Eunomia · November 2006

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What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you’re a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
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Via Dave Weigel

Lowest common denominator, indeed! I prefer to think of it as foundational.

The first limit we require is a geographical human limit to the interchangeability of identity. Individuals must reclaim coherent narratives of living, working, doing, and being, and master as close to a single self as may be afforded in a world which rewards parody, self-caricature, reinvention, and Protean Pelagianism. And groups of like-souled people — no, this is not a feint at predestination; I mean people who can more than stand to be around each other, can trust each others’ psyches — must be allowed to maintain geographically contiguous regions of local co-population. This is not a political program except insofar as it sets itself culturally against a political program. Probably only by the power of politics — that is, the acquisition and deployment of the monopoly on force — can cultural locality be succesfully destroyed. In so doing it applies political means to what are assuredly non-political ends: the first hallmark of the abuse of justice. ~James Poulos

The need for limits is paramount.  Limits serve to provide the coherence Mr. Poulos mentions.  Limits define what is our own, thus telling us what our business is that we should mind before anything else.  Cultivating homonoia, that oneness of mind of the “like-souled people,” inside those limits is the beginning of introducing some modicum of good order into the relations of the community. 

As Eunomia’s success grows, the list of people to whom I owe this success necessarily grows ever longer.  As always, I am particularly indebted and grateful to Jon Luker, who did me the service of providing the “space” for Eunomia gratis for well over a year and a half.  He was responsible for transferring the site–and my old Polemics posts–to the new Wordpress format.  Were it not for him, Eunomia as you know it would not exist. 

Next I owe special thanks to Michael Brendan Dougherty, the new Assistant Editor at The American Conservative, the recent token conservative at Comedy Central who made a little news of his own when he broke the Rumsfeld firing story, and an all-around man-about-town who combines stern truth-telling and penetrating wit with uproariously entertaining tales of mild vagabondage and well-timed paeans to the virtues of his charming and beautiful ladyfriend.

The last three months have been, by my standards, a monumental success.  September saw an improvement on August’s outstanding numbers with 7,550 unique visitors.  October has been the best to date with just over 9,000.  November has not continued the upwards trend, but it did see the second largest readership for Eunomia since I began here in December 2004 with only 37 readers short of 8,000.  In the last three months, Eunomia has had over 94,000 visits and 637,000 hits, dwarfing everything that has come before.  I would like to see the final month of ‘06 be the best month of the year and of Eunomia’s short run, but the requirements of other writing and my actual academic responsibilities may make that impossible.     

My sincere thanks go out to Steve Sailer, Rod Dreher, Clark Stooksbury, Chris Roach, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Mark Shea, and Right Reason for a steady dose of links that have brought many new readers to this site, all of whom, I am hopeful, will continue to return to read more.  Andrew Cusack and ParaPundit’s readers have been coming to this site in great numbers, and I am grateful for the permanent links and the readers’ continued interest.  

Caleb Stegall and Scott Richert, two very supportive editors who have brought my work to publication at The New Pantagruel and Chronicles respectively, have continued to be extremely helpful in their steady encouragement of my writing.  Unfortunately, tNP has shut down, but Chronicles is an excellent publications, and if you are not subscribing to Chronicles you are missing out on some of the best writing on moral, cultural, religious and political topics in the country.  I am also grateful to Dan McCarthy and Kara Hopkins for bringing my writing to The American Conservative, a great magazine I have also enjoyed and supported since its appearance in the fall of 2002.  Thanks to Rod Dreher for bringing my writing to The Dallas Morning News.  Thanks also to Josh Trevino for bringing me on board at Enchiridion Militis, and Paul Cella for his encouragement and past links to Eunomia. 

The list of others who have contributed to building up Eunomia in one way or another is fairly lengthy, so I will put down some of the names without any further comment.  If I happen to leave someone out, it is an unintended omission and not a commentary on the value of your contribution or a measure of my appreciation.  Thanks to Dan McCarthy, Jim Antle, A.C. Kleinheider, Andrew Cunningham, Joshua Snyder (The Western Confucian), Leon HadarJames PoulosPithlord, Prof. Arben FoxKevin Michael Grace, Kevin Jones, GlaivesterJohn Theresa, Dennis DaleCarey Cuprisin, Mild Colonial Boy, the Russian Dilettante, Jeremy AbelM.Z. Forrest, Timothy Carney, Gene HealyJ.L. BarnardPeter Klein, Michael Courtman, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Ordo et Traditio, The Inn At The End of the World, Leading The Next Inquisition, and Will Hinton.  Many thanks are due to Peter Suderman for the many links he has provided and for our many engaging disputations over matters of film and conservatism.  I also owe Ramesh Ponnuru thanks for directing a large number of readers here in October.  

Finally, thank you to all my many readers from around the globe who have made Eunomia something of a small success.  I hope that I am able to continue to provide the kind of worthwhile and intelligent commentary that you expect.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota drove to the evening reception with Mr. McCain and later said in an interview he intended to support Mr. McCain if he ran for president. ~The New York Times

He also said he will attempt to force a competition of ideas with his rivals. “There may be people with better ideas, and if they have better ideas then they deserve to win,” he [Gov. Tom Vilsack] said. ~The Washington Post

That’s a bold, winning slogan for any campaign: “My opponents may have better ideas than I do, in which case you should support them.”  You will go far, Tom!

BC: I used to read a great many of your articles and was somewhat surprised, at least initially, when I heard that you had joined The American Conservative. I guess I always considered you to be more of a mainstream party guy. Was their a marked difference between their outlook and your own? Also, do you think the old paleocon vs. neocon debate had any legitimacy?

WJA: You’re right that I started out as more of a “mainstream party guy;” I even (very briefly) worked in Republican politics. But as time wore on, I began to doubt the Republican Party’s commitment to conservative principles. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the GOP—in fact, I’m still a registered Republican. Instead, the GOP left me.

After 2001, I was disappointed to discover that many conservatives were reluctant to hold George W. Bush to the same standards we applied to Bill Clinton. If Clinton had proposed the largest new entitlement since the Great Society, a record expansion of federal education spending, amnesty for illegal aliens, or democratic nation-building in the Middle East, conservatives would have been outraged. But when these policies were espoused by a Republican president, too many conservatives rolled over. I liked the fact that The American Conservative didn’t.

I was never in favor of invading Iraq and by 2004, when I went to work for TAC, I had come to regret not speaking out more forcefully against the war when it counted. My partisan loyalties didn’t keep me from criticizing the administration on Iraq, but it certainly made my criticisms more muted than they otherwise would have been.

That doesn’t mean I agree with TAC’s editorial positions 100 percent of the time. I am more sympathetic to free trade and somewhat less optimistic about Palestinian intentions, for example. And my domestic-policy priorities probably leave me more common ground with mainstream conservatives. But I don’t agree with any magazine’s positions all the time, and I was on board when it came to the main ones—Iraq and immigration. ~The Constant Conservative

Via Jeremy Lott

What’s gone wrong with the GOP? Let me start by quoting a friend who is both gay and conservative (yes, I know several such): “I’m for low taxes, strong defense and limited government. Why doesn’t the Republican party want me?”

There’s a two-part answer to that question and neither half is good news. The first is that today’s GOP doesn’t really want gays — and it yearns to supervise everybody else’s bedroom and reproductive behavior as well as (implicitly, at least) their relationship to God.  ~Chester Finn

To Sullivan, this is “calling it like it is,” which means in Sullivanese, “calling it in a way that I, Sullivan, approve of.”  A small problem: it gets “today’s GOP” horrendously wrong on at least two of the three points of this ”first part” that is supposed to give an answer to Chester “Some Of My Best Friends Are Gay” Finn’s gay friend. 

A party that wants to supervise everyone’s bedroom, whether figuratively or literally, does not exist in this country.  Search high and low, you will not find it.  (Apropos of nothing, I am reminded here of the old, rather stale joke that Democrats keep the blinds open when no one wants to see what’s going on, while Republicans close the blinds when there is nothing to see.)  There are many conservatives and Republicans who think that state sodomy laws should have been kept on the books, and there are probably some who would like to see them brought back into force (count me in), but “today’s GOP” is, if anything, more hostile to those people in its ranks than ever before.  This is not a compliment, by any means, but it is the reality. 

Likewise, while there are a great many pro-life conservatives who refuse to let infanticide be justified under the cover of “reproductive behavior,” there is a fairly limited constituency for “supervising” everyone’s “reproductive behavior” in the sense of regulating everyone’s sex lives.  There are virtually no conservatives I know of who think that this is really the government’s business, much as they may deplore everything else about the current state of sexual mores and certainly do condemn sexual immortality wherever they find it. 

Finally, there is simply the lie that “today’s GOP” wants to supervise everyone’s relationship to God.  There has not been a more religiously indifferentist GOP since the rise of the Religious Right than there is today.  Some may view this as progress (I do not), but this fantasy that a party that is currently strongly entertaining the prospect of possibly nominating either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani for President is a party desperate to make everyone get right with God is simply delusional and, I dare say, self-serving for those who are not terribly interested in God.  It is a party on the fast-track to a secular, “pragmatic” politics that will leave its religious and social conservative supporters cold.  It is interested in many things, but its members’ relationship with God is not really one of them.  Again, this is not praiseworthy, but it is the reality. 

Romney may be upended in the primaries by his Mormonism, but this will be a clear case of the party’s base rejecting someone actively pushed by establishment forces and official party propaganda, er, opinion organs; “today’s GOP” wants to be ever more the big tent.  The lesson they had drawn in 2000 and which they have drawn yet again in 2006 was that inclusivity should be the core principle.  That is what the party machinery and leadership want.  Whether the people who traditionally associate with the party leadership want the same thing is another question. 

All of this has been obscured by stories about Rove’s “base strategy,” which implies a narrow sectarian focus driven by fanatics (or whatever it is people think the base of the GOP is), when the “base strategy” was designed to mobilise “the base” to show up at the polls while offering them virtually nothing in terms of practical policy proposals.  Mobilisation was achieved mainly through whipping up fear of the demonic left and the Islamofascist. 

If the GOP has no positive agenda today, this is not new.  It has not had one to speak of for six years beyond Clintonesque tailored policy proposals that appealed to all of 2% of the population and offended no major constituency enough to create a problem.  The “faith-based” initiative!  Funding for combating AIDS in Africa!  Partial privatisation of Social Security was the big exception and the big (failed) gamble.  This strategy was fairly successful, and in normal years could lead to victory, but it was not enough to overcome massive discontent in the rest of the population. 

It had the disadvantage of giving “moderate” Republicans the impression of much greater religious conservative strength in the coalition than actually existed, which is now serving to fragment the coalition by lending credibility to fantastical stories of religious conservative influence that have no merit whatever.  Now the David Brookses of the world and the suburbanites are apparently departing from the big tent, because they have come to believe that it is a Pentecostal revival tent, when it is actually something much more like a circus tent, in which the Ringmaster keeps the religious conservatives locked in their cages.

Some of the rest of Mr. Finn’s indictment of the GOP has much more substance to it: the abandonment of limited government principles (I hear Ross grinding his teeth); the new preference for centralised, federal policies on all manner of things conservatives used to leave to local and state governments (No Child Left Behind being cited, correctly, as a major example of this betrayal).

I agree with Mr. Finn that the immigration policy “schism” is deplorable, but only because the Senate hamstrung a perfectly good opportunity for a border security and enforcement bill with a lot of misguided amnesty-lite.  The lack of consensus about immigration has been a killer.  The “nativism” of the fairly popular proposal to secure the border and check illegal immigration is not the great problem of our time.  Mr. Finn’s following statements sum up why the GOP may well have no future in this country:

Let the Democrats be split by anti-immigrant trade unions and job-wary blacks. Let the GOP say “Welcome. Play by the rules — before and after you come — and we’ll find a way to make you legal.”

Leave aside for the moment that Mr. Finn is apparently unaware that the “trade unions” have long since sold out this country for the sake of new immigrant membership.  His idea is folly.  He is saying, in other words, break the rules, but then “play by the rules” (whatever this means), and we will ignore the rules you have broken so that you will (possibly) vote for us.  The immigrants will say, “Hey, thanks,” and then vote for the other side anyway as they always do.  If the Democrats had two brain cells among them, they would seize the high ground on combating illegal immigration, Harold Ford-style, and send the GOP into electoral oblivion for the next generation.  To heed Mr. Finn on this point is very simply electoral doom for the GOP.

Then Mr. Finn offers this piece of wisdom:

Third, some of the party’s environmental positions are embarrassing, above all its denial of the global-warming problem and all that it portends.  How can the U.S. deal energetically with such enormous warmers as China and India if it doesn’t first acknowledge that the icecaps are melting and human activity is at least partly responsible?

Supposing that we grant that human activity is partly responsible, which is at least conceivable, and even supposing that we grant that climate change is a real “problem” and not a recurring event in the history of the earth to which we will adjust gradually as it changes gradually, do we think that this will have any impact on India or China?  What concrete measures might we take to show our acknowledgement of these realities (if they are what he says they are)?  Approve Kyoto, perhaps?  To what end?  If the most egregious “warmers,” as he puts it, are outside of any convention, what good would any such measure do?  In other words, what might conservatives and the GOP do significantly differently that would have any impact on the worst polluting nations in the world?  Further, if human activity is not the primary cause of climate change, what would action on climate change accomplish that would not impose tremendous costs on all modernised and developing societies?  It is true that conservatives could do better than the usual indifferentism they show on many conservation questions, but I continue to remain a skeptic on climate change enthusiasms and the presumption that climate change is either so rapid or so destructive as the prophets proclaim.

Mr. Finn is correct, however, that the GOP and the movement are on “autopilot.”  Given his suggestions in this article, I am not inclined to hand the controls over to him or those of like mind with him, but it is undoubtedly the case that some attempt must be made at providing something like a coherent flight plan that does not involve, as the current course does, flying into the side of a mountain.

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb’s more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being — one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When — if ever — Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a “leader” who carefully calibrates the “symbolic things” he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves. ~George Will 

As Will sees it, Bush was right to bristle. You don’t have any right to talk to the president like that, even if his near-criminal unseriousness may end up getting your son killed. It’s “patent disrespect for the presidency.”

Well, this country could do with more “patent disrespect for the presidency.” It might help keep our presidents tethered to reality. ~Gene Healy

Senator-elect Jim Webb has continued to get himself into trouble with the Republican punditocracy.  Supposedly, he was rude to the President!  To recap: Bush sought him out and asked him what strikes me not as a “civil and caring” question, but a deliberate poke in the eye: “How’s your boy?”  Knowing, as he certainly did, that Webb’s son was in Iraq (since wearing his son’s combat boots was a major symbolic part of Sen. Webb’s entire campaign), the appropriate response might have been, “He’s very well, Mr. President, no thanks to you.”  Instead, Sen. Webb apparently took a different tack and refused to be baited into saying something like that.  According to The Hill, he said that he wanted to see his son brought back from Iraq.  As Mr. Healy noted, a “civil and caring parent” would have understood that.  Perhaps then he might have asked after Webb’s son. 

However, unlike a “civil and caring parent,” as an autocrat, who felt like using Sen. Webb’s son as his icebreaker, he wanted a response to the question he asked and nothing else.  This convinces me that Mr. Bush was not “civil and caring” and was not interested in how Webb’s “boy” was doing (Sen. Webb might also have retorted, fairly enough, “my son is a man, Mr. President, and more of one that you will ever be”), but was concerned with making a show of his allegedly deep and unfathomable compassion.  My guess is that Sen. Webb, who is evidently not the smoothest Washington operator (which is why people out here in the country like him), wasn’t going to play at the autocrat’s parlour games and decided to use this opening to make a substantive point about policy.  Imagine that: policy (one that is close to his heart, obviously), not chit-chat, was Webb’s priority.  While Americans are continuing to die in Iraq, who is demonstrating the greater concern for all of the soldiers in Iraq and being less full of himself?  Mr. Bush, who will apparently never countenance withdrawal or serious change of policy on his watch, or Sen. Webb, whose first thought and first response was not only for ”his boy,” but for all of the soldiers in Iraq whom Mr. Bush placed in harm’s way?  

My favourite bit is where George Will invokes the Republic in Bush’s defense.  This is like calling Anne Boleyn (d. 1536) as a character witness for Henry VIII in 1537.  Typically, the autocrat’s lackeys in the press are simply shocked and outraged that anyone would dare to speak to the master in this fashion.  In a republic, the people decline to prostrate themselves before an autocrat, and they decline to be his servants.  In the Old Republic, they did away with as much of the pomp and courtliness of European monarchy as they could.  If we really were still in a republic, Webb’s son would never have been sent to Iraq, because no one would have allowed the autocrat to start an illegal war of his own will.  A little less deference to the master and a little more interest in the welfare of our soldiers seems to be very much in order.  That quite a few people have a hard time with those priorities explains how we wound up in this predicament in the first place.

Clark Stooksbury and Dan McCarthy have more.

Most traditional notions of honor, good manners, and the like seem to be aimed at addressing exactly these kinds of problems. For example, if everyone were like Mr. Pink, the entire profit model of waitressing would break down. ~Chris Roach

Women also speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat - and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices, a new book suggests. ~The Daily Mail

Via Mark Shea

Apocalypto keeps looking better and better (a new trailer is available).  I have also heard good things from advance viewers.

One advance viewer, Peter Suderman, writes:

Ross Douthat points out that, despite Mel Gibson’s personal and media troubles, he’s still a formidable force at the box office. To which I would add (and this is coming from someone not entirely thrilled with The Passion) that he’s also an extremely impressive filmmaker as well.

And now, after having seen Apocalypto, all I can say is: you really have no idea. I mean, not to hyperbolate or anything, but … wow.

Update: There are going to be critics who say that the film is not historically accurate.  Where would they get that idea?  I will pretend to be shocked that the man who made Braveheart (a first-rate “fact-based” movie!) is taking liberties with history.  I will probably then go back and buy another ticket.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and King Abdullah II of Jordan abruptly backed out of a meeting with President Bush on Wednesday, leaving the White House scrambling to explain why a carefully planned summit meeting had suddenly been cut from two days to one. ~The New York Times

The reason is pretty simple.  The Shi’ite government, whom we are supposed to show that we are reliable allies, is entirely unreliable and beholden to its master, Sadr, who very clearly told Maliki not to go to the meeting on pain of losing Sadr’s deputies’ support (and, more importantly, earning the wrath of the Jaish al-Mahdi).  Maliki ignored him, Sadr suspended participation of his deputies in the government and now Maliki is doing at least part of what Sadr wanted. 

The United States has no real ally in the government in Iraq.  Time to come home.

Gov. Bill Richardson’s reelection in New Mexico was never in doubt, and the possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidate spent the final days of his campaign helping fellow Democrats while he cruised to a record-breaking margin of victory. 

So when the Republican Governors Association (RGA) spent $115,000 on ads opposing Richardson in the final weeks, eyebrows were accordingly raised.

That late expenditure in the non-competitive race was the coating on a bitter pill for GOP operatives in several red states with Democratic governors. Their candidates received little financial help from the governors’ association and went on to lose by stunning margins.

As the association convenes its annual conference today in Miami, some operatives say it didn’t have to be that way.

Some of the races in Democrat-governed red states turned out to be nearly as lopsided as Richardson’s 69-31 win; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano won by 28 points, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry won by 33 points and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen won by 39 points. In these races and closer ones in red states such as Kansas and Arkansas, Republicans said the association could have done more with its record-breaking war chest early on, when they were more competitive.


A national consultant who does a lot of work in Oklahoma and Kansas said those two states represent two of the biggest missed opportunities because they are so cheap to play in. In Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius easily withstood a challenge from Republican Jim Barnett, 58-41.

“These are both places where the RGA could have come in and spent some early money in very inexpensive media markets,” the consultant said. “And yet they go decide to spend money on Bill Richardson.”

The consultant also said more could have been done in Arkansas, where Democrat Mike Beebe defeated Republican Asa Hutchinson 55-41 to replace Huckabee. ~The Hill

This comes out the same day I made the exact same argument about Mitt Romney’s mistakes as RGA Chairman.  (Honest, I didn’t see the Hill story before I wrote my earlier post.) 

Anybody could have told you that spending money on Dendahl’s campaign in New Mexico was a waste of money.  Dendahl wasn’t even the original nominee.  He had to be recruited to fill in for the man who won the nomination in the primary, some doctor whose name I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up (oh, this article has it–J.R. Damron), and was inevitably playing catch-up for the last few months of the election.  Throwing away this kind of money in the NM and Arizona races that were over the day they began ought to be earning Romney the third-degree from party apparatchiks and pundits everywhere.  At the very least, it ought to be making social conservatives think very seriously about whether they want a proven failure of a campaign strategist representing their cause in the primaries.  

You have to hand it to Ahmadinejad or his English ghost-writers–the Iranians’ propaganda and PR skills are evidently light years ahead of the Karen Hughes-style goodwill tours and the hokey al-Shura TV channel that constitute our official efforts to “get our message” across in the Islamic world.  Whoever told Ahmadinejad to include the bit about the victims of Hurricane Katrina has apparently been studying our political rhetoric pretty closely. 

And for that matter, why on earth does the Orthodox Patriarch believe gaining more legal liberty for the few Orthodox remaining in the former Constantinople is worth Europe’s opening the gates to massive legal Muslim immigration — especially with Western Europe so spiritually and culturally weak, and failing to reproduce itself?

What am I missing here? ~Rod Dreher

With respect to his support for Turkish EU entry, Patriarch Bartholomew is in a fairly difficult situation and presumably feels compelled by the intense political pressure on the Phanar to support what the Turkish government wants.  That does not make his position any better, but it makes it more understandable.  I don’t know whether he believes that this will really contribute to greater religious freedom for Christians.  If he does, I’m afraid this is a mistaken judgement, as the winds are blowing in a very different direction under the AK government. 

Pope Benedict’s apparent endorsement of Turkish entry is somewhat more troubling, though both are very unfortunate, because he has a certain real political independence that should allow him to continue to speak forthrightly against Turkish entry if he believes, as he once held, that Turkey is alien to the culture and faith of Europe and consequently does not belong in the EU. 

If allowed, Turkish entry will, of course, hasten the Islamicisation of Europe as Turkish migrant workers move across the Continent and begin to take up permanent residence and Turkey becomes the second largest member state with significant clout in all future decision-making.  If the Turks were admitted, you could stop worrying about Eurabia and say hello to Euturkiye.  The good news, such as it is, is that as the Vatican has become more friendly to Turkish membership a lot of the secular politicians in western Europe have become more hostile.  The only old EU-12 governments daft or short-sighted enough to support it openly seem to be the British and the Greek (the latter in stunning defiance of all public opinion).  New member states who have entered in the last dozen years or so seem to me to have always been more skeptical of the proposed entry of Turkey, but I may be misinformed on that point.

Jason Zengerle notes that Disney is selling Apocalypto as “Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto,” and even has Gibson himself narrating a TV spot. “Does Disney really think Mel Gibson is still a selling point?” he wonders.

Well, if they didn’t, they’d be out of their minds. It’s easy to forget, because he hasn’t appeared in any movies in a few years, but Gibson is one of the most bankable - and consistently bankable - movie stars in recent memory. Meanwhile, he’s directed three movies: the first, The Man Without a Face, wasn’t a big deal, but the other two are among the most successful movies of all time. Braveheart wasn’t a box office smash initially, but it won Best Picture and went on to be huge overseas and on VHS and DVD; there’s a reason it’s playing in what seems to be a constant loop on cable. The Passion of the Christ . . . well, you know how that one turned out. ~Ross Douthat

Ross is right about all of this, but I will add a little bit more.  Consider what Disney had on its hands: a movie so unusual and foreign for its intended audience that, if made by almost anybody else, it would be considered the most eccentric, possibly laughable project on the planet.  It is a movie about the Maya, which might be broadly interesting to those who know something about the Maya, and it is about the collapse of a civilisation, which would interest people who like disaster and action flicks, but it is filmed in Mayan dialect and, unlike The Passion, has no handy, easily-recognised and well-known plotline that allows the audience to skip the subtitles if they want.  If anyone else made it, it would be an automatic art-house release, a Mesoamerican answer to Russian Ark (an outstanding film in its own right, but as slow as Apocalypto promises to be fast-paced).  It is only because Mel Gibson succeeded in making a worldwide blockbuster out of a movie filmed entirely in foreign and largely dead languages that anyone would have been willing to back up a project like Apocalypto.  Plus, the entire cast is made up of actors whom no American audience would recognise, because many of them are appearing in a major film for the first time, so Gibson’s name is the only thing that will make the movie familiar to the audience.  To do anything other than feature Gibson’s involvement prominently in all advertisements would be marketing death.  Without his name tied to the movie title, one might very well think that this was some kind of Mexican horror flick.

Would you suppose that the man who headed the Republican Governors Association in one of the worst election years for Republican governors in memory would be considered a prime candidate for the GOP presidential nomination?  No, neither would I, but for some reason RGA Chairman Mitt Romney, who presided over one of the worst GOP performances in governors’ races, has a rising political reputation and is taken all together too seriously by everyone as a potential nominee for President. 

It probably doesn’t help that two of the three states (Florida, Iowa, Michigan) where he wasted, er, invested so much of the RGA’s money didn’t come close to electing Republican governors (Nussle lost by 10, DeVos by 14) and the third was always strongly Republican-favoured thanks to Jeb Bush’s popularity.  Meanwhile, governors’ races in states that should and could have been more competitive (such as Maryland, where Ehrlich only lost by seven, or Oregon, where Kulongoski won only narrowly four years before, or Wisconsin, where the margins were in single digits for a long time) were not receiving those resources.  Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota just barely scraped through (he won by 1 point) thanks to his own personal popularity, but apparently without too much help from Romney.  But for Pawlenty’s surprise comeback at the end, Romney’s performance as chairman would have been even worse. 

It was always going to be a bad year for the Republicans (and well it should have been), but with the brilliant captains of Liddy Dole and Mitt Romney it was probably a lot worse than it had to be.  This doesn’t bother me very much, but if I were someone who was terribly concerned about the fate of the GOP I would not be cheering on Mitt Romney after a mediocre-at-best showing as head of the RGA.  Anyone who plainly gets outmaneuvered by the likes of Bill Richardson is not someone I would want leading my side. 

Just as the entry of Tom Vilsack into the presidential race may make it possible for Democrats to skip Iowa, a serious Romney bid may allow both McCain and Giuliani to announce they are bypassing New Hampshire because they can’t compete with the near-favorite son that Massachusetts boy Romney is. This probably won’t happen, since McCain did so well in New Hampshire in 2000, but it does indicate Romney will have yet another hurdle to jump. He may do well in New Hampshire, but that will be easily written off as a geographic fluke. ~John Podhoretz

I have spent some time (probably far too much time) thinking about Romney’s primary prospects, and this one just doesn’t compute.  New Hampshire continues to be the only New England state with greater GOP registration over the Dems, but it is also famously contrarian and independent-minded and it also went for the Democrats in a big and somewhat surprising way in 2006, which may change the complexion of the primary in ‘07-’08. 

This is not a state where social conservative pols do terribly well in any election (unless they also happen to run, as Buchanan did in ‘96, on economic populist themes), and Romney is so far basing much of his candidacy around his religious and social conservative appeal; his other major issue that he runs on at this point is his universal health-care boondoggle in Mass. that will presumably make many in the home of Live Free or Die feel rather queasy.  I am also extremely skeptical that they think of a carpetbagging Utahan who was elected in dreaded Massachusetts as their “near-favorite son.” 

It is true that Dukakis won the 1988 Democratic primary, so there is no clear evidence that New Hampshire voters will necessarily reject someone from Massachusetts, but it is hard to see why they would be disposed to embrace him because he comes from next door.  I predict that New Hampshire is not going to be a terribly good race for any of the Terrible Trio.  (One entertaining possible outcome: McCain, Giuliani and Romney all give speeches where they announce that they are in a three-way tie for third place behind Duncan Hunter and Tommy Thompson.) 

Their likely poor showings in N.H. may actually be good news for them.  As 2000 reminded us, the eventual Republican nominee is slightly less likely to win N.H. in open years.  On the Republican side since 1948, there have been seven elections that might reasonably be called open (i.e., there was not an incumbent President running) and in four of them the N.H. winner did not become the nominee.  The three who did go on to win the nomination and election are Reagan in ’80, Nixon’s ’68 run and Bush the Elder in ‘88.  (On the Democratic side in open years, the N.H. winner has an even harder time winning the whole shebang, with only two of seven primary victors becoming the nominee–Carter and Dukakis.) 


“I would call it a civil war,” Powell told a business forum in the United Arab Emirates. “I have been using it (civil war) because I like to face the reality,” added Powell.

He said world leaders should acknowledge Iraq was in civil war. ~Reuters

The clear implication of that last line is that he thinks Mr. Bush does not use that phrase because Bush does not like to face “the reality,” which pretty much confirms what we’ve all been thinking about him for some time now.

I’m so obviously American that I don’t think the question merits any navel-gazing or serious thought. But my parents come from a part of the world where there’s a powerful stigma associated with being a dark-skinned Muslim. This is part of what prompted partition, the sense that the Hindu clerisy in eastern Bengal was so economically and culturally dominant that it was retarding social progress among the Muslim majority, a plausible if obviously explosive claim. So why the heck would I stop identifying with other dark-skinned South Asian Muslims? ~Reihan Salam

So, as I read this, Reihan continues to identify himself as a Muslim out of a sense of loyalty to his parents and his ancestral people in Bangladesh.  This is not “unadmirably tribal.”  This is what I might call quite natural.

Everyone who opposes the plans of hawks like Ledeen for wider, endless war, and everyone who recognizes that there is in fact nothing we can do any longer to lessen the horrors of the immoral catastrophe that is Iraq, is an “antisemite.”

In that case, count me among the damned, you lying bastard. ~Arthur Silber

Via Matt Barganier and Doug Bandow

Actually, when you consider Ledeen’s entire statement, I think he intended realist to be the far more insulting label of the two.  At first, it does seem inexplicable that in any sentence someone would string together the words “as the realists and antisemites desire.”  Apparently antisemite is a new foreign policy paradigm, or realist is a new term for a kind of bigot–who knew? 

But in a funny way (and the only thing you can do with something like this is laugh and then laugh some more), it does make sense–to Ledeen, if not to anyone else.  To Ledeen and friends, opponents of the war in Iraq were already anti-Semites (and unpatriotic, don’t forget unpatriotic!), since this was a given from the moment the debate began.  In every debate, they know their interlocutors must be anti-Semites, since no other kind of person would persist in opposing their glorious vision.  Now the anti-Semites (i.e., anyone who disagrees with them) have been joined by those labeled by a name that conveys even more neocon contempt and disgust: realist. 

I can see why the realists bother them so much.  Reality annoys them plenty, but realism makes them spitting-blood angry.  Realists are people who disagree with them and who are in a position to possibly undo the bad policies they have advocated.  Anti-Semites are their opponents who lack any meaningful power.  I’m sure that if you had Ledeen draw a chart, he would show that all the realists had been (and still are) anti-Semites and that any anti-Semite, if he works hard enough and makes the right connections, can become a realist.  Is it clear now? 

Realists are much more frightening to them.  A realist might say, “Hey, Ledeen, what on earth does Ethiopia have to do with the war in Iraq?”  They could pose all kinds of inconvenient questions to which he has no answers except to mumble something like, “The mullahs are coming for your children!” 

But, he might object, don’t I see that Ethiopia isn’t connected to Iraq?  It’s one of Iran’s future provinces, as everyone knows. 

I forgot, it’s a “regional war.”  A region that includes Kenya.  Because that’s part of the “mullahs’ game plan.”  Just for laughs, can anyone even hazard a guess why Kenya would be in the mullahs’ game plan?  There are some Muslims there (probably only 10% of the population and not Shi’ites, so far as I know, but who cares?), I grant you, and Masai and nice wildlife parks.  Perhaps the mullahs are getting into the poaching business.  But why stop at Kenya when Congo isn’t much farther away?  Then they could meet up in Kinshasha with the Venezuelans (who will have long since captured all of the rest of Africa) and continue their drive for world mastery!     

Listening to the ravings of mullahs or Ahmadinejad, which Ledeen cites as his sources for this “information,” about their future plans for conquest  sounds about as reliable a way of gathering intelligence as Howard Dean’s “scream” speech proved to be a good indicator of his campaign’s later electoral successes.  Just replace Ohio with Ethiopia and Michigan with Kenya, and you’ve got the exact same thing going on: weak politicians trying to rev up their supporters with delusional promises of glory that will never come to pass.  On this sort of “evidence” that giant among men, Michael Ledeen, bases his policy advice.    

Update: Michael has more.

According to Lyons, Correa’s backtracking has put him about even with Noboa in the polls, and a Correa victory would not amount to a ratification of his radical policies. ~Michael Barone

Returns indicate that a clear majority of Ecuador’s voters have chosen Correa. In Nicaragua, a majority clearly voted against Daniel Ortega, but his plurality was still a win, and thus there are two more victories by friends of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. ~Marc Klugmann

Barone’s thesis is that the Chavismo/populist wave has crested and has started to recede.  According to this view, the populists have had to campaign on less radical platforms and therefore, we are being told, the advance of Chavez’s allies is not really a win for Chavez.  This is an interesting view to take just six months after Mr. Barone was warning about threats to the Washington Consensus (as he calls it) in Latin America.  Essentially, Barone’s “good” news for fans of the Washington Consensus is that more Latin Americans are choosing “responsible” leftists such as, say, Alan Garcia in Peru, not crazy far-out leftists such as Evo Morales. 

But Mr. Klugmann’s interpretation of the election results seems to me to carry a little more weight, at least in the symbolic significance of these latest victories.  Election victories are election victories–it will not matter how the candidates campaigned, but it will matter how they govern.  That Daniel Ortega could make a comeback in Nicaragua is remarkable in itself; if he is going to be very friendly with Chavez, and we would have every reason to believe that he will be, his victory takes on added significance.  Correa’s victory in Ecuador marks another advance for the new populism.  

None of this is to paint dire pictures of Chavista dominion spreading over the earth, which is a silly view to take, but to recognise that the trends in Latin America are still extremely unfavourable to anything that even remotely looks like neoliberalism.  Chavez’s influence continues to expand, as Klugmman rightly notes:

Despite the claims of a few pundits that the influence of Chavez is in decline, it is Washington’s policy in Latin America that is more obviously in trouble. Much has been made of the fact that Chavez was unsuccessful in his recent bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Yet Chavez has shown significant strength in this hemisphere, moving beyond his base of Cuba and Bolivia to win the support of MERCOSUR (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and the CARICOM (the Caribbean nations). An interesting indicator of the situation in Latin America is that the moderate leftist government in Chile, unwilling to oppose Chavez, rejected U.S. lobbying and abstained from the U.N. vote.

The non-Chavez center-left political leaders, Lula and Bachelet, may be more cooperative with the U.S. than Morales and Chavez, but there is no doubt that the political direction of our neighbours to the south continues to go in this generally populist and pro-Chavez direction at a fairly fast clip.  This is not some dark and forbidding threat, but it is a reality that the U.S. will have to take account of and one to which Washington will have to adjust. 

Just to be clear — there is nothing wrong with French-speaking Quebecers feeling a particular sense of kinship with one another, as a hardy linguistic minority on a continent full of anglophones; there is nothing wrong with Québécois de souche remembering their roots, and feeling a sense of pride in their long heritage in this country that their ancestors did so much to build [bold mine-DL]; and there is nothing wrong with the rest of us applauding that kinship and saluting that heritage. Indeed, we ought to.

But that is not an argument for tossing around such politically charged terms as “nation,” or for turning the Constitution into a vanity mirror in order that the “narcissism of minor differences” might catch its reflection. ~Andrew Coyne

As I read this, Mr. Coyne is saying that they can feel kinship, remember their roots and be proud of their heritage in “this country,” but what they must never do is make any suggestion that they are a distinct people in any politically meaningful way (i.e., a “nation”).  In other words, their identity should best be limited to speaking their language, having their story in history books, and enjoying non-threatening folk songs and ethnic cuisine (if Quebecois have their own cuisine–I confess to not having the slightest idea on this point) in the same way that all multicultis neutralise real ethnic identities by making them commodities.  They can have all the trappings of a nation, but they cannot call themselves a nation.  Isn’t there something rather odd in all of this?

Then there is this narcissism meme that I have been seeing today.  Mr. Coyne regards all of this as a function of narcissism, and Reihan gave a swift kick to “the worst kind of illiberal, navel-gazing narcissism.”  I know illiberal is meant to be an insult here, but in any case what exactly is illiberal about indulging the Quebecois in their claim to nationhood?  What makes it “navel-gazing narcissism”?  Indeed, where is there any navel-gazing at all?  This line seems to come from a grab-bag of labels of Things That Everyone Knows To Be Bad, and which you use to label something if you find it really frustrating but have no good descriptions available.  Illiberal suggests either meanness of spirit or some creeping authoritarianism; navel-gazing suggests passivity, excessive contemplation, otherworldliness and preoccupation with irrelevancies; narcissism’s meaning is obvious.  How does anything related to the Quebecois even match this description, much less constitute “the worst kind” of it?

But they did not feel it in their gut. Because a nation is hard work. To assert a national will, national objectives, a national interest, in a polyethnic, multilingual, transcontinental country, means upholding a national idea, a transcendent nationalism of ideals, against the more earthly delights of ethnic and cultural tribalism. It suggests that we are tied by something more than blood, something higher than ethnicity. And in turn it demands that we live up to that vision, that we hold a greater ambition for ourselves than mere existence. ~Andrew Coyne

Via Reihan

It is worth noting (again) that Pithlord, an actual Canadian, is no more excited about Mr. Coyne’s “transcendent nationalism of ideals” than I am.  Mr. Coyne sounds like a proposition-nation man on meth.

It reminds me of a question one of my history professors in college posed to us in our Civil War class.  He gave us an assignment to write a short essay articulating which side had the stronger motivation and the more meaningful cause, as I recall, and almost to a man all of us (most were Southerners except for the odd Westerner such as myself) gave what seemed like the blindingly obvious answer: of course, the Confederacy had the more meaningful cause in defending their country against invasion.  There were those on the Unionist side who were earnestly devoted in good faith to the Union and Constitution.  They thought they were defending, not destroying, both of these.  There were perhaps a few wild-eyed dreamers who espoused a “transcendent nationalism of ideals,” but their motivation was even more airy and removed from real life.  In the end, once you got past these political and constitutional commitments, the motivations for the Union men never struck me as being nearly as powerful as the loyalty to your home, your kin and your country.  Perhaps if more of the War had been fought in the North, it would have been more of a draw or one would have to judge by different standards, but as it was it seemed obvious what the answer was.  Our professor, whose classes I enjoyed tremendously, disagreed and thought they the Unionists had the superior motivation because they were fighting, at least officially, for certain high ideals. 

This seems to be an often unbridgeable chasm between people who usually see rhetoric about ”high ideals” as a lot of abstract rationalisation to serve a particular policy goal and those who fervently believe in those ideals and intend to use whatever means they have at their disposal to carry them out.  To the former, nothing could be less compelling, more vague and more insubstantial than a “transcendent nationalism of ideals” and very few things more powerful than the claims of ethnicity and culture; to the latter, these things are “earthly delights,” to be shunned by those who see farther and have greater vision and ambition than the rest. 

People who talk about being tied by “something more than blood” and “something higher than ethnicity” are frankly rather odd chaps.  It is as if you mixed Hegel, Lincoln and Valentinus together in a bowl.  Free us from our hylic contingency, they cry!  Let us embody the Geist to which our nation is dedicated!

The resentment against a politics of “mere existence” gives off a whiff of teleocracy to me.  Nations can’t simply exist, they have to be for something, the teleocrat insists.  What Oakeshott called nomocracy was the alternative to this, where the settled customs and habits of a people shaped and governed that people rather than some purpose, some great end, that the state would be trying to achieve.  Related to that, it was Kant, I believe, who said that any government with a specific end was a despotism.  Certainly, if it does not begin as one, it will become one. 

“I believe that recognizing the Québécois as a nation, even within a united Canada, is nothing else than the recognition of an ethnic nationalism and that I cannot support,” he said. ~The Globe and Mail

Via Reihan

Mr. Chong is perfectly correct that this is a recognition of an ethnic nationalism.  That has to be the point of it, or else it wouldn’t really be a concession to the Quebecois.  It must refer to those who call themselves les Quebecois, which would almost always refer to francophone people in Quebec.  If he finds that unacceptable, I suppose he had no alternative but to leave the Government, so give him credit for putting his principles ahead of a post as a minister.  Of course, Harper will fall all over himself saying that this is not pandering to ethnic nationalism (which everyone knows is Very Bad)–no, it’s reconciliation!  More likely, it’s an attempt at pandering to ethnic nationalist voters to support his government in the future.  “Look, I threw you a bone!  Vote for us next time!”  That’s the kind of “reconciliation” Mr. Harper is interested in fostering, come what may to Canada. 

Mr. Harper continues to confirm what Kevin Michael Grace (I’m linking to all of our Canadian friends this week) said of him immediately after his election: “Stephen Harper is what David Cameron hopes to be when he grows up.”  To wit, when David Cameron grows up he will have moved from “hug a hoodie” to “hug a Welsh nationalist” or a representative of some similarly appropriate ethnic separatist movement.  Mr. Harper’s motion might be dubbed “hug a Quebecker.”

Andrew Cusack asks in the comments on another post, more or less, “What’s the big deal?”  He writes:

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Landed empires such as Canada and the United States cover territories stretching across continents, and are of a size that makes Austria-Hungary seem small. Yet the Austro-Hungarian empire incorporated dozens of nations and nationalities, while it seems Canada only has two or three. So what if the fact that Quebec is a distinct nation is given legal sanction? I don’t think that merely giving legal recognition to reality is much of an offense against order and tradition.

I don’t know whether it is really that much of an offense against order and tradition.  That is really something for Canadians to comment on, since they would know better than I the intricacies of their domestic political arrangements.  The answer to the “so what?” question is, I think, that this concession officially invests the Quebecois with a certain status that they have claimed but have not had recognised on the federal level and thus elevates them even higher, so to speak, than they already were.  It is not a constitutional revision like the Ausgleich that created Austria-Hungary, but it might point toward some kind of even more unwieldy arrangement than the one that currently exists that will follow the Austo-Hungarian model to its eventual crack-up. 

The Austrian Empire worked less and less well the more its politics were filled with competing ethnic nationalisms.  Finally, after the war, those nationalisms had become too strong for a defeated government in Vienna to hold together any longer (and the Transleithanian rulers in Budapest gave up on the empire after the war).  In this sense, those who want to keep Canada in one piece have every reason to follow Mr. Chong’s lead in opposing this motion because it encourages ethnic nationalism.  It is true that such a nationalism is the enemy of a multicultural federated state.  (This is also why the Belgian authorities hate the Vlaams Belang with a red-hot passion.)  Were this simply a matter of acknowledging that the Quebecois exist as one of many nations inside Canada, it might be less provocative.  But acknowledging this when there is a sizeable movement of Quebecois nationalists in existence is to give in to the forces of the dissolution of Canada.   

Here’s a question that always comes to mind when talk of Quebec separatism comes up: what on earth are the poor Atlantic provinces going to do if Quebec becomes independent?  Remain in Canada?  They are poor enough that they would almost have to stick with what was left of Canada (forming their own state would be out of the question–that way lies the fate of East Timor), but how would that work logistically?  Any insights from Canadian readers would be most appreciated.   

Wow, that’s a cowardly piece of writing. He rhetorically asks the cui bono question over and over again, to the point where it becomes tedious. The effect is deliberate because he clearly only has one answer in mind, but he’s too afraid to say the words: Jews, Zionists, Neocons. This sort of game — common in certain paleo quarters  — of “raising questions” without offering the answers they clearly have in mind is an attempt to seem brave without actually risking anything. ~Jonah “Lie For A Just Cause” Goldberg

While other NROniks are in the throes of their latest spasm of foolish Russophobia, several have decided that they haven’t kicked Pat Buchanan recently enough and accuse him (as usual) of anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering because he has written an article questioning the received wisdom that Putin simply must have been behind the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

I’ll say this: Putin killing off Litvinenko with slow-acting radiation poisoning, which makes for a drawn-out, public death in another country, makes as much sense for a trained old KGB hand as does the Ukrainian intelligence services supposedly poisoning Viktor Yushchenko with a rare poison slipped into his soup while he was dining with the head of secret intelligence.  I know in certain neocon quarters they seem to have nothing but contempt for Slavs, but don’t you suppose trained spies and intelligence agents could murder their prominent enemies in a less blatant and less obviously traceable way?  I have no idea whether Putin was behind Litvinenko’s death, and neither does anyone else at this point.  The people peddling conspiracy theories are the ones who already have the case solved and the murderer indicted; naturally, they react badly when anyone begins poking holes in their theory. 

The presumption of much of the Western media that Putin was the villain almost immediately makes me disbelieve it, but I would never rule out that Putin could be as clumsy and ham-fisted in eliminating his enemies as this story suggests he must be.  Supposing for the sake of argument that Putin was responsible, it might have been an expression of overconfidence stemming from the knowledge that he has Europe over a barrel as one of their main suppliers of energy resources.  He might have thought that he could get away with a provocative act with few consequences.  Then again, Litvinenko might have had other enemies who are escaping more extensive scrutiny while the world’s gaze is fixed on Putin.  Considering that Litvinenko was something of a conspiracy loon himself (convinced that the FSB was responsible for the apartment building bombings that Moscow has attributed to the Chechens), it is somehow fitting that his death should become the stuff of new conspiracy theorists.  It does keep bringing us back to the same question: why would Putin kill an exile when no one, except other anti-Putin exiles, would be inclined to believe his earlier criticisms of the government?  Scotland Yard is investigating, and we’ll know more when that investigation is done.  Until then, the Russophobes will mostly be making it up as they go along and sliming anyone who dares suggest that they may be very conveniently jumping to conclusions that happen to suit their pre-existing hostility to Putin and Russia.   

Goldberg says that “in certain paleo quarters” there is a “game” of raising questions to avoid the risk of saying the things we “really” believe (because, unlike him and his colleagues at NR, we paleos are deeply concerned about our public acceptance and obviously seek to curry favour with the great and the good at all times).  Goodness knows that Mr. Buchanan has been shy and retiring when it comes to openly accusing neocons of anything nefarious!  Unlike Mr. Goldberg, we obviously believe in the necessity of dissimulation and lies in the service of a greater good.  Oh, you’ve got us pegged! 

Neocons apparently don’t feel obliged to hide what they really think.  They play a little game where they baselessly accuse other people of the most heinous prejudices and attitudes and allow their accusations to serve as their argument, because they typically have nothing else worth saying.  They also play a game where they simply deny their own existence when someone calls them on the folly of their fantastical policy proposals (no cowardice there, of course).

That’s fine with me. I don’t cry for the loss of Andrew Coyne’s dream state. I don’t want the homogeneous (although supposedly diverse), post-national liberal “civic nationalist” polity which there are only individuals and governments. (And by governments, he means the Federal government, with the judiciary at the apex.) Yuck.

The trouble is not with the Québécois (OK, there are troubles there — an overweening state, an excessive reaction to a Catholic past, but the point is, those are NOT OUR TROUBLES). The trouble is us, our inability to reestablish an identity when the British Empire passed away, other than the identity of consumers and rights holders. ~Pithlord 

Reihan has a few words to say about the demise of the dream that was Canada.  The short version?  “Weird.  Very weird.”

There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence. The assault on Sadr’s Ministry of Health was likely retaliation for a recent mass kidnapping at the Ministry of Education, which still retains some Sunnis. The Ministry of the Interior houses the deadliest killers from the Badr Brigades, the other large Shiite militia. Badr’s Bayan Jabr built the death squads when he ran the ministry; he’s now Iraq’s Finance minister, in charge of its resources. This is the Iraqi government we are protecting, funding and attempting to strengthen. To speak, as the White House deputy press secretary did last week, of “terrorists … targeting innocents in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government” totally misses the reality of Iraq today. Who are the terrorists and who are the innocents? Among the most pro-American voices to emerge from the new Iraq have been two young Baghdadis, Omar and Mohammed Fadhlil, whose three-year-old blog, Iraq the Model, has promoted a relentlessly upbeat and hopeful message. Last week they threw in the towel. “I believe that America would like to see Iraq emerge as a model for the region,” Mohammed wrote. “But that cannot be done without having a cooperative Iraqi partner on the ground who shares similar views for Iraq and the Middle East. And that’s the point—that partner does not exist, at least not in the government.” ~Fareed Zakaria

As we are reminded in the latest TAC, in May 2004 James Pinkerton in The American Conservative (sorry, article not online) started the Bring Back Hussein gallows humour that has become increasingly popular over the past two years.  These efforts at satire (which is all anyone has dared to try so far) have not always succeeded entirely as satire or serious policy proposal for the reasons Ross outlined recently.  It is a dramatic way of making a point, because nobody would seriously advocate such a thing.  Right?  Actually, that is right.  But if nobody was seriously advocating such a thing at any point, why do some people write as if someone has been advocating it?  That Chait had to write an exculpatory post saying, “No, but, seriously, folks…” highlights just how bereft of ideas about Iraq the pundits are (I don’t say this accusingly–I have no magical fixes or solutions, either), since there was a 40/60 chance that Chait was perfectly in earnest in that funny TNR counterintuitive style that we all pretend to regard so highly. Next on the line-up of funny counterintuitive ideas: maybe we should give Iraq WMDs!   

As satire, the Hussein gag really only works if we all believed that bringing Saddam Hussein back was some unthinkable, horrific thing that, like devouring one’s own children, would stand out as so ludicrous that everyone would understand that it was all a roundabout way of saying something else, such as, “Toppling Hussein sure was stupid!” or saying, ”The situation in Iraq is so bad that even this psycho idea sounds remotely plausible.”  But it is just slightly plausible enough that it might be considered daringly counterintuitive and forward-thinking.  When all else fails, try Saddam!  A surprisingly large number of people might grimacingly nod their heads and say, Kinky Friedman-style, “Why the hell not?”  That is why the satire fails as satire, but the satire doesn’t fail badly enough to make the joke seem like an acceptable replacement for the current joke of an Iraq policy that we already have in place.

There are a good arguments to be made for establishing some sort of new authoritarian regime in Iraq.  Or, rather, there might have been good arguments for it three years ago, but we are well past the point of no return.  Had a new strongman been put in place straightaway in 2003 and been left to secure his position, it just might have worked in a clunky, ugly sort of way.  But we might as well be talking about what Iraq might be like now had we not disbanded the Iraqi army or purged the Baathists.  At this stage, this kind of talk, while amusing to disillusioned and cynical pundits and political junkies, is as productive as thinking that the answer for Iran policy is, ”Bring the Pahlavis back!”  Unfortunately, the ideas about Iran policy in circulation right now aren’t really much better than that.   

But the lack of rationale for the war is glaring in hindsight. By 2006, it had just become too difficult for Bush and Congressional Republicans to justify to the voters why we were still there.  It wasn’t just America-hating anarchists anymore, but ordinary voters who couldn’t buy the White House talking points. ~David Freddoso

During the opening of the Afghan War, I also liked to derisively mock critics of that war effort as “peaceniks,” and I think opponents of the invasion of Afghanistan still have a much harder argument to make for how they justify their position than opponents of the Iraq war have, but after 2002-03 I got sick of this kind of “argumentation” really quickly.  It amounts to a pose rather than an argument: “I’m the real American and you’re unpatriotic, nya-nya-nya-nya-nya-nya!”  For eight-year olds, this sort of argument is powerful.  But “we” do at least normally try to aspire to levels of understanding higher than that of the third grade, right? 

All questions of substance were really put to one side; it was one’s attitude, not one’s understanding or ability to frame an argument, that mattered in 2002-03.  The attitude and the pose could always save a jingoist’s argument when he had run out of evidence (which was pretty fast, considering that they had virtually no evidence in support of their case): “What are you, some kind of Saddam-lover?” When that failed, there was always the fake concern about racism: “You probably think that Arabs are incapable of democracy, don’t you?  Yeah, well, we know what that makes you!”  Intelligent?  Well-informed?  Not a mindless cretin?  Oh, right, racist–I keep forgetting that that’s always the right answer!  The cheapest, lamest ad hominem arguments (the kind in which liberals alone were supposed to excel, according to the magnificent El Rushbo) were trotted out to serve as placeholders for real argument.  Irrelevancies abounded: “He gassed his own people!”  Except, of course, that they weren’t “his own” people–they were Kurds and in open rebellion against his government, and when the Turkish government killed even more Kurds in its counterinsurgency against the PKK this was not counted as proof of Ankara’s intentions to destroy the world.  That doesn’t in any way justify the atrocities he committed, but it reminds us that these people would say just about anything to get their war and that their deep concern for the victims of Hussein’s regime, about whom most war supporters had not spared a thought in their entire lives, was awfully convenient.  No one was seriously objecting to his suppression of a rebellion against Baghdad’s authority, but they were simply using it as a way to stoke outrage against a government and a country that had done essentially nothing to us.    

And, no, “we” (K-L would interrupt here: “Say I, not we!”) conservatives did not “all” trust Mr. Bush implicitly on Iraq, and some of “us” bristled when ignorant conservatives unthinkingly parroted administration talking points like paid lackeys.  Some of “us” were embarrassed by the ranting of the ignorant leftists Mr. Freddoso mentions, but “we” conservatives who opposed the war from the beginning also saw merit in the arguments of leftists when there actually was some merit.  ”We” antiwar conservatives did not reflexively assume that because they are leftists they must automatically be ignorant (this is a habit that many on the left apply to us, because they know that no rational and intelligent person could actually believe what “we” believe, and it is a habit that all would be well-advised to drop).  “We” found ourselves being forced to pay attention to commentary from The Independent and The Guardian, because they were among the only English-language newspapers that gave any indication of practicing something one might call journalism and exhibiting suspicion about official justifications for the invasion.  Center-right publications here and in Britain were mind-bogglingly supportive of every government claim, no matter how far-fetched or unfounded (to its credit, The Spectator always entertained serious antiwar voices from across the spectrum, though its official editorial line was as irrationally jingo as that of its partner, the Telegraph).  If anything should have put to rest the myth of reflexively hostile ”liberal media,” the acquiescence of all major newspapers in the great Republican lie of our new century should have done it. 

How many “America-hating anarchists” (in America) were there opposed to the invasion of Iraq?  There were some who might possibly fit that description, I will grant you, but of the roughly 30% of the public who opposed the war in March 2003 does anyone think they made up a significant percentage?  Obviously, antiwar conservatives were neither America-hating nor anarchist, which didn’t stop some of “us” (i.e., conservatives in general) from trying to make antiwar conservatives out to be just that.  Long before 2006 roughly half the country had come to oppose the war.  It was only in 2006 that a clear majority finally came out against it.  That means that many “ordinary voters” had been against it for quite a while.  My family was full of such “ordinary voters.”  It apparently was only around 2006 that a number of Republicans and pro-war conservatives began to concede that there might have been good reasons to oppose the war and that people not on “the lunatic fringe” opposed it.  This was an interesting about-face.  2006 was the year of “if I knew then what I know now” confessions on the right, which was funny, since some of “us” knew then what these people only know now.  If they had asked, we would have let them in on the secret!

I really don’t mean to pick on Mr. Freddoso.  But then he says things like this:

No, al Qaeda was not totally absent from Iraq. But surely we did not invade and occupy an entire country simply in order to catch Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the one major al Qaeda player we knew Saddam was harboring before the war.

That’s great, except that “Saddam” wasn’t harbouring him.  Before the war, Zarqawi dwelled in the mountain fastnesses of northern Iraq wih Ansar al Islam, which, except for the claims of one misleading New Yorker piece, evidently had no connection, or at least no meaningful, operational connection, to Hussein’s government.  More than that, his base of operations in Kurdistan was well within the northern no-fly zone and could have been destroyed in coordination with Kurdish forces without ever having to touch the rest of Iraq.  In fact, as confirmed reports have since told us, there were opportunities to eliminate Zarqawi before the invasion that the administration called off–apparently because they would have damaged the case for invading!  It isn’t only that the government would never have invaded just to get Zarqawi, but that the government could have killed Zarqawi without invading at all.  The goal was always regime change for the sake of changing the regime.  The rest was, I’m sorry, window dressing and rationalisation.

Some will say that I should give Mr. Freddoso a break.  After all, he is ridiculing the war pretty thoroughly here.  So maybe I should go easy in my remarks.  But then he says things like this:

The deteriorating situation in Iraq led ordinary voters, not just the kooks, to question the occupation of Iraq and to reject Republican candidates, who mostly had no choice but to defend it.

In the judgement of Mr. Freddoso, 30-40% of the public are “the kooks,” whereas his own section, the section that was unbelievably wrong on Iraq, are those remarkable “ordinary voters” again!  Yes, sir, the “ordinary voters” sure are slow on the uptake and way too trusting of government, but they are very, very ordinary and not kooky, and that’s what matters.  Can you imagine how insufferable Mr. Freddoso would have been if the Republicans had won the election?

Pope Benedict XVI’s journey to Istanbul is a historic mission, in more ways than you might think. I was talking on Sunday to an Orthodox priest about Benedict’s trip, where he will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world’s 220 million Orthodox Christians. ~Rod Dreher

This will seem pedantic to a lot of people and possibly quite annoying to others, since it is not really on the topic of the article, but I think something does need to be said on this point.  It is just these sorts of misunderstandings that help to muddle discussion about reconciliation and cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox. 

This article is generally very good and hits just about all the right notes about Turkish mistreatment of its small Christian population and the gradual weakening of the Church in Turkey.  The call to rally together is most welcome.  But for some significant number of Orthodox readers, this opening line about the Ecumenical Patriarch is distracting, mainly because it is not really correct.  In the present lamentable state of Orthodoxy today, many local Orthodox Churches are not in communion with one another, which makes this claim about the Ecumenical Patriarch somewhat misleading in one way.  But, even if all the local Churches were in full communion with one another, this statement would still not be precisely accurate.  It is the case that, according to the old order of precedence, the Patriarch of Constantinople is the first among equals of all Orthodox bishops, and there has been a conventional habit of describing(mostly one of journalists reporting about the Orthodox Church, rather than the Orthodox saying this themselves) the Ecumenical Patriarch as being in some sense the representative of all Orthodox around the world. 

But being a representative of all Orthodox, much less our “spiritual head,” is not really the Ecumenical Patriarch’s position, and it is not really part of the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church to conceive of any one bishop as “the spiritual head” of the Orthodox.  Arguments over just this sort of thing are the reason for continued disunity between Catholics and Orthodox.  Any patriarch would be a most holy, venerable, respected, and most honourable authority and successor of the Apostles, yes.  A spiritual guide, one might say, and a spiritual pastor, he certainly would be.  But not a “spiritual head” of all the Orthodox.  It has been in no small part because of the relatively weak positions of the two other ancient patriarchates in Antioch and Alexandria, and the effects of the Communist Yoke on the local Churches of Russia and eastern Europe, that the Ecumenical Patriarch had become a sort of spokesman for world Orthodoxy for much of the twentieth century.  But in all of this the Ecumenical Patriarch has not claimed, and no other Churches have granted, any role as “the spiritual head” of all Orthodox Christians. 

Andrew Sullivan, presumably without any sense of the delicious irony of it all, cites this quote from Thomas Merton:

He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.

Does the phrase “contagion of his own obsessions” ring any bells for Sullivan?

Murray Rothbard embraced the lunatic fringe of the anti-war movement for reasons that remain somewhat puzzling. ~Reihan

But there is really nothing puzzling about this.  George Grant (not a libertarian, I know) was as vociferous a critic of “American imperialism” in Vietnam as the most hard-core of war opponents down here were, but no one would have confused him with someone who inhabited the “lunatic fringe.”  It is much easier to understand why an American libertarian, for whom state coercion is a virtually unmitigated evil and for whom any hint of aggression is a mark of profound immorality and a violation of the rights of others, would have strongly opposed Vietnam and would have found himself in the company of “the lunatic fringe,” since it was mostly this fringe that actively opposed the war in the beginning.  For reasons that continue to escape me, many of the most otherwise sensible people in the world become very strange and almost irrational when the subject of this or that war comes up.  Opposition to our many bad wars in the 20th century was often reserved to, or was at least characterised as the work of, “the lunatic fringe,” which may be more or less accurate depending on the war, because all “respectable” people were frequently conventionally in support of the war (regardless of whether it really made any sense to support it).  I think WWII and Roosevelt had a lot to do with encouraging the bad habit of making support for wars into the obvious, default and respectable alternative.  Calling war opponents ”the lunatic fringe” is probably most accurate about opponents of Vietnam, and yet the presence of someone as wise and sober as Murray Rothbard suggests that it may be a lot less accurate than many of us would like to suppose.  There were slightly more compelling reasons for U.S. armed forces to be in Vietnam in the 1960s than there were for them to be in Iraq now , which is a nice way of saying that the reasons for intervening in Vietnam aren’t (and weren’t) terribly convincing, either.  Rothbard saw that a lot sooner than many Americans on the left and right who should have seen it.  Of course, it depends on what constitutes ”the lunatic fringe” of any antiwar movement.  By most standards, I would guess that I have been on that fringe, or at least on what was considered a fringe before the events of the last two years moved a lot of people fringewards.  Looking back on Vietnam, the lunatic position appears now to have been the one that favoured intervening in the first place.

Most of Reihan’s outstanding post has nothing to do with Rothbard or war and a lot to do with immigration and with libertarians who find themselves attracted to figures on the political left, with Spanish PM Zapatero as Exhibit A.  This is where it actually gets very interesting, as it brings us back to the enthusiasm for immigration shown by certain libertarians.  Apparently everyone who’s anyone is talking about Christopher Caldwell’s article on immigration into Spain, which includes this insightful point about the impact of the “free movement of labour” (as immigration fans like to euphemistically call it) on the home countries whence all these African immigrants to Spain are coming:

Well-meaning people like to talk about Africa’s admirable ethical norms and systems of familial solidarity–and they’re right to. But when we think of Africa in the future, we must think of Africa without those things. The rising generation has traded them for Baywatch, or whatever it thinks the West is.

This is a lot like when certain “well-meaning people” in this country talk about the Catholic piety, work ethic, natural conservatism and family values (they don’t stop at the Rio Grande!) of Mexican and Latin American immigrants as a way of conning American conservatives into seeing mass immigration as a huge net gain.  Even if those claims are true of this generation of immigrants (which we may have reason to doubt), they will probably not be true of the next generation in Mexico and Latin America.  As some commenters and correspondents have rightly pointed out when I have said favourable things about assimilation, immigrants who successfully assimilate to the culture they find here in America will assimilate to the worst, trashiest elements of our pop culture.  How could they not?  What other examples do they have to follow?  This is true, but it is also true that the “ethical norms” and “familial solidarity” that serve crucial social functions in their home countries will be eroded and corrupted by the processes of social upheaval and “creative destruction” that the promise of “opportunity” unleashes.  The success of migrant workers apparently can also create the problem of a remittance glut that stifles development and enterprise back home:

In a 2005 study, that bank [Bank of Mexico] found a negative link between development and remittances — the more remittances, the less overall development. The bank even went so far as to suggest poverty was caused by the dependency, not the other way around.

Because most cash sent back is used for consumption, and not investment, it gives only a short-term boost to GDP.

“Evidence also suggests that members of recipient households have fewer incentives to search for alternative sources of income,” the bank noted, describing a burgeoning private welfare culture.

To ameliorate its immediate social and economic problems, the Mexican government has encouraged emigration and remittances and may find itself in the future in an inescapable loop of draining off more and more of its human capital to make up for all of the development that past remittances have effectively discouraged.  Stopping the outflow of their human resources might be just the thing needed to force Mexico to change.

The erosion and disappearance of the “ethical norms” and “familial solidarity” Caldwell mentions is part of the same process Michael identified in the weakening of pre-political loyalties and the rise of a consumer identity.

Addendum: Dr. Wilson has another thoughtful column on some related matters, in which he writes:

Two ugly thoughts about immigration. A blog writer recently complained that the U.S. is admitting immigrants “who don’t want to become Americans.” This writer’s attitude is part of the problem. The question should not be whether they want to be Americans but whether we want them to be Americans. The game has already been forfeited when immigration objectors adopt such arguments. (Of course, the complaint makes little sense any way because nobody knows any longer what an “American” is; but save that for another day.) The blather about English as official language and compulsory assimilation falls in the same category. I prefer that illegals do not speak English and do not assimilate. In the highly unlikely event that we are ever lucky enough to have real law enforcement, they will be easier to catch. Official English, under current dispensations, becomes just one more educational entitlement for illegals—for which apparently vast sums are already being spent. 

It is enough to make one pine for the forces of Reaction. But is John Gray right that we live in irrevocably cosmopolitan times? That diversity has penetrated too deep to be reverted? That the hope for an Old Right-style unitary civilization is as foolish as the hope for a Neocon unitary civilization, a Neolib unitary civilization, or a Commie unitary civilization? Yes, as far as it goes — but Gray seems to miss out on the central truth of paleocon thought, and really conservative thought generally in the United States, which is: national monoculturalism was never the objective, never even a desire. That impulse for cultural absolutism in America was a purely Yankee phenomenon, and New England succeeded largely in Yankifying enough of the USA to establish a powerful cultural hegemony. Southerners and Westerners, on the other hand, fit into two general groups: one wanted to be left alone at some sub-cultural level (me, my family, my township) whereas the other wanted to be left to its own devices at the cultural level (Southern imperialists, Mormons, cotton interests, etc.). It should be clear that cultural imperialism aiming outside the United States, in the Southern style, is not to be cheered for or excused instead of internal cultural imperialism in the Northern style. But the brilliant point of the American Revolution was that a regime could be gotten out from under without overturning it; secession suggested that revolutions, as they had forever been known, were unnecessary. To get what I wanted I didn’t need to install myself Head Despot in Paris. I just had to quit the country. And this was okay — because I didn’t want absolute rule over the nation. I didn’t care about commanding the political and social and cultural lives of the People. I wanted my own portion of world, with those who lived and worked as I did. ~James Poulos

Mr. Poulos joins in the ever-widening circle (okay, so there are five of us now) debating Austin Bramwell’s recent TAC article on the state of conservatism and the merits of “ancestral loyalties” and the paleo and traditional conservative appeals to such natural affinities and attachments as central elements of what we are trying to conserve.  Closely related to this debate was the friendly scuffle Peter Suderman and I had a little while ago about “lifestyle conservatism”.

In the post cited above, I believe Mr. Poulos understands the paleocon position as well as any non-paleo ever has.  This is encouraging in and of itself.  As I understand it, this respect for regional and local diversity he mentions has been centered around two basic ideas: first, that it is far better to mind our own business and tend to the affairs of those around us, and, second, that complex and historically evolved social institutions and customs will never naturally fit a pre-determined uniform pattern or national standard and attempts to make them fit will do untold violence to the health of a society.  What is euphemistically called rationalisation is, like any appeal to equality, an appeal to coercion and the forcible uniforming of the rich variety of life.  Yankification (the word itself sounds painful) is such an appeal to coercion on the cultural plane, the desire to make everyone think in the same “freethinking way” that they do (as the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil put it so well) “without regard for station, or stature, or custom, or propriety.”  With the Freisinnigen and Red Republicans’ assaults on these hallmarks of civilised society, there can be no compromise.   The objection here is not to coercion per se, which will and must exist to some degree in a fallen world, but to the leveling and straightening of the developer and the centralist who would reduce the fine texture and lush growth of a vibrant social world to the grey goo of homogeneity.   

Before he gets to the part of his post quoted above, however, Mr. Poulos first frames the debate over ancestral loyalties with what are some of the central questions in that debate:

Basically the battle line is this: are paleoconservatives, with their God, grass, and genes position on the crucial function of religiosity and locality and family in the maintenance of social order, fools for a primitivist approach to human life that betrays enlightened (yes, loaded word) conservatism? Wouldn’t life be severely retarded if American society actually undertook the paleocon program? Haven’t the old myths of the loving-and-sacrosanct family and the loving-and-sacrosanct community been burst by decades and even centuries of internecine conflict of the most petty yet deep-seated sort? Hasn’t the noble skepticism of that other conservative tradition worked to beat back the oppressive power of clerisy and establish unitary yet benevolent national government and inspired rugged individualists to set out on their own and make what world they may?

The answer, as usual, is yes-but.

These questions reveal a fascinating, if somewhat annoying, divide among conservatives.  Let us begin with the last question and move back up the list, starting with the idea of the “unitary but benevolent national government.”  Benevolence is to some degree in the eye of the beholder.  A despotic government can be well-intentioned and can have good desires for its subjects, which does not mean that the attempt to bring these desires to fruition will do anything good for those subjects.  Besides, if we could trust that a unitary state would always remain benevolent, no one would have any reason to fear consolidation of power in a few hands; if the process of consolidation itself did not pervert and corrupt a government towards a certain unavoidable malevolence, no one would have ever complained about absolutism or usurpation. 

It might also be the case that a government might be benevolent to most, but rather wickedly brutal to a minority of those it claims to be under its jurisdiction (for instance, the Ottoman treatment of Armenians and Assyrians), or it might be benevolent to a narrow minority and cruel to the bulk of the population (e.g., the favouritism of all previous Iraqi regimes shown to Sunnis at the expense of other communities).  It has rarely, if ever, been the case that a government has been ”unitary” and also “benevolent” to all its charges.  Many unitary governments begin as the projection of power of one polity or a group of polities over others; others represent the perversion of a confederation into a consolidated state.  The kingdom or the states responsible for inaugurating the process of unification are always the overwhelming beneficiaries of that process (indeed, one of the main reasons for the struggle for unification is usually to secure such benefits), and those compelled to join or forced to remain are invariably the big losers in this process, sowing a basic structural and political injustice into the fabric of the “unitary but benevolent national government” against which the people of the losing states or kingdoms will always chafe and which they will always resent for as long as they remember something of the old arrangement.      

Then there is the claim about the government being
“national.”  It is difficult to have a unitary national government without nationalism, since a national government, which will allegedly embody and express the national will, is usually one of the first goals of any nationalist and where these nation-states appear nationalists are always behind them.  Nationalist myths, including our own, have always played up as noble and progressive the drive for unification as the realisation and fulfillment of the national potential.  This realisation is being held back and retarded, the nationalist might say, by the petty squabbles of different jurisdictions and the provincial interests of hidebound aristocrats.  In our case, the myth has been a story of moral as well as political and economic progress, a very Whiggish story that reassures us that every destroyed Southern town, every obliterated Indian tribe and every wrecked Filipino village have gone down to destruction for the sake of a greater good.  First the devastation, then, eventually, the benevolence.  In the German case, unification was driven by the desire to finally overcome the structural and political impediments to effective cooperation and mobilisation of resources that routinely prevented German states from being able to compete effectively against foreign adversaries (and even after unification, because the Reich was mostly consolidated by coordinated war efforts against non-Germans, the federal structure of the Reich continued to make it relatively unwieldy in comparison to the more highly centralised powers of Britain and France).  In the Italian case, it was the toxic mix of liberal idealism and dynastic ambition that laid southern Italy and Sicily to waste and planted a deep divide at the heart of the Kingdom, which festers in some form to this day in the Republic.  These are the most familiar examples of unification, but I imagine more could be found.  

Looking back to more ancient history, Chinese nationalists have admired Shih-huang-di for welding together the last seven kingdoms at the end of the Warring States period and creating the core of what they know to be Zhongguo.  The Emperor and the Assassin, one of the better Chinese dramas of recent years, portrays Zheng, the king of Qin, as sympathetically as he has probably ever been represented, showing him giving an emotional speech about protecting all of the people under heaven by bringing an end to the frequent wars between the several kingdoms.  He means well!  In the end, after much slaughter in the conquest of Zhou, we see the pitiable tyrant abandoned by his retainers and alone.  The hero of the piece, as the title would suggest, was the man sent to kill him.  This is a story I think a paleocon instinctively appreciates.  Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (Where they make a desert, they call it peace.)  Such was the old response to the Shih-huang-dis of the world, put into the mouth of the Briton Calgacus by Tacitus.  Our response is much the same.

Undoubtedly myths of “loving-and-sacrosanct” family and community have been burst asunder, but this was partly because these myths were put together and then reproduced at times when family and community were coming under immense strain and were cracking under the pressure.  Before both began to dissolve and break down with greater frequency, there was no need to romanticise them and treat them as ideals to which we must return.  No one who has ever been in a family needs to be reminded about the petty disputes and jealousies and inane rivalries that make up family life; were more Americans exposed to their extended families more often, they would experience still more of this.  No one who has ever been in a small community for very long (I hesitate to speak of “tight-knit” communities, lest I be accused of reifying myths about some harmonious Mayberry-in-Elysium) imagines that it is necessarily where everyone loves one another in some great web of interdependent communion.  To make a community or family lovely and loving, one must begin by loving it, which means first accepting it as it is while also seeing it with the eyes of a lover, which is necessarily to see it with a kind of distortion, if we are speaking “objectively.”  But then people in relationships do not speak objectively about their relations and acquaintances–not if they want their relationships to succeed, anyway–since it is not usually considered terribly good form to objectify one’s relations and acquaintances. 

Family and community should be “loving and sacrosanct,” if you will, but because of men’s flaws and fallenness they often are not.  A certain realism tells us that we cannot expect to be rid of the foibles, pettiness, gossip, social cruelties and the little imperfections that go with living with other people in something like close relationship.  With some of these things, we should probably acknowledge that they are unavoidable, endure them as best we can, do what we can not to participate in the worst of them and otherwise leave them be.  What we should not do is what many of us would like to do, and what all of us are tempted to do, which is to give up on something because it imposes burdens on us and requires things of us that we are not always wanting to give.  What we certainly not do is be satisfied with the ersatz community of the unitary consolidated nation when that nation can only acquire its fullest meaning for us through our local, state and regional attachments.  Abiding in a community and in a family means living with all of the limitations these things impose on us, and it means accepting the hassles, frustrations and disappointments that can come with these things because they are vital to a full, sane and humane life. 

If I might take a slight detour, parish church life provides an example of what I think a real community can be, what it can offer and also what it requires of us that, say, a megachurch or a large nondenominational church might not necessarily offer or require.  The advantage of the nondenominational church or the megachurch is that, in many ways, it caters to the individual and allows the individual sufficient “space” and anonymity to take what he wants from the experience and leave the rest if he so chooses.  Whether or not this is the design or the intention of those in charge of the church, this can often be the effect.  This does not rule out the possibility of becoming more involved and more integrated into the life of that church, but in these churches it is much easier to avoid taking on a larger role.  It is possible avoid such a role at a parish, but especially in smaller parishes it is impossible to have anonymity for very long at all.  At the best parishes, the people there want you to be there, and they want you to become involved in the life of the church and before long you find yourself committing what you might have originally thought was considerable time to the parish that now seems like no time at all.  A small community, such as a parish can be, inspires this response in people, because it is an eminently natural response.  Meanwhile, attending a megachurch like that of Joel Osteen in the old Summit in Houston, surrounded by tens of thousands of others watching the show on the jumbotron (rather than, say, participating in the work of the people), may leave you with some inspirational sayings and may leave you with some good feelings, but it also leaves you fundamentally disconnected from everyone else there.  It does not demand very much from you; the setting of Osteen’s services suggest that the entire experience is more one of spectacle and less one of worship.  It does not make a call to kenosis, and consequently cannot offer the same fullness.   

Finally, as Mr. Poulos said, we don’t care, or at least we don’t care very much, whether the entire nation lives exactly as we do, much less the entire world.  (We do think that rooted, small-scale community life is the most sane and sustainable way of life, and it would benefit everyone to live in such a way, and we will argue strongly for this, but in the end we want to mind our own business and be allowed to mind our own business–it would therefore be best for us if everyone else were convinced that minding one’s own business was an important part of justice.)  While we are far from unaware of or indifferent to the rest of the world, we do not go out in search of “broader canvasses” to paint.  This tends to give the forces of consolidation the initiative and the advantage, but I can see no way for us to imitate most of their methods without abandoning who we are.  Like the Missouri planter in Ride With The Devil, we might well say:

That’s when I realized that the Yankees will surely win, because they believe everyone must live and think just like them. We don’t want to make everyone be like us. We shall surely lose because we don’t care how other people live-we just take care of ourselves.         

Perhaps because of this the Yankees will always win, but I see no reason why the rest of us should accept it or yield before the invaders. 

What our little experiment has shown the world (assuming the world has watched) is, first, that even under the best imaginable conditions, divided countries are hard-pressed to become nations, and second, that even in a successful and individualistic society, “civic nationalism” doesn’t cut it with most people. They seem to need and want a “real” nation. ~Andrew Cunningham

I would go further and say that it is especially in a “successful and individualistic society” that civic nationalism doesn’t cut it.  It is, unfortunately, usually the only thing being offered, because no one is inclined to imagine a different kind of national identity or a different kind of bond uniting the people within a polity.  But civic nationalism is uniquely unsatisfying to a people who have often already attenuated or shucked off their other, stronger identities and who are only relatively recently rediscovering or attributing political significance to their language and history.  In the end, it has everything to do with a sense of belonging and whether one has a stronger sense of belonging in a nation defined by language, a shared history and some kind of cultural distinctiveness or whether one has a stronger sense of it in a “multicultural and multilingual” federation.  The weaker sense of belonging will eventually yield if it is not constantly reinforced and unless its rivals are continually beaten down and undermined.  A civic nationalism is among the most fragile of all.  Like an ideological nationalism, it survives because of the enforced absence of as many natural attachments as can possibly be pushed to the margins.   

First of all, Afghanistan has a democratic government now. It is the democratically elected government of Afghanistan that wants international assistance — including Canada’s — in order to maintain itself against its enemies, namely the Taliban. ~Akrasia

This is cute.  Afghanistan has a democratic government!  Hamid Karzai is the President of Afghanistan!  The “Afghan government” has requested our “assistance”!  How quaint.  The famed loya jirga of 2002 was consensus-based politics, Afghan-style, in which the local heavies agreed to let Karzai be a powerless figurehead on the condition that they were allowed to continue doing what they were doing in their precincts.  This agreement has been honoured, and Afghanistan now has as much of a democratically-elected government as Pakistan.  There’s nothing surprising or scandalous about any of this.  At least, that is, not to those of us who don’t think that Afghanistan is a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word.  For those still operating under this pleasant fiction, it could be most alarming.

But Akrasia is not very clear on what democracy is, now, is he?  In a later comment he writes:

Suffice to say, it was an integral part of the western Allies’ (Britain and U.S.) post-war strategy that Germany and Japan be reconstructed as demoractic states. To suggest that Britain and the U.S. ‘didn’t give a crap’ is a patent falsehood. (How could it be otherwise with respect to Japan, which had no historical experience with democracy?)

When getting on the high horse of superior historical knowledge, it is best to know how to ride.  Alas, Akrasia sets himself up for a hard fall on this one, since his lecture to Pithlord declares that Japan had no experience with democracy, when it had enjoyed some considerable experience with universal manhood suffrage and elected government under a constitutional monarchy for the better part of three decades before the military effectively took over in the 1930s.  Even then, the structures and fictions of elected, representative government, with which the Japanese allegedly had no experience, were maintained.  To top off this supposedly damning indictment, he ironically invokes Santayana’s famous dictum about historical ignorance.  Not finished yet, Akrasia also manages to squeeze in an especially crass reference to Chamberlain and appeasement before he is done!  If he is ever out of work, I’m sure The Weekly Standard will have a place for him. 

I’m all in favour of ‘democracy promotion’ (means to be determined on a case-by-case basis). Indeed, I consider it to be an essential goal for the West in the 21st century, both for reasons of self-interest (democratic governments do not go to war with each other), and basic human morality (democratic governments respect universal human rights).

I can’t understand thinking that a democratic government’s role does not involve securing and promoting democracy. ~Akrasia

Via Pithlord

Akrasia’s first claim, the claim of democratic self-interest in promoting democracy, is based on a fable and a dream.  Not only do democracies go to war against each other with sufficient regularity to reject any talk of “exceptions that prove the rule,” they tend to wage particularly nasty, long, drawn-out wars against each other.  Second, must we continue to belabour simple points about whether democracies respect human rights?  Some democratic states (Russia leaps to mind) do no such thing, and there is nothing inherent in democracy that requires such governments do respect those rights.  If by “democracy,” Akrasia means constitutional government under a rule of law, he should say so and stop importing the virtues of one kind of regime into democracy and pretending that democracy has something to do with respecting human dignity and the claims of morality.  Any government’s duties, regardless of its political constitution, are defined by providing basic order, enforcing the laws, protecting citizens against external threats and securing the interests and welfare of the people and the commonwealth.  At no point is it part of any government’s function to export an ideology or lend its support to the spreading of a certain type of government elsewhere in the world.  Besides going beyond its proper functions, any government that did this would very likely have to acquire such power that it would become a threat to the constitution of the home country. 

Not without foundation, it seems, Lee suspects a hint of gnosticism. I really need to get this book [Doors of the Sea]. ~Kevin Jones

There are traces of gnosticism in David Hart’s work, and he himself acknowledges a proclivity for gnostic views in Doors of the Sea, but I would argue that this gnosticism is not so much to be found in his distinction between nature and creation (which accords fairly well with patristic distinctions about the created order before and after the Fall). 

There are, however, other problems with Doors of the Sea.  On that book and his challenge to traditional theodicy, I had this to say last year:

Dr. Hart’s squeamishness, which is what it seems to me to be, at the thought of a wrathful God has already made any patristic account for suffering irrelevant to his argument. The thought of a wrathful God is something he is so far from acknowledging that he does not even engage the Fathers when they speak of God in this way. It is certainly a trend in modern theology, including Orthodox theology, to de-emphasise potentially embarrassing concepts in the Fathers, whether by heavily ‘contextualising’ them historically so as to deprive them of contemporary relevance or by misusing, as it seems to me, the concept of the consensus patrum to write off some patristic ideas as eccentric or idiosyncratic and therefore not authoritative. Hart’s book does not ignore the Fathers–he relies on them for a solid account of the goodness of God, creation, man and his place in the cosmos. But his brisk treatment of the subject apparently precluded testing his idea against the received wisdom of the Fathers–it is not only St. Gregory who makes the case for understanding natural calamities as chastisements, but St. Maximos who approvingly comments on a similar view from a separate Oration. What cannot be stressed enough is that God’s wrath and mercy are both expressions of His love (whom the Lord loves He chastises–Heb. 12:6), and there has never been an inherent contradiction between divine wrath and divine love.    

Saakashvili’s best American friends are Sen. John McCain, who has made support of democracy in the former Soviet Union a major theme, and George Soros, who helped pay salaries for the bankrupt Georgian civil service system in 2004. This cannot please Putin. ~Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post

Let’s see: a hot-headed hegemonist and an arch-fomenter of anti-Russian activism both like and support Saakashvili.  This is not news to us, and this is exactly why Moscow views him (rightly) with suspicion.  Why might Putin find Saakashvili more than a little irritating?  Perhaps because he is bellicose and irresponsible, anti-Russian, and a perfect caricature of Third World tinpot dictator “elected” with an improbable 95% of the vote? 

Whatever the many, many flaws of Putin, let us be clear about this: Saakashvili is not a defender of anyone’s freedom or a noble David struggling against overwhelming odds.  He is a small-time crook who has overplayed his hand and now finds himself outgunned and surrounded.  Lucky for him, he has major Western connections.  But this Djindjic of the east may well meet a similar fate thanks to his own reckless and dangerous confrontational positions vis-a-vis Russia.  It is not admirable that Russia is smothering Georgia, and it is deplorable that two Orthodox peoples are at odds with one another, but it was always folly for the Georgian ant to bite the Russian bear.  The ant was never going to win, and there is nothing admirable or heroic in calling down ruin on your people. 

For his part, Saakashvili had best be careful around his “friend” John McCain, who likewise supported Shevardnadze against the Russians.  This was not because he cared a whit about Shevardnadze, whose overthrow at the hands of the Stalin-loving Saakashvili (this dictator rallied his supporters at the statue of Dzugashvili during the “democratic” Rose Revolution) brought no comment from him, but because pro-NATO Georgian politicians are simply useful tools to advance hegemonist goals in the Caucasus and nothing more.  In spite of Saakashvili’s repeated belligerent statements with respect to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in spite of his provocative actions that precipitated the latest crisis (in which, I must agree, Putin has overreacted and played directly into the hands of the Russophobes in Washington, who are piling on lately), the good establishment lackeys continue to tell us that Saakashvili is an important supporter of U.S. interests rather than an embarrassing liability.  You can take it to the bank that if Richard Holbrooke believes supporting Saakashvili is the necessary course of action that the wise, patriotic and moral thing to do is the exact opposite of what he recommends.

The fruits of pre-emption and regime change are beginning to ripen.  Now other great powers are taking advantage of our relative weakness to settle scores with small countries which their governments would like to dominate.  Where Russia at least has some claim to legitimate interests in its near-abroad, Washington has claimed the right to intervene almost anywhere.  Let us not be shocked or scandalised when Moscow acts to punish a neighbour after our government has chastised regimes on the other side of the world.  It is most regrettable and awful that the people of Georgia (and Armenia) are being made to suffer for the delusions of Saakashvili and the rage of Putin, and if Washington had any credibility as a neutral power in all of this it might call Russia on its arbitrary and excessive treatment.  Since Saakashvili is transparently Washington’s man and everyone paying attention knows this, there is essentially nothing that we or the Europeans can say that will do anything but confirm the Kremlin in its hard-line policy.  Such is the loss of our moral authority that goes with attempting to create hegemony across vast swathes of Asia.  Such is the backlash against the mad hegemonist design to encircle and “contain” Russia.  Like so many nations before them, the Georgians have been led on by American and European promises of support and then left stranded, because in the final analysis Washington and Brussels know that Georgia is not worth enough to them to cause a significant rift in relations with Moscow.  Like so many other peoples before them, the Georgians have been led astray and betrayed by their own “reformist” leadership that does not have the welfare of the Georgian people in mind.  Putin is being exceedingly cruel, but the Georgians must see that their own government has been exceedingly stupid in bringing this disaster upon their country. 

A homeowners’ association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.


The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything.

Kearns fired all five committee members. ~CNN

Via Clark Stooksbury

You have to admire the pettiness of people in these little positions of power.  It will accomplish nothing of value, but Kearns has made his point and established his authority over the subdivision! 

A wreath in the shape of a peace sign is so innocuous and inoffensive that it probably ranks among the more neutral symbols one might put up to express the desire for “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”  Were this to happen on a university campus and a professor or student were prohibited from having some sort of explicitly Christian symbol or message on his office or dorm room door at Christmastime, you had better believe that we would be hearing about religious discrimination and the godless oppressors of academe (and these critics would have a good point).  But it does not require much imagination to guess that the response from the professional War on Christmas watchers will be one of silence or only the mildest of rebukes.  The assumption that a peace symbol during the Christmas season  must have overtly political meaning is simply amazing.  This makes roughly as much sense as those who think that creches on public property are the first step towards theocratic domination.   

More depressing in a way than this pointless attack on a harmless wreath is the deadening uniformity that this association can impose on the subdivision’s homeowners.  Leave it to naturally conformist Americans to create private bureaucracies and committees to ensure homogeneity and uniformity of appearances.  This reminds me of nothing so much as Californians and other transplants who move into semi-rural or small-town locations in the Southwest and set about trying to regularise everything and bring it up to their own codes of zoning and restrictions.  Rustic and charming have their limits, after all. 

Update: Bob Kearns is really out on a limb–even Don Surber realises that Kearns is being a fool.

The letters to the editor in the latest American Conservative (12/04 issue) include some remarkable statements.  One Ted Barrett responded most negatively to TAC’s election editorial, GOP Must Go, saying, among other things:

To vote for liberals to spite conservatives is absolute suicide–something I don’t believe in either. 

At least there’s no compromising on absolute suicide.  Relative suicide would be something else again.  This statement makes a certain amount of sense, except that the “spiting” going on in the editorial in question was of Mr. Bush and his agenda, which, as longtime readers of the magazine would already know, was anything but conservative.  It has been a typical refrain that opposing the GOP this year would undermine conservatives, to which the only appropriate response seems to me to be, “You mean there are still conservatives in the GOP?”  I jest, but only slightly.

Robert Mautz of Zanesville wrote as perfect a demonstration of circular reasoning as you will find anywhere:

As far as the argument that Bush’s policies have emboldened terrorists, this is a ridiculous. [sic]  If Bush’s policies embolden terrorists, then the terrorists should want these policies to continue so that the [sic] can recruit more terrorists; however, terrorists want the Democrats to regain power.

Isn’t it obvious?  How can you argue with a thing like that? 

Then there was Jason Reeves, who lamented TAC’s neglect of the mighty electoral machine that is the Constitution Party.  On this I have a little more to say.  I am registered with the New Mexico affiliate of the CP, though you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence that such an affiliate does or ever did exist.  In the veritable one-party state that is New Mexico, where Democrats dominate all aspects of state government, rightist protest votes tend to be pretty small and there tends to be no large constituency in our subsidy-dependent state for paring the government back to the bone.  Therefore, the CP in New Mexico is extremely small and typically runs no candidates.  Now I generally agree with the CP platform, and I voted for Michael Peroutka in 2004.  But how exactly is the CP relevant to midterm elections?  Like all other failed third parties to date, they organise for the presidential elections in the hopes of making some small ripples on the national scene, instead of building up positions at the local and state level and then establishing a presence in Congress.  Once the presidential race is over, the party largely goes into hibernation until the next one comes around, when they begin the entire dance again.  To have endorsed the Constitution Party, which was running perhaps a handful of candidates for Congress (if that), rather than taking account of the need to hold Republicans to account for their misrule, would have shown the TAC editors to be fairly frivolous.  One might disagree more heartily with the decision to have multiple endorsements in 2004, but there the CP candidate received two endorsements out of six, which is two more than he received from just about anywhere else.  I appreciate Mr. Reeves’ maximalist, all or nothing approach to politics, and I still share more of it than most, but it is singularly unrealistic to expect anyone else to pay attention to the demands of maximalists who insist that everyone who has not, as of right now, embraced the glory of the Constitution Party must have already sold out to the system.

I also suspect, and the title of the blog has always suggested that Americans are primarily consumers of products - that our other pre-political bonds or identities are overwhelmed by our identities as consumers. We don’t look at each other as members of sections, or religious communities so much as we latch onto hobbies and rank whether someone is relatively close to our status. Oh you like hot wings too? Have you ever tried this kind? You’re into audio equipment? Have you seen that new tube-driven CD player in Audiophile magazine? This used to be just a tiny part of a man’s eccentricity. But in the age of Patio-Man it is his identity. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

There is a lot of truth to this.  I think this is partly why Austin Bramwell criticises defenders of “ancestral loyalties,” partly why the anti-crunchies literally cannot understand the virtue of putting obligations to a community first, partly why some libertarians view opponents of immigration as madmen and proto-Nazis.  It is one of the reasons why neocons think it is an insult to claim that other peoples have greater attachment to “tribe or religion or whatever,” because they so plainly regard the accusation of any such attachment as the worst kind of insult, and it is one of the reasons why the only tribal loyalty David Brooks can muster is loyalty to the anti-tribal, universalist tribe of the proposition nation, an imaginary tribe, a tribe bound by ideas and not blood or custom or faith.  It is partly why Trent Lott cannot understand why Sunnis and Shi’ites are killing each other, and perhaps also why most Americans could only shrug in confusion when they were confronted with the wars in the Balkans.  It is why they had to attribute sectarian and ethnic warfare in the rest of the world to disputes that stretch back centuries.  This falsehood was often uttered in relation to the Yugoslav wars–”they’ve been killing each other for centuries!”–as if the sheer antiquity of the grudge was the only thing that made it understandable to people whose blood and sect loyalties are as weak as ginger beer. 

This represented the failure to understand that these feuds have everything to do with immediate loyalties to kith, kin, church and place and less to do with unusually long memories about slights and battles from long ago.  The memories of old injuries are kept alive because the rivalry is ongoing and fresh in the minds of those who remember.  The old fights are not old, but continue in some form even now.  Only antiquarians would normally bestir themselves over the outcome of Culloden, but for Scottish nationalists who have a mind to detach their country from Great Britain it might have an immediacy and relevance that more recent battles do not.  The characteristically short American historical memory, which prevails everywhere except perhaps for some areas in the South, is a product of having kept few powerfully strong attachments to the old ties of blood and faith that cause men to tell the stories of their past victories and defeats and the old outrages against their people.  There is an advantage to this ongoing amnesia, which is that Americans are unlikely to resent one another over the injuries that your people did to mine 50 or 100 or 200 years ago and are less likely to engage in actual violence against their ancestral foes, but it also means that they have no idea who they are and only passing antiquarian interest in where they came from (genealogy is most popular, naturally, in the country where it is also supposed to be the most irrelevant).  Because we are trained to be less atavistic than other peoples, we are tied less to our history, which is from my perspective mostly a blight and a curse; because the conventional national myth today is one of progression away from the old ways, we consequently have much less respect for our forefathers and find ourselves increasingly unable and unwilling to defend the patrimony they have left to us.  This keeps us from the extreme declensions of vendetta and brutality against neighbours from another tribe or sect, but it also dissolves and eats away at our capacity to have meaningful community and to have neighbours who are more than geographically proximate.  There is something deeply unnatural and abnormal about this, and if Europe is any indicator of where we are headed we should be able to see that no people can long survive the abjuration of loyalty to itself.   

The Marching Season in Ulster appears to Americans bizarre and difficult to comprehend (what do battles in the 17th century really have to do with people today, some might ask) because we rarely attach our current status in society to the outcome of old internecine fights.  The Russian commemoration of the victory over Polish occupation during the Time of Troubles probably strikes many of us as odd in the extreme for similar reasons.  The Orthodox recitation of the Synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent, listing and re-condemning the errors of all of the major heresies of the past, is for many other confessions slightly inexplicable, because for many others this emphasis on right teaching is, if not foreign, hardly as ingrained as it is in the Orthodox Church.  Catholics, while many take doctrine very seriously, do not annually get together and denounce the Cathars, Luther and Calvin.  There is a certain mentality tied to this kind of ritual denunciation that Americans usually share only in the context of endorsing their own universalist political ideas against the list of enemies of the 20th century.  That enthusiasm for America as something other than a Brooksian universalist tribe is not really permitted in much of the current discussion is proof of the self-destructive tendency in denigrating and minimising pre-political loyalties.  If men are not defined by kin, birth, place and the web of traditions handed down to us, no enduring identity exists that is not subject to the dictates of a state and the whims of individuals.   

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas strongly hinted yesterday that he would run for president in 2008, saying the Republican field was open for a “full-scale conservative” and that he would make an official announcement soon. ~The Washington Times

Now in the past year Ross held up Brownback as a sort of “theocon” poster boy, and he certainly has the credentials to beat Romney among social conservatives (even if Romney weren’t a Mormon).  In many ways, he is the Midwest’s Santorum as a religious and social conservative, but lacks the Pennsylavnian’s ranting about Venezuelan invasions of the Andean highlands.  Unlike Santorum, his odd obsessions in foreign policy run toward the internationalist do-gooder side and less towards the apocalyptic, “gathering storm” interventionist side.  Brownback is the religious conservative social reformer who has taken an interest in foreign and domestic problems that typically leave many conservatives cold or uninterested (AIDS in Africa, prison reform, etc.).  His preoccupation with Darfur is representative. 

Therein lies the biggest (but not the only) problem I have with Brownback.  Brownback’s Darfur focus puzzles and concerns me.  In the last three years, Brownback has figured prominently in news about U.S. responses to the conflict in Darfur, but where has he been on Iraq one way or the other?  Someone who believes that a high foreign policy priority for the United States is to stop a civil war in the Sudan, while the problems of Iraq are put on the back burner, is frankly not someone I would want in the White House.  If he runs for President, Brownback’s calls for action on Darfur will provide a substantive example of a religious conservative whose religion is to some significant degree guiding his foreign policy proposals.  The complaints from the left about this might be less shrill than dark murmurings about evangelical foreign policy gone wild that we have endured in the past several years, since Darfur is a pet project for some on the left, but it would still be a liability.  

Brownback’s work on Darfur will make him seem like a lot less of a “full-scale” conservative and more of a Wilsonian (which is how I think of him).  This Wilsonian image ties him to the public image of Bush, and this will damage him among conservatives who have had quite enough of crusading for freedom and democracy “and all that good stuff” (as Col. Tigh might say).  The Bush associations don’t stop there.  Already he is talking up the “compassionate conservative” label, after we had all thought it had been left dead and buried in the wreckage of New Orleans, and I guarantee you that this unfortunate phrase will not fool anyone again and will instead lose him support.  My guess is that your hard-core Republican primary voters have heard enough about compassion and ”hopeful” ideologies and a desire to make the world a better place.  What they are looking for will be two things: competent leadership and a record of pragmatic experience in actually running an executive department.  (Hey, Tommy Thompson is looking better all the time!) 

Here are the basic problems: Brownback has attached himself to a governing philosophy, if we want to dignify it with that name, associated strongly with Mr. Bush, who is not terribly popular.  He generally seems to be playing the role Mr. Bush claimed to play post-South Carolina in 2000, positioning himself to the right of the likely “moderate” front-runners.  Brownback’s message at present is that of the early Bush of “Congress is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” (that’s the “compassionate” part) combined with the later anti-McCain, “I’m the real conservative in this race” Bush (that’s the “conservative” part).  The content of Brownback’s proposals may not be as bad as this suggests, but the symbolism of taking up the fallen standard of Bush’s failed political program is poisonous to his candidacy.

All of that having been said, Brownback has actually said some intriguing things about other areas of foreign policy that deserve brief mention.  The willingness to open ties with Syria and Iran is wise and necessary, and if there were more of this common sense in the man’s foreign policy proposals and less of the idealist Save Darfur rhetoric he might become a credible alternative to the disastrous foreign policy ideas circulating in the upper echelons of the GOP.  But I will tell you right now that someone who calls for diplomatic ties with Syria and Iran is politically a dead man in the primaries.  This is a shame, since Brownback appears to be the only likely candidate so far who has broached this topic publicly.  In so doing, he has put himself against not only hard-core GOP voters but also against the main organs of GOP opinion.  He will find himself on the receiving end of a lot of harsh criticism from the think tanks, the WSJ, NR, the Spectator and anywhere else where bad historical analogies and rhetoric about Islamofascists appear.  I can already hear Victor Davis Hanson screeching: “If Sam Brownback were around in WWII, would he propose that we open diplomatic ties with imperialist Japan and Fascist Italy?  Well, would he?!  1938!  1938!” 

What applies to Obama, Clinton and McCain also applies to Brownback: Senators do not generally win general elections for President.  It hasn’t happened the previous four times someone from the Senate captured the nomination of a major party (1964, 1972, 1996, 2004), and in each case the nominee from the Senate was running against an incumbent party or president.  Senators win nominations when everyone else in the party assumes that the election is probably a lost cause and not worth pursuing–and they’re usually right.  The only sitting Senators to win the Presidency in the twentieth century were Warren Harding and JFK, and Harding’s victory was almost predetermined by the deep loathing of Wilson’s Democrats following WWI.  Some Democratic Senator this time around might pull off a Harding-like victory in the wake of a disastrous two-term Bush Administration, but it remains extremely unlikely.  

More than that, Senators don’t often get the nomination.  Except for 1960 and those four modern examples, in every open year on either side sitting Senators have either not run or failed to win the nomination in every election besides 1888 and 1920.  From 1892 until 2004, sitting Senators received the nomination only 20% (6/30) of the time.  Except for the elections of 1960 & 1964, there have not been consecutive elections in which a major party nominated a sitting Senator.  If it were to happen in 2004 & 2008, it would be only the second time in American history.  (1884 & 1888 both saw candidates who had served in the Senate, but Blaine was not a sitting Senator when he ran.)  All trends indicate that sitting Senators becoming nominees for either party in two years is extremely unlikely.  (Speaking of past nominees and Brownback, how did the last GOP nominee from Kansas do?  That’s right.  It was ugly.)      

1888 and 1920 are the only examples besides 1960 of Senators who came directly from the Senate to win the nomination of his party and win the general election: Benjamin Harrison and Warren Harding.  Before Harrison and Harding, former Senators had done a little better in getting nominations: Pierce and Buchanan had served in the Senate and later became President, but they did not come to the White House directly from the Senate.  Still earlier, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Hugh Lawson White were Senators who made failed bids on Whig tickets in the elections of the 1830s.  Senators simply don’t become nominees for the Presidency very often, and usually even when they get to the general election they lose. 

1988 on the Democratic side was simply lousy with Senators, and none of them got anywhere.  To their everlasting embarrassment, they chose Dukakis, but consider what that means (besides being an indictment of the bad judgement of primary voters).  Given the option to choose from a selection of Senators (admittedly very dreary characters: Gore, Biden, Hart, Simon), Democrats instead chose Dukakis.  Reckless prediction: John McCain will be the Gary Hart of 2007-2008.  1992 on the Democratic side was likewise Senator-rich (Harkin, Kerrey, McCarthy, Tsongas), and we all know how that turned out.   

It is worth noting, given that both parties seem to have excesses of ambitious Senators in their ranks for this coming cycle, that it has never happened that two Senators have faced each other in the general election.  Anything is possible, and the alternatives are few and are almost impossible to take seriously (Vilsack! Richardson! Thompson! Huckabee!), but the chances of a McCain vs. Clinton throwdown or a Brownback vs. Obama fight, or any combination for a Senator-against-Senator election, are so poor that it is a wonder that anyone gives their candidacies serious consideration. 

Reihan mentions in his Iraq post the TNR contribution of Prof. James Kurth, a sometime contributor to The American Conservative and a serious foreign policy thinker I once mistakenly criticised in a letter to History Today.  Now I fear I must criticise with rather more intensity. 

Reihan doubts the desirability of playing the Shia card.  For my part, I doubt the practicability before anything else (why do they want or need us as their patrons when they have all the advantages right now?), but I also question the wisdom of any argument that contains the following claim:

A more accurate comparison, however, would analogize the Baath Party to the Waffen S.S., the Nazi Party’s elite unit, and the Sunni Arab community to the Nazi Party as a whole, which eventually made up as much as 15 percent of Germany’s population.

All Nazi analogies, however well-formed and considered, are an automatic 20 point deduction from any argument related to Iraq.  I am a fair man.  I find Nazi analogies with Iraq absurd and ridiculous whether they are uttered by proponents or opponents of the current war.  They are almost always sloppy analogies, misguided and tendentious.  The blithe identification of an entire people, an entire sect, with the Nazi Party is unworthy of a serious thinker, and I consider Prof. Kurth to be more capable of serious analysis than this. 

This is the sort of unfortunate rhetoric that encouraged the Serbophobic bloodlust among the chattering classes in the ’90s.  It is the resort of someone who is about to propose something rather distasteful and ugly.  It is much better to align the future victims of massacre and mass forced relocation with the Nazis, in order to make the ugliness go down easier.  Let no more paths of criminal policies be paved with lame references to Nazism.  Irony protests at being so ill-used.

The Shia strategy is a move that Prof. Kurth has proposed before in a TAC article that proposes the same Shia strategy in the greater anti-jihadi war in a reprise of the lessons of nurturing the Sino-Soviet split.  There is a certain way in which this larger divide et impera approach makes a lot of sense.  This proposal would fit very nicely with a move towards rapprochement with Iran, which would parallel the move to divide politically the communist world in 1972.  According to this model, we might “open” Iran or, more grimly, reap the benefits of encouraging intra-Islamic feuding.  Let them kill each other, and let Allah sort it out, we might say. 

From this perspective, it might be possible to view the sectarian warfare in Iraq as a desirable redirection of fanatical energies against other Muslim populations.  Shi’ites then become the means to further weaken, distract and disorient Sunni jihadis, who represent the bulwark of the anti-American jihadi threat, a reality only obscured by silly people who throw around labels like Islamofascist in an attempt to group together jihadis who should be targeting one another.

In the Iraqi context, however, this dubious “two-state solution” of Kurdish and Shi’ite polities seems a recipe for continual nightmares.  It may well be that the Shi’ites and Kurds carve out their two states from Iraq’s corpse with or without our support, and the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are made into a stateless, oppressed and refugee people.  How encouraging perpetual war inside at least one of the two post-Iraqi states (since the stateless Sunnis will become as desperate, bitter and fanatical as the Palestinians inside the Shi’ite enclave) is more desirable than a minimal three-state partition escapes me.  (All the while, we speak as if the form of the future of Iraq were up to us–it is not.) 

Where all of this seems to go especially horribly wrong is in our endorsement of it, and in the belief that backing the likely victors will somehow aid American interests.  First, if all we do is “unleash” the Shi’ites, to use Reihan’s phrase (which assumes, wrongly, that we really have them on a “leash” right now), they will owe us nothing and will therefore have no reason to heed our demands later (we gain obligations from them only if we actively aid their defeat and/or destruction of the Sunnis, something even the most cold-eyed realist does not wish to contemplate).  As the likely victors of all-out sectarian warfare, the Shi’ites will be in a position to dictate terms, and as their de facto sponsors we will be put in a position of weakness with them.  Unlike what the U.S. actually did in Yugoslavia, this would be as if Washington had allowed the Serbs to smash their various enemies without interference of any kind and then attempt to gain some sort of leverage out of a Serbian victory that had nothing to do with us.  Simply put, ignoring every moral or political consideration, it will not work to advance American interests and will in the process stain us with the more or less open endorsement of large-scale massacre and ethnic/sectarian cleansing.  We may have to endure the reputation of the nation that destroyed Iraq and left it for dead, which seems hard to escape now; we do not yet have to attach ourselves to the mass murder of still more Iraqis with our connivance.        

Bottom line: If you think Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer would make good foreign policy advisors, then McCain is your man. However, if you’re not insane, that prospect will scare the hell out of you. As it should. ~Kevin Drum

As some may have noticed over the past two years, I am not a fan of John McCain.  I don’t like the man’s politics or his preening self-importance, and his policy views strike me as among the more dangerous on offer in Washington today.  His pretensions to being a conservative have always rankled me, and his claim to being anything more than the technical successor of Goldwater has always been annoying.  The idea that he is any kind of real Southwesterner is laughable on many levels.  (As an aside, let me say that Southwesterners have a bad habit of allowing themselves to be represented in government by people who are only recently residents in their states, as if we actually prefer the new transplants to the people whose families have at least one generation’s connection to the place–this may be why we have deeply dysfunctional relations with Washington.)  His foreign policy is simply lunatic, a toxic mix of extremely acute Vietnam syndrome with respect to projecting American power with the “national greatness” hype of the ’90s and the “unipolar moment” enthusiasm of 2002.  If there is one person who is the embodiment of every dangerous, self-destructive tendency in a superpower nation, his name is John McCain.  If the Republicans have learned nothing from the Bush years, they will heartily back McCain and go down to impressive defeat in ’08.  If the lesson you draw from the last five years has been, “We haven’t been reckless, adventurous and militaristic enough!”, John McCain is your man.  He will send Americans to die in the most obscure parts of the world to make sure that American “leadership” does not disappear, and he will demand that we all pitch in with the effort to make America bleed for no rational reason.  Did I mention that I’m not a fan? 

Turning to Fr. Jape’s comments, I wish to show that, contrary to protestations, what Fr. Jape advocates is a distorting ideology like any other. That ideology so far lacks a useful name (probably the best would be “socialism,” a term monopolized long ago by opponents of private property), so I will call it “Ignatiusreillyism” or “Reillyism” for short. ~Austin Bramwell 

In the first place, Bramwell continues to use the term “ideology” in an overly broad manner disconnected from history and prior analysis. For Bramwell, whose heavy breathing on behalf of science and cognitive biology is telling, ideology is little more than the undeniable fact of the contingent nature of knowledge. Human beings cannot escape contingency, in thought any more than in birth. This has long been a principal conservative insight into man’s condition. Bramwell expresses the conservative notion of contingency in an appropriate, though cynical fashion: we are all “imprisoned in cages” we “cannot see.” Bramwell admits to being so imprisoned himself and reserves escape only for certain “geniuses” like Oakeshott who at least have the decency to carry the logic of contingency to its conclusion and completely shut up. ~Fr. Jape

Before I begin with my comments on the latest Jape installment and some additional comments on Mr. Bramwell’s response, I would like to make a few uncharacteristically irenic comments.  Mr. Bramwell’s original TAC article made devastating critiques of National Review and, by extension, the entire logic of the “war on terror” under which virtually all conservatives labour (i.e., that we are “at war” against a fairly undefined enemy, whose nature and form constantly shifts and changes), which the bold and heroic NROniks (and everyone else in the movement) have so far seen fit to ignore.  He succeeded in demonstrating that the way that almost everyone on the right has thought about “the war” after 9/11, using NR as a representative of the movement, has not involved much thought at all:

In sum, NR declared that we were “at war” when we were not, for reasons that it did not specify, against enemies that it could not define, and to achieve goals that war does not advance. “Defining Victory” dresses up as policy but inchoate thirst for vengeance against someone, anyone who hates us. How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed / when vengeance listens to the fool’s request! On Oct. 15, 2001, National Review had no position on post-9/11 foreign policy.

Nor did it find a position thereafter.

He then lays into the frequent recourse to metaphor (whether it is draining the swamp or draining a bathtub), which serves as a way of obscuring the vacuity of NR’s foreign policy positions.  There is no substantive policy there–just a lot of airy talk.  (Though he does not dwell on these particular problems, the constant use of WWII analogies and the obsession with defining the enemy in terms of fascism also point to a shocking dearth of serious thinking about foreign policy on much of the right today.)  And what is true of NR is true of a great many other conservative journals and institutions.  This is really quite excellent and needs frequent repeating.  The concluding section that makes it clear how the movement imposes and reinforces uniformity and mindless obedience is also very good.  But where the mish-mash of NR’s vacuous pronouncements on foreign policy merits a lengthy rebuke and the movement’s zombie-like capacity for uniformity on given policy prescriptions (contrary to the official story that the movement prizes and encourages lively intellectual diversity!) receives very extensive attention, Mr. Bramwell feels that he can be done with the rest with a sentence or a paragraph devoted to each faction.  Those of us indicted in those brief asides are indeed a bit disgruntled, but we most certainly know why we are so dissatisfied.

Now it is unfortunate that the only people talking at much length about Mr. Bramwell’s article are Jape and myself.  I think we have some important critiques to make, but there is far more to this article than the middle sections where we have focused most of our attention.  It will suit Mr. Bramwell to assume that we object so strenuously to these sections only because it is our ox that is being gored in them (and certainly I first focused on them because I recognised my understanding of conservatism as the target of these sections), but where the beginning of the article shines with analytical brilliance and where the end of the article stands out with its damning indictment of conservative groupthink the middle points hang in the air, unattached to anything, as if Mr. Bramwell felt that he had to say something damning about everyone on the right if he was to say anything damning about anyone at all.  They do not serve as a transition from the first section to the third, and they do not even attempt to engage the claims being ridiculed; these conservatives ridiculed in the middle section of the article are so risible, one might conclude, that they can be dismissed with a flick of the wrist and a weary shake of the head.  In other words, NR may be vacuous and the movement as a whole may be a stifling herd of automata following the directions from their leaders, but these people are in some ways even worse and less worthy of comment.  It may be telling that the only people who have even bothered to offer some cogent defense of their views against Mr. Bramwell’s claims have been the “Reillyists.”  Mr. Bramwell so labels us in order to mock every traditional conservative and paleoconservative as really no better than a preposterous obsessive shouting abuse at the screen in a movie theater.  The others may be witless or mindless, but we are, of course, just cranks who can be dismissed without much consideration. 

Even if, like Jape, we could all embrace Reilly as our own kind of admirable Don Quixote, we would still have to recognise the label as another way to avoid treating our objections at all seriously.  That he makes no effort to take them seriously is clear enough when he pretends that none of us has ever had anything to say about how to secure ”peace, justice and prosperity,” and we don’t understand anything about “order,” either, when it would be fair to say that these four things are among our foremost concerns and it is also probably fair to say that we have discussed them at considerable length. 

Against our interest in strengthening or conserving the bonds of family, Mr. Bramwell has some remarkable things to say:

Second, the family is not the locus of harmony from which all further social bonds may flow. Rather, as nearly all great works of literature show, it is a primary source of strife, anger, jealousy, rage, and violence.

Of course, no one during this debate, or at any other time, has claimed that the family was ”the locus of harmony from which all other social bonds flow.”  When setting up a strawman, it is better to at least draw a fairly convincing face on it to give it the rough appearance of a real man.  The family is not always and, in fact, is not very often a “locus of harmony,” as the recent Thanksgiving holiday celebrations of many will remind us, but then only romantics and propagandists would ever claim such a thing had existed or could exist.  The family is not important because it is an easy set of relationships that always embody the spirit of cooperation and perfect orderliness, but because it takes us in our disordered, fallen state and makes our predicament slightly more manageable by providing a natural bond that, when reinforced and supported by custom and religious sanction, compels fallen, autonomous, rebellious man to sacrifice and labour on behalf of others.  Yes, this is driven by biological imperatives of what Zizioulas calls the biological hypostasis.  In this way we are trained up to understand the importance of self-emptying love for the living of a more virtuous and sane life that contributes directly to our desire for social peace, social order and social justice.  If an economic regime does not allow people to form this vital institution, it becomes inimical to all of these other basic goods; a conservative, then, would have very definite things to say against a regime that threatens general prosperity of society while also resisting any regime that makes family formation and family stability increasingly difficult. 

The family is an institution vital to social stability, the healthy raising up of children, the provision of numerous social and (in many periods of history) economic goods for its members, and the basic unit of social and, broadly speaking, political life.  When family life is made stable by the customary obligations of marriage and the social stigmas that did once usually prevail against the break-up of families, the family channels, restrains and controls men’s appetites and impulses to some considerable degree, and through exogamous ties to other families it creates the foundations for social peace (one of those things we do not understand, never talk about and basically ignore).  Through networks of intermarriage, families serve as the joints holding up the structure of society.  Following Aristotle, ever the ideological crank, we might say that the community pre-exists and is in some sense prior to the family, but we would also hold that family households, not individuals, are typically the constituent members of any community, and without these constituent members there would be no need to consider problems of peace, justice, prosperity or order.  But never mind all that–I must return to pacing inside my invisible cage. 

Mr. Bramwell continually accuses us of believing in idealised, harmonious this and idealised, harmonious that, as if we were unaware of man’s capacity for conflict or vice or destruction and as if we did not know about the outbursts of private violence and vendetta that have raged throughout history.  This does a kind of violence to what we ”Reillyists” actually say about these things.  We place such importance on the bonds of family, church and community and the requirements of custom and tradition because we recognise that these things can, if ordered rightly, check and curb many of the worst passions of men.  They can create channels for directing pride, ambition, and man’s impulses for rivalry and revenge away from recourse to violence and towards the building up of a well-ordered polity.  If taken to excess or arranged in ways that promote vendetta and social upheaval, obviously any of these things can become the enemy of the common good.  Those who argue on behalf of these attachments and loyalties are not oblivious to the threats and problems inherent in the natural affinities and loyalties they champion.  But they do know what the alternatives are, and they have seen those alternatives wreak social chaos on the life of this and other modern societies.  If I and the other Reillyists ever begin to encourage people to engage in multi-generation blood feuds with their neighbours for insulting someone’s horse, Mr. Bramwell’s current criticism will be spot on.  Until then, I await slightly more serious criticism.    


“When I pressed them (US intelligence) for more specific imagery or information regarding locations or likely locations of WMD they confessed, off the record, that there had not been any tangible sighting of any WMD or WMD enabling equipment for some years,” he said.

“It was all shadows and inferenced conversations between Iraqis. There was an overwhelming desire for all of the planning staff to simply believe that the Iraqis had learned how to conceal their WMD assets away from the US (surveillance) assets.”

Coalition special forces troops were charged with hunting down Scud missiles and Saddam’s suspected WMD arsenals, operating from just west of Baghdad all the way through to the Jordanian border, and between the Syrian and Saudi frontiers.

After the initial invasion, the search for WMD became something of a “standing joke” with neither coalition troops nor the Iraq Survey Group turning up anything of consequence.

“The notion that pre-emption is a legitimate strategy in the face of such unconvincing intelligence is a betrayal of the Australian way,” he said. ~The Australian

Via Antiwar

The biggest recipient of Wal-Mart money? The National Council of La Raza, at a cool $630,000.

La Raza (“The Race”) is the radical “Latino” organization that is aiding and abetting, by supporting illegal immigration, the Mexican reconquista of the American Southwest. La Raza is uprooting English as the national language, plowing under American history and heroes, and planting Mexican-“Latino” culture, like so much maize, in the fertile ground of American public schools. Recently, Wal-Mart dumped spokesman Andrew Young, the black former mayor of Atlanta, for spouting unwise and unkind remarks about Jews and foreigners who supposedly exploit inner-city blacks. Yet the company merrily subsidizes “The Race.” La Raza travels with baldly racist organizations that seek reconquista, the targets of which include Washington and Oregon. What will happen to the Wal-Marts in Seattle and Portland after the reconquista is anyone’s guess, but whatever the answer, we can now see the problem with Wal-Mart. In its single-minded pursuit of profits, the company funds organizations that undermine American culture, traditions, law, and sovereignty.

This, in turn, points to the problem with capitalism on the Wal-Mart scale. To continue growing, Wal-Mart, like any cyclopean, globe-straddling corporation, must ingratiate itself not only with the political elites who rule the local, state, and federal regulatory bureaucracies, but with the cultural elites—in this case, the leftists using Wal-Mart’s ill-conceived largesse to peddle multiculturalist and open-borders ideology. These leftists and the illegal immigrants who love them would destroy the culture and economic system that created Wal-Mart. Sadly, the libertarians and “conservatives” who adore Wal-Mart, and believe its always-low-price bric-a-brac are manna for Middle America, apparently are as comfortable with Wal-Mart’s philanthropic treachery as the leftists who oppose Wal-Mart’s alleged predatory wage-and-pricing practices. Yet, if the enemies of American prosperity and culture whom Wal-Mart supports attain their goals, the libertarians and “conservatives” won’t have a Wal-Mart to adore or a country in which to adore it. That middle America will be gone. Neither Wal-Mart nor its worshipers care that a free-market economy requires consumers who appreciate and understand a free-market economy and love their country, including the laws and culture that create them. The culture creates the economy. Destroy the culture, destroy the economy.

So Wal-Mart is akin to McDonald’s: It is the apotheosis of everything wrong with America. Entering the maw of a Wal-Mart is creepy. Any normal person over the age of 40 viscerally feels, as the cornucopia of junk and tatterdemalion illegal immigrants who shop there deluge his eyes, that something is horribly wrong beneath the garish consumerism and materialism. Well, something is wrong. The company knows no loyalty. ~R. Cort Kirkwood

A leading Kazakh writer has nominated actor Sacha Baron Cohen for a national award for popularizing Kazakhstan.

Novelist Sapabek Asip-uly called on the Kazakh Club of Art Patrons to give Cohen its annual award, according to a letter published by the Vremya newspaper Thursday.

Cohen’s fictional Kazakh character Borat “has managed to spark an immense interest of the whole world in Kazakhstan — something our authorities could not do during the years of independence,” said Asip-uly, who chairs the writers’ guild “The Land and Destiny of Kazakhs.” ~CNN

The cultural price of prosperity could be predicted with mathematical precision. Between 1975 and 1995, Ireland’s fertility rate declined from 3.55 (Europe’s highest at that time) to well below replacement level of 1.87. This represented a decline of almost 50 percent within one generation, comparable to what happened to Spain and Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. The freefall is still continuing, and—unless checked—will halve the country’s already ageing population in the next four decades.

Ireland’s rapid decline in birth rates was the net result of dramatic changes in social mores. Marriages and marital fertility rates are collapsing, with over a third of all Irish babies born out of wedlock. The Church, having grown stale and complacent after decades of state patronage, is unable or unwilling to address the challenge of multiculturalist mammonism. When Pope Jon Paul II died, even Castro declared three days of mourning—but Ireland had none. The business community opposed it because of the cost of a day’s idleness, while the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) opposed it on cultural grounds, declaring that Ireland was no longer a Catholic but a multicultural society.

Yes, Ireland is just another postmodern country now, and that includes high-speed internet in my room (so you get these musings in real-time), as well as collapsing birth rates, dysfunctional families, rising crime, ubiquity of global mass-cultural uniformity. The number of unassimilable immigrants and “asylum seekers” is rising rapidly—their influx inevitably coupled with the imposition of ideological and legal mandates of “diversity,” multiculturalism and anti-discriminationism by the elite class. In the meantime, Irish culture is fast becoming a relic, either neutered à la “Riverdance” and relegated to heritage, or else condemned as retrograde. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Strange that Ireland’s population will be brought low not by famine or any of the blights of past centuries, but by affluence, self-indulgence and indifference towards the future. 

No one can serve two masters, I suppose, so the retreat of Catholicism in Ireland as Ireland surged economically was as predictable as it has been unfortunate.  The example of Poland, though not necessarily ideal, suggests that this transformation and the abandonment of national and religious traditions are never inevitable.  They are the results of both conscious attempts to throw out the old ways and the unavoidable consequences of ”creative destruction.”   

I have not been to the Republic for sixteen years, and I suspect that I would find much of the country unrecognisable from what I saw during my last visit.  It certainly sounds much uglier than it used to be.     

Many of the local political disputes these days are caused, at root, by immigration. Santa Ana’s city council debates where Mexican vending trucks are to be allowed to park. Latino activists protest proposals by one of the county’s municipalities and the county sheriff to check the immigration status of those arrested for serious crimes. Emergency rooms and trauma centers throughout the region are closing under the financial strain of serving a population that does not pay for medical services. Schools pass new bond initiatives to keep up with the costs of services for the growing population, most of whom are the children of immigrants, legal or otherwise. Residents bicker over daywork centers and other places where illegal immigrants congregate to solicit construction work. Republican strongholds are becoming Democratic strongholds.

The situation has replicated Third World development patterns. Wealthy people congregate along the beach areas depicted in the TV shows or move to the further reaches of the region and live in gated communities. Older areas become barrios. And, while the county remains mostly nice and middle class, a recent report shows that fewer than two percent of the homes sold in the LA/OC area are affordable by families with median incomes. A once-middle-class region is now becoming a county of rich and poor. ~Steven Greenhut

Why anyone wants to replicate the splendid “successes” of the Mexican social, economic and political model, I will never fully understand, but the reality that Mexican immigrants will reproduce the society and culture of their old country was entirely foreseeable and was foreseen.  For some folks, the transformation will not be so bad and will make some into a hereditary oligarchic ruling class tucked away in their little enclaves.  That is, at least until homegrown Chavismo comes knocking on their door.

That leaves one man: Dan Quayle. Not only is he eligible, but he has executive experience and would raise the Republicans’ intellectual level. Everything old is new again.

Quayle has never been a media darling, but his image is still youthful, yet he has powerful nostalgic appeal. He is untouched by scandal; he has never shot a hunting companion; he is not known to be gay; he has written no dirty books; he has no lesbian children; he was born in this country; he has never started a war or antagonized a major ethnic community; he is not being sued by an embittered former wife. His only known flaw is poor spelling.

As Republicans go, Quayle is a fascinating enigma. If anything, he is perhaps too perfect. ~Joseph Sobran

Given the quality of the competition, a popular Draft Quayle movement sounds less incredible all the time.

Some conservative Christians want to blame the anti-Gibson, anti-Christian barrage on “liberals,” but this is silly. Two of the most vicious smears have come from the neoconservative columnists William Safire and Charles Krauthammer; Gertrude Himmelfarb, wife of Irving Kristol, has made a more reasonable case against the film, though she also calls it “sadistic” (without having seen it).

Safire, however, traces the Holocaust back to Christ Himself, who laid the groundwork for violent persecution with the words “I come to bring not peace, but a sword.” Safire neglects to explain that this is a metaphor; Jesus immediately goes on to explain that His teaching will set father against son, mother against daughter, and so forth. He also says (it’s in the movie) that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

So our Lord once again proves to be “a sign of contradiction” — this time for the conservative movement. The dispute goes far deeper than politics.

Krauthammer is slightly less absurd than Safire, but more adroit in his insinuations. He blames the Catholic Church for the “blood libel” the Gospels “affixed upon the Jewish people [that] had resulted in countless Christian massacres of Jews, and prepared Europe for the ultimate massacre — six million Jews systematically murdered within six years — in the heart, alas, of a Christian continent. It is no accident,” he goes on, “that Vatican II occurred just two decades after the Holocaust, indeed in its very shadow.” [bold mine-DL] 

Gibson, he writes, has committed “a singular act of interreligious aggression,” “openly rejects the Vatican II teaching,” and “gives us the pre-Vatican II story of the villainous Jews.” The council had tried to “unteach the lesson that had been taught for almost two millennia: that the Jews were Christ-killers.”

Note what Krauthammer is doing here: He is turning a goodwill gesture of Vatican II into a smear of almost two millennia of Christendom. Evidently the council was summoned, “in the shadow of the Holocaust” (a word not even in currency until years after the council), for the chief purpose of “unteaching” what the Church had always taught, causing “countless” Christian slaughters of Jews. ~Joseph Sobran

Mr. Sobran’s article points out an important element in Krauthammer’s screed against The Passion that I did not stress enough in my earlier post.  To attack Gibson’s “pre-Vatican II” Catholicism, Krauthammer must necessarily indict, well, all of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and all those Christian confessions that have never made sufficiently satisfactory statements on interreligious attitudes.  Vatican II has to be made into some kind of consequence of and penance for the Holocaust, implying that all Catholics had done or believed something for which they should be repenting.  Where Krauthammer holds up evangelicals as a good example in all their Israel-supporting zeal, he seems to have no time for any other kind of Christian if such Christians were to consider The Passion as anything other than the crass anti-Semitic monstrosity that Krauthammer sees in it.  Christians are to be defended against ridicule when they are useful for other purposes, but their most important stories should otherwise be mocked and ridiculed and derided as expressions of utter hate and loathing for another people.  If that is not some kind of anti-Christian bigotry, I don’t know what you call it.  

Yet that [withdrawal] is what many Americans now favor, perhaps because they have been persuaded that when Sunnis and Shites [sic] kill one another, Americans must be to blame. ~Cliff May

Really?  Persuaded by whom?  Which opponents of the war have claimed that the sectarian bloodbath is, except in the most general, indirect sense (i.e., because the U.S. government invaded Iraq and overthrew its government), the fault of Americans and that it would be solved by the departure of Americans from the scene?  We have, in the phrase of “Six Months” Friedman, “uncorked a civil war,” but I don’t know of anyone who thinks that our departure will convince the sectarian militias to stop slaughtering their enemies.  “Oh, the Americans are gone.  We can stop the killing now!  Everybody shake hands.” 

I assume that others also support withdrawing our soldiers from Iraq for the simple, common sense reason that our soldiers cannot stabilise, or should not be asked to try to stabilise, a country in which all the factions want to rip it, and each other, to pieces.  Put bluntly, if the Iraqis are going to kill each other, it ceases to make any sense to ask our soldiers to risk their lives for the sake of a foreign country when the country’s own inhabitants seem to have given up on it.  It is incumbent on those who continue to support this war to explain why it makes sense and why remaining is of vital and compelling national interest for the United States.  

It seems to me that they have thrown around every argument in the book for why it is such a vital interest for the U.S., and very few in the public are buying it, because it simply doesn’t add up.  “We cannot let Iraq become a failed state,” the war supporters intone.  The average American looks at Iraq today and has to ask himself, “If Iraq today isn’t already a failed state, what on earth does a failed state look like?”  The war supporter will then burble unconvincingly, “It could become worse!”  The American replies, “Okay, but worse for whom?  For us or for them?”  The war supporter would like us to believe that it will be worse for us when it becomes worse for them, but there are good reasons to think that preventing the wreck of our armed forces, extricating ourselves out of a spiraling disaster and retaining some initiative in the direction of our foreign policy (rather than having the implosion of Iraq dictate our policy in the region for the next decade) are positively good things for us, even though they will have lousy consequences for the Iraqis.  Considering that the present war supporters and opponents of withdrawal are the same people who have cheered on the policies that led to  the starvation, bombing and shooting of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, their sudden compassion and deep concern for the humanitarian effects of withdrawal are somehow less than compelling.  Having helped make Iraq into a charnel house, partly to serve their twisted “flypaper” idea, they now lament, “We can’t leave Iraq!  Look at the slaughter.  It’s becoming a charnel house!  We have to stay around to help make it into a nice fixer-upper.”  To that proposal many Americans and a vast majority of Iraqis say, “No, thank you.  America has done enough good in Iraq to last a lifetime.  It is time to go.”  If majorities in both countries involved think that it is time to call the whole thing off, there may well be something to the idea of withdrawing from Iraq.  However, the main reason, the crucial reason, is to keep any more Americans from dying for a cause that, whatever you may have thought of it in the past, serves no rational purpose and has completely ceased to serve the national interests of the United States.

With anti-Semitism reemerging in Europe and rampant in the Islamic world; with Iran acquiring the ultimate weapon of genocide and proclaiming its intention to wipe out the world’s largest Jewish community (Israel); with America and, in particular, its Christian evangelicals the only remaining Gentile constituency anywhere willing to defend that besieged Jewish outpost — is the American heartland really the locus of anti-Semitism? Is this the one place to go to find it? ~Charles Krauthammer

One does get the sense from this column and from the recent column by David Brooks that was filled with his pained agony at Borat’s mocking of evangelical Christians and other would-be “rubes,” whom Brooks has never met in real life, that the professional evangelical and Christian-mockers of the neocon and “moderate Republican” right, such as Krauthammer and Brooks are, are deeply jealous of their territory.  Amid his Sinead O’Connor-like cries of “fight the real enemy!” Krauthammer is really saying, “Sacha, go back to Britain and leave the mocking of American Christians and the imputation of evil anti-Semitic motives to conservative Americans to the experts, namely me.  This is our job, so let us get on with it.  Now you are going to make me write a column where I will have to say nice things about Christians, and this is something I try never to do unless it is absolutely necessary.” 

Sacha Baron Cohen has been caught poaching on their turf.  Just behind Krauthammer’s laboured defense of philo-Semitic America is his open contempt for that notable cultural sensation and focus of so much American Christian enthusiasm and secular American anti-Christian hate, The Passion of the Christ.  If he finds Baron Cohen’s claim about American “indifference” to anti-Semitism ridiculous (and it is fair to say that it is ridiculous), what can one make of his obsessed ranting against The Passion as “Gibson’s blood libel”?  If Krauthammer were right about The Passion–that it recycles all the worst anti-Semitic tropes and and was a “singular act of interreligious aggression,” that would mean that tens of millions of Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom were Christians, were indifferent to what Krauthammer regarded as an undoubtedly anti-Semitic film.  If Krauthammer were right about The Passion and, by extension, the “indifference” to anti-Semitism supposedly reflected in American Christians’ embrace and defense of the film, it would mean that Baron Cohen has something of a point.  In Krauthammer’s eyes, The Passion almost has to be a religious version of “Throw The Jew Down The Well,” but with the added bonus that its creator is not spoofing the anti-Semites but really is one himself.  Those whom Krauthammer called the ”local rubes” of Tucson are necessarily multiplied by the millions and make up a large proportion of the country.  He really cannot have it both ways.  It is this kind of damningly faint praise that Krauthammer and Brooks will offer to Christian conservatives to prove that they, the elite coastal pundits, are really on our side in the final analysis, when, of course, they never have been and would never want to be on our side.

Even if there are more promising targets for ridiculing anti-Semitism elsewhere in the world, Americans make for easy targets (and, if reviews are to be believed, easy marks) because, even when their alleged prejudice or “indifference” to prejudice is pointed out to them all that most Americans will do is laugh at the guy with the funny accent and the chicken in his suitcase.  It isn’t that Krauthammer’s “rubes” don’t get that they’re being mocked–they don’t care.  In some ways the mockery is so old that it probably hasn’t got as much punch as it might have had once upon a time; in other ways, it really is so misplaced that it cannot offend and so lacks the power that kernels of truth bring to all good comedy.  There is nothing very offensive about someone mocking Americans for their anti-Semitism or other prejudices, because we have been conditioned with a fear and loathing of these things to such a degree that the accusation is more tiresome than inflammatory.  For a joke to really be over-the-top and full of biting satire, it would have to refer to something that the audience genuinely can recognise in themselves.  There is hardly anyone in America, except those whom I will mention again in a moment, who has seen clips from previous Borat acts and still manages to believe that the scenes are the spontaneous “revelations” Baron Cohen would like to have us believe they are.  

Besides, mocking non-Americans for perceived or real anti-Semitism has its problems.  Some of these other people have an unfortunate habit of attacking and killing their critics, which makes jokes at the expense of Muslim anti-Semitism a bit more risky, and most Europeans are likely to be incandescently angry at anyone who hints that they are anti-Semitic.  Often, when the accusation is delivered in a mocking tone, those who feel burdened by a history of this attitude will respond sharply and those who genuinely possess this attitude will react violently.  Meanwhile, most Americans respond to claims of their “indifference” about anti-Semitism with, well, indifference.  Krauthammer protests on our behalf, but it seems almost as if he protests too much, as if he needs to convince himself of something he doesn’t really believe at the core of his being.  That is, he needs to believe that at least some of us are as philo-Semitic as he says we are.  About American philo-Semitism, Krauthammer actually happens to be right (for once).  That does make the adventures of Borat a bit less amusing, perhaps, but it also makes people who take Borat so seriously appear rather, well, silly. 

But what must be Krauthammer’s own loathing for American Christians cannot but lead him to conclude that Baron Cohen really has revealed something that Krauthammer, through his denunciations of The Passion, has acknowledged without saying as much.  Of course, we can be confident in the knowledge that Krauthammer is not right about The Passion.  We know this partly because he is right, to some degree, about Borat.

What one does get from all of this hand-wringing about Borat is that a whole lot of people, including the creator of the film, are taking the entire thing way too seriously.  My guess is that the people whom Baron Cohen mocks in the film wouldn’t want David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer for their defenders anyway, because these two are in their way no different from the snide elites who look down on most of this country as some benighted, unwashed mass of ignorance and prejudice and who think that Borat is not a comedy but a sociological research project.  For these elites, Borat is funny because they think it is true; for everyone else, it is funny because it is hysterically silly, campy and in extremely poor taste.  If you can think of a better summation of the makings of the modern American comedy, I would like to know what they are. 

These elites, like the Krauthammers of the world, seem to be so unflinchingly humourless that they cannot simply let a very stupid comedy be a very stupid comedy, even when, or perhaps especially when, the comedian wants it to be a Serious Statement About Society.  Even supposing all the worst accusations against Gibson were true, the claims about The Passion’s anti-Semitism would still ring false.  Even supposing Baron Cohen had deep and serious reasons for making a slapstick comedy film, Borat will never be anything other than a lowbrow collection of over-the-top jokes about the gullible and the trusting. 

A smart film critic called Borat Candid Camera on crack, which is about all that it is from what I understand of it (and, no, I have not yet seen it).  Borat is simply juvenile and entertaining.  Attempts to dig deeper into the “real meaning of Borat are the things that deserve the most ridicule of all.  

Over the next three centuries, the Pilgrims’ ancestors and others fought and bled to improve the “civil” world they fled. The Revolutionary War took nearly 4,500 lives. The Civil War, a half-million lives. The combined dead in World War I was more than 116,000, and World War II’s U.S. battle deaths to defeat Germany and Japan were close to 300,000. After all that, the United States became the foremost part of “the civil part of the world.” ~Daniel Henninger

Now we all make mistakes in writing, myself included, and sometimes they can be quite egregious, so I will go fairly easy on Mr. Henninger on this one (his copy editor, however, deserves a good thrashing!).  Where Mr. Henninger said “Pilgrims’ ancestors,” he obviously must have meant “Pilgrims’ descendants.”  That is clear to all.   

But let’s not be too quick to criticise.  It can be so easy to mix the two up when you have such reverence for the national heritage as the leading voice of open borders and the free movement of people has.  Ancestors and descendants flow together in one unbroken continuity in a nation that was obviously not dedicated to a proposition in such a way that one might accidentally confuse one for the other.  I can understand how the folks at The Wall Street Journal, ever that bastion of atavism and ancestral attachments (dangerously subversive attachments at that!), would be so overwhelmed by their deep appreciation for the Burkean contract between the dead, living and unborn that they would get ancestors and descendants all mixed up.    

But, Mr. Henninger’s defenders will protest, these criticisms are valid only according to our limited non-Aymara conceptions of past and future!  Lousy linear-time, teleological Western cultural imperialist that I am, I have failed to appreciate Mr. Henninger’s deeper insight here.  Perhaps I have misunderstood Mr. Henninger entirely.  Perhaps, like the Aymara, Mr. Henninger also has some unusual way of understanding time, in which my Puritan ancestors (and “others”–a nice ecumenical gesture to the vast majority of colonial Americans who had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and Puritans) are actually in some sense living ahead of their descendants–because they have lived in what we call the past, which as everyone knows is known and therefore stands before us while the unknown future lurks behind us.  Our ancestors really are ahead of us, because they are in the past.  Henninger here must conceive of what we think of as the past as the future and think of time in exactly the reverse way we do, so it must make some kind of sense to say that someone’s ancestors come after them, or are ahead of them, in time.  

It must be meaningful that Daniel Henninger and Choquehuanca can see the world the same way!  There is hope of greater understanding and cooperation between the hub of neoliberalism and the Bolivian Foreign Secretary.  Already I feel the season of goodwill toward men breaking in upon us, and we have Mr. Henninger, ambassador of cross-cultural understanding, to thank for this. 

What’s that, you say?  You say that this was an article dedicated to defending the Bush Doctrine?  Nonsense.  I think it was an article dedicated to defending the Bush Doctrine’s antecedents, which are yet to come! 

Update [11/27]: The article has finally been corrected to read “Pilgrims’ descendants.”  So much for the great meeting of minds between Henninger and Choquehuanca–I was really looking forward to it!

Now, to be clear, Krauthammer is very possibly the worst journalist working in America today, a relentlessly pernicious force, never right about anything, who feels his commentary should not be shackled by the small-minded bonds of accuracy or logic. ~Matt Yglesias

The last two years of eight-year presidencies are historically difficult, particularly after a loss in the final midterm elections. Eisenhower in 1959-60 assumed a more aggressive conservative posture by firing off multiple vetoes of excessive spending legislation. During the Iran-contra scandal, Ronald Reagan in 1987-88 was steadfast in pursuing Cold War victory. But the way George W. Bush handled Rumsfeld was not a good sign for his concluding years as president. ~Robert Novak

My goodness, as the outgoing Secretary of Defense might have said in happier days, but some people have short memories.  I remember the firing of Donald Regan in 1987, and I was all of eight years old at the time–Novak doesn’t even mention it as a possible comparison.  (This may tell you something about how obsessive political junkies are born–we were exposed to the national news far too early!)  Not really understanding the significance of what Iran-Contra was at the time (from that time I have only spotty recollections of seeing Ollie North besieged by reporters in what must have been mid-December 1987 telling them it was time to celebrate Christmas–good one, Ollie), I remembered the incident because of the amusing similarity of the names of the President and the Chief of Staff and the fact that the firing was considered to be Something Important on the television news.  Only years later did I hear about Regan’s bitterness of how he was treated and only later did I probably fully understand why he had been forced out. 

Like Rumsfeld, he had been a fixture of the Reagan Administration, and like Rumsfeld he was chosen as the sacrificial offering to the press and the public and there were a lot of bitter feelings about the firing afterwards (Regan himself felt deeply betrayed by someone he considered a close friend).  Unlike Rumsfeld, he probably had somewhat less responsibility for the scandalous policy for which he was made to take the fall than Rumsfeld.  Also unlike Rumsfeld, Regan was not a colossal screw-up at the job from which he was being fired; if anything, he had to go because he had become too good at the job he was in and was held to be the chief one responsible for the scandal.  (In one of the absurdities of modern American life, James Baker seems to be always present but just lurking out of view in both stories!)  The main difference between them is arguably the timing, but Iran-Contra only began to fully bloom as a public scandal after the midterm defeats in ‘86.  In that sense, Reagan chucked Regan out fairly quickly (in less than a year after the scandal had become public knowledge), while Bush has maintained surprisingly steadfast loyalty to a Defense Secretary for a very long time when he should have been sent packing years ago for scandalous failures that have been only too well publicised. 

When President Reagan dropped Regan, it had all the markings of scapegoating someone, and Reagan really handled the firing of Regan no better–in terms of personal loyalty–than Bush handled Rumsfeld’s departure.  Really, comparing the two, we see that Reagan drop-kicked Regan almost immediately, while Bush actually maintained personal loyalty to Rumsfeld for a lot longer than was wise in political or policy terms.  This is not proof of Reagan’s perfidy and Bush’s virtue (far from it!)–it is a sign that Reagan was actually a far more competent political operator and leader than Bush ever will be, because Reagan understood that personnel changes cannot be considered in terms of personal relationships.  Government is not, or should not be, an old boys’ club, and this is something that has been lost on Mr. Bush since the beginning. 

It has been the singular lack of professionalism that has dogged the current administration for years.  The administration has been hampered by the reliance of everyone in the administration on a sort of court-style government in which ties to the master override all other considerations and offering unwelcome advice brings professional and political retribution.   It is probably a measure of how much respect and deference Bush has lost among a lot of Republicans that they are now pretending, with Novak serving as the voice of their frustrations, that his treatment of Rumsfeld is so much worse than the actions of past Republican Presidents who found themselves in a political tight spot and in need of someone to throw to the wolves.  In one sense, the firing of Rumsfeld was worse because it was delayed for so long.  Using the Regan firing as an example, Bush should have replaced Rumsfeld in 2004 and insulated his policy from the unending criticism of Rumsfeld that helped to destroy public and international confidence in the war effort. 

In perfect autocratic fashion, Bush tosses dissenters overboard all the time, but he will usually go to the wall for his yes-men.  He relented with Harriet Miers only because of a massive revolt in the ranks–he would have been perfectly content to go down to humiliating defeat with his absurd Court nominee, because she was a close friend and confidante.  In the end, however, the yes-men are also expendable.  This habit of cultivating yes-men rather than competent advisors and policymakers is one of the key reasons why Mr. Bush will be remembered as one of the great failures in the history of the Presidency and President Reagan will be remembered well (perhaps a little too well) as one of the most successful Presidents of all. 

One of the relatively sharper Cornerites, Andy McCarthy, has challenged Podhoretz on declaring Tom Tancredo to be on the “LaRouche” looney fringe for pointing out the erosion of American sovereignty that would follow from the creation of the so-called North American Community or North American Union.  There is, of course, nothing fringe about Tancredo’s outrage at this idea, as his outrage is shared widely.  There is also nothing fringe about the outrage over the associated North American highway that is being planned in open mockery of attempts to secure the border.   

The names being bandied about are suggestive of the obvious parallel, namely that of the morphing of the old EEC, the European Exchange Community, into the ever-more tightly politically bound EC and then EU with the ultimate goal of a unified federal government of Europe governed under the European constitution (which, when European voters had a chance to consider it, was greeted with horror and rejection everywhere).  The British, God bless them, continued to kid themselves for decades with the nonsense that the arrangements were all purely economic and never infringed on basic sovereign rights.  Except that all of the European federalists knew full well that the EC/EU was a political project with the goal of reducing sovereign nation-states to the statuss of constituent members of a larger political federation.  The Europhile Tories in Britain continued under these delusions or actively deceived their fellow Tories for a very long time, until the constitution proved to be one intrusion too far and generated tremendous public opposition, forcing Blair to effectively give up on it.  Its failure has so far scuttled the final, worst phase of integration, but the example of post-Maastricht Europe and the insufferable tyranny of Brussels in the current EU are great, flashing warning signs to all of us who face a similar fraud dressed up in the guise of free trade.  That someone like Podhoretz declares denunciations of this fraud to be the product of a lunatic fringe rather confirms that Tancredo is on the right track. 

Not even Sullivan of the low, broad Church of Doubt who sings the praises of the Gnostic “Gospels” can take Mormonism seriously as a kind of Christianity.  Granted, I wouldn’t take the judgements of the theologically illiterate too seriously, but it must mean something that even the wobbliest and least doctrinaire of Christians cannot bring himself to accept the Mormon claims to being Christian. 

He writes this in response to a reader (a self-described “atheist ex-Mormon”), who notes that one reason why Christians deny that Mormons are Christians is that Mormons have a “different view of the Trinity.”  That’s putting it rather mildly.  That’s like saying Areios, Eunomios (no relation to Eunomia!) and Sabellius had “different” views of the Trinity, when by definition their doctrines compelled them to reject anything resembling the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as Nicenes and later Orthodox Christians have understood it.  (This is why I would object to referring to the Arian controversy as a Trinitarian controversy, since one party to the controversy was incapable of acknowledging that the Trinity existed in the first place, to say nothing of how the Persons of the Trinity related to one another.)  So Mormons do not have a “different view” of the Trinity, but do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity itself and so do not confess One God in Trinity as Christians around the world have done for ages.  That is actually not a small thing, or at least it isn’t a small thing to serious Christians.  It would be much better, at least for the clarity of the argument, if Mormons were willing to defend their theology as it is and state clearly why they believe it to be true rather than play this game of “can’t we all just get along?”   

Forty-three percent (43%) of American voters say they would never even consider voting for a Mormon Presidential candidate. Only 38% say they would consider casting such a vote while 19% are not sure (see crosstabs). Half (53%) of all Evangelical Christians say that they would not consider voting for a Mormon candidate.

Overall, 29% of Likely Voters have a favorable opinion of Romney while 30% hold an unfavorable view.  Most of those opinions are less than firmly held. Ten percent (10%) hold a very favorable opinion while 11% have a very unfavorable assessment. Among the 41% with no opinion of Romney, just 27% say they would consider voting for a Mormon.

It is possible, of course, that these perceptions might change as Romney becomes better known and his faith is considered in the context of his campaign. Currently, just 19% of Likely Voters are able to identify Romney as the Mormon candidate from a list of six potential Presidential candidates. ~Rasmussen

Wow.  If this is accurate, 43% of the population would just be lost in any national general election in which Romney would run, and my guess is that they would mostly come from the Republican side of the fence.  The Democrats must be salivating at the unlikely prospect of a Romney nomination (though they would, of course, denounce sectarianism and religious prejudice even as they were reaping the benefits).  You can expect the 527s allied with his opponents in the primaries will be making a lot of noise about “unelectability.”  The candidates themselves will pretend that they are above the prejudice of the mob, but they will probably say coded things to make the same point: “We need a nominee who will unite America, and we need a nominee who can compete across the country.” 

People talk up the comparisons with JFK in 1960, but the right comparison for Romney might be Al Smith in 1928.  Would another generation make a Mormon candidate acceptable?  Possibly, if they become a much larger presence in national life and more people come into contact with them on a regular basis, but I suspect that there will be continuing opposition that is more deeply-seated than the old hostility to Catholic candidates.  It might be worth pointing out that there has still never been a Catholic Republican nominee for President, which might be attributed to the fact that Catholics have only recently been coming over to the GOP in larger numbers, but it might also be a sign that Catholic candidates on GOP tickets think they will be unable to succeed on the national stage.  

Now I’m not a political strategist by trade (but I play one at this blog), but I have seen enough of these polls to know that Romney’s 30% unfav rating before most people even know that he’s a Mormon (and this when a huge percentage of the population would never consider voting for a Mormon) is almost certain political death on the national stage.  Losing half of the evangelicals right off the bat is doom for any GOP candidate for President.  That’s not a guess–this is a reality of the dynamics of Republican primaries across the South, West and Midwest. 

The activists, leaders and NROniks can keep telling themselves that Romney is the social conservatives’ friend and ally and expect that this will make all the difference, but these anti-Mormon attitudes seem pretty powerful.  Romney can save himself some stress and a lot of time and work if he just bails out now.  No one could blame him for not wanting to try to scale an insurmountable obstacle.

An angry Mormon NRO Reader writes to Goldberg: 

As a Mormon, I am offended by the arrogance of Evangelicals like your reader from Kansas City. Why does he refuse to let me self-identify as a Christian, (he says to “compare [Mormonism] with Christianity”. Indeed I am a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ…” Each Sunday I take upon myself the name of Christ through a sacred ordinance we call the sacrament. I pray in the name of Christ. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. Again the list could go on.

Some Gnostic sects of the second century also claimed to be Christian and understood the Logos as one of a myriad Aeons who populated a complex and often baffling mythology of generations of Aeons and the hierarchy into which they were arranged.  Perhaps the Valentinians are in this respect comparable to Mormon “henotheism” with their pantheon of Jehovah, Elohim, etc. (who are, unless I am very much mistaken, considered to be distinct divinities, albeit perhaps “manifestations” of one supreme deity).  Some Vaishnavites (worshipers of Vishnu) believe that Christ was one of the latter-day incarnations of Vishnu, following the more well-known avatars Rama and Krishna, to name only two, but this obviously does not make them Christians. 

Perhaps more relevant is the example of the Arians.  Arians claimed to be Christians, indeed were coming from within the Church, but according to everything that virtually all Christians have believed for 1,600 years they were not really Christians.  That did not stop the Arians from considering themselves to be orthodox Christians, but their saying it did not, as far as anyone else was concerned, make it so.  It was also untrue, which is the rather crucial point here.  This ceases to be a contest over labels at some point and becomes very much one of clashing truth claims.  Put bluntly, many Mormon truth claims are absurd from the perspective of every Christian confession on the planet.  In short, either what they claim is true, and everyone else is a false Christian, or what the major confessions agree on (for example, that God is unoriginate, or that God is One in Trinity) shows their doctrines to be utter nonsense and proves them to be far outside the bounds not only of any one confession’s definition of orthodoxy but far outside the bounds of any recognisable Christianity.   

As Fr. Neuhaus said in his 2000 discussion of Mormonism, the most apt comparison may be with Islam.  That will sound particularly pejorative nowadays, but it is not intended to be.  It is not simply the abstemious Mormon avoidance of alcohol (and nicotine and coffee) that makes the comparison apt.  Their confident claim that the Jews and Christians (or, in their view, pseudo-Christians) distorted the “true” Scriptures is identical to the claim of the Qur’an about the Tanakh and the Gospels.  In the case of the Qur’an, this allows for Muhammad’s garbled, half-remembered stories derived from both sources to be taken as the true accounts against which the “corrupt” versions will be compared and found wanting.  I confess to not having read Joseph Smith’s “revised” Bible, so I cannot say just how much has been changed, but the presumption of changing it at all creates a significant problem for virtually all Christians.  The gentleman writes to encourage all to read the Book of Mormon “along with the Bible.”  But, of course, the question will come up: which Bible?  Theirs or ours?  Isn’t the reality of a significant difference between the two yet another example of the disconnect between their claim to be Christian and the reality that LDS are not?  The list of doctrinal errors could go on.   

No one can stop Mormons from self-identifying any way they please.  No one is trying all that hard to stop them.  But it is a bit tiresome to hear the complaints that Mormons are somehow being oppressed because the rest of us will not indulge what appears to us to be a false claim.  The hard-line Mormon view, as I understand it, is that the rest of us are not Christians, which must make it especially galling to them to have us, the pretenders, tell them that they are not really Christians.  But it shouldn’t be galling; it should be something they expect.  If Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, non-Chalcedonians, etc. and all our predecessors going back to the first century are frauds, as they hold we must be if their church is the “re-established” Church of Jesus Christ, why would it matter what we call them or whether we, the frauds, credit them with the name of Christian?  It is as if they wish to be included at our table as part of a kind of Christian big tent, when in fact they (or at least their church authorities) have no interest in any such thing.  They would like us to acknowledge their claims to being the true church, but if they believe they are right about us they must know that we, frauds that we are, will never acknowledge anything of the sort.  There is a certain integrity to this view that they are the true church, and it is one that I can understand (the Orthodox Church makes the same claim about Herself), but if you want to insist on that claim you should be prepared to find your most outlandish doctrines closely scrutinised and roundly criticised when they deviate from what virtually all Christians have accepted for at least 1,600 years.       

Some 40 couples showed up at a country club in the tiny Ohio town of Van Wert on November 11th—not boyfriend and girlfriend but fathers and their school-age daughters, several as young as 10, dressed up in glittery gowns and heels.

After the pastor finishes, fathers and daughters sign pledges to help keep the girl chaste before marriage. Daughters agree to “remain sexually pure until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband.” Then the father gives the daughter a ring, to be worn on her fourth finger until it is replaced by a wedding band. Hugs ensue, then a prayer, and then fathers and daughters take to the floor to the strains of “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”


The concept is spreading around the country. Van Wert got its ball after the pastor and his wife moved from Albuquerque, where they had run another such event. The Van Wert ball is now in its second year, and has inspired two other nearby towns to begin their own. In Colorado Springs, Lisa Wilson, the ball organiser, says she has sent information packs to groups in 21 states and four countries—New Zealand, Sweden, France and Canada. Sponsors, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s in Van Wert, sometimes help pick up the tab for the events.

But what about the boys? Surely they bear at least half of the blame for the scourge of pre-marital sex? In Colorado Springs, Ms Wilson and her husband have created a private “manhood celebration” for their 12-year-old son. He is handed an engraved sword and urged to “grow into the weight of manhood”, which includes purity. In Van Wert, ball-goers agree that there should be an event for the boys. Which, if indoctrination of the girls works, seems a reasonable idea. Otherwise the chaste will constantly be chased. ~The Economist

American Muslim “matrimonal banquets” seem relatively normal to me by comparison.  Am I missing something, or is there something distinctly odd about having girls as young as 10 making public pledges about sex? 

To give a credible account of the sacred stories and truth claims is no easy task. Not to put too fine a point on it, the founding stories and doctrines of Mormonism appear to the outsider as a bizarre phantasmagoria of fevered religious imagination not untouched by perverse genius. Germinated in the “burnt–over district” of upstate New York in the early nineteenth century, where new religions and spiritualities produced a veritable rainforest of novel revelations, the claims of Joseph Smith represent a particularly startling twist of the kaleidoscope of religious possibilities. In 1831, Alexander Campbell, cofounder of the Disciples of Christ, said that Smith pasted together “every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years.” Much of the teaching reflects the liberal Protestantism of the time, even the Transcendental and Gnostic fevers that were in the air: e.g., a God in process of becoming, progressive revelation, the denial of original sin, and an unbridled optimism about the perfectibility of man. Mix that in with the discovery of golden tablets written in a mysterious language, the bodily appearance of God the Father and Son, angelic apparitions, and a liberal dose of Masonic ritual and jargon, and the result is, quite simply, fantastic. The question, of course, is whether it is true.


The question as asked by Mormons is turned around: are non–Mormons who claim to be Christians in fact so? The emphatic and repeated answer of the Mormon scriptures and the official teaching of the LDS is that we are not. We are members of “the great and abominable church” that was built by frauds and impostors after the death of the first apostles. The true church and true Christianity simply went out of existence, except for its American Indian interlude, until it was rediscovered and reestablished by Joseph Smith in upstate New York, and its claims will be vindicated when Jesus returns, sooner rather than later, at a prophetically specified intersection in Jackson County, Missouri. ~Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

The other question that is often asked of whether it is Christian seems even easier to answer.  The answer, of course, is no.  Even if you could somehow leave aside the stunningly heterodox theology that makes Areios look moderate and agreeable and the incredible sacred history of the Lamanites that strains the credulity of the most credulous, you would be left with things such as the denial of original sin, something so fundamental to all Christian confessions (though some do not endorse a strict Augustinian view of the matter) and vital to the understanding of the reason for the Incarnation of the Word, that leave a reasonably orthodox Christian of any confession marveling at how such a group could regard itself as being all that terribly similar with Christian churches.   

The question about a Romney candidacy is not entirely whether Christian conservatives will vote for a Mormon as such, but whether they can honestly accept someone as their candidate whom they regard as a non-Christian.  An important part of voting, as I have said numerous times, is the ability to identify with a candidate.  Can Christian conservatives look past the Mormon identity of a candidate and support him because he shares their views on certain social issues?  They might, but that is not what voters typically do.  They don’t overlook their visceral discomfort with a candidate because he happens to take the right positions; they find candidates who make them feel comfortable and then choose among them based on whether they can identify with one and only then, if at all, do they come to policy questions.  If people are predisposed to oppose a Mormon candidate for President because he is not a Christian, it will not matter what he says.  If his non-Christian identity doesn’t disturb them, he might appeal to them on common political ground.  

For those who are reacting in a hostile manner to Romney, it would not matter what religion Romney followed so long as it is not Christianity, because they would probably not support his candidacy regardless of what kind of non-Christian he was.  One thing that sets some Christians on edge about Mormonism is the claim and the presumption of those in the LDS to call themselves Christians and to be offended when others deny them that name; arguably, were it not for the attempt to pretend to be Christian against the considerable evidence to the contrary, Mormons might seem less objectionable to many of their Christian critics.  The attempt to claim a Christian identity where none exists, it seems to me, comes across to some Christians as a kind of political strategy, a way to make their religion more palatable to the majority by telling sugar-coated falsehoods.  On the one hand, this strikes some as dishonest or calculating; on the other, it strikes others as a worrisome sign that many Mormons may not actually know what their own church teaches and are being profoundly misled by their church authorities, which lends credibility to the anxiety about a rapidly growing cult in our midst.  All of this tends to give a very bad impression.  Add to that the strange history of Joseph Smith and the LDS itself, and you have a recipe for deep distrust and suspicion.

I suspect that we will all, myself included, be shocked by the strength of the anti-Mormon sentiment that appears in the GOP primaries when Romney is running.  We will likely see a powerful anti-Romney campaign in South Carolina and other early primaries that will make the attacks on McCain in 2000 look like a picnic.  Worse than turning against Romney in large numbers, Christian conservatives will simply stay away if there are no other credible alternatives.  Given the Terrible Trio, many conservatives will not bother to vote in primaries where they are forced to choose between the Belligerent Old Man, the Drag Queen and the Mormon.  In practical political terms, Romney will also be too well known in New Hampshire and too much of an established figure to win a primary that tends to go to underdogs and, in two years, will possibly go an intensely populist candidate (Duncan Hunter, this may mean you).  The question of whether evangelicals will vote for Romney may be moot when the primaries in which they have a lot of clout come around, as his campaign might well be struggling to stay above water by that point for reasons almost entirely unrelated to his religion. 

All that is not to say the theocons have had no effect on the nation’s politics. Perhaps ironically, considering Neuhaus’ background, where they have been most successful is in shoring up conservative Catholic support for President Bush’s foreign policy. Linker devotes a chapter to the “distinctive theocon approach to just war reasoning—ridiculing antiwar clerics for having forgotten the Catholic tradition and praising Republican administrations for keeping it alive.” After the initial success of the Iraq invasion, Neuhaus wondered in print whether in the future it might be possible to consider “military action in terms not of the last resort but of the best resort.” There’s a curiously Jacobin streak in this now-conservative priest. In the ’60s, in the ’90s, and in Iraq today, Neuhaus has called for uprooting the established order in the name of justice and democracy. The results, as far as the rest of us can see, have not been encouraging. ~Daniel McCarthy

In closing, I should state what I believe is *not* an ideology, since I must appear inordinately fond of calling everyone an ideologue. The world is generally too complex to understand without resort to simplifying assumptions; hence, for the most part, everyone who has informed political opinions is an ideologue, myself included [bold mine-DL]. The only persons are who are not ideologues are, first, radical quietists like Oakeshott who hew rigorously to the belief that political wisdom can’t be expressed in propositional form. They’re probably right. Second, those geniuses are not ideologues who are capable of seeing so far that they can recognize their own assumptions as such. These are the paragons of what Weber called the “ethics of responsibility.” All others, even the Reillyists, remain imprisoned in cages that they cannot see. ~Austin Bramwell

I stand corrected.  In his TAC article, Mr. Bramwell did not call for a pox on all houses.  It was only aimed at most houses, and only then to awaken us from our “dogmatic slumbers.”  Which dogmatic slumbers?  Why, those of ideology, of course, in which apparently “everyone who has informed political opinions” slumbers. 

Naturally, if at this point I were to say, “Surely Kirk thought that Burke held informed political opinions and yet was powerfully opposed to the spirit of ideology and was not an ideologue, which suggests that this definition of ideology is probably incorrect or less than useful,” I would simply be reifying my invisible cage of dogmatic commitments as confirmed by what I apparently consider to be Kirkian Revelation (not just revelation, but Revelation!).  To cite a reasonable authority on a matter becomes equivalent to waving Scripture in someone’s face and invoking God’s will.  I suspect that this will fail to convince very many, not least because it doesn’t seem to me to make very much sense.  That isn’t a problem, because almost anything I or anyone else will be able to say about it can be reduced, in the end, to the invisible cage of assumptions and commitments about which we are all supposedly unaware.

Let us consider what this definition of ideology means.  It means that when Mr. Bramwell said of Kirk that he had “almost no political opinions whatsoever,” this was actually a compliment for Kirk (it means that he was relatively non-ideological, which we all agree is generally a Good Thing).  So it was a compliment for him, in spite of the fact that it was a statement made in service of dismissing anyone who would desire “to return to its [the movement’s] alleged first principles,” such as those outlined by this same largely apolitical Russell Kirk, because the conservative movement supposedly never had any of these principles anyway.  Even though the “policy implications” of the ideas of Kirk, Weaver, et al. were obscure, and their ideas therefore apparently largely irrelevant to whatever it is that we ought to be doing (which at the end Mr. Bramwell suggests should be a search for wisdom, but one is left wondering what policy implications have to do with wisdom), to the extent that they were quietist and/or geniuses they were free from the taint of ideology.  So they are eccentric and their ideas of little use, but at least they aren’t ideological.  Except when they say silly things like, “ideas have consequences,” because we are supposed to think that people who say that believe that only ideas have consequences. 

All of which forces the question: what on earth is conservatism (which, to be “dogmatic” again, is the negation of ideology) if almost all conservatives of every stripe, who have undoubtedly had informed political opinions to one degree or another, are effectively ideologues?  The conservative protests in vain who says that he is not ideological, because the very attempt to respond will be considered simply a way of shoring up his ideological position.  

Then there is the question of the pre-political loyalties, which Mr. Bramwell says that he questioned.  Well, no, he didn’t question them.  He ridiculed them as “dangerously subversive” and in a reductio ad Mediorientem painted the bleak picture of what a society defined by “ancestral loyalties” must look like.  Missing then was his more qualified claim that all he meant was that pre-political and political loyalties must be balanced and neither should be allowed to go too far.  That makes a lot more sense than calling them dangerously subversive and alluding to the calamities of Iraqi and other Middle Eastern nations’ tribal and religious politics:

At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive. The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan. Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East.     

In his response to Jape, he now claims:

Conceding that I was being provocative, in discussing “ancestral loyalties,” I made nothing more than the self-evident-to-the-point-of-banal observation that not all “pre-political” loyalties are good things. On the contrary, just like political loyalties, they are sometimes good and sometimes bad.

But calling something “the curse of uncivilized peoples” and conjuring dark images of sectarian massacre that his readers would have imagined upon reading about “ancestral loyalties” in relation to the Middle East is not to say that these loyalties are “sometimes good and sometimes bad.”  What he clearly said was that, except perhaps for a brief moment in the 1950s, talking up such loyalties has generally been a very bad idea and inimical to…well, to something.  What is that something?  Ah, order.  Because, he tells us, those who place value on these “ancestral loyalties” have a poor grasp of how to obtain order and must endorse these attachments in such a way that they are inimical to what I might call good order.  Mr. Bramwell also adds:

But it is not clear that Burke did categorically oppose the cutting short of “pre-political” loyalties. On the contrary, it strikes me as quite imprudent and un-Burkean to set “pre-political” against “political” loyalties in the first place, rather than to say, sensibly, that both, within limits, have their place.

But setting the pre-political against the political in the first place is exactly what Mr. Bramwell did in his original article.  Scroll back up and see the statement Mr. Bramwell made on this very point.  For instance, he said, “The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers,” which sounds very different from saying that those loyalties have their proper place.  Something does not have a place when it has been extirpated.  Even granting some license for making an exaggerated statement to get our attention, one seriously wonders whether Burke would have viewed such extirpation of loyalties as anything other than Jacobin insanity.  This statement about the U.S. sounds like, I’m sorry to say, something some rationalising liberal nationalist of the late 18th or 19th centuries would say.  The War of Secession saw some ruthless extirpation of people’s old loyalties to their separate states, all right, and a great many people have been the worse for it.  Every centralist and liberal revolutionary of the 19th century found these attachments to be impediments to their vision of order, sure enough, and they saw them as impediments to the rational, constitutional state they were trying to create.  They were right–these attachments are impediments to a liberal vision of society and they are impediments to the state.  Those are two reasons, though certainly not the most important, why these attachments are very good.  (Can they be taken to excess and turned into unjust and inhuman idols?  Of course, but the reality that they are not the “curse of uncivilized peoples” and instead the foundations on which civilised life is built should be equally clear.) 

That is why it seems fairly clear (I wouldn’t say self-evident) why anyone interested in checking and restraining the state, for example, and actually enjoying the good order of a healthy society that is not cramped and straitened by the burdens of unjust and intrusive government (including the central state’s tendency to make war and steal the wealth of the people), would want to defend these loyalties with far more energy than they would want to defend the claims of the central state or any order that such a state might impose.  Peace, justice and prosperity seem reasonably good standards by which to judge the conservative-ness of a particular vision of order, and yet there is little in Mr. Bramwell’s response that suggests that his original objection to “ancestral loyalties” or even his more qualified balancing act between the different sets of loyalties measures up very well by comparison. 

Then there is Mr. Bramwell’s frankly embarrassing targeting of the so-called Reillyists on their arguments in favour of the social bonds of family, religion and community:

They allude frequently a certain vision of the Middle Ages-the same one that we get from Henry Adams-where each man knows his place in the order of things and unquestioningly does his duty. It seems to me, however, that Reillyists understand neither family, community nor the Middle Ages.

Of course, no one who knows anything about the Middle Ages subscribes to the view that the imaginary feudal hierarchical pyramid mentioned here ever existed, and I honestly don’t know any of these so-called Reillyists who think that medieval Europe was a place with a perfectly harmonious-but-stratified social structure.  One would have to be entirely ignorant of the history of medieval Germany, Italy and France, among other places, to think that this model held up in actual practice or that it was even the conscious ideal of most people living at the time.  This vision was the construction of medieval legal theorists on the one hand, who were trying to make some sense of the bewildering array and diversity of relationships of service and fealty (the bonds and relationships existed, but they did not fit into a neat, uniform pattern), and was also encouraged by the revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who condemned “feudal” society for all the same reasons that Romantics in the 19th century came to praise such a society.   

Then there is the questionable claim, related to the claim that the Middle Ages were a “revolutionary age,” that “Nobody tried harder to “immanentize the eschaton” than Hildebrand.”  Mr. Bramwell refers here, I assume, to Pope Gregory VII, and as much as I share Richard Weaver’s dislike for Pope Gregory I simply cannot agree with such an erroneous statement.  First of all, a great many medieval people–the Cathars, for instance–tried harder to immanentise the eschaton than Gregory VII, and second of all Gregory VII didn’t try to do any such thing.  Whatever I may think of the negative consequences the so-called Papal Revolution had on western Europe and the possibility of reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, I would never say something so exaggerated and overreaching about Pope Gregory VII.  In his defense, Pope Gregory was insisting on the canonical rights of the See of Rome with respect to the investiture of bishops, which had by long usage and customary practice been taken over by local secular rulers for reasons of convenience and political expediency.  The Papal Revolution was in many respects a Papal Reaction, an attempt to ”restore” a state of affairs that had, of course, never exactly existed before the 11th century but which represented an attempt to force the secular rulers of western Europe to adhere to the canons of the Catholic Church and to establish firmly the Papacy’s episcopal authority over other bishops.  This was an act of church reform that brought the practice of the Catholic Church into line with the canons.  It was quite far away from the spirit of gnosticism seeking to realise the Kingdom here below.  There were chiliasts in the Middle Ages, and there were several medieval mystics who taught, or who were believed to have taught, the imminent return of the Lord, whose way they believed they were preparing through spiritual or political action, but Gregory VII was as far removed from these people as anyone possibly could have been.   

All that having been said, preferring a society of deference, orders and hierarchy to one of rude egalitarianism and the emancipated individual need not appeal to medieval examples for its support (not that anyone today would be inclined to follow medieval examples if they were offered), but simply appeal to experience and the common sense respect for the fact that man is a social being that flourishes better when he belongs to a tightly-woven web of social bonds arising from his family, religion and neighbours.  More critical Byzantinists have regarded Byzantine society as distinct from its western medieval counterparts in the relative weakness of intermediary institutions (except for the Church) and the exposure of the individual and the nuclear family to the largely unmediated power of the autocrat.  As much as I admire and appreciate Byzantium, there is a lot of truth to this analysisand I think it is fair to say that that is the kind of order towards which Mr. Bramwell’s vision inevitably tends.  It has certain advantages, but it carries with it tremendous costs that I, for one, do not believe to be worth paying. 

Certainly in the present moment I can think of nothing more dangerously subversive of good order than emphasising the dangers from “ancestral” or “pre-political loyalties” while having nothing to say about the continuing expansion of the central state that continues to impose its dysnomia upon this country and the world. 

Dennis Dale kindly links to my recent TAC article and mentions that a version of his outstanding satirical post that I quoted here will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of the magazine.  Curmudgeonly bloggers are making our mark.

Matt Yglesias has been calling this line of thinking racist for some time, but I don’t think that’s right; rather, I think it reflects the poverty of the liberal imagination (Lockean liberalism, I mean, not Ted Kennedy liberalism), and specificially its inability to conceive of the possibility that anyone might prefer anything to the blessings of “universalism.” This has been one of the fatal flaws in the Iraq enterprise from the beginning - the notion that the superiority of a liberal, semi-secular multiethnic democracy to the various alternatives on offer (whether it’s an independent Kurdistan or a Moqtada-style Islamic Republic) was sufficiently self-evident to get the vast majority of Iraqis on board. ~Ross Douthat

This is a vital point, and one I’m glad to see Ross making.  It isn’t a racist attitude as such (though I guess it could become one if allowed to run its course), but the bitter venom of the dejected hyper-optimist.  It is like a father shouting abuse at his two-year old son for not being able to drive the family car: “What’s wrong with you, you ungrateful, lazy brat?  Put this car in gear already!  What do you mean you don’t know how to drive?  I gave you the manual!”  Excessively high expectations based in delusionally optimistic assessments of the real world will always come crashing down when they encounter that real world itself, and the angst and resentment will be deep and severe. 

As Prof. Dienstag, author of Pessimism, noted in my interview with him published a couple weeks ago, optimism in this world always breeds disappointment, which leads to an ugly politics of resentment.  It is possible that that politics of resentment on Iraq might eventually turn into more vicious prejudices, but right now it is limited mainly to war supporters excusing their own arrogance and delusions by pinning much of the failure on the Iraqis who failed to live up to an archetype of Universal Man that has never existed in the real world and never could exist.  Inside of every Iraqi, pace Joker of Full Metal Jacket, there is not an American trying to get out, and even if none of the war’s supporters would ever put their original beliefs quite so bluntly many of them very much did believe that Man is everywhere the same in almost all respects (certainly in all important ones).  In one sense, it is true that the Iraqis “failed” to hold up their end of the bargain, but then any people would fail when given a virtually impossible task with no preparation and limited resources.  One might as well blame a hatchling for falling to its death after you throw it off the side of a building and say to it, “Fly!  You’re free now!”  Instead of saying, “I should never have thrown that hatchling off the roof,” these people say, ”Stupid bird!”  

Observing the Iraqis’ lack of any history or habits suitable to the kind of government they were being called on to run is not condescension or chauvinism.  It seems to me to be a blunt assessment of the unequal states of different cultures around the world with respect to having the necessary habits and history to cultivate a functioning representative government under a rule of law.  There is nothing inherent in any particular people that makes them eternally incapable of such a political regime, should they for some reason actually want to create it, but there are a great many things in various peoples’ cultures or religions that will always take precedence (and, in some sense, absolutely should take precedence) over the question of how legislative bodies shall be selected or what kind of protections against the state will be enshrined in law.  Sometimes this culture or religion will proscribe the attempt at having a representative government as we understand it all together, which would be rather normal and in keeping with most of human history.  Perhaps it is regrettable, and perhaps it would be better in certain ways if that were not the case, but conservatives, at least, are supposed to be good at facing up to things as they are.  Many have either become very bad at doing this, or they are revealing their lack of a conservative mind every day they continue to run away from a clear assessment of things as they are.

I have frequently commented on this (broadly-construed) liberal contempt for people with traditional loyalties and motivations that do not fall into the neat patterns of what constitute the ”rational motives” of good secular Western liberals, and on why it is a preposterous way to think about other peoples and cultures (especially if one is attempting to change those cultures in some significant way). 

One of the more pathetic lines coming out the pro-war camp these days is the one put forward by Krauthammer, who holds that one of the main mistakes war supporters made was that they underestimated how much damage Hussein had done to Iraqi political culture, as if this entire project would have worked wonderfully well had it taken place in 1958 or 1978 instead.  That isn’t to deny that Hussein did a lot of damage to Iraqi political culture, but to point out that the delusion remains among some of these people that beneath the carapace of totalitarianism lay the vital, gooey center of the potential for a democratic Iraq.  It may have been badly damaged under Hussein, I will allow, but there remains among them the Krauthammerian illusion that it ever existed in the first place.  That is so profoundly wrong that it isn’t funny–how do people such as these get to be taken seriously on matters of national importance? 

The bitterness of a Ralph Peters is all the more powerful because he remained so delusionally committed to the project for so long when so many others had already jumped ship.  Now that he is throwing in the towel, it’s only because the Iraqis have proven themselves unworthy of what he and his ilk have deigned to offer.  None of these people ever seems to consider the possibility that the gift was not a worthy or fitting one for the people to whom it was offered.  (Shocking heresy, I know–how can democracy be unsuitable for anyone?)  In typical hard-headed ideological fashion, these war supporters are like the guy who can’t understand why his wife doesn’t appreciate getting a copy of Grand Theft Auto for her birthday–except that the stakes in Iraq are far greater and the inappropriateness of the gift is almost immeasurably worse. 

The only reason why those who are still true believers in the war in Iraq (think Hugh Hewitt) haven’t gone into full-on anti-Iraqi mode is because they are still caught up in full-on liberal- and media-hating mode.  These folks are too busy concocting elaborate theories of the “enemy within” betraying the country that they actually willfully overlook the event in which one of our own putative allies forces our soldiers to ditch one of their own men held in captivity to serve a local political agenda.  When these people give up on Iraq, pity the Iraqis, who will not only have to suffer the hell Washington has helped create but will also be scorned and mocked by their erstwhile benefactors for their failure to be good, little subalterns and learn to imitate the masters.  This contempt for the Iraqis is rarely explicitly racial or even religious.  Its roots are ideological: these sorts of people have begun to hate the Iraqis because the Iraqis remind them that real people do not conform to the sterile dogmas of their think tanks and their sadly inadequate political theories.  They are not playing by the same rules; they may not even be playing the same game, which is very bothersome for people who want everyone everywhere in the world to play the same game.  If Iraqis do not conform to the model, perhaps other peoples will also fail to conform, which threatens to reveal that the model itself is bogus (which has, of course, been repeatedly revealed before, but each time it happens it makes it harder for the ideologue to talk his way out of it).     

Obviously, I agree with Ross that this failure to understand the pull on Iraqis of other loyalties and motivations was a major flaw in so much of the ”debate” leading up to the invasion and much of what happened in the post-invasion occupation.  The line was simply, “Everybody wants freedom,” as if that were a coherent or meaningful position in discussing political realities. 

Back on 9 August, I wrote about the contemptuous liberal attitude towards people with other loyalties and motivations:

But there is something a little odd and more than a little condescending about this.  It is as if the liberal universalist yuppie has taken his first steps out of his own, sheltered neighbourhood to meet with a brusque reception at the local bar full of people he has never seen before (except maybe on TV) and does not really understand.  After an evening at the bar that sees him get into a nasty brawl with someone over an ill-chosen phrase about liberation, he is confident that ”those people” are simply savages who simply want to obey their lower desires.  That must be what they want more than anything else.  Nobody likes people like this yuppie, because he makes no effort to understand the motivations of his fellow man.  “If they do not respond as I do, or as I would wish them to, they must be bent solely on evil or destruction or vengeance–that’s the only explanation!”

In the mind of this kind of liberal universalist, maintaining strong attachments to “tribe or religion or whatever” (in Krauthammer’s infamous phrase) is almost as bad as being bent on destruction and evil.  Of this attitude, I wrote on 3 September:

What the Krauthammers of the world have never seemed to understand was that acknowledging a man’s loyalty to his tribe and religion is not an insult, but a recognition of the things that he finds meaningful and the things that will dictate his actions.  Only someone who views those kinds of loyalties with contempt believe it is contemptuous to attribute such loyalties to others.  For Krauthammer, saying that a man prefers tribal loyalty above indeterminate freedom is like saying he prefers misery to happiness; for normal people, it has almost exactly the opposite meaning.  

When Ralph Peters scoffs from on high at these people, evincing every ounce of contempt that every colonialist propagandist has for the subaltern, he confirms this same kind of attitude.  Again in the 9 August post, I also wrote about what drives sectarian rivalries in Iraq:

There is also the settling of scores with enemies old and new, the payment of blood-debts that they feel obliged to ”pay” out of obligation to their kin or their ancestors or to abstract honour, which is the inevitable form that seeking justice will take in a society where there is no general or effective law. 

There is something sick and perverse in the idea that if every man does not desire “freedom,” he is therefore primarily be out to bludgeon in his neighbour’s skull or be bent on killing Jews, as if the range of human motivation was so limited and as if there were no diversity of human motives beyond these starkly opposed poles. 

And again:

So the universalist yuppie says to his friends back at the villa: “I used to think that everyone was equal and desired the same things that I did, but now I realise that people who do not desire what I do are irrational savages.”  How quickly a universalist can go from praising the universality of freedom and the general dignity of man to declaring entire groups of people to be motivated by nothing better than power-hunger and bloodlust.  So much for the universal aspirations of Man!  

Earlier, on 3 August, I noted how bizarre it was that many Americans assume that what we were offering to the Iraqis (assuming for the sake of argument the best of intentions on this score) was what all normal societies should want and which their societies failed to create because their societies were dysfunctional.  (They may be dysfunctional in many important respects, but if so they are dysfunctional by our lights in ways that many societies have been dysfunctional.)  Rather than see our own culture as an odd mutant strain that has since found footholds elsewhere, many of us view the Islamic world as being deeply abnormal when it is far more normal–if we judge by the bulk of human experience–than is our own kind of political culture and society:

The question we might ask instead is why anyone thinks that there is something aberrant about people who prefer traditional loyalties to religion, clan and family over the dubious benefits of the nation-state, “rational” legislation, social atomisation and secular democratic politics.  We may find their religion deficient and see other problems in their political culture, but that is beside the point. 

At bottom the democratists are puzzled by the peoples of the Near East not because the latter are an aberration, a glitch in the universal progression towards global liberal democracy, but because they are far closer to the normal human experience found throughout recorded history.  It is an experience from which the democratists have been divorced for a fairly long time; it is a kind of experience they have grown up learning to look down on and ridicule as primitive or regressive.  To find people for whom the usual god-words (democracy, equality, rights, etc.) have no real meaning in the final analysis is a bit like landing on an entirely foreign shore to encounter people almost beyond your understanding.  How could they not want freedom more than anything, after all?  But for such people, avenging slights to honour, protecting hearth and home and fighting your kin’s ancestral or new enemies are the stuff of life; they are things that endure regardless of the regime, regardless of the laws on the books, and they count for a lot more than what any new Iraqi government or “free society” has to offer them.  Indeed, if they knew what “rational” legislation and “free society” entailed for their traditional loyalties and customs, they would probably stop killing their sectarian enemies and direct all their efforts to preventing these things from coming to their country.   

All of this is by way of saying that the entire enterprise was doomed from the start, as some of us assumed and as a few said four years ago.  Arguably, it does not necessarily tell us what Washington should do now.  Nonetheless, partly because of the foregoing arguments and partly because of what I consider to be a fairly common sense view that our presence in Iraq achieves nothing, I maintain what I have been maintaining on this blog for the better part of two years and what I have believed since the war started: we should end the occupation and bring our soldiers home as soon as it is practicable.  I assume that this could be done within a year, and I imagine that this is actually a fairly conservative estimate of how long a safe extraction of our soldiers would take. 

Where would they go?  Not to nearby staging areas, not to a new set of foreign bases that will irk the locals, but back home.  Bring them back to this country.  The Iraqis (and others) will compete in the funeral games of Iraq, and someone or other will win.  If opponents of the war still believe, as I do, that Hussein’s Iraq was no serious threat to the United States, I defy anyone to explain how a fragmented, even weaker batch of sub-Iraqi statelets will threaten anyone except each other.  We can keep meddling and prolong the intra-Iraqi conflict as we did in Yugoslavia, or we can step aside and avoid getting trapped in the middle of a conflict that we cannot now prevent.  Simply put, if we do not leave Iraq in the near future, I am doubtful that we will leave for many, many more years, by which time our casualties will have risen still higher and the inevitable break-up of Iraq will still take place after the full depth of our impotence to stop it has been revealed.  More Americans will have died for a bad cause that will not even have some redeeming quality of marginal success. 

Leaving now will incur the recriminations of many nations that still believe, in spite of everything they have seen, that the American government can do anything if it sets its mind to it, but being forced to leave later will bring down the humiliation of revealing that the American government really did put its mind to saving Iraq and failed ignominiously.  That said, withdrawal should obviously not be done pell-mell or in such a way that it endangers our soldiers as they are withdrawing.  It should be done with the goal of preserving all members of our armed forces as much as possible, since that is part of the very rationale of withdrawal at this point, but should otherwise be done as quickly as possible.     

I am not ‘running’ for president. I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen. ~Newt Gingrich

Put in a slightly different way, this might be seen as an attempt at some kind of republican self-deprecation (”I do not seek high office, but if the people require my services I will do my duty,” etc.), but in Gingrich’s mouth what should be a statement of utmost humility becomes instead a kind of revelry in his own world-historical significance. 

It’s nice to see that time and failure have not worn down Gingrich’s megalomaniacal sense of his own genius.  I would hate to think that magnificient failures in political leadership would deter someone so self-absorbed from pursuing ever greater power.  If it had, it might suggest that people were beginning to learn from the Republican follies of the last 10 years. 

When handicapping contestants for the GOP nomination in ‘08, I don’t even think about Gingrich.  It isn’t because he won’t be running for President creating a movement to win the future, but because nobody wants to belong to his movement or live in the future won by someone like him.  Some candidates will go nowhere in the primaries; Gingrich will just spin around in circles until he collapses.  Some people enjoy reading columns or listening to radio shows done by people who rave about WWIII (or IV or V).  But most people tend not to place these raving preachers of doom in a position of power where they can make WWIII a reality.

Gingrich espouses the successful tactics of the “let the voters come to me” school of electioneering:

While other potential competitors like Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney build staff and hire consultants, Gingrich revealed to Fortune that he plans to create a draft-Newt “wave” by building grassroots support for his health care, national security and energy independence ideas - all of which he has been peddling to corporate audiences over the past six years. “Nice people,” Gingrich says of his GOP competitors. “But we’re not in the same business. They’re running for president. I’m running to change the country.”

Elsewhere, I have said that John McCain is dangerous, and he is.  But Gingrich is downright pathological.

While some people have been upset or irritated at the Congressional GOP for keeping their leadership teams largely intact in both chambers (save for the addition of Trent “They All Look The Same To Me” Lott), and the House leaders John Boehner and Roy Blunt have received most of the attention practically no one has said word one about the future Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  He had been Majority Whip and has simply ascended to the next position with Frist no longer in the Senate.  In all of the commentary, his continuation in the GOP leadership has gone virtually unnoticed.  Being the whip in a GOP majority that accomplished next to nothing for the last three years ought to earn you a demotion.  Whatever Frist’s failures as Majority Leader, McConnell does not seem to have offset them as the #2 man.  Now Frist’s right-hand man will be leader to take the Senate Republicans ever deeper in Bob Dole-like states of catatonia and me-tooism.  “All we wanted was a place at the table,” Dole famously said (I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it) of the Clintons’ health-care legislation in 1993 that he ended up opposing.  He opposed it not on the merits of the policy question, but because he and his had not been consulted and invited to take part in the process. 

Granted, McConnell isn’t Dole.  I fear he is temperamentally more like Bob Michel, even if he has a reputation for being more conservative than Michel or Dole ever did.  Indeed, he has a lifetime 90 ACU rating.  Then again, Bob Dole had an 82 lifetime rating, which shows you how absolutely worthless such ratings are. 

Yet another report of how the Arizona Senator’s advanced age may be damaging his bid for the White House.  His age might make him seem like the tired old Washingtonian that he is rather than the fresh-faced reformer and do-gooder his adoring fans in the media have made him out to be.  Nowadays, 70 is old, but it isn’t that old, so it isn’t so much a question of age as it is of giving the appearance of being a washed-up has-been.  The other danger of being an older politician is simply the danger of being boring and putting even your most likely supporters to sleep with speeches that don’t accomplish very much.  Besides, if he is looking ragged and worn out now, what will he look like in two years after a full campaign schedule in a highly competitive presidential race?  More to the point, does his age create enough doubt about his candidacy that it prevents him from building up the irresistible momentum that the last anointed GOP front-runner gained almost effortlessly in 1999?

It will also make his choice for VP immensely important in the unlikely event that he wins the nomination.  In this implausible scenario, it would not be a concern that McCain’s running mate would have to take over if he were to die in office, as I don’t think anyone believes McCain to be in particularly poor health.  But, if he did become the nominee and made a questionable choice for VP by bringing in a Quayle-like figure to bring youth and energy to the ticket, his chance of success in the general would diminish considerably.  If he were to suffer from some malady and the VP were unusually pathetic and Charles Logan-ish, we might also be put in some absurd situation as happened under Wilson when the VP, Thomas Marshall of Indiana, refused to assume the duties of the Presidency after Wilson’s stroke because he feared it would appear to be a coup.  Instead he allowed Wilson’s wife to run the executive branch.  Presumably this sort of thing would not be tolerated today, but it underlines just how important the VP selection would be in his case.

As for another oft-mentioned front-runner, Giuliani is 62, which isn’t so terribly old, but he has had, as we all know, serious health problems in the past that could recur.  The VP slot on a Giuliani-led ticket would similarly be extremely significant. 

The Giuliani-as-Motivational Speaker meme spreads.

Today Clark Stooksbury cites American Conservative editor Scott McConnell’s encounter with Senator-elect Jim Webb and Webb’s discussion with him of one of Prof. Paul Schroeder’s TAC articles.  Who wants to bet that George Allen has read The American Conservative?  If I had any doubts about cheering on Webb’s election before now, this lays them all to rest.

Webb is also the subject of one of the topics of the bloggingheads discussion between Ross Douthat and Spencer Ackerman from last Friday.  I certainly wouldn’t say that the discussion as a whole was all that dull, and I found the section on Webb to have some very interesting parts.   

Webb’s recent WSJ op-ed full of his economic populist themes is available here.  In that op-ed, he wrote:

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The “Wal-Marting” of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.  

“We’ll succeed, unless we quit,” the president said. “History has a long march to it, and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good.” ~The Times

Perhaps Mr. Bush was inspired by the formal trappings of one of the last technically Communist states on earth.  Perhaps it was the proximity to China that went to his head.  History has “a long march to it”?  A long march where?  To the “shining age of liberty” that Mr. Bush has mentioned in the past?  Now what sort of people usually talk unironically about “long marches”?  Let’s see…we have Mao’s Long March, and Gramsci and cultural Marxism’s ”long march through the institutions.”  Mr. Bush is beginning to make a bad habit of sounding not just like a Red Republican, but simply like a Red.        

“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while,” he said, when asked if Vietnam offered lessons for Iraq. “It’s just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful - and that is an ideology of freedom - to overcome an ideology of hate.” ~The Times

Via Doug Bandow

When I hear anyone talk about “the ideology that is hopeful,” I am deeply concerned for his mental health.  When I hear the President say it, I become profoundly worried about the fate of the world.  I calm down a bit when I realise that the man has no idea what he’s talking about, which might make this sort of disturbing ideology-talk less dangerous, but then become a bit more agitated when I realise that he has no idea what he’s talking about.  In spite of this, he is still spouting off dangerous phrases that corrupt public discourse and muddle still further our already-muddled understanding of the nature of our conflict with certain jihadis.  Chances are that anyone who talks about a “hopeful” ideology is the enemy of real hope.  We already know that people who espouse an “ideology of freedom” are the enemies of actual human freedom.  The man who pursues the abstraction Freedom will trample a great many freedoms in the process.  This is common sense. 

We have precedents that show us how dangerous it is when people begin speaking about abstract freedom.  Obviously, the Jacobins were notable for being proponents of Liberte and also being among the worst despots in French history.  The people who sang Nur der Freiheit gehoert unser Leben were among the worst offenders against the actual freedom of people in a dozen countries and then some; Lenin’s talk of “full freedom for the people” ultimately resulted in tyranny and butchery of “the people” on a grand scale unequaled in human history.  I am not saying that Mr. Bush is on par with these other ideologues in terms of what he has done, which would be a preposterous thing to claim, but the language and the twisted ideas are only too similar. 

Unfortunately, there is a bad, old tradition in this country of chirping merrily about defending freedom while trampling on the Constitution and the liberties of Americans and waging pitiless war against either our own or other peoples that runs from Lincoln to Wilson to FDR to LBJ to GWB (maybe we can just start calling him Gwub from now on–what do you think?).  But until Mr. Bush no President to my knowledge has so blithely, ignorantly and irresponsibly talked up the virtues of the “ideology of freedom” with all of the creepy connotations of an official political doctrine to which all good citizens shall subcribe and all foreigners shall submit.  The complete lack of any time horizon for the victory of this “ideology of freedom” is the perfect justification for perpetual revolution and perpetual war: we cannot stop until the “ideology of freedom” triumphs, and it is going to take a very long time for it to triumph, and to stop halfway is to betray “the ideology of freedom” and thus to become a collaborator with the “ideology of hate.”  If Mr. Bush had any clue what he was saying, he would realise that he is declaring opponents of his policies to be political thought criminals of a sort.  I await the avalanche of denunciations of Mr. Bush from conservatives who will protest the disturbing pattern in the President’s rhetoric.  For the most part, I suspect I will be waiting a rather long time–perhaps by then “the ideology of freedom” will have won!  

The Gingrichites were a bunch of high school kids who got hooked on Ayn Rand and then forgot to grow out of it. They had obsessive personalities but no serious experience of the world, and this toxic combination led to a genuine, sincere, completely delusional belief that Atlas Shrugged wasn’t a monomaniacal flight of fancy, but a blueprint for society that could actually be put into practice. They were the guys who rant from soapboxes in Hyde Park, but with nice suits and silk ties. ~Kevin Drum

It is fascinating to peer into the mind of someone like Kevin Drum to see what he thinks Gingrich and DeLay represented.  They were apparently all libertarian teenage geeks caught in a time warp.  Unbeknownst to us, Dick Armey, an evangelical who would have made Ayn Rand spit blood with his references to God, was apparently John Galt.  This despite Newt Gingrich’s first speech as Speaker of the House (which is when he “lost” me, if he ever had me in the first place) where he praised the genius of FDR.  This despite the reality that the late ’90s saw small government conservatism in retreat–with the leadership being among those running away from it with the greatest haste.  Of the three, arguably only Dick Armey was ever really that serious about shrinking government and deregulation.  He was also the only who left Congress willingly when he finally saw clearly that he and his ideas were not getting any traction. 

I’ll grant you that Gingrich, DeLay and Armey are all rather odd characters, with Armey perhaps being the most normal of the three.  Meyer, whom Drum cites, makes a perfectly reasonable observation that none of the three was a big success in the private sector and none of them had ever served in the military.  In spite of their lack of extensive personal experience in these areas, they were even more enthusiastic for the rhetoric of The Market–not that they ever really put it into practice–and were very hawkish about anything and everything (Gingrich is, of course, still at it with his WWIII talk).  Again, Armey was probably the most principled libertarian-minded conservative of the three, and also the one least likely to buy into militaristic hoo-haw about how we have to fight to keep Kyrgyzstan American. 

While there is a certain unseemliness to the unrestrained enthusiasm for military conflict among those who have never served in the military, a lack of military experience and a generally hawkish attitude together do not therefore  necessarily make someone a hypocrite or fraud.  It may very well make them very bad judges of whether military action is required, and it may make them cavalier about the costs of war, because to them it is an abstract problem of “appeasement” and “resolve,” and the actual human costs of their policy preferences can be obscured by grand theoretical ideas of the Global Struggle Against (place name of the new Hitler here).  In point of fact, the foreign policy judgements of these three individuals have been routinely poor (I will note that, to his credit, Armey was the only one of the three to raise any objections about Iraq, but then to his everlasting discredit he sat down and shut up when he was told to), but this is not something that a stint in the Army would have fixed. 

Bob Dole was a genuine war hero, but this experience never provided him with any reason not to want to intervene on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims (indeed, the whole myth of stopping “genocide in Europe” probably evoked strong passions in those politicians who had served in WWII); Bush the Elder was also a WWII veteran, which did not help stop him from making what we see now to be a calamitous and fateful decision to intervene in the Gulf in 1990-91, nor did it make him reluctant to put American soldiers in harm’s way in Panama and Somalia for dubious or outrageously unjustifiable causes.  Again, the problem with these men was not their military service but the warped and misguided foreign policy ideas about projecting American power that they had absorbed during the Cold War and particularly the post-Vietnam era.        

I have no idea where Drum is coming up with all of these Randian references.  To the best of my knowledge, no post-’94 Republican or conservative has ever said an encouraging word about Ayn Rand or her books, much less taken those books as their blueprint for society.  Ayn Rand is the sort of ludicrous person we conservatives like to trot out every once in a while when we’re making fun of libertarians.  None of this is to say much on behalf of these Republican leaders.  Certainly, they can be faulted for many things, but excessive zeal for deregulation and government reduction cannot really be considered one of their flaws. 

To think of Tom DeLay, the gladhanding friend to corporations everywhere (and the man who said of the federal government ”we’ve pretty much pared it down to the bone” after Katrina!), as someone particularly concerned with freeing up market forces is to reveal yourself as a person who is satisfied with cheap stereotypes and the easy prejudices about your political opponents.  (It would be as if I said that Nancy Pelosi should put down her copy of Das Kapital, stop worshipping the Moon Goddess and start paying attention to reality.)  When many libertarians and small government conservatives talk about The Market and deregulation, they actually are thinking about encouraging a wide range of economic activity and encouraging “growth” (a view that has its own problems, but that is not my point here); when someone like DeLay talks about it, he means very simply making life easier for large corporations.  (Likewise, that is what being “pro-market” means among the New Democrats.)  If the Republican leaders of the last 12 years have had a fictional economic model in mind as they go about their business, it has looked a lot more like the world of Shadowrun than that of Atlas Shrugged.

Doon en hoorin is, voor gemi koo zavte
Choonki indz zavtetsir khapov, nazani
Arivelk, arivmut, harav oo hyusis
Ch ka kizi nman chapov, nazani 

Shat mart koo eshkemen koo darna yizit
Ari me rahm ara, lav katsi mizit
Goozim te hamasha dam anim kizit
Santoorov, kamanchov, dapov, nazani

Dardires shatatsav asil im uzum.
Achkemes artasoonk hoosil im uzum.
Hamasha, yar, kizit khosil im uzum.
Sirtes che kshtanoom gapov, nazani

Hayaloo is adab unis, ar unis,
Dzirit dasta kapats soosanbar unis.
Toor indzi spane ikhtiar unis.
Henchak eli kenas bapov, nazani

Sayat-Noven asats arz anim Khanin.
Ghabool unim koo khatroo indz spanin.
Henchak eli, yar, gas im gerezmanin,
Atsis khoghen veres apov, nazani ~Sayat Nova

You are a nymph who seizes ahold of the ship,
Because you seized me with deception, graceful one.
East, West, South and North–
There is none like you, graceful one.

Because of love for you many men might be unfaithful.
Come, have pity on me, stay with us.
I would like that I will always be happy with you–
With the triangle, kamancha and tambourine, graceful one. 

My troubles increased–I want to speak.
I want to pour forth tears from my eyes!
Beloved, I always want to speak with you.
My heart is not satisfied with revelry, graceful one. 

You are decent, you have modesty–you have shame.
You have the marjoram with you I tied in a bouquet.
Kill me–you have the right!
Let it be thus, you will be faithful, graceful one. 

Sayat Nova said, I will petition the Khan.
I agree–they will slay me for your sake.
Let it be thus, beloved–you will come to my tomb.
With your palm you scatter earth on it, graceful one.  

Translated by Larison

Generally, I do not indulge in the grosser Francophobic passions of the crowd, but as we are going to have a woman as Speaker of the House for the next two (?) years we might make an attempt to understand how we should properly address her.  That is, of course, when we’re not calling her Nancy Nitwit or That Woman.  Some people think that we live in France and in the future are supposed to address Pelosi as “Madame Speaker,” when in English-speaking countries the proper title has been and presumably long will be Madam.  This is very straightforward and has to do with the most basic usage of our own language.  Essayions souvenir cette idee tres simple!       

Tony Blair conceded last night that the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain had been a “disaster”. ~The Daily Telegraph

Upon hearing the news of Tony Blair’s apparent loss of “moral clarity” (he gave an interview on Al Jazeera English, for goodness’ sake!), Michael Ledeen was very likely heard to have said, “Yes, but it is a creative disaster!”

Incidentally, I think I understand the phrase “moral clarity” as it is used by its adherents: it means that you would be able to continue to believe something to be obviously, umabiguously right at the same time that you admit that it has been a complete and total disaster.

A museum director in this military town removed an art exhibit that featured several deep-fried American flags.

Art student William Gentry said his piece, “The Fat Is in the Fire,” was a commentary on obesity in America. “I deep-fried the flag because I’m concerned about America and about America’s health,” Gentry said.

Customs House Museum executive director Ned Crouch took down the artwork Wednesday, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.

“It’s about what the community values,” Crouch said. “I’m representing 99 percent of our membership — educators, doctors, lawyers, military families.”


The exhibit featured three U.S. flags imprinted with phrases such as “Poor people are obese because they eat poorly” and more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper. ~CNN

You don’t see something like this every day.  I suppose I can understand what the “artists” were trying to do, and their message seems to be worth hearing (and certainly more people have heard about it thanks to their choice to deep-fry Old Glory) but one does wonder sometimes about how people come up with ideas such as these.  Are they sitting at home eating french fries and then bam! it hits them that they simply must put the American flag in the fryer to say in one simple symbol what it took Super Size Me well over an hour to say?  Presumably their next trick will be to complain about government corruption by bathing the flag in the grease taken from the fryer where they fried the other flags. 

There is something so profoundly misguided and simply weird in doing this that I fear I am at a loss for words.

His exploratory committee’s website has a transcript of the snoozer at The Federalist Society.  It is rather dull reading.  I can’t imagine how tiresome it would be to listen to someone actually deliver this boilerplate.  If I belong to the Federalist Society, do I really want some pol to come in and start telling me why limited government is important or that the Constitution lists the delegated powers of the federal government?  It might be nice to know that McCain technically knows these things, but do people at the Society really need to have someone else tell them these things?  Presumably they are familiar with the Constitution–hence the name of the Society. 

I know this is a campaign speech in which McCain is rolling out his theme of “common sense conservatism,” but surely he could have engaged his audience with meatier fare than “limited government prevents tyranny” and “the rule of law is important” and other truisms that every conservative learns on Day 1, so to speak, of their education.  Restating basic truths is worth doing when they are challenged and when you are trying to persuade people who do not yet understand things as you do, and there is nothing wrong with preaching to the choir, but there is preaching to the choir and then there is telling the choir the merely obvious.  It’s as if McCain were up there in the pulpit of a church and saying to the congregation with Rowan Atkinson-like diffidence, “Well, we all believe in God, now, don’t we?  Yes, that’s right, God’s pretty important to us here.  Good for us.”  If they had had them, the Federalists might have started throwing tomatoes at the man after a certain point.

The funniest moment comes when McCain starts describing the separation of powers when it comes to declaring war.  (Again, why do you need to rehash things that everybody ought to know already at an occasion like this?)  The irony that he has been a collaborator in subverting the separation of powers in the recent past was apparently lost on him.

He does give an okay spiel (again, not new or interesting to his audience, but competent nonetheless) on why the power of the judiciary must also be limited and constrained under the Constitution and he makes a decent appeal for judicial restraint.  Everyone must have clapped politely at the appropriate places as they murmured among themselves, “Good grief, doesn’t he have anything else to say?” 

He does go on to talk about the war and torture (which he claims he still opposes!), and makes all the usual noises about enemies being on the “wrong side of history,” a phrase so nonsensical that it always makes me cringe.  He even squeezes in a drearily predictable citation of a snippet from the Gettysburg Address (”government of the people, by the people and for the people”) at the very end.  All in all, a rhetorical train wreck.  No wonder his audience was drifting off. 

This is very good news.  If McCain continues to put people off with bad speeches like this, he might very well sink his own candidacy before it gets going.  We can always hope…

“He’s old.” That was among the underwhelmed reactions I got when asking people what they thought of John McCain’s speech to the Federalist Society yesterday. 

Well, the Arizona senator is 70 — but it speaks more to his presentation than his actual years on the planet. Like on Meet the Press this past Sunday, the 2008 explorer just seemed exhausted. And while happy to blame those in government for their losses last week, he…well he fell into reading Federalist Paper quotes familiar since grade-school Social Studies class. It was less than inspirational. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

I once heard John McCain speak in person at my alma mater, Hampden-Sydney.  No one would have confused it with a riveting or inspiring experience.  That is probably just as well.  Should you ever start feeling inspired by politicians, you must smack yourself in the face hard to make sure that you don’t get sucked in to their particular line of hogwash.  When listening to a candidate speak you must say to yourself, “This man is a time-server and an opportunist.”  But nobody has to do that when they hear McCain speak, in my experience, because his speeches are never all that good and everyone already knows that he is an opportunist.  Thus he cuddles up with the “forces of intolerance” he once denounced and will presumably start wrapping himself in the Confederate battle flag come the South Carolina primary after having attacked it.  His bold “maverick” stands are the most opportunistic of all–it is simply triangulation by a different name.  When Clinton did it, he was being devious or perhaps clever, but when McCain does it he is a wild-eyed idealist yearning to blaze the trail of reform…or some such nonsense that people at The Washington Post write. 

But I can believe that he can bore his audience stiff.  He does not have the suave manner of an Obama or the telegenic star quality that Romney seems to possess (at least in the eyes of some); he doesn’t even have the bumbling, folksy act that Bush can turn on to extricate himself out of all situations.  He is an insufferably high-minded kind of “centrist,” or rather egocentrist, with a bad temper and the charisma of dried leather.  He is a Republican Joe Lieberman with worse hair (if such a thing were possible).  Did I mention that I don’t much care for him? 

Responding to his tired stump speech at my college in my op-ed in the college newspaper on Bush and McCain (what a pair!) the next week, I tended to focus on the more ludicrous parts of his presentation that I found particularly troubling–his obsession with the cause of Chechens being the most disturbing and the basic persistent Russophobia and encirclement mentality that I detected behind his interest in the plight of Chechnya.  This was a guy whose standard stump refrain on the military was that soldiers’ families should never be on food stamps, with which no one was going to disagree, but he is also the same person who would send them off to fight in any damn fool war he felt like sending them to in order to support our “values.”  But that is what one calls being ”pro-military” in today’s politics. 

Writing anti-McCain op-eds for the rest of the primary season, I’m sure I made no friends in the college administration, but at the time it made perfect sense to prefer Bush’s supposed “humble”-cum-realist foreign policy to the rather strange views of The Weekly Standard’s poster boy.  Of course, all of us who believed Bush’s foreign policy talk in 2000 were all wrong (I still didn’t vote for him, but I gave him more benefit of the doubt than I should have), but given the same bad choice I am not sure that I wouldn’t prefer Bush with his many, many flaws over the plainly dangerous McCain.  Fortunately, this dangerous man is apparently also not on his campaign game so far and isn’t building up any early momentum.  If he is already appearing exhausted he may not be able to campaign as vigorously or engagingly as he might need to in late ‘07 and early ‘08.

Congratulations to Michael on landing the position of Assistant Editor at The American Conservative.  Those of us in the Surfeited Inner Circle have known this was coming for a little while now, and it was made public knowledge during his stint as the token conservative at Comedy Central on Election Night (where he just happened to break the biggest news story of 2006), but one of the rules of the Inner Circle is…well, you’re not members of the Inner Circle, so I can’t tell you any of the rules.  What it does mean is that the whippersnapper, age 24, will be saying, “Jump!” and his elders, including poor blogging graduate students, will say, “How high?”  It should be fun.

Update: Necessarily, this means that Dan McCarthy will be leaving his editor position at TAC and moving on to other work, but he will still be contributing to the magazine.

The Great Realignment of 2006 lasted a little over a week before it turned into the Great Sellout. ~Justin Raimondo

Give me strength.  I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored, doesn’t it?  If I recall correctly, when the corruption rap helped bring down the Red Republicans and CREW was hot on their trail, there weren’t too many cries of foul play and conspiracy from our friends at Antiwar.  Now that accusations of corruption happen to land on Jack Murtha the “ethically challenged” (accusations that, by the way, go beyond Abscam), that most useful convert to the antiwar cause, it is a sinister and terrible conspiracy bent on “betraying” the Democrats’ supposed “mandate” to…do what exactly?  The election was many things.  It was a stunning vote of no-confidence in the administration’s policy on Iraq.  It was not, however, a blanket endorsement of an antiwar position, much less an antiwar + withdrawal position, even if a majority of Americans do believe the war was a mistake.  It was definitely not the Great Realignment of 2006.  Murtha’s failure to capture the position of Majority Leader was not some “mugging” or “knifing” (someone is beginning to use the phrases preferred by Lieberman apologists–all that’s missing is the reference to a “purge”!); his 86 votes were probably a lot more than he would have gotten had Pelosi not stuck her neck out for him.  If she backed up Murtha not only for personal reasons but also because she believed a strong antiwar voice was needed in that position, wouldn’t you a think a word or two on behalf of the future Speaker might be in order?  But, of course, there is bad blood between the two San Franciscans, Pelosi and Raimondo, isn’t there? 

Saith Raimondo:

The people voted to get us out of Iraq, and instead the Democrats will stand idly by – at best – while we get in deeper.

“The people” voted for no such thing, much as I might have liked to them to have voted for it.  For goodness’ sake, “the people” in Albuquerque re-elected Heather Wilson, arch-supporter of the war–what can we realistically expect from other parts of the country?  People who expected the new Congress to be avidly antiwar were frankly kidding themselves.  In all my diatribes against the GOP majority before the election, I do not believe I ever claimed that the Democratic leadership would be substantially better on Iraq; I did say that they would help provide some accountability and impose some more oversight on the administration, and so they may.  That is some small progress all by itself.  That was all that we could ever realistically hope for from this crowd. 

Hoyer was always the far and away favourite for Majority Leader (as the vote reflected), and Murtha’s challenge only succeeded as much as it did because of Pelosi’s gamble to back him up and use her influence to bring people over to his side.  As it was, Pelosi made Murtha’s vote tally a lot better than it would have been had he gone into this contest solo.  Instead of saying something about what that might portend for possible antiwar actions of the future Speaker, it is obviously far better to throw a fit about how Jack Murtha was denied his place in the sun.   

Where did anyone get the idea that the Democrats had won an antiwar mandate?  It was their impressive ability to say nothing concrete about any one particular view of Iraq that helped them maximise their advantage against the GOP; Democrats in Tennessee and Indiana could be pro-war but anti-Bush, while they could be reliably antiwar in Pennsylvania and New England, winning the disaffected and disgruntled everywhere.  Had they had a general, national position, they might well have done less well in Republican states and would have exposed their own position, whatever it was, to intense scrutiny.  Their vagueness and aimlessness were their strengths in a year when throwing out the GOP was the order of the day. 

They won a mandate based in disgust with administration incompetence and mishandling of the war.  Many of the moderate and conservative Democrats who helped create the new Democratic majority did not run on a Murtha-esque “redeployment” position; many ran against the administration and against withdrawal or “phased redeployment” as some call it.  Brad Ellsworth of IN-08 (who, it might be noted, ironically beat one of the only antiwar Republicans in the House), one of the more conservative of the new class of Congressmen, was one of the prominent supporters of Hoyer, because they happen to be in agreement that they believe withdrawal now would be a colossal mistake. 

I disagree with that view, but we cannot pretend that many of the new Democratic representatives were elected on some kind of Murtha-like platform that the party has now abandoned by failing to endorse the leadership bid of a man who, until a week or two ago, had not made his interest in the leadership public knowledge.  There was an obvious disconnect in having Murtha as the spokesman of the new, lean and clean majority, and the media seized on it for lack of anything else to talk about this week.   

All that being said, as annoying as some people at Antiwar can sometimes be even in my eyes, is a worthy endeavour and needs support to keep running at its current levels.  I urge readers to lend Antiwar as much support as they can.  I continue to support them, and I hope that others will do likewise. 

In an age of Big Government Conservatism, American Greatness Conservatism, Christian Conservativism, Crunchy Conservatism, South Park Republicanism, and more, it may be worth another look at a great political paradigm.  Classical Liberalism awaits.

It’s been a long time since many of us in the “conservative movement” have protested that we are not truly conservatives, but are rather classical liberals.  The media refuses to pick up the distinction and the mass society doesn’t grasp the point. ~Hunter Baker

Additionally, there is the small problem that, for “many of us,” it isn’t the least bit true.  It is true that George Grant hit a lot of his contemporary American conservatives with the simple observation that they were not really conservative at all, and he was making a lot of sense when he said this.  But if we are stuck with the general Anglo-American liberal tradition, and if we lack the more genuinely conservative tradition of our neighbours to the north or our cousins in Europe, we do not have to interpret that tradition as 19th century liberals did and as some consciouly “classical liberals” do today.  Bolingbroke offers us one way out of the Lockean swamp and the dank forest of whiggery, and Burke offers us another alternative as well.  We can respect the ancestral constitution and defend our chartered liberties without taking up the unfortunate label of “classical liberal.” 

If anything, being a classical liberal is an unfortunate thing that American conservatives might have to suffer and need to overcome; it is certainly not something to embrace, much less hold up as a point of pride.  There is something dreary and sad about the explanation, “I’m not really a conservative–I’m the true liberal, and you have departed from the liberal path,” as if there were still something deeply shameful about partaking of the broad conservative tradition that stands in opposition to the false ideas of 1789.  Classical liberals do not oppose those ideas and they do not think they are false.  But the conservatives of my persuasion assuredly do oppose them and do consider them to be false to a large degree.  Given the bloody and destructive legacy of those ideas, their abstract, ahistorical nature, and their inhuman and unnatural implications, I am often puzzled by why anyone is embarrassed to bear the name of the persistent opponents of these falsehoods.  Why does anyone feel the need to run back to some brief moment around, say, 1830 or 1848 or 1867 and say, “This is what liberalism really is, and I will stick by it come what may”? 

There were very good reasons why, when given half a chance, the vast majority of men in the societies where it existed rejected what we call classical liberalism: one was its hostility to public religion, namely Christianity and more specifically Catholicism, another was its subordination to mercantile, industrial and financial interests to the detriment of agriculturalists and workers, and another was its pervasive need to regularise and rationalise procedures and laws, all of which worked against the established institutions and precedents with which people were quite familiar.  Perhaps the most powerful reason behind classical liberalism’s defeat was its extremely narrow social and economic base, as its doctrines seemed to make no sense to anyone else except the urban professionals and businessmen who cultivated these ideas.  Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries here and in Europe, men of a certain kind of temperament and a basic sense of traditional Christianity viewed these freethinkers–for indeed, that is what they called themselves in some cases–with horror and dread, and with good reason Metternich regarded liberal conspirators as the subversive enemies of decent society and international stability. 

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose works were among the great influences on my political thinking, did refuse to take the name conservative and remained true to the Austrian liberalism of his home country, but in important respects he simply wished away the evil characteristics of that liberalism–its anticlericalism, its increasingly fanatical nationalism–as not being the “real” liberalism to which he subscribed.  Yet both of these things had been inherent in liberalism since its modern Continental birth in France, and those who want to champion classical liberalism today have to take account of its close historical ties to anti-Catholic fanaticism and nationalist extremism.  K-L himself was a complicated figure.  He was also someone who espoused monarchism and radical Catholic anarchism and urged us to fly the black banner shared by anarchism and reaction alike; no one who read his Black Banners would confuse him with the Viennese liberals of the 1870s-1890s.  We should prefer that spirit of K-L the radical to any kind of “classical liberalism.”   

Daniel Larison thinks a Tommy Thompson run for the White House is self-evidently absurd, and he’s probably right. But really, it shouldn’t have turned out this way. Imagine if Republicans, in 2000, had run a reformist Midwestern governor with a long record of accomplishment and a reputation for pragmatism instead of political scion and modest political success George W. Bush. ~Reihan Salam

I agree that Thompson was once the Coming Thing among Republican governors and that he, unlike Mr. Bush, had a record of accomplishment as governor that would have been very attractive in 2000 with its emphasis on his welfare reform successes and his domestic policy agenda.  Had he run and Bush not run, who knows what might have unfolded at home and abroad?  Bush crowded out a lot of more competent and accomplished Republican leaders with his famous name, network of connections and establishment backing.  It is understandable why someone with realistic ambitions of higher office did not want to set himself up against that juggernaut.  Once Bush won, 2004 was likewise out of the question for any Republican.  Thus he was forced to wait and wait and wait until the field opened up to include virtually everybody, his signature reforms were a distant memory and his name, if many voters outside Wisconsin recognise it at all, is today associated with the first Bush administration.  Today Tommy can really only say, “I coulda been a contender.”  Unless I have missed something important, he certainly is not a contender this time. 

In fairness to the former governor and HHS Secretary, 2008 is shaping up to be such a parade of mediocrities that someone with a real record of legislative successes and executive experience might have a halfway decent shot.  But here is the burning question: where would he get the money he needs to mount a competitive bid for the nomination?  It’s probably all going to be sucked up by the Terrible Trio (McCain, Giuliani, Romney). 

But, as I have noted, I don’t think any one of these three breaks through in the primaries, either, and I am having difficulty seeing who it is who capitalises on their failure.  Could Thompson be the dark horse who triumphs in the end?  Somebody has to win, and so, if not the favourites, why not Thompson?  Stranger things have happened, I suppose.  Jimmy Carter became President, after all, and that must have seemed as implausible in 1974 as Thompson’s chances of success seem now. 

In the end, I think his “brand” has gone cold and he will generate little or no enthusiasm among core Republican voters.  The worst and most common response will be, I think, “Tommy who?”  My impression of him is that he is also not terribly dynamic.  Stable, competent, dependable, I grant you, but not somebody who will be bringing in the crowds and the donors.  He is not the sort of barnstorming candidate who will inspire a successful insurgent campaign against the establishment favourites.  When those favourites implode, someone not Tommy Thompson will reap the benefits.         

Dennis Dale delivers a damning assessment of the Iraq war, saying what some of us have said in different places and at different times in one splendid tour de force of a blog post.  Here is an excerpt:

Some are already attempting to redefine success. “We got Saddam” is destined to become an ironic chestnut along the lines of “it only hurts when I laugh.” There isn’t a serious minded person left who doesn’t secretly wish we could put him right back, not in his spider hole but in the presidential palace. If only we could take a mulligan.  But there is no success to be rescued. There are no shining paths of glory before us; just darkened, uncertain escape routes.

At least, that is what you might conclude from The New Republic’s latest editorial on the war, which concludes with a classic, “yeah, but…” proviso:

At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of “realism.” Realism, yes; but not “realism.” American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously. As we attempt to undo the damage from a war that we never should have started, our moral obligations will not vanish, and neither will our strategic needs.

Kevin Drum is not satisfied with this admission of error, and for good reason–it doesn’t really explain why they regret their error or what the error really was.  Here’s part of Drum’s critique:

Nor do they give a clue about whether the Iraq disaster has prompted any kind of broader re-evaluation of their support for foriegn military adventures in the future. 

Indeed, was the error to trust this administration to conduct the war successfully?  Was the error trusting the administration’s claims too readily?  The nature of the intervention itself?  Intervention as such?  Who knows?  They regret it, and that’s all you need to know.  Oh, and they’re also against “realism” but not realism.  Helpful, isn’t it?  Presumably, the bit about “realism” means, “We will never agree with actual realists, who believe in “realism,” but we will rename our own liberal interventionist foreign policy as realist, which allows us to change nothing and still sound deeply serious and reflective.” 

The last lines are priceless.  They still talk blithely of “our moral obligations,” when it was just this kind of talk that brought in many of the war’s supporters and helped encourage people to mistake a war of aggression for a noble endeavour.  Naturally, TNR is never all that concerned about “our moral obligations” when those obligations might require us not to intervene in someone else’s civil war or attack someone else’s country.  Moral obligations always seem to be urging us to attack! attack! attack!  I assume that those sorts of “moral obligations” will be with us for as long as there are people at The New Republic and The Weekly Standard to tell us how we simply must act now to free the suffering people of Cabinda or Karnataka from the oppression of somebody or other.   

Something very like what I suggest has occured in Christological dialogue, with both the Coptic Orthodox (”monotheists”) [sic] and the Assyrian Church of the East {”Nestorians”), in which, laying aside the acrimonious approaches of the past, it was seen that there had been bad faith and misunderstandings in the past, and doctrinal statements were eventually agreed upon that brought our Churches to the brink of unity. ~Daniel Nichols

The Orthodoxy post at CetT that I commented on here has generated another discussion about how papal primacy might be stated in such a way as to make it more “palatable” to the Orthodox.  In the thread of this second post, Mr. Nichols said what is quoted above as a model for restating that teaching in less acrimonious or polemical ways.  Let me say straightaway that this is precisely the kind of model that makes Orthodox Christians very anxious and causes them to start looking for the exits to the ecumenical dialogue. 

But first, a couple words on papal primacy.  For such a teaching to be made more “palatable” to the Orthodox, I think it would probably have to be a very bare-bones idea of papal primacy in which the Bishop of Rome is recognised as primus inter pares of the patriarchs of the several local churches based principally on the canonical order of the ancient patriarchates that granted Rome the first place of honour and precedence.  That would be a reasonably acceptable formulation.  Overreaching historical claims about how the other churches in the first millennium regarded Rome as the moderator and arbiter of church disputes will tend not to sit well with many.  It is just such readings of St. Cyril’s appeal to Pope Celestine’s judgement in the Nestorian controversy that have left Orthodox cold.  Going much beyond that to claims of universal jurisdiction and indeed sovereignty would not go over at all.

But the example of conciliatory Catholic dialogues with non-Chalcedonian churches (i.e., the monophysites) and the Church of the East, which have been mirrored to some degree in the case of the former on the Orthodox side, is not what I would call a felicitous one if the goal is to encourage the Orthodox in pursuing reconciliation.  (Note, however, that in even these cases they were brought only to the “brink of unity,” and not to unity itself, since the guardians of non-Chalcedonian and Assyrian traditions are no more prepared to accept the councils that condemned their predecessors than Catholics and Orthodox are prepared to acknowledge their fathers as our own.)  

It should be taken as a given that I come from an anti-ecumenist jurisdiction in the Orthodox Church, so my view will not be representative of what all Orthodox today think, but after spending a fair amount of my time thinking about Christological problems of the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries I have only become more convinced than I used to be that the schisms of those centuries were not the product simply or even primarily bad faith or misunderstandings (though there may have been some of both to some degree).  I think Severos of Antioch, for example, understood perfectly well what he was saying in insisting on one nature after the Incarnation and he believed he was saying the exact same thing as St. Cyril.  He understood quite well that he was saying something very different from and opposed to the Council of Chalcedon, and this was not for lack of understanding of what the Fathers of the Council meant to say. 

For all the well-understood reasons enunciated by the Fathers of the the later ecumenical councils and afterwards, I believe he was gravely mistaken when he began speaking, for instance, of one synthetic nature of Christ.  To the extent that all non-Chalcedonian churches continue to teach such “synthetophysism,” as we might awkwardly call it, they understand the Incarnation in a significantly different way than adherents of Chalcedon do.  As for the Church of the East (as it is now irenically called), it is often said in its defense that it holds a Mopsuestian, and not a Nestorian, Christology, which to those who accept the doctrines of the Fifth Ecumenical Council is a distinction without a significant difference.  As Donald Fairbairn has convincingly shown us again in his excellent Grace and Christology in the Early Church, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorios both taught a charitology that led them to teach an eccentric and, in the eyes of the Orthodox, deficient Christology that was opposed to the consensus of the Church.  If dialogue with these churches is taken as the model for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation, I am afraid that it may be even farther off than I originally believed.  

As much fun as I am having laughing at the Senate Republicans for their choice of Trent Lott as Minority Whip, I have to say that there are several good reasons why Lott just barely beat out Lamar Alexander.  First, the best reason of all: he wasn’t Lamar Alexander.  Now Alexander seems like a very nice fellow.  He wears plaid shirts when campaigning, which supposedly shows that he is a down-to-earth guy just like you and me.  But Senate Republicans must have been feeling as if they were living in early 2001 all over again as the second coming of Bill Frist was preparing to take over the leadership.  They must have looked back over the last five years of near-total failure in the Senate to accomplish much of anything, noticed that they were now going to be in the minority and asked, “Who brought us to this pass?”  The answer?  A Tennessean nebbish of a doctor (who, hilariously enough, once had aspirations of becoming President!).  So when they looked at Alexander for a different but important position in the leadership, I bet they ran through a little list in their minds: “Is he from Tennessee? Yes.  Is he a nebbish?  Yes.  And he wears plaid, for goodness’ sake!  We can’t endure any more of this kind of thing.”  Perhaps this is unfair to Lamar Alexander.  Perhaps, like BSG’s Laura Roslin, the former Secretary of Education would have proven to be a wily and cunning member of the Senate leadership who would surprise us all with feats of political derring-do.  More likely, he would prove to be even squishier and weaker than Lott already is while lacking the parliamentary skills that Lott possesses. 

Then there are Lott’s apparently considerable skills at playing the legislative game to consider.  Yes, he is the same deal-maker who led the Senate Republicans into deepest mediocrity in the late Clinton years (although, let us recall that after the narcolepsy-inducing leadership of Bob Dole, he was considered a big step up by a lot of people), but if there is someone you need in the minority it is a skilled parliamentarian combined with a used car salesman.  Trent Lott is the embodiment of both.  This is why he inspires so little admiration, but manages to inspire some small degree of confidence among his colleagues.

Jonah Goldberg fulminates at the Senate GOP for their choice, mostly because, if I follow his argument, it gives them a bad image, in part because of Lott’s preposterous defenestration over a few kind words to the late Strom Thurmond on the venerable Senator’s birthday and also because his deal-making tendencies allegedly highlight the reasons for GOP defeat.  But the main sources of GOP electoral woes were not dubious legislative bargains or supposed paeans to the platform of the States’ Rights Party, but were the GOP’s completely reckless spending, their dithering and failure on immigration policy, the earmark explosion on their watch, corrupt Congressmen and, of course, Iraq.  Legislative horse-trading that actually gets legislation passed and signed into law would probably be greeted in many circles with sighs of relief; people would babble about the wonders of bipartisanship and the old collegiality of the Senate binding up the nation’s wounds.  This is all a lot of tripe, but it is what people say.  

Having Lott’s bad image is a problem of sorts, but having the image of being led in part by yet another dopey, ineffectual Tennessean (no offense intended to all other Tennesseans who are decidedly not dopey and ineffectual) is in some ways even worse.  There are many vulnerable Senate seats for the GOP in ‘08, and if they want to start protecting them they could not have afforded a Lamar Alexander as the man responsible for bringing Senate Republicans together in the tough legislative fights that may be coming. 

What should really worry the GOP is not that Lott won, but that he was the best of the two choices on offer.  Is the Senate GOP membership really so weak that these were the best they could do?  Had they wanted to send a serious message of change and responsiveness to voter concerns, bringing a Chuck Hagel into the leadership would have made a huge statement.  But, of course, it is not a statement they would want to make. 

Across the board, the GOP seems not to be getting the message of why they lost.  Thus Mel Martinez becomes general chair of the RNC and thinks that the GOP lost because it was too harsh in opposing immigration.  Boehner and Blunt will probably remain to guide the House Republicans ever deeper into the minority (though, again, when someone as pro-amnesty as Pence is the “conservative” alternative to Boehner, House members must be scratching their heads about why they need to make a change at the top when the replacement is probably no better on a vital question).  At this rate, if he weren’t term-limited out of running again, I assume Tom Reynolds would have to return to head the NRCC after his stellar performance this year.

Unfortunately, Milton Friedman passed away last night at the grand old age of 94.  He was one of the great, venerable figures among the monetarists, a powerful proponent of sound monetary policy and an admirable defender of human liberty.  His writings introduced me to the principles of libertarian economic thinking, and Capitalism and Freedom was the first work on any aspect of economic theory that I had read (as I am reminded reading over the remarks about him, the book had another edition, Free To Choose, which was followed by a PBS miniseries that disseminated the arguments of the book).  His arguments were extremely important for providing a coherent opposition to the expansive state in an era when the ability of the market to provide goods and services was in some ways as derided and underestimated as it is now (excessively) celebrated.  More recently, he opposed the invasion of Iraq, recognising aggression when he saw it and warning against the expansion of government power that always follows the outbreak of war.  As he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in July:

As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.

Reihan also has a post remembering the impressive man, a “genuine American hero.” 

The Wall Street Journal interview from earlier this year with Milton and Rose Friedman is available here

Reaction has been divided about the Majority Leader contest.  Hoyer crushed Murtha, 149-86.  Some libs see it as an unmitigated disaster for Pelosi, while Noam Scheiber thinks that it was the best ending to a bad situation.  I suspect he is right.  Some of the NROniks recognise that a Hoyer win, while not great news for Pelosi, is very good news for the Democrats, who do not have to suffer the endless barrage of ethics-related attacks that a Murtha leadership would have brought. 

I would add that Pelosi’s active backing of Murtha, while possibly costly in some respects, confirms that she will back up people who are loyal to her even when they haven’t got a chance of winning a given fight.  That may not be the way to run the House, and it may make her tenure as Speaker very short, but it seems to be entirely in keeping with how she does things.  But if her rivalry with Hoyer ends up destroying the Democratic majority and prevents them from getting anything done, I can hardly think of a better outcome. 

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is considering a run for President in ‘08.  Is no one too obscure or politically weak to jump in this race?  At this rate, George Allen might even get back into the mix.

Kudos to the guys at Hotline for seriously considering Thompson as an ‘08 wild card.

For some reason, known only to themselves and God, some people keep talking about Al Gore running for Presidentagain.  Now Mr. LaSalle does make some interesting points about the favourable prospects of a former popular vote winner/electoral vote loser.  However, these candidates (Jackson, Cleveland) have only made their comebacks when they ran in the next cycle.  What Gore would be trying to do in an ‘08 run, as Mr. LaSalle also notes, would be to play the role of Nixon who makes the successful return to power after a squeaker of an election eight years before.  The parallels are almost too good.  He adds:

My own guess is that Gore would win the nomination without much of a struggle. He would just have to show up at the debates, and it would seem like President Gore standing with a group of pretenders. I hope to find out if I’m right.

Gore has one obvious advantage over his main competition (i.e., Clinton) in that he has always been against the war in Iraq, which will win him a lot of support from antiwar Democrats (and might even win him some independents and disaffected Republicans in the general, if it came to that).  Antiwar Democrats, however, have virtually no power in the Democratic establishment, in spite of feverish expectations of any significant change on Iraq under the new dispensation, and could not push one of their own through the primaries on indignation alone.  An antiwar candidate in 2008 is the DLC’s nightmare, interrupting their happy narrative of a return to Democratic power based on “responsible” national security views and other such losing mantras of centrist Democrats.  They and all “responsible” Democratic donors will fight tooth and nail to stop such a candidacy.  (Plus, his actual antiwar bona fides are pretty weak, since this Iraq war has been the only war I can recall him opposing.)  Gore probably knows this already, which is why I will be absolutely amazed if he announces a run next year. 

If he did run, he might also campaign more in his faux-populist mode and do better in two years than he did six years ago.  But can you really see Gore in full Lou Dobbs mode?  I can’t, either, so his “populism” would probably be limited to hitting Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance, much as he did last time to no particularly great effect.  Gore’s wonkishness and attention to detail might be music to the ears of some people who have had about enough of the golly-gee school of presidential leadership, and the fact that the man is capable of absorbing and mind-numbingly regurgitating information about all kinds of things might make for a welcome change from Incurious George.  Then again, he might start to make the paint on the walls peel as he spouts off his factoids about the newest advances in biotechnology and holds forth on how we can use government to empower ordinary Americans to make the most of…zzzzz.  These might be limited assets, and they can backfire on him as they have in the past, but he will need all the assets that he can get. 

Yet Gore’s numerous, glaring weaknesses could fill a book.  Presumably, some books have been written on just this subject.  He will forever have to live down the reality that he managed to take an election that should have been his by a comfortable margin and make it into what was technically the closest in American history.  In other words, the man is political kryptonite.  If you’re the Democrats and you want to win, you don’t bet on him as your nominee twice in three cycles with the absurd John Kerry in the middle.  The constant fear that Gore will say or do something monumentally stupid that will lose them the election in ‘08 (which they may think is theirs for the taking) will gnaw away at them and drive them mad.  They will constantly be second-guessing him, which will in turn cause him to zig-zag in typical Gore fashion to try to keep up with whatever he thinks his public’s expectations are.  So Gore will have to overcome, yet again, the knock that he is constantly reinventing himself and has no substance, but will be forced to continually reinvent himself as the campaign progresses. 

Plus, he will be promoting his book starting only next spring in late May.  If the book is part of the rollout of his campaign, he will be starting awfully late.  Political junkies know that if you aren’t organising your exploratory committee at least one year in advance of Iowa and New Hampshire, you aren’t going to do anything at all or you are not going to be successful.  Such a campaign needs money and a well-staffed organisation if the candidate hopes to make it past mid-March ‘08, and it is fairly difficult to conjure these up on relatively short notice.  Dean did all right on fundraising thanks to his smart use of the Internet, but his organisation was never up to snuff (as all of the cynics kept saying at the time).  The serious contenders are getting started now, not seven months from now.  Even if Gore did run at that point, he would almost be certain to lose in the primaries as his campaign runs out of steam before Super Tuesday. 

And the name of the book?  The Assault on Reason.  What might it be about?  The Washington Post reported about two months ago:

As described by editor Scott Moyers, the book is a meditation on how “the public arena has grown more hostile to reason,” and how solving problems such as global warming is impeded by a political culture with a pervasive “unwillingness to let facts drive decisions.”

This will appeal to a certain demographic.  Those would be people who are already convinced that they represent the last bastion of enlightened understanding in America, threatened on every side by maniacal religionists who are coming to tear down all of the science laboratories and burn down all the libraries.  The Damon Linkers and Michelle Goldbergs of the world may find Gore’s book fascinating.  Obviously, these people would probably already be voting for the Democratic nominee, almost no matter who he was. 

It will either put everyone else off or it will put them to sleep.  As much as so many people rightly mock Mr. Bush’s “faith-based” approach to policymaking (as in, “I believe it will work, and that’s all that matters”), it is a lot harder to make the claim that we have an entire political culture defined by hostility to reason (or, at least, no more so than is inevitable in a mass democracy where most people vote on impulses and identity rather than policy and rational analysis).  It is possible to indict the current administration for its disdain for the “reality-based community,” but so much of the conservative disaffection with Bush, besides his anti-conservative policies, already stems from the recognition that realism, prudence and sober analysis are seemingly nowhere to be found in this administration.  Gore will simply be adding his voice to the chorus of so many who already see this problem with Bush, whose departure from the scene will tend to diminish the strength of his criticism of our supposedly anti-reason political culture.   

No doubt Andrew Sullivan (who links to LaSalle’s post) will be jumping about in girlish excitement at the thought that a big-named politician may start saying things that sound somewhat like what Andrew Sullivan has written (at which point he will “welcome” Al Gore into the Church of Sullivan).  That would be yet another reason why the book would be a complete disaster for a Gore candidacy.


A free Iran would most likely become an instant ally in the war against terror, reversing the balance of power in the Middle East in a single, non-violent stroke. Hezbollah would be deprived of its source of money, materiel and guidance, and would shrivel up, awaiting last rites. Al Qaeda, many of whose leaders moved to Iran from Afghanistan in 2002, would be similarly damaged, as would Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two of Tehran’s major clients. And the information from Iranian intelligence files would turn over many rocks in many swamps, all over the world, probably including our shores. ~Michael Ledeen

Give the man credit for one thing: there is no subject that he cannot turn into yet another call for toppling the government in Tehran. 

First, an obvious point.  Iran has not been at war with us for twenty-seven years.  Iran has not been at war with us in my lifetime, which also happens to correspond very closely to the twenty-seven years we have supposedly been at war with Iran.  Of course, I understand what Ledeen means when he says this, but by the same token we are still at war with someone or other in Somalia (don’t get him started–he probably agrees!), we are still at war with Hizbullah and we are presumably also in a state of war with Sudan.  If you believe these things, you might possibly be convinced that we are at war with Iran.  If you are from the other 95% of humanity, you will probably not be convinced.  Note that this article allegedly has something to do with the Baker Commission, but veered off early into “faster, please” mode.    

Where have we heard all of this business about a free Middle Eastern country becoming an “instant” ally?  How is that going?  Why does anyone think this will happen in the case of Iran?  So an overwhelming majority of Iranians opposes their government–how does that translate into an obviously friendly and pro-American regime after the clerics are overthrown?  How does that result in a regime that will not try to develop nuclear weapons?  Iranians as a whole believe they have legitimate reasons to develop nuclear energy and the strategic imperative of acquiring nuclear weapons in that region will not go away because a different government is in place.  Why is the new, presumably non-clerical regime going to stop supporting Hizbullah?  Because only the clerics hate Israel?  Right, keep telling yourself that one.  Besides, Iranian power and influence are at a generational high–what credible nationalist revolutionary is going to shut down funding to Iran’s chief overseas weapon and means of power projection to satisfy us?  Because democrats are nice people who don’t support anti-Israel militias?  That’s a good one!  Tell it to Hamas.  (Yes, Hizbullah costs the Iranians a good deal of money that some people might prefer to spend at home, but national prestige and power projection almost always trump pragmatic uses of national resources in a country with strong nationalist sentiments–just ask the neocons.)

Next, why should we assume that an anti-clerical revolution would succeed?  Why should we assume that it would succeed in a “single, non-violent stroke”?  There isn’t going to be an Orange Revolution in Tehran, so what is he talking about?  I suspect the Revolutionary Guards would have something to say about this, and as we saw in Beijing seventeen years ago a regime that has a military willing to kill civilian protesters in sizeable numbers is a regime that isn’t going anywhere.  When Ledeen says we should support “anti-regime groups,” what does that mean?  The maniacs from Mujahideen-e-Khalq?  If not them, whom would we support, and what makes us think that they have even a remote chance of success? 

How can anyone take Ledeen seriously?   

But perhaps what the conservative cups illustrate, even more than diversity, is the conservative mindset: The right may thumb its nose at liberal culture, but it really wants to be invited in. ~Conor Clarke

Most of Clarke’s article is an unremarkable story about the clamouring of certain pundits to become part of the “get people thinking” quotes on the side of Starbucks cups.  But there is something to this observation about the desire of some conservatives to be invited into the liberal conversation.  It applies especially to prominent conservative pundits.  You do get the sense that behind every lament about liberal intolerance and prattling on about the need for real diversity is very often the cry, Why won’t you take me seriously?  I’m a good cosmopolitan just like you!  I just like lower taxes–please let me come to your party!  This need also afflicts a lot of younger conservatives, or those who have come to call themselves conservatives (though they would not know Bolingbroke from Babbitt).  We know these people.  They are the people who want to find a conservative application for alternative music, or who think being a Republican in high school was an edgy and rebellious thing to do (look at me, I’m a nonconformist!) or who want to find a Christian message in the debased mythology of The Matrix.  Nothing boringly conventional about these people!  No, instead they manage to be boringly and conventionally unconventional. 

In all of this is the desperate need to be patted on the head and granted approval from the gatekeepers of the culture.  It is as if, to fight the culture wars, these folks believed that collaborating with the adversary was the path to ultimate victory over them.  The entire genre of Christian rock (and, God help us, Christian hip-hop) might be explained by this basic desire.  Be culturally subversive for Christ, they might proclaim.  Which, besides being infantile and likely to produce really bad music, is pointless. 

U.S. President George W. Bush is considering “a last big push” to win the war in Iraq, the British newspaper The Guardian reported. ~UPI

Does the name General Melchett ring a bell?

Remember how I was floating the possibility of Huckabee as possible contender for the ‘08 nomination?  Never mind.  Confronted about his rather pitiful ploy to get around the politician gift ban (he and his wife–slightly famous for their support of covenant marriage–entered themselves in a wedding gift registry to get the gifts for their new move because wedding and engagement gifts are excluded from the ban), Huckabee went, well, a little nutty.  The gift registry thing was hardly the end of the world, but Huckabee’s Hastert-like handling of the news reports makes him come off sounding anything but presidential.  Fortunately for him, almost nobody knows who he is, so he may have dodged a bullet here.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was “total crap,” but said that he would work to enact the legislation because Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports it.

Murtha and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are locked in a battle for the House Majority Leader post, and both men made presentations for to the Blue Dog Coalition on Tuesday in a bid for their votes.

“Even though I think it’s total crap, I’ll vote for it and pass it because that’s what Nancy wants,” Murtha told the Blue Dogs, according to three sources who were at the meeting. ~Roll Call

Via The Plank

I guess Murtha believes in speaking his mind!  To recap the first post-election week after Democratic victory: “ethically challenged” John Murtha receives a personal endorsement from the presumed future Speaker of the House because of his longtime support after pledging a new era of ethical and clean government, and then Pelosi commits herself even more to Murtha by openly working for his election as Majority Leader, which is followed by Murtha to mocking her ethics reform bill as “total crap,” further confirming everyone’s suspicions that he is indeed “ethically challenged” and the perfect example of the kind of politician who should not be Majority Leader in the new Congress.  He then says he will support the crappy bill out of loyalty to Nancy.  I’m sure she’s deeply touched by the sentiment.  The next two years are going to be a spectacle of just how absurd these people can be.  Meanwhile, on the other side, Trent Lott returns to the Senate leadership as Minority Whip!  This is going to be a great two years for low comedy in high places. 

“Red Tory” was never a well-defined term, and it never described a particularly influential trend in our political life. It has come to mean the opposite of what Grant or Taylor intended. Today it is commonly used to refer to someone who has no trouble either with the global market or Trudeau’s attempted erasure of traditional English Canada, someone pleased both with Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Mulroney’s free trade agreements, a libertarian lite. Crombie fits in with this more contemporary meaning of red Tory, but there is little evidence that he (or Stanfield) ever wanted to take some doomed Grantian stand on behalf of “our own” against the twin evils of corporate capitalism and post-ethnic post-Christian “rights-talk” liberalism. ~Pithlord

For the sake of clarity, let me say first that when I use the term Red Tory, I am always using it as it related to George Grant’s views. 

The “doomed Grantian stand” doesn’t sound so bad to me, but then I think everyone already knew that.  If there are two points where I think paleoconservatives diverge most from the present “movement” (or rather, where they diverge from us!) it is in our critical and often hostile view of the negative effects corporations have on real communities and our tendency to roll our eyes when people start talking about “rights.”  In the latter case, this is not because we think that secure protections against government abuse are a bad idea (sometimes it feels as if we are among the last conservatives who think they are a good idea!), but because, inter alia, rights-talk encourages the growth of state power and the breakdown of social bonds.  It may not exactly cause either of these things, but it certainly doesn’t help combat them.  Perhaps I am only speaking for myself on these points, but all I can say is that when I read George Grant I find that I am usually nodding in agreement with everything I read.  There must be something to ideas that seem so very sensible, and if they have some truth in them they cannot ever be entirely doomed. 

So I don’t know that the Grantian stand is necessarily all that doomed of a stand to take.  Someone clever said something about there being no such thing as lost causes, and I am inclined to agree.  Is a Grantian stand an insanely unpopular position to take on the American right nowadays?  You better believe it, and it would have been pretty unpopular 50 years ago, too.  Is it necessarily and certainly doomed because of that?  I am less sure.

But a political ideology, a political movement, one that is primarily about figuring out proper means of governing, should be, in fact, the opposite—a way of allowing opposing, contrasting, varied ways of life and belief to thrive with as little interference as possible. [bold mine-DL] Larison’s conservatism would be preached from the pulpit, infused in every minute and every decision of life, and while I have no quarrel with (and, in fact, heartily support) careful, principled existences, I don’t wish to see that sort of all-encompassing belief take over the political realm. There is a place*, for sure, to discuss how one should live their life, what principles, faiths, and notions are decent and good, but the goal of politics, and thus of political movements, should be to clear a space for those ideas to flourish, not try to inject itself into the discussion. [bold mine-DL] ~Peter Suderman

Conservatism’s roots do not lie in facile slogans about natural rights and free markets [bold mine-DL] — let alone angry, dismissive rhetoric that casts aside the poor and treats rich people as above the law. They lie in our attachment to families, churches, towns, and small businesses. [bold mine-DL] It’s time to remember who we are and who we should be defending. ~Bruce Frohnen

For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. [bold mine-DL] ~Russell Kirk

I appreciate Peter’s response (I also appreciate that I now merit my own category on his blog), I regret that I am delaying the completion of his review of Casino Royale, and I do see what he is saying about why he objects to my “lifestyle conservatism” as he calls it.  But I do fear that in all of this I have either failed to be clear in what I mean or he has not entirely followed what I have said.  The dreaded i-word keeps popping up, and I am unsure why.

He brings his post to a close with the quote given above.  He believes the end of politics is to create an arrangement that creates “a way of allowing opposing, contrasting, varied ways of life and belief to thrive with as little interference as possible.”  To the extent that I am a decentralist who believes in a variety of locally appropriate social and political arrangements (and I am a very big decentralist), I do not object in principle to the allowance of a variety of ways of life.  I do not propose that everyone in New Hampshire should live as we do in New Mexico, or that everyone in Albuquerque live as everyone does in Santa Fe in all respects (frankly, we couldn’t afford to live that way!).  An underlying reason why I resent the Yankee mentality in the War of Secession is that it essentially demands that everyone do and believe things in more or less the same way everywhere.  The freethinking mind cannot abide the lush variety of social life, but wants to level everything out and pour concrete on top of the razed jungle.  The person who loves his small town or who loves the landscape around his small town cannot help but find this sort of mind repugnant.  The freethinking mind seeks homogenisation when it can and otherwise pretends that social questions are beyond the proper realm of politics.  It is the great absurdity of the liberal mind, the mind of the Freisinnigen, that they both want everyone to be “free” but they also want everything as perfectly rationalised as possible, which in turn leads to increasing centralism and consolidation as a way of ensuring uniform rules across an entire country.  It is the same mentality that cannot tolerate the idea that there are other regime types on the face of the earth.  No one is more hostile to universalists of this kind than I am.  It is strange then, since I so frequently tear down such people and regard them as the bane of America and the American conservative tradition, that I should be mistaken for one of them.   

Preference for variety, born out of respect for the reality of contingent circumstances, human freedom and social complexity, is at the heart of any good rightist view, as Kuehnelt-Leddihn taught us many years ago.  Frequent conservative use of organic metaphors for society is suggestive of this respect for variety in different places.  But there is this curious idea that some have that you cannot insist on the cultivation of virtue having an important place in political life without thereby becoming a furious Puritan seeking to make everyone act in a uniform fashion. 

It is as if you cannot recognise some basically valid principles that, if followed, do lead human beings to flourish in every kind of society without also wanting to annihilate everything distinctive about each locality and place.  Most conservatives are generally on the same page in believing that marriage is an invaluable social institution that sustains social stability and order, and they also tend to be in agreement that at least for the raising of children a stable, married household is best for the well-being and development of children.  They might understand that the increasing practice of cohabitation, which tends to increase marital instability later on, and the widespread recourse to divorce are damaging to the good order of society and impose tremendous costs on society.  What I am proposing in speaking of a conservative ethos is that a great many other things have the same sort of ethical and social significance that shape what kind of communities we have.  It is these other things that a conservative politics ought to take into account and which, it seems to me, “the movement” typically has not for one reason or another. 

But I am apparently in favour of dictating every last detail of everyone’s “lifestyle” because I affirm certain general principles of human flourishing, which would include but not be limited to the virtues.  It is as if someone objected to a gardener watering different kinds of flowers to keep them all growing because he was violating the flowers’ diversity by cultivating them by similar means.  Rather than cultivate eunomia of the soul and society, Peter seems to suggest, we should have an arrangement whereby the dysfunctional and dysnomic are allowed their room to grow the same as anything else.  Not only should we not try to cultivate the flowers, but we should let them be choked by weeds and eaten by aphids if it comes to that.  The gardener wouldn’t want to interfere. 

It is precisely out of respect for locality and place and the natural affinities and loyalties that enrich and fill our lives that I insist that there are vital ethical and social dimensions to conservatism and to any conservative politics that aspires to do much beyond cutting marginal tax rates.  If being conservative means having a particular way of looking at “civil social order,” as Kirk wrote, conservatives probably ought to have something to say about civil social order that goes beyond government policy prescriptions.  Indeed, they must, because they would know better than most that policy prescriptions can only treat the symptoms of social problems and not their fundamental causes, which can be ameliorated or healed only through the building up of social capital, so to speak, by strengthening the natural institutions of a society so as to necessarily minimise the need for public authority to attempt its ham-fisted, often ineffective solutions.  Yet the moment that we begin talking about social obligations or what might constitute an ethos in keeping with such principles as encourage the flourishing of human beings rather than their degeneration and decadence, there seems to be a reflexive fear that we are coming to throw you in a dungeon for violating the terms of the “manifesto” that we have supposedly drawn up. 

A few points about politics.  We are going round and round about the question of what is appropriately political, it seems to me, because when I am talking about things that concern the political community, the polis, as a whole he is talking about something more focused and more specifically related to the state or the public authority.  The political in this latter view relates to problems of legislation, regulation, governance, institutions.  The social goods of the polis taken as a whole and the things of the ekklesia (here meaning the political assembly) are seen here as not only distinct, which they are, but essentially or largely unrelated.  This is an understandable view.  It is, more or less, the classical liberal idea of a neutral and level playing field.  

In this view, politics must “clear a space” to allow the debate to take place.  Certainly having a “space” where debate takes place is desirable to some extent, but the very act of “clearing the space” is to inject a political view into the debate and to make a claim about what can and cannot be in the debate just as surely as making a clearing in the woods for a campground determines how that space is used.  From the traditional conservative perspective, “clearing a space” to debate certain things that the conservative takes as given and prescribed by many years of habit and custom is a fundamentally hostile act against which he organises his own political opposition.  Conservatives would normally not be interested in having a debate about the virtues of the institution of marriage, for example, except that they are compelled to because a number of people are under the impression that the institution is either doing just fine, is not really all that important in the first place or should actually be actively subverted for the “emancipation” of individuals. 

So I don’t think a lot of conservatives would want to “clear a space” if clearing that space involves destroying the local natural conservancy of tradition or the historic district of custom or the residential area of community.  They probably think that their politics should instead be focused on defending and upholding those things.  Talk about conservatives’ desiring a politics that “clears a space” for debate sounds strange to me.  It is as if developers came to a town and said that they wanted to level several blocks of houses to build a convention center in order to help bring the community together.  Never mind that the act of “clearing the space” where the community could hold such community events visibly disrupts and throws into upheaval the actual community and attacks those things to which people in the community have strong attachments.  How a space, whether literal or metaphorical, is used reflects the values and priorities of the user: instead of open space, a developer would prefer a housing development; instead of a new office building, the preservationist would want to keep an old historic church or civic building from being demolished; instead of a national park, the paper company might want a new area for logging.  There are no neutral uses of space–every use embodies someone’s vision for that space and necessarily excludes others’ visions.  Likewise, opening up a metaphorical space for debate already predetermines to some extent what can and cannot be included in the debate; one of the rules of the space would be that no one in it can propose to restore whatever was in that space before it was cleared out.  But it is my view that many conservatives do and should want to ”fill” such a space when it comes to fundamental natural loyalties and institutions.  Further, there is something essential to conservatism about this that we neglect at our peril.   

He dismissed the questions about Murtha’s ethics. “If anyone felt like there was anything there, he would have been indicted a long time ago,” he said. ~CNN

Hey, at least nobody’s indicted him!  That makes him better than that DeLay guy.  What a ringing endorsement of the ethics of the man who would lead the Democratic majority into an era of clean and responsible government! 

What a fun spectacle these people are going to be.  I had forgotten what kind of low comedy national Democratic governance brought with it.  Consider the Majority Leader contest: the Establishmentarian, as a Washington Monthly article designated Hoyer, and the Unindicted Co-Conspirator.  Lobbyists everywhere must be thanking their household gods for the future windfalls that will be coming their way.  Who said K Street had to go begging just because of a few disgruntled voters? 

One other point: it isn’t “swift-boating” someone to point to his rather shabby ethics record.  Swift-boating would be to deny a veteran credit for being a veteran or to claim that a decorated officer was really a big fraud or to say that no real veteran could oppose a given war.  Some people did try to say that about Murtha when he called for “redeployment” from Iraq, and they were wrong to do so.  But whatever credit Murtha gets for having become a war opponent (it only took him two and a half years, but who’s counting?), he doesn’t get some kind of cloak of invulnerability when people come after him for other things in his record.  Especially when the people coming after him are other Democrats! 

When someone points out that Murtha is, as CREW puts it, “ethically challenged,” the logical and appropriate response would not be, for example, ”Stop questioning my patriotism!” or “I served my country with honour in Vietnam!”  The proper response would be, “I have done nothing wrong.”  It would be even better if that claim were true. 

Of course, the critics look right because we hardly seem to be winning the war in Iraq. But even here the critics are too smug. We have not won the war in Iraq because of something completely unforeseeable: widespread massacres of Iraqi civilians by other Iraqis and Muslims. We have never seen mass murder of fellow citizens in order to remove an outside occupier. No Japanese blew up Japanese temples in order to rid Japan of the American occupier. No Germans mass murdered German schoolchildren and teachers to rid Germany of the American, British, French and Soviet occupiers.

The level of cruelty and evil exhibited by those America is fighting in Iraq is new. Had Iraq followed any precedent in all the annals of resistance to occupation, America would likely have been victorious in Iraq. It may just be impossible, if one is morally bound not to kill large numbers of civilians, to fight those who target their own civilians and hide among them. But George W. Bush had no way to foresee such systematic cruelty. ~Dennis Prager

Come now, Dennis.  Were sectarian and ethnic rivalries such an unknown unknown, as the great man might have said, that nobody could have foreseen large-scale massacres of Iraqis by Iraqis?  This is such a false claim that I wonder why Prager made it.  Yet again the experience of post-WWII occupations is trotted out to justify administration ignorance and incompetence–along with the ignorance of war supporters who went along with the whole “we did it in Japan and Germany, and we can do it again” mantra about post-war reconstruction in Iraq.

Completely unforeseeable?  Not to anyone familiar with the last century of Iraqi history, which is replete with massacres and atrocities of one group against another.  This was something true about Iraq long before Hussein came along.  Kurds massacred Assyrians in the closing days of the Ottoman Empire, Sunnis massacred Kurds later on, and on and on it goes.  The relatively recent events in Rwanda and Yugoslavia provided ample examples of the dangers of what might happen when a multiethnic polity begins to crack up.  Only someone completely oblivious to potentially explosive nature of the ethnic and sectarian make-up could claim that Iraqis killing Iraqis in large numbers was “completely unforeseeable.”  It was not.  It was foreseeable, and some people foresaw it and other potential dangers arising from an invasion.  Opponents of the war and also realists who may have supported the war but were at least aware of the risks and dangers of invading pointed to the dangers of the possible fragmentation of Iraq and the likelihood of sectarian killings and civil war in an artificial nation-state drawn up by colonialists. 

Say what you will about what you think future Iraq policy should be, but stop insulting our intelligence about how all of this was unforeseeable.  Those who did not foresee it failed to do so because they knew next to nothing about the country they were “liberating” and never saw the potential dangers coming because they were so smug and self-assured in the righteousness of their cause and the easy application of WWII lessons (most of which, incidentally, they never actually applied to Iraq).   

Given these facts, George W. Bush believed that a pre-emptive strike was the moral thing to do, just as any moral person now understands it would have been moral to do against Hitler’s Germany in 1938. ~Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager is amusing.  At least I find it amusing that he thinks it is surprising or noteworthy that the NYRB gave a favourable review to Ferguson’s book containing an argument for “pre-emptive” war against Germany in 1938 (hey, why not 1936?  1933? 1919?  You can’t start moral wars of pre-emption too early!).  Because we all know just how monstrous Hitler’s regime was, it is the easiest call in the world to say now that attacking it in 1938 (before it invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia? after? who cares!) would have been entirely justified.  Except that it would not have been clear to very many at the time that attacking Germany because of things happening in Czechoslovakia was either necessary, desirable or justified.  Governments allied with Czechoslovakia might have legal commitments that would have obliged them to intercede, which is a different question.  If they were claiming that they were intervening in their own self-defense pre-emptively, it would have been very difficult to take seriously at the time.  This is because this claim is very often a lot of rot that warmongers use to cover themselves with a veneer of legitimacy.  Only in rare and exceptional cases is it actually true, which places the burden of proof squarely on those advocated “pre-emption.”  By that standard, it seems pretty clear that even if you believed what the government was claiming about Iraq’s WMD programs the kind of pre-emption being invoked in 2002-03 was of such a far-reaching, ludicrous kind that it never could be justified. 

The argument then, let us remember, was indeed not that Iraq was an imminent threat (some war opponents exposed themselves to ridicule by arguing as if the jingoes had claimed this, when they had claimed something much more absurd) but that it was potentially a grave threat off in the future.  As Mr. Bush drearily repeated so many times, “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.”  Why bother with full materialisation?  They don’t need to exist at all–the mere possibility that they might exist someday gives you the right, according to the most hard-core of hegemonists, to go in and take down that regime.  Note that if another government (say, the Iraqi government) applied this doctrine to us we would regard it as the ravings of a paranoid loon bent on world conquest.  But never mind that.  The point is that supporters of the war argued that war and regime change were legitimate and moral because of their own incredible certainty that Iraq’s government posed a threat that did not, by their own admission, even necessarily exist now but might exist in the future.  And they gripe that people opposed to the war, operating in the realities of the present rather than fantasies of what might be, are too certain.  Remember: the future authorises every kind of humbug.   

Hitler’s regime is one of the few in the history of the world where one might be able to look back and say that some real good might have been served in starting a war to get rid of that regime.  That said, it is by no means obvious that pre-emptive war would have been justified in 1938 given what Germany had done thus far and what it was preparing to do.  Its targets were in the East, and its entire ideology dictated carving out its domain in the East, which makes it exceedingly difficult to understand how anyone in America could have conceived of pre-empting something that did not seem to threaten us in any way.  Perhaps France would have had Realpolitik reasons to want to stop German expansion in the East, and Britain would be concerned to prevent a single power from dominating the Continent (as usual), but their problems were, thankfully, not really America’s problems.  

It is not clear that pre-emptive war is often all that pre-emptive so much as pre-emption is the excuse invoked by an aggressor to avoid the taint of the label aggressor.  The Germans in 1914, who had a far better argument that they had a legitimate strategic reason to strike first than we will ever have against tinpot dictatorships on the other side of the planet, became obsessed with the idea that they were fighting a war of self-defense when they were, in the eyes of everybody else, blatantly aggressive and criminal.  When I read people like Prager, I cannot help but remember what I have read about the self-assured recitation of the “ideas of 1914″ during WWI in Germany in which Germans were convinced that they were positively in the right (which made the one-sided and heavy-handed war-guilt clause in the Treaty that much more offensive to them, leading to later unpleasantness) even though any morally serious person outside of Germany would have grave doubts that they were not guilty of aggression.  (Note: I am not arguing that they were necessarily solely or even primarily responsible for WWI, since there is blame enough to go around to a number of different states, but aggressors they surely were.) 

The threat from a given regime must be so grave, serious and certain at the time of the “pre-emption” that it is almost impossible at the time to find real moral justification for starting a war to topple that regime.  Iraq never even began to approach that level even if everything the government claimed about its WMDs was accurate.  As far as I am concerned, this is not a question of my moral certitude or anyone else’s.  In something as uncertain and unclear as the probability of future threats, it is surely more moral and more wise to err on the side of peace. 

This is a question of whether we allow rational analysis of probable foreign threats to dictate our actions or whether we succumb to hysterical fearmongering promoted by the most powerful government on earth.  Prager prefers the latter.  I do not.  If that is smugness on my part, so be it.  I would rather be cautious, rational and “smug” than whatever Prager is.

We have not yet arrived at this longed for place. For all the progress we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us - when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions and tribal allegiances. ~Sen. Barack Obama

Obama’s speech at the groundbreaking for a Martin Luther King, Jr. monument was rich in the sepia tone commonplaces of our degraded political rhetoric.  The speech had it all: the obligatory Scripture verse, talk of an American “creed,” the quasi-poetic jumble of images, the prattle about hope, the blather about justice, the de rigueur allusion to slavery as our “original sin,” the inevitable nod to Lincoln, and, of course, the obnoxious comparison of the subject of praise with some holy and revered figure (in this case King as another Moses), finishing it all off with the grand, saccharine appeal:

And that each generation is beckoned anew, to fight for what is right, and strive for what is just, and to find within itself the spirit, the sense of purpose, that can remake a nation and transform a world.

Let us suppose that we don’t want to remake nations or transform worlds.  What do we make of Obama’s adulation for the new Moses then? 

The funny thing is that the speech was pitch-perfect for the broad middle of this country.  People will eat up this sort of thing and come back asking for more.  Whoever writes Obama’s speeches is unfortunately only too good at pushing all of the electorate’s buttons.  All of this hope of a better day and talk of the Promised Land gets Americans excited, though I swear I have difficulty understanding why they find it appropriate to degrade sacred history by making it the backdrop for political speechifying. 

Contrary to some of my blogging colleagues, not all of us deeply hope for Barack Obama’s political success, because not all of us want to elect an empty suit and a pretty face.  Frankly, I think Americans, but especially black Americans, deserve a more substantial representative than Obama is capable of being.  We may not deserve better political rhetoric than the tripe we do get, but it would be awfully nice if we did. 

They don’t really believe in politics, which is to say they don’t really believe in democracy. ~Michael Kinsley

Kinsley is referring to the members of the Baker Commission.  We are supposed to cluck our tongues and shake our heads at these supposed anti-democrats for their elitism and consensus-building (are we supposed to prefer the rule of lunatic democratists who think that consensus and consent of the American people are for sissies?), yet every elected official of any importance has managed to be worse than worthless on Iraq. 

Everyone with any realistic hopes of higher office (this necessarily excludes Obama) supported Iraq in the first place.  You can spot an Iraq war opponent politician a mile away: he is probably either very new, or he is not a committee chairman and has no great influence in his respective party.

If we are forced to rely on a ridiculous commission of ex-bureaucrats, judges and time-servers for foreign policy insights, it is because we routinely elect fools and charlatans who have a pitiful understanding of foreign affairs and neglect the issues involved or who, worse yet, believe themselves to be well-versed on foreign policy when they are not (Joe Biden, this means you).  We have tolerated the emasculation and weakening of Congress’ role in foreign policy because we, the people, prefer “strength” and “resolve” and “toughness” that only the executive can provide.  We must suffer the bland blandishments of Jim Baker because we, the people, are rather stupid in our choice of leaders, and as a result we are made to endure the lectures of unelected commissions that try to do the job that our failed representatives could not bring themselves to do: think and reflect on issues of grave national importance and act in the best interests of the country. 

If we are in a position when Jim Baker is the best we have on hand (what a cruel fate), it is because our allegedly marvelous democracy failed years ago to do any of the things it is supposedly so good at doing: holding government to account, preventing aggressive war, checking excesses and so on.  It is rich to come crying at this point about the lack of respect the commissioners have for democracy when the entire apparatus of the elected branches of the federal government has already tried and failed to handle the question.  They have failed in no small part because they were democratically elected and because the quality of those elected was evidently rather dismal.  This will be no different in the new Congress.  The main difference in the next Congress is that some party antagonism may spur the mediocre wretches on to do the right thing in spite of themselves and in spite of their voters.  If the Baker Commission helps them to do this, so much the better. 


This obnoxious.

The Republicans too should look to the centre ground. There are some signs that social conservatism has peaked: a bid to ban abortion failed in South Dakota; a ban on gay marriage failed for the first time in Arizona; and in Ohio the Bible-bashing Ken Blackwell, who aspired to be governor, went down in flames. The main message from the mid-terms for the presidential race in 2008 is that America is weary of polarisation. The prospects of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, neither of them conventional conservatives, have improved. ~The Economist

There has been a fair amount of this buncombe in the last week.  I have been away for about half of the last week, so I have only just started catching up on the silly things some people are saying.  The Economist, unfortunately, does not disappoint with its predictably daft interpretation of American politics.  Let me take these “setbacks“ seriatim. 

The abortion ban in South Dakota was so extensive that it did not even include the boilerplate exceptions of rape and incest, which are such rare reasons for abortion that they are essentially concessions without substance, and thus sent down a good measure to defeat because of needless overreaching.  As it was, the measure failed 56-44 with these exceptions taken out.  It might still have failed, but 44% for an absolute ban of abortion (in this country where people allegedly support legalised abortion by an overwhelming majority) is a pretty sizeable show of support for social conservatism, at least in South Dakota.  Hard-liners can argue that even these rare occasions do not justify killing the unborn, and I think they have some arguments on their side, but if the goal is to limit the destruction of innocent life this kind of absolutism is almost inexcusable. 

Arizona was the one state out of eight voting on such things that opposed a ban on gay marriage, and Arizona is, well, Arizona.  Meanwhile, in Virginia, a remarkable amendment was put to the vote that could plausibly be read to also deny cohabiting heterosexual couples any legal protections in addition to denying all such protections to homosexual couples–and it passed 57 to 43%.  The amendment would prohibit the Commonwealth or any of its subdivisions from recognising “another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.” (Hat tip: Dan McCarthy)  This Virginia marriage amendment is perhaps one of the most powerful social conservative victories in referendum votes in the last 10 years.

The stuff about Ken Blackwell is misleading in the extreme.  Blackwell’s social conservatism might have been a problem for him in Ohio, but that is not the main reason why he lost.  He lost because he was a Republican in Ohio who made the foolish decision of getting the endorsement of the deeply tainted state party instead of running as an independent, reform-minded conservative; he also suffered from the relatively poor economy in Ohio, which voters blamed on the GOP administration in Columbus.  Voters also resented the Taft administration’s tax hikes.  In addition, the national mood was sharply anti-GOP, as we all know.  Misrule, corruption, taxes and jobs were the key factors in the Ohio GOP’s drubbing last week; Blackwell’s social conservatism comes a distant fifth as a cause of his electoral troubles, if that.  Also, for the benefit of our friends at The Economist, the phrase is “Bible-thumping,” not “Bible-bashing.”  Bible-bashing is what Sam Harris does.  Nobody is weary of polarisation–2006 was a vote for more polarisation in government, more division and more conflict.  It was a vote against the flaccid uniformity and mindlessness of Congress and a vote for some more vigorous resistance the administration.  People may have rejected Mr. Bush and his lackeys, but they have not therefore rejected all politics of conflict and divisiveness.  Some of us very much want more conflict than we have had inside government.  We want fewer yes-men and more questions, fewer examples of deferring to executive authority and more examples of the legislative branch giving the President what for.  We will undoubtedly be grievously disappointed, but all of this drivel about how Americans want to abide in the gooey nugat centre of political squishiness could not be more wrong.

Speaking of McCain and Giuliani, here are my reckless predictions for the 2008 primaries: McCain will implode relatively early, perhaps pre-March, thanks to some episode of his famously explosive temperament mixed with a lack of primary voter support; Giuliani will go nowhere, but not for lack of money to keep trying (he might last past Super Tuesday but not get enough delegates to win the nomination); the Mormon thing will matter enough to see Romney go down to defeat in South Carolina (it seems to me to be a given that he will fare poorly in New Hampshire and Iowa), which will kill his candidacy; Duncan Hunter will do better than people expect, but still go nowhere in the end.  The less said about Bill Frist, the better.  Pataki as the nominee is next to inconceivable.  Don’t even mention Condi.  Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is a political disaster.  Tim Pawlenty was lucky just to be re-elected, and does not seem to have his eye on the big prize. 

Someone else, I don’t know who just yet, will be the nominee on the GOP side, and he will not fit the model of goopy Republican moderate now being praised as the path to victory.  For precisely this reason, Chuck Hagel also has no chance.  I hesitate to say it, because it sounds absurd even to me, but might this be the golden opportunity for a virtually nationally unknown former Arkansas governor named Huckabee?  Might 2008 on the GOP side replicate the Dems’ primaries in 1992?  But that is almost too easy.  But who else do they have?  Wayne Allard?  Excuse me while I fall on the floor in fits of laughter. 

Everyone assumes that McCain runs away with it, but what I have never been able to understand is why (except perhaps for the dreadful state of his competition).  He allegedly appeals to almost everyone, but actually appeals to almost no one.  In this he is like Barack Obama–everyone claims to like him and supposedly wants to see him succeed, but they always give the most damned odd reasons for doing so that never hold up when it comes time to pull the old lever.  No doubt pro-torture Chechen-Americans who favour campaign finance reform are solidly in McCain’s camp; otherwise, nobody has any reason to support him.  I don’t know much, but I will say with 90% certainty that McCain will not be the nominee of the GOP.      

I haven’t really dug into the relevant papal statements, but my impression is that there’s some ambiguity, perhaps purposeful, on this score. Anyway, what do y’all think? “Part of the Church” is probably not a good way to say it, but what exactly is the relationship? In? Out? Ambigously somewhere between? ~Maclin Horton

Coming at this question from the Orthodox side, I can appreciate the reasons for the confusion that seems to prevail about the status of the Orthodox in Catholic eyes.  Very simply, from what I understand about it from the encyclical, Dominus Iesus, which I previously remarked on here, and the Catechism, the Roman Catholic Church regards the Orthodox as being in some form of substantial communion that is nonetheless short of full communion.  To the Orthodox, this sounds deliberately ambiguous and also ecclesiologically meaningless.  There is koinonia and the absence of koinonia; I think it is correct that there is not really much of a sliding scale between the two, though I do not mean to rely unduly on the ideas of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) for this understanding of communion.  Koinonia has several important basic features: unity of bishop, unity of Eucharist and unity of faith or homonoia.  Very plainly, Catholics and Orthodox lack all three of these, so it often puzzles me what it means when the Catholic Catechism says that we are in some “profound” communion with Catholics when we Orthodox do not see it at all.   

However, it is the officially approved teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, if I understand what the Catechism and papal encyclicals represent, that the Orthodox are in communion with Catholics to some considerable degree on the grounds that we are supposedly in schism but not in heresy (though some strict anti-Palamites on the Catholic side would probably disagree here).  How there can be communion without oneness of mind on basic doctrines, I cannot say, but it is really not my purpose here to get into confessional disputes here.  I want to lay out very simply the Orthodox attitude as I understand it and give my assessment of what the Catholic Church seems to hold about the status of the Orthodox.    

Of all the non-Roman Catholic hierarchical churches, the Orthodox Church seems to receive the most sympathetic treatment in Dominus Iesus and the Catechism, but it is not only the Orthodox who are considered to be in communion with the Catholic Church to some degree.  Provided that they believe in Christ and have been baptised “properly,” there is some measure of imperfect communion.  Obviously, full communion would only be attained by agreement with Catholic doctrine in “its entirety” and acceptance of the authority of Rome.  But about the Orthodox, the Catechism clearly states:

With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.” (CCC 838) 

Of course, the Orthodox virtually to a man do not see things this way at all.  From the Orthodox perspective, there are significant and, as it stands now, apparently insurmountable barriers to reunion.  Of course, with God all things are possible, but it appears improbable in the extreme that there will be any progress in this direction in this century or indeed in this millennium if both Catholics and Orthodox hold to the doctrines they currently hold.  Much does hinge on papal claims to universal jurisdiction, which are the source of so many Orthodox objections, but as much hinges on significantly different charitological (doctrine of grace), ecclesiological and theological understandings.    

For that matter, I would be genuinely surprised if most Catholics saw things as the Catechism states them, which may not be relevant to what their authorities teach but is certainly an important reality that any ecumenically-minded Catholics would have to take into serious consideration.  Ecumenically-minded Catholics have a very real problem in that most Orthodox Christians, if I may overgeneralise rather broadly, have no great interest in reunion with Rome.  If asked directly, I assume most everyone would say that they desire the unity of all who confess the Name of Christ and they would be absolutely sincere in this, but if such unity were to come at the price of giving up any part of Orthodox Tradition it would immediately be met with hostility.  Ecumenism for many Orthodox Christians has simply become an ugly and dirty word, and in its sloppy and careless formulation and practice over the years (of which the rather painful language of “two lungs” of the One Church has been a prominent example for Traditionalist Orthodox) ecumenism has been seen as an ecclesiological heresy and not only by hard-line Old Calendarists.  In what is probably absolutely infuriating to ecumenically-minded Catholics, their very efforts at outreach convince us all the more that they are in some sort of doctrinal error. 

At the present time, some Traditionalist Orthodox think that far-out crazy liberal reconciliation means having the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad join together in full communion; for some of us, as I only half-jokingly remarked to a friend of mine this weekend, ecumenism means talking in a friendly fashion to New Calendarists.  Any idea of reconciliation with Rome seems so far off, so outlandish to so many Orthodox that it would probably stun some of our Catholic friends.  Simply put, for Pope John Paul II reconciling fully with the Orthodox was something of a priority (and, on a related point, Pope Benedict has an admirably good understanding of many of the Greek Fathers that causes me to like him personally a great deal), but for the Orthodox it has never been a terribly high priority and we have tended to view such moves with suspicion born of unfortunate historical experiences with Eastern-rite and “Byzantine” Catholicism.  Few would be more glad to see the old schism healed than I, as I have many Catholic colleagues and friends (and, on my Hungarian side, Catholic ancestors), but I remain doubtful that it will be healed here below.  God willing, it shall be, but only in the fullness of the truth. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a prime agitator in the DeLay-Abramoff-Cunningham scandals, is blasting Nancy Pelosi’s support of Jack Murtha to be House Majority Leader. Murtha, CREW says, is “one of the most unethical members in Congress.” ~Michael Crowley

Political junkies will remember that CREW was the watchdog group that was responsible for bringing a lot of publicity to the Mark Foley scandal and ensuring that the Foley story simply wouldn’t die after a few days.  They have generally been on the GOP’s case for the past several years, but they gained new prominence in their prominent role in publicising the Foley revelations.  Mark “El Guapo” Levin became outraged at the obvious left-wing conspiracy that was pushing the Foley story, and in his version CREW was one of the chief villains of the entire scandal.  Of all the laboured efforts to make the Foley scandal anybody’s fault but the GOP’s, Levin’s was in a class all its own for sheer paranoia and absurdity. 

Now we find CREW laying in to Nancy Pelosi’s choice for Majority Leader and, by extension, attacking Pelosi as being very chummy with someone they regard (and not entirely without reason) as deeply unethical.  Good for them–it is almost as if they were a nonpartisan watchdog group concerned with ethics in government!  Presumably they missed the memo from Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy HQ that said, “Ignore Democratic corruption and ethics violations.”  Alcee Hastings, you may be next (we can only hope).

The conventional wisdom is beginning to shape up that Pelosi has blundered badly with her minimalist approach to supporting Murtha.  (For normal people who are not following the minutiae of intra-House leadership elections, allow me to recap: Pelosi wrote a letter personally endorsing Murtha’s bid for Majority Leader–how terribly unexciting.)  After all, when Andrew Sullivan and the NROniks agree, it must be true, right?  Yeah, that’s it.  I am not sure why this is such an obviously bad move on her part.  She appeases at least two groups of her members (both antiwar Democrats and more conservative Democrats find some representation in Murtha), retains Murtha’s loyalty, continues her feud with Hoyer as usual and does nothing unexpected or confusing that might prompt questions about her leadership.  Everyone among the House Democrats assumed that this was coming, and so apparently it will both a) have little effect on the Majority Leader election and b) not significantly damage Pelosi’s standing with the members.  Murtha may well lose anyway, in which case she has simply made her feud with Hoyer, which was an open secret to people who follow the Hill with the obsessiveness of Kremlinologists, more public.  If Murtha wins, we will be reading the same pundits very soon telling us how “shrewd” and “clever” she was.  She has done this at precisely the moment when the least number of people are paying attention to politics in the week after the election, ensuring that whatever negative fallout there is for her it will be contained.  She may speak, as The Economist memorably put it, like the cross between a Stepford wife and Jesse Jackson, and she may spew forth nonsense about the Speaker’s gavel being in the hands of “the children,” but she has as good a set of tactical political skills as anybody in the business.  Personally, I think it will be a welcome change to have a Speaker who wrestles and fights with the Majority Leader instead of being his handpuppet (as Hastert was DeLay’s).  Whether it is a “good thing” for Democrats in achieving their “goals,” such as they are, I am unsure.  It will probably have little effect, but if it does I, for one, won’t be too upset.  Anything that makes divided government ever-more divided and beset by gridlock and infighting sounds like a positive development to me.  The more time they waste bludgeoning each other in internecine battles is less time they have to harrass us and ruin the country.    

Honestly, I am puzzled as to why anybody expected anything different from Pelosi.  According to what little I know about her, she was educated in the Baltimore school of Democratic machine politics and has practiced this brand of reward-and-rule ever since.  Rule #1 of this kind of politics is “take care of your own.”  (We may as well get the obvious ethnic references out of the way now: with Pelosi as Speaker, there are going to be a lot of very un-PC references to Italians and the Mafia style of doing business in the next two years; we can already see pundits getting their Tivos ready to record a Godfather marathon for research purposes.)  Rule #2 is “punish the disloyal.”  Rule #3 is CYA. 

The reward-and-rule approach places a high premium on personal connections and loyalties, and it tends to breed a kind of ethical indifferentism when one of “your” guys is caught up in some murky business.  One of the reasons why local and state Democratic party machines are always so rife with corruption (see New Mexico, Louisiana, New Jersey, Illinois, etc.) is that this sort of “take care of your own” approach predominates over other considerations.  This sort of politics thrives best in ethnic wards of yore or overwhelmingly Democratic states where people assume that corruption is a synonym for government.  People in these states take corruption as an inevitable product of the machine to which there is no realistic alternative, which causes them to overlook most of the abuses, because you can either work inside the machine or you can go nowhere politically.  There is something quite amusing about the fact that the 110th Congress, elected allegedly with some minimal mandate of bringing integrity, responsibility and accountability to Congress, will be led either by a Pelosi/Hoyer or Pelosi/Murtha combo.  If the GOP can clean itself up and gets it house in order, it might be able to run a credible clean and good government campaign in ‘08, and they will probably have some good targets to vilify, no matter which one wins the contest for Majority Leader.  

Conservatives should remind themselves that they do not live by politics alone. Conservatism is a way of life, of which electoral politics is only a part and not the whole. ~Lee Edwards

If conservatism is to be relevant again its adherents must give up their perks as Washington insiders, or stop listening to those who won’t. They must demand an end to corporate-welfare policies that hide behind claims of “privacy” and “free markets.” They must reject the claim that “big government is here to stay” and insist that Washington cede back to the states and localities the power to control their own lives — from what their towns look like, to what can be done in the local public square.

Conservatism’s roots do not lie in facile slogans about natural rights and free markets — let alone angry, dismissive rhetoric that casts aside the poor and treats rich people as above the law. They lie in our attachment to families, churches, towns, and small businesses. It’s time to remember who we are and who [sic] we should be defending. ~Bruce Frohnen

These are very good points from both.  To which I would add the following question: if you aren’t defending a way of life and a vision of order as a conservative, what exactly are you defending?

After all, it’s nice to think that your particular political ideology isn’t just a good way of running government, but also a good way of being a person. ~Peter Suderman

Each time I read over Peter’s post, the bit about ideology always brings me up short.  On why preserving a way of life focused on natural loyalties and guided by a spirit that values restraint, prescription and prudence, among other things, is not an ideology, see here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here and here.  It has long seemed to me that ideology is that sort of abstract commitment to a proposition or theory that one makes that has little or no relevance to how you live.  Being a good liberal involves accepting a number of rather dubious claims about the nature of man and society and setting policy accordingly.  Allegedly, what you do in your own, “private” life is no concern to anybody.  Likewise, being a good communist or fascist ideologue has everything to do with toeing party lines and supporting the right kinds of policies.  Living ethically is neither here nor there, except insofar as it comes into conflict with policy.  One of the most disappointing parts of Austin Bramwell’s thought-provoking article in TAC was when he lamented the lack of clear policy implications from the ideas of Voegelin, Kirk, Weaver, et al.  This made their statements of principle to be of little value for making policy.  To which I expect Voegelin would have replied, “What did you expect?  That the ground of being would endorse your tax legislation?  Do you take me for some sort of gnostic maniac?”  Except that he would have said it better than that, at greater length and with far more impressive erudition, none of which is very useful for setting policy.  This is because philosophers and men of letters, unless they are mad or extremely arrogant, do not typically presume to provide blueprints for policy (they rather assume this is what magistrates and princes do) but are very interested in questions of what is true, what is just and what is beautiful.  They are interested in reflection or the creation of literature or living the philosophical life as they tend to their own gardens.  Their example does the Karl Roves of the world no good at all, because their example suggests that most of what Rove has spent much of his life working on does not matter all that much.   

Yet ethics is the heart of real politika, the things concerning the polis or community.  One’s ethos, one’s way of life and habitual practices, defines what kind of politics a man has, and what kind of community he and his will create and maintain.  To speak slightly dismissively of ”lifestyle conservatism” is to accept that a way of life is a question of style rather than substance, when there is nothing, save revealed truth, that can seriously be considered more substantial for men than their own way of life–even though such an attachment to something so substantial is deemed “subversive” to princes and potentates and grandiose systems.  Consequently, there can hardly be anything (except for questions of revealed truth) more important than questions of how we live and why we live that way. 

Politics are the nuts and bolts of organising the life of a community or a number of communities according to a vision of order.  Power is a fact of life, as is the unequal distribution of it, and a conservative politics would try to prevent that power from doing damage to the things, people and places that you love in your natural affinities and loyalties.  It would presumably stress principles of legality, legitimacy, authority and precedent, and seek to disperse power to as many different centers as possible to prevent its corrosive and corrupting power from overtaking any single community or any number of communities together. 

You have to have politics, just as you must have the nuts and bolts to hold up your desk so that you can write your correspondence, read your books and put up pictures of friends and family, but you do not spend much or even most of your time tinkering with the structure of the desk.  It is only when the desk stands in need of serious repairs or somehow threatens the truly valuable things that you keep on it that you attend to it with much concern at all.  I think that a conservative would really pity the silly people who sit on the floor as they awkwardly try to write a letter on the ground in resistance to all kinds of desks and the even sillier people who believe that someday no desks will be needed, just as much as he would pity the people who are simply obsessed with managing the desk or with turning the desk upside down (when it becomes useless, but no matter).   

I don’t expect that everyone who calls himself a conservative will share precisely the same vision (homonoia is difficult to realise and we can sometimes substitute drab conformity for genuine oneness of mind), but I do assume that all of them, if they are serious about conservatism, will expect that such visions are central to our understanding of the world and that they encompass our pre-political loyalties and the stuff of everyday life where most of real life is lived out.  Or, rather, if they do not expect as much right now, I would very much hope that they begin to expect it very soon.  If conservatism is simply a way of organising people to squabble over scraps from the high table of government or as a means of getting “our” kind of people up to the high table, not only is there no terribly interesting future for it but I would not be all that interested in being part of such a thing in the first place.  

I am drawn back again to a powerful line in the very clever film Max, in which the title character, fictitious art dealer Max Rothmann, says to a young Hitler about art and politics, “What would you rather do?  Change the way that people see or the way they pay their taxes?”  By the end of the movie, Hitler has made his choice.  The challenge of instilling a conservative ethos (which, at its best, is not a conservative ethos as such but one that would be recognised as humane and sane by all, regardless of party or policy preferences) is much the same as the one posed by the character of Rothmann: do we concern ourselves with a way of life, an entire vision of what constitutes good order for our communities or do we focus on narrow questions of policy and politicking? 

There are undoubtedly also important questions of policy to be tackled, and I don’t belittle the hard work and imagination that this kind of work takes and the necessity of having people who do this kind of work.  However, if there is something we all need to remember before we can start undoing the damage of the last few years it is that a conservatism that places high priority on living an ethical life and shaping the life of the community to be as conducive to that sort of life is what intellectual conservatism has always aspired to present.  As problems of ethics, aesthetics, meaning and a well-ordered everyday life have taken a back seat to the struggle to dominate the greasy pole, conservatism has lost much of what used to make it genuinely interesting and what gave it such intellectual vitality. 

This is an old argument.  Frank Meyer once belittled the New Conservatives for lacking a “program.”  Don’t bother us with all this talk about virtue and community–give us something we can use!  Be more programmatic, he urged them.  This made a certain amount of sense in narrow, party-political terms.  But to become programmatic was to take a step towards the ideological and the world in which taking “positions” on “issues” became the defining activity of so many conservatives.  Again, there is a place for such politicking, but even this is not the whole of what we used to understand as the whole of politics, much less the whole of life, about which, if conservatism is a worthwhile state of mind and persuasion, conservatism ought to have something important to say.    

When Andrew Sullivan starts comparing something you wrote with his dreadful little book, it’s a good bet that something has gone terribly wrong somewhere.  When others believe that there is a more than passing resemblance between what you wrote and Andrew Sullivan’s dreadful little book, you may have a bigger problem still.

I have returned from St. Louis.  Blogging will be very light this week, but there are some things now available that should be of interest to regular and occasional Eunomia readers. 

The American Conservative’s latest issue is now online, including Austin Bramwell’s already much-discussed article, Jeffrey Hart’s indictment of the movement’s ideological turn and my article, The Gospel According to Bush, among other things.

Before I sign off for the weekend, just a couple other thoughts on Austin Bramwell’s “Goodbye To All That” in the new American Conservative.  First, I have not yet remarked on the title, which is a very good one and which, in its evocation of Robert Graves’ autobiography, might be said to liken the effects of the Bush administration on the conservative movement to those of WWI on European and more particularly British civilisation.  In both cases, the two technically survive their calamitous disasters and, in the case of Europe, briefly undergo a brief respite from more calmities and while surrendering themselves to introspection and exhaustion before the next disaster strikes.  That’s worth considering.

My other thoughts were these: Bramwell’s article is very much like some of Viereck’s late 1950s and early 1960s-era commentary when he engaged in a kind of “pox on all your houses” approach to critiques of other conservatives: NR was too nationalist and capitalist (he was almost certainly right) and Kirk was both a no-good sell-out to Barry Goldwater and the latter’s “Manchester liberalism” (here he would be not very right at all) and a sort of traditionalist poseur (”the traditionless worship of tradition”!).  (Separately, and related only tangentially to these Viereck remarks, where is Dan McCarthy’s promised response on Viereck that we have all been anticipating?)  Of course, Viereck’s own criticisms of Kirk et al. leave one puzzling over Bramwell’s claim that Kirk had “almost no political opinions whatsoever.”  Perhaps he expressed few of them in print, in which case I think I understand what Mr. Bramwell means, but that he had almost none?  That is harder to believe.

But what got to me thinking about Viereck and Bramwell together was the problem of calling down a pox on all houses.  This might seem tremendously fun to do (and it is fun), until you discover that, if you have been successful with your cursing, all of the dwellings are henceforth pox-ridden and you are obliged to take up in the nearby caves.  If inclined to an ascetic frame of mind, you might find this to be an excellent solution, and perhaps the houses were overrated in any case.  But it does give one the distinct impression that you really do intend to leave “all of that” behind (which I suppose the title already told us).  That would be fine as far as it goes, if all of the “houses” were really all just as bad as the other and if all of the different kinds of conservatism were actually lacking in analytical power and understanding, but as I have already tried to show and as I hope to discuss at greater length in the coming weeks I don’t think these claims necessarily hold up all that well. 

In the end, what Bramwell despises is any pre-political loyalty of any kind. Even party loyalty, which is only barely pre-political, must be dispensed with in favor of purely individual political calculus. How, I wonder, is this anything but a rather smart version of Andrew Sullivan’s prescription for conservatives? That it should appear in the pages of The American Conservative is perhaps the most remarkable thing about it. ~Fr. Jape

Well, give TAC credit for always entertaining a wide assortment of ideas.  In the same issue as Bramwell’s piece, Jeffrey Hart writes how ideology has replaced prudence under Bush and offers an almost entirely different analysis of the problems facing conservatives. 

Jape dissects the Bramwell piece pretty effectively and hits on a few things that I admit I missed the first time through.  Though I will save more fully extended comments until later, since I am short on time now, one thing that stood out for me as particularly strange in Mr. Bramwell’s article was this:

But the movement never had any first principles to begin with.  Although it boasts a carefully husbanded canon of supposedly foundational texts, the men who wrote them–Kirk, Strauss, Voegelin, Weaver, Chambers, Meyer–were notorious eccentrics given to extravagant claims whose policy implications remain largely obscure [bold mine-DL].

This is something that I confess to not fully understanding.  Even supposing that all of these men were eccentrics who made ”extravagant claims,” there surely is a policy implication, for instance, when Kirk writes:

In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger.   

The policy implication would be to favour those things, possibly through some kind of regulation and legislation if necessary (though prudence and subsidiarity would take over here), that tend to secure the stability and sanity of those local communities and preserve local control of as much of the community’s life as is feasible.  One might readily draw from this that economic policies that seem to encourage upheaval, constant mobility, sprawl, the dislocation of people and the shuttering of local industries and shops are inimical to healthy local communities and should be criticised, reformed or even scrapped entirely.  There might be many more policy implications in such a view of community.  That would presumably be the business of policy-makers to determine.  If, however, we are speaking of having first principles, why is it the business of the philosopher, author or literary critic to tell the policy men the policy implications of his broader ideas?  Surely it is for the philosopher or the man of letters to reflect on fundamental principles of politics and ethics and to state their view of the essentials, whereupon policymaking types could adapt these to present-day practical concerns. 

Often enough the policy implications of basic principles expressed in the works of a Kirk or a Bradford are not so terribly obscure; the “problem” tends to be that the implications of their writings do not fit very well with one’s own idea of what good policies are.  But more strange than that is the idea that a seminal thinker who plainly lays down basic principles (Kirk’s list is called, after all, Ten Conservative Principles) never did lay down much of anything because the policy implications of those principles are supposedly obscure.  Obscure to whom?  Perhaps they are obscure to those who do not accept some of the first principles?  I don’t know. 

In any case, if his article helps to sharpen and focus the debate on the state of conservatism, which I think it already has done, it will have accomplished a great deal.  Make sure that you get ahold of a copy of the new American Conservative for the Bramwell article and for all of the other worthwhile content you will find in it.

It was a resounding repudiation, considering that the science of gerrymandering has been brought to such a pitch of computer-aided perfection that only a handful of seats change hands in the average election. Districts are designed to be impregnable: in the last election just ten members of the outgoing Congress won by fewer than five percentage points. ~Christopher Caldwell, The Spectator

This is an important point to make and keep making as the GOP apologists try to tell you, as some did before the election, that it was perfectly normal and average to lose north of 25 seats in a sixth-year election.  Yes, it is something so perfectly normal and average that it hadn’t happened since 1974, and for reasons we all understand quite well.  If we pretend that midterm elections continued to be governed by all the same rules that they were in 1958, we might find Tuesday’s results less than remarkable, but when we realise that the rules have substantially changed to favour the incumbent party any large-scale repudiation takes on added significance. 

Consider how many seats were originally considered to be competitive at the start of the year: approximately 40, as compared with the approximately 100 in 1994.  Republicans got 52 pickups out of those 100, which is pretty good.  In terms of the percentage of the vote the Democrats got something just over half of the national vote in the House, but in terms of the number of seats won out of those considered reasonably competitive at the start of the year this election is a massive success for Democrats.  If we take the number of seats considered competitive after the summer (which, as of last week, had been increased to 73 or so), a 28-30 seat pickup by the Dems would be comparable to, if not quite as large as, the wipeout of 1994.  Either way, it was a big, big win, the kind of win that the entire apparatus of modern politics is designed to prevent.  That in and of itself makes this something remarkable to behold, as all those forces that favour entrenched and concentrated power suffered a brief setback Tuesday.

The People and the Man have had enough and Bush needs to make important decisions on Iraq ASAP. If not, he could be swept out from office through pressure from a powerful coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. ~Leon Hadar

See also his new article on Jim Baker.

The American people have rejected the Peronist politics of jingoism and fiscal incontinence. I agree with the commentators who are saying that the US electorate has not embraced “liberalism.” Just as there was nothing particularly conservative about the party of imperialism and insolvency, there is nothing particularly progressive about the desire to be rid of them. But it’s good to see all the same. ~Pithlord

It is once again accountability time at Eunomia.  I made some wild and crazy predictions before the election, and it is time to check to see just how well or badly I did.  Certainly in terms of the size of the “wave” I did all right, though I expected a few more pickups.   I was closest on the Senate with my 52-48 pick, which was only one off (and Ford made a decent showing that suggests my belief in a sweep wasn’t completely crazy). 

However, as we get down to the nitty-gritty of the House races the Dems actually won I did rather less well.  In my first 13, the seats I assumed were guaranteed to go Democratic, I got 13/13 right.  No major points there, since a blind man could have seen the outcome of these races.  Then it gets a bit less impressive.  My second group consisted of the following:

NM-01, AZ-05, ID-01, IA-01, KY-03, MN-06, NH-02, OH-02, OH-01, PA-07, PA-06, KY-04, IL-06, FL-13, CT-02, CT-04, CT-05

My Ohio and Minnesota picks were apparently very foolish, as were my picks of CT-04, FL-13, ID-01, IL-06, KY-04 and NM-01.  Gutknecht ended up losing, while Michelle “Fool for Christ” Bachmann pulled away (in fairness, all polling showed Bachmann winning that race–I was trying to be too clever by half).  I know that NM-01 hasn’t been officially called for Wilson, and Madrid could theoretically make a comeback in the count, but I don’t buy it, even if the votes are coming in from Sandoval and Santa Fe counties, which ought to go for Madrid in a big way.  Wilson has strange voodoo powers that prevent her from losing elections.  (To date, she has never lost a race.)  The reason for my mistakes here falls into the Wishful Thinking category.  I really wanted Roskam and Wilson to lose, for example, and kept ignoring their advantages late in the race. 

The one I am proudest of is KY-03, which relatively few people saw coming (I took Chuck Todd’s word on this one).  I never saw IA-02 or NH-01 coming, and I didn’t think Shaw would lose in FL-22.  Pennsylvania was bloodier than Ohio, strangely enough (perhaps a side-effect of Santorum’s debacle?), and NY-19 was a somewhat unexpected GOP loss that I considered calling for the Dems but couldn’t justify.  In this second group, I scored only 8/17.  Ouch.

In my third group of wild card pickups, I didn’t do much better:

NE-03, KS-02, NY-29, NY-26, NY-20 

Reynolds and Kuhl won in New York, and Kleeb was unable to pull off the highly improbable upset.  I am pleased to have seen KS-02 coming almost a month ago, which I don’t think most people would have been willing to call for the Dems before the election.  Sweeney’s seat was almost a gimme after the domestic abuse story took over the campaign in the final days.  Still, that’s only 2/5 for a grand total of 23 out of 35 right.  So I got roughly two-thirds of my predictions in the House right, which isn’t actually all that great.

Senate predictions are easier if you think there will be a “wave”–pick one side across the board and ignore all contradictory information.  Ford seemed to be hanging tough and I thought he could pull out a squeaker, but apparently he could not.

So my powers of prediction aren’t terrific, though I would note that most of what happened was pretty foreseeable and was foreseen by people paying attention to those dreaded polls.  A lot of the last-minute desperation talk from Republican pundits that “the only poll that matters” on Election Day would tell us what the electorate was really thinking became very annoying very quickly.  Obviously an election is the ”only poll that matters,” but how sad was it that, even as they were taking hope in some of those late generic polls that they might survive, they simply refused to believe what every poll was saying?  How sad was it to hear people talk about the great Santorum comeback only days before Tuesday when he ended up losing by 18?  In that race, all polling actually underestimated how badly he would lose, but it told us that he would lose badly and it was right.  Polls have all kinds of flaws (especially Zogby polling, which showed Madrid up by some insane number, and Duckworth winning by double digits when both seem to have lost–his operation is evidently deeply flawed), and they are not anything close to an “exact science,” but people have been doing them for long enough that most of the kinks have been worked out in most polls.  They are trustworthy to a certain degree, and they can be relied upon.  Obviously, I would have had no chance of making my predictions had there not been fairly accurate and reliable polling in all of these races.  It was the polling that was clearly wildly off and suspect (often Zogby polling) that encouraged me in my delusions that, for instance, DuPage County would ever elect a Democrat to Congress and that Scott Kleeb was winning in Nebraska.  Had I paid more attention to the consensus of all the polling, rather than betting on the strange and weird numbers coming from some polling operations (SurveyUSA also put out some pretty questionable stuff), I would have done a lot better. 

There are nevertheless three main reasons why the sentence passed last Sunday should make every decent American cringe. First of all, the trial was a kangaroo affair. Secondly, it will make the sectarian turmoil worse. Last but not least, it will make a dignified American exit ever more difficult. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Something about international and other war crimes tribunals generally has often puzzled me: why have them?  Even when they are not the three-ring circus that Hussein’s trial was, as Dr. Trifkovic details, they are questionable.  On the one hand, the result of such a trial is obviously a foregone conclusion.  A genuinely fair trial presupposes that the suspect might be found not guilty or that the prosecution was unable to prove its case, when the entire process of “proving” something that everyone already claims to be general knowledge (or so they tell us, anyway) is not much better than a circus act as the prosecution never actually has to demonstrate anything for its case to succeed.  It must go through the motions, but the evidence is simply superfluous to what everyone already assumes to be the irrefutable truth.  There is a very real sense for the people who advocate for these kinds of tribunals that the only injustice that could result is an acquittal, in which case it is clear that we are not talking about justice but simply retribution.  Perhaps it is appropriate retribution, entirely deserved and as legitimate as such retribution will be (then again, it may be self-serving, entirely politically-motivated retribution more akin to a Stalinist show trial–the line is very thin and easy to cross once you start making a travesty of judicial proceedings), but it is not remotely what we understand as justice in our own courts.  Hence the absurdity of the claim that trying Hussein (or Milosevic or, if they are ever arrested, Karadzic and Mladic) will somehow subject them to a kind of justice that they never practiced against their victims.  Execute your international political enemies if you must, or in this case allow some Iraqis to execute their hated political foe, but do not pretend that you and the native court to which you have outsourced the work are doing anything substantially different from what they have done (though admittedly they did it usually more often and more brutally).    

All of this makes a mockery of the trial proceeding in its pretense to fairness and justice.  Hussein does deserve to die if anyone does, as Dr. Trifkovic states at the beginning of his article, but why do we insist on mucking up what is plainly a case of executing a tyrant with all of these elements of a trial process complete with representation, testimony and standards of evidence?  Especially when the standards are shoddy and the Iraqi government bumps off the defendant’s lawyers, it can hardly be called a real trial; but even if these things didn’t happen, would it make any sense to go through the charade of a trial?   These tribunals only exist for people whom we already assume to be villains, and only those whom we already assume to be villains are ever tried in such tribunals.  Thus, if you are brought before such a tribunal, it is fair to assume that you will be found guilty, because it was determined long ago that you are guilty.  Not just guilty of this or that crime or abuse, but in some sense guilty of every abuse that took place during your time in a position of authority.  

There is never any danger (for obvious and actually defensible Realpolitik reasons) that most of the responsible politicians and commanders from the officially “good” side in a conflict will ever be brought before such a tribunal or even charged with anything.  There is certainly never any danger that we would apply the same standards to a Western or allied government that we apply to the officially vilified ones.  After all, why would “we”?  It is axiomatic that “we” do not torture and “we” do not “intentionally” target civilians (even though “we” use cluster bombs in civilian areas), so there would never be anything to charge our officials with.  One man’s tragic accident in time of war is another man’s atrocity.  That is what the highest level of international human rights law amounts to in practice, and not for nothing have people pointed out that such a practice makes these tribunals’ claim of some high moral authority completely incredible. 

Now there are also pratical political reasons why it might be unwise to execute the former head of state of a country you are trying to occupy and pacify (especially if the trial and execution are run by some of the locals).  While Japanese nationalists might lay all of the blame for any atrocities that they might admit happened at the feet of the military government to shield the late Emperor from any taint of responsibility, Hirohito was the head of state with some real political power at a time when his armies were committed outrageous atrocities.  In some very real sense, he was as culpable as his ministers (a truth that cuts both ways–if Hirohito could be spared hanging, why not Tojo?).  Americans did try and execute ministers and government officials as war criminals, but wisely they left Hirohito untouched (for related reasons, they also allowed him to retain what became a ceremonial but still politically important position).  Granted, Hirohito’s position was far more respected and his person was more revered than will ever be true of Hussein, and Japan was not riven with sectarian hatreds that would have played out in any proceeding against him (another reason why Japan was relatively easy to occupy and reform), and as men in terms of their character it seems clear that there can be no close comparison, but the thinking was that to either depose him or put him on trial would be to incite resistance and make the occupation very difficult.  As usual, the jingoes that have gotten us into Iraq with breezy talk about how “we rebuilt and reformed Germany and Japan, and we can do it again” have done still another thing quite differently from how the occupation authorities in Japan handled the matter of the head of state’s war crime guilt.  Yet they have expected the same successful result, as if invoking the precedents of post-WWII experience was the same as following those precedents.

In Iraq the execution will have potentially very explosive effects as a symbol of a sectarian vendetta being carried out, as Dr. Trifkovic notes:

The verdict is more likely to become a landmark event in the history of the Iraqi civil war, with all parties perceiving the trial as Shia revenge on Saddam’s fellow Sunnis.   

More troubling for Americans than that is the reality that Hussein’s execution will delay and perhaps completely wreck whatever remote possibility of political settlement with the Sunnis still remains:

The reason why last Sunday’s verdict makes American disengagement more difficult is simple: a viable exit strategy demands the development of a working rapport with Iraq’s six million Sunnis, who provide the backbone of the insurgency. By seeing first-hand that they cannot expect fairness or justice from this or any other Shia-dominated government, Sunnis will be even less motivated than before to end their resistance. In other words, to control the situation the U.S. would need to create a split within the ranks of Iraqi insurgents between those who are driven primarily by nationalist and tribal motives, and the ideologues of jihad who don’t give a hoot for Iraq as such but simply want to use it as a chapter and a focal point in their global struggle. This would require overcoming distaste for a dialogue with former Baathists and Saddam loyalists, but no such dialogue will be possible if Saddam is hanged under the noses of American soldiers.

Of course, we are now in a particularly nasty spot, since Hussein’s execution has been set and we can stop it only at risk of completely alienating the Shi’ite-dominated government:

On the other hand, if Washington acts to prevent such outcome, the breach with the Shiites—inevitable although not yet imminent—would draw closer and make Iraq even less governable than it is today.

There is no question that it is a dreadful mess.  I remain convinced that the only real course of action left to us is to leave by the front door, and to do so relatively quickly and soon.  The great and the good tend to dismiss every “solution” that anyone has come up with (partition won’t work, federalism won’t work, more troops is not practicable, etc.), yet they also maintain that withdrawal is unacceptable (there might be chaos in Iraq!–as opposed to what is there now).  But it is only unacceptable because they remain convinced that there is a solution to Iraq’s problems that we can provide.  Perhaps Iraq itself is the problem and the Iraqis must solve it by dissolving it without our involvement.  As with Yugoslavia, this dissolution did not have to happen but for outside interference, but now that it has begun the best thing outsiders can do is get out of the way and not make the internecine quarrels of an artificial nation the concern of the major powers any longer. 

I hope Santorum finds something to do besides lining his pockets as a lobbyist - though the man needs to some pocket-lining; he has seven kids! - and that he’s never allowed to talk about foreign policy ever again. (Until the Venezuelans invade, at which point I’ll repent and summon him back from the political wilderness.) ~Ross Douthat

I will second that.  Consider a Venezuelan invasion clause to have been added to the formal agreement, which has the provisional title of, “No more Churchill-themed speeches, please, we beg of you!”  I wonder if Santorum will go for it?

Republicans took a beating on Election Day because they abandoned their conservative principles and in the end stood for nothing, Rush Limbaugh says. ~Newsmax (Via Doug Bandow)

If they stood for nothing, why would any ”real conservative” (as Limbaugh holds himself out to be) actively promote them?  Oh, I know the spiel about how the other side would be worse and so on, but are we really supposed to believe that these sorts of people can say one week, “The Republicans understand how to protect this country!  They defend our moral values!  They want to reduce the size of government–no, really, they do!” and then turn around on a dime and say, “The Republicans are feckless opportunists!  I never even met these guys until a couple days ago!”?

I understand that politics involves compromises and a certain degree of pragmatism.  That is why, obviously, I am never going into politics, because I have a lousy temperament for it.  Well, that and the whole “I don’t have much respect for democracy” bit.  (After Tuesday, I have some small respect for it, but only a little.)  So it is possible for some principled people to have made the mistake of backing a party because they believed, wrongly, that it was fighting for their principles inside the government.  They backed, as the jingoes would say, the weak horse.  But we cannot assume such good-faith naivete with Limbaugh.  If these people stood for nothing in 2006, they stood for pretty much the same thing in 2004 when they won (and I don’t remember Limbaugh ever mentioning how it was the political party and not his idea of conservatism–which isn’t conservatism–that was implicated in that election).  Limbaugh’s “ideology” gets most of the credit when the GOP wins and none of the blame in defeat?  That seems peculiarly convenient.  Nothing about the GOP changed in those two years, and certainly nothing improved, yet Limbaugh’s attitude remained virtually unchanged from one cycle to the next.  Yes, he managed to say things against Bush’s amnesty (most Americans could manage this feat of derring-do, since an overwhelming majority opposes amnesty), but for the most part he did indeed carry water for them as dutifully as any of the talk show hosts out there.  (This is hardly in dispute, since he has admitted as much.)  So if they stood for nothing, what exactly does he stand for?  Conservatism?  What conservatism?  The conservatism of optimism and “people are basically good”?  Why on earth would any actual conservative want to support that

So what does Russell Kirk have to say about all of this ideology business?  (Obviously, I have been basing all of my anti-ideological remarks in what Kirk says about this, but let’s see what he wrote on this specific point.)  For starters, he wrote:

Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. 

And, again, he wrote:

Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word ‘conservative’ as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. 

So what might that state of mind be?  What is involved in shaping the conservative phronima?  Prescription.  Prudence.  Deference to the customs handed down by your fathers, leavened with a desire for justice.  What justice?  To give each man what he is owed and to otherwise mind one’s own business.  What else might there be in this state of mind?  Respect for legitimate authority, and hatred of usurpers.  There is also a desire to defend the ancestral constitution and laws of your people against uncertain and potentially ruinous innovations and encroachments out of respect for prescription.  Respect for prescription entails devotion to ancestral customs, institutions and loyalties. 

I would add that a desire for a well-ordered and virtuous life, while not necessarily exclusive to this state of mind, is an essential part of it.  Likewise a desire for eunomia in society and the polity, understood in terms of maintaining right proportion and measure in all our social relationships and maintaing right relation with all of those to whom we have social and familial obligations.  I would suggest that these are an important part of the “way of looking at the civil social order” that Kirk mentioned.  As he said elsewhere:

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth.

If anyone can find this principle of eunomia in the modern “conservative ideology” of the Limbaughs, I would be very surprised.

Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans Wednesday with an upset victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994. ~AP

It is interesting to note that Rush Limbaugh has joined the chorus of people who have all determined that it is the party, not “the ideology,” that has failed.  (Hat tip: Rod Dreher)  In one sense, this is a true statement.  It is true that Republicans did not lose because they were conservative (because they were, by most standards, not that).  It is not true, contrary to Limbaugh’s claims, that they lost because of their lack of “conservative ideology” (whatever that is).  Whatever “the ideology” is, however we might describe it, the GOP embodied it, try as some might to push the defeat off onto allegedly non-ideological, morally compromised “Lincoln Republicans” or whatever fantastical oppositionist faction Headquarters can conjure up to excuse failure.  To hear some disillusioned GOP supporters tell it, it was a lack of commitment to the ideology that brought them down because there continues to be the belief that somewhere among them this ideology perseveres unsullied and unconnected to the party in whose support it was constantly invoked.  Surely, if the GOP stands for certain things in the minds of its adherents, there is no sense in which the party was insufficiently committed to the ideology that calls for strong military action (wherever and whenever!), nationalism, democratism, “creative destruction,” trusting the government, disregarding the law in time of emergency, subordination of all things to the will of the executive, a belief in an epochal struggle for our very existence and the supreme unfitness of the political opposition to even be on the same planet, much less in positions of power.  The list is not entirely exhaustive, but those are some of the main things that have taken priority in GOP rhetoric and the rhetoric of its supporters, and the rhetoric that people use, if we take them at their word, reflects their priorities and their view of the world  In that case, that is the ideology of the party and it is most assuredly that ideology that was repudiated on Tuesday.  

The “ideology” of which they speak was certainly never conservative (far from it!), but if the vehicle of the ideology has failed then the ideology has failed as well.  We are constantly told, usually by some of these same people, that Marxism was discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union–when it was really discredited by its own falsity the moment Karl Marx started putting pen to paper–but watch how many of these people will rush to the defense of their own ideology even after the political vehicle bursts into flames around them.  When a car breaks down, it is normally because there is something wrong with the engine–you cannot blame the car’s failure on the steering wheel and the reclining seats when there is smoke pouring out from under the hood.  One should never rule out corruption, sheer ambition, pride and flawed execution in understanding why a political movement fails to win support and actually manages to lose a good number of its old supporters, but it is impossible to ignore the reality that the things that the partisans claimed as their ”ideas” contributed mightily to both the practical failures of the government on their watch and also contributed to the alienation of people who were previously favourably inclined to them.  Conservatives know that conservatism hasn’t failed, because they know full well that it hasn’t been tried in recent memory.  Whatever dreadful thing that has been inspiring people, though they might call it conservatism, clearly has failed.       

To watch all of the movement folks go rushing for the exits is really quite funny in its way.  It is as if multitudes of people only just now discovered that the people whom they had been pushing, defending and justifying for years were actually, viewed “ideologically,” deviant.  Who knew?  Yes, there have been grumblings and mumblings for years, and there have been some mild criticisms from within the movement proper, but at every crucial turn most of “the movement” proper was on board or willing to tolerate temporary concessions to expediency for the greater good (Medicare Part D takes on a role similar to the NEP, I suppose).  The ideology and the system never fail–it is the obstructionists, deviationists and refractory kulak-types who prevent the realisation of the high ideals of the Movement.  But before I continue, an important distinction needs to be made.

Because conservatism is not an ideology, there are legitimate conservative-minded criticisms than can and should be made against the now-weakened GOP rule, and I have been making some of them for a while.  As Republicans and those who consider themselves conservatives have become more ideological and more consciously favourable to describing what they believe as an “ideology,” they have almost by definition become less conservative than they were before.  A rule of thumb should be that anyone who refers to conservatism as an ideology or accuses the party of lacking in ideological zeal or purity in those specific terms cannot be talking about conservatism, try though he might to describe “the ideology” as a “conservative ideology.”  That phrase is about as meaningful as the idea of an ethereal rock: an ideology cannot be conservative, and conservatives strictly speaking cannot be ideological.  A “conservative ideologue” is as conservative as a zombie is actually alive.

The “ideology” talk seems to have been everywhere on the right in the past two years, where many of those using it have given the idea of “ideology” positive connotations.  Mr. Bush was a leading offender in talking about the “ideology of hope” defeating the “ideology of hate,” which doesn’t really mean anything (all ideologues hope for a man-made utopia or near-utopia, and all of them hate non-ideologues and thought criminals).  Then, cribbing from Lenin, it was time for the “ideological struggle of the 21st century.”  I think a great many people, unaccustomed to this languageand easily fooled into thinking ideology is the same thing as, say, a philosophical persuasion or a religious belief, are inclined to align themselves with people who talk about having an ideology on the grounds, mistaken though they may be, that maybe having an ideology has something to do with having ideas and therefore knowledge and therefore the possibility of a truer understanding of the world. 

Unfortunately, calling what ideology produces ideas is to give it a lot of credit it doesn’t deserve.  When pundits say the GOP is the “party of ideas,” they mean that the GOP is the party with the most clearly hammered-out programmatic action and talking points that can either be barked out on cable television or elaborated upon at length in writing (”central front in the war on terror!”; “it’s not torture!”; “what, do you want the terrorists to win or something?”), but essential to these calls to action are that they are programmatic and tied to specific policies, they can be boiled down to slogans and they are not too terribly complex.  It’s sort of like a game of word association: I say, “Diplomacy” and you say, “Appeasement”; I say, “The government of Iran” and you say, “Islamofascist!”  It’s fun! 

I suppose such things may be necessary for partisan politics (though I am sometimes unclear on why partisan politics are necessary), but to call them ideas is getting a bit carried away.  In some sense, I guess they are ideas, in the way that all sorts of notions that come into our heads are ideas, but if we are talking about the true images or models in our mind that we use in a process of learning, reflection and reasoning that leads us to some intellectual understanding of reality (aletheia) these other things hardly qualify.  At best an ideological slogan points towards some more substantial understanding out of which it has been violently and awkwardly ripped.  Unlike actual ideas, the recognition of which would require extensive reflection and contemplation, these points must be quickly formulated, easily digestible, readily repeatable and, if possible, divorced from their proper context to make them a kind of free-floating assertion which you accept in order to define the intensity of your partisan loyalty.  The difference is very much like the difference between real, informed opinion, which is something based in considerable understanding and training on a given topic, and what we tend to refer to as ”opinions,” which are somewhere between morally satisfying poses and half-baked thoughts.  The ordinary hack no more has ideas than the philistine has a real opinion about the quality of a Rubens.  Like the philistine and beauty, the hack doesn’t know the truth but he knows what he likes (and God help the fool who tries to tell him the truth!).   

Thus we have all been trained to delineate who and what we are by which side on a given “issue” we take.  We have an assortment of labels that we fasten to ourselves to make clear which issues matter to us.  When it has been handed down to us by those who determine these things (who they are and why they get to determine them is not something you are really supposed to talk about) that, for instance, aggressive war is an important “issue” and that support is the right “position” to take on this “issue,” everything else falls into place.  We now know what the right position is, and anyone who disagrees is objectively not one of us (protest though he might that he is remaining true to previously accepted principles) and therefore must be allied with our worst enemies.  Of course, the war won’t be called aggressive war.  That might be harder to digest and repeat.  It will be called a war of liberation.  That’s easy to swallow, and makes you feel satisfied.  See?  It’s easy. 

As it is used, having an ideology supposedly means that you Believe Certain Things Very Strongly, which does discredit to serious, well-considered conviction and mistakes intellectually brittle regurgitation of talking points (or their more elaborate magazine article-length versions) for considered and informed opinion.  In the same way, such a person might think that to be well-spoken you would have to be extremely loud and abrasive or that persuasive rhetoric is simply a matter of shouting, “War on terror!” or “Islamofascism!”  It is perhaps no accident that cheap sloganeering and the free use of the word “ideology” on the right have coincided with the rise of blogging, since it is a venue uniquely suited to the former and the propagation of the latter. 

I just got in from a very interesting session of graduate students and faculty talking with filmmaker Atom Egoyan about his film Ararat, and this has brought a number of things to mind that I want to get into in more detail in the coming weeks.  However, I am rather pressed for time this week, and will also be away from the blog starting tomorrow afternoon until Sunday.  (And, no, for those who are worried, my cessation of blogging for more than a day is not a sign of the end times.)  But, to whet your appetite, here are some ideas that I will try to get to by the end of the month:

*     Discussion of the Ararat session, the Armenian genocide and the recent law passed recently in France outlawing denial of the genocide.

*     Another response to Austin Bramwell’s provocative and interesting American Conservative article with more attention to the questions of ideology and programmatic politics (and why conservatism doesn’t have either).

*     The political use of atrocities in the creation of hegemony and in the opposition to the same.

*     Possibly some posts related to my experience at the Byzantine Studies Conference

*     Reflections on the election, and the obligatory (attempt at an) answer to the question, “Now what, Larison?”

At last, Rumsfeld departs the stage.  So Michael’s breaking news story was absolutely correct and I do believe records will show that our man at Comedy Central was the first to report on this remarkable change by the administration.  Update: Michael was indeed the first to report

Yet again, Comedy Central leads actual news networks in reporting the news–scary.  Congratulations to Michael on a world-class scoop.

Give Mr. Bush some credit for facing up to the shockingly obvious need for new leadership at DoD.  Though it will undoubtedly disappoint Michael “Rumsfeld is the Best Secretary of Defense Ever” Novak and Mario “Rumsfeld Is My Hero” Loyola, it was the right move.  Two years late, yes, but the right move.  Too late to make any difference in Iraq?  Almost certainly.  But it was something that had to be done if Mr. Bush was going to have any credibility with anyone in the coming year.  Without that, he would have been unable to get the kind of political support he would need to make any significant changes to the existing strategy (if, indeed, Mr. Gates represents a commitment to a significant change). 

It was certainly too late to help restore some confidence in the administration before the elections.  That is what is most inexplicable about making the move the day after: had they made sure that Rumsfeld departed the scene at the start of this year, the administration would not only have been doing the wise thing but also the politically successful thing.  It would be a visible sign that the administration was willing to adapt and make major changes in top positions to try to retrieve the situation in Iraq, which would not only have improved confidence in the President and the war but might very well have produced some slightly more salutary results on the ground.  Basic problems of a shortage of manpower would have remained, and these have ever been, as we all know, a chief cause of our woes in Iraq (I am not one who thinks that loads and loads of troops would have ultimately been more successful in helping unrealistic goals of political transformation, but they might well have succeeded in establishing a modicum of order).  But why they waited this long to do what a great many people (including not a few prominent administration and war supporters–see The Economist) believed was necessary will continue to mystify us.  Why Mr. Bush declared that Rumsfeld would remain for the rest of the term, when he must have already been preparing to ease him out the door, also remains unclear.  Was it some lame stunt to mobilise true believers? 

In any case, it was about time that he left. 

This is Joe Lieberman’s country. ~David Brooks

He might have said, “This is Joe Sestak’s country,” but he simply couldn’t conclude talking about any election without mention the Liebster.

I enjoy how the new conventional wisdom is that a projected loss of around 30 seats in our hyper-gerrymandered age is somehow not considered a big deal.  Of course, if I had just had my head handed to me, politically speaking, I would come up with reasons why it wasn’t a big deal, too.  I might even start raving about Joe Lieberman.  But I would be painfully, terribly wrong.

Well, I would say that it was a fun evening and night, but besides going half-blind from tracking all of the competitive races tonight and frequently updating the results I was disappointed in the one race that actually mattered most to me, namely the race for my House district in New Mexico.  People in Wyoming are on the knife’s edge over whether they will re-elect their Republican representative (it looks likely that they will in the end–with a lower percentage than Heather got!), but the good folks of Albuquerque could not bring themselves to dispense with the services of Wilson. 

In the irony of ironies, my parents told me that Heather Wilson called my house and asked for me by name.  This is not a joke.  You see, I registered with a third party, and so did not fall into the usual category of partisans whom they normally try to contact, so she wanted to make sure that I got out there and voted (presumably for her).  This was no robo-call, but the last-ditch GOTV personal push by the candidate herself–perhaps it was calls such as these that put her over the edge.  I regret missing that call–it would have been a surreal and hilarious moment to have the Congresswoman petitioning an arch-critic for his vote.  The only thing that annoys me more than missing that call, which would have made a priceless story, is that Heather did not, in fact, lose.  Why won’t she simply go away and retire or do something else?  Why must she keep returning to bother us?  Why?

Michael has been blazing a path to glory over at Comedy Central’s InDecider Blog:

The buzz I’m hearing from a friend, and a totally unconfirmed White House source (remember Comedy Central doesn’t have journalistic standards), is that Rumsfeld will be out of the administration tomorrow.

This is a shocker even to the totally unnamed source in the White House. Already, we are seeing reports of a White House Press conference scheduled for tomorrow at 1 p.m. Could this be it?

Should you trust me? Well, earlier I broke the news (from a reliable mother) that Sue Kelly would lose in the New York 19th. And now even True Republican believer K-Lo at National Reviews’s The Corner, is saying that Sue Kelly is a loser.


At the InDecider Blog, Michael writes:

All of this is just for me to say, I want to thank Democrats in advance for striking a powerful blow against tolerance, women’s rights and freedom of movement.

So the polls have closed in Kentucky and Indiana, and as of right now, Sodrel and Hill are neck and neck (with a slight lead for Hill) in IN-09 with 89% reporting. CNN has called the race for Hill.  IN-08, the Bloody Eighth, right now looks extremely bloody with 56% reporting (incumbent Hostettler has 38%, Ellsworth has 62%).  CNN has projected Ellsworth as the winner.  Those IN-08 numbers are almost sure to even out a bit in the course of the evening, but you typically don’t want to spot your opponent a 30 point lead at any point in the returns.  IN-02, the other expected disaster zone for the Republicans in Indiana, shows Chocola trailing 47-53 with 83% reporting.  CNN has called the race for Donnelly.  KY-O2 has re-elected Lewis (R).  KY-04 has gone for Davis (R).

Running Count: Dems +28 in House, +5 in Senate

KY-03: Yarmuth wins!  I can mark off one of my predictions as correct.

AZ-05: Mitchell leads Hayworth by seven with 88% reporting.  CNN projects Mitchell to be the winner.

AZ-08: Kolbe’s open seat falls to Giffords (D).

CA-11: Pombo trails by two with 16% reporting.

CO-04: Musgrave is down one with 20% reporting.

CO-07: Perlmutter wins.

CT-02: Simmons leads with 66% reporting. 

CT-04: Shays leads by three with 14% reporting.

CT-05: Murphy takes an early lead over Johnson (R) by 12 with 43% reporting.  CNN projects Murphy as winner.

FL-13: Buchanan (R) leads by two with 98% reporting in Katherine Harris’ old district.  He seems very likely to be elected at this point.  Republicans hold the seat.

FL-16: Mahoney leads slightly with 91% reporting.  CNN projects Mahoney as the winner.

FL-22: Shaw (R) trails by four with 90% reporting.  CNN has projected Klein as the winner.

GA-08 (Dem-held): Dem incumbent leading with 62% reporting.

GA-12 (Dem-held): Dem incumbent slightly ahead with 71% reporting.

IA-01: Braley creams Whalen (R) 56-43 with 71% reporting.  CNN calls it for Braley.

IA-02: Loebsack unseats Leach, one of the only six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war.  He and Hostettler didn’t get much credit for doing the right thing, did they?

IL-06: Roskam wins.

IL-08 (Dem-held): Melissa Bean wins re-election.

KS-02: Boyda leads Ryun by 4 with 78% reporting.  CNN has called it for Boyda.

MN-01: Walz wins.

MN-06: Bachmann wins.

Missouri Senate: It wasn’t looking promising for McCaskill most of the night, but she has hung around long enough to grab the lead and she has just declared victory.  Talent has conceded.

Montana Senate: Tester wins.

NC-11: Shuler leads by six with 51% reporting.  Shuler projected as winner by CNN.

NE-03: Smith leads Kleeb by ten with 80% reporting.

NH-01: Bradley (R) loses rather unexpectedly.

NH-02: Hodes (D) leads by eight with 77% reporting.  CNN has called the race for Hodes.

NM-01: Unbelievable.  That woman has returned from the political dead again.  Apparently she does have some kind of absolute claim to that House seat that can be overcome by nothing known to mortal man.  She now leads by a margin of 1,318 with 99% counted, which almost certainly means that she wins.  The First District is apparently constitutionally incapable of not electing a Republican.  C’est la vie.  Update: There are a few outstanding precincts left, but they would have to go so heavily for Madrid that it would make even the normally lax election officials of the state government blush and feel a little embarrassed at the obvious vote-rigging.

NY-19: Hall wins.

NY-20: Gillibrand leads Sweeney by six with 72% reporting.  CNN has projected that Gillibrand wins.

NY-24: Arcuri leads Meier by 7 with 83% reporting.  CNN projects Arcuri as winner, putting the Dems over the top at +15.

NY-25: Walsh wins.

NY-26: Reynolds leads by four with 95% reporting.  Reynolds lives to mismanage another day.

NY-29: Kuhl wins.

OH-02: Schmidt wins by two.

OH-15: Pryce wins by two.  The great Ohio/Foley effect was not what it was cracked up to be (and what yours truly thought it would be).

OH-18: Zack Space is taking care of business, 61-39, with 51% reporting.  CNN has projected Space the winner, as most everyone expected.

PA-04: Altmire is beating Hart (R) by four with 95% reporting.  CNN projects Altmire as the winner.

PA-06: Incumbent Gerlach trails by just over 1,700 votes with 78% reporting.

PA-07: Sestak beats Weldon.

PA-08: Murphy wins.

PA-10: Carney is whipping Sherwood 55-45 with 67% reporting.  CNN has called it for Carney.

Tennessee Senate: Corker wins 51-48%.

TX-22: Lampson leads Sekula-Gibbs 54-40 with 90% reporting.  DeLay’s seat is, as everyone expected, gone.

VA-02: Drake wins by two.

Virginia Senate: Webb leads 50-49 with 99% reporting.

WI-08: Kagen leads Gard by four with 67% reporting.  CNN called the race for Kagen.

WY-AL: Trauner and Cubin are tied with 81% reporting.

CNN has already called Ohio governor for Strickland (D), who has a whopping great lead of 35 points with the first release of results.  They have also called Ohio Senate for Brown (D).

Pennsylvania Senate has been called for Casey.  How, well, not surprising that is.

New Jersey Senate has already been called for Menendez.

CNN calls Rhode Island for Whitehouse, which seems pretty bold to me, but there it is.

More updates as I find them. 

U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and an attorney for the state Republican Party this morning said at least two heavily Republican precincts in the Northeast Heights received only a fraction of the paper ballots needed, a move they called a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise GOP voters. ~The Albuquerque Tribune

I think we can expect lawsuits in my home district.

I just now got a robo-call from Governor Tom Vilsack asking me to vote for Senator Leonard Boswell. Who? I admit I had to use Google to discover that race was in Iowa. How did they get my number? ~Emily Esterson, Showdown ‘06 (reporting from Albuquerque)

Apparently the GOP has been robo-calling my house in Albuquerque to ask my parents to support Bob Corker.  Harold Ford, watch out!  That GOTV effort is really intense!  Two words for the robo-calling maestros of both parties: area codes.

The broader world of ideas, too, owes a great debt of gratitude to right-wing talk radio. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

Is it just me, or does Brendan Miniter sound an awful lot like a  Republican version of Howard Dean talking about the Democratic need to win back the white guys who hang Confederate flags in their truck windows?  Here’s Miniter:

Regardless of the outcome of today’s elections–and recent polls show races tightening in favor of Republicans–if the GOP wants to be competitive on the national stage, it will have to first find a way to become competitive again in the Northeast.

This seems to miss the rather crucial point that, Rick Santorum aside, Republicans continue to be highly competitive in almost all of the Northeastern races not tainted by scandal (Tom Reynolds is still in the lead!).  Just the other day all the buzz was about how Chafee was coming back, but here we are assured that his defeat represents some kind of proof of Republican weakness.  Chafee Republicanism, which is essentially liberalism in a nice suit, will always have a chance in the Northeast, even as it makes everyone else in the party cringe. 

Presumably, just as there have been Democrats who now argue that the South is irrelevant to their party (see Whistling Past Dixie, whose author is going to feel slightly silly if Webb and Ford win), in the event of a GOP blowout we will be treated to future Republican attempts to argue, against Miniter, that Republicans don’t need those no-goodnik New Englanders anyway.  The book might be called Damn Yankees or perhaps A Covered Bridge To Nowhere.  That last one might bring up painful memories, so scratch that.  I look forward to such hysterical laments as What’s The Matter With Connecticut?  After all, don’t all those wealthy professionals know that the Democrats will…raise…their…taxes?!  They must be deeply confused!  How could they oppose the fight against world-conquering Islamofascists?  Rick Santorum wants to know.

Mr. Miniter makes some sensible observations, but lends them too much significance.  The elections in the Northeast promise to be ugly for the Republicans, which is amusing and somewhat curious considering that the GOP has been for most of its history a highly Northeast-centric party (and as Clyde Wilson has noted, it still is in spite of the fact that the bulk of its supporters resides somewhere else).  There are obvious reasons why the GOP has been losing strength in its longtime stronghold, as it came to increasingly adopt the politics first of Goldwater’s Sun Belt and then Nixon and Reagan’s California (not without a hell of a fight from the Rockefeller types back east!).  It then gradually adopted the familiar amalgam of Southern (stereotypically social and religious) and Western (stereotypically ”libertarian”) conservatism.  The party establishment has never abandoned the Northeast, of course, and has done all it can to make sure that the concerns of Easterners always predominate in terms of setting real policy.  But it has had to use rhetoric that is certainly less than appealing to many parts of New England and the vicinity. 

But, in fact, at the state and federal levels in recent years the GOP has not been faring that badly in the Northeast.  Mitt Romney would not have won re-election (hence his dive into presidential politics), but that he won election the first time is slightly remarkable.  The squishy and moderate Republicans who have brought you Pataki in New York and the two current Senators from Maine can normally thrive in the Northeast when they can define themselves as being different from the rest of their party.  Most Northeastern Republicans have already solved their own version of the “faith” problem: while Democrats in the rest of the country beat their head against the wall trying to figure out “how to talk about faith,” these Republicans have figured out how not to talk about it and to talk about services and policy (say what you will about their policy choices).   

But of all the lessons the GOP ought to draw from its impending defeat, the need to be more amenable to the Northeast aint one of them.  For starters, the GOP in the Northeast isn’t in as much danger as many seem to think.  The Northeast does not appear to be on its way to a major realignment in which Republicans are eliminated as a major party in the region, at least when it comes to representation in Congress.  (Statehouses are a completely different question.)  In ‘94, the Democrats suffered massive losses in the South; the GOP wave that year was so large because so many of these districts were ripe for the taking as the Dems had moved farther and farther away from the political and cultural values of this part of the country. 

The Northeast will probably see its numbers of elected Republicans at the federal level diminish considerably, but that simply means that they can’t run a Rick “We Will Fight Them On The Beaches” Santorum in that part of the country in the future.  In a sense, they never could–Santorum was a fluke of the last anti-incumbency wave who was re-elected pre-9/11 and pre-Iraq, and his social conservative profile has only grown in the last six years to such a degree that he does not fit that well with most of Pennsylvania.  His support for Specter’s re-election went unnoticed among “moderates” but infuriated his most loyal supporters, many of whom have crossed party lines to vote for his nebbish of an opponent, so there is a very real sense in which Santorum’s woes are all of his own making.  Yes, it was going to be a tough year, but instead of batening down the hatches and preparing for a storm Santorum tried to go into the headwind while having a Churchill-themed party up on the deck.  Running Santorum in Pennsylvania makes as much sense as trying to have me run for statewide office in New Mexico–I would get annihilated, especially if I made my most unpopular position the centerpiece of my campaign.  

This will be a bad election for Northeast Republicans, most of all because of the war, yet everything we think we know is that most of the New York races are extremely close and several of them are unlikely to flip.  At least two of the Pennsylvania races (PA-10 and PA-07) were lost by scandal and criminal investigation respectively.  Weldon was always in danger from Sestak’s strong challenge, but until the criminal probe into contract-rigging he had a real chance to hang on.  The Connecticut Three would probably have survived in any other environment.  That ought to make the Democrats wonder how they are having such a hard time closing the deal in a region that, in presidential elections, is theirs almost by default.  Yes, incumbency has advantages and these have been important in aiding endangered Republican candidates, but why do Johnson, Simmons and Shays even have the slightest chance of hanging on in a year this bad if the GOP has become so weak in the Northeast?  In any case, the last thing that the GOP needs to do is to start currying favour even more with the Northeast than it already does.  As if the party of The Wall Street Journal needed to be less like “flyover country” and more like the coastals than it already is!  The Republicans’ strength and their demographic future lie west of the Mississippi and south of Washington, and they had best take the interests of their constituents in those parts of the country more seriously than they have done or they will find themselves on the losing side in a lot more places than Connecticut. 

Alas and alack, two of the three most corrupt nations also happen to be America nation-building projects. ~Doug Bandow

In my view, we can hardly claim global hegemony if we allow one of the three most corrupt countries to be corrupt all on its own.  We can only take credit (admittedly only partial credit at that–the locals have done most of the heavy lifting on this one) for Haiti and Iraq, but not Burma.  Burma clearly needs the steady guiding hand (which is firmly placed in the till) of a government that we have approved.  Did I mention that corruption will help bring peace to the world?  “The country that bribes together, thrives together,” I always say. 

If Burma has managed to be this corrupt without our support, imagine how much more corrupt it can become!  It just needs a little dose of democratisation and the free flow of taxpayers’ dollars into a society that probably places no great value on transparency or institutional integrity.  We need to support Burmese non-reformers, cads and all around crooks, just as we once supported the INC.  I believe we can do it!   

How can the administration have allowed a Chinese client state to get the silver in the corruption race?  We cannot allow a corruption gap! 

But Larison wants to do more to conservatism than restore its principled approach to government. He wants us to see it as a way of life. For that I give him credit; where most folks are content to take the bus into town alone, Larison wants to rocket to the moon and take the entire conservative movement with him. Presumably, once we’re there, we’ll set up a Catholic-run organic farm community and devote lots of time to slow-cooking moon-pies and rocking, zero-G style, on our lunar porches. And there will be government there; good, ordered government, no matter what that nutty Heinlein guy thought. ~Peter Suderman

Obviously, were I to launch such a rocket, it would have to be bound for Malacandra, which would be free of the destructive influence of the Bent One and populated by benevolent races, such as the happily un-fallen otter-like creatures (the hrossa).  There we would dwell under the benevolent oversight of the Oyarsa of Malacandra, and the mission’s philologist would quickly be able to decipher the otters’ language and reach an understanding about the importance of sacramentality and asceticism, which they, not being fallen creatures as we are, would grasp intuitively.  But then we would realise that John Elton was right all along when he said, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,” and we would pack up our expedition and return to the place where we came from, realising that we had been foolish to try to transplant our rooted way of life to the craggy recesses of the Valles Marinis.

Michael has also managed to work his way into the inner sanctum of Stewart and Colbert and be named the InDecider Blog’s token conservative.  Congratulations (yet again) to Michael on this one.  He will be blogging on the election there tonight in his appropriately irreverent style. 

If anyone can give tokenism a good name, we know that Michael will be able to do it.

Michael has also landed an article in the current Washington Monthly.  Congratulations (again) to Michael on the article. 

As for me, this is a great day to be a Republican - I’ve been talking big about how well we’re going to do and my faith, shaken from time to time, never failed. Now it is to be put to the acid test - we shall know within 24 hours of this writing if I’ve been whistling past the graveyard, or have been realistic in my predictions. I’m standing by my words: the GOP gains seats in both Houses. ~Mark Noonan, Blogs for Bush

Everybody loves the counterintuitive, “let me tell you why everything you think you know is wrong” sort of argument.  But this isn’t an argument.  It’s sheer assertion in contradiction of reality.  But then I am forgetting that this is Blogs for Bush we’re talking about–of course they are making assertions that flatly contradict reality.  It’s what they do.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Davis are in what polls say is a tight race for the top job in Tallahassee. Term limits prevent incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush from running for a third term.

Davis, buoyed by the surveys showing a narrowing gap in Crist’s lead, criticized his opponent for staying away from Pensacola on Monday, when President Bush was in town for a Republican rally. He accused Crist of being afraid to stand before a president with a withering approval rating. ~Pensacola News Journal

If there was one thing that almost everyone seemed to agree on this year, it was that Charlie Crist had the Florida governor’s race in the bag.  This one was supposed to be fairly easy in a year that was otherwise full of obstacles for the GOP, as Crist was supposed to be as socially moderate and broadly acceptable as Katherine Harris was combative and strangely obsessed with Israel.  He also benefited from the general good feeling and popularity of outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush, whose decisive re-election in 2002 spearheaded a GOP surge in Florida that made the state’s former status as the Ur-battleground state in 2000 seem like some bizarre aberration.  Now Florida-as-swing-state seems to be returning, and Crist is showing the same signs of weakness many Republican candidates for governor are showing around the country.  He will probably hold on to win, but Davis’ late surge could help put Democrats lower on the ticket over the top in close races.  Crist’s embarrassing avoidance of a scheduled appearance with the other Bush only underscores just how radioactive the President is in much of Florida and how bad the environment for Republicans is this year. 

The overwhelming lesson of human history, and the second law of thermodynamics, is that Russians are right and Americans are wrong. ~Pithlord

On Monday, I heard the University of New Mexico National Public Radio affiliate, KUNM, reporting that some voters had received calls from the GOP telling them, erroneously, that their polling places had been changed.

Republican officials have denied these allegations, but I found this lively post on a local blog, Duke City Fix, where a few commenters noted that they had, indeed, received such calls. The Democratic Party asked a state district judge on Monday afternoon to place a restraining order on the GOP to cease calling registered Democrats. ~Emily Esterson, Showdown ‘06

As I talked with my parents last night, they were mentioning how irritating the robocalls had become.  The sheer frequency of them is maddening.  My parents are in Albuquerque, which is the heart of NM-01.  We shall see whether aggressive GOTV efforts backfire on the GOP elsewhere as badly as I think they will in my hometown.

George McGovern is trying to get the band back together.  He proposes a council of “elders” to consult and advise policymakers, including the great and good from Arthur Schlesinger (barely suppressed laughter) to Gloria Steinem (mild chuckling) to Tom Eagleton (uproarious guffaws).  Now I like George McGovern from what I know of him, and I have said a lot in defense of him and his foreign policy views and a good deal against critics of the new ”McGovernite” trend among Democrats in the past year.  But can you imagine the headlines about the advice offered by a McGovern and Eagleton conclave?  1000% jokes would be a dime a dozen.

Now, they are all upset, at Vanity Fair. At a symposium at NRO, some attack Vanity Fair for being dishonest. Michael Ledeen pushes this argument, claiming to have been the prior victim of a smear piece in Vanity Fair. What Mr. Ledeen does not explain is why, if he was convinced of the dishonesty of Vanity Fair, he agreed to be interviewed by the magazine in the first place.

Several others claim to have believed that Vanity Fair would not publish their burblings until after the election. Another curious defense. If they did not feel that what they said would be seen as betraying the Bush Administration, why would they want their musings kept under wraps until after the election?

Others, such as David Frum, complain that their words have been taken out of context. Such concerns have never before troubled Mr. Frum, who has made a name for himself by smearing paleoconservatives by taking their words out of context. ~Tom Piatak

Tom hits the mark every time in this post.  The bit about Frum is the best, since it was his obnoxious denunciation piece in National Review that was the very definition of an intellectually dishonest hit-job: if you disagree with me and mine on foreign policy, he said, you hate America.  Not bad for a Canadian refugee.   These people seem to have a near-inexhaustible supply of gall.

How is it that we are supposed to believe on the one hand that neocons are worldly-wise, cunning strategists who understand the messy, chaotic world better than we “isolationist” fools ever will, while at the same time we are expected to believe that they are bunch of poor saps who can be hoodwinked by a magazine as lightweight as Vanity Fair?  Certainly no one here is sympathetic to those who engage in deception for political ends, no matter how noble they might believe them to be.  We do not believe that anyone is a “hero in error” or that Presidents can “lie for a just cause.”  We are not the bold and clever thinkers that these people clearly are.  We do not possess the moral clarity sufficient for such things.  So we are all very disappointed in Vanity Fair, I’m sure.   

Now who couldn’t have predicted that their statements would be published selectively for maximum, explosive effect before the election?  To do otherwise would be like releasing Woodward’s book in January ‘07, when interest in the political implications of the book would have diminished.  Which sells more magazines: juicy revelations of neocon attacks on Bush before Nov. 7, or dreary, self-exculpatory interviews that threaten to put everyone to sleep after the election?  This is another in a long line of controversies over the “suspicious timing” of this or that revelation, as if there were anything suspicious or unexpected about a magazine trying to make money and get free advertising!  The only thing really suspicious in all of this is the strained defense that the would-be Masters of the Universe have been outwitted by a glorified fashion magazine.  Maybe Vanity Fair did trick these folks into spilling their guts for what was intended to be an election hit-job, in which case the question remains: why would we want such people advising anyone on foreign policy, when they can be outsmarted by Vanity Fair journalists?

It is Election Eve, so what is the blog right Echo Chamber echoing as their side seems set to suffer some significant political losses?  They are, of course, talking up the recent polls showing some improvement in the GOP’s dreadful position in the polls.  But there is more.  We have some remarkable examples for you. 

Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush says confidently:

“We’re gonna clobber ‘em tomorrow…”

On a distinct but somewhat related topic (Rumsfeld and Iraq), Mr. Noonan also offers one of the last great statements of the True Believers:

The fundamental flaw in the meme is the fact that Iraq is not a defeat - it is a signal victory in the War on Terrorism, and only the relentless drumbeat of defeatism from electioneering Democrats and their lapdog MSM give the impression that things are out of control in Iraq.

Wow.  Thus spake the man whose blog ignored Maliki’s capitulation to Sadr last week and the abandonment of an American soldier, who is, by the way, still being held captive.  If I ignored what was happening in Iraq, I, too, might be inclined to spout off with a lot of nonsense about how all is well and everything to the contrary is the fabrication of the Media Elite.  (When I read blogs like this one, I am reminded of the President Clarke’s Nightwatch from Babylon-5.)  I thought Party Headquarters had told these people to stop the “the media never report the good news” rhetoric after Iraqis started killing each other in the thousands.

Jim Geraghty at National Review’s TKS writes:

Clearly, while the outlook is much better for Republicans than just a week ago, the party isn’t out of the woods yet.  

Isn’t out of the woods?  They are deep in the middle of the forest. 

Hugh Hewitt is cautions against too much optimism on the GOP side with the warning that the Republicans might suffer the same fate as Gerry Ford–as if they would be so lucky to have it that close.

K-Lo keeps the faith for Rick Santorum (”this race is in play”), who was last seen trailing by 16 in the latest poll.

Kevin Holtsberry at RedState declares:

The bottom line is that if you are a conservative, or center-right, Republican living in Ohio you need to get out and vote for the Republican ticket.  There are no moral victories to be had tomorrow.

Isn’t it a kind of moral victory to vote out a party implicated in widespread corruption and betrayals of principle?  I continue to marvel at how partisans can justify any amount of misrule, corruption and failure because “the other side” is always worse.  Perhaps the other side is worse.  At the present moment, this is speculation based in past experience of many years ago, which is worth taking seriously but which cannot really outweigh the experience of the last five or six years.  If the rule of politics is often, “what have you done for me lately?” the rule of this year’s election is, “what have you done to me lately?”  On this score, the Democrats come off as being less offensive, in spite of their many, many, many flaws.   

It is one of the interesting things about the democratic process these people are normally so keen on supporting and spreading to inhospitable lands that it is healthy and important to have frequent and regular turnover of elected officials.  It was supposedly part of the design of having biennial elections for the House that the turnover of elected representatives would be frequent and would toss out numerous incumbents.  We have solved that “problem,” and we can blame almost all of this on the rise of established factions that have their own interests in perpetuating relatively stable possession of many of the positions of power in Congress.  We have mostly made sure that what should be a commonplace turnover of dozens of seats is a once-in-a-generation event worthy of parallels with the greatest historic election results of all time.  In other words, the factions have made sure that representative government becomes lax and unresponsive, and ensures that incumbents in safe districts can only lose their positions if they commit felonies or heinous frauds against the public trust (and maybe not even then!); other than that, their constituents have no real choice. 

The turnover disrupts the concentration of power, the insolence of office, the petty corruption of incumbents and the entrenchment of people who cease to heed their constituents.  It is what some might call a small dose of self-government.  It isn’t much, but it is something.  American politics has become sclerotic and there is a great deal of dead tissue because of a lack of proper circulation, but Republican partisans advocate preventing an infusion of new blood and the improvement of circulation.  They would apparently sooner see the limbs of the body politic become gangrenous and rot off than accept that the time for their period out of power has come.  In their party loyalty, they have shown that they will indulge and endorse almost every kind of betrayal and corruption.  (Were the positions reversed, Democratic partisans would do the same, but the positions are not reversed.)  Should such people be rewarded with success?  Clearly not.

Another True Believer opines:

And the beginning of losing the Iraq War isn’t until the Democrats take the majority seats in January.

Because, you see, we are winning right now.  That is the mentality that will be encouraged and vindicated if the Democrats fail to win control of Congress.     

Larry Sabato predicts that the Democrats take the Senate and the House.  The Senate will be 51-49, he says, with Harold Ford being the only one of the six highly competitive Democratic challengers to lose.  I continue to hold to my prediction of the (increasingly unlikely) 52-48 result. 

In the House, Sabato thinks the Democrats will gain 29, six fewer than my (probably excessive) prediction of +35, picking a couple relatively unlikely upsets: according to this, Pombo and Musgrave lose (I don’t expect either of these incumbents to lose).  In Sabato’s scenario, Ryun hangs on and Kleeb doesn’t get over the top to win (I have brazenly claimed that Ryun will lose and Kleeb will win).  We agree that Sweeney and Bass will lose.  Interestingly, Sabato calls WI-08 for the GOP, while I assume it is going the other way.  He also calls FL-22 for the Democrats.  We differ on the Northup-Yarmuth race in KY-03 (I say Yarmuth) and also on NY-29 and OH-01, where Crystal Ball picks the GOP candidate and I don’t.  All in all, I feel pretty good about how often I do agree with Larry Sabato.  We’ll see how those races where we differ turn out, but everyone who has been following closely this year still seems to assume a GOP wipeout.  I’ll be following returns tomorrow night in a fairly frequently updated election post, so be sure to drop by and see how things are turning out (or you could be boringly conventional and watch the returns on the news).

A great division among the American people has begun–gradually, slowly–to take shape: not between Republicans and Democrats, and not between “conservatives” and “liberals,” but between people who are still unthinking believers in technology and in economic determinism and people who are not.  The non-believers may or may not be conscious or convinced traditionalists: but they are men and women who have begun not only to question but, here and there, to oppose publicly the increasing pouring of cement over the land, the increasing inflation of automobile traffic of every kind, the increasing acceptance of noisome machinery ruling their lives.  Compared with this division of the present “debates” about taxes and rates and political campaigns are nothing but ephemeral froth blowing here and there on little waves, atop the great oceanic tides of history.  That the present proponents of unending technological “progress” call themselves “conservatives” is but another example of the degeneration of political and social language. ~John Lukacs, At the End of an Age

George Grant likewise noted in his writings the absurdity of calling defenders of technological, progressive empire conservatives.  He also had some choice words for friends of “creative destruction” in Technology and Empire:

These days when we are told in North America that capitalism is conservative, we should remember that capitalism was the great dissolvent of the traditional virtues and that its greatest philosophers, Hobbes and Locke, Smith and Hume, were Britishers.  In the appeal to capitalism as the tradition it is forgotten that the capitalist philosophers dissolved all ideas of the sacred as standing in the way of the emancipation of greed.  For example, the criticism of any knowable teleology by Hume not only helped to liberate men to the new natural science, but also liberated them from knowledge of any purposes which transcended the economically rational.

I submit that this emancipation and liberation and the unchecked cement-pouring and exaltation of “growth” are all part of the same process, and all require the same opposition.

Consider too a country in which the trade unions recapture political power. The Democrats remain dependent on the unions for funds and doorstep activists, and even though the unions are not the power they once were, they can still call the tune to which many Democratic politicians dance. Joined by right-wing Republicans who have rejected the President’s call for a sensible immigration policy that includes both more secure borders and regularising of the eight, or ten, or 11, or 13 million illegal immigrants, union-beholden Democrats will be able to wreak havoc with any sensible reform programme. ~Irwin Stelzer, The Spectator

Take the above as Exhibit A of a stereotype that is over 10 years old (reliably anti-immigration labour unions) continuing to have currency in Britain after it has ceased to be substantially true.  If labour unions still were hostile to amnesty and mass immigration, a union-dominated Democratic Party would be excellent news for all of us anxious about the prospects of a Democratic House’s immigration legislation.  Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo could unite the disparate forces of opposition to mass immigration, and all would be well.  Dobleve would be left singing to Felipe Calderon, Ay ay ay ay, canta y no llores! Porque cantando se alegran, Cielito Lindo, los corazones!   Alas, this is not likely.

Unfortunately, the big unions are no longer strongly opposed (though their old membership might be), adopting the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, or rather let them join us” view of immigrant labour.  It is quite funny that Mr. Stelzer laments the rise of the union-dominated Democrats (in point of fact, the party is not quite as dominated by them as it once was–such are the fruits of the DLC’s influence) as a blow to the immigration side of free trade (it is worth noting here that a great many free-traders here and there assume that mass immigration is integrally tied in to free trade arrangements, which might tell us something about what “free trade” really entails). 

It is the case that Democrats will probably be more inclined to nix free-trading legislation in terms of trade agreements and fast-track authority, but it will have nothing to do with their attitude towards immigrant labourers, who have now become the new lifeblood of these otherwise decaying bureaucratised institutions.  That is precisely the problem with a Democratic majority that conservatives will have to face in the coming Congress, should tomorrow go as many of us expect.  If only we had the “problem” of which Mr. Stelzer wrote!

It’s not enough to get me to register as a Democrat; I’m still holding out for the Christian Democratic Union to start running some local candidates. ~Russell Arben Fox

Prof. Fox, wise “left conservative” and friend of Eunomia, writes on why he is casting his lot with the Democrats this time.  The entire post is well worth reading and touches on, among other things, many questions of the value of party affiliation and the importance of social conservatism in deciding between the parties.  But I was actually more interested in and intrigued by the repeated invocations of the CDU as a more desirable model.  There is a sense in which I share this affinity for Christian democracy and the ideas of social solidarity expressed in political Catholicism beginning in the late 19th century, and this is the same sense in which I recognise in Walesa’s trade unionists and Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard speech as more genuinely representative of true conservative social thought than unalloyed Goldwaterism.  This is not to belittle where Goldwater was right with respect to the proper functions of the federal government, but to say that limited government is only one part of the answer.  Consider, for instance, one part of Solzhenitsyn’s address :

It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

It is encouraging to hear German Christian Democrats declare to representatives of The Wall Street Journal, “For us, a human being is not only a function of production.”  What is always discouraging is the idea over here that saying things like this is somehow a “leftist” thing to do.     

Unfortunately, the Union today is run by the ex-commie functionary and market liberal running-dog Angela Merkel, who has received the halo of Thatcherism without having done anything to earn it while managing to weaken the position of the Union by clearly moving away from themes of Solidaritaet that made Edmund Stoiber a competitive candidate in the previous election and which increasingly sets the Christian Social Union in Bavaria apart from the national CDU itself.  Besides being an atrocious party leader and a miserable campaigner who very nearly lost an election that was all but assured, which are separate problems, Chancellor Merkel has managed to make the CDU be seen even more as a pro-business, pro-market party to the detriment of political Catholicism’s earlier economic values that sought to balance the interests of capital and labour.  Now the CDU is a secular party, of course, and many Protestants (including Frau Merkel herself) make up its numbers, but the specifically Catholic origins of the Union nonetheless remain the ultimate source of its social policy ideas.  So while I share some of Prof. Fox’s sympathies with the CDU, we should want to stress that this is the older CDU and not that of Merkel that we are talking about, since Chancellor Merkel seems intent on nothing so much as dragging the Union towards the tar pits of unelectability and the liberalism of the Free Democrats.  

Predictably enough, one of Prof. Fox’s commenters (who boldly wrote in as Anonymous–quel courage!) attacked his “left conservatism” (i.e., a conservatism that thinks social justice is not just a statist plot to take your money, but actually serves the common good–my short description) in the following terms:

Having grown up under communism, I have seen “left conservativism” taken to its logical conclusion. Is this not the worst combination possible? I mean you oppose both economic and personal freedom. What else is there? 

Such is the response from the brittle and limited critic of any kind of conservatism that possesses a social and economic vision not narrowly tailored to corporate interests, Manchester liberalism or bank-rule.  It is the response of the “liberal conservative” to the old Tory of the shires, and the response of the up-and-coming urbanite to his rustic cousins.  It is the response of the shocked Reaganite to the upbraiding of Solzhenitsyn, which goes like this:

Reaganite: Capitalism gives people what they want!

Solzhenitsyn: Therein lies the great moral problem with it.

Yes, to be a “left conservative” must be equivalent to Leninism (what else is there?); to be a “Red Tory” (as George Grant was) must be the equivalent of waving the Red flag and expropriating the kulaks.  George Grant enjoyed liquidating the kulaks, didn’t he?  What’s that?  He represented a humane, civilised conservatism descended from the Fathers of the Confederation and our own Loyalists?  He took American conservatives to task for being well-dressed liberal modernisers in hock to the Enlightenment?  He was critical of corporate power?  Surely, you jest!  There is a conservative social vision in which talking about community is not the occasion for libertarian snickering and the harumphing of modernisers?  That’s remarkable! 

Even when this president has done good things, those things have not been part of any discernable conservative project. His tax cuts, for example, will have their entire effect washed away in a year or five by the rising waters of entitlement spending. Seen alone, which is how Bushites much prefer to see them, those tax cuts were a shining example of conservative principle; seen in combination with the unrestrained spending of this congress, approved by this president, they are a hoax, a swindle, a cynical fraud. ~John Derbyshire

This is not, as someone always pipes up at this point, a vote on Bush. No, it isn’t, but it might as well be. George W. Bush has vetoed just one bill from the Congress his party controls, a bill on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research — a boutique issue of no importance to the life of the nation. For the rest, Republican president and Republican Congress have been two hearts beating as one. They have worked together to lead the nation in the direction they think it should go.

And that direction has been away from conservatism, whose very heart and essence is the understanding that individual liberty waxes when government wanes, and vice versa. This president, and the Congress that has supported and enabled him, does not have that understanding. For all George W. Bush’s vapid blather about a yearning for liberty having been planted in the hearts of men by our Creator, there is no hint of a trace of a sign that Bush has ever given five seconds’ thought to the connection between individual liberty and government power. ~John Derbyshire

Absolutely right.  I especially like the line about “vapid blather,” since that vapid blather about the God of Freedom is something I do my best to ridicule in my article in the 11/20 American Conservative.  It has to say something for just how empty and unconvincing Mr. Bush’s “God of Freedom” rhetoric really is when you can have Christians and skeptics alike finding nothing worthwhile in it.

Which is more obnoxious: that Johnny-Come-Lately Andrew Sullivan deigns to welcome us, the paleocons, into his anti-Bush resistance (when we were the original anti-Bush resistance, if ever there was one) or that he assumes that The American Conservative’s election editorial talking about punishing the proponents of neoconservative foreign policy has an “anti-Semitic undertow”?  That’s a tough one, since the first requires incredible arrogance and the second requires incredible dishonesty.  I suppose the latter must be worse, but it has become so predictable to throw the anti-Semite label at people who oppose the neocons that it somehow just doesn’t shock anymore (maybe because so few people believe the accusation, since it is now made against so many for no good reason except to silence and intimidate).

I voted for Buchanan in 2000 in recognition that Bush was not really all that conservative–where was the all-seeing, all-knowing Sullivan and his “conservatism of doubt” then?  I opposed his calamitous and illegal war before it even began–where was the amazing dissident Andrew Sullivan then?  Oh, that’s right, he was cheering on the invasion and backing the administration all the way.  He then recoiled in shock when the administration ran things quite badly.  He then suddenly discovered that he was a resistance fighter against the regime!  It is exceedingly easy to be a conservative and be against Mr. Bush today; that requires all of the courage of Krushchev’s denunciation of Stalin after the man had died (note: this is just a for-instance, as I am not saying that Bush is as bad as Stalin was–I leave such desperately unhinged commentary to Sullivan).  Try being conservative and anti-Bush in 2002 and early 2003–then you might have earned the right to claim some kind of serious dissident status when it actually might have cost you something or ended up alienating a lot more of your friends.

Let me clear about a few things.  It is very good that a lot of conservatives have since come around and seen the administration for the frauds and crooks that they are, and I really don’t mean to say that people who have turned against the administration for various reasons since the invasion shouldn’t have done so or that their opposition isn’t worthwhile and important.  It certainly is.  I just cannot stand Andrew Sullivan’s presumption that he is some sort of De Gaulle figure leading the Resistance who gets to “welcome” in “new” recruits, when some have been at it a lot longer than Sullivan.     

Update: A.C. Kleinheider cites Sullivan and another blogger whose response is perfect.  Clark Stooksbury responds in much the same way I did:

That is nonsense of course, any number of rightwingers are shilling for a Republican victory. As for TAC, if Sullivan would study that publication’s archives he would see that it was attacking the Bush administration and opposing the Iraq war from day one — back when Sullivan was one of its biggest cheerleaders.

The “debate” prompted by the publication of Rod’s Crunchy Cons (now in paperback with a new, improved and shorter subtitle) has tended to degenerate into a good deal of carping and one-sided arguments on one side and rather bitter retaliatory strikes on the other, which is to say the crunchy side.  But, then, it was never much of a real “debate” to start with, since a real debate would presuppose two sides of relatively serious and engaged people interested in striving for the truth about the subject in question.  The lack of anything like serious critics dictated the nature of the sometimes harsh response from the “crunchy cons” themselves, as well as from traditional conservatives and paleoconservatives, such as myself, who were sympathetic to the basic common sense of making a high priority of loyalty to community, place and family as part of a living tradition and inspired by religious vocation.  Similarly, it was important to sympathisers of this idea to attack what seemed to be certain conservatives’ ideas of what constituted social, political and economic goods when they diverged wildly from a vision of order that privileged community, place, tradition and family.  These were the so-called “mainstream conservatives,” for whom the Wal-Marts of the world are the benefactors of the community, “community” itself was often enough just code for state interference, efficiency takes precedence over a great many considerations and individual choice is sovereign.  If the original formulation about these conservatives was overstated (as pretty much all of us on the crunchy/traditionalist side were willing to grant on reflection), the basic critique that too many conservatives now found themselves living as if they were on the wrong side of Voegelin’s divide between those who accepted the enduring moral order and the materialists was basically sound and was revealed in the course of the debate.  This critique not only targeted a real phenomenon and attempted to subject this kind of life to conservative ethical scrutiny, but hit many people quite literally where they lived–hence the strained, emotional and largely incoherent responses that it generated.   

The “debate,” such as it was, revealed that most of the people who were defending the much-maligned “mainstream conservatives simply did not privilege the claims of these things as highly and were often proud that they did not (they were defending Freedom and capitalist enterprise!) and they literally could not understand people who said that their way of thinking was potentially at odds with the broad tradition of conservative social and political thought.  This failure to understand was perhaps never quite as willful as we made it out to be, since conservatism for these people had never had anything to do with Kirk or Bradford or Chesterton in concrete, meaningful terms.  These were writers whom they may have read, but whose social and economic ideals were as strange and alien as if they had come from Fourier or Condorcet.  In this atmosphere, we could quote Kirk, the Agrarians and Wendell Berry, let’s say, until we were blue in the face (and we did), and the other side of the “debate” would say something equivalent to, “So what?  I like Wal-Mart, I like Burger King, and you can’t make me not like them.”  This claim that the critics of the idea were defending human freedom against the imperious crunchy Cylons was very handy and very wrong, but it was one of these unshakeable assumptions that ultimately caused defenders of CCism to throw up their hands in disgust on the assumption that only willfully stubborn and rather intellectually dodgy people could refuse to acknowledge much, if any, merit in the idea.  Then, after we threw up our hands in disgust in the face of such implacable hostility, it was counted to us as a vice that we had given up trying to convince the most incorrigible and obnoxious among the critics.  

There were much more solid criticisms coming from the paleo right, since most of the themes and ideas enunciated in Crunchy Cons had made their appearance in the pages of Chronicles, for example, years and decades before and had reached a depth and intensity that the crunchy con argument, which had also been expressed in much more popular, layman’s terms, never did reach.  There were telling critiques at The Rockford Institute’s summer school, The American Agrarian Tradition, that argued–from impeccably strong agrarian and traditional conservative grounds–that the problem with CCism was not that it went too far but that it was often too superficial and too preoccupied with the quest for authenticity.  If this sounds similar to the kinds of arguments that the regular critics made, it really isn’t all that similar.  It was never the trendiness or relatively lighter aspects of CCism that deeply offended and antagonised people–they used these as easy foils to make light of the opposing argument (”does it really matter whether I eat organic vegetables?” they would ask mockingly).  No, it was at those moments when CCism began to touch on much more significant questions of how to live a virtuous life and what our ethical obligations to our community are and how we live them out that the critics pounced with every red-herring and yelp of horror they could manage. 

Had there been more critiques grounded strongly in agrarianism, liturgical Christianity and an even deeper respect for embodying the requirements of a living tradition, not only would “crunchy cons” and their friends have taken those criticisms more seriously but they would have had some reason to take them seriously.  As it was, critiques ranged from the “there is no such thing as crunchy conservatism” to ”you sound like a leftist” to “you want to expand the size of government” to the mad carping of certain pitiful monomaniacs who knew nothing of the conservative tradition and were simply interested in validating their own preferences just as we had been saying all along.

In late 2005 I had noticed the upcoming publication of Crunchy Cons and commented on the points of contact with many paleoconservative arguments, noting that the paleos had written extensively on all these things for a very long time.  But I could see the potential virtue in the crunchy idea, and it seemed consistent with many of the things that I, as a paleo, held to be true.  When the discussion at Crunchy Con began, it was mostly made up of sympathetic and constructive people who were interested in really engaging with the material.  Then there were the expected naysayers who, well, did a lot of naysaying and not much else.  At that point, I jumped into the fray and began attacking from the sidelines, not really having anything to do with the entire project until then.  At some point, I went from occasional observer to arch-defender of crunchy conservatism, even though in many respects I could not and did not claim to be a
“crunchy” myself. 

Now I am particularly inclined towards polemics (as some may have noticed), and the blogging format exacerabtes that polemical inclination by making it exceedingly easy to fire off the first thing that comes to mind and to frame retorts in sharp, barbed and caustic ways.  So, as I entered the arena, I undoubtedly contributed somewhat to the embittering of attitudes on the other side, and I take responsibility for feeding some of the more strained and hysterical reactions to the whole array of conservative values that we were defending. 

I admit that I had a very hard time taking the objections of the critics seriously, usually because they were so poorly stated or founded in assumptions that I had genuine difficulty believing conservatives held.  It was not because I believed that they were arguing in bad faith, but because even if they were arguing in good faith I was deeply frustrated by the misdirection of their declaring that they were somehow representing the body of conservative opinion against a few malefactors and dissidents who were presuming to redefine the natue of conservatism.  As I saw it, it was clearly they who derived from a much more recent lineage, it was they who seemed to frequently confuse human freedom with choice and the good life with satisfaction of desires, and it was they who found CCism alien to a large extent because they were unfamiliar with or hostile to the legacy of the agrarianism, localism and traditionalism of the Agrarians (up through and including Weaver and Bradford) and the New Conservatives.  The complete incomprehension with which the critics greeted the sympathetic citation of Prof. Lukacs’ line about those who were opposed to the cement mixers and concrete pourers was emblematic of the entire “debate.” The “debate,” after all, usually went something like this:

Critic: Endless devlopment and growth are essential to freedom. 

Sympathiser: That is possibly the most misguided thing I have ever heard!  Endless devlopment and growth are fundamental threats to human freedom and a humane and sane way of life

Critic: Socialist!  Elitist!  I like progress!    

Recognising the sacramental nature of life, the giftedness of creation, and accepting our duty to do what we can to preserve the natural order as part of a humane life lived according to our own nature were all obvious virtues of the “crunchy con” idea, even if they may have been lost in translation or if the particular examples that Rod gave in the book were not always those that others interested in the same kinds of things might have chosen.  But the realities that they plainly had more value than the critics ever gave them and that the critics were openly espousing a way of life that seemed perfectly antithetical to most of the values expressed in the book were quite clear.  There undoubtedly were many people who objected to the crunchy con idea, not counting paleo critics, because they could not accept that this was what conservatism meant, and it is a shame if the bitter controversy over this idea alienated or drove away many of those people from giving it due consideration.  However, it struck me very early on that much of what CCism embodied was nothing other than the essential themes of traditional conservatism and paleoconservatism, and that the reason why it provoked such a fierce response is that the critics disliked both of these things and were intent on keeping them in their ”proper” place at the relative margins of the American right.   

Darwinian conservatives will agree with President Bush that there is a natural desire for liberty. But they will insist that one fundamental condition for satisfying that natural desire is a system of limited government in which chief executives do not have the discretionary power to initiate imperialistic wars in the name of liberty. ~Larry Arnhart

The second claim is right.  Limited government is vital to the realisation of political liberty.  Executives that can start wars on their own initiative, as Mr. Bush did, are inimical to that liberty.  Some might even call them tyrants.  But I am with Dan McCarthy when he asks: where is the evidence that there is a natural desire for liberty?  More to the point, what are we talking about when we say “liberty” here?  Ordered liberty?  “Do what thou wilt, that is the whole of the law”?  Something in between?  Who knows?  Liberty has, alas, become one of those empty words that people invoke almost as much as a moral pose as they do because they are trying to defend a particular way of life or a political good.  Everyone has to get right with the goddess Liberty, regardless of what distorted, heinous, bloody form she may take, and anyone who says anything against her, well, obviously he wants the jihadis to win, veil all our women and ban kite-flying!  Thus we are all forced to bend our knee in acknowledging the importance of liberty without ever explaining what we mean by that word. 

If we are speaking of political liberty that flourishes under a regime of limited, constitutional government in which the state performs a few necessary functions and otherwise steers clear of our affairs, not even Americans naturally desire such liberty.  No one naturally desires such liberty; it is extremely rare and the product of a particular political culture.  It is not just that a particular set of customs and habits facilitate or enable the “desire for liberty” to be realised concretely, but that until such customs have become long-established this “desire” is not ingrained and cannot be found.  There is, of course, always willfulness and a desire to have one’s own way, but that is so far removed from political liberty as our tradition understands it that it is almost not worth mentioning. 

At one point in time, Americans were extremely jealous of such liberty, which they had inherited and which they understood to be extremely fragile and easily threatened by the slightest usurpations, but in the last century we have seen people trade that birthright for a mess of pottage.  In a sense, it did not appear to be a mess of pottage to them, because what people naturally desire is security and order and they happily sought to trade some of their liberty for what they believed was greater security against the uncertainties and rapid changes in the world.  Once secure, they can begin to worry about liberty.  (This drives libertarians crazy, but it is the way of things.)  Only then can they entertain the luxury of worrying about how the government treats them and whether the government is too powerful, and usually so long as they are left alone in their daily lives they will put up with almost any amount of obnoxious taxation and dependency on the state. 

People are neither born free nor do they naturally desire to be free, except in the abstract sense that everyone might like to be free (if understood as a freedom from obligations or a kind of personal independence) in the same way that everyone might like to be perfectly content or rich or well-liked.  Even if there is such a desire, it has largely been a vain one, because desiring a thing and knowing how to acquire it are so completely different that it is almost useless to refer to them in the same sentence.  This is one of those small snags with liberal theory that a “realistic vision of human nature” could easily recognise from the historical record.  If the desire for liberty means simply the desire to be left in peace, this is not really a desire for liberty, but simply a desire to mind one’s own business.  The two are compatible, but they are not the same thing. 

Dan McCarthy points out the blog of Larry Arnhart on Darwinian Conservatism.  There might be something to be said for a Darwinian conservatism in the sense that conservatives acknowledge certain biological realities as given parts of the structure of our existence (they may be realities that change over time, but they are real nonetheless) and that you cannot really change the nature of a being or that you can do so but only with great risks of perilous and unforeseen consequences.  In this sense, both social and genetic engineering, while both theoretically possible, might well be undesirable and unethical from the perspective of a Darwinian conservative because of the numerous potential pitfalls and bad mutations, so to speak, that might arise as a result.  What is not particularly conservative about Mr. Arnhart’s Darwinian conservatism is the claim:

Conservatives object, arguing that social order arises not from rational planning but from the spontaneous order of instincts and habits. Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary history.

When I hear the phrase “spontaneous order,” I reach for my arqebuss.  As I said some months ago about this phrase:

For my part, I will say that I’ve never liked the libertarian phrase “spontaneous order,” which sounds like the kind of order that has suddenly burst into flames.

I am often curious what people think they mean when they say, “spontaneous order.”  Presumably they mean that order just happens.  No one sets down the norms that govern a society–the norms just well up from the ground, so to speak.  That is what the phrase suggests.  But as anyone might notice perusing the news from, say, Iraq, order doesn’t just happen.  More to the point, I have never known a conservative thinker who, while sober, ever suggested that order just came about by chance.  When he looks at the natural world, moreover, he does not see “spontaneous order” because he does not see much order at all. 

Order is an artefact of civilisation and the discipline of civilisation, just as liberty is.  Humans are naturally sociable, yes, but that does not mean that that they have organised their societies by anything like a principle of spontaneity where practices and habits come together to form some kind of cultural melange without some guiding authorities dictating and approving of this or that habit.  Practice becomes regulated by customary observances and is defined by the expectations of those in positions of respect and authority.  What is appropriate, what is pious, what is meritorious–these things are not determined by some randomly developed consensus, but but certain people or classes of people saying that it is so and other classes of people accepting these definitions.  Culture is not just the outgrowth of human practices and habits, but is reinforced and enforced by authorities using stigma, social pressure and coercive methods.  

It is quite one thing to say that men here below cannot perfect themselves through rational planning and that it is not possible to transform human behaviour completely by creating an environment favourable to perfected man.  It is quite another to talk about “spontaneous order,” which has not existed and will never exist.

That being said, Mr. Arnhart also says some very smart things on Iraq, many of which echo my own stated views. 

Two days before Election Day, and everyone is all atwitter about the apparent closing of the gap between the parties in the final week.  People are suddenly excited, or at least slightly anxious, about Conrad Burns’ prospects after six months of the Montana Senator’s living political death.  Lincoln Chafee is making a comeback!  The generic polling is tightening!  I am unimpressed. 

I will stick to my reckless predictions, and I may well be proven wrong (perhaps badly wrong) along with many major political prognosticators in the country who foresee some kind of “wave” or “hurricane” or general calamity for the GOP.  All of this last-minute polling showing us a sudden turnaround smells fishy.  Not, “someone is rigging the numbers” fishy, but simply, “this makes no sense” fishy.  As has been noted somewhere, either these last polls are unrepresentative and incorrect, or polling for the entire year has been off by huge margins.  Nothing else really explains it.  I refuse to believe that the inane, the ridiculous, the absurd controversy over John Kerry has this much power over the electorate.  I have to admit that I will lose what little respect I have for the mass electorate if this was the cause of their sudden change of mind, if there was indeed a sudden change of mind and not some odd glitch at the end.  Not because people don’t have a right to change their mind or decide that the party of John Kerry is ridiculous (objectively, it is ridiculous), but because you would have to be such an, ahem, easily-led, media-driven caricature of a thinking voter to have your vote swayed by something so trivial and so media-hyped.  You would have to be the kind of easily manipulated blank slate that many Republican pundits think that the average voter is, and I cannot abide the idea that voters are that easily turned by some cheap, last-minute concocted controversy.  I have a low opinion of democracy, of course, and a sudden GOP comeback would confirm me in all of my worst suspicions about the irrationality, the idiocy, the worthlessness of this form of government.  Prove me wrong.  Make me say something positive about democratic government, as much as it will annoy me to do so, and give me an example of where, for once, the government was actually more or less held accountable for what it did.  I would be glad to acknowledge the wisdom of the people if I ever encountered it.  It is just that the last four or five elections have made me think that it doesn’t exist.  Prove me, the one who mocks and loathes democracy, wrong.  Don’t just throw the bums out, but hurl them from their high places, cast down their idols and break the statues of their false gods.  Tar and feather them, strike them and buffet them as you drive them into the wilderness to be food for the vultures and the dogs.  Show that there is still some tiny ember of self-government still barely flickering out there somewhere.        

I will say a few things about why the new polls might be right and why all of us who predicted the hurricane will be in for disappointment and embarrassment come Tuesday night.  Honesty requires it, even if the defenders of the Red Republicans will not indulge in a similar facing of certain realities.  In theory, Democrats should do amazingly well this year, and again according to every trend that anyone pays attention to they have every advantage.  The right track/wrong track numbers are extremely bad for the incumbents; approval of Congress is about as bad as it gets; the President’s numbers, while less abysmal than they have been, are still pretty awful.  If we calculated this election on paper, the GOP could give up right now.  They stand to get creamed in the House races, and well they should.  However, in the real world, Democratic voters have this bad habit of not showing up for midterms.  This is one of those things that has been Best Left Unmentioned this year, but it is a well-established pattern for all midterm elections. 

This pattern was supposed to be reversed this year, because of tremendous motivation and discontent with the administration; conservative disenchantment and disaffection were supposed to be very significant and help offset old GOP advantages.  The motivation factor, which always works to Republican advantage in off-year elections (when those who tend to vote Democratic are paying much less attention when the Caesar contest isn’t occurring), was supposed to be on the Dems’side.  It is entirely possible that a lot of people have claimed that they were motivated and enthusiastic about these elections, but are still not going to do the necessary work to cast the votes needed to make the Democrats successful.  It would be like a kid who is offered $50 to mow your lawn and who becomes really excited at the prospect of getting the $50, but who is at the same time completely uninterested in doing the necessary labour to get it.  Virtually everyone would like to see the Republicans chastised, but how many are interested in making the small effort to vote to make sure that they are?  That is the tricky part. 

There may be other reasons why the new polling is right.  The Democrats have coasted along on the “look, we’re not Republicans!” theme and have benefited from bad news, incompetence, scandal and implosion on the other side.  Things have been fun for the past six months if you are a Democrat.  But, as we all know, they have offered nothing in the way of an alternative policy (except that they will raise the minimum wage and hold hearings on Iraq–wow!).  The argument was that they didn’t have to, and that this was all a referendum on GOP misrule.  The opposition party simply had to be against the ruling party and it would win.  Their support has therefore always been a function of how much more people despised the GOP than they distrusted the Democrats (which, given many people’s attitudes towards the Democrats, requires tremendous loathing).  Should the voters’ loathing for the GOP diminish (it seems unclear why this would have happened over the past week) or their mistrust of the Democrats grow (the Kerry business? absurd!), the Democrats’ main advantage (that they are not Republicans) will have been badly diminished.  Their support, which we have seen throughout the year in poll after poll, may be a mile wide and an inch deep, and we are finding that fair-weather possible Democratic voters have bolted because something about the Dems put them off at the last minute.  Or perhaps they were never completely sold on the Dems in the first place and were always going to return to the fetid, dank nest of the GOP (have you been able to tell that I am not a big fan of the Republicans?).  The voters were acting all along like some sort of collective tease, and the Democrats are like the guy who has sunk $50 in drinks for a woman who has no intention of giving him the time of day once she is done with her last margarita.   

For my part, I don’t think traditional Democratic laziness applies this year (though one can only speculate what astonishing result might come about if their traditional voters were normally as engaged in off-year politics as Republican voters usually are), and I don’t think outrage against GOP misrule can be so shallow that it is swept away with the first contrary wind.  I continue to expect the “hurricane” on Tuesday.  I make no alterations to my predictions (how’s that for reckless?), though at the back of my mind I fear I may come a cropper like John Zogby in 2004.  In roughly 48 hours, we will know most of the results for this election, and one side or the other is going be to be feeling extremely silly in their excessive confidence.  However, GOP optimism based on these last-minute polls will seem even sillier if it does not come to pass, since they will have proven to be chasing after momentary mirages.  Those who expect the “hurricane” can at least claim that they were using all of the normal “meteorological” equipment and their best understanding of voting patterns.  At this point, Republican hopes rest on wishful thinking and the desperate clinging to anything that might support their cause.  If they should somehow prevail and even hold the House, they will have done more to make a laughingstock of the idea that democratic elections hold government accountable and guard against the excesses of those in power than anyone else ever could.

Update: For whatever it’s worth, Chuck Todd dug up the generic ballot polling from just before the ‘94 election, all of which showed late momentum towards the Democrats that ultimately availed them nothing (or would the result have been even more lopsided had the election occurred earlier?) and one of which even showed a marginal Democratic lead in the week going in to the election.  This is by way of saying that these late polls showing momentum for the incumbent party may be reflecting some real shift of opinion, but there tends to be this sort of late surge for the incumbent.  These polls may therefore be much less significant than a lot of Republican pundits hope that they are.  Plus, a whole raft of new polls just came out confirming the double-digit generic ballot lead and some showing slight or even sizeable leads for Democrats in the supposed comeback races in Rhode Island and Montana.  Ohio and Pennsylvania are clearly all but done.  Allen and Webb are neck and neck with the momentum seeming to favour Webb over the past two weeks.  McCaskill and Talent are likewise virtually tied.  Maryland and Tennessee remain the wild cards, and in spite of what I have said about Tennessee in the past I think Ford may end up hitting a wall because Tennessee is simply such a Republican state just as Steele will hit a will in Maryland coming from the other side.  However, I stick by my prediction of a Dem sweep. 

I may not be a good American.


I have never watched a Super Bowl or an NBA championship, never been to Las Vegas, never willingly listened to rap, hip-hop, or heavy-metal music. San Francisco strikes me not as beautiful but as bleak, ugly, dirty, and alien. I feel more at home in many places in Europe than I do in New York City or Los Angeles. I like the French and find most Germans very uncongenial—too much like a certain type of American—intellectually and ethically challenged self-important bullies. (Think Earl Warren, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Bennett.) ~Clyde Wilson

It gets even better in the rest of the article.

Recently I interviewed Prof. Joshua Foa Dienstag for The Dallas Morning News on his new book, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit, which had inspired me to write a number of blog posts on the book and the subject of pessimism.  The interview appears in today’s edition of the paper and has also been put online at the DMN website.  Here is a sample:

How dangerous to human freedom are “historical ideals” and the rhetoric of redeeming violence and injustice through appeals to an ideological cause? How do President Bush’s references to an “ideological struggle” relate to this?

What’s dangerous is to let a vision of the future blind you to violence in the present or, what’s worse, to let it justify one’s own moral compromises. I think it’s actually wrong to say that the recent efforts to abolish the right of habeas corpus and to legalize torture are driven by fear; that would be more understandable. What’s more frightening is the idea that the people who propose these policies believe there is some kind of historical logic that justifies them. Once you start down that road, you can justify anything. If we start from the assumption that we don’t know what our efforts will come to, and then ask ourselves what kind of people we want to be, whether or not we’re successful, we’re much less likely to stumble into these moral quagmires.

Read the entire interview here.

On 5 November 1688, the usurper William’s mercenary army landed at Brixham in Devon in the opening stage of the Dutch War of Aggression, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Glorious Revolution, inaugurating two years of bloodshed and resulting in the foreign occupation of the British capital until 1690 and ultimately paving the way for the tyranny of the Robinarchy under Walpole and the Hanoverians.  This act of usurpation and invasion, aided by the party of treason and a few Tories, continued to convulse the politics of the United Kingdom for another half century as the rightful heirs to the throne continued to contest the power of the usurpers who followed after William.  The usurper William also plunged Britain into a war in service to the interests of his own United Netherlands, and in his reign began to be laid the institutional and financial foundations of what would become the anti-constitutionalist Court party.  The principles that animated, or were supposed to have animated, the party of treason were cast aside and the forces of consolidation and the power of the moneyed interest grew strong, betraying the cause for which the revolution had supposedly been fought and trampling on the ancestal constitution of Englishmen.  Thus we commemorate this evil day (with apologies to Bonfire Night enthusiasts):

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Whiggish treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Whig Party’s treason
Should ever be forgot.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who has made past comments that raised questions about her religious sensitivity, prayed in a telephone prayer service recently that God would “bring the hearts and minds of our Jewish brothers and sisters into alignment.”

A Harris spokeswoman said Friday that the Longboat Key Republican, who has advocated electing Christian officeholders, was talking about converting Jews to vote Republican, not to Christianity. ~The Tampa Tribune

Queen Esther is the gift that keeps on giving.  Bloggers everywhere will have to be sorry to see Kathy go, since she has provided most of the levity and fun for this election cycle in the midst of a generally dreary, nasty campaign.  Admit it, folks, you will miss her when she’s gone.  She was one of a kind, and we will not see a candidate like her for another generation.  That’s a claim that will almost certainly be vindicated, since no one in his right mind would ever run a campaign as badly as Rep. Harris has done. 

What could have been better than the candidate who one day says that you have to vote for Christians or you will be legislating sin (I attempted to offer an explanation of what Harris might have meant in her interview) and who then turns around the next day and declares her firm belief in Judeo-Christian values and her unwavering support for Israel?  (The funny thing is that she was convinced that she was being absolutely consistent and serious throughout all of this.)  This is the same candidate who throws things at her own staffers and has been through four campaign managers in a year, who has a near compulsive need to have her specific coffee order from Starbucks (and has staffers plot driving routes accordingly!), who compares herself to Queen Esther and who recently said of evangelicals, “We’re all sort of Jewish wannabes.”  Now that she has spent the last few weeks of her campaign showing just how enthusiastic she is about Jewish voters in Florida, she comes up with a prayer to bring them into alignment!  She means Republican alignment, of course–she would never dream of doing anything so sordid or theocratic as praying for the salvation of her Jewish brethren, whom she must, if we take her at her word, want to be like. 

Now I would frankly have a lot less of a problem with Harris if she were praying for the conversion of her Jewish brethren.  That seems to be to be a perfectly acceptable thing for a Christian to do, whether or not it offends this or that group.  Orthodox Christians pray for an end to all heresies and schisms and for all people to come to a knowledge of the truth, and there is no reason why Protestants cannot and would not do the same.  That is why I find it both hard to believe and obnoxious that Harris actually thinks it is better to be calling on God to swing the vote to the GOP than to pray for the conversion and salvation of non-Christians.  I know politicians have to lie, but must they lie so badly? 

But there is an alternative.  Worse than lying, Harris might actually have been praying for Republican votes, which strikes me as infinitely worse than any accusation of prejudice or intolerance that praying for the conversion of Jewish people in Florida would have brought down.  Is it not far better, from a Christian perspective, to pray for the illumination of those outside the Faith than to pray for them to vote for you?  Perhaps I have missed something.  

I can and do believe that God changes the hearts of men and works wonders and bestows grace upon them–but do we really believe that God turns certain demographics to one party or another based on prayer requests?  I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably not what the Lord meant when he said, If you ask anything in My name, I will do it (Jn. 14:4).  This prayer request for GOP votes–if we accept the “excuse” her campaign gave–is like some unholy marriage between Karl Rove and the prosperity gospel. 

The Tribune story concludes with the perfect ending:

Campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Marks said Harris’ reference to alignment of Jews meant that “the Jewish community historically voted Democratic. She was expressing her hope that the Jewish voters will recognize that she shares their ethics and values.” 

I’m going to bet that they don’t “recognise” anything of the kind.

Be on the lookout for for the new The American Conservative (11/20) (not yet online).  In addition to my article, The Gospel According to Bush, Austin Bramwell delivers a powerful indictment of National Review’s post-9/11 foreign policy (or, rather, the lack of one) and neoconservative influence on the conservative movement, including this simple and accurate statement:

(National Review Online, which now far outshadows the magazine in influence, has become the world’s most prolific organ of neoconservative opinion.)

And again, a devastating line:

If Americans understood that soldiers were dying not to kill the bad guys but to prevent them from killing each other, Bush’s popularity would evaporate.

The piece is filled with simple but powerful insights such as these.  But no one on the right will be happy with Mr. Bramwell’s diagnosis, for in it all conservatives are gravely ill of one error or another.  No real respite for the dissident conservative, the traditionalist, the paleo or crunchy; according to Bramwell, we are all more or less complicit in different aspects of the farce of conservatism today.  (I can’t quite go that far, but he often makes it difficult to disagree with his withering descriptions.)  More than that, Bramwell likens “the movement” to an Orwellian dystopia.  One can find points where his dismissal of all conservatives of every kind overreaches in some places, but 1984 serves as a shockingly good model for how much of the movement seems to work.  Consider the Two Minute (or Five Day, depending on how you want count) Hate of Kerry or the long list of dissidents set upon by the jackals. 

It will be of little avail, I suppose, to note that the bulk of Mr. Bramwell’s analysis rests on the claim that conservatism is an ideology, when any conservatism worthy of the name is non-ideological.  It is an anti-ideology.  Prescription and prudence, if they make what someone might call an ideology, make a very ”thin” ideology indeed.  Someone will presumably say that this, too, is an ideological claim, but it cannot be stressed enough that there are conservatives (perhaps not many, but they do exist) who never subscribed to the thing Mr. Bramwell describes as conservative ideology.  But he is right that boundary maintenance and the perpetuation of the movement’s identity as “the conservative movement” are the movement’s priorities, not discernment or truth. 

But what the movement’s Two Minute Hates accomplish is not to invent bogeymen, but to exaggerate their power and the threat they pose.  ”Judicial activists” are not something that we pretend exist for the sake simply of our own boundary maintenance, just as Byzantines did not completely invent the existence of Bogomils, but the content of their ideas and extent of the danger posed by such people are often wildly exaggerated (especially around election time).  But even if it has become a stock phrase to bemoan the impact of “moral relativism,” and invoking such a thing has become a replacement for serious thought, it is not the case that such a thing does not to some degree exist.  The greatest problem of conservatism is that it perceives real problems, but simply starts screaming, “There is a really BIG problem over here!  It is gigantic!  It’s going to wipe out life as we know it!”  Then it retires to the parlour for an obscure discussion of who insulted whom during the 1992 presidential campaign over drinks and cigars . 

Nonetheless, it is surely true of the movement, broadly speaking, that it does not generate important or interesting ideas anymore and is almost structured not to generate such ideas.  It is structured to reproduce itself and confirm its own assumptions about its intellectual vitality and diversity, when neither is really in evidence in most places.  If dissidents in the conservative resistance do indulge in the claim that the movement once had solid principles and now is tossed to and fro by every wind of false doctrine, even though what those “principles” were always remained the province of the leadership (with movement chiefs thus settling on the dubious combination of international anticommunist activism, untrammeled capitalism and vague perfunctory nods towards Christianity and the Constitution, which the other two had rendered completely moot), it is at least because they espouse those principles and insist on the hope, perhaps the myth, that something worthwhile remains of conservatism because there was once something true about it.  But it seems to me that if the movement lacked real principles, there were principled conservatives–some of whom gave the movement far too much credit and some of whom who have since sobered up–who saw this at each stage and gave their warnings.  In the year 1984 (appropriately enough), John Lukacs derided the “narrowly nationalist and broadly Californian view of the world” held by many conservatives–”narrow enough to be ignorant, broad enough to be flat.”  He had many more things to say besides that, but the point is surely that the superficiality, triviality and mind-numbing uniformity of the movement has been clear to principled conservatives (or, as Prof. Lukacs prefers to call himself, reactionaries) and they have typically dropped out or gone (or been driven) into the proverbial wilderness to the degree that they have insisted on retaining principles that they can and do defend with reasoned argument, appeals to history and precedent and a desire to preserve what they have inherited from their ancestors.

But where I really must part company with Mr. Bramwell is when he says: “At most other times, however, ancestral attachments are dangerously subversive.”  Subversive of what?  Well, he will tell us. 

The U.S. could not have survived had it not ruthlessly extirpated the ancestral loyalties of both natives and newcomers; Great Britain suffered endless civil wars before the great constitutional oak that Burke praised took root [and? I must admit I fail to see the point here-DL]; the West itself succeeded precisely because it cut short the reach of the extended family or clan [succeeded how? to do what? the state succeeded in weakening family structures and increasing its power–is that the “success of the West,” and if it is why do we want it?-DL].

I often see conservatives say things like this whenever they want to defend modernity or “the West” (as opposed to, say, Christendom) against critics (”behold, we have gotten rid of pious veneration of ancestral customs and we show enormous disrespect towards women–be like us!”), by holding up our present state of affairs and saying, “We could never have had all this had we not curtailed the reach of the extended family and rid people of their ancestral loyalties.”  To which, it seems to me, the proper conservative answer is: And this makes me want to oppose these things why exactly?  Those things may be desirable because of these effects.  The reactionary response is still better: Who wants the present mess?  This is all the more reason to bring back the extended family and cultivate ancestral loyalties!  Arranged marriages for all! 

Okay, maybe not arranged marriages for all (the king gets to choose his own bride, after all), but nowehere does Mr. Bramwell’s piece better reveal the schizophrenic tendency of American conservatives to praise the worst aspects of modernisation (the weakening of the extended family, and consequently the relatively increased dependence on artificial institutions, just as the breakdown of the nuclear family further helps to empower the state today) while deriding the natural attachments that seem to me to be the stuff of what a conservative ethic has tried to protect because such attachments can be taken to excess or can become socially dysfunctional.  “Ancestral loyalties are the curse of uncivilized peoples, most especially in the hypermnesiac Middle East.”  Of course, to already define ancestral loyalties as uncivilised is to close the debate before it even begins.  One might as well do the same thing with religious piety: “Religious piety is the curse of uncivilised peoples, most especially in the fanatical Middle East.”  Would you call that a compelling argument for thoroughgoing secularism, or a rather ridiculous attack?  If Omar in Iraq marries his first cousin, the argument seems to run, we must flee anything that puts too much importance on the extended family.  If the Shi’ites commemorate Shoura and remember the slights to the Imam Husayn, are we therefore obliged to forget our ancestors, heroes and martyrs or risk becoming Moqtada al-Sadr?  To ask the question is to reveal the alternatives as false ones and the argument as uncharacteristically weak and sloppy for someone as insightful and wise as Mr. Bramwell.   

Is it true that the United States had to “extirpate” the ancestral loyalties of the natives (and here I assume he means native-born Anglo-Americans) in order to survive?  In an obvious sense, the War of Independence saw a significant old attachment to Britain severed and the loyalty of Loyalists was indeed suppressed brutally, but in what other sense does this really hold?  Surely it was the central point of Kirk and Bradford on the Constitution that the patriots were defending their patrimony, their ancestral rights as Englishmen, and were therefore conservative revolutionaries.  Now perhaps a compelling argument could be made that this is all wrong, but it will not do to dismiss an abiding view of the War of Independence with the flick of the wrist.  But, more to the point, even if true, why would a conservative-minded person look on this with equanimity, as if that example demonstrated that such loyalties were undesirable?  Which, in fact, takes a higher priority: the survival of a new confederation of republics, or loyalty to kith, kin and place?  The answer smacks us across the face: obviously the latter takes greater priority.  Put it in more immediate, tangible terms: to whom do you owe greater loyalty, your wife or the President?  This is not a trick question, and there is only one right answer. 

If Westerners have sacrificed those goods to acquire a highly centralised state and what is now a deracinating economic order, it will hardly answer the critic to say, “But if we make these loyalties the priority, we might have to give up our centralised states and creative destruction!”  Yes, we might.  Surely that is yet another reason to give these loyalties priority, and not an argument against them.   

The chief reason they might be undesirable to a confederation is that they might cause the fragmentation of that confederation, and would guarantee the weakness of a central state.  I don’t think any Antifederalists would be crying over that one.  Neither do their heirs–which is what some of us consider ourselves to be.  I remain absolutely unconvinced on this point that there is something misguided about attachment to “ancestral loyalties.”  Without these, there are scant few other loyalties worth having. 

Mr. Bramwell is surely engaged in his own kind of boundary maintenance when he fires off two warnings shots to these particularists: 

Most ominously, praise of local attachments now comes in the guise of multiculturalism, perhaps the most insidious threat to a just order today.  Not for nothing did communitarianism become a left-wing vogue.    

Yes, obviously if we place higher priority on family, kin, church and place than we do on other things we are sliding irrevocably into the maw of multiculturalist claptrap.  Right.  Note the reliance on the crutch of the left-wing bogey of communitarianism (no, not that!) and the scary mention of insidious multiculturalism (multiculturalism is insidious, but it is strange to hear of it from someone who is about to tell us how we all cook up bogeymen to ridicule phantasmagorical enemies).  It takes one back to the crunchy con wars: “You can’t believe that!  It’s just like leftism!  How do I know?  Because I just said it was like leftism!”  It simply makes no sense to warn us that we should be wary of all localism because it can be turned into a justification, as it has started to be in David Cameron’s Britain, for implementing local-level shari’a.  Obviously we can appreciate the importance of loyalty to your place and your home as depicted in The Napoleon of Notting Hill without concluding that we must yield to the demands of the rabid cleric who preaches jihad in the East End.  Surely we can discern the difference and weigh the virtues of different kinds of localism and local attachments, and we would weigh them against claims of justice and what we believe to be the truth about human nature and society.  The choice is not between Brave New World or Kafiristan, and if it were the choice I think the Kafiris might have the better of the argument. 

But in any case we tend to find multiculturalism itself obnoxious not because it fronts for diverse cultures (which it does only superficially), which hardly trouble me in and of themselves, but because it is a clear example of Western self-loathing and a lack of confidence in our capacity to have local and regional diversity of customs and cultures without collapsing into a a heap caused by the complete abandonment of all standards and all Western norms.  Decentralism does not equal moral, social or cultural chaos; only in the absence of real, living, local communities have we seen people fall back on their more elemental identities to the detriment of national cohesion because there are no communities to which such people might even theoretically adhere themselves.  What option does Mr. Bramwell leave us then?  A homogenous, superficial monoculture to which all pay lip service?  If we must not have multiculturalism (and I agree here) and we must not have local varieties of our own culture, we are left with having a national or supranational uniformity in which there will be very little recognisable as culture.  

This invocation of multiculturalism in response to calls for localism is rather like the sometimes tiresome refrains that appeals to “the common good” are code for state regulation or collectivism–what else could it possibly mean, right?  It is likewise a failure of imagination to assume that all particularist appeals are the same or that by affirming the one we must enable the insidious Other.  It is as if to say that you cannot talk about community without forever legitimising people who talk about setting up utopian communes, when you are doing nothing of the kind.  In correctly defining and defending a thing, you exclude, delimit and reject the false or distorted notions of it.  Affirming Orthodoxy, for instance, entails the rejection of heresy.  If I say, “God,” I do not mean Robespierre’s Supreme Being, Bush’s “God of universal freedom” or Shiva, and by my explanation of what I mean by saying, “God,” I necessarily rule all of these others other as being something other than God Himself.  Pale reflections, mockeries or travesties, perhaps, but not God.  Multiculturalism is a mockery of real organic cultural diversity; it is the fraudulent show of cultural diversity, no better than a buffet line filled with different kinds of ethnic food, designed only to dissolve what little cultural consensus actually remains while doing little or nothing to defend or approve the various cultures under Tolerance’s protective shield     

However, do not let my criticisms dissuade you from reading Mr. Bramwell’s piece.  It is an important and challenging article that every conservative ought to read, if he is interested in something other than bashing the other side with cheap rhetorical clubs and defining who is part of the club to the exclusion of all the actually important questions.  In spite of my strong objections to one part of it, I heartily recommend it to you all as first-rate work and thought-provoking analysis. 

The constant in this relation of those conditioned by concentration, commerce, and mass communication and those outside that now familiar nexus is identity conflict, not place or ideology.  And economics will explain neither the persistence nor the variety of the rhetorics by means of which the conflict is sustained.  It is my argument, however, that the dispute I have just described has been informative of the political life of my part of the country [the South] since earliest settlement, that it was fundamental to a number of colonial upheavals, such as Bacon’s Rebellion and the Regulator movement in North Carolina, that it provoked the agricultural revolts of the past century, that it played a part in certain major nineteenth century transfers of power (Jefferson, Jackson, etc.), and that, when used as a frame, it helps explain the American Revolution itself.  ~M.E. Bradford, A Better Guide Than Reason

I will be away for much of today, so I leave you with this important idea from Bradford as something to think on.

Usbeck had travelled far on his journey out of the desert and the steppe, and had finally reached after many months a strange and fabulous land teeming with people and wealthy beyond imagining.  He found in this land two rival tribes, who feared and loathed the other with such an intensity as Usbeck had never seen.  Family vendettas in his own country had been more civil and restrained, but here the curses, the blood-oaths and the threats curdled his blood. 

They waved their coloured banners, one red, one blue, as standards to prepare their forces for battle, and with the joy of a mob of children being offered candy the followers on either side charged forward under these banners to crush the foe and reduce him to humiliation.  But the strange thing that Usbeck noticed was that only a few from each side ever did battle at any one time, while most remained motionless, except to cheer on their champions from the sideline.  When he asked why this, a young man explained that there were only a few contests that were allowed to be serious and violent in each battle.  It was much more fair this way.  It ensured that those who had wielded power corruptly in the past would escape most of the consequences and those who gained power in opposition to their corruption would be forced to strike deals with the corrupt.  Usbeck could see the advantages of this, and began asking how he could join in this richly rewarding enterprise.  It was then explained to him that you could not simply join in, but had to be groomed over many years of tedious service before the tribal elders would allow you to compete in the battles.  Usbeck was discouraged by this, but decided to visit the camp of each tribe to see if this was indeed true and perhaps to learn more of the strange customs of the people he had encountered here. 

First he visited the tribe with the red banner, as they seemed to him the far more fearsome and powerful of the two.  They currently possessed the trophy of victory, a dessicated cow skull with red and black ribbons tied to its horns, and seemed supremely confident of themselves.  There was, he was told, another tribe somewhere else that was unbelievably dangerous and had to be combated at all costs; there was no question that the red tribe had to remain in control, or else the entire country would be reduced to chattel slavery, her cities burned to the ground and all of the cattle driven away by the victorious conquerors.  The red tribe seemed assured that the sheer rightness of their cause would carry the day.  Consequently, they were unconcerned that they had no weapons, and no plan except to point at the other side and laugh.  Usbeck thought this was a very strange way of going about winning a battle, but he assumed that this was a native custom and did not presume to speak against it.  He was more curious about the large structure near the center of their camp, and he asked one of the leaders of the tribe what it was. 

“That is where we keep our supporters until we need them.”  It appeared to be a dank and collapsing dungeon, the sort that Usbeck had seen in his country many times, and he could hear the piteous cries for help from the imprisoned.  Usbeck was unsure of what to make of this, so he asked, simply enough, “Why would you imprison your supporters?”

“It’s good for them!  It keeps their minds focused on the only thing that matters–winning the battle.  We have kept this cow skull for so long that we cannot dare to part with it.  We have no idea who we are without it.  It is our totem and our god.”

Usbeck was impressed at the religious piety of these people, and wanted to learn more about their customs.  The leader, a strange, twitchy man who spoke in broken phrases (surely a mark that he had been touched by the gods) told him that the very spirit of the tribe was bound up in maintaining the dungeon Usbeck had just seen.  If the dungeon were ever to be opened to let out more than a few at a time, or should it ever collapse all together, there would never be any hope of winning the future battles.  The trick to keeping the people in the dungeon, he told Usbeck, was to convince them that they needed to stay in the dungeon for their own protection from the horrible, demonic blue tribe.  It was necessary to tell them that they lived inside a fortress, not in a dank cell, and their chains were there to keep them from wandering off and becoming lost in the wilderness (there were stories of dangerous and wild men who lived in the forest who spoke of unseemly things called a ‘constitution’ and ‘the republic’, but everyone knew they were insane).  Usbeck had a hard time believing people would be so stupid, but the leader contradicted him, “No, it’s true, they believe it every time!  We usually march by the prison with cymbals and start making strange growling noises and occasionally shout something about the gods, and they are completely convinced.”  Usbeck was amazed at the wisdom of this leader, but he asked if he could see the inside of the dungeon for himself.  The leader was an amiable man, and agreed.  He led Usbeck into the dungeon personally… 

Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who pleaded guilty last month in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, resigned from Congress on Friday. ~Seattle P-I

In spite of eleventh-hour encouragement and some slightly better polling, Joy Padgett, whose campaign was also beset by her personal financial bankruptcy, is trailing Zack Space.  Now, take the following with a grain of salt, since the latest Reuters/Zogby numbers are probably about as accurate as Ken Adelman’s insights into Iraq (they have Duckworth up fourteen–I even want Duckworth to win and I don’t believe that utter nonsense):

But a poll released this week by the wire service Reuters found Space with a huge lead over Padgett, 58 percent to 33 percent. National GOP officials, who have spent more than $3 million to try to hold the seat, reportedly are eliminating or reducing television buys across the district and may shift some time to embattled GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce of Upper Arlington.

Even if Zogby is significantly screwing up the poll, it’s hard to simply create a 25 point lead out of nowhere.  Space is in, or else the Democrats win almost nothing.  Ney’s delaying of his resignation, following his guilty pleas earlier in the year, has dragged Padgett down throughout the latter half of the year.  Now that he has gone, it won’t make much difference.  The damage has been done.

The Ted Haggard scandal is ugly enough that it certainly didn’t need the omnipresent hyena-like yipping of Andrew Sullivan to be added to it.  He comes at this issue with barely suppressed glee at the uncovering of a high-powered evangelical minister with ties to the administration who is found to be a grand hypocrite on the issue nearest and dearest to Sullivan’s heart, namely homosexuality.  He has used this dreadful episode and this man’s fall into disgrace as more fuel for his theologically illiterate, historically nonsensical assault on the power of ”fundamentalism” in the conservative movement, somehow tying Mr. Haggard’s alleged wrongdoing to Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of the war and Brown’s mishandling of Katrina.  According to the man’s monomania, “fundamentalism” is everywhere on the right and everyone whom he dislikes on the right is some kind of “fundamentalist,” which works out very nicely to prove that “fundamentalism”…is everywhere.

One thing that is striking in the Vanity Fair piece on the neocons (who apparently still exist–who knew?) is that, as usual, they have ungratefully and bitterly turned on their patron and begun sticking knives in him now that he is of no more use to them.  When The Economist cover had the title, “The vultures are gathering,” they probably had a different crowd in mind, but it is equally appropriate to apply this to the neocons.  The piece is called “Neo Culpa,” but there are, not surprisingly, few examples of neocons taking responsibility for policies they advocated and pushed for years.  In fact, you would be hard-pressed to call the complaints against the Bush administration that make up the bulk of the article admissions of responsibility of any kind.  They are all poor victims!  Their trust in the great man was misplaced!  Oh, pity the poor neocon–the mean man broke his ideology! 

Yes, it’s true that the responsibility comes back to Mr. Bush and his Cabinet in the end, since they make the final decisions, but does anyone who is not heavily medicated believe that a more heavily neoconservative-dominated administration would have done better?  These are the people, let us remember, who thought pushing on to Iran and Syria in the early days of the the war in Iraq was a fine idea.  These are the kind of people who thought that Israel’s war in Lebanon was “our” war.  These are people who still believe it is absolutely necessary to attack Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program.  Every policy proposal they make is a disaster waiting to happen, or indeed has been a disaster when carried out.  They have been disasters not because the ideas were good and the execution was poor, but because no amount of expertise could take their preposterous notions of man and society and make them work in even favourable conditions. 

Now they have turned on the President because Mr. Bush has so woefully disappointed them–not with his incompetence, though they may be disappointed with that–when it comes to expanding and escalating the conflict.  They are angry at his incompetence not so much because it is bungling the Iraq intervention (though they are angry about that) but because bungling the Iraq intervention (the easy, “doable” one) has hampered all future efforts to throw other “crappy, little countries against the wall” (Ledeen Doctrine).  Worse yet, it may have done something far worse than hurt America–it has hurt neoconservatism! (Gasp!)

Quoth Mr. Cakewalk:

I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.

All the more reason why the people who encouraged, defended and justified their invasion every step of the way are culpable for pushing such a crew of people to undertake a policy that was never in the national interest (even if most of the government’s claims were true).

Perle does offer an interesting insight into the administration of “the Decider”:

[Bush] did not make decisions, in part because the machinery of government that he nominally ran was actually running him. The National Security Council was not serving [Bush] properly. He regarded [then National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice] as part of the family.

One does sometimes get the impression of Bush-as-Theodosios II, surrounded by powerful, influential women and eunuchs (the latter would presumably be played by Karl Rove today) who push him this way and that, while he amiably bumbles along and tries to put a good face on the utter dependence he has on such people.  This isn’t really fair to Theodosios II, who on the whole did not bungle things too terribly (though he did have a rather less-than-successful war in the Near East!), nor is it really appropriate to think of Condi or Laura Bush playing the role of the Augusta Pulcheria, since the latter was politically savvy and clever and the others are, well, not.  These are the consequences of an imperial presidency–the household interferes and meddles with the proper functioning of government.

Frum offers a quaint take on his expectations of Bush:

I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.

But of course he didn’t absorb the ideas!  The man has the intellectual curiosity of a newt (with all due apologies to precociously curious newts), and grasps the substance of ideas as poorly as anyone who has ever sat in the office.  All those people who laughed off the observations that the man was intellectually vapid now discover that having an old frat boy who has never thought seriously about anything in his life isn’t the great, folksy boon everyone said that it was!  Good grief, it’s almost enough to make you long for boring, disingenuous policy wonks.  But not boring, disingenuous neocon policy wonks.  They have done enough damage.  May we be spared from any more of their “help.”

Fearing that worse is still to come, Adelman believes that neoconservatism itself — what he defines as “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”—is dead, at least for a generation. After Iraq, he says, “it’s not going to sell.” ~Vanity Fair

However, before we start celebrating such a happy turn of events, I have noted that the neocons will be a lot harder to get rid of than having one of their disastrously botched interventionist wars.  (Remember, there are two wicked witches in the story, and we have probably only gotten rid of one of them so far.)  Consider this Vanity Fair piece another part of their attempt to rehabilitate themselves and declare themselves innocent of everything that happened in Iraq.  Perle says he is “damn tired” of being called an architect of the war.  Fine by me.  Let’s go back to calling him the Prince of Darkness.

CNN is evidently reporting that Nancy Pelosi is coming out of hiding for Bob Casey.

I hope she hits a Republican county. Better than any GOTV call for a Republican. Whenever I am in a room of conservatives who are not paying attention, all I have to say is “Speaker Pelosi” to make them shut up. ~Kathryn-Jean Lopez

The question on everyone’s minds has to be: how do you get the conservatives who are “paying attention” to shut up?  [Note: by “not paying attention,” Ms. Lopez would seem to mean, “complaining about egregious Republican misrule” since a lack of attention is not normally associated with excessive chatter.]

Personally, I think it’s almost cute that people think the appearance of Nancy Pelosi can drive people to get out and vote for Republicans, as if she possessed some kind of talismanic power to mobilise disenchanted conservatives. 

She is at once a silly woman (”the Speaker’s gavel has been in the hands of special interests, but now it will be in the hands of America’s children,” quoth Pelosi) and a fearsomely successful organiser and disciplinarian.  She may hold extreme views, but she is not someone who spouts off a lot of ideas–no one would accuse her time as minority leader has been one of Big Ideas or bold proposals!  In her management of the Democratic caucus, she makes the Keystone Kops running the GOP caucus post-DeLay look like a bunch of fools with respect to maintaining party unity and message.  She is the daughter of a machine politician and has inherited the knack for it.  If the Republicans think they can run to the wine-and-cheese Frisco angle every time they need help, they will be in bad shape in two years’ time. 

She is polarising to those who know something about her, but the people who know much about her are shockingly few.  Those who know a bit about her may know that she is from California; they will be aware that she is a Democrat; the really attentive will know that she represents San Francisco; the unduly obsessed will know that she has five children and grew up in Baltimore; the lunatic political junkie (I fall into this category) will actually know where she stands on some of the issues (she has been blissfully vague about most, so some is the best we can do); the hyperventilating partisan is convinced that she will usher in the annihilation of mankind. 

She wants to raise the national minimum wage, I hear tell, and while I oppose that move I can see how a lot of people in, say, Ohio would be only too thrilled to have her talk about that part of the Democratic agenda.  In an age of apparent relative wage stagnation, talk of mandating a rise in the minimum wage is psychologically very appealing, even if it is macroeconomically stupid.  Invite her to Ohio and watch the Republicans lose an extra seat!  That would be good for a laugh.  All the while, the Republicans are thinking that Pelosi’s appearance will be a boon for them–why?  Even after all that the media did to pound the ”extremism” of Gingrich “the bomb-thrower” into everybody’s minds in 1994, only a minority of the country even knew who he was.  I am not positive about this, but I bet Pelosi’s name recognition nationwide is no higher than 50% (I see from the Hotline poll that her name non-recognition is just under 50% threshold).  Her unfavourable rating is apparently no higher than 30 in all of the polling done in the last month.  The most recent poll, done by Diageo/Hotline, gives her a 24% unfavourable rating vs. 19% favourable.  42% had never heard of her. 

It is possible that she will alienate a lot more people should she become Speaker, and it seems likely that the GOP will do all it can to make sure people get a bad impression of her, but if she pursues a minimalist agenda and doesn’t approach things quite so ham-fistedly as Gingrich she may win over a lot of people who are just beginning to be acquainted with her.  Her unfavourables will go up into the high 30s, but I doubt they will reach Hillaryesque mid-40s.  She is a Frisco left-liberal, sure enough, but the real question will be whether she comes off as personally antagonistic and unlikeable (such is the pathetic standard by which such people are judged today) or whether she will play the, “I’m a Catholic grandmother and I am just like you” angle.  (It matters less that she isn’t like you, which she obviously isn’t, so long as she can convince you that she is–behold Bush and the evangelicals for confirmation.)  If she does that, Republican operatives will be reduced to quivering blobs of rage as they try to land blows on Pelosi and keep finding only air (just as they did with Clinton).  If she descends into the tar pits of making every attack on her an act of sexism designed to undermine the ”first woman Speaker of the House,” watch her unfavourables go through the roof. 

But all of this makes me wonder: what would the Republicans have done this week without the blundering Kerry?  What on earth would they have had to talk about?  Can’t talk about Iraq–all sorts of uncomfortable questions would come up.  Fact is, they haven’t much to talk about at all.  The fixation on Kerry is tied to this obsession with Pelosi, Rangel, Conyers, et al.  They seem to think that they can make a House election turn on personalities, when this cannot possibly work when there are so many personalities to keep track of and so many races to follow.  They have nothing to offer, and so must keep harping on the absurdity of the other side’s politicians (and they have plenty of targets, I grant you), but the trouble is that almost nobody knows who they are! 

This campaign in general has reached a point where it is not much more than slinging duelling accusations of “Daddy’s boy!” (aimed at those who support Bush) with “yo’ Mama!” (aimed at those aligned with Pelosi).  But in all of this, conservative voters are baffled as to why they should reward the incumbents who have no positive record to show for their time in office.  Warning about the dark days of the Pelosi Era won’t do it.  When under threat from the Turks, you don’t ask whether Timur is a decent, upstanding fellow; you’re just glad that he takes Bayezid away in a cage.  The same is true today with the voters’ attitudes towards the GOP. 

Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who had said they hoped to “leverage the Internet” to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war [bold mine-DL]. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.


Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war [bold mine-DL]. Experts say that at the time [bold mine-DL], Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.

European diplomats said this week that some of those nuclear documents on the Web site were identical to the ones presented to the United Nations Security Council in late 2002, as America got ready to invade Iraq. But unlike those on the Web site, the papers given to the Security Council had been extensively edited, to remove sensitive information on unconventional arms. ~The New York Times

Most of the hysteria on the blog right (see here for a perfect example) has been based in a remarkable misreading of what the story says.  “Hussein was a year away from a nuke” is all that these folks can see, ignoring the bit about when he was a year away from having one.  When was it?  At the time of the Persian Gulf War.  In 1991.  Not three or four years ago.  These were 15-year old plans that never came to fruition, because of the inspections and disarmament regime that succeeded in disarming Iraq substantially by 1998 just as Scott Ritter, among others, had been saying for a couple years before the invasion.  The story ought to be considered a massive embarrassment for the administration, since it shows that a government initiative to show what the Iraqis had actually helped propagate information on building nuclear weapons that was hitherto not been publicly available even to representatives at the U.N. who were briefed about Iraqi WMD programs in recent years. 

In other words, to show to the world that the great war of disarmament that had come up dry was not in vain, our government provided, to anyone who bothered to look for it, important details on building a nuke.  That does strike me as being somewhere between criminally negligent and possibly retarded.

I do think it is entertaining that the blog right has given this story such enormous attention.  It is great how they have highlighted just how irresponsible and incompetent both the administration and key members of the GOP majority in Congress really are.     

Inspired by the folks at Hotline, I thought I would have a shot at calling specific races for the House to see which ones make it into my expanded 35-seat pickup honour roll.  I had predicted only a 10-seat Dem majority (222-212) with a pickup of 19 after the Foley scandal broke, but it seems very likely to me that it will be larger than that after watching the trends over the past few weeks.

First, the easy ones: Democrats win in AZ-08, CO-07, TX-22, FL-16, OH-18, OH-15, WI-08, NC-11, NY-24, PA-10, IN-08, IN-02 and IN-09.  Dems all but guaranteed +13.

Then comes the much more competitive seats that will nonetheless be Dem-leaning seats: the Democrats win in NM-01, AZ-05, ID-01, IA-01, KY-03, MN-06, NH-02, OH-02, OH-01, PA-07, PA-06, KY-04, IL-06, FL-13, CT-02, CT-04, CT-05.  Dems very likely to get +30.

Then there are the outliers that seem harder to imagine, but which I am now thinking will fall to the Dems: NE-03, KS-02, NY-29, NY-26, NY-20.  Dems have reasonable chance of +35.

There is a lot of speculation about some of the California seats and AZ-01 flipping as well, but I just don’t see it.  There are even more wild-eyed predictions about OH-12, but I am not buying it.  So there you have it.  I will check in next week when we see how well or poorly my predictions turned out. 

Michael Brendan Dougherty tells us about the current state of dandyism and how some dandies are trying to reclaim dandyism for real men. 

The Economist is blogging the midterms on their politics blog Democracy in America, some of which just highlights the magazine’s own election coverage in the new issue, but they do also include some posts drawing on other sources, such as National Journal’s Jonathan Rauch on the virtues of divided government.  (Via Kevin Drum)  They also have an economics blogs called Free Exchange, which I’m sure all the paleos and traditional conservatives will just be rushing off to read.  

Drum, for his part, fears a Sports Illustrated jinx-like effect in the magazine’s call for Republican defeat, since The Economist often endorses the candidate/party that ends up losing.  They were tepidly for Kerry in ‘04.  But in this case I am not sure that even bad Economist vibes can keep the Democrats down this time.  Funniest thing I’ve read this week: according to Drum, The Economist has a “tiresome conservative tilt”!  No more, I can’t take it!

Rachel Morris at Washington Monthly’s election blog, Showdown ‘06, notes that Rep. Doolittle in CA-04 is once again in hot water thanks to allegations of taking a junket from nonprofits that were actually fronts for corporate interests operated by the lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group.  (Morris’ commentary is interesting, but all her links seem to be broken.)  Here’s the Post story (via MSNBC) on the Group and why Doolittle is in trouble:

Records show that the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council was funded by the Hanwha Group, a South Korean conglomerate. The stated goal was to enhance the influence of Hanwha’s chairman, Seung Youn Kim, a controversial figure once jailed for violating Korean financial law in his purchase of Sylvester Stallone’s Hollywood mansion. Lobbyists for the U.S.-Malaysia Exchange Association filed reports stating that their funds came from a Malaysian energy firm and that the work was “on behalf of the government of Malaysia.”

Federal law prohibits members of Congress from knowingly accepting overseas travel from foreign governments except as part of a cultural interchange program approved by the State Department. The travel in this case was not part of such a program, government officials said. House rules ban members from taking trips paid for by lobbyists or foreign agents. Nonprofits and their officers are prohibited under federal tax law from using a charitable organization for private commercial gain.

Once a major lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group closed down early this year. Its owner, Edwin A. Buckham, former chief of staff to now-departed House majority leader Tom DeLay, is under investigation in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, according to lawyers and witnesses with knowledge of the probe. Authorities are also reviewing Buckham’s use in the 1990s of another nonprofit, the U.S. Family Network, the sources said.

The fatal grip of Abramoff continues to pull Doolittle into an early political grave.  Will this latest revelation be enough to sink the drowning Doolittle once and for all?  We’ll see in four days.

The December Washington Monthly, perplexed as to how to handle post-election coverage when the issue is put together before the election, has articles on the consequences of both a Dem victory and GOP survival.  Notable among the latter was Mark Schmitt’s view of what would follow continued GOP control, in which he imagines the McLieberman secession from both parties to form a third party and then moots it as a preposterous alternative:

One faction of a splintered party might even lead to the creation of a third party: One can imagine McCain, if rejected by social conservatives for the Republican presidential nomination, allying with Lieberman on an independent candidacy. With the Democratic Party in crisis, and a Republican nominee markedly too conservative for the country (Newt Gingrich, for example), such a third-party ticket—made up of people who can claim they were rejected by the ideologues in both their parties—would have a superficial appeal. The problem with it is simply that it would be a very, very conservative party, not a centrist alternative at all. McCain is no moderate, and never claimed to be one. And Lieberman’s strained relationship with the Democratic Party, it has become apparent, has nothing to do with the party and everything to do with his own journey toward deep neoconservatism.

I have said more or less the same thing about McCain-Lieberman fantasies for some time.  That doesn’t stop some people from hoping, of course, but it is a bizarre thing to hope for in any case.  Gingrich will never get the nomination (consider that my first reckless prediction of the next election cycle!), and there are probably all kinds of people whom folks at the Monthly think are too conservative for the country who are only too likely to get the nomination and win in a general against a Clinton or Biden.  The only trouble is that none of them is running for President this time around.  

Hanna Rosin at Slate describes the bizarre way in which “the Christian right” has been viewed up till now:

All the election tick-tock stories hint that the drama is yet to come. Any day now Karl Rove will unlock the cages and poke the beasts out of their slumber. Any moment the right court decision, or medical ethics case, or sex scandal will have them storming the polling booths and taking back the country.  This is the zombie paradigm that has been applied to the Christian right ever since its forces entered politics in the late ’70s, and in fact for most of the century: One minute they’re dead asleep, and the next minute they’re biting your head off.  

This is a funny view to hold, but it would make a lot more sense of the sheer dread some people seem to have of politically active conservative Christians.  It does make a certain amount of sense that their political opponent would regard them as attack zombies since that is exactly how the horrendously bad ’70s remake of Night of the Living Dead depicted them.  In any case, zombies or not, Ms. Rosin claims that “the Christian right” has “peaked” and has actually become largely establishmentarian and mainstream.  Perhaps, but Ms. Rosin would do a lot better than invoking Rick Warren of Purpose-Driven Life fame and juxtaposing him with Pat Robertson, since both are as representative of “the Christian right” today as I am of New Mexican politics.

At The Plank, Noam Scheiber notes that Bush has committed to keeping Rumsfeld through 2009.  Apparently there will be no post-election recriminations and firings for this President! 

Ron Rosenbaum manages to overthink his review of Borat’s use of anti-Semitism way, way too much.  

CQPolitics has shifted NH-02 to No Clear Favourite from from Leans Republican, and notes that even in NH-01 GOP strength is waning. 

Pat Buchanan has a new article, Why the GOP Is Losing.

Fr. Neuhaus mocks Alan Wolfe’s review of David Kuo’s book and manages by the end of it to intimate not too subtly that the crowd at The New Republic is basically espousing an elaborate anti-Semitic conspiracy theory (with an anti-Catholic angle to boot).  To wit:

On the surface of things, it might appear that the threat is the religious right, composed of the great unwashed of vulgar evangelicalism. But they are only the foot soldiers manipulated by clever Catholics. And at the very center of these developments are those Jewish neoconservatives. At stake in these sinister goings on is, according to TNR, nothing less than the identity of America. And it is true that there is a long and darkly shadowed history of people who view America in terms of naïve Protestants being manipulated by devious Catholics and even more devious Jews. In the past, however, those who propounded such views did not usually go by names such as Wieseltier, Wolfe, and Heilbrunn.

Last, but certainly not least, Hotline TV has their anticipated predictions episode.  See what Todd and Mercurio have to say about the coming “wave” or whether there will, in fact, be a wave at all.

This morning I was in Armenian class, reading a part of Hrant Matevosyan’s Kanach Dashte (The Green Field), one of his shorter short stories about a mare and her foal in, well, a green field.  As often happens in Armenian stories, bad things have started to happen and there will be an unhappy ending.  My conversational Armenian is still rather weak after neglecting it all summer (which is true of too many of the languages I have studied and supposedly “know” how to speak), though my reading seems to have come back quite quickly. 

We finished Raffi’s Anbakht Hripsime (Unfortunate Hripsime) last week, which had a very unhappy ending, as the title would suggest, and which reminds us to regard all melikner and malikah with suspicion and distrust (this is especially true when the name is Maliki!).  Mi yusak ishkhannerin, mardi vortiin, vori mot prkut’yun ch’ka! (Ps. 146:3)

After a moment, he added, a bit wistfully, “Of course, I like the old Virginia, too.”

As a young man, Webb was a Democrat before he was a Republican, back before the Democrats were seen as the party of elitists by nice southern boys. After Vietnam, the political climate shifted, and a chasm opened. Part of Webb’s mission, articulated in his books and in recent interviews, is to rediscover that “old Virginia,” not necessarily the old Virginia of plantations and debutantes. ~Christina Larson

As someone who loved Southside Virginia and “the old Virginia” still represented down there when I was in college, I hope Webb wins.  Not simply to rid us of his ridiculous opponent, which would be service enough, but because he understands that old Virginia and its people at a more visceral and meaningful level than the Californian ever will.

That might be a line from Scott Johnson’s new poem about “the Minnesota National Guard unit that fired the shot heard ’round the world this week.”  That’s right, as a new day dawns, some people are still talking about the terribly clever painted banner that mocks John Kerry, while that whole business about Maliki the villain who conspires with Sadr to interfere with U.S. military operations continues to somehow elude the fine folks at Powerline (and everywhere else on the blog right).  But it’s nice to know that they can also effectively belittle the deeds of the patriots of Concord Green at the same time that they are engaged in their mock support for the military.  That’s got to be some kind of accomplishment. 

As the 19th-century Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore observed, “Every time a child is born, it brings with it the hope that God is not yet disappointed with man.” It seems the Man upstairs isn’t yet ready to cut and run from Iraq. ~James Taranto

But obviously the increased Iraqi birthrate must be proof of incipient fascism, hai na?  You have to watch those damn natalists and their frightening enthusiasm for children.  Just ask Michael Ledeen.  I leave Taranto to the mercy of God and enthusiasts of Bengali literature for the gall of invoking both God and Tagore in defense of this sordid war.  At the very least, I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of Tagore fans who think the war in Iraq is a wonderful idea. 


Bobby Kennedy would have loved him. ~Peggy Noonan

For my part, as much as I have been pushing for Santorum to go down because of his foreign policy madness, I think there is probably no worse insult to a decent, Christian man than to say that Bobby Kennedy would have approved of his politics.  Santorum may be mistaken about Iran, but he is not that bad.

That is the name of the naturalised Iraqi-American soldier being held captive in Sadr City.  As much as I hate to say anything positive about Andrew Sullivan, he has been one of the few on the right (broadly defined) to take this story seriously:

Why is this not the lead item on the news? If this were a Democratic president abandoning a U.S. soldier to a Shiite militia, do you think the Republicans would not be protesting this from the rooftops? Where is McCain? Or is this another example of what has happened to him?

It is sad that most of the people who are noticing this happen seem to be mostly critics of the administration and of the war, when it ought to be the supporters of the war who should feel more betrayed than anyone.  Opponents of the war expect the administration to commit grievous errors, but people who still support the war do so based to some degree on their confidence in the President and his claims that Maliki’s government is headed in the right direction.  Clearly, instead of being the promised source of future stability in Iraq it is an ally of the very forces of disintegration that are destroying Iraq.  We should get our soldier back and then begin preparing to withdraw in the next few months. 

Another day has mostly passed, and Maliki’s treachery in Baghdad yesterday continues to generate no reaction from such centers of Bushmania as Powerline (whose bloggers did bestir themselves to put up at least seven posts on John Kerry since yesterday).  Neither has it drawn any additional comment at The Corner since I last posted on this.  RedState even manages to kick around the John Murtha-ABSCAM story, but could not be bothered to note the remarkable story about Maliki ending the cordon of Sadr City.  lgf, ever that bastion of reasoned commentary, has nothing as well.  Our friends at Claremont manage four posts on Kerry, and zero on what is actually happening in Iraq this week.  Naturally.  Surely the impartial observers at Blogs for Bush would be shocked and dismayed that their man’s good friend, Maliki, has stabbed old George in the back!  But, no, not a word about how the far-seeing philosopher-king has been undermined by Sadr’s handpuppet.  But what about Glenn Reynolds?  Glenn Reynolds will undoubtedly be mortified by the foul treachery of Maliki.  Nope.  Nothing.  Michelle Malkin?  You guessed it–nothing.  Hugh Hewitt, always on the front lines challenging the Bush administration’s management of the war, was also strangely silent.  Iranian missile tests, vague warnings of the Lebanese government being overthrown by the Iranians and Syrians and that hi-larious poster from a Minnesota-based unit stationed in Iraq all find pride of place on most, if not all, of the blogs listed above. 

But about the abandonment of an American solider to the Mahdi Army at the behest of Sadr’s servant, Nouri al-Maliki?  Not a peep.  Any of these people who would like to be taken seriously as supporters of the actual U.S. military might ought to start taking this story seriously.  Any who want to be seen as vacuous blowhards using the military as a political prop, please continue with what you have been doing the past two days.   

Update: Credit where credit is due.  RightWingNews at least has one post on the story.  Right Truth has a longer post on the same.  JihadWatch had a post early on.  Otherwise, most of the big names on the blog right are apparently oblivious or unmoved by the story.

Second Update: Thanks to Ross for the link and the post on the right’s echo chamber.

Third Update: Powerline just added another Kerry post.  Still not so much as a word about Maliki.  I wait with breath that is bated at the prospect of their bold denunciations of Maliki.  It will be a lot more vehement and furious than their fixation on Kerry, right?  Right? 

Fourth Update: lgf is right on top of that Times story about Hussein’s nuclear weapons program dated to…1991!  That’ll show the pinko opponents of the war!  Hussein was developing a weapons program before he was…forced to disarm.  Oops.  As for what is happening in Iraq now, eto nichevo, nada, vochinch, kuch nahi, semmi, nichts, rien, nothing.  Michelle Malkin is also hot on the trail of the 15-year old nuclear weapons program, but what happened yesterday has yet to catch her attention.  Today’s OpinionJournal also has nothing on Iraq or Maliki.  But there is a column about John Kerry!  I would say I am surprised, but I’m not. 

It’s no surprise to learn, for instance, that the film-makers were often tailed by the FBI on suspicion of being terrorists. ~Anthony Quinn, The Independent, reviewing Borat


Is Naice!

It’s good to know that the authorities were hot on Borat’s trail.  The anthrax investigation?  Who cares!  But the assassin Sagdiyev was always in their sights.

It’s like listening to a cross between a Stepford wife and Jesse Jackson. ~The Economist (on Nancy Pelosi)

Monday night at a local Republican ward committee meeting at the Kona Bistro here, Schmidt responded to a friendly question about Iraq with the kind of simplistic comparison that even Dick Cheney’s speechwriters have long abandoned. “There is enormous potential there,” Schmidt began, “the kind of potential that we saw in 1776.” ~Walter Shapiro, Salon

You can’t make up stuff like that.  You could try, but it would never come off sounding as ridiculous as the genuine article.  The Salon article covers the OH-02 race’s twists and turns, giving prominent attention to Schmidt’s Murtha gaffe (where she effectively called him a coward but supposedly didn’t mean to) and her nuclear waste blunder.  It turns out that Schmidt isn’t a mean person at all.  She’s a nice person!  That’s great.  Perhaps Ohioans should relieve her of a job that requires her to be in the rought-and-tumble world of politics. 

The essential tenets of neoconservatism—belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted—are as valid today as when we first began. ~Joshua Muravchik

I suppose ideas are powerful and it’s obviously true that evil exists and must be confronted (if that is a “tenet of neoconservatism” and not a basic moral truth, my name is George Bush), but as for the rest of it these tenets are as valid today as ever, which is to say that they have never been valid and never will be valid.  Neoconservatism is built on a series of fantasies, chief among which is the universality of freedom and democracy.  This is a delusion or, for those who know better but choose to indulge in this idea, a lie.  That is really all there is to say about that.

Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can’t support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve. ~Ralph Peters

But to state an obvious truth that our system of government depends on an entire culture made up of long-tested and established habits and practices that is not necessarily transferrable to all other societies is not to be a cynic.  People with ludicrous, hyper-optimistic expectations of the impossible call people with an acquaintance with reality cynics when they are disappointed in their own unrealistic and possibly delusional hopes.  No one who really knew anything about Islam in Iraq, the tribal and sectarian nature of Iraqi society and the complete lack of any heritage of representative government and any experience upon which they could draw ever believed that the democratisation of Iraq would succeed in doing anything other than politicising ethnic and sectarian identity in a dangerously heterogeneous society and making politics a rehashing of old grievances that would end up erupting into violence when these grievances could not be addressed otherwise. 

As I wrote in February 2005:

Nonetheless, that road to unrest and violence has been made all the smoother by the direct politicisation of ethnicity, sect and religious fundamentalism. I want to stress that this is the fault of democracy to the extent that it has been allowed to exist in Iraq, and not attachment to ethnicity, sect or religion as such: on their own terms, these things are often quite good and healthy attachments, but when they become the cheap symbols and slogans of demagogues they are turned into some of the ugliest and worst fanaticism. Naturally this was unforeseen by the Bush administration, as it has no grasp of what these loyalties really mean or how powerful they really are beyond their own limited use of religion and national pride as props in their absurd performance during elections.  

I also wrote the following in February 2005 in response to Krauthammer’s infamously dismissive ”tribe or religion or whatever” crack:

I would be the last one to begrudge anyone expressing his loyalty to his people or religion, but it is also in just such a society where these loyalties are binding that mass politics is the most provocative and dangerous. It is no accident that democracies in tribal societies organise their politics along tribal lines, and also no accident that such societies are more prone to civil strife than most any other. The tribal or ethnic differences, which might have hitherto been merely facts of life and only occasionally cause for conflict, have become perpetual political boundaries about which regular contests are held. The Ivory Coast is a shining example of how democracy has ruined a perfectly stable and relatively prosperous African country by politicising ethnic groups and turning them into rivals for power.

Those of us arguing against the invasion understood this about Iraq a lot earlier than 2005.  There were those who predicted the likelihood of just this sort of bloodletting back in 2002 and early 2003, having seen the horrors of Hutu majoritarianism in action and having left the disastrous wreckage of Yugoslavia behind us only a few years before.  Anyone familiar with the history of the 19th and 20th centuries who was not an ideological democratist could not look on the introduction of democratic politics to developing nations with anything but horror at the terrible consequences that would follow.  

Such people were not “cynics” in the sense that word is usually meant; they weren’t cynics of any kind.  They were simply better informed and had a better understanding of the region that others thought, in their stupendous arrogance and hubris, they could transform by apparently doing little more than toppling a government and holding an election or two.  Freedom is universal!  Democracy for all!  If you don’t agree, you’re racist and condescending!  As we have all started re-discovering, or as some of us have known all along, some societies are suited to representative, constitutional and popular regimes, and others are not.  Full stop.  Cultural, religious and social habits create the vital foundations for any hope of successful representative, participatory or popular government, and Iraqis possess few if any of these.  This is not a flaw or moral failing on their part, though Peters gets on his high horse and condemns them for valuing attachments that all normal people throughout time have valued more highly than the institutions of a government or other idols of the democratist. 

More to the point, I would bet that many of the Iraqis do not desire such a type of regime if it would mean sacrificing or weakening their prior commitments to family, tribe, sect and religion, which, of course, a functioning mass democracy does require.  (This is why, as a conservative, I have no great love for mass democracy, because these other things are far more important and essential to the stability and health of society than whether or not the mob gets a vote every two or four years.)  Everyone likes freedom, and everyone likes the idea of an accountable, relatively just government, but how much is a given people willing to give up to have those things?  What, in fact, are those things really worth?  As it happens, most people are either obliged by duties to parents, elders or other authorities to not give up certain attachments and loyalties or they are themselves unwilling to give them up. 

In this they are far more normal and like most people throughout history than we are.  Our experience is supremely unusual and atypical.  It is something remarkably rare, like a delicate orchid, that, if we value it, must be assiduously protected and tended; it is not something that can become the monoculture of the world (if such a thing were even desirable, which it is not).  For all of the benefits that we can see in our system of government and our way of life, to a great many people who do not possess anything like either of these they appear and are freakish and horrifying.  This may strike some as hard to take (though it is probably easiest for traditional conservatives of all people to understand more fully), but I believe that is the case.  Of course you can find exceptions, people who do desire all of what we have (rather than wanting to be able to enjoy the benefits of Westernisation or democratisation without the necessary sacrifices from their existing way of life), most of whom end up emigrating from their home countries and come to the West to live the kind of life they know they will never have back home because the weight and constraints of these natural loyalties and affinities prevent it.  Of course, even those who come here cannot shake off the traditions of their fathers like so much dust.  Even emigres and exiles are defined and shaped by the traditions and place they inherited, even if they want to flee from both; in flight, they are forever haunted by their origins.  This is also why it matters supremely to the nation that takes them in what kind of political and religious culture immigrants possess, how they understand the contestation for power and influence and what their political values are.  This is more dramatically clear with Muslim immigrants in Europe, but the same thing is true of immigrants from Latin America or Asia.

“Islamic democracy” as such has succeeded nowhere; it doesn’t exist; it is a fantasy of people who know a little about democracy and less about Islam.  Democracy in majority Muslim nations has succeeded to some degree to the extent that Islam has been officially and largely removed from politics (Turkey) or to the extent that, as in a place such as Mali or Indonesia, the Islam practiced by the people is traditionally of a far more eclectic and accommodating type that would not meet with the approval of any form of Islam practiced in the Near and Middle East today.  However, Indonesia is a danger zone to the extent that Muslims in Indonesia have only experienced democratic government for eight years or so; prior to this were the dictatorships, colonial Dutch rule and then local kings and chiefs.  Whether in the future Wahhabism or similar versions of Islam take hold of a large portion of Indonesian Muslims or not will likely be one large factor in determining whether that country will succeed as a democratic state or collapse even more rapidly into conflicts among its constituent regions and ethnicities.  The entire project of the “freedom agenda” and democratisation presupposes that Islam and democracy are compatible in the Near and Middle East because of such exceptional examples.  It is a very dangerous and foolish way to go about making policy for an entire region when you take the marginal and exceptional and regard them as the model for the rest to follow.  This is to expect that all Muslims are as ecumenically-minded as Ibn Arabi rather than as strict and ”dogmatic” as Hanafi, when Hanafi’s influence is, in fact, vastly greater and always has been.  It is often an argument based in anecdotal experiences, “I met a very nice secular Muslim fellow once in college, so why can’t they all be like that?” or “I have been to Turkey a few times, and democracy seems to work just fine there!”  Yes, so long as the army is always ready to step in and depose Islamist governments when they get too, well, Islamic–that’s what I call a functioning democracy!  If the case of Turkey is not a particularly impressive one, why would anyone have expected better of Iraq (as artificial and arbitrary a “nation” as any that has ever existed, whose chief representative of secular nationalism we were setting out to overthrow)?  People with some sense never did expect anything better, which is one of the reasons why they rejected the war and why they are calling for our soldiers to return home.  Remaining in Iraq simply makes no sense, just as going there never really made very much sense (even if most of the government’s claims were true).  Bring them home.   

President Bush insists that we have no conflicts with the al-Maliki government. The president isn’t telling the truth — or he himself doesn’t support our military’s efforts. He can’t have it both ways. Bush appears increasingly desperate just to get through the upcoming elections. ~Ralph Peters

Were Clinton seemingly playing an electoral game with foreign policy (perish the thought!), the outraged cries about irresponsibility and villainy from the usual suspects would be deafening.  Were Clinton endangering American soldiers and allowing someone like Moqtada al-Sadr to dictate through Maliki where and when our soldiers can be and what they can do to maintain the facade of a successful nation-building exercise, well, I think some folks on the right would be a tad upset.  Remember the old Republican line about not letting Americans serve under foreign commands?  That was back when Republicans didn’t like peacekeeping, interventions and nation-building–no, really, it’s true!  This is not quite the same thing as that (our soldiers are not under foreign command, but Maliki acts as if he is their commander-in-chief), but it is close.  Peters, McCarthy and Rubin have so far expressed the appropriate disbelief and anger about this.  We wait for other jingoes to break out of their election-cycle administration boosterism to decry what everyone, regardless of their views of the war, has to regard as an inexcusable betrayal of trust.

Now that The Corner has finished (mostly) their Kerry-as-pinata game, they have deigned to consider the slightly pressing issue of the treacherous Maliki, a.k.a., Sadr’s handpuppet.  Only McCarthy and Rubin (the last two links) have bothered to say anything substantive. They agree that Maliki is a “disaster,” and I can entirely agree with that.  This is Mr. Bush’s chosen Iraqi prime minister; this is the man we forced Jaafari out of office to get; this is the man in whom Mr. Bush claims to have complete confidence.  Anyone care to ask the obvious questions about Bush’s judgement and policy at this point?  Keith Olbermann’s ratings spike seems to hold more importance for some.  I invite readers to compare the reaction to Maliki’s treachery to their wall-to-wall Kerry coverage over the past two days and draw their own conclusions about what seems a priority for these folks.

Update: In fairness, there were a couple links to Ralph Peters’ article, which discusses Maliki’s treachery at length and begins:

On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki obeyed Muqtada al-Sadr’s command to withdraw U.S. troops from Baghdad’s Sadr City. He halted a vital U.S. military operation. It was the third time in less than a month that al-Maliki had sided with the anti-American cleric against our forces.

Like Ross, I am underwhelmed by the “Save the Neocons” agenda put forward by Joshua Muravchik (an old member of the Young People’s Socialist League–those crazy kids!).  But right away, in the summary beneath the title, he starts off with a suggestion that will never win acceptance among his fellow neocons (who apparently really do exist–who knew?): “they must admit mistakes.”  It’ll never catch on.  After all, why start now?  They’ve never had to do it before and they and their allies have worked for one Republican administration after another. 

The question is not whether most of them will admit mistakes (they won’t), but whether future Republican administrations will be so stupid as to listen to their recommendations and appoint some of them to high office.  If McCain wins, the answer is clearly yes.  McCain has been the Weekly Standard’s dream candidate since I was in college, and he shares their reckless and obtuse understanding of foreign policy (help the Chechens! bomb Iran! let Islamists vote!).  Giuliani (if he could get the nomination, which I doubt he can), probably.  Romney, almost certainly, because he will be, like Bush, a governor whose foreign policy expertise seems to involve saying, “Islamofascist” and making growling noises about Iran.  Even with a Duncan Hunter administration (no laughing), they might weasel their way back in by talking about expanding the military and fighting to keep China British, er, American, though I would hope that Hunter would be less susceptible to their influence.   

Realists may be in the ascendant at the moment and Jim Baker is riding high, but neocons have the political street smarts that allow them to out-maneuver and crush their opposition nine times out of ten.  Realists have this funny idea that it is the soundness of policy ideas is what counts, and not how frighteningly alarmist and militarist you can sound at any given moment (for an example of the latter, see Rick Santorum’s dire warnings of Iranian world mastery and Venezuelan empire).  In the case of the latter, realists will always lose that contest.  Neocons don’t have to say that they’re sorry for what they’ve done or admit that they were wrong about anything, because the GOP has become a sort of addict dependent on them for their foreign policy “expertise” and tough talk.  This gives them the feeling that Republicans need them more than they need Republicans (which may be a mistake, but not one that they would admit), and as long as the narrative of “Bush ruined our perfectly clever intervention” prevails they will feel no reason to admit error (even though a great number of the strategic and conceptual errors in Iraq were theirs).

This will be the winter of their discontent, as almost every major position with which they are closely associated (pro-Iraq war, pro-immigration, free trade) is increasingly unpopular, so look for them to push hard to find a suitable candidate and to tear down the others.  Even if, as I believe, these elections will mark a clear repudiation of their kind of foreign policy, they themselves will escape real accountability as usual, and will return to menace us all another day.

Why use progressive instead of liberal?  Why bring back the word liberal?  Eric Alterman explains here in his bloggingheads appearance with National Review’s Byron York. 

Most peculiar claim (for me) was Alterman’s remark that liberalism is largely “pragmatic” and conservatism is “much more ideological.”  York raised no obvious objections to this characterisation.  Does this make any sense according to a traditional conservative understanding of ideology and Kirk’s description of conservatism as “anti-ideology”?  Discuss. 

A new survey–albeit by a left-leaning polling firm–shows Democrat Scott Kleeb 6 points in front of Republican Adrian Smith after beginning the race 33 points down, according to the poll by Penn, Schoen & Berland of Washington, D.C.

It’s a shocking statistic for a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 2 to 1.

Jamie Karl, spokesperson for the Smith campaign, says the poll’s numbers are skewed but admits, “We’ve known the gap was closing for some time.” The news has spurred an about-face by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had previously extended little more than long-distance advice to the Kleeb campaign. Smelling victory within reach, the DCCC has surprised many political observers by devoting already stretched resources to the district to run TV ads for Kleeb, which began this week.

The wrangle in Nebraska mirrors surprisingly tight contests in other Republican strongholds in the western prairies and Rockies, such as the Wyoming at-large seat once occupied by Vice President Cheney and Idaho’s First Congressional District. In both races, polls show Republicans leading by razor-thin margins.

While many Republicans are suffering from a national mood that has soured because of the war in Iraq and a series of GOP-related scandals, Kleeb has gained traction by hammering Smith for his ties to Club for Growth, which advocates ending agricultural subsidies. Like many other Democrats running for office in conservative districts, Kleeb tacks to the right on lightning-rod social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. ~U.S. News & World Report

If Bush is coming to Nebraska to help Smith, Smith must be in real trouble.  If Kleeb wins, which I now think is entirely likely, it won’t matter how big “the wave” is elsewhere.  The humiliation of losing a seat like NE-03 will be as strong a sign of repudiating the GOP as if they had lost fifteen seats in the Northeast, because it will mean that they were repudiated by their own traditional voters and not by energised Democrats and disenchanted moderated.

The big issue is Iraq, but the core problem with suburban voters is not the decision to go to war; it’s the White House’s reaction to the mess afterward. As Robert Lang, the superlative suburban specialist at Virginia Tech, notes, when people mess up a project in an office park, there are consequences. But Donald Rumsfeld never gets fired. Jerry Bremer and Tommy Franks get medals.

This is not how engineers and empirically minded managers behave. The people in these offices manage information for a living, and when they see Republicans denying obvious trends, or shutting out relevant data, they say to themselves, ‘’Those people are not like me.'’ ~David Brooks, The New York Times

As I keep banging away in my posts about voting, being able to identify personally in some way with a candidate is crucial to that candidate winning a voter’s support.  If Brooks’ suburban engineers and managers see serial incompetence and a commitment to not hold anyone accountable for his area of responsibility, do they sit out or flee to the other side en masse?  If they see Mr. Bush openly praise Don Rumsfeld for the “fantastic” job he and Cheney have been doing six days before the election, do they have to suppress their gag reflex?  In a strange way, the relatively underreported praise of Rumsfeld (and Cheney) may be as harmful to Republican electoral prospects as Kerry has been to the Dems.  Voters may think to themselves after hearing the praise for Rumsfeld, “Yes, Kerry is a buffoon, and I loathe him, but Bush and his administration are almost certifiable in their blindness to reality!”  These suburban engineers and managers Brooks refers to may think to themselves, “If I had screwed up a project this badly, I would never work in my field again.  Depending on what happened, I might be put in jail!” 

This will make them as angry as history students were when Doris Kearns-Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose were able to get away with blatant plagiarism–something that would have ended a student’s career in a heartbeat–and continue to be fairly popular and acclaimed authors.  There is basic injustice and viscerally-felt wrongness to Rumsfeld’s continued tenure at Defense that everyone can sense and understand.  Everybody in the private sector (or even in academia, supposed haven of unrealistic nitwits) knows that in their jobs such failure would never be tolerated, much less would the failure be openly praised as if he were God’s gift to humanity (oh, wait, Rumsfeld can’t be God’s gift to humanity–that’s universal freedom’s job!). 

But not everyone thinks Bush’s praise is so crazy.  If you are Michael Novak and Mario Loyola (who is also more Hinderakerian than Hinderaker in his Bush-love), your main disagreement seems to be just how fantastic Rumsfeld is.  How bad was the Rumsfeld love-fest?  Even Ledeen had to beg off and call for a time out (though he was objecting more to minutiae of Rumsfeld’s management style rather than his very large, glaring failures).  I swear I cannot understand the thinking of people who see Rumsfeld as one of the greatest War/Defense Secretaries of all time.  I do not jest.  Novak: “I call Donald Rumsfeld the best Defense Secretary the U.S. has ever had.”  I am not sure this can be understood by the mind of rational man. 

It goes beyond partisanship into some hyperean region of delusion where most men cannot reach.  To reach it you must unlock the door of reality with the key of imagination.  Beyond this door is another dimension–a dimension of deafness, a dimension of blindness, a dimension of mindlessness.  You’re moving into a land of both spin and shallowness, of both party hacks and shills.  You’ve just crossed over into…The Corner Zone! 

Separately, but no less absurd, Mr. Bush offered this gem today:

“Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words,” Mr. Bush said, “and our troops deserve the full support of people in government.”

The consequences of words?  Yes, people in positions of authority should choose their words carefully!  You wouldn’t want people to get the wrong “misimpression.”  Do these carefully chosen words include words like “stuff happens,” “you go to war with the army you have,” “freedom is messy,” “stay the course,” “bring ‘em on,” “Islamic fascist,” “axis of evil,” “reconstituted nuclear weapons program,” “this is based on solid intelligence” (Powell), “we had our accountability moment,” ”we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” ”Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job,” “Islam is a religion of peace,” “I’m pleased to be here with Don Sherwood,” “I believe a gift from that Almighty is universal freedom,” “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”, “these are the birth pangs of a new Middle East” (Condi), “democracies don’t war,” “we have different routes of getting to the Almighty” (Bush on Christians and Muslims), “it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century”?  Of course not.

One last note of comedy: David Brooks, who obviously could not have taken account of Mr. Bush heaping praise on Rumsfeld, writes in his column today that part of the post-election Iraq effort would involve firing Rumsfeld.  Whoops!

On the lighter side of blogging today after all of the terribly grim Kerry and Iraq news, I thought it was about time for another dose of Rani Mukherjee.  Here she is in the number Kangna Re from the amusing Paheli.  Grimly serious blogging will resume later on.

Al-Maliki’s decision exposed the growing divergence between the U.S. and Iraqi administrations on some of the most crucial issues facing the country, especially the burgeoning strength of Shiite militias. The militias are allied with the Shiite religious parties that form al-Maliki’s coalition government and they are accused by Sunni Arab Iraqis and by Americans of kidnapping and killing Sunnis in the soaring violence between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority.

Sadr City is the base of the country’s most feared militia, the Mahdi Army, which answers to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Sadr’s strongly anti-American bloc is the largest in the Shiite governing coalition and was instrumental in making al-Maliki prime minister five months ago.

At midday Tuesday, al-Maliki issued an order setting a 5 p.m. deadline for removal of the U.S. checkpoints. A senior U.S. Embassy official said later that al-Maliki told U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, in a meeting Tuesday that the checkpoints should be lifted.


Sadr City residents celebrated both the flexing of the Shiite government’s clout and what they saw as a concession by the United States.

Children cheered. Drivers honked horns as they bounced into Sadr City on newly cleared streets. Pickup trucks full of young men sped down the district’s main roads. The men waved red-and-green banners of Sadr’s movement.

“We are very happy they lifted the barriers by the orders of Maliki the prime minister,” said Ali Saedi, who was selling falafel at a storefront as crowds celebrated into the night.

“It’s a good stand, to give orders to the Americans and the Iraqi army,” Saedi said. ~The Chicago Tribune

The Democrats are deeply flawed and they don’t deserve to win a national election, but a Democratic capture of Congress would be a good thing. I don’t begrudge anyone voting for a third-party candidate in this or any other year, but on November 7 we can celebrate a Democratic victory because the Republicans will have received a much-deserved comeuppance. It is not everything but it is something. It should be enough to make conscientious Americans happy for at least a little while.

There is not a lot of justice in this world but every now and again the mighty pay a temporal price for their wickedness. As a young Jewish mother-to-be said two thousand years ago, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones” (Lk. 1:51-52). We need not have any illusions about the nature of the instrument used to punish the Republican Party. It will be enough that it pays a price for its greed, dishonesty, and violence. ~Jeff Taylor

I interviewed [Bruce] Frohnen on my radio show recently and found it more appealing still. He lamented what he called “Wal-Mart conservatives,” by which he meant people who worship at the alter [sic] of the “cheapest price,” and the utilitarian values of the market right generally. He expressed dismay with the Bush Administration on everything from foreign adventures to his imposition of federal standards on local schools and the diminution of local control.

His dismay was akin to that of many on the decentralist left when the Clinton Administration stumped for corporate globalism; and when his “liberal” appointees to the Supreme Court voted to affirm the power of local governments to use eminent domain to kick people from their homes and give the land to Wal-Mart.  (That’s “public purpose”?)   There is congruity here, if not outright convergence.  It would be a stretch to call a Russell Kirk a commoner, or a father of them.  He had too much of a patrician quality, too much distrust of the rabble.

Still, someone who is a friend of Wendell Berry and Ralph Borsodi, and hangs with the thinking of Jane Jacobs and E.F. Schumacher, is sniffing around the right tree.  When was the last time we heard a Democrat in Washington invoke such people?  Those of us who are concerned about reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth [bold mine-DL], have got to stop heeding ideological stereotypes.  There are allies out there. ~Jonathan Rowe

Mark Shea pointed out Mr. Rowe’s smart discussion of the important agrarian and conservationist figures who appear in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (ISI, 2006) and the possible points of contact between what I take to be his green/decentralist left view and an authentic conservative (which includes the decentralist right) one.  Mr. Rowe also refers to his surprising discoveries at Crunchy Con, so he would probably also have an interest in the figures lauded in Bill Kauffman’s book Look Homeward, America and the related blog Reactionary Radicals.  Better still, he would find a treasure trove of conservative thought on all of these important themes of local community, conservation, agrarianism and more at Chronicles, which is a superb magazine regardless of whether you agree with its politics or not.  The gentlemen (and a few ladies) there have been blazing the trail on these and other vital questions for 30 years now, and I think it is fair to say (although I am biased as an occasional contributor) that they continue to get better as time goes by.  Speaking of Wendell Berry, whom Mr. Rowe mentions, Chronicles had a fairly lengthy interview with him in the 30th Anniversary issue of the magazine this past summer (July 2006), where he said:

There is a kind of alliance in this country of people who want to take care of things–children, dark nights, the land, architecture, forests, ecosystems, rivers, and so on.  I don’t know the degree of competence there is in this movement.  I don’t feel much assurance that we know how to take care of much of anything over the long haul.  But the sense that things need to be taken care of is growing, and it’s a good thing. 

That description of an alliance is strongly reminiscent of the description from The End of the Modern Age of the ideas of the patriots mentioned as one part of the opposition that Prof. John Lukacs sees between nationalists and patriots (cited by Caleb Stegall at Crunchy Con):

Our “conservatives” care not for the conservation of the country, and of the American land. Yet: more than tax policy, more than education policy, more than national security policy, more even than the painful abortion issue, this is where the main division is beginning to occur. So it is in my township. It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live. (Landscape, not wilderness. The propagation of wilderness, the exaltation of “nature” against all human presence, is the fatal shortcoming of many American environmentalists.) Beneath that division I sometimes detect the division between a true love of one’s country and the rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people; between the ideals of American domesticity and those of a near-nomadic life; between privacy and publicity; between the ideals of stability and those of endless “growth.” 

With respect to those divisions, it seems clear that traditional conservatives and Mr. Rowe’s folks would very likely on the same side.  An ideal of stability, not of endless “growth”–surely, that is what conservatives should want to pursue.  Real growth is natural and needs only good soil and wise gardeners to encourage it; it is not hastened by the unnatural hyperactivity of endless consumption and acquisition.  

That idea Mr. Rowe mentioned of “reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth” sounds excellent to me, and it sounds very much like a major part of what conservatives should be trying to do.  In fact, that is what conservatives do (allow me to explain), and those who do it are conservatives, though they may not care for the label and may never have heard of Richard Weaver.  Those who fail to do that but talk a lot about conserving this or that may be sympathetic to many conservative appeals and may well incline in the right directions most of the time but have yet to fully become living conservatives and conservators of a living tradition, living way of life (and I must plead guilty to being lacking in some respects in being the latter) and a specific place to which they are bound by time and fidelity.  Still others who can make quips about immanentising the eschaton but either a) don’t really understand what that means in the real world or b) don’t live as if they understand what it means are in worse shape yet. 

As Jeremy Beer observed in the recent American Conservative symposium, “What Is Left? What Is Right?” the localist, historic preservationist, conservationist and community values that should be hallmarks of conservatism are embodied instead in civil associations that are not self-consciously conservative and tend to align themselves with a different part of the spectrum all together.  Mr. Beer outlines who these people are and he then cites the example of Kirk the local patriot as inspiration:

The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.

Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.

Mr. Rowe mentioned being surprised at the inclusion of Bryan in ACE, but there is really nothing all that surprising about including a latter-day hero of the Country party in a conservatism that can proudly embrace the Antifederalists, Agrarians and Bradford in its tradition.  But, then, you would never know that these people form an important (some might even say central) part of that tradition if your acquaintance with conservatism was limited to the main magazines and talking heads of the last ten years.  Conservative enthusiasm for Bryan and the Populists is not necessarily universal even among traditional conservatives (though I think almost all would readily prefer him to McKinley or T.R. given the choice), but where that enthusiasm exists it is powerful indeed.

If there are tensions between patricians and commoners here, this should be less troubling than might seem necessary, because decentralists across the conventional spectrum tend to affirm many, though certainly not all, of the same basic political, social and economic goods and share many of the same assumptions.  Men of backgrounds as diverse as Harrington, Bolingbroke and Chesterton understood the importance of widely distributed real property, resistance to the concentration of wealth and opposition to the consolidation of power as all being essential to the preservation not only of liberty but also, more importantly, the preservation of humane and stable community life. 

Update: More Jeremy Beer (again via Caleb at Crunchy Con) on the history of conservationism among conservatives, the obstacles to the potential future green-conservative alliance and the beginnings of a possible way forward:

You might not know it from the exhibit tables at most conservative gatherings, stacked as they are with explicitly anti-environmental flyers, articles, and books, but America’s conservative movement was once intimately linked with conservation. The influential conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote warmly about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was published in 1962 and frequently held forth on the dangers of pesticides, the protection of endangered species, and the preservation of farmland. In fact, a near-apocalyptic tone suffused the environmental writing of many conservatives during the first decades after World War II. So, how did we get from there to where we are now, with environmentalists firmly established as the favorite whipping boys of conservative intellectuals, pundits, and politicians?


… This issue is particularly important to Christians, whose faith counsels a sacramental vision of nature and opposition to the hubris underlying the modern economy and its institutionalized disregard for the care of God’s creation. “You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility,” writes Wendell Berry.


However, the environmentalist movement itself must deal with its own confusing and contradictory alliances with the left. As John Lukacs has written, Greens are often the self-made prisoners of their leftist and anti-establishment inclinations. They are split-minded: traditionalists and anti-traditionalists at the same time. They want to conserve the land, and they are opposed to the inhuman progress of bureaucracy, automation, technology. In that respect they are conservatives, in the proper, larger-than-political sense of that word. Yet at the same time they favor abortion, feminism, unlimited immigration, nomadism—at the expense of the traditional family, of traditional patriotism, of traditional humanism, of the traditional respect for rights of property.


Who knows? Perhaps Greens would not have been driven to embrace such allegiances if conservatives had not abandoned their conservationist roots. The crowd that forms around Lukacs whenever he speaks to young audiences is an encouraging sign that someday soon, there may be a conservative movement that is dedicated to healing that schism.

Ironically, the two major black marks often cited against Eisenhower — the CIA’s overthrow of leftist leaders Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala — are undeserved. The Cold War was on, and Ike was justified in blocking rising communist influence in these two countries, even if critics now say he overreacted. ~Max Boot, The Los Angeles Times

Now I know that history is not Max Boot’s strong suit (though he certainly likes to talk as if it were), but must we be subjected to this?  If there had been any real and considerable communist influence in Iran in 1953, Ike would have possibly been justified in checking it.  As some have understood for a long time, and as more are becoming aware, Mossadegh did not represent any such thing.  Since 1953 was little more than toppling a democratically elected Iranian government because of its dispute over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s holdings and installing a reliable dictator who would guarantee British interests and the oil supply, I can’t say that he gets off quite that easily.  It may have been the case that toppling Mossadegh was still the right thing to do to secure strategic U.S. interests, but it is not at all obvious.

But perhaps more objectionable than whitewashing 1953 as a good act of anticommunism, which every good Republican learned to do from the time he was knee-high to a statue of Churchill, is the downright bizarre part where he says that Eisenhower “presided over” the Suez crisis and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  He was President at the time.  That part is true.  But does Boot expect us to blame him for doing the right thing (objected to the aggression and latter-day imperialism of the allies in Suez) and the prudent thing (not going to war with the USSR over Hungary) respectively? 

It is very easy for us to sit here 50 years after the fact and declare that we should have gone to war over Hungary.  I am part Hungarian, and I sympathise tremendously with the patriotic heroes of 1956–the wrongdoing was to ever give them any hope that we would support them, when there was never a realistic chance of that happening.  If Eisenhower erred with Hungary, it was by making ludicrous promises he could not keep–on that, and that alone, Boot is right.  In other words, Eisenhower was wrong to do even as much as he did for the cause of rollback–a telling admission from someone who subscribes to something fairly similar with respect to U.S. policy in the Near East.  Yes, Eisenhower did run on the rollback platform.  Thank God he recognised what a mistake such a platform was when the real test came.  Had he stuck to that policy, in spite of all the good reasons why he shouldn’t, a massively devastating war could have followed. 

Boot’s misreading of Eisenhower’s Suez response is worse.  The “odious thug,” as Boot calls him, was at the time of the Suez crisis a potential American client dictator (happily, we had no significant problems, real or rhetorical, with such clients back then) and, if brought into the orbit of the West, would have been a powerful bulwark against Soviet penetration of the Near East.  There was also the small matter of international law and the U.N. Charter–the Charter we were upholding officially when we and the U.N. (no laughing, please) defended South Korea only a few years before.  It would have been the height of hypocrisy and double standards to invoke international law against a war of aggression in 1950 and then turn around and ignore it six years later when our allies were doing the attacking.  Eisenhower justified his opposition to the attack specifically in terms of the integrity of international law.  If this was “misguided” anti-colonial sentiment, what would rightly guided anti-colonial sentiment be? 

Obviously, Max Boot, neo-imperialist and “hard Wilsonian” (don’t call him a neocon!) has no problem with wars of aggression or ignoring international law, so for him the solution in Suez, 1956 would have been clear.  For Eisenhower, who was actually responsible for policy in 1956, the opposite response was equally clear and he considered it just as necessary.  The context in which the man made the decision is very important.  In the 1950s, in the age of decolonisation and Third World nationalism, it was not yet the misguided policy of the U.S. government to identify every nationalist and independence movement with international communism.  Eisenhower was attempting to keep these new nationalist regimes from all falling under Moscow’s influence.  Opposing latter-day colonialist invasions seemed to be pretty obviously central to that goal.  That we proceeded to deviate from this approach rather spectacularly in Vietnam is obvious.  

Eisenhower’s responses to these crises greatly outweigh his blunders elsewhere, and bear the mark of a true American statesman who was considering America’s just interests.  Was he a “near-great” President?  I have my doubts, especially on domestic policy (though not for the reasons Boot gives), but he certainly deserves better than to be ridiculed by the silly man who longs for khaki and pith helmets and the domain that rules over palm and pine.


Mario Loyola seems to think that the official confirmation that Iraq is going to hell (which everyone who can read already knows), as shown above, constitutes the ”propagation of strategic national secrets in wartime.”  Here’s a hint: none of this is really that much of a secret, except perhaps to the administration, one of whose prominent members (no prizes for guessing who it is) continues to claim, for instance, that the Iraqi government is doing ”remarkably well” or, as George Will noted, that he “thinks” talking about the insurgency being in its “last throes” last year might have been “premature.”  No, rather than face up to what everyone else can see for themselves (or is it another one of those sinister “media realities” created to “hurt” Mr. Bush?), Mr. Loyola hints that maybe the slide was doctored by the Times, presumably to make things seem worse in Iraq than they “really” are.  All that’s missing is the de rigueur complaint that the media are not reporting the “good news” from Iraq, and we could just as easily be c. 2004. 

But for some reason I thought that it was the media that was stuck in the “reality-based community” and it was the Empire that created its own reality–isn’t it interesting to see how it is now the former who are supposed to have become the illusionists, weaving a fantasy (and committing treason to boot!), while the administration has its feet firmly planted on the ground.  How fortunate for the rest of us. 

So: an American soldier is abducted and held in Sadr City, the Army sets up a cordon in an effort to force the soldier’s release, but then meekly gives in when Maliki orders them to. This whole situation seems tailor-made for Democrats in an election year: Why have we abandoned an American soldier? Why are we letting Maliki give orders to U.S. generals? Who’s in charge over there? ~Kevin Drum

Whether or not it is “tailor-made” for anyone in a political context is irrelevant, though it is not an illegitimate thing to bring up as a serious question during the election.  It certainly is relevant that a lot of the “fake outrage” the Derb noted over the Kerry flap comes on the heels of what must appear to almost all as a bizarre case of the U.S. military being told what to do by a foreign government (which is in league with one of the death squad/militia leaders) when it comes to combating the very militias and death squads that are bringing Iraq to its knees and in an attempt to free one of our own soldiers from captivity.  It does not really matter whether Maliki made the wisest tactical decision here (though I disagree with Drum that it was probably the right move).  It was not his call to make.  We can pretend that Iraq’s government is free and independent all we like, but there is a simple reality: either Sadr dominates that government, or America does, and if Sadr can dictate what our forces do we may as well bring them home.  Which has been my point, expressed in various ways and for a number of other reasons, for some time now. 

If my reputation were tied to the ever-deepening fiasco that is Iraq, I would want to make a lot of noise about how John Kerry insulted the troops and draw attention away from the astonishing decision to seemingly abandon an American serviceman on the say-so of an Iraqi politician who is apparently not much more than Sadr’s puppet.  I await the cacophonous din of some real outrage over this from the same people who are so livid about Kerry.  Why do I think that I will be waiting for a long while? 

It certainly seems appalling to me that things have reached this point.  If this is what is meant by the Iraqis’ “standing up” and our “standing down,” I don’t think the public will want any part of it.  Why are Americans risking their lives for a government that evidently will not inconvenience itself politically to support operations designed to retrieve one of our soldiers?  What possible value to America can such a government really be?  Why should one more American give his life in defense of it?  The Republicans don’t really have an answer for that, do they?  Hence there is a lot of talk (much of it sincere, I think, as far as it goes) about their respect for the troops and even more talk (possibly sincere, but also misguided) about their adversaries’ alleged lack of respect, while they acquiesce in the same bad war that is getting too many Americans killed for what seems to be very much like nothing. 

Which is more scandalous: a stupid gaffe or a pointless war?  Which is more insulting to our troops: John Kerry’s pathetic rhetoric or letting Maliki order our soldiers away from Sadr City where one of their comrades-in-arms is held captive?  I acknowledge that a lot of people evidently took Kerry’s words badly, and I understand why they did, but if ever there was an inane tempest in a teapot this is it.  There really are more pressing questions at hand, and if we were already ashamed to have elections turning on things as ridiculous as macaca and Mark Foley we will be absolutely humiliated if we allow this flap to dictate the election.  If it does, the triviality and absurdity of democratic government will have been confirmed decisively.  

Update: The only mention today of anything to do with Iraq itself (and not what John Kerry did or didn’t say about Iraq) at The Corner was this link to Ralph Peters without commentary.  The Kerry-a-thon continues unabated.  Obviously, no mention of Maliki, Sadr City or anything else actually relevant to the fate of actual soldiers in Iraq.  Soldiers’ feelings, however, have been well taken care of.  Glad to know we all have our priorities straight.

Where a reasonably impartial press (tilting only slightly left) used to be, there is now only a passion to hurt a president in a time of war, the most dangerous war in our history. Republicans will be voting against the left-wing media, the left-wing courts, and the whole culture of the Left. ~Michael Novak

Yes, the “left-wing press” that is busily annihilating John Kerry is doing all it can to swing the elections for the Democrats.  Look, everyone knows that liberals are predominant in most major news organisations, news networks and newspapers.  (People who are left-leaning seem more inclined to go into journalism, and the practice of journalism seems to pull people to the left in many cases, though this was not always the case.)  It is overwhelming and obvious.  But even as they are making the most out of GOP woes, they did not create those woes or the reasons for them. 

Speaking of the elections themselves, perfectly professional election-watchers have been predicting potential disaster for the GOP for a year.  Now that the disaster is upon them, it doesn’t surprise me that some of the party loyalists are whistling past the graveyard and talking about left-wing conspiracies.  Now nobody can really tell the political leanings of the folks over at National Journal because they are professionals who analyse political trends and poll data, and they have all been predicting various versions of doom for the Republicans for a very long time.  But they, too, must be in on the plot, since they are making some of the most frightening predictions of GOP doom. 

This reality of electoral trouble is not a left-wing plot.  It is not a “media reality,” as Novak calls it.  It is a reflection of what some people might call democracy, perhaps even self-government to some small degree, in which the wretched ruling party is cast down by the voters as a consequence of its wretchedness.  Manifestations of this democratic process here in America are, of course, always offensive to democratists and fans of “democratic capitalism” when they threaten their side’s power.  This is why those who tend to be keenest on promoting democracy elsewhere are horrified to see it break out in “populist” form here, because they know perfectly well that they, the democratists, will not last long in a country where populism and some measure of real self-government obtain. 

If Americans really believed we were in the “most dangerous war in our history” (which is a mockery of the destructiveness and danger of the War of Secession and WWII), and also believed that Iraq had something to do with that war, they would be foursquare behind Bush in spite of his colossal mistakes.  The administration and its hangers-on have plainly failed to convince us that this is the reality, try as some might to terrify us with truly dire warnings of Venezuelan bases in Bolivia (no, not Bolivia!) and Iranian plans for world conquest.  It might be that people who believe we are in the “most dangerous war in our history” are deeply, impressively wrong about the extent of the threat, and that the rest of us are not being oblivious and are not “sleepwalking” or sticking our heads in the hand.  That we are not in such a war, and that a majority no longer sees Iraq as vital to that war, is a testament to the public’s ability to grasp basic reality long before it becomes accepted pundit wisdom.  Because the public feels confident that we are not in quite the state of emergency that some alarmists seem to think we are in, they feel quite comfortable to hold the government accountable and chastise those who have failed them. 

I thought I had a certain lack of respect for the discernment of the average American voter and his choices over the years, and I have certainly said my fair share on the inanities and evils of democracy (that’s right, evils, of which there are many), but these folks put me to shame in their contempt for the people themselves.  Aristocratic Bolingbrokean reactionaries, in whose tradition I may be said to follow, were many things, but they never hated the people or disrespected them so much as some of these people seem to do now.  Rather, they believed that the consolidation of wealth and power and the rule of money were injurious to both the people and the aristocracy alike; they were anti-democratic because they considered democracy ruinous to the people, and anti-liberal because liberalism was a delusional fantasy.  (They were right.)  But just watch how the cheerleaders of democratisation and “democratic capitalism” scorn all the signs of their own repudiation in their delusional arrogance that they still represent the interests of the people. 

Judicial tyrants have certainly given them a convenient scapegoat this year, but just pore over some of the more obnoxious election appeals and watch how they insult the intelligence and common sense of the voters.  For Tony Blankley, if conservatives abstain from voting GOP they would be as stupid as if they responded to GOP abuses by eating excrement.  For Rick Santorum, to fail to vote for him is to usher in the apocalyptic age of neo-Hitlerism replete with masses of Venezuelan soldiers seizing the commanding heights of Andean passes and looking down hungrily on the plains of Argentina and the jungles of Brazil!  (How any of this would even remotely be our concern is one of those things that no one ever bothers to explain–don’t Argentina and Brazil have rather large populations and their own armies?)  For Michael Novak, should the predictions prove true, the people will have bought in to a left-wing propaganda circus designed to “hurt” Mr. Bush.  Rather than regarding this as an excellent example of the press finally doing some small part of its job in checking an abusive executive, Novak sees it as treachery.  Only praise is meet for the emperor.  In all this, he allows monomania on pro-life questions to excuse all else that the GOP has done–not because they have actually done anything, but because they have said all the right things (for the most part).  One wonders just how much misrule such people would be willing to tolerate for the sake of an abstract commitment to defending life that is rarely, if ever, put into practice.   

To watch these people mock the public’s likely preferences in this election as just so much muddle-headedness and left-wing manipulation is infuriating.  As is often the case with democratists, it is not the actual functioning of accountable, elected government that they admire, but the advantageous political end-result that works in favour of them and their interests.  Thus, this year, the result is coming out wrong and so they must either berate the nation for its stupidity (Blankley) its lack of awareness (Santorum) or, in this case, simply deny that it is going to happen–because there is no way that the nation would be so stupid or irresponsible as to vote out the glorious Republicans who have done so much for us all.  The drive to hold Mr. Bush and his party somewhat accountable for what they have done is described here as an attempt to “hurt” the President, as if checking an abusive executive was a heinous assault rather than the proper functioning of our system of government.   

I’m a Christian, a writer, a military parent and a registered Republican.

On all those counts, I was disgusted by an e-mail I just received that’s being circulated by campaign supporters of Republican George Allen, who’s trying to retain his Senate seat in Virginia.

The message goes like this: “First, it was the Catholic priests, then it was Mark Foley, and now Jim Webb, whose sleazy novels discuss sex between very young teenagers. … Hmmm, sounds like a perverted pedophile to me! Pass the word that we do not need any more pedophiles in office.”Democrat James Webb is a war hero and former Marine, wounded in Vietnam and winner of the Navy Cross. He was writing about class and military issues long before me and has articulated the issue of how the elites have dropped the ball on military service in his classic novel Fields of Fire. By the way, that’s a book Tom Wolfe calls “the greatest of the Vietnam novels.” ~Frank Schaeffer, Dallas Morning News

Via Rod Dreher

Mr. Schaeffer goes on to explain how, in spite of longtime personal and family ties to the party, he and his wife have left the GOP.  Good for them.  Down with Allen.

Note to the Republican pols: when you’re losing the Frank Schaeffers in this country, you’re doing something really wrong.



Why do they keep attacking decent people like Jim Webb- to keep this corrupt lot of fools in office? Why can’t they just admit they were sold a bill of goods and start over? Why do they want to remain in power, but without any principles? Are tax cuts that important? What is gained by keeping troops in harms way with no clear plan for victory? With no desire to change course? With our guys dying every day in what looks to be for no real good reason? Why? ~John Cole

Via Kevin Drum

I don’t agree with every particular of Mr. Cole’s indictment, but I agree with most of it (though I am not, and never have been a member of that party), especially about the attacks on Jim Webb.  I think quite a lot of Reagan Republicans who signed on back in the ’80s would be inclined to agree.  Though I don’t share his view that “religionists” are among the main culprits, I share his bewilderment with respect to the government intervention in the Schiavo case.  In the end, I am left wondering much the same thing about those who still want to defend this party with its current record: why?

No matter who he meant the dumb folks were, the idea that smart college kids become dovish Dems is a powerful sub-text in Kerry’s remarks. ~Stanley Kurtz

In the great Whit Stillman classic, Barcelona, Fred and Ted are walking along the street talking about literature and, after being told about subtext, he asks Ted, “Okay, so that’s subtext.  But what about what’s above that?  What’s above the subtext?”  Ted says, “That’s the text.”  It would seem that some people are having so much fun reading the subtext of Kerry’s remarks that they are no longer able to see what is above the subtext. 

What were Kerry’s words of warning?  They were: “If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”  Not, “you go to war with Iraq,” but “you get stuck in Iraq.”  The idea here is not that smart people become antiwar (which is readily disproven by all kinds of intellectuals and supposedly high IQ people who are warmongers and interventionists–the more people think they know about the world, the more willing they are to try to fix everything), but that Bush’s ignorance, intellectual laziness and his and his administration’s complete failure to prepare for the post-war phase have all contributed directly to the present mess in Iraq, in which the United States is assuredly “stuck.” Further, the idea behind the “joke” would be that someone who actually knew something about Iraq (”I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” said the philosopher-king Bush when presented with the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite), the region and what would be required to stabilise the country after the invasion would have done a better job.  That claim is controversial in a way, because it assumes that Iraq could have been done “well” and it was only Bush who screwed it up, which I think is a mistaken assumption–but it is one widely shared on left and right.  No wonder Republican flacks have been hurrying to read an entirely different meaning into those remarks, because the indictment of administration incompetence and the President’s own rather shocking ignorance of the region he would transform are both substantially correct and are plainly devastating to the GOP. 

The “powerful subtext” was not that smart or educated people become doves (in fact, all surveys I have seen indicate that preference for interventionist foreign policy rises in direct correlation with formal education and is lowest among those with the least education, which seems to show that formal education is doing something horrendously wrong), but that ”Bush is a stupid, colossal blunderer,” and you’ll notice that very few people are running to say the contrary.  Hence all the caterwauling about how the troops have been maligned–because otherwise they would have to defend a bungled war that killed over 100 American soldiers last month that was unnecessary and which was poorly planned and mismanaged by none other than Mr. Bush.  In the Bush Era, it is so much better to feign respect for the military while wrecking it than to actually show respect for it and treat it accordingly. 

But he wasn’t.  He may regard them with contempt (my personal impression is that JK regards most of the human race with contempt); he may despise them; he may think they’re dumb crackers;  but T-H-A-T-’-S  N-O-T  W-H-A-T  H-E  S-A-I-D.

What he said was:  “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Who is stuck in Iraq?  Not the common soldier, who just does a tour of duty, as Kerry himself knows from (sorry to bring it up) experience.  Who’s stuck in Iraq?  George W. Bush is stuck in Iraq.  That was the point of Kerry’s joke.  Which he botched.  No fair-minded person, watching Kerry deliver those lines, could think otherwise. ~John Derbyshire

If the Derb is right, and I think he is, what can it say for all of the legions of Republican loyalists and pundits that the first thing that leaped to their minds was, “This is an insult to our troops!”  Granted, it was one of the worse, “Bush is a moron” jokes of our time, but doesn’t the reaction to this strike anyone as being as strained and incredible as the Democratic reaction to the alleged miscegenation references in the anti-Ford ad in Tennessee?  People hung up on race and racism see references to race even when they aren’t there, as they did in that ad (the ad was sleazy and asinine, not racist); people who assume that Kerry was talking about military personnel…well, perhaps their respect for the soldiers isn’t quite what it should be if they automatically assume that references to poor education have something to do with soldiers.  At the very least, it seems clear that everyone went into ideological overdrive the minute someone possibly said something questionable about “the troops”–rather than pay attention to what was said and what the clown intended to say, they picked up the worn-down refrain, “That lousy liberal insulted the troops!” because they know they have nothing else to say.  That said, would someone just make John Kerry go far, far away where he cannot bother anyone?  Perhaps Mars?  (But, then, what has Mars ever done to us that it should be punished in this way?)   

So Kerry is a buffoon (we already knew that) and the worst comedian on earth (we assumed as much), but how desperate and bereft of any positive appeal do these people have to be that they are literally thanking God for delivering them something, anything, that can distract voters from the war and the failures of this majority and this administration?  How worthless must the argument for their retaining a majority be that they are so thrilled to finally have some political oxygen for their worn-out cliches about how they are the party of national defense and national security?  They cannot thrive on the merits of their own record, which is an appalling record, so they must have a hate-figure to rally against, and no one serves this role better than the ridiculous, the preposterous, the unbelievably obnoxious John Kerry.  People who fall for this and re-elect the GOP deserve whatever they get.