a measure of just how far they have fallen that even a plurality now looks to the incorrigible Dems rather than to them on these issues, issues that they have owned for five years.  Just as it is with moral values, so also with the “war on terror”: they have no one but themselves to blame for the public’s loss of confidence in them. 

Simple: He’s a glory hog who unfairly receives credit for the accomplishments of others and who skates through school by taking advantage of his inherited wealth and his establishment connections. Harry Potter is no braver than his best friend, Ron Weasley, just richer and better-connected. Harry’s other good friend, Hermione Granger, is smarter and a better student. The one thing Harry excels at is the sport of Quidditch, and his pampered-jock status allows him to slide in his studies, as long as he brings the school glory on the playing field. But as Charles Barkley long ago noted, being a good athlete doesn’t make you a role model.

Harry Potter is a fraud, and the cult that has risen around him is based on a lie. Potter’s claim to fame, his central accomplishment in life, is surviving a curse placed on him as an infant by the evil wizard Voldemort. As a result, the wizarding world celebrates the young Harry as “The Boy Who Lived.” It’s a curiously passive accomplishment, akin to “The Boy Who Showed Up,” or “The Boy Who Never Took a Sick Day.” And sure enough, just as none of us do anything special by slogging through yet another day, the infant Harry didn’t do anything special by living. It was his mother who saved him, sacrificing her life for his. ~Chris Suellentrop, Slate

However, as the man said, I’d rather be lucky than good.  Everyone who enthuses about Harry Potter does so because they, too, would like to be the pampered Golden Boy.  (The flood of hate mail can now begin.)  Well, that, and because the stories actually are fairly entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Strained Russian-Georgian relations dramatically worsened yesterday with reports that Russian authorities have ordered Moscow schools to identify children with Georgian surnames, possibly as a prelude to deporting them and their families. ~The Globe and Mail

The Russian government has been acting deplorably towards the Georgians in Russia.  Regardless of how obnoxiously or provocatively the Georgian government has acted recently, Putin has clearly gone overboard even by his rather flexible standards of what constitutes heavy-handed and arbitrary government.  The Russian Dilettante sums it up nicely: the Kremlin has gone mad.  I typically lay off the Putin-bashing because, when done by Americans, it is normally just a cover for some rather dubious scheme of NATO encirclement or an expression of latent Russophobia, but this is an unacceptable way to treat Georgians and, I presume, also Russian citizens who are of Georgian origin who will likely come under this ridiculous name list.  It would be as if we wanted to go about removing illegal Mexican immigrants from the schools by finding out how many Martinezes there are in a given school system.  This is indeed a naked expression of a secular version of what the Church calls phyletism when it relates to ecclesiastical matters, which She condemns absolutely in the life of the Church.  It makes a mockery of the shared Orthodox Faith of these two nations when such ethnic prejudice against other Orthodox Christians is carried into relations in the world.  I am the last one to begrudge anyone a strong attachment and loyalty to his ethnic identity and his nation, but the Faith transcends even these things and creates an even more enduring and essential identity for the nations that embrace it.  It would not be acceptable if the people being hounded by the government were not fellow Orthodox Christians, but the fact that many probably are, if only nominally in some cases, makes it that much worse.  So Moscow has done nothing to bring credit on itself in this episode.  I would hope that our Orthodox brethren in Russia do what they can to intercede on behalf of the Georgians being thus persecuted, as these people will be the innocent victims of the injustice of Putin and the idiocy of Saakashvili.  

Obviously, I do not lay all of this at Moscow’s door.  The Georgian government must rank as one of the most foolish and irresponsible in the world for having provoked this retribution with its arrest of the Russian military officers in the first place.  There are diplomatic ways to remove people from your country whom you consider undesirable when they are suspected of espionage: such a one is declared persona non grata and he is withdrawn.  These methods exist to avoid explosive and dangerous situations just like the one we are seeing now.  Arresting another nation’s military officers, no matter whether the charges are true, is to ask for a world of trouble.  The more hot-headed would interpret it as an act of war, which is precisely why it is unwise in the extreme to do even when justified (and I trust the claims of Saakashvili and his government in this matter as far as I can throw a Mack truck).  Arresting the officers of the major military power in your region is to risk terrible retribution.  For the government of Georgia to pick a fight with Russia shows the kind of boldness that prevails only in the very stupid.  Mikhail Saakashvili has shown since taking office that he is just such a kind of man with his constant posturing over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in his blustery, deliberately provocative nationalism and dreary admiration of Stalin he has shown himself to be precisely the kind of reckless Caucasian leader who will only bring sorrow to his suffering country. 

If the American government had any credibility left, it might intercede and use its good offices to help calm the situation before the conflict did irremediable damage to the region.  Unfortunately, since Saakashvili is and is seen to be our stooge, anything Washington has to say on this conflict will be worse than useless. 

There is, and always has been, a disconnect between the values of professional conservatives and the people they profess to lead.Professional conservatives live the life of Washingtonians. They don’t go to church as much as the rest of the nation and they don’t behave like the rest of America, at least not those they represent. They live a life much like their liberal counterparts.

They make the case for social conservatism in Washington but when they go out into Middle America and rail against the liberal elites, they are railing against themselves.

The problem the Republican Party faces is that now the jig is up. They have been exposed. Just like Foley, they are out. ~ A.C. Kleinheider

For the first time, the main Opposition Leader in Hungary, Viktor Orban, has joined a mass demonstration calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Mr Orban, who heads the conservative party Fidesz, has told tens of thousands of people outside the Hungarian Parliament that they must continue to protest everyday until Mr Gyurcsany steps down.  ~ABC News (Australia)

May szabadszag reign in Hungary!  Down with Gyurcsany!

There are days and places in history when time seems to stand still and, in the space of a moment, the fate of future centuries is decided.  At dawn on October 7, 1571, the spectacle would have made a strong impression on anyone who looked out at the waters breaking upon the straits that join the Gulf of Patras to the Gulf of Corinth, formerly called the Gulf of Lepanto, after an old fortified city that rose up from the sea.  A gigantic fleet advanced slowly, with the south wind at its back.  About 270 galleys and a massive number of light craft formed an enormous and threatening semicircle that occupied the seas from the mountainous coasts of Albania to the north and the shoals of Peloponnesus to the south.  At the center of the advancing crescent, on the admiral’s flagship (the Sultana), a green banner waved in the breeze.  The flag had been brought all the way from Mecca, and into its fabric the name of Allah was woven in gold 28,900 times.  In September 622 of the Christian era, a man declaring himself the prophet of this deity had issued a call for the conquest of the world.  The religion he founded summed up its mission in its name: Islam, submission.

Now, confronting the power of Islam, came a smaller fleet.  Sailing into the wind, using only the power of oars, the ships lined up in the shape of a cross.  The red and white flagship, the Royal, was flying a blue damask silk standard bearing the image of a crucifix.  From the precious blood of this God made Man, crucified at Calvary, the Church developed and gave birth to a great civilization, the highest that has ever been known: Christendom.  This civilization was under attack. ~Roberto de Mattei, (April 2002, Chronicles)

And if attempted pedophilia on the part of one of your members, after all the other ethical problems under your tenure, does not make it time for removal, then when is it time? ~Paul Chesser, AmSpec Blog

It might be more accurate to call it attempted pederasty, but the validity of the observation remains.

TO WIN THIS BATTLE, Americans (and preferably Europeans too) need to recapture a bit of civilizational confidence. We might begin by reminding ourselves that we have every right to act freely in the world, that we are Britain’s heirs of empire, and that that’s nothing new. The Founders knew that.

One need only open Federalist One to see Alexander Hamilton refer to America as “an empire, in many respects, the most interesting in the world,” and one that he later hoped to extend to the Southern Hemisphere. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington likewise thought of America as an empire — an empire that would surpass Britain’s in size and power. King George III himself recognized that “The rebellious war… is manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire.” Thomas Jefferson, of course, envisioned America as an “empire of liberty.” James Polk considered that the Mexican War had delivered “to the United States an immense empire.” And American empire builders like Andrew Jackson (annexing Florida) or the filibusters who brought us Hawaii or America’s acceptance of the White Man’s Burden in the Philippines (where we set up the first democratic government in Asia), spread America’s Manifest Destiny from the Atlantic Coast, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the far reaches of the Pacific. All of which is not to mention our taking on the imperial responsibility of setting things aright for the world in two world wars and the Cold War and creating a global system of free trade and international institutions like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. The world has enjoyed a Pax Americana for at least the last half century, and it takes an imperial power to deliver a global peace.

Whenever the liberal myth that America is inherently anti-imperialist has guided our foreign policy, the result has been disaster, whether that myth was held by FDR who was far more insistent on getting the British out of Hong Kong and India than on protecting Eastern Europe from Stalin (”Of one thing I am certain, Stalin is not an imperialist”); or by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight David Eisenhower standing side-by-side with the Soviets and Gamal Abdel Nasser and against Britain, France, and Israel at Suez in 1956; or by Jimmy Carter, refusing to support the Shah of Iran (whose very position was a shameful reminder of the sin of Anglo-American imperialism) against the people’s choice, and obviously a man we could do business with, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

That anti-imperialism is a harmful idea should be obvious from our own history. Should we not have annexed the American southwest from Mexico? Should we have prevented Andrew Jackson from seizing Florida from Spain? Should we have accepted the British-drawn proclamation line of 1763 and left the interior of America to the Indians? Should we regret the British Empire’s original sin of planting us here at all? ~ H.W. Crocker III, The American Spectator

I am never sure which offends me more: attempts to make the Founders into khaki-and-pith-helmet imperialists of the New World or the obliviousness to the degradation of our own system of government under the influences of expansionism and imperialism.  The latter is probably more offensive and obnoxious because it is more insidious. 

It is worth noting that John Adams specifically denied that Britain was an Empire in the heady days of the 1770s because Britain was subject to a constitution, a “fundamental law,” that constrained the power of the government.  In this case, for Adams an empire was a government subject to no such fundamental law; the government of men, not laws, was imperial government.  That, in short, was what technically distinguished a true republic or constitutional polity from an empire: in Adams’ view, Britain was just such a constitutional polity and reacted strongly against references to the British “empire.”  In other words, empire was the kind of government Englishmen had been fighting against in one form or another for 130 years.  Adams rejected the word because he rejected the arbitrary, ultimately lawless kind of government associated with it–the same kind that he perceived was behind the policies the patriots of the colonies abhorred.  The Founders were anti-empire in this sense.  

Empire, imperium, refers first to the command of Roman military commanders, but also to a domain or to a sovereign power.  I have good reason to think that when Jefferson spoke of an “empire of liberty,” he did not thereby endorse rapine and dominion over others in the name of liberty–that twisted and sick vision would come later and from other sources (Jacobins, Napoleon), but understood it to mean a sovereign power, a polity, dedicated to liberty.  There may be isolated examples where some, such as Franklin, used the term in a different way, but they are not representative and do not speak for the American tradition as a whole. 

There is also the small matter that everything Jefferson ever wrote militates against the basic idea of imperialism: that one people ought, as a matter of right or prerogative, rule over another by force and impose upon them a government to which they “consent” only under duress of occupation.  None of our Founders could have been unaware of the corrupting influences of such dominion over others; none could fail to heed the stark lessons of classical history and classical literature that declared again and again that tyrannical, barbarian rule was both slavish and despotic–and that the slavery of the subjects and despotism of the master are two sides of the same moral deficiency and feed off one another.  Free men have nothing to do with such government.  That we banter on about empire-this and empire-that is as good a sign as any that we are a servile people, willing to prostrate ourselves before princes and powers for the sake of supposed benefits and favours. 

But did the Founders believe that it was legitimate to establish coercive regimes over other nations by force?  Were they imperialists in the modern sense that most people understand the word to mean?  I know of no approval of such a thing.  Certainly the late Jeffersonians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, our first dedicated Anti-Imperialists, wanted no such thing.  Wherever they saw imperialism arising in the world, they condemned it.  When we conducted a foreign policy of more or less strict neutrality, we did not intervene to stop it–it is here that 20th century liberal anti-imperialism differs from the main tradition of American foreign policy, as it sought to go abroad in search of empires to dismantle, in the process unleashing much suffering and misery upon the world.  FDR must answer for that as well–but for goodness’ sake, don’t lay that at the door of true republican Anti-Imperialists! 

Men such as Cleveland and Bryan saw the moral and political evils of dominating another people and the corruption that it would inevitably bring upon those doing the dominating.  With an imperialist role comes ever-greater consolidation of power in the center and in fewer and fewer hands; the habit of dominion is translated back home and, as we understand only too well today, the dangers of reprisals from those under our dominion make our own country suddenly insecure in ways that were never true before; imperialism is ultimately the death of liberty at home, even as it is necessarily the denial of liberty to peoples elsewhere.  It is difficult to find any decent moral justification for such dominion that does not at some point or other invoke ideological excuses of liberation, uplift and the like, but these are, as always, just excuses and not real justifications. 

It is something of an abomination to mention such imperialism favourably in the same breath with the heroic defense of Christendom at Lepanto.  Lepanto was a great moment of Christian resistance against the Ottoman Empire.  That is not to deny that there was a legitimate and respectable tradition of the Holy Roman Empire, and the less traditional and respectable tradition of the new Spanish Monarchy’s widespread possessions in our own history, but what all that has to do with British rule in India and American hegemony I will never know. 

The Roman Empire arose in many cases through the results of wars that the Romans did not go searching to have; they did not set out to make their world Roman, but acquired territory in piecemeal fashion.  In the end, their acquisitions and the power that went with ruling the state broke their Republic and subjected them to a single master.  The genius of Republican Rome was all but lost.  When people talk approvingly of empire, they effectively want the death of the Republic and all that it stands for.  The two cannot coexist.
Expansionism made the Republic grow too large, and the fruits of expansion were discord, strife and consolidation of power at the expense of the states.  Antifederalists knew what they were talking about when they warned against large republics, and history has proven them to be more right than most would care to admit.  Jeffersonian Republicans and later Democrats became the great advocates of expansion, and it was here where they erred more grievously.  There was a belief that an extended, spread-out Republic would hinder the consolidation of government, and perhaps in some practical ways it did for a time, but to hold together these vast and diverse territories more and more centralised power was brought to bear.  Rather than functioning as the means to ensure the agrarian republicanism of yeoman farmers, the process of expansion and consolidation ensured that the citizens would be progressively less in control of their government and more and more functions would be concentrated in relatively few hands.  The triumph of the forces of consolidation in the War only hastened this development.  So long as secession was ruled out and a single, consolidated “Union” was the only sort of polity allowed in our part of the continent, a return to smaller, self-governing, free republics was virtually impossible.  The (losing) fight against overseas formal empire was one of the last gasps of the old republican spirit. 

We are so far removed from that spirit and the tradition of the Anti-Imperialists that some of us literally cannot see beyond the liberal interventionists of the 20th century, who allegedly represent the face of opposition to imperialism.  But they did not oppose America becoming an activist world power or even an empire–they opposed the empires of others and sought to dismantle them, which could only work to our temporary advantage as a rising power.  They dressed this up in an appeal to liberty and self-determination, which was about as sincere as the attempt of the Kaiser to incite the subject peoples of the British Empire to overthrow their masters in WWI.  No one is thus fooled into thinking that the Kaiser was a great anti-imperialist, but for some reason we believe this of FDR, who increased our overseas military and political commitments more than almost any other single President. 

Mr. Crocker likes to invoke the patriotic slogan, “Don’t Tread On Me,” as if this had something to do with imperialism and treading on others.  The slogan itself implies that imperialism and the very idea of dominating other peoples against their will is, or at least should be, hateful to Americans.  You don’t express your confidence in your civilisation by your willingness to dominate other nations; you express confidence in your ability to wield force when you do that.  Were your civilisation self-evidently superior and desirable, other peoples would embrace its fruits–assuming that your civilisation produced any fruits worth having.  

There are perfectly decent ways to acquire confidence in our own civilisation that involve remembering who we as Americans are and renewing our civilisation and making it worthy of zealous defense.  It does not involve the sordid path of imperialism and domination.  That some of us even think this is an option shows just how far gone our civilisation really is right now.  On the contrary, to go down that path is to forget who we are in some deluded attempt to relive the follies of past empires that tried–and failed–to police the world and bring order from chaos.  In the end their own people in their own land pay the price for the deeds and crimes done in the name of the universal peace of emperors. 

A reader writes to Jonah Goldberg at The Corner on the new season of BSG:

Ever since the astounding conclusion of last season’s BSG, I was pumped for this year’s new episodes.  However, I’m getting a very bad vibe about it being a multi-episode Iraq war bashfest.  In particular, the webisodes - which, in all honesty, I’ve only seen the first five or six - draw complimentary parallels between the jihadi “insurgents” and the human resistance forces on New Caprica.

Plus, there’s a story on where Mary McDonnell, in discussing this season’s plot arc, commends the BSG brain trust for their “brave and beautiful act” in putting together this year’s series.

A “brave & beautiful act,” I believe, is vapid actorspeak for “speaking truth to power.”  To quote Krusty the Clown, “Oooooo, this is always death.”

Is there nothing Iraq war supporters won’t politicise?  I have seen some odd things politicised in my time, but can we please leave the new Battlestar Galactica out of this debate?  Incidentally, you have to have a very low opinion of the U.S. military to automatically assume that Ron Moore intends to criticise U.S. foreign policy by aligning America with the Cylons.  It’s rather like the people who assume the depiction of Orcs and Uruk-hai in The Lord of the Rings was aimed at insulting minorities because the evil races had darker-hued skin than the Elves, Hobbits et al.  Of course, it says quite a lot about what those people think of minorities that the first thing that came to mind when they saw an Orc was, “This is an insult to black people everywhere!”  Similarly, if you think Colonials fighting the Cylons = jihadis fighting Americans, you have your wires crossed somewhere.  The Cylons are the inhuman religious fanatics, remember?  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s science-fiction and doesn’t have to have an immediate political application.  Maybe BSG is a more fundamental story of human survival and, as many good sci-fi stories have been, a study of human nature in the extraordinary circumstances of a fantastic alien situation.

Update: A reader has helpfully pointed out this interview with BSG creator Ron Moore.  Here is a relevant exchange from the interview, which acknowledges parallels with the Iraq war, but which does not propose to take sides in favour the tactics of the insurgents/Colonials (interviewer’s comments in bold):

In those opening episodes, there are so many parallels, not just to Iraq but to the occupation of France, to any occupation, to Vietnam. But the episodes are especially resonant with so many specific things that have happened in the last few years. Was that something you did consciously?

“It was definitely in my mind. There were a lot of situations and occupations that we talked about in the writers’ room, Vichy France and Vietnam. You know, Iraq is happening right now, so it’s hard not to have overtones of it. The trick for us was not to make it a polemic, to not say, ‘We know what’s wrong with the Iraq situation, here are the answers.’

“It was more about, why is it such a complicated mess? Certain things just have no easy answers, just have no good ways out for anybody involved. This is one of those situations.

“We were aware of the parallels and wanted to play it as truthfully as we could, given the situation. But the same time, we’re always a little more interested in watching how our characters respond to a situation, more than we are in delineating a certain political idea about this situation.”

In other words, Moore is more interested in the character-driven drama, as he always has been, and trying to understand how people would act in such a situation than he is interested in trying to push a political morality tale.  He has been throwing these sorts of wrenches into the story since the beginning, starting with whether Cylons should be treated as humans (Roslin gives the pragmatic, basically smart answer of, ‘No’, but the show is always throwing up obstacles that try to keep you from accepting that simple conclusion).  If you want lame political morality tales in your sci-fi, Episode III lies on the shelf gathering dust and awaits your viewing.

Political parties play politics. But I have to say that the 20-year dance that Republicans have played with the social conservative wing of the party has been about as cynical as anything in modern history. I’m fine with that, of course, since I’d just as soon see social conservatives confined to their basements churning out angry mimeographed newsletters about the horrors of secular humanism, but it really makes you wonder if they’re ever going to catch on. ~Kevin Drum

Oh, come now, Mr. Drum–we modern social conservatives are right up to date.  We sold the mimeograph machines years ago (using the proceeds to arm for the Apocalypse, of course), and all of us have blogs now.  And I live in a half-basement apartment, thank you very much, and hardly ever talk about secular humanism.  Now, the evils of the liberal tradition and the Enlightenment, okay, I have been known to say a few things about them, but attacking ”secular humanism” is so ’90s. 

However, the underlying point that the GOP plays its core supporters for chumps on a regular basis–especially on those things that matter most to them–is basically right and something I have observed on a few occasions.  But it sure has been going on for longer than 20 years. 

For those who have wondered and those who have asked, “When does Larison find time to do anything else?” I will offer some examples of what I have been up to in my non-Eunomia life (it does exist!).  This is, after all, a blog, and I have normally been rather remiss in including these sorts of personal notes because, well, I actually thought they would be rather uninteresting to readers. 

Admittedly, the last two months have been more heavily dedicated to blogging than normal and the pace I have maintained in those months is unsustainable and will not be sustained.  Now that the fall quarter has begun, real work has begun pressing in again.  Back in August I had made good progress with my dissertation writing, wrapping up the rough drafts of a couple of chapters, both of which I am presenting at workshops this quarter (one next week), and I have made a brief start on the next chapter that follows.  Last month I wrote up an abstract to submit for the Kalamazoo medieval conference and was accepted to the session on deification; I worked up a rough draft of the conference paper, though the conference isn’t until May and there will be plenty of time to revise it.  Last week classes started again, and even though I am done with coursework I am continuing with modern Eastern Armenian, which I have unfortunately let slide during the summer and have to work at a bit more to get my conversational Armenian back to where it was a few months ago.  Somewhat related to that, this week I submitted an abstract to a UCLA colloquium on Armenian studies on a medieval Armenian church topic and my study of part of a 7th century Armenian chronicle.  During the last couple of weeks, I have also written up a short piece that should be appearing in the November edition of Chronicles and a longer piece that will appear in one of the upcoming issues of The American Conservative.

So, there have been some things accomplished recently, but not as many as there probably should have been.  On reflection, the last two months haven’t been all that bad considering that almost all of the above work was done before the start of the school year, but it would be very easy to fall into that sort of thinking and let things go even longer.  Now it will be time to get serious, which means that starting in the next week Eunomia really will be slowing down considerably.  I know I have said something like this in the past and somehow the blog never does slown down.  But this time it really will be.  Don’t stop checking in–there will be new content on a regular basis.  Just not nearly as much of it. 

This is a shame in one sense, because I see from the numbers from just this week that October is on track to be the best month for Eunomia yet (last month brought in 7,550 unique visitors, and it appears as if October is on pace to exceed that, and Eunomia has made it into the top 250,000 sites on Alexa), but I think it will probably be for the best.  I do intend to try to get in a post or two each day when possible, but the ludicrous ten post-per-day average that I have been maintaining for the last several weeks is simply impossible to keep up for an extended period of time without really letting other things slide.  Besides, there is sometimes just not that much to say that is worth reading, and to keep pushing that level of output indefinitely would inevitably lead to a decrease in the quality that I have tried to maintain here.  This will probably be the last post today, but you never know…       

…that I was writing on Harriet Miers’ lack of qualifications to be nominated to the Supreme Court and the poor quality of Mr. Bush’s judgement:

He has wanted no contentious battles because, as he has shown with almost all of his nominees at least since the pitiful support shown Mr. Estrada, he will never rise to their defense or risk his own position on any domestic question of any size. He has shown that he will always keep his precious “political capital” tightly in his hands, like Smeagol grasping the Ring.

I must amend that last statement.  Mr. Bush has expended political capital on one domestic initiative–amnesty for immigrants.  Little wonder that I call his party the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency.

Personally I can’t see what’s wrong with “jihadist.” That’s what these guys are doing: making jihad. As Randall points out, there are just too many differences with fascism. Fascism was atheist; jihadis are devout. Fascism was nationalist; jihadis want the whole world under one rule. Fascism was blood-and-soil racist; Islam is (in theory, at least) oblivious to distinctions of race. As Randall also points out, sticking the word “fascism” on the phenomenon just reinforces the silly idea, which already has too much currency, that nothing much important happened in the world before the 20th century.

If we do go with “Islamo-fascist,” though, then considering that Hugo Chavez, at the U.N. the other day, pretty much lined up with the blighters, we should start referring to him and his pal Castro as “Hispano-fascists.” (No insult intended here to the memory of the late Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who, though he used them when he had to, didn’t much care for fascists. He didn’t much care for anything that had appeared later than about A.D. 1600.) ~John Derbyshire

Via ParaPundit

I’m surprised that I managed to miss Derbyshire’s take on Islamofascism (and his delightful remarks about Franco), since the topic was something of a brief obsession of mine (my readers may disagree with the “brief” part of that description), so I’m grateful to Randall Parker for pointing out this article and for the link to one of my recent anti-Hanson posts.  Mr. Parker’s arguments against the fascism comparisons can be found here.

For a month I’ve been dreaming of the following. Reyes and Wright versus Jeter and A-Rod. Delgado versus Abreu. Randy Johnson versus Tom Glavine. Mariano Rivera versus Billy Wagner. The world does not want a subway series. Met’s fans want vengeance for 2000. However, there is a problem. My grandfather loved the Giants. My grandmother, the Dodgers. I love the Mets. My ladyfriend’s house is Yankee territory. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

If love can transcend the mutual hatreds of the teams of the Bronx and Queens and their respective loyalists, it can overcome anything.  Except perhaps the divide between Cubs and Sox fans.  Some divisions probably just run too deep.  Here’s wishing Michael and his ladyfriend a happy reunion, complete with numerous Mets victories. 

If the Labour conference in Manchester was like a gathering of the Living Dead, the Tory gathering in Bournemouth was like a North Korean re-education camp, the inmates apparently chained to their seats as they were subjected to endless propaganda designed to rid them of old thoughts and fill their heads with the rubbish the regime prefers.

Everything they used to believe is wrong, the platform told them. They weren’t even allowed to be pessimistic any more (which conservatives generally are, and very sensible too). The sun must shine. Mass immigration is an unmixed boon. The BBC is great. The current level of confiscatory taxation must remain.

The only surprise, for the spectator, was the realisation that these people were not actually shackled to their chairs, and could come and go freely. Yet they sat and took it, without jeering or complaining. To some extent this can be explained by their high average age. There is a strange breed of young Cameronite Tories, young women dressed as if they were middle-aged, young men with a worrying light in their eyes, but these are wholly uninterested in politics as far as I can see, and simply view the Tory party as a career path. ~Peter Hitchens

In other words, on policy Cameron brings all of the foolishness of Bush and “compassionate conservatism” along with the cult of optimism of Limbaugh and in presentation offers all the vacuity and superficiality of New Labour.  Can it get much worse?  Oh, yes, John McCain was there, so, yes, it can.  About McCain Mr. Hitchens writes:

Since this [Cameron’s boring speech] had followed Senator John McCain’s equally interminable contribution, with its repeated, tiresome references to Winston Churchill, designed to ingratiate but actually rather irritating, I was quite surprised to find it was still daylight when I got outside. I had expected night to have fallen and the stars to have come out, and that bats would be flitting among the pine trees.

This causes me to ask, if I haven’t already at some point: why do Americans, especially Americans on the right, always feel obliged to mention Churchill whenever they talk about Britain or speak with Britons?  Why do they admire the man so?  Brits rarely return the favour for FDR, and no wonder–why would anyone want to praise him? 

The man happened to be Prime Minister while our two countries were at war together.  Okay, fine.  Yes, he made his Iron Curtain speech.  How nice.  He could make a decent political speech in wartime.  He was not massively incompetent–bravo.  He was, however, a consummate opportunist and hardly the stern man of principle I think some people imagine him to be.  When it was convenient and personally advantageous, he became a Liberal, and when it became convenient again he stopped being one.  He did come up with the idea of opening up a front in the East during WWI, which was a good idea in theory, but then presided over one of the worst botched expeditions in British history; he was chiefly famous thereafter for being responsible for gassing Iraqis into submission, which in more recent times has merited rather less praise from these same people when done by a certain ruler of Iraq.  He was, understandably enough, a dyed-in-the-wool Empire man, which I don’t really fault him for, but which makes him an even odder sort of idol for your average American conservative…until you realise that neo-imperialism (all done for the sake of freedom, of course) is quite trendy among a lot of these folks for reasons that frankly escape me.  But the admiration for Churchill seems to know no bounds over here. 

There was never any similar American lauding of Lloyd George–and why would there be?–years after WWI and there never has been any since.  Probably the whole wartime totalitarian government part puts people off.  To this day, when people remember the Gulf War they will often recall the story of Thatcher’s “don’t go wobbly” remark but will probably forget that John Major was PM during the great campaign to keep Kuwait free to be ruled by its emir.  Alas, speeches today are not peppered with memorable John Major anecdotes–if you could imagine such a thing.  Admirers of Churchill will probably say that it is exactly the point–it was his resoluteness or some such that sets him apart, but no one was more resolute and even bloody-minded than David “Make The Pips Squeak” Lloyd George.  No appeasement for Davey, no, sir.  If that maniac had had access to the strategic bomber wings at Allied disposal in WWII, three-fourths of Germany and all of Austria-Hungary would have been burned to cinders.  Republican apologists for the WWII-era mass murder of civilians (i.e., “strategic bombing”) would undoubtedly find that a recommendation for Lloyd George. 

No, the Churchillophilia over here is almost entirely irrational, tied up with fond memories of the ‘Good War’ and History Channel-induced flashbacks to the Blitz, helped along with a lot of rubbishy sentimental Anglophilia that, as Hitchens’ remark suggests, irritates Brits a lot more than it pleases because it is so predictable and fundamentally superficial.  American Anglophiles do not love Britain or British people, but only the caricature of them they see on A&E murder mysteries and read about in 19th century novels.  I happen to enjoy those murder mysteries and novels just fine, but they are as close to everyday life in Britain now or then as our television and literature are representative of ordinary Americans’ lives–not very much.  It is exactly these same irrational attachments that drove the Blair-worship among loyal Republicans for the past several years, even though if these same people had to live under Blair’s Government they would seriously contemplate shooting him.  In their eyes, Blair was a “strong” and “principled” leader (my British readers will have a hard time not laughing at these descriptions, I suspect) who loyally stood by America, rather than a glory-hounding and self-seeking wretch who threw himself into foreign affairs because he had made a deal to leave domestic politics to Brown and who decided early on that to make his foreign policy activism workable he had to suck up to Washington every chance he could.

Clark Stooksbury cites my paleo pickup line and offers his own: 

“Would you like to come up and see my etchings of Chesterton?”

“You are as pretty as the cover of Chronicles.”

“Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough, a flask of wine, I’ll Take My Stand — and thou . . .”

Needless to say, paleo pickup artists–if such a thing existed–would almost certainly have to be anti-Straussians.

Update: Speaking of the question of paleo pickup artists, isn’t this kind of blogging really more Michael’s cup of tea (or glass of gin, as the case may be)?  After all, I would never have heard of Neil Strauss but for him.  Of course, this would all be purely theoretical and not have anything to do with Michael himself, you understand.  What say you, Michael?

The question posed — does the Iraq war increase or decrease the world supply of jihadists? — is itself an exercise in counting angels on the head of a pin. Any answer would require a complex calculation involving dozens of unmeasurable factors, as well as construction of a complete alternate history of the world had the U.S. invasion of 2003 not happened. ~Charles Krauthammer

Yes, it’s just crazy speculation!  Who can really say whether occupying a Muslim country generates an insurgency against the occupier?  Who knows whether mujahideen the world over will take such an occupation as a call to arms?  Don’t take the jihadis’ word for it (unless, of course, you are trying to make the argument that Iraq is the “central front” in the “war on terror,” in which case taking the jihadis at their word is perfectly acceptable).  No, it is all deeply mysterious and laden with unknowably unknown unknowns and inscrutably inscrutable inscrutables. 

After all, no one can really know whether the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred the worldwide growth of Islamic fundamentalist groups or increased the radicalisation of Muslims–it’s all so difficult to understand!  So many factors!  Brain hurts….

This is the ultimate cop-out, the final insult to the intelligence of Krauthammer’s readers, whose intelligence he has routinely insulted in the past with his rock-solid certainty about the effects of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy in the Near East.  Missing then was the agonised lament of man’s limited ability to know things because of the vast complexity of the world.  Instead we were treated to confident predictions that the “road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad,” a pro-American free Iraq would emerge from the ashes to prove all the doubters wrong and resistance would be light.  Given past experience with his adventures in certainty, I can’t blame Krauthammer for wanting to be a little more skeptical, but isn’t it interesting how he has suddenly discovered the merits of skepticism when it is most advantageous to the pro-war position?  

If I were a war supporter, I would desperately want to believe that it is impossible to know whether jihadi terrorism was worse because of the war, because if it was knowable and the war had made the problem worse I would probably have to feel somewhat responsible for that by having supported a fantastically stupid policy.  It stands to reason that the war has made the problem worse–as its opponents said it might well do before it even started–and it is incumbent on the supporters of the war to make the argument that it hasn’t when common sense and daily news  both tell us that the view reflected in the NIE is correct.  You’ll notice there was no similar agnosticism on Krauthammer’s part when the war in Afghanistan seemed to have succeeded in breaking a pro-Al Qaeda regime and disrupting the operations of the jihadis.  Everyone could see that this was a kind of progress, even if critics argued that this advantage was squandered or followed up with insufficient resources.  We seem perfectly capable of knowing, or claiming to know, that one war has succeeded in weakening the jihadis and dealing them setbacks, but it is evidently just too difficult to know if another war has had the opposite effect.  But then if I supported the second war, the war that had proven to be counterproductive and that had worsened the problem of jihadi terrorism rather than helped reduce it, and I had no scruples, I would probably plead ignorance, too.  I would also pretend that the same kind of professional analysis that I and my ilk used to justify the invasion in the first place four years before is now just so much scholastic jibber-jabber about unknowable realities.  (It would also help if I could pretend that I never put any store by the 2002 NIE, polticised and rushed as it was, and that I didn’t believe the NIE when it said what I wanted it to say.)  

Is it me or is all hell breaking loose in this country’s politics? We’re in the last month of an election cycle and there are maybe four or five stories, each of which could totally dominate the national political news on their own. And each is flaming out of control at once. You’ve got the Foley debacle. The revelations in the Woodward book. The NIE revelations that almost seem like old news now. A major part of the pre-9/11 story that somehow never saw the light of day and may bring down Condi Rice. And did I mention the election? ~Josh Marshall

Via Mickey Kaus

Kaus also suggests “the Densepack Theory” to propose that all of these individual revelations may actually end up effectively cancelling each other out in the way that the debris from one detonated ICBM would theoretically wreck other incoming ICBMs that are in close proximity to the blast zone.  If there was a deliberate strategy to release all of these things in close succession, they might all have less impact together than each one spread out over a couple months would have had.  It sounds vaguely plausible. Read the rest of this entry »

And so, of course, is Borat–a fictional character created and played by the brilliant British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, himself an observant Jew. The ADL knows both of these facts–indeed, the organization has praised Cohen for being “proudly Jewish” and for trying “to use humor to unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism”–and yet it is still fretting about Cohen’s forthcoming film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The reason? The ADL, according to a statement it released last week, is “concerned … that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke.” 


Just consider the case of Borat. While the ADL may kvetch, there is no greater critic of Borat than Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who evidently finds nothing funny about Borat’s portrayal of his country–and, by extension, his regime–as benighted and backward. Last year, a Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman issued a public denunciation of Cohen’s Borat performance and threatened to take legal action against the comic; around the same time, Nazarbayev’s government also stripped Cohen’s Borat website of its original domain name, .kz. The Kazakh Embassy in Washington has already denounced the forthcoming Borat film, and a foreign ministry spokesman has said that Nazarbayev’s government will do everything in its considerable power to stop it from playing in Kazakhstan. Indeed, there were even reports–later denied–that Nazarbayev planned to ask President Bush to do something about Borat during their meeting at the White House last week. 

All of which has only served to illustrate the true character of Nazarbayev. Long accustomed to ruling his country with relative impunity–earlier this year, the State Department rated his government’s human rights record as “poor,” citing its encroachments on political rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion–Nazarbayev refuses to tolerate even a fictional character like Borat. And, in that refusal, Cohen has revealed Nazarbayev’s intolerance in a way that no State Department report ever will. Here’s hoping the ADL’s plea to keep audiences away from Borat’s film works as well as it did for The Passion of the Christ. ~The New Republic

Naturally, instead of taking consolation in the reality that the success of the Borat character shows how broad and instinctive the English-speaking world’s rejection of anti-Semitism actually is (Cohen’s jokes about “the dirty Jew”–which he uses to refer to himself, i.e., to Cohen, while in character to answer the Kazakh government’s complaints about his Borat act–and “The Running of the Jew” are funny only to people who already regard anti-Semitic attitudes as inherently ridiculous and obnoxious), the ADL assumes that someone watching this satire will fail to realise that it is a satire.  C’mon, folks, it’s not that subtle of a joke.  More than that, they claim that the movie might “reinforce” existing bigotry in some people, because, of course, so many anti-Semites (and we are supposed to believe there are so very many of them in this country) are going to run out and watch Cohen’s comedy routine and come away thinking, “That Borat guy made a lot of good points about the Jews!” 

Th ADL’s contempt for the decency and “sophistication” of ordinary Americans is not surprising, since they evidently assume that a lot of us must be anti-Semites in hiding, but it has to be an all-time first for them to complain about something that actually exposes anti-Semitism to ridicule.  Their complaining about the movie provides a perfect contrast and explains why Borat is popular and why the ADL is widely loathed: Cohen-as-Borat accomplishes the goal of fighting anti-Semitism in a way markedly different from their own humourless, activist method of denunciation and intimidation, and there is nothing more annoying to the dreadfully serious than the delightfully comic people who ridicule with laughter what they spend their entire lives combating with venom.    

Update: The ADL also laments that Cohen chose to make fun of Kazakhstan in particular, rather than making up a “mythological country.”  But then the joke wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  It isn’t crucial to the joke that he uses a real country (not that a lot of Cohen’s audience would know one way or the other, judging from geography tests in this country), but it probably helps make the joke work (if only to underline the satirical nature of the act) and does no real harm to the Kazakhs.    

FOX News is now scrolling an alert that says “GOP Poll Shows Massive Losses if Speaker Stays Till November.” Bill Hemmer then quoted a report from Major Garrett saying prominent internal GOP polling suggests Republicans could lose up to 50 seats were Hastert to stay on through the election. ~John McIntyre, RealClearPolitics

As someone else who ought to resign might say, my goodness!  Tony Blankley’s judgement and instincts have been proven right beyond anyone’s wildest expectations: not only would Hastert’s resignation be the right thing to do, but it would obviously help save a tottering GOP from just this kind of political debacle.  It turns out that the Alamo analogy was correct, even if it was definitely not appropriate to use, in terms of the scope of political disaster that awaits Republicans who want to go down fighting.  Instead of the Alamo, I suggest Balaclava as a more apt and fitting analogy for disaster-through-incompetence that is the modern GOP.  Given the number of reasonably competitive seats that are being contested this year (roughly 40, rather than the approximately 100 in ‘94), a 50-seat loss would effectively be a stronger repudiation than 1994.  It would certainly pack a harder psychological punch after a year of expectations of an extremely tight, hard-fought contest in which Democratic control of the House seemed to be getting ever more unlikely in the view of some observers.  My initial reaction was: this would be a terrible outcome.  But then I realised that this is just the kind of repudiation the GOP deserves for what it has already done, pre-Foley, and this is exactly what I would have wanted to have happen.  This is the drubbing they ought to have already been facing.  In fact, they deserve to be beaten even more soundly than this for this latest disgrace.  They ought to have been repudiated in this fashion because of their policies, not because of their stupid management of an in-House ethical problem.  But if this is what it takes to clean house, so be it.     

Update: Here is another detail from FoxNews’ article on the aforementioned polling:

While internal GOP polls show trouble for Republicans, the newest AP/Ipsos poll also showed that half of likely voters say the Foley scandal will be “very or extremely important” when it comes time to vote on Nov. 7. By nearly a 2-1 ratio, voters say Democrats are better at combating corruption.

Coming from New Mexico, the land of Democratic nepotism and corrupt dealmaking, and also fully aware of the corruption investigation into NJ Sen. Bob Menendez and the history of corruption among the Dems in both New Jersey and Louisiana, I am confident that these voters are profoundly wrong about the Democratic ability to combat corruption.  But, as they say, perception is reality, and if Dems are winning on the corruption question by 2-to-1, they will trounce their opposition if half of the voters are making the Foley scandal an important part of their decisionmaking.

Update: Dave Weigel has some remarks that suggest that, scandal or no, maybe Hastert ought to resign as Speaker anyway:

I’m enjoying watching the coverage of Hastert’s press conference. A Emperor-clothes moment - reporters stepping nimbly to avoid discussing how the man third in line for the presidency is a mumbly simpleton.

Of all the historical analogies a desperate GOP might summon up to defend Speaker Hastert, this one (via Hotline) penned by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is certainly the most remarkable and obnoxious: the Alamo, 1836. 

Now I have no time for Alamo revisionists who want to make that battle into anything other than what it was: the brutal suppression of Texan secessionist rebels, giving them no quarter, by the army of a Mexican authoritarian ruler.  It is because I have great respect for the Texans and Tennesseans who fought at the Alamo that I find it particularly obnoxious that someone would have the nerve to compare the ludicrous GOP majority to the heroes of that battle.  “We, the House Republican Conference, ironically a little over 200 strong…,” Rep. Barton says, as if he were the new Travis and his colleagues in Congress were the volunteers.  It requires no courage to hang onto your positions of power, and there is no valour in defending incompetent leadership, which is what Republicans in Congress are doing when they rally around Hastert.  Barton continues: “We can cross the line and stand with our Speaker in defense of conservative values and common decency [italics mine-DL], or we can retreat.”  As the Derb might say (and did say in a different context), “That’s conservatism?  Ptui, I spit.”  

The obnoxious nature of this appeal is clear to all.  I don’t think I need to dwell on it.  Common decency dictates that Hastert step aside, if not because of his own flaws and failures, then for the good of the reputation of the institution; men of honour from another time might have understood why.  Here’s another point: where was all this line-in-the-sand, let’s-fight-them-to-the-death spirit when it mattered?  When it comes to fighting the creation of new entitlements or challenging executive overreach and violations of the separation of powers (think Iraq), where was the defense of high principle and Alamo nostalgia, then, eh?  Where was the defense of “conservative values and common decency” when it came time to vote on torture and aggressive war?  These people are a disgrace. 

Of course, as someone might note, comparing your present predicament to the Alamo might be inspiring to other people later on (”at least they went down fighting!”), but it does not hold out much hope for you, since it requires you to die in the effort.  For my part, I hope they get their battle to the political death.  They will not be lionised or remembered as heroes, but they will at least be out of power.

My representative back home in New Mexico, Heather Wilson, will probably not be too adversely affected by her tangential connections to the Foley scandal (she was on the Page Board from 2001-04 and she received some money from him in the past, which she had to give away), but it is still probably not good news for her that she has to be on the defensive in the last month of the election on anything related to pederasty and Republican incompetence.  Madrid is milking this because she wants people to forget that she screwed up the Vigil corruption case by indicting federal witnesses, which wrecked their immunity deals and almost let Vigil get off entirely, so I am not exactly thrilled with her, either, but Wilson has been a lockstep war supporter from the beginning and is actually proud of her vote for Medicare D.  It is high time for Heather to go, and I will be voting for Madrid to try to help make that happen.

Here is the exchange from the Blitzer interview, in which Bush made his infamous comma remark.  But note the far more worrisome statement Bush made just after that remark:

BLITZER: The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, Al Qaeda in Iraq still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see it on TV. And that’s the — that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there is also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people.

Twelve million people voted last December. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma, because there is — my point is, there is a strong will for democracy.

These people want a unity government. The unity government is functioning.

I’m impressed by President Maliki. I’ve talked to him. I’ve seen the decision-making process that he’s put in place. The Iraqi army is still recruiting and training.

BLITZER: But you weren’t upset when he went to Tehran and gave a big hug and a kiss to Ahmadinejad.

BUSH: Excuse me for a minute. I was on a brilliant point, as you know. [bold mine-DL] The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so, therefore, I reject the notion that this country’s in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating. [DL]

Which is more worrisome: that Bush thought he was making a “brilliant” point or that he has “experts” who tell him there is no civil war in Iraq?  That is what everyone should be focused on, and that is the appalling statement Mr. Bush made during that interview.  Compared to that, the “just a comma” remark was insignificant.

As he heads out on the campaign trail, haunted by an unpopular war, President Bush has begun reassuring audiences that this traumatic period in Iraq will be seen as “just a comma” in the history books. By that, aides say, he means to reinforce his message of resolve in the long struggle for Iraqi democracy. ~The Washington Post

Via Doug Bandow

Now it begins to make sense.  When Trent Lott said the other day that the President and Senate Republicans don’t “obsess” about the war in Iraq (unlike those crazy journalists), he sounded like a fool.  But now we understand: the war is just a comma.  Why obsess over a comma?  Go about your business, folks, just a comma in the grand scheme of things.  Trust us–did we mention that Condi is a “student of history”?  She sees the Big Picture, and in the Big Picture this is nothing to get too worked up about.  Maybe this explains the dilatory nature of post-war planning.  You might very well prepare for the aftermath of a war, but would you organise Phase IV for a subordinate clause?  Not likely.  So give these people some credit.  Unbeknownst to us (or anyone else), we find that Mr. Bush is actually a master grammarian!

In fact, once you look more closely at what Mr. Bush said, it would seem that he was referring to the Iraqi elections being “just a comma” in the grand march of Iraqi democracy.  From the Post again:

He noted the bloodshed shown on television but hailed the resiliency of the Iraqi people and cited the election last December in which 12 million came to the polls despite the violence.

“Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago,” Bush went on. “I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.” The president used a similar line at a campaign event last week in Alabama and again on Tuesday in Stockton, Calif.

So far worse than being dismissive remark that minimises the horror of the war, it seems to have been a delusional statement that the December Iraqi elections will be seen as ”just a comma” in the grand scheme of Iraq’s future democratic success as seen from the perspective of “the final history” (note to Bush: there never is a “final history,” because history doesn’t have an end–never place a period on the sentence of history, right, George?). 

As for the idea that this is some sort of sneaky evangelical code, well, that is almost as ridiculous as the comma remark itself.  But here is the claim:

And a lively Internet debate has broken out about the origins of the phrase, with some speculating that Bush means it as a coded message to religious supporters, evoking the aphorism “Never put a period where God has put a comma.”

I saw Sullivan link to something like this the other day and thought, “That’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.  No wonder so few churchgoers take people on the left seriously in this country.”  For someone to think that George the supposed born-again evangelical, who attends a Methodist church, would be using this slogan (attributed to Gracie Allen), which is now regularly associated with the United Church of Christ (I know because I walk past one of their churches in Hyde Park practically every day and almost every day I laugh at this unintentionally hilarious slogan), he would have to know absolutely nothing about contemporary American Christianity.  As the Post story notes, the UCC is not all together the kind of church filled with Bush supporters.  The UCC’s use of the slogan is to intentionally make the most anti-fundamentalist, anti-traditionalist claim, which they explain with the phrase, ”God is still speaking.”  You see, God is still speaking, so He just might let us know that those old-timey prohibitions and commandments could be outdated.  Evangelicals don’t react well to the UCC slogan, as detailed here by Editor & Publisher:

An article in the St. Petersburg Times in November 2005, described a new TV commercial by the UCC — not a conservative, but a progressive church — which featured a large comma. “Weighing in on the commercial,” the article concluded, “evangelist Pat Robertson is said to have remarked, ‘Never place a comma where God has placed a period. God has spoken!’”

So it is likely that the kinds of people Bush would be trying to reach via this “code” wouldn’t like the code when they heard it.  The quote above calls the UCC a progressive church.  How progressive, you ask?  From the UCC website, here is part of their self-description:

We are a “just peace” church committed to overcoming violence and oppression. We are a “multi-racial, multi-cultural church” yearning for the day when our congregations more fully reflect the vision of Pentecost. We are an “open and affirming” church where no one’s baptismal identity can be denied because of his or her sexual identity. We are an “accessible” church cherishing the gifts of all regardless of physical or mental abilities. More recently we have been thinking about what it means to call ourselves “the church of the still speaking God,” a church that believes God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word. 

Presumably most of my readers will not be terribly enthusiastic for this kind of church, at least when expressed in this sort of language (the Church is, of course, open to all, but She also requires repentance), but the point here is not so much to get on the UCC’s case for their “progressive Christianity” as to show definitively that these are not your average likely Bush voters waiting for a signal from the Leader.  Now it is true that God is “still speaking” in a sense, because God continues to act and work in history, and there is possibly an Orthodox way that you could understand this phrase that refers to God’s dynamic cooperation with humanity on the path to salvation and deification, but the way in which this idea and that particularly slogan are used today is more likely a “code” for progressive Christians than it would be for the conservative Christians to whom Mr. Bush would supposedly be appealing.  The irony of the slogan is that, in spite of its being uttered by a professional comedienne, it could be used to make a sort of absolute Biblical literalist argument, but it would be almost a parody of Biblical literalism.

There are two things that are not encouraging about all of this.  One is that we have fallen under such an autocracy that we analyse and parse every sentence the President utters in vain attempts to understand his often inscrutable purposes.  The other is that our High Poobah takes his cues on history from a 20th century comedian, which is hardly something to laugh about.        

Males with traditional conservative views appear insensitive and unfashionable. Conversely, male libertarians and neo-conservatives, with milder views on social issues, are less likely to clash with educated liberal women. At the same time they can express their ‘manly political incorrectness’ through economic liberalism. Hence, neo-conservatives and libertarians males may think they are politically tough and unfashionable, but they are unconsciously conforming to the desires of liberal women and workplaces dominated by women.

In contrast, socially conservative males are arguably today’s true ‘conservative’ rebels - standing up for free speech, political integrity, and putting their jobs (and possibly sex lives) on the line. ~Michael Courtman

Mr. Courtman, who runs the New Zealand Alternative Conservative blog, makes an important observation that is only too true and not at all encouraging news for all us paleo graduate students (there are so many of us, after all).  But have no fear, paleo brethren!  There is hope:

The Iraq war however, is bad news for male neo-cons. Women hate wars and attitudes towards paleoconservatives may soften as events unfold according to their predictions.

I know that has always worked in attracting women in the past.  Larison: “Did I mention that I opposed the bombing of Kosovo and predicted that it would lead to disaster?”  Young woman: “Oh, really?  That is interesting!  Tell me more!”  What?  You don’t think that happened?

But here in the parched canyons along the Yellow River known as the Loess Plateau, some parents with dead bachelor sons will go a step further. To ensure a son’s contentment in the afterlife, some grieving parents will search for a dead woman to be his bride and, once a corpse is obtained, bury the pair together as a married couple.

“They happen pretty often, especially when teenagers or younger people die,” said Yang Husheng, 48, a traveling funeral director in the region who said he last attended such a funeral in the spring. “It’s quite common. I’ve been in the business for seven or eight years, and I’ve seen all sorts of things.” ~The New York Times

This very statement–that Islam is incompatible with democracy–is why I fight so hard with many of my friends on the Right: accepting that statement means we have to declare war on the entire Muslim world if we’re to hope for human freedom to survive.

To me it would be akin to, in World War II, declaring ourselves at war with “Germanic People,” “Latin People,” and “Southeast Asians.” Not Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan. No, we would have declared that we were at war with anyone of Germanic or Latin descent, and anyone who happened to be short, yellow, and slant-eyed (to put it rudely and crassly). ~Dean Esmay

Thanks to Paul Cella for picking up on Mr. Esmay’s post and writing a fine response to it, particularly the crucial observation at the end:

Human freedom’s survival, thank God, does not depend on the universalism of democracy.  

To say that Islam and our sort of democracy are incompatible is simply to state the obvious.  There are elected governments in Bangladesh, Turkey, Mali and Indonesia, all of which have large or majority Muslim populations, and Iran does go through the process, though heavily influenced by the clerics, of having elections for parliament and president; Muslims in India on the whole participate within the Indian political system.  So it is conceivable to have some kind of democracy with Islam, but it is extremely doubtful that it would be our kind.  ”Islamic democracy” would likely ultimately degenerate in one of two directions: an authoritarian Islamic populism, presaged by Ahmadinejad’s popularity among poor Iranians as the Hugo Chavez of the East, or a more plain rule of clerics and mujahideen.  In the case of the latter, Muslim nations can have what I have sometimes thought of calling mass theocracy, which may even involve mechanisms of voting and formal constitutions, but in the end produces the religious rule you would expect.  To the extent that there are success stories of compatibility, however, it is where the Islam is much less strict, much less doctrinaire and much less affected by the intense and fanatical hard-line of Wahhabism or Deobandism.  So far Indonesia and Bangladesh have been reasonably successful because of this relatively milder form of Islam and, in Bangladesh’s case, the construction of a national identity based on language and ethnicity as opposed to the definition of Pakistan, of which it once was a part, which was and remains to this day Islam. 

Cross-posted at Enchiridion Militis

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Closing his first conference as leader, Mr Cameron said the Tories had to be “on the side of the next generation” if they wanted to return to power.

While society would be better off if marriage rates went up, and he promised to support marriage through the tax system, the party had to accept the similar commitment of civil partnerships between homosexuals.

“It means something whether you’re a man and a woman, woman and a woman or a man or another man,” he told Conservative activists in Bournemouth. ~The Daily Telegraph

Well, when you put it that way…I don’t really know what Cameron is saying.  “It means something,” he says.  But what does it mean?  That might be an interesting place to start.  One can imagine a similar disquisition on religion: “It means something, whether you’re a mendicant friar, an Athonite monk, a Hindu priest or a jihadi.”  Now if you want to say that it has become politically necessary to cave on this point, as on so many other things, you should say that if that is what you think.  But right here Cameron talks about what these relationships mean–they all mean “something”–and so reduces them all to the same level and the same importance.  If the Tories need to be on “the side of the next generation,” it might not hurt to have sufficient numbers of the “next generation” on whose side you can be.  Part of that comes from bolstering heterosexual, child-bearing marriages and, yes, discouraging all other kinds of legal “unions.” 

The survey shows that by 41%-18%, Americans say recent news developments have made them less favorable toward continued Republican control of Congress; by 34%-23% they called themselves more favorably inclined toward Democratic control. It also shows a decline in Mr. Bush’s job approval rating to 39% from 42% earlier this month.

Even more problematic for Republicans’ campaign positions, the survey shows that a 46% plurality of Americans now believes the war in Iraq is hurting the nation’s ability to win the war against terrorism. That’s up from 32% earlier this month when Americans were nearly evenly divided over whether the war was helping, hurting or not making a difference in the war on terrorism.


The poll also contains signs that the congressional Republican strategy of “localizing” elections to take the spotlight off a politically weakened Mr. Bush isn’t working. Fully two-thirds of voters now say their decision for Congress will be a signal for the Bush administration – with 39% signaling opposition and 28% signaling support. In April, only about half of Americans called their vote a signal for the administration. ~The Wall Street Journal

Via Doug Bandow

James Poulos celebrates his blog’s anniversary today at Postmodern Conservative.  He offers an entertaining quiz to recap the last year.

Well, The Nativity Story film will be nothing if not novel.  First of all, there are not, to my knowledge, that many films dedicated principally to the story of the Nativity all by itself.  It might be interesting to ask why that is, especially given the greater American enthusiasm for Christmas.  It will be the first time, I am willing to bet, that a half-Maori actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes) plays the Theotokos.  The trailer gives the feeling of being in the Levant and already seems to succeed in creating the atmosphere of the period, which was one of The Passion’s strengths–of course, a trailer is not an entire film.  

If their accented English reminds Ross of Sayid from Lost, it is probably not promising for the movie’s success that the woman who plays Elizabeth is Shohreh Aghdashloo, best known to contemporary audiences as the character Dina Araz, the terrorist mother who turns on the conspiracy to save her son, from season 4 of 24.  Aghdashloo is an outstanding actress as far as I am concerned, but the association may be a bit much for an audience trying to see the mother of St. John the Baptist in her.  But as Ari from Entourage would say at this point, “They’re actors.  That’s what they do–they pretend.”  So here’s hoping that she is a good enough actress to make me forget that her last character wanted to nuke the U.S.

Update: I had entirely forgotten that she had a small role in the third X-Men.  If only I could forget the rest of that movie.

Reckless Nativity Story prediction: the ADL and associated friends will not castigate this movie as anti-Semitic and seek to drive it into the ground, in spite of portrayals of Jews such as Herod that might give people a bad impression.  Mocking the Passion Gospels is one thing for such people–attacking the True Meaning of Christmas would probably be a hysterical bridge too far.

The Republican is losing in the race to hold the Ohio seat held by Republican Bob Ney, the high-profile, once-powerful committee chairman who abandoned his reelection bid after recently pleading guilty to accepting money and gifts in an influence-peddling scandal.  In that race, Democrat Zack Space leads Republican Joy Padgett, 45% to 36%. ~John Zogby

Note that OH-18 is the same district that Novak is listing as “leaning GOP” in his October 4 Report.  One of these two is really, really wrong, and I am sorry to say that it seems to me that it is Novak who is badly mistaken.  I don’t say that mainly or simply because I would prefer GOP defeat this year, but because what we have been hearing about seats such as OH-18 in particular point towards GOP gloom and worry.  Trailing by nine points in OH-18 would make sense of that gloom.  Having a decent shot at retaining the seat, which Novak’s projections suggest, would not. 

However, let us bear in mind that Zogby can sometimes be impressively wrong–this is the man whose outfit predicted the great Kerry landslide, after all.

Update: As noted in a previous post, the OH-18 numbers are not the only ones that don’t match up in the two reports.  They paint diametrically opposed pictures of IL-6 and CT-4 (Shays): Novak says they lean to the GOP, while Zogby shows the Democratic candidate leading by 5 points in both cases.  Also, Zogby shows my own representative Heather Wilson trailing Madrid slightly in NM-1 in another district that Novak lists as “leaning GOP.”  The most recent New Mexican polling among self-described likely voters, reported in The Albuquerque Journal, shows Wilson and Madrid tied at 44%.  It sounds as if Zogby’s research is more accurate across the board.   

And finally, new Zogby polls show Dems leading in 11 of 15 races. To highlight a few: State Sen. Peter Roskam (R) trails Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth (D) in IL 06 by 5 points. Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) trails ex-Rep. Baron Hill (D) in IN 09 by 8 points. And in VA 02, VA Beach Revenue Commis. Phil Kellam (D) leads Rep. Thelma Drake (R) 46-42.  ~Hotline

The success of Duckworth, if she retains the lead she currently had, will be symbolic of the entire election as the Democrat, who is also a veteran injured in the war, who was able to make the superior and more credible pitch on national security and amnesty because the national GOP has lost its way so badly.  My aunt and uncle live in IL-6 and have apparently been thoroughly turned off by Roskam’s campaign.  They are not regular Republican voters, but they are moderately conservative voters whom Roskam cannot afford to alienate.  The numbers show that my relatives are not the only ones who find Roskam unappealing.

Update: The Evans-Novak Report is either becoming extremely unreliable, or Zogby’s numbers are entirely wrong on IL-6.  Evans-Novak reports that it is Roskam leading by 5 points.  Personally, I am inclined to doubt this quite a lot.  Is it likely that the seat flipped in the direction of the GOP during one of the worst scandal weeks of the year for the GOP?  Not likely. 

It will probably not cause anyone reading this to weep or wail to find out that Damon Linker’s blog, aptly called The Apostate (formerly at the now-defunct address of, is kaput only a couple weeks after it came into being (hat tip: Caleb Stegall).  That has to the most rapidly concluded book blog since John Podhoretz started up a blog to ask us if You-Know-Who can be stopped.  I believe the story of the blog is about to be made into a feature: it will be called Ten Days In May, which is exactly how long the blog lasted.  Some book blogs are interesting because, well, the books themselves are interesting and generate conversation and debate.  Other book blogs are dreary because the blogger/author thinks that he has just accomplished Something Great and deigns to share his tidbits of wisdom with the rabble.  Then there are JPod books, which I daresay probably generate neither interest nor great sales. 

So Linker’s blog is history.  Unfortunately, Victor Davis Hanson’s Pajama Medias blog is still very much with us, where he gives us offerings such as this:

My rule of thumb is that almost every current, know-it-all critic, whether a Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Matthews (“we are all neo-cons now”), Francis Fukuyama, etc., at one time or another voiced support for removing Saddam and bringing war to Iraq.

One constant in their various escape hatches is that a particular lapse, a certain mistake alone explains their abandonment of earlier zeal—too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, not trisecting the country, the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld, etc.

In contrast, the simple truth is too bitter to confess: their support follows the pulse of the battlefield. When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history. But fast forward three years plus: after well over 2,000 battle deaths, and chaos in Iraq, most not only don’t wish to be associated with the stasis, but contort to assure that they never supported the war in the beginning (hard to do with footprints on the internet), or were supposedly betrayed by the incompetence of others. 

Being someone who opposed invading Iraq from the day the word Iraq first crossed Mr. Bush’s lips on January 29, 2002, I am sometimes unimpressed with the nature of former war supporters’ conversions to the opposition.  Some of it is opportunistic, and very often the same people (many of them “centrist” Democrats, but not all) who admit they made stunning errors of judgement on Iraq feel no shame in offering their assessment of the new and even graver threats from (your country’s name here).  But that is not what I want to focus on today.  It is actually just on one line from Hanson’s post that I didn’t even notice the first time around:

When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history.

Prominent people in punditry use this phrase “wrong side of history” all the time, along with “dustbin of history,” and so forth, so there is nothing uniquely Hansonian about this nonsense.  To make it clear that Hanson does indeed believe there are such sides and that being pro-war on Iraq is to be on the “right” side of history, I would note his de rigueur parallels with the War of Secession and WWII and the following amazing statement, which is followed by some explanation by Hanson: 

Everything and everyone now hinge on the outcome. [bold and italics mine-DL]  

The safety of millions of brave Iraqi reformers, the prestige of the United States and its military, the policy of fostering democratic reform in the Middle East, the end to the nexus between failed autocracies and scapegoating the West through terrorists; success of the Bush Administration; the effectiveness of the Democratic opposition; the divide between Europe and America; the attitude toward the United States of the Middle East autocracies; the reputation of the Islamic terrorists — all that will be adjudicated by the verdict in Iraq. Rarely have so many ideologies, so much politics, so many reputations been predicated on just a few thousand American combat soldiers and their Iraq allies.

So he seems to believe there is a “wrong” side to history (and, happily, I have always been on that side!), and more than that he seems to think that the outcome of the war will determine which side is which–though he is not seriously in doubt as to the outcome or which is the right side.  It is particularly egregious when Hanson refers to the “wrong side” of history, though, even when it is in passing, because as an historian he ought to know–if he knows anything–that history does not have “right” and “wrong” sides.  People on the political right would have every reason to be deeply depressed if there were two such sides, since that would mean that our steady retreat for several centuries was the result of a fairly inexorable and unstoppable historical process, which in turn would have some rather unfortunate implications for the reality of human freedom.  

Let me explain what I mean when I say there are no right or wrong sides in history before someone fears that I am endorsing some kind of moral indifference and relativism in the affairs of the world.  To be on the “right” side of history invariably means that you picked the side that happened to win.  It is an arbitrary valuation that suits the interests of those who have greater power.  This is the kind of thing that people with power or those who believe in the efficacy of Macht will affirm in complete seriousness.  It’s not exactly might makes right, but might demonstrates right.  It is a modern, secular kind of trial by combat.  There are ancient and medieval precedents for this kind of thinking (the Kharijites are a good example of believing literally that victory in battle = right and legitimacy), which still make the claim no more true.  In this sense, conservatives throughout the West have supposedly been on the “wrong” side because we have gone from reversal to reversal with few concrete successes to show for our efforts.  But you cannot be on a “wrong” side for the same reason that you cannot adhere to a “lost cause” (see T.S. Eliot)–there are no “gained causes” and there is no right side of history.  If we believe that Progress is a myth, we must believe the same thing about the Right Side of History, which is simply a part of the myth of Progress. 

Speaking of right and wrong sides implies a definite, discernible and necessary direction to history that simply does not exist.  If there is a direction to secular history, God alone knows what it is, and He has not told us the secret.  There are general, long-term trends that you can find in any period of human history, but they do not all tend in the same direction.  To be European and cosmopolitan in the 19th century was to be on the “wrong” side of history; now many would hold that defenders of the nation-state are on the “wrong,” that is to say, losing side.  In another century the nationalists will be in full stride all over the world (they are already picking up plenty of momentum)–or the categories of allegiances will be of an entirely different kind as we return to tribal or religious conflicts (all of which were supposed to be part of what fatuous people might call “the politics of the past”). 

Normally when people are talking about “right” and “wrong” sides of history they mean ”my side” and the other guy’s–it is a self-justifying story you tell yourself about your inevitable, historically-mandated triumph over your rivals.  A good way to know that this is a bogus way of thinking about history is to see how many of the defeated and destroyed empires of the last hundred years believed themselves to be fated to dominion over the world because historical inevitability favoured them and their system.  Today democratists tell us the same story about the global spread of democracy, and Fukuyama can say without irony that history is “against” this or that ideology or policy.  How does he know?  Because obviously history is “for” his ideology and policy, as it must be.  

In similar fashion, secularists in the 19th and early 20th century triumphantly expected religion to wither away and die–not because there was any good anthropological or historical reason for thinking this was the case, but because they wanted it to be true and had developed a theory about the irrationality of religion and the increasing rationality of modern man, which would have to result in religion’s downfall, that made it sound somewhat plausible.  Iraq war supporters might describe opponents of the war as being on the “wrong side” of history, not because it was obvious that deposing Hussein would usher in any of the good things they promised that would have made it an epochal, revolutionary change, but because it lent an aura of moral superiority and historical inevitability to the success of their project.     

When people say that so-and-so was on the wrong side of history, this invariably means that he was on the losing side of a war or a revolution, and when they say “wrong” side they usually mean it very much in terms of moral judgement.    This is what it means 95% of the time it is used.  Likewise, when your ideas are allegedly consigned to the “dustbin of history,” it is almost always because you lost a war.  Wars, in this view of history, prove the supremacy and value of some ideas over others.  This is simply untrue, but it does help explain why people who believe this–or at least talk as if they believe this–are perfectly happy to endorse wars for ideological causes, because they are already convinced that winning wars will vindicate and “prove” their ideas right.  Incidentally, that is why there are so many on the left and nominal right emphasising incompetence as the central flaw of the administration.  While real, dissident conservatives have stressed the evils of the administration’s ideological tunnel vision, incompetence has been the buzzword for all of the former war supporters who have since seen the light.  The script goes something like this: intervening militarily to democratise rogue states and enforce nonproliferation regimes is more or less a good solution, but this crowd has simply screwed it up too badly.  There are also those who are zealous war supporters but who focus on administration incompetence as a way of exculpating the ideas tied to the war–democratisation, interventionism, preemption, etc.–from the judgement that they think defeat in war imposes on whether ideas are sound or not.  Four out of five times these days when you find a born-again war opponent, he will cite his support for the principle of doing what we did in Iraq but will also lament the poor execution.  This is rather like the wisdom of the man who says, “If only I had been allowed to drive the car off the cliff, we wouldn’t have crashed.”

Matt Barganier at Antiwar Blog:

Historian Tony Judt, a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and director of the Remarque Institute at NYU, writes,

I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGO, academics, etc, from the US and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan.

I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was cancelled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli anti-Semites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved and Network 20/20 were forced to cancel.

Whatever your views on the Middle East I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America.

The New York Sun confirms the cancellation, but not without adding its own angle on the story:

The government of Poland, moving to avoid getting embroiled in anti-Israel politics, last night abruptly canceled a scheduled speech by a professor at New York University who has become hostile to the Jewish state [bold mine-DL], just hours before the event was to have taken place at Poland’s consulate here in New York.

The decision to cancel the speech, which was billed as being about “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” is a signal of the quickening entente between free Poland and Israel, a relationship that is all the more remarkable for the fact that among the founders of Israel were Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Poland. A Polish diplomat told The New York Sun that the speech, by the NYU professor Tony Judt, would have been inappropriate for the Polish consulate.

Of course to say that Tony Judt has become “hostile to the Jewish state” is a joke.  He has become openly critical of pro-Israel influence on U.S. foreign policy, and he has proposed the (admittedly unworkable) idea of a unitary Israeli-Palestinian state.  To the Sun, it is all the same thing: criticism and proposals equal hostility pure and simple.  But thank goodness there is absolutely no pro-Israel lobby to be found, or else those sorts of conflations might become a problem for free and open debate on topics relating to the Near East!

Update: Philip Weiss has a few comments on the cancellation of Judt’s speech.

In another stunning development, Robert Novak today reveals in his column - published in PostOpinion on Page 31 - that even after House GOP leaders knew that Foley had written an inappropriate e-mail to a 16-year-old former male page, they were still urging him to seek re-election.

Novak writes, “A member of the House leadership told me that Foley, under continuous political pressure because of his sexual orientation, was considering not seeking a seventh term this year but that Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), talked him into running.” ~The New York Post

How’s that for an indictment of the leadership’s judgement?

One question remains: What would possess the Kazakhs to battle seriously and actively the only popular image of their country? ~Igor Khrestin

It is surprising that Kazakhstan has not taken a page from the Opus Dei playbook (I can almost guarantee that the previous sentence has never been written before in the course of the history of the English language and will probably never be written again) that made their response to the abominable The DaVinci Code so successful as a PR coup for their order.  DVC really only deserved mockery and scorn, but they set about showing what their order was really like and even won some converts in the process. 

Imagine the free press Kazakhstan could get if the government there invited Borat to official state functions!  Better yet, they could invent their own comically over-the-top caricature of a Kazakh and beat Borat at his own game.  But that might be expecting to much, and it isn’t likely to happen.  Irony is not exactly a common Central Asian cultural habit, though you would think decades under Soviet rule would sharpen a people’s love of satire.  In any case, think about all of the positive things you could tell journalists by way of telling the story of the Real Kazakhstan: “No, gentlemen, in fact we do not keep our women in cages.  We don’t have that many cages to start with, and we wouldn’t want to waste them on the women.” 

Of course that is terribly unfair (Kazakhstan is perfectly charming and full of empty, arid desert, and they have a shiny, new capital city to boot), but then Yakov Smirnov was rather unfair to the poor folks of Cleveland, which is almost as bad as Kazakhstan for some people in this country.  Yet it must be said that, without Yakov and Spinal Tap, most people in the world (and perhaps the country) would not give a second thought to the city of Cleveland.  They were not as fortunate as the nearby city of Youngstown, which had its own memorable representative: James “Beam Me Up” Traficant, who was just as ludicrous and colourful as Borat without needing to put on an act. 

Borat has put Kazakhstan on the map–he has, as he would put it, made benefit for glorious nation.  The least they could do is laugh a little.  But then laughing at ourselves more often is something that all of us could stand to try.   

In this case, defending Denny Hastert’s decisions is ethically wrong, would undermine our party’s commitment to the defense of traditional moral values and is politically stupid in the bargain. ~Tony Blankley

If only there were more of this kind of argumentation from GOP circles when it came to minor things like torture or aggressive war.  On the other hand, there is something almost insufferable about the “we’re so high-minded and principled that we cannot wallow in the gutter” kind of argument, such as this one:

We have more to protect than the next election, we have our historic reputation among more than half the country for our principles. 

After the last five years of illegal war, ransacking the Constitution, coddling and empowering Islamists and repeated attempts to push amnesty for illegals, one wonders what exactly that “historic reputation” is supposed to be, but at least Mr. Blankley does understand the gravity of this case of wrongdoing and excess.  I suppose one has to start somewhere.

Dave Weigel invokes The Dead Zone’s sleazy, villainous Greg Stillson (played perfectly in the television version by Sean Patrick Flannery) in connection with Tom Reynolds’ impressively cynical child-festooned press conference.  Whether it’s protecting the children, or being protected by the children, Tom Reynolds is all for it.  He may not unleash Armageddon, but the GOP in Washington may indeed be l