Eunomia · December 2006


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A friendly critic, some years ago, told me that Chronicles could never succeed, because, although we are often right, we are right much too early. To have spoken about the Islamic problem a few days after September 11 made you look like a prophet. We had been warning about the danger for over 15 years. We were also right about the significance of the Balkan conflicts, immigration, and multiculturalism, but we were always so far ahead of the curve that, on every issue, we went through the same cycle: initial ridicule, a brief instant of respect, then a dismissive ”Oh, everybody knows that now!”

The saddest issue on which we have been proved correct is the war in Iraq. We said, from the beginning, that the evidence did not justify an invasion, and, that even if it did, the result would be a quagmire of violence and chaos from which it would be difficult to extricate ourselves.

By now, even Bill Buckley knows we were right. What did we know that was not available to Don Rumsfeld and the neoconservative chickenhawks who egged him on? In one sense, nothing; in another, everything. It is often not technical information we need in order to make up our minds about a political issue, but historical and moral understanding. Our “reading” of Iraq was derived from the study of history going back to the postcolonial formation of the country, to the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, all the way back to the ancient Sumerians and Assyrians of Mesopotamia.

Today, virtually everybody knows. Even the Dallas Morning News has conceded the truth:

Prior to the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, a small but vociferous faction of paleoconservatives and foreign-policy realists argued that the United States was careening into catastrophe. Some argued from prudential grounds that attacking Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve. Others argued from traditionalist conservative convictions about the nature of men and societies that it was delusional to think that America could, by force of arms, impose liberal democracy on a nation that lacked the cultural and institutional capability for it. These thinkers were not only ignored, but some were anathematized from the right as unpatriotic.

As the writer who headed the list of David Frum’s “unpatriotic conservatives,” I am entitled to brag, on behalf of my colleagues. America needs Chronicles, if only to inject a little musty old-fashioned air into our national debates. If you have already made a gift this Christmas season, please accept my thanks. If you haven’t yet sent a contribution, please help us to keep the voice of conservative sanity on the web by clicking here. All donations to ChroniclesMagazine.org are tax deductible, so don’t delay. ~Thomas Fleming

I cannot urge everyone strongly enough to contribute to the support of Chronicles‘ website.  It is one of the very few voices of sanity available online, and it is to my mind quite clearly the best and most insightful commentary written in this country.     

Schumacher’s greatest achievement was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world. The wisdom of the ages, the perennial truths that have guided humanity throughout its history, serves as a constant reminder to each new generation of the limits to human ambition. But if this wisdom is a warning, it is also a battle cry. Schumacher saw that we needed to relearn the beauty of smallness, of human-scale technology and environments. It was no coincidence that his book was subtitled Economics as if People Mattered.

Joseph Pearce revisits Schumacher’s arguments and examines the multifarious ways in which Schumacher’s ideas themselves still matter. Faced though we are with fearful new technological possibilities and the continued centralization of power in large governmental and economic structures, there is still the possibility of pursuing a saner and more sustainable vision for humanity. Bigger is not always best, Pearce reminds us, and small is still beautiful. ~Description of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful.

Clark Stooksbury, Jeremy Beer and (I suspect) many others familiar to us all from our Crunchy Cons and Look Homeward, America adventures earlier in the year will be assembling next month for the group blog about Mr. Pearce’s new book, whose name it bears: Small Is Still Beautiful.

Hart has always held certain views outside of the conservative mainstream. An advocate for stem-cell research, Hart debated another National Review editor on the subject in 2004. Early in 2005, Hart wrote a long editorial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “The Evangelical Effect.” Finding fault in Bush’s evangelicalism—in 2000, Bush declared that Jesus Christ was his most influential political philosopher—Hart wrote: “The Bush Presidency often is called conservative. This is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.” ~James Panero (via Supreme Fiction)

Mr. Hart has done fine work eviscerating the follies of the Bush administration, and his denunciations of the ideological turn of the administration, the GOP and the conservative movement have been very much on the mark.  There was a great deal of chest-beating at NR over Mr. Hart’s Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he both criticised pro-life enthusiasts and ridiculed the Iraq war as Wilsonian madness.  (There was far more to the op-ed than these two things, but these were the points that seem to have received the most comment.) 

I have always assumed that the thing that most offended them was not his attack on pro-lifers but his hostility to the war in Iraq.  Under the “new fusionist” dispensation, there are important ”issues” and then there are fundamental, unquestionable truths: among the latter is the truth that the Iraq war is necessary and good and proper.  To use the word Wilsonian in a disparaging way in the context of discussing the war in Iraq is to have placed oneself among those dissident conservatives who still remember what conservatism is and what they believed before 2001.  It is the sort of thing that irritates war supporters on “the right” to no end, because it reveals how deeply indebted they are to the foolishness of liberal internationalism for their foreign policy views, and I take it as almost certain that it was this that brought down the intense criticism of Hart’s op-ed rather than anything he might have said one way or the other about abortion. 

Hart’s op-ed did also elicit strong reaction over his somewhat cavalier treatment of opposition to abortion (in which he rather unimpressively cited vague irrrepressible “social forces” on a matter of fundamental moral principle), and in his disdain for evangelicals one often gets the sense not so much of a High Church man whose mind boggles at the shallowness of Enthusiasm but of a Northeasterner who finds people from much of the rest of the country rather drab and miserable yokels whom we should ignore as often as we can.  But he did make one excellent observation in his remarks on abortion that deserves to be quoted here: “Simply to pull an abstract “right to life” out of the Declaration of Independence is not conservative but Jacobinical.”  This is quite right.  I would extend that to much of the “rights” talk that pervades the American right today.  However, since large numbers of people who consider themselves conservative routinely pull abstract rights out of the Declaration of Independence (and who denounce as relativist or historicist those who object to this idiocy), it is a protest that will most likely confuse or annoy its target audience. 

In any case, it has been the war that has separated him most sharply from the crowd at NR and the ideology that now infests the movement more broadly.  If there is one sentence that might sum up the modern Republican Party and the conservative movement, it is that they would sooner prefer causing death abroad than protecting life at home.  If someone like a McCain or a Giuliani should somehow miraculously win the nomination in ‘08, my impression of the priorities of conservatives will have been confirmed absolutely. 

But where Mr. Hart has been devastating in his critiques of the administration and modern conservatism, he makes some remarks, such as the one quoted above, that seem to me to make no sense.  What can it mean, for example, to call Mr. Bush’s politics populist?  Radical of a sort they certainly are, but to call someone radical may or may not be an indictment of him–it is the quality and nature of the roots to which one returns that determines whether his radicalism is wisdom or insanity. 

But in what sense is Mr. Bush is a populist, and how does he advance any kind of populism?  Whether we are speaking of a kind of rightist populism that focuses on national identity, relative economic self-sufficiency, defense of the American worker and a foreign policy of non-entanglement and neutrality or the old American (conservative) populism of agrarian protest in the 19th century or the aristocratic brand of populism of the Opposition in Britain in the 18th century or the leftist populism of redistribution and socialism re-emerging in Latin America, there is no kind of populism that matches Mr. Bush’s politics (except insofar as the word populism is used rather the way some people use fascist by people from the coasts to disparage the politics of someone else with no regard to content or meaning).  Mr. Bush is a liberal patrician who actually favours the interests of the Northeastern elite and who embraces a heady mix of hegemonic nationalism that expresses itself in terms of a universalist ideology.  His politics are radical in the pursuit of ideological clarity, and they are also autocratic and imperialist.  He has nothing but contempt for actual populist opposition to mass immigration, free trade and activist foreign policy, to name a few examples where what benefits the people and what the people desire are equally uninteresting to him. 

He is a Brahmin with a twang, and for some reason a great many people have bought into the twang and the folksy spiel while ignoring what the man says and does.  This is a serious mistake, and it reinforces Mr. Hart’s assumption that all populism is contrary to his kind of conservatism, which is probably why he says his kind of conservatism is anti-populist.  Certainly, if I thought Mr. Bush was a populist of some kind I would want to be an ardent anti-populist, but he isn’t one and no fair definition of a rightist populism could confuse it with the sort of ideologically-driven and flatly unpatriotic policies pursued by the present administration.  To call Mr. Bush populist is to bring discredit on actual populists, which mainly benefits precisely those few whom Mr. Bush actually serves and represents.

The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power. ~Matthew Continetti, The Weekly Standard

This is a pleasant fiction, at least where Democratic party leadership and elected representatives are concerned.  This claim about being a “peace” party is most true of Democratic House members, who are necessarily a little more representative of grassroots sentiment, but even here it is not terribly convincing.  Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold, bless their politically irrelevant hearts, continue to hold the only real antiwar positions of any remotely prominent Democrats on the Hill.  Pelosi talks a good game as far as Iraq goes, but she was foursquare behind every Clinton intervention and has no principled qualms about power projection or intervention as such.  She opposes the Iraq war (feebly), but that’s all.  In practical terms, the two parties converge far more often than not on foreign policy.  This is what drives progressives and traditional conservatives alike crazy.  Were there actually a clear partisan division over America’s role in the world, there would be no question that all non-interventionists would flock to the major party that represented them.  There is no such major party.   

This supposed divergence only holds up at all when you compare supporters of the two parties.  As the November 2005 Pew poll, which I discussed last year here, showed, support for interventionism tended to rise in direct proportion to a person’s wealth and education.  (This tells me that people who have many of the advantages in life are shockingly bad judges of the national interest, and it would be worth investigating why this is the case.)  Support for an interventionist role was even more directly correlated with a person’s party affiliation and self-described political leanings: Republicans and those who considered themselves conservative or very conservative were considerably more likely to reject the idea that America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”  In other words, most of the people calling themselves conservative on a fundamental question of the American role in the world rejected the conservative and traditional American view.  As with so many other things, I suppose they are entitled to take whatever position they believe is best, but I do get awfully tired of their sullying the good name of conservative in the process.   

However, as the poll showed, at least 22% of conservatives and 27% of Republicans did agree with the statement that America should mind its own business internationally (compared with 55% of Democrats).  That is a clear minority of the GOP, but a sizeable one that a real non-interventionist party could possibly steal away.  But the Democrats cannot pursue a dedicated non-interventionist line without sacrificing a huge portion of their own support.  The Democratic base is almost evenly split down the middle.  Mr. Continetti’s “great divide” goes right through the Democratic Party (and through the GOP to a much lesser extent), not between the two parties themselves. 

Mr. Continetti rests much of this divide on attitudes towards the Iraq war, which is highly misleading.  Many of the current opponents of the Iraq war on the left (or, more accurately, those who support withdrawal from Iraq on the left) are not particularly opposed to the projection of American power and some were not even opposed to the invasion.  John Murtha is famously one of the most “hawkish” of Democrats, and it seems unlikely that Jim Webb is reflexively hostile to interventionism.  Kucinich distinguishes himself as the only probable ‘08 contender who actually supports withdrawal sooner rather than later.  Conservative and other interventionist Democrats oppose a particularly badly run and pointless war that is damaging the armed forces and wrecking America’s reputation.  In this they are increasingly joined by internationalist and realist Republicans who are nothing if not interested in maintaining American superpower status and protecting Washington’s bloated definition of what constitutes our national interests.  The foreign policy establishment has started to turn on the war not because they are giving up on projecting power, but because they see it as a liability that prevents the government from being able to project power around the globe.  The complaint from many Republicans now is not that there are too many commitments but that there are too few military resources to match them.  Any desire to liquidate the Iraq war in these quarters is fuelled by a desire to maintain America’s ability to project power and to answer the “real” threats from Iran or some other bogey conjured to frighten us into still more war.  

In some sense, non-interventionists might benefit from the Iraq war’s continuation as it grinds away at the public’s patience and wears out their tolerance for idiotic foriegn policy, but for good or ill non-interventionists are not nearly so cynical as some of their adversaries in the foreign policy debate.  Unlike them, we are not indifferent to the costs and damage their wars do to this country, and so we would sooner see them ended even if their continuation might destroy support for interventionism for a generation.  Unfortunately, there is scarcely any political leadership that represents our view.  A sharp partisan divide over foreign policy would be a refreshing change, but it is one for which we will still have to wait a very long time. 

Chait asserts that “any new libertarian voters the Democrats attracted … would cost them support,” but here he is clearly wrong. According to data analyzed by David Boaz and David Kirby, Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2006 did 24 percentage points better with libertarian-leaning voters than they did in the midterm elections of 2002. These findings are corroborated by the strong Democratic gains in New Hampshire and the interior West–areas of the country where small-government leanings are prevalent. Yet, even as Democrats improved their standing with the “economically conservative, socially liberal” crowd, they increased their overall national vote share as well. So much for the idea that gaining ground with libertarians is doomed to be a net vote loser. ~Brink Lindsey

Proponents of the “libertarian swing vote” theory (Boaz and Kirby) and proponents of a liberal-libertarian alliance are awfully crafty in the way they use evidence.  They ignore the intervening election of 2004, which would show that 2006 represented a stabilising and hardening of “libertarian” support for the GOP.  There are those classed as libertarians by these Cato studies who tend to drift towards the Democrats, but their numbers are limited and they form a clear minority of the voters classified as libertarians. 

Advocates for the “swing vote” or the alliance then make vague references to New Hampshire and “the interior West” without ever explaining why a party’s success in these places equals support for libertarian social or economic policies.    There is an assumption that libertarian voters helped make Democratic success here possible, but I feel fairly sure without having looked terribly closely at any state-by-state vote tallies that the people voting for the new Democratic House and state legislature representatives in New Hampshire were not those Cato might define as libertarians but were instead “centrist”/”independent” voters whose mass defection from the GOP fits the national trend.  In “the interior West,” it is difficult to believe that there really are as many libertarians (very broadly defined) as some seem to think.     Did AZ-05 and AZ-08, for example, flip because of a great defection of libertarians, or for other reasons entirely?  I suspect that the more you dig into the specifics of each Democratic victory in “the interior West” you will find very few libertarian-themed campaign pitches that brought them the win.  

Going from ’04 to ‘06, did libertarians defect in greater or smaller numbers from the GOP than other blocs of voters?  Clearly, they defected in smaller numbers.  In part, this was because no one was trying to persuade them to defect.  On the other hand, no one was trying to persuade them because their policies are actually unpopular across the country (hey, everybody, let’s have mass immigration and free trade!) and the voters Democrats could most easily poach are conservative populists.  The vague outline of a liberal-populist alliance at least has a slight plausibility to it when it comes to some aspects of economic policy, and if Dobbsian Democrats could drop the fetishes of cultural liberalism and cease antagonising these same voters they would win far more support than if they joined hands with libertarians in, say, selling out the country with amnesty.   

This brings us back to the biggest swindle of them all: the equation of libertarian with “economically conservative and socially liberal.”  This is a definition fit for the DLC or the Concord Coalition, not the Cato Institute.  It is an attempt to claim the broad middle as the natural libertarian constituency.  This is a clever PR move, but it has no connection to reality.  Using this definition makes appealing to libertarians seem politically desirable for both parties, but this is to treat libertarian voters as some sort of floating centrist vote that, according to Cato’s own studies of their voting behaviour (even accepting Cato’s over-generous enumeration of how many “libertarian-leaning” voters there are), they simply are not.   

Mr. Lindsey’s claim that populism is a loser on the national stage is a tried and true spiel favoured by the two party establishment and those who support the consensus politics on trade, immigration and foreign policy.  (Note that foreign policy, the main area where a liberal-libertarian alliance is most natural and most obvious, is the one Lindsey avoids like the plague because, when it comes to the Iraq war, he is as libertarian as I am Buddhist.)  Populism has been a loser on the national stage when prosperity was widespread, economic insecurity was minimal and wages were not stagnant.  When economic insecurity and anxiety rise and wages do not, populism often succeeds.  When government seems to be failing and out of control, populism succeeds.  In 2006, minimum wage hikes succeeded in referendum after referendum–obviously, some populist measures are quite popular.  Ross Perot, one of the most ridiculous presidential candidates ever, got 19% of the vote nationally.  That was the fruit of sheer populist frustration, much of which he frittered away with his general battiness and poorly run campaign.  If one party or the other could reliably count on those Perot voters or people like them in every cycle, it would become the virtually permanent majority party.  “Libertarian-leaning” voters possess this kind of power only in their wildest dreams. 

The Reagan coalition was built by very intelligently exploiting the patriotic and socially conservative impulses of the famous Reagan Democrats–the Jim Webbs of yesteryear–and diverting their economic populist frustrations into hostility against a hostile cultural liberalism that was seen (by these voters at least) to be sapping national resolve in foreign affairs and dissolving the nation’s moral integrity.  Now that the GOP has gone insane on foreign policy, these people no longer feel that they belong in that party and they are remembering that they have little love for the long-time ally of the corporations.  While it may discomfort some of our friends, such as Dan McCarthy, Jim Webb’s victory announcement that he had also always been concerned with ”economic fairness and social justice” as well as deeply outraged by the Iraq war was a sharp reminder that a competent, patriotic foreign policy combined with some degree of economic populism together make for a tremendously powerful appeal to people like Webb.  Reagan and his allies even managed to make fundamentally libertarian economic policies feel populist by casting tax reductions in terms of giving people their own money back (which also had the virtue of being true), and it is largely so long as libertarian economic policy seems to be working to the benefit of the middle class (and not principally to corporations) that its unpleasant side-effects are tolerated.  Libertarians take the side of free trade and mass immigration, to name two prominent examples of egregiously pro-corporate and unpopular policies, at the cost of their own political marginalisation.  The party or political coalition that can mobilise populist sentiment on both trade and immigration will frequently come out ahead.   

As we New Mexicans dig out from under our unusual four inches of snow today, the world continues on much as it has done, which is to say it is heading off in strange directions in defiance of all common sense.  Preposterously, our governor, Bill Richardson, is contemplating a run for the White House and has been gladhanding all over New Hampshire for the last few days.  I now understand what Arkansans must have felt in 1991 looking at the prospect of their own ridiculous governor, also named Bill, taking a stab at the big time.  The difference is that their governor actually had some outside chance of pulling it off.  Ruben Navarette recently opined that Richardson would make a great candidate (provided that the mean, old nativists don’t get him!).  Just look at his record!  Indeed, let us look. 

He has managed to be elected twice as governor on the Democratic ticket in a state where Democratic registration outpaces Republican at a rate of at least five to three.  He is a Hispanic governor who has won election in a plurality Hispanic state.  His previous electoral experience was as the effectively unchallenged Congressman from the Third District in the north of the state where, between jaunts to Haiti and North Korea on diplomatic do-gooding (where he did very little except pose for the photo op afterwards) in the ’90s, he did nothing.  Then he was made Ambassador to the U.N., a post previously held by such political giants as Alan Keyes and Madeleine Albright, where he very capably did nothing (14 years in the House had prepared him well).  Following this tour of glory, he became Secretary of Energy, where he was fortunate enough to preside over the greatest security scandal in the Department’s history as the massive security lapses at LANL, essentially in his own backyard, became public knowledge.  Sen. Byrd famously declared his political career dead in a committee hearing, but Bill has never been one to pay attention to what other people said.  After his colossal failure and screw-up of management on his part, he scurried on home to become the big fish (no fat jokes, please) in our very little pond.  Now he would like people to ride useless trains to Raton and fly spaceships from our “spaceport”–all of it, I am sure, at no cost to us.  He would also like us to give him supreme power.  I suggest that we ought not to try that. 

He has faced competition less challenging than Barack Obama has.  The New Mexico Republicans put up the sacrifical offering, er, candidate of John Sanchez in 2002, who had only just knocked off the then-NM House Speaker Ray Sanchez (no doubt counting on the confusion of the last names to work in his favour among Valley voters) and who then went down to ignominious defeat in the gubernatorial race.  This year the GOP had a no-name nominee who didn’t particularly want to bother with campaigning, so the party had to replace him mid-year with John Dendahl, long-time party operative and former chairman, who managed to barely get the registered Republican vote and nothing more. 

On the basis of such “victories,” Bill Richardson claims his place in the sun as a viable presidential contender, as if he had ever won a seriously competitive election or fashioned a political coalition more lasting than the food on his plate.  As holder of the Guinness world record for most hands shaken in a day, he is the ultimate flesh-pressing con-man and he will also certainly go nowhere in the primaries, try as the national media may to make him into a serious candidate and “the only Hispanic candidate for the nomination.”

In other news, The Wall Street Journal today profiled Vladislav Surkov, the half-Chechen deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin and former ally of many prominent oligarchs, who could win the contest for Most Neocon-like Russian hands down.  In the profile, stories of his demonisation of domestic opposition as “true Nazis” and his belief that all critics of the Putin regime seek the “destruction of Russia” have an eerie familiarity to them.  The campaign against Dmitri Rogozin, in which Rogozin was tarred by state-run television as a “racist and fascist” is Frumesque in its mendacity and opportunistic use of such charges.  It’s almost enough to make a paleo feel sorry for Khodorkovsky and his ilk–almost.  One of the great mysteries of our day is why the neocons constantly laud Mr. Bush as a defender of freedom when he often runs his administration in Putin-like ways while they despise Putin and his allies for running Russia in much the way they would like to govern this country.  True enough, they sympathise with Putin’s enemies and do desire to undermine and weaken Russia for hegemonist reasons, so their contempt for Putin is based to some degree in the realities of power politics and to some degree in their sheer Russophobia.  Nonetheless, the irony of the apologists for autocracy in this country resenting Putin’s autocratic methods is really too great to ignore. 

Also worth mentioning is the fact that Peter Suderman has taken over Jeremy Lott’s blog for the time being.  Michael’s blog, on the other hand, seems to have temporarily vanished. 

It is something of a compliment for Eunomia that my unexplained cessation of blogging for four days has caused some of my faithful readers to question whether I am, in fact, still alive.  (Then again, it may be a sad commentary on the regularity of my blogging that some assume that only the sweet release of death would keep me from giving my opinions on current events and other matters of interest.)  Rest assured that I have not vanished from the face of the earth or crashed my car into a tree.  I am back home in New Mexico for Christmas (on a slower Internet connection), and travel and family gatherings have drawn me away from regular blogging for the last few days.  The coming of (New Calendar) Christmas and other work will probably take up most of my time this week, so blogging will be very light.  I regret that some of the most active conversations in the comment threads have been happening during my trip, as they all seem to be very good and spirited, but it was unavoidable.

It is good to see that my absence from blogging has not dulled interest in Eunomia.  I would also like to thank Ross Douthat for his kind mention of one of the points in my recent post on libertarians and the GOP on bloggingheads during his latest sparring session with Matt Yglesias.  I will have a post here and there on news items and commentary that strike me, but I must first take care of some academic conference-related work and some things I am working on for ISI.  Perhaps later this week, when most of this is out of the way, I will be able to post a little more often.

In the new Newsweek poll, 48 percent of Americans say they want U.S. forces home within a year; 67 percent want them back within two years. A scant 23 percent believe they should stay “as long as it takes to achieve U.S. goals.” ~Harold Meyerson

If Washington gossip is right, even many of the president’s own advisers in the White House and the key cabinet offices have given up on success. Official Washington, the media and much of the public have fallen under the unconscionable thrall of defeatism. Which is to say that they cannot conceive of a set of policies — for a nation of 300 million with an annual GDP of over $12 trillion and all the skills and technologies known to man — to subdue the city of Baghdad and environs. Do you think Gen. Patton or Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and said, “I give up, there’s nothing we can do”?

Or do you suppose they would have said, let’s send in as many troops as we can assemble to hold on while we raise more troops to finish the job. If the victory is that important — and it is — then failure must be unthinkable, even if it takes another five or 10 years. ~Tony Blankley

This is where the wisdom of the old Powell Doctrine comes in.  An important part of that doctrine, in addition to the ”clear exit strategy” element, was a high degree of national consensus about taking military action.  There was never really any deep, abiding consensus about the need to invade Iraq.  Americans were in an irrationally angry mood, and if Mr. Bush had decided that we needed to invade Switzerland he might have managed to get a bare majority behind him.  One would have pointed out in vain that Switzerland was neutral.  “You’re just an apologist for those cheese-eating financiers of terrorism!” the war supporters would have shouted at you. 

Support for the mission was always inversely related to the level of difficulty.  When it was all supposedly going to be a “cakewalk” and “doable”–at no cost to you, as a classic expression of government deception might have it–there was a broad majority in favour of the war.  As it has become an intractable internecine conflict among Iraqis with no clear way out and no definition of victory beyond euphemisms and recycled talking points from 2003, public support has plummeted to an astonishingly low 21%.  I don’t think the wildly unpopular Korean War, where tens of thousands of Americans died, ever had such low levels of support.  Mr. Bush keeps wanting to embrace the mantle of Truman, and he may well achieve Trumanesque levels of public contempt.  Obviously, in this political environment, the answer is not an insane commitment to do whatever is necessary even if it takes ten years, because the public simply will not stand for it.  In a representative government, some of us still operate on the assumption that public opinion should have some significant part in deciding our future policy. 

Committing to a potentially 10-year war policy that obviously has no broad support right now is ludicrous.  This from someone who has the gall to sniff at the unrealistic views of foreign policy realists!  Try to keep the war going for five more years (you can forget about ten), and things here at home could start to get really ugly.   There is nothing more unrealistic than believing that Americans will tolerate a continuation of this war much beyond November 2008.  Two years is the maximum amount of time Mr. Bush has to get out of Iraq, regardless of what is happening there.  The Washington crowd has studiously avoided much mention of a “timeline” or a “deadline” for withdrawal, but the people have already set that deadline for them.  Two years from now, a full two-thirds of the people (and probably more by then) will demand an end to the war.  The smart policymaker will keep that in mind as he tries to think of how we extricate our soldiers from Iraq–it is getting them out of Iraq that is the main priority and the thing that should most concern people in government.  

Washington does not have five years to make the Iraq war a success: in two years, if it should come to that, the Iraq war will be over five years long.  The American people will have given the government five years to accomplish what they said would take a matter of months.  The powdered elite of Washington in the media and government alike should get down on their knees and thank the people for their patience with elite incompetence across the board.  What we will we hear instead?  The last remaining war supporters will shout abuse at the weak, immoral and “isolationist” American people who have “betrayed” them.  I hope that the people will treat such contempt with the scorn it deserves.    

Sometimes, current tactical logistical weaknesses must not be used as an excuse for, or a signal of, strategic failure. In 1861, newly elected President Abraham Lincoln faced such a dilemma over the siege of Ft. Sumter. He had decided to ignore his military advice to surrender the fort. While the final published version of his explanation for this decision in his July 4, 1861 Message to Congress did not reflect his personal anxiety in coming to that decision, it might be useful to President Bush to read Lincoln’s first, unpublished, draft — which did reflect his mental anguish as he tried to decide. All his military advisers, after due consideration, believed that Fort Sumter had to be evacuated. But Lincoln’s first draft read:

 

“In a purely military point of view, this reduced the duty of the administration, in this case, to the mere matter of getting the garrison safely out of the Fort — in fact, General Scott advised that this should be done at once — I believed, however, that to do so would be utterly ruinous — that the necessity under which it was to be done, would not be fully understood — that, by many, it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy — that at home, it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its foes, and insure to the latter a recognition of independence abroad — that, in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated. I hesitated.” (see “Lincoln’s Sword,” pp 79-80; by Douglas Wilson).

 

Lincoln was alone in the self-same rooms now occupied by George Bush. All his cabinet and all his military advisors had counseled a path Lincoln thought would lead to disaster. He was only a month in office and judged by most of Washington — including much of his cabinet — to be a country bumpkin who was out of his league, an accidental president. Alone, and against all advice he made the right decision — as he would do constantly until victory. ~Tony Blankley

By “disaster” in this case, of course, Mr. Blankley means the peaceful severance of the Union, which is a disaster only to friends of consolidation and nationalism, and by “right decision” he means the decision to plunge the peoples of America into bloody slaughter for four years.  What the modern parallel might look like is not exactly known, but there will be one grim similarity: a considerable number more Americans killed for a bad cause in a war that should never have been started in the first place. 

Refusing to heed people who know what they were talking about (or who at least know more than you do) and going with your gut is not a sign of great leadership.  It is a sign of willful pride and folly.  Pretty clearly, Mr. Lincoln made the wrong, provocative decision that brought on a worse crisis.  If Mr. Bush has ever ignored anyone’s advice with the kind of bullheaded stubbornness that only he can muster, this is the advice to ignore.

As the world seems to overflow with Obamaniacs and everyone who can put two words together seems to be chanting his name (no middle name, please), Dave Sirota seems to be just about the only person on the left who isn’t buying the snake oil.  In another anti-Obama post, he manages to find the few lines of substance in Obama’s speech in New Hampshire.  After passing by the lame happy-talking points, Mr. Sirota zeroes in on Obama’s substantive pitch, which, in time-honoured fashion, is education.  He’s for it.  Perhaps he also loves puppies.  Mr. Sirota is having none of it:

Yes, it is the Great Education Myth - the idea that if we only just made everyone in America smarter, we would solve outsourcing, wage depression and health care/pension benefit cuts that are the result of forcing Americans to compete in an international race to the bottom. As I wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, this is one of the most dishonest myths out there, as the government’s own data shows that, in fact, all of the major economic indicators are plummeting for college grads. You can make everyone in America a PhD, and all you would have is more unemployed PhD’s - it would do almost nothing to address the fact that the very structure of our economy - our tax system, our trade system and our corporate welfare system - is designed to help Big Money interests ship jobs offshore and lower wages/benefits here at home.

Mr. Sirota is making sense here.  There has never been any sense that Obama is in any way a big “reformer” in the way that progressives use that word, which is also why he is treated as more acceptable in spite of his perfectly left-liberal voting record.  He is in so many ways a conventional, predictable Illinois Democrat, but with fewer of the rough edges and (for the most part, as far as we know) not much of the sleaze that goes with it.  He plays at being a “change” politician, when the main thing he apparently wants to change is his current job for a more powerful one.  He will therefore say nothing terribly radical, nothing threatening, and absolutely nothing interesting–certainly not to his progressive fanbase and not to anyone else, either.  His current book is misnamed: there isn’t actually anything all that audacious about him, except that he seems to have the presumption that he could seriously compete for the presidential nomination.  He might call his next book The Blandness of Optimism.  He presents voters with the political equivalent of a cream puff, minus the cream, which doesn’t leave much.  Not only is he functioning as an empty vessel for progressive and antiwar hopes, but he also increasingly appears to be an empty suit.  A charismatic empty suit, yes, but an empty suit nonetheless, which is perhaps the worst imaginable combination. 

Oh, yes, and he wants to bring people together.  No more divisive politics!  He’s a uniter.  He’s building a bridge, or filling a breach, or something.  How’d that work the last several times people went for it?  This shows that Obama the Idealist is mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors: his idealism is a belief in generic idealism, which will bring people together and “move our country forward.”  Forward towards what?  He replies: “Who cares, as long as we’re moving and I’m the one behind the wheel?” 

It would appear that democracy promotion remains at the heart of the foreign policy vision of at least a few neocons.  Though you might have thought that Iraq (or Lebanon or Palestine or Iran or Bolivia or Venezuela or Bahrain, etc.) would have seemed to show it as a terrible goal for U.S. policy and a source of danger to U.S. interests, the death of the former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, has reminded them that advancing a policy that directly contradicts U.S. interests (as democracy promotion clearly does) is absolutely vital.  No surprises here, since neoconservatism is first and foremost not about securing American interests, but is interested in using America as a vehicle and a springboard for their revolutionary and power-acquiring goals. 

Here is part of Frum’s post:

For even if there were no US fingerprint on the gun that killed Allende, the episode left behind an enduring resentment and mistrust, a not easily effaced blot on American advocacy of democracy and freedom. The suspicion generated by Chile lingers in Latin America - and through the world - to this day. The US helped Italy and France to beat back even more virulent communist parties in the 1940s and 1950s without violence and dictatorship. Was there really no hope of doing the same in Latin America in the 1970s?

All credit to the Reagan administration for rethinking its axiomatic anticommunism and working to oust Pinochet after 1984. Credit above all to Elliott Abrams, then assistant secretary of state for Latin America and the leading advocate of the anti-Pinochet policy.  

On the cost side of the ledger, consider one prominent example of what Carteresque/neocon support for democracy abroad encouraged: the overthrow of the Shah, resulting in a bloodletting every bit as nasty and cruel as what took place in Chile.  I find myself under the impression that the neocons regard the 1979 Iranian fruits of encouraging domestic political opposition against an authoritarian government as less than desirable.  What can I be thinking?  Another glory of advancing democracy might include the new South Africa.   

No one seriously defends the atrocities of Pinochet’s regime.  They were abominable, and Chileans–not some farce of an international human rights posse–should have held him to account for what he and his regime did.  It is interesting that he does not bring up the brutal and corrupt rule of Alberto Fujimori, who was a harsh despot with only the veneer of democratic legitimacy but also someone who delivered his country from the potentially much worse despotism of the Shining Path.  Had there been a similarly strong push to oust Fujimori in the name of dread democracy, Peru would almost certainly be worse off today.  As it is, the absurdity that is democracy has restored the failed Alan Garcia to power, whose tremendous ineptitude and weakness allowed the Shining Path to flourish in the first place. 

Many conservatives still do, quite rightly, see Pinochet as a preferable alternative to what probably would have been instituted in Chile.  How you see Pinochet is probably closely related to how you see Franco.  If you think Franco a fascist who should have been defeated rather than made into an ally after the war, as at least a few neocons and hangers-on seem to do, Pinochet probably seems equally unacceptable.  If you think it better that a right-authoritarian government that eventually gave way to a more liberal political system won instead of a shaky facade of a democratic republic that masked leftist dictatorship that would have likely spilled still more blood and ruined the country, Pinochet looks like the lesser of two ugly options.  Those who think Hugo Chavez is a legitimate ruler because he is elected will be in the anti-Pinochet camp, and those in the anti-Pinochet camp will be hard-pressed to find reasons to speak in favour of the failed coup attempt against Chavez.  

If the fate of nations and actual people does not concern you terribly, but only the spread of dreadful democracy at whatever cost to those nations and those people, and if U.S. interests are at best secondary, backing or tolerating Pinochet seems like a bad move.  If it is revolutionary ideology that interests you instead, Pinochet was clearly an embarrassment and a liability–how can the global revolution move forward with Pinochet hanging around our necks? 

Should Pinochet have been more Caesar and less Sulla?  Yes, he should have.  Should we, because of Pinochet’s failures and our loose association with his crimes, therefore promote a form of government that is virtually guaranteed to create illiberal democratic despotisms and populist authoritarian dictatorships in various corners of the world?  Well, if we reasoned like small children (Pinochet was a cruel despot, therefore we should promote democracy…even if it empowers worse despots!) we should do exactly that.  If we instead considered the probable outcome of the policy, we would never again utter the word democracy again in the context of foreign policy, except possibly to discourage it.  Instead, Frum opines:

These days Wolfowitz and Abrams are out of fashion, and Kissinger and Nixon are back in vogue. But if those who thought like the first two had exerted more sway in the 1970s and 1980s, and those who thought like the latter less, America’s reputation would shine more brightly today.   

It’s fun how he speaks of this in terms of fashion, as if it were a product of the changing of the seasons rather than a direct consequence of the magnificent failure of neocon delusions.  No, this year, realism is simply in!  Wolfowitz and Abrams have just been pushed aside by a finicky public–it isn’t that their avowed policy has brought shame and ruin upon us.  This is because, I suppose, the second round of the Wolfowitzian approach has instead burnished and added to the glory of the name of the United States. 

I suppose when the national reputation is in flames, it does give off a certain illumination.  In the dull flickering of the fire that daily consumes our good name and the lives of American soldiers, you can just make out the neocons running off into the darkness to hide from the consequences of their actions and policies.

Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla (TX-23) lost his run-off election.  I believe that makes for a nice even 30 lost seats this year.  Nothing like kicking the Red Republicans when they’re down. 

Perhaps now Mr. Rodriguez, the victor, can bring the kind of expertise and ability that his fellow Texas Democrat Silvestre Reyes has already been bringing to the House.  At the very least, he probably couldn’t be any worse.

In Superman Returns, it’s doubly problematic, because the script has given him a romantic foil, Lois’s boyfriend, who is constantly risking his life - the mark of a real hero - to save Lois and her child. Whereas Superman risks . . . um . . . well, okay, there’s some kryptonite thrown in, and he almost dies from it, but in every other situation Lois’s boyfriend comes across as the guy we really ought to be rooting for, and Superman as the annoying interloper showing up to save the day at no risk to himself. ~Ross Douthat

I only recently saw the movie myself, having been uninterested in the remake/sequel/whatever when it first came out.  I only grudgingly rented it when I was in a mood for what I assumed would be a pair of bad comic book movies (I also watched the third X-Men again to give it a second chancebut it remains as terrible as ever).  Going into it with extremely low expectations (the clips I had seen last year were just awful), I was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be.  You may call this damning with faint praise, but I came away with a much higher estimation of the entire movie than I ever thought I would. 

A lot of people, including Ross, are giving Kate Bosworth an awfully hard time.  She did not dazzle or distinguish herself, but she did a perfectly acceptable job.  For some reason, I kept thinking of her as the poor man’s Rachel McAdams (Michael will probably be horrified by this comparison). 

Is the entire story completely predictable?  Yes.  But you already knew that.  It’s a Superman movie.  Superman wins, Luthor loses, and his old ambiguous, tortured relationship with Lois Lane goes back to being ambiguous and tortured.  You are never surprised or deeply moved, but you didn’t go to see a Superman flick looking for surprises or a moving experience.  You go to see the whole “faster than a speeding bullet, can leap a tall building in a single bound” bit.  Naturally.  Had the new Superman taken the “Wonderman” route and thrown the new boyfriend into outer space, well, that would have at least been different…but everyone would be very upset that they had made Superman into just another jealous ex-lover.  People like Superman because he isn’t human and has no really good reason to intervene, yet he deigns to hang around and help anyway.  People who want deeply human, complex, flawed and slightly crazy superheroes (count me in) are Batman fans to the end.  People who want the simple and pure straight arrow as their superhero go for Superman.  This is probably a good measure for someone’s tendency towards either pessimism or optimism, but I won’t dwell on that here. 

But maybe we’ve all been looking at Superman Returns the wrong way.  Maybe Superman shouldn’t be the one we pay attention to.  Maybe he is the foil.  Maybe the entire movie was a way for James Marsden to play someone genuinely heroic and redeem his career from the unfortunate interlude as the eternally worthless Cyclops in the X-Men movies.  By setting him up against Superman, the superhero of superheroes, his Richard White character comes across as that much more impressive.  It’s almost enough to keep you from cheering when Marsden/Cyclops is vaporised by the Phoenix when you start watching X-Men III.  Almost. 

Kevin Drum and Digby are annoyed by a recent Jeff Greenfield segment about Obama’s wardrobe in which he compares the junior Senator’s style in New Hampshire to that of…Ahmadinejad!  Greenfield is probably mockingly rebelling against the Obama overkill that has flooded the airwaves and filled the commentariat by taking the Obama obsession to “wretched excess,” as he called it.  In other words, he is saying: you journalists are embarrassing yourselves with this adulation of a political nonentity, so let me show you how ridiculous the Obama fixation can get.  You want to draw comparisons with Middle Eastern rulers?  I’ll go one better and make a trivial fashion comparison with a Middle Eastern ruler! 

The entire segment was, I am almost certain, a big joke that lefty bloggers seem not to have gotten at all.  Haven’t these people ever watched Greenfield before?  He does these tongue-in-cheek bits all the time.  Good grief, if we can’t all laugh at the inanity of the Obama coverage right now, imagine how oppressive and dreary the next year will be!  If Obama is half as smooth as everyone says he is, he probably would laugh if he saw something like this.  “I don’t look anything like Ahmadinejad–I don’t have a beard,” he would joke.  Meanwhile the blog left throws a conniption fit.  No wonder some people think Obama is a big step up for the Democrats–he doesn’t seem to respond to these sorts of barbs and satire the way liberals often do. 

Besides, talking about the man’s clothes is rather fitting.  After all, since Obama flourishes by dint of his entirely superficial “hope and unity” spiel, why can’t observers make an issue out of something as superficial as clothing?  If his middle name invokes Saddam Hussein in the American mind, it seems only fair to other Near Eastern leaders that his dress should remind us of the wild Iranian.  If he could get a different haircut, he might be able to mimic Kim Jong Il and go for the axis of evil hat trick.    

Drum complains that this report shows the frivolity of the cable news channels, who have so much time on their hands that they wind up broadcasting the stupidest of things.  (They do broadcast the stupidest of things, but it isn’t clear that this is necessarily one of them.)  Whereas bloggers who comment on the time-filling cable news channels are, I’m sure, being deeply serious by pointing out the frivolity of cable news.

Digby sees it all as part of a sinister right-wing plot to unman or otherwise discredit Obama and other Democrats by focusing on questions of fashion, since no one in the media has ever paid attention to, say, Condi’s keen fashion sense.  Here is the Post on the Secretary of State last year:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black. She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf. The coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine’s dress uniform or the “save humanity” ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix.”

As Rice walked out to greet the troops, the coat blew open in a rather swashbuckling way to reveal the top of a pair of knee-high boots. The boots had a high, slender heel that is not particularly practical. But it is a popular silhouette because it tends to elongate and flatter the leg. In short, the boots are sexy.

Rice boldly eschewed the typical fare chosen by powerful American women on the world stage. She was not wearing a bland suit with a loose-fitting skirt and short boxy jacket with a pair of sensible pumps. She did not cloak her power in photogenic hues, a feminine brooch and a non-threatening aesthetic. Rice looked as though she was prepared to talk tough, knock heads and do a freeze-frame “Matrix” jump kick if necessary. Who wouldn’t give her ensemble a double take — all the while hoping not to rub her the wrong way?

Rice’s coat and boots speak of sex and power — such a volatile combination, and one that in political circles rarely leads to anything but scandal. When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix! It is as though sex and power can only co-exist in a fantasy. When a woman combines them in the real world, stubborn stereotypes have her power devolving into a form that is purely sexual.  

So, which is worse: being compared to Ahmadinejad or Keanu Reeves?  I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a tough call.  Just consider how idiotic the image conjured up here really is.  Picture, if you can, Condi the Dominatrix.  Would that she were actually so effective at commanding the respect and attention of the men around her! 

Back to Obama.  It isn’t as if right-wingers really want to stop Obama from running in ‘08.  Go ahead–it will be hilarious!  Mark down an Obama-led ticket in the “historic defeats” column. 

Separately, as a confirmed political cynic, I look forward to watching the Optimism Express that is Obama’s campaign derail and plunge into the ravine of harsh political reality.  I swear, if I hear one more JFK comparison….We need a few mocking comparisons to Ahmadinejad to keep everyone from getting a little too carried away with someone who is a political nonentity, has accomplished nothing, whose every stump speech is the essence of vacuity (”Americans want unity!  Americans want a fresh start!”) and whose politics are as unrepresentative of the nation as a whole as anyone in office today.  

My Enchiridion colleague Paul Cella has written a very smart post on patriotism, which includes the following:

This is why I say Universalism narrows, despite its claim to do the opposite: the whole vast organic tangle of attachments, memories, prescriptions, and intuitions, which are conjured by the word “country,” and which inspire such songs of love as our patriotic ones, and which become the seedbed of our national patriotic rituals, is contracted into a set of stock phrases of political discourse. No political discourse, no matter how sensitive, no matter how inspired, no matter how comprehensive, can possibly capture even a fragment of the living tradition that is within a man when he reflects on his country. Reality is too vast for words. Ideologies have their uses, of course, but they must always be abbreviations of reality.

For example, it is said that Capitalism is a part of the American creed, and as such should be part of the object of our patriotic affections. But I do not love Capitalism, and never will. I see its uses, and sometimes I suspect that it is merely a term we use to denote “the way things are,” but in any case I shall never love it. And indeed, there are times when this passion of Indignation has risen in me with great fury against it — usually when Capitalism has made a dark alliance with darker forces to oppress my home, as when, for example, a local homeowner must jump through a hundred bureaucratic hoops to remove a dead tree that threatens his house, while the large developer can remove a whole copse of trees with impunity. Small property is fettered; capitalist collectivism is emancipated. The vulnerability of the American South to these dark alliances is acute; and I confess that there are moments when I feel that nothing is so great a threat to my home as these. There are parts of the South which have been so tortured by Capitalism, so visited with unthinking ugliness, that one can feel only hatred — a hatred for the devil and his works. This is the passion inspired at times by Capitalism.

But of course, Capitalism is primarily a matter for adjudication by reason; the place for passion is small. Ugliness is certainly not the greatest evil, and anyway Socialism has far outdone Capitalism in producing ugliness. But if someone tells me that Capitalism must be included in my patriotic love, I will simply answer: “you do not know what patriotism is.”

I strongly agree with almost all of this, and I am reminded of Philippe Beneton’s remark in Equality by Default to the effect that “no one would die for the free market.”  This seems to me perfectly true (or at least so generally true that the strange exceptions would only confirm it), and it reminds us that we may or may not value the free market but we do not love it (neither, it seems to me as it does to Paul, should we hate it except to the degree that it harms what we love).  We may or may not enjoy and appreciate the market for what it does, but we love our country for what it is, which is above all our own place, a beloved place with which we are closely bound by time and memory

The fate of Iraq — and the future of both America and the West [!]– is increasingly in the hands of one man, a man increasingly being isolated by the media and the Establishment in his belief that only victory will do. Alone like Reagan, one hopes that with his core convictions on the line George W. Bush will remember the trials of Ronald Reagan and the gritty positive attitude that epitomized Reagan’s leadership, a leadership that led to eventual — and spectacular — triumph in so many areas. ~Jeffrey Lord

As we all know, Mr. Bush is never completely alone in his dedication to the Iraq war.  Barney is behind him all the way. 

My favourite part of this panegyric was the suggestion that the subversives trying to undermine Mr. Bush were the ones who were isolating him from sources of information that might bolster his belief in victory.  It is hardly a closely kept secret that keeping Mr. Bush in his hermetically-sealed bubble of ignorance has been the tried and true method of war supporters and interventionists from Day One.  Now that some other voices are beginning to penetrate this bubble, it is a conspiracy from within to force the President to go against his own policy by stopping all of the information that would reassure him that victory in Iraq is certain from reaching him.  Riiight.

Then, as primary day approached, Bennie noticed a change in his opponent’s language. Brownback never used to mention abortion on the campaign trail. Now he was publicly pronouncing himself an abortion opponent. When primary day rolled around in early August, Bennie ran up an impressive 36 percent of the vote to Brownback’s 48. But he was still furious, believing Brownback had swiped the nomination by aping his positions. “I knew how I stood,” he told me. “I didn’t know how he stood.” ~Noam Scheiber, The New Republic

Mr. Bennie’s comment might well become the unflattering motto for Sam Brownback’s career.  The story, as Scheiber tells it anyway, is one of how Brownback discovered his pro-life convictions in a moment of political peril.  This has the feel of George Bush’s South Carolina conversion when he discovered how terribly conservative he was when it was convenient to be such a thing, and it makes me assume that Brownback’s commitment on these issues may not be as straightforward as I would have originally thought.  Maybe people only care how Brownback has voted, and when it comes to the votes he has been reliably pro-life, but in its way the tale of Brownback’s ”conversion” is more worrisome than Romney’s.  Neither of them has much of a realistic chance at the nomination, but social conservatives cannot be terribly excited to have a Massachusetts governor and Bob Dole’s successor as their chief representatives in the upcoming race.  There is an opening here for Tancredo, who could say, “I believe we should protect the unborn and the border.”  Romney and Brownback cannot say the same.  

Because the longer Brownback goes on, the more you sense a distinct lack of passion for standard Iowa fare like agriculture policy or the budget. Compared with the previous speaker, local Congressman Steve King, he’s not even worked up about Iraq. What Sam Brownback clearly wants to talk about–what he thinks people need to know about–are the issues you might store in a mental file called “Judgment Day.” The Judgment Day file begins with standard culture-war causes like gay marriage and abortion. But it is a sprawling file, and, before long, it sprawls to such far-flung locales as Sudan and the Congo, where Brownback wants to stop genocide and human trafficking. “We’re a great nation,” Brownback says. His voice is still composed, but now there’s a firmness that wasn’t there before. “And I believe, in my heart, that for our greatness to continue, our goodness must continue.” ~Noam Scheiber, The New Republic

Someone who thinks that “our goodness” has anything to do with what happens in Congo is not someone who should hold any position of power in this country.  Indeed, I think there might be something seriously wrong with someone who believes such a thing.  Read Scheiber’s whole article, which is now available for free, and I think you will find Brownback more than a little odd. 

Greg Pollowitz, very definitely missing Sixers, informs me that Steve Young is the great-great-great grandson of Bringham [sic] Young.

But I bet everyone who watches Monday Night football knows that. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

Yes, I suppose we did already know that about Steve Young.  Those of us who grew up with WAC/Mountain West college football against BYU also know that the name is Brigham Young.

But it is true that Young’s first name is frequently pronounced as if it were spelled Bringham, which is what reminded me of the old and very anti-Mormon joke I heard when I was younger.  It went something like this:

Q: What did Brigham Young say about women?

A: “I don’t care how you bring’em, just bring’em young.”

It’s a terrible joke, I know.  (I have discovered that it was originally an old Rodney Dangerfield line–that helps explain why it was so bad.)  But that is just the tip of the iceberg of the sort of grassroots anti-Mormonism you will encounter when Romney starts his campaign.

The head of the pack is a dangerous place for a Democrat to be. Democrats excel in cannibalizing their front-runners. Just ask those who were knocked out in the primary season (Lyndon Johnson, Ed Muskie and Howard Dean) or those who limped from the ring after 15 rounds (Walter Mondale and Al Gore). ~Thomas Edsall, The New York Times

But “Democrats” didn’t cannibalise these so-called front-runners–Vietnam and voters did.  Johnson dropped out because the war had become such a massive liability that he could not campaign as a war president.  Muskie lost his momentum for rather more bizarre reasons (nobody likes a crybaby, or so the conventional wisdom held).   The idea that Dean was ever anything other than an insurgent is funny in itself (how quickly we forget!), but nobody else exactly tore Dean down–he failed to build up enough support to win any of the early contests and so failed to build any greater momentum.  Kerry had been considered, for what reason I will never fully understand, the most formidable in the field, and in the end primary voters went for him over Dean.  The accepted establishment insider candidate won–surprise, surprise!  A whole field of Democrats desperately wanted to “cannibalise” Kerry (and I bet they wish they had succeeded), but they were unable to do so.  The myth of the wildly unpredictable and fractious Democrats only goes so far.  In most years, they are as ploddingly predictable as the GOP.  It flatters the Democrats’ sense of themselves as the party of “the people” to think that their contests are more responsive to a diverse electorate, but 1984 is probably just about the lone modern exception to fairly boring contests that were settled early in the election year. 

There were heady days in late 2003 and early 2004 when those of us looking high and low for someone to beat Bush were enthusiastic (almost certainly too enthusiastic) about the crazy doctor’s chances because he was actually, truly against the Iraq war.  He didn’t think it should be fought better or that we should, God forbid, send more Americans to fight in Iraq, but that it was a tremendously bad policy and needed to be ended.  What a refreshing thing that was to hear!  Of course, he had literally nothing else to say, and then he got a bit excited after one of his primary losses and gave that unfortunate speech.  The speech was never as bad as the media made it out to be, but what the media created (and the Dean boomlet was heavily media-driven) it can and will also destroy.   

Then there is this notion that Mondale and Gore emerged only after long and “bruising” (this is the word that journalists always use) primary battles.  This has some real truth in Mondale’s case, where he had two fairly strong competitors who picked off a number of important states going into the spring, but with Gore and Bradley it was really all over by February (Gore was running against Bill Bradley, after all, so how could it have been any different?).  Bradley kept hanging around for some time after New Hampshire, but there was never much doubt that the nomination was Gore’s once Bradley failed to win there.  If 2000 was a 15-round slugfest (weren’t boxing matches only 12 rounds long by that time?), I wonder what Edsall would liken a genuinely competitive fight for a nomination to.

The irrepressible Dennis Dale on Instapundit’s Iraq “symposium”:

It’s like a film where a gang of kids has to save the town for an oblivious adult population. Get out your decoder rings and meet up at the treehouse, guys, America’s in trouble!

But it’s not clear that the neocons will miss the democracy baggage. Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s famous essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards”—the one that landed her the post of Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, was published in Commentary and considered a primary example of “neo” conservative thinking of the period. But recall that her argument was that “authoritarian” regimes could be reliable American allies in the Cold War, and Washington was destabilizing them by hectoring about human rights and democracy. Kirkpatrick was wrong in the end about how durable communist “totalitarian” regimes turned out to be (compared to the authoritarian dictatorships she favored), but the dominant perspective of the essay was undeniably realist—an attempt to take the world with its myriad political cultures as it was rather than imposing upon it a pre-fabricated American model.

What won’t be dropped is the neoconservatives’ attachment to Israel and the tendency to conflate the Jewish state’s interests (as defined in right-wing Israeli terms) with America’s. So one can look forward to neoconservative agitation on two fronts: a powerful campaign to draw the United States into a war to eliminate Iran’s nuclear potential and an equally loud effort in support of maintaining Israeli dominance over the West Bank and denying the Palestinians meaningful statehood. Those who argue effectively for a more even-handed American policy towards Israel and Palestine will risk the full measure of smears linking them to historical anti-Semitism. The archetypical neoconservative argument will no longer be Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol’s call for American “benevolent global hegemony,” but Gabriel Schoenfeld’s attack on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in Commentary, an essay that sought to connect the pair’s work to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

This election season ends with neoconservatism widely mocked and openly contemptuous of the president who took its counsels. The key policy it has lobbied for since the mid-1990s—the invasion of Iraq—is an almost universally acknowledged disaster. So one can see why the movement’s obituaries are being written. But the group was powerful and influential well before its alliance with George W. Bush. In its wake it leaves behind crises—Iraq first among them—that will not be easy to resolve, and neocons will not be shy about criticizing whatever imperfect solutions are found to the mess they have created. Perhaps most importantly, neoconservatism still commands more salaries—able people who can pursue ideological politics as fulltime work in think tanks and periodicals—than any of its rivals. The millionaires who fund AEI and the New York Sun will not abandon neoconservatism because Iraq didn’t work out. The reports of the movement’s demise are thus very much exaggerated. ~Scott McConnell, The American Conservative

I have been remiss in getting links to the latest material at Chronicles‘ website this week, where they have a number of very good articles up. 

Here is Paul Craig Roberts on the war:

Obviously, sending more U.S. troops will not succeed in dismantling the Iraqi sectarian militias. However, a U.S. attempt to dismantle the militias will result in the militias joining the insurgency and turning on the U.S. troops. The situation would deteriorate, not improve. It is frightening that the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee does not understand this.  

As we have seen already in recent days, there are many things Mr. Reyes does not understand and it is rather frightening.  What is worse is that I am unsure whether Jane Harman, who would have been chairman of the committee were it not for Pelosi’s catfighting instincts, would have understood any of this any better than Reyes does.

Also at Chronicles‘ site is Pat Buchanan’s article on the Iraq Study Group’s report:

It is a time for truth. The strategic retreat recommended by Baker-Hamilton is not going to win this war, or end it well for the United States—it is going to advance the timetable of our impending defeat.

When U.S. combat forces leave, Iraq is going to be lost to those who ran us out. Our friends there are going to endure what our abandoned friends in Vietnam and Cambodia endured. The forces of Islamic radicalism will be emboldened to take down our remaining allies in the Middle East. Our days as a superpower will be over.

Scott Richert reports on an important story of domestic Islamic terrorism in Rockford that you will probably not have heard much about anywhere else:

So, what’s going on here? Why the radio silence from the major media on the link to Islam? Are we to believe that, because federal authorities say that Shareef was not part of a broader conspiracy, Islam had nothing to do with it? Or that, because he is a Black Muslim, Islam had nothing to do with it?

Islam, as readers of Chronicles know, and as anyone with any understanding of history is aware, is not a religion of peace. There is no reason not to take Shareef’s statements about his motivations at face value, and there are very good reasons to publicize them.

Out here in the middle of the American heartland, Islam has a greater foothold than many people realize. I’ve discussed this at length, most recently in the December 2006 issue of Chronicles. Aaron Wolf and I spent a day at the local mosque and Islamic school in February 2002, and I’ve written about that day here and here. Read those pieces. See what Muslim students are learning in Rockford, Illinois. Pay attention to the words of a prominent Muslim doctor, the chairman of the board of the school, when he praises Osama bin Laden and talks about the way in which sharia will be imposed in the United States. Look at the understanding of peace—the submission of all men to Allah—that the current imam at the mosque preaches.

Scott has another article on the related issue of increasing numbers of native-born American converts to Islam, and you can see his television interview on the arraignment of Shareef here

Here is Pat Buchanan’s latest on intra-GOP quarreling over who is responsible for the failure in Iraq, which I have noted would probably become one of the main dividing lines in the next presidential race: 

This deepening fissure in the GOP presages a civil war inside the party by 2008, over whether to stay in Iraq—or, if the war has ended in a debacle or defeat, over “Who Lost Iraq?”

In urging intensified training of the Iraqi army and an expedited withdrawal, the Baker Commission is laying down the predicate for the case that America did not lose this war, Iraqis lost their own war.

This ISG report is less about saving Iraq than about saving the U.S. establishment from being held responsible for the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history. It is about giving Bush and Congress a “decent interval” before Iraq goes down and a Saigon ending ensues.

The neocons are also preparing their defense before the bar of history. Realizing the Baker Commission recommendations point to slow-motion defeat, they are savaging Baker and calling for tens of thousands more U.S. troops to be sent to Baghdad and a new strategy of victory, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes.

If Bush fails to follow their counsel, they will then say: “It was not our fault. It was Bush’s rejection of our advice that lost the war.”

There is also more from Paul Craig Roberts here.

The Wire doesn’t just “evade” arguments over solutions, it posits that no solutions actually exist. ~Peter Suderman

I have never seen The Wire (I don’t own a TV, much less do I have a cable subscription), so this is one of those facets of popular culture that is completely unknown to me.  (I was a great fan of Homicide when I was younger, particularly enjoying the references to Poe and the all-around cynicism of Richard Belzer’s Det. Munch, and I was actually very upset when it was cancelled.)  But, if Peter and the other critics are right, it sounds like an unusually smart television show, which it would have to be to carry on in the tradition of Homicide.  (Trivial aside: Homicide was among the first to consistently use the hand-held camera documentary conceit to lend the show a more ”realistic” flavour, and the use of a similar effect in the new Galactica is part of that show’s tremendous success as a more “realistic” approach to the obviously fantastical genre of sci-fi.) 

From what I read, it seems that it does not try to do what every other television show does: bring things to tidy resolution.  Whether it is in an arc-plotted series or a single episode, TV usually tries to provide us with more or less nicely wrapped story packages.  Almost every kind of television does this: the sitcom, the miniseries, the sci-fi series, the Dallas-style one-hour primetime, non-crime-related drama (a lost art form known for the most part only to those of us watching in the ’80s), etc.  Soap operas are probably the one form of television that never really try to provide resolution, but only the illusion of it, which allows the story to continue indefinitely and take endless twists and turns.  This is one reason, in addition to the acting and writing, why they are generally considered bad television: it just never goes anywhere!  This is also why soap operas can be addictive, because there is an implicit promise of some sort of conclusion without any payoff. 

People like finality and resolution, which is why writers typically structure stories with some kind of resolution.  Narratives without some obvious ending, a conclusion, seem incomplete–this much just seems like common sense.  Finish the story, we say.  That is why real life agitates us so much, because resolution often eludes us.  Things happen, and they do not always make a great deal of sense nor do they seem to tend towards anything in particular.  (This is why the pessimists seem so compelling to people who are paying attention, and why they would be entirely right but for the truth of revelation.) 

But it is a terribly modern and optimistic way of looking at the world to see “problems” that have “solutions” rather than burdens to be born, and we know what I think of modernity and optimism.  This does not mean that we ought not try to alleviate suffering or rectify certain injustices, but that we are fools if we think we can “solve” these things that arise from the structures of our existence.  There are no solutions, only ways of making the best of what we have. 

Television routinely tells us that we can solve the injustices or difficulties of life, which may be the main reason why television is the most pervasive source of confusion about reality that exists.  If there were more shows that did not indulge this happy falsehood, we would probably all be better off for it. 

Iraq is only one front in a larger war being waged against the Western world. We are under siege by people with an ideology, a plan, hundreds of millions of dollars, and an ever increasing presence on virtually every continent. Yet none of the decision makers in Washington is willing to confront Iran; the threat that Iran poses, as the standard-bearer of Islamic fascism, goes unacknowledged.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular war. Those who define the enemy as radical Islamic fascism are ridiculed by the media and others; the term is dismissed as inflammatory and inapt. It is not inapt, and thus it is not inflammatory. The term “Islamic fascism” is no harsher than those we used to describe our enemies in the Second World War. And just as we did not call all Italians “fascists” then, so too we do not call all Muslims “fascists” now.

Words define the enemy we confront. They help the American people comprehend what motivates the enemy. Without clear, accurate words, we cannot fight effectively: our own people become confused and divided, and the fascists are encouraged to believe that we fear them. When we fail to recognize the connection between Iraq and Iran, we postpone the day when we define a strategy to win the war, instead of a list of steps to retreat from the Iraqi theater. ~Rick Santorum

I grow weary of kicking Santorum around, but he simply will not go away.  Go home, Senator!  Stop saying stupid things, I implore you!

If “Islamic fascism” were not an idiotic phrase that referred to nothing, I would not care if it were inflammatory.  However, if one of the chief virtues of the phrase is supposedly its ability to distinguish the friendly, happy Muslims from the sinister, hostile Muslims, it is a uniquely ill-chosen phrase, since most Muslims who hear it believe that it is a general term of abuse directed at all Muslims.  The phrase evidently is inflammatory to Muslims.  This might not be an important objection, except that one of the reasons for adopting the phrase is supposedly not to lump all Muslims together as the enemy and make them believe that we are treating all of them as the enemy. 

Where I find the phrase most damningly ignorant and tiresome is in its designation of people who are clearly not fascists as fascists.  Newsflash, Senator: all of the actual fascists are dead or in Argentina.  Fascism as a working ideology for all intents and purposes died in 1945.  You can find the occasional oddball who wants to bring it back, just as you can still find true-believing Marxists in their last holdouts, but there are no fascist movements of any significance in the world today.  The closest to fascism in the Near East they have ever come might be Baathism, and yet the one thing we can be confident about with Baathism is that it is not particularly Islamic.  If the phrase is meant to obliterate the distinction between secular Baathists and religious jihadis, it is not just a worthless phrase–it is positively sinister in its ability to blur vital distinctions.  If it is intended as a signal to incite the American people into some kind of unthinking hostility towards targets that you and your allies select, it is a pernicious and immoral use of language. 

If words matter, if words mean things, why use a recycled word that has taken on so many different meanings that its original has almost been completely lost?  Are those who use this phrase so hopelessly inured to thinking in terms of WWII and comparing themselves with Churchill that they cannot conceive of an enemy except as it relates to the ideology of Mussolini?  To call jihadis fascists is to betray a lack of understanding about jihad and fascism.  It is to somehow make jihadis into an Islamic version of hypernationalist revolutionaries, when neither the nation nor the nation-state serves as the focus of their loyalties or aspirations.  It is to pretend that jihadis are a product of a sort of secular ideology, when the last thing that they are is secular.  It is to suggest that they are somehow something other than simply Islamic, and that the roots of jihadis are not to be found in Islam itself, but are instead found in a “fascist” deviation or distortion of the same.  This seems to be simply wrong and at odds with what we think we know about Islam.  It is this phrase, not its repudiation, that is the distraction.  Its proponents continue to use it not for its superior descriptive or analytical value, since it has neither, but instead they use it almost as a kind of symbolic distinction that proves that they “get it” and understand “the Real Threat,” when nothing better illustrates how clueless they are than the continued use of this phrase.  That the people who use this phrase are also among the most bellicose and confrontational hawks vis-a-vis Iran is one small reason why warnings about an Iranian threat seem to me to be the ravings of deluded minds or dishonest propagandists.  No one would accuse you of being dishonest, Senator, so that leaves the other alternative. 

Anyone who can take the phrase “Islamic fascism” as a serious description of the Iranian theocracy doesn’t know enough about Iran or anything else in the region to be making policy recommendations one way or the other.  The use of the phrase is self-discrediting.  To repeatedly ask why no one else understands the nature of Real Threat, all the while muttering “Islamic fascism,” is to play the fool: no one else sees the threat as you do, Senator, because the threat you see does not exist because Islamic fascism does not exist.  Start speaking about things that do exist, and then, perhaps, we will start to take you seriously.  Until, that is, you start warning us about Venezuelan imperialism.  

Words do matter, Mr. Santorum, which is why the persistent use of a meaningless phrase that also manages to agitate almost every Muslim on earth is a sign of reckless irresponsibility and poor judgement.  It is one of the reasons, perhaps, that people in Pennsylvania told you to go into another line of work.  If this war is as grave and serious as you say it is, misunderstanding things as badly as you have is very dangerous.  Imagine if people in WWII had viewed the fight against the Axis as a fight against a new Holy Alliance or something equally preposterous–can you imagine the howling derision they would have rightly encountered?  Your use of the phrase “Islamic fascism” inspires the same response in your critics.  Please, just stop.  Some of us did respect you for your other excellent views on other profound moral evils of our day, but each time you make this same tired appeal it becomes harder and harder to remember that you ever had anything else worthwhile to say.  Please, stop becoming the hysterical caricature that your most dedicated opponents want you to be.  Just stop!    

If “Islamic fascism” is a meaningless phrase and does not refer to something that exists in this world, it is also meaningless to say that Iran is the standard-bearer of this non-existent thing.  If you want to argue about the threat posed by Iran, we could do that, but that would require us to deal in empirical reality and not resort to the hyperbolic warnings of Iranian world conquest that so routinely fall from your lips, Senator. 

We might start with certain basic things, such as whether or not we have been at war with Iran for 27 years.  Empirically, the United States is not at war with Iran and actually has not been at war with Iran in all that time.  Those who want us to be at war with Iran are doing everything they can to make sure that we will be in the future, but they are striving so eagerly to this end because they know full well that we are not.  It is not sufficient to respond to this by saying, “You don’t understand the Real Threat!”  Do you realise, Senator, that you come off sounding rather mad when you say things like this?  Again, please stop.

Reading James Bovard’s latest on torture in TAC, Sullivan makes the following silly declaration:

For the first time [bold mine-DL], a conservative publication tackles the scandal of the American torture regime.

Except that, as long-time readers of TAC know, this is hardly the first time the matter has been covered in the pages of the magazine.  In July of this year, Mr. Bovard had a related article on presidential signing statements, including those related to the treatment of detainees.  In October, TAC carried Mr. Bovard’s review of John Yoo’s book, in which Mr. Bovard wrote:

George W. Bush has made absolutism respectable among American conservatives. And no one has done more pimping for president-as-Supreme-Leader than John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who helped create the “commander-in-chief override” doctrine, unleashing presidents from the confines of the law. At a time when Bush is pushing Congress to approve the use in military tribunals of confessions that resulted from torture, it is vital to understand the thinking of the Bush administration’s most visible advocate of “coercive interrogation.”

Those are just the examples that I can find with a quick search or that I can recall from memory.  As usual, Sullivan writes as if he has been the only one on the right to notice or care about these dreadful abuses of power for the last several years.  As usual, he is wrong. 

True enough, he did! But this match made in heaven can’t rise above tryst level. Amidst all the heavy breathing, the central linkage-point between liberals and libertarians isn’t political at all, but a strain of cultural libertarianism. Liberals would have to surrender their venerable desire to accomplish social unfetterment by state power, and “merely” political libertarians would have to sign on to social unfetterment as a positive, not negative, good. This is something like asking a paleocon to hang a framed, limited-edition dual portrait of Wilson and Truman in his den. ~James Poulos

Yet the question conservative boosters of both Romney and Brownback need to ask themselves is whether the grassroots support is there. The Beltway right has rooted for conservative heroes in the Republican primaries before–think Jack Kemp in 1988, Phil Gramm in 1996, and, to a much lesser extent, Steve Forbes in 2000. At the ballot box, these candidates went nowhere. ~Jim Antle

Mr. Antle has mentioned the virtually unmentionable: nobody out in the countryside is talking these candidates up at all.  This is as you would expect at this early stage, when the only people who are moved to talk about these things are people who either get paid to or the even odder people who enjoy talking about it. 

Nobody out in the country even knows who they are.  When they hear the name Brownback, they might think this refers to a kind of rattlesnake (I call dibs on the use of this image for Brownback).  When they hear the name Mitt, they might respond, “You mean, like a catcher’s mitt?”  (Before it is over, you will have had your fill of passed ball campaign jokes.)  They might vaguely remember something about his connection to the 2002 Olympics–if they can be bothered to remember the 2002 Olympics.  I do look forward to Romney’s candidacy, if only for all of the political humour at his expense.  

On the failed candidacies of Kemp, Gramm and Forbes, there is a good explanation for the failures of all three: they were all running on a completely constituency-free, wonkish economic conservative platform.  Thus Jack “Empowerment Zones!” Kemp, Phil “Property Rights!” Gramm and Steve “Flat Tax!” Forbes believed that they could somehow make these single issues and a strict economic conservative appeal into the bases for a viable campaign.  They were wrong.  Plus, they were all some of the…most…boring…speakers…alive.  Didn’t you just want to grab Steve Forbes by the shoulders and start shaking him as you screamed, “For goodness’ sake, man, blink!”?  Romney and Brownback will suffer from their own versions of Forbes’ unbroken laser-like stare and flat monotone voice.  We just haven’t found out what those things are yet.

If Tancredo does decide to run, I think he hurts Sam Brownback the most. With McCain, Giuliani and Romney dominating the field thus far, Brownback’s only chance to gain traction is to build rock-solid support among grassroots conservatives, and his current liability among these folks is that he’s perceived [bold mine-DL] as weak on immigration. ~Philip Klein

Mr. Klein’s analysis works pretty well, except for this last part.  Brownback isn’t simply perceived as weak on immigration–he really is, by the standards of a great many conservatives, abominably weak on immigration.  Amnesty Sam doesn’t have a chance as it is.  Tancredo gives social conservatives who don’t want to betray their country an obvious alternative.  Theoretically, Hunter provides the same alternative, but he is even less well-known than Tancredo.

Listen, I get the notion of public conversions. Really, I do. Personally, I buy into conversions on issues a whole lot more than I buy into conversions on people. It is, I suppose, entirely believable that Romney has had a change of heart about the issue of abortion (more infra), but to declare 12 years ago that you wouldn’t even be a member of the same party as Reagan, and now to say that he’s “one of your heroes” strikes me as cynical manipulation of the highest degree. Reagan hasn’t done a darn thing in public since 1994 to change Romney’s mind; the only thing that’s changed is the audience to whom he is pandering. ~Leon Wolf

My Enchiridion colleague Mr. Wolf and Jim Antle have taken issue with Ramesh Ponnuru when he wrote:

I don’t have a presidential candidate yet, but I wonder if social conservatives are doing themselves any favors here. Certainly Romney is going to have to offer an explanation of how his thinking has changed over the years. It may be that in some cases, it hasn’t changed all that much. He may still take some of the positions he took back then, and in other cases he may think that the same principles that led him to those positions now, in changed circumstances, lead him to different positions. Or he may simply have changed his mind.

Surely Weyrich and Perkins don’t mean to cast out anyone who has come over time to agree with them? That doesn’t seem like a recipe for the success of their causes.

Mr. Antle thinks Mr. Ponnuru is claiming that soc-cons are being counter-productive in making a big deal out of Romney’s latter-day (pun intended) conversion to pro-life and anti-gay marriage causes.  When Ponnuru asks rhetorically whether they (Perkins and Weyrich) would want to throw out Sam Brownback, too (a suggestion I would accept, but for different reasons), he is making the same point, which would seem to be that it is hardly the stuff of successful coalition-building to make someone’s old positions the basis for doubting his current convictions.  Okay. 

But there is a difference, however, between casting someone out and elevating someone to a place of great prominence–the standards of “purity” and “devotion,” or whatever you’d like to call it, are higher or are normally supposed to be higher for leaders of a group than they are for the average member.  No one in the GOP is interested in tossing out John McCain (more’s the pity), but a lot of people have perfectly good reasons to not want him as their party leader and nominee.  The test social conservative leaders are applying to Romney is no different.  Staying in the “club” is one thing; getting to run the club is quite another, and anyone who wants to run it will necessarily undergo greater scrutiny.  If Romney has trouble with the scrutiny at this stage, he is almost certainly not ready for the main event.  That is something the people he would claim to represent need to know, so holding his feet to the fire on these things is most desirable.  It is, of course, also quite irrelevant in the end, since virtually no one in the primaries will vote for him because of his religion, which makes all of the talk about his past views rather redundant and as meaningless as speculating on how many delegates Obama will get (the correct answer is 0).

Plus, Messrs. Wolf and Antle have strong reasons to doubt that these convictions are not cynical ploys when these convictions, such as they are, have appeared on the scene only after Romney’s last gubernatorial campaign as he was preparing to make himself into a national Republican figure.  We cannot know Romney’s heart; we lack Mr. Bush’s soul-seeing powers.  Therefore we must judge by what he has done, and that is to rather brazenly and dramatically run away from his former advocacy of gay rights and his support for legal abortion as the damage those positions might do to his future political ambitions increased.  Unlike McCain, he has started playing the “faith” and “values” cards much earlier and so has gained an undue level of credibility on his position switches such that, pre-Brownback, he was considered by some to be the obvious soc-con poster boy.  In other words, he has been cynical longer, but that does not make him immune to the charge of cynicism.  It does rate him some praise, if that’s the right word, as a first-rate Clintonian operator.  Why you want someone like that representing you, I have no idea.   

Mr. Antle makes the reasonable claim that if his campaign is riding on social conservative issues (I am hard-pressed to think of what else he would use that would distinguish him at this point) the relatively recent adoption of his current views hardly marks him as a consistent, proven defender of the positions he now claims to hold.  We cannot say for sure that he is absolutely or mostly cynical (though the two-faced nature of his attitude towards Reagan in ‘94 and today is telling of the kind of operator we’re looking at here), but were most other politicians to undergo the same process of “discovery” and “evolution” in a fairly short period of time I think we all know that they would be called shysters and opportunists.  He now admires President Reagan, with whom he was offended to be associated by party in the past.  Like Mr. Wolf, I do not impose Reagan-loyalty tests (these are almost always fronts for new versions of bad policy proposals that President Reagan made the mistake of supporting in the past), but if he wanted nothing to do with Reagan 12 years ago it is strangely convenient how he embraces the mantle and legacy of the man today.  More telling and more worrisome than all of this is his enthusiasm for TR: Romney has shown himself to be John McCain, but with better hair.   

As Apocalypto is far too big for just one inference, accepting this assessment opens the door to a plethora of other equally compelling readings. Gibson sees parallels between the Maya’s deforestation and environmental degradation today and has compared the scaremongering temple priest to the Bush administration. Pacifist, pro-life and anti-fundamentalist points could plausibly be in there too.

Mel Gibson is on an Eastwoodian journey from Lethal Weapon frivolity to real artistic depth. Apocalypto is a milestone. So good, perhaps, that the murmuring over his next film should start before this one leaves theaters. ~Louis Wittig

Also for your consideration: Ross Douthat comments on Peter Suderman’s remarks about Rod’s Dreher’s refusal to see Apocalypto (blogging is fun, isn’t it?).

As to why I think libertarians are nuts to favor mass uncontrolled immigration from the third world: I think they are nuts because their enthusiasm on this matter is suicidal to their cause. Their ideological passion is blinding them to a rather obvious fact: that libertarianism is a peculiarly American doctrine, with very little appeal to the huddled masses of the third world. If libertarianism implies mass third-world immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is simply not attractive either to illiterate peasants from mercantilist Latin American states, or to East Asians with traditions of imperial-bureaucratic paternalism, or to the products of Middle Eastern Muslim theocracies.

There are a number of responses a libertarian might make to that. Not included in those responses, I think, given the current state of our national affairs, is the argument that Providence has inscribed a yearning for liberty on every human heart.

A libertarian might, though, say that while libertarianism could indeed be a hard sell to immigrants from very illiberal political traditions, it will appeal to their Americanized children, to the second generation. Possibly so. Even setting aside the great strengthening of the welfare state caused by the preferences of that first generation, though, to sell libertarianism to the second generation would need a tremendous missionary effort. According to Brink Lindsey, only 13 percent of Americans currently lean libertarian. If decades of libertarian proselytizing have only achieved that much success with a population rooted in the traditions of Pericles and Magna Carta, of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, how well should libertarians expect to do with the political descendants of emperors and caliphs, of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Mao Tse-tung? ~John Derbyshire

This all makes a good deal of sense, and I have written very similar things on related matters touching on the almost inexplicable urge of many libertarians for open borders and mass immigration.  This blind spot to the negative consequences of mass immigration for their own political vision of smaller government and free individuals is part of what I repeatedly refer to as “The Libertarian Matrix.”  As in the movie of the same name, libertarians carry on without realising that they are trapped in the reality-distorting bubble of their ideological assumptions.  It is entirely fitting that a group dedicated to “free minds” should have such difficulty freeing their own minds from this prison of wrong assumptions. 

In addition to being a guaranteed cause of libertarianism’s extinction or even greater marginalisation (were such a thing possible), libertarian enthusiasm for mass immigration ensures steadily increasing hostility to libertarianism from, well, people like me and a great many other Americans who will begin telling the liberts what they can do with their “moral right of exchange.”

Missionary effort or no, the possibility of second or third generation children of immigrants from illiberal political cultures embracing libertarianism is one of those nice, preposterous ideas, sort of like the hope that bringing in millions of nominally Catholic Mexicans will help shore up the conservative side in the culture wars (this is true if we are referring to the Mexican conservative side of those wars).  The latter is based in quaint, romantic notions about pious and traditional Mexican villagers from stable and intact families most recently seen in The Three Amigos.  But this is at least a claim that makes some nod towards a romanticised image of another culture.  This gets the reality of the culture of the immigrants wrong, but at least it takes that culture seriously one way or the other.  Libertarians will tell you until they are blue in the face and you are quite sick of hearing it that the political culture of the countries whence these immigrants come is basically irrelevant.  Immigrants are hard-working and entrepreneurial people who are trying to get out from under the dead weight of restrictive economic and political arrangements back home–they are therefore supposedly natural libertarians (when they get done being natural conservatives, of course–they work a double shift, as befits hard-working immigrants).  But this is to go against every shred of empirical evidence we have for all major waves of immigration.  People reproduce the political and cultural habits with which they are raised; they often do this without giving it much thought, because this is ”the way things have been done” as far as they know.  These habits are their framework for operating in the world, and they do not abandon them unless they are given good reasons to do so.  In addition to which, with the exception of very unusual ethnic communities (Cubans, Vietnamese) that tend to identify more with Republicans out of decades-long resentment at Democratic betrayals of their home countries, ethnic immigrants are solidly reliable blocs for the Democrats as constituencies for expanded government services and greater government activism. 

Always have been, always will be.  This affiliation continues into second, third and later generations.  It has taken tremendous efforts on the part of Democrats to lose their natural advantage with their old ethnic white constituencies, and even here they have not lost all of them by a long shot. 

Expanding government services is what these people have come to expect from government in their home countries (or it is the sort of thing that they pushed for back home without success, which is why they left and came here), and it is what many constituencies in a mass democracy expect in any case.  Many would also see support for these policies very much in pragmatic, self-interested terms (libertarians would be so proud!) as a way of getting services and support that their communities, as communities that are still fairly new to the country, might well “need” more than others.  Anyone interested in rolling back government, encouraging individual independence, supporting market solutions and generally decreasing the role of the state in all aspects of life obviously does not want poor PRD and PRI voters moving to the United States in large numbers.  It is especially the large numbers that are the important factor here, but any number would be that many more people inclined to oppose anything remotely resembling libertarianism.  This is still one more reason why there will be no liberal-libertarian alliance of any meaningful kind, and why the idea of the Libertarian Democrat is a bad joke.  If the libertarians would like their ideology to survive and possibly even grow in influence, their major spokesmen and organisations would drop all of this pro-immigration chatter once and for all.  But, as we already know, that isn’t going to happen.   

If social conservatives are going to regard all political conversions as proof of insincerity and untrustworthiness, they’re going to have to kick out Sam Brownback, too. ~Ramesh Ponnuru

Worship teams. “Worship team” is one of the worst phrases ever invented. Much less Biblical than “prayer warrior,” yet more aggressively insane-sounding when dropped into casual conversation. “Yeah, after we rehearse for the Hearts on Fire Crusade 2007 in the public middle school gym this Saturday, I’m taking the worship team to Applebees.”
In my brief Evangelical interlude as a teenager (yes, as all these stories do, it started with some wonderful young woman), I saw plenty of worship teams: skits, matching t-shirts, and surprisingly competent musicianship. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.  It isn’t that I don’t understand the need for cooperation or sociability or community in church life.  That all makes perfect sense.  But what on earth is a “worship team” really?  I mean, I think I have even seen one in action once or twice, but I had no idea what I was looking at when I saw it.  To me it was a group of folks, undoubtedly terribly well-meaning, serious folks in their way, playing instruments and singing treacly songs about Someone Special whom I assumed must be God.  Was this worship?  I am sure that the people doing it believe this deeply. 

Perhaps where this sort of thing loses me is in all of the swaying to and fro.  In Russian churches, there is no swaying–none at all.  You typically don’t move much at all, except for making the Sign of the Cross or making prostrations.  Perhaps that seems bafflingly strange to our friends on the worship team, I don’t know, but I am fairly sure that it has rather more to do with worship than putting on a music show (even if the music is good, which this music typically is, well, not) and getting your spiritual groove on.   

To some degree, I feel like Irinaios trying to make sense of Valentinian Gnostics, and I don’t mean that at all as pejoratively as it sounds–it’s simply that this sort of thing is so extremely far removed from anything I know as worship that I am baffled by it.  As I look into the matter, I find that there are worship team guidelines and handbooks (as I suppose there would have to be) and an entire lexicon that has grown up around such “teamwork” (do you worship “frisbee style”?).  It is clear that they take all of this terribly seriously, and it is also clear that many people respond to this sort of thing.  But to what are they responding?  What exactly is going on here?  What, I ask you, is the point?  Would it make any difference if we called them not worship teams but worship bands?  If it wouldn’t, does it really make that much sense?

Normally I do not trouble to comment on the life and practices of other confessions, because I think it is generally not my place and not my business to do this, but this is one of those things where I am so astonished that I simply must intrude and ask: why?

If anyone deserves this title [uber-wonk], it is surely NR’s publisher Jack Fowler.  At an editorial meeting this morning we were discussing the House of Representatives.  The issue of cloture came up.  Jack, briskly: “The House doesn’t have a cloture rule.”

 

I don’t know about you, but I found this sensationally impressive.  I mean, how many people—people not employed on Capitol Hill—know that?  Five? ~John Derbyshire

I don’t know about sensationally impressive.  Mildly interesting might be more like it.  This is something that I would hope more than five people know, since it is basic civics to understand the differences between the two chambers.  Think about it.  Cloture sets a time limit on debate, and it is used to bring a filibuster to an end.  The House doesn’t have a filibuster rule, so why would it have a cloture rule?  Unless you have heard of a House vote for cloture (and you never have), why would you think that such a thing existed?  It’s good to know that some people know this, but if this qualifies you for ueber-wonkdom then our standards are clearly slipping.

One more bit from our post-election Zogby poll: We asked voters if they considered themselves “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” A whopping 59 percent said they did. When we added to the question “also known as libertarian,” 44 percent still claimed that description. That’s too many voters for any party to ignore. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

So now “libertarians” of this kind make up 44% of the population!  That’s a lot more than the measly 13% of “libertarian-leaning” voters they talk up elsewhere in the article.  It’s also complete nonsense.  But, of course, “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” does not equal libertarian.  (Vague, self-identification tests like this also tell us nothing concrete about actual policy preferences.)  Fiscally conservative typically means in practice, “I don’t like high taxes and I don’t like deficits–because I don’t like high taxes.”  A fiscal conservative and a libertarian might see eye to eye about reducing taxes at certain times, or they might agree about deficit reduction at another time, and they will almost certainly be on the same page in worrying about new spending, but someone who accepts the label “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” is someone who will often consider himself an “independent” or a “moderate” Republican.  Nowadays almost no one admits to being “fiscally liberal,” which has the ring of profligacy and recklessness (years and years of effective propaganda to this effect have done their work well), so this result probably includes a good number of folks who would think of themselves as “centrist” Democrats.  Notice that we are not given any more details about who makes up this fabled 44% “libertarian” bloc.

Messrs. Kirby and Boaz take the Cubin “slap a cripple” incident as some sort of symbol of the GOP need to win over libertarian voters.  Except, as Goppers will point out, they still didn’t lose that seat after their candidate threatened to smack someone in a wheelchair–if they can’t lose under those conditions, when will they?  Frighteningly, Barbara Cubin’s victory in spite of herself represents the level of GOP strength in the Mountain West that has barely been dented by ”the wave” this year.  Cubin’s victory, which was almost a loss because of her appalling statement, shows us instead that the most “libertarians” and Libertarians can do is fail to serve as a spoiler in one of the most politically libertarian states in the country when a Republican incumbent’s infamously bad personality causes her campaign to implode.  If they can barely capitalise on opportunities like this, if straight-up libertarianism is so unattractive even to Wyoming voters in a year of general anti-GOP discontent and running against one of the most unpleasant incumbents in the land, how can anyone take them seriously as major players?     

Presidential candidates might note that even in Iowa libertarians helped vote out a Republican congressman who championed the Internet gambling ban. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

Yes, good job, “Iowa libertarians” (i.e., people in Iowa who like to gamble online)–you helped force out one of the six Republican House members who voted against the resolution authorising the President to attack Iraq at his leisure.  As usual, the libertarian sense of priorities continues to impress with its ability to put the trivial and the second-tier ahead of the fundamental.  I’m not that much of a fan of the attempt to effectively ban online gambling, but that you would brag about drumming Jim Leach out of the House over online gambling, when the major policy issue of the day (which is, surprisingly, not online gambling) is one that he happened to get right, speaks volumes about what libertarians think is really important.

This year we commissioned a nationwide post-election survey of 1013 voters from Zogby International. We again found that 15 percent of the voters held libertarian views. We also found a further swing of libertarians away from Republican candidates. In 2006, libertarians voted 59-36 for Republican congressional candidates—a 24-point swing from the 2002 mid-term election. To put this in perspective, front-page stories since the election have reported the dramatic 7-point shift of white conservative evangelicals away from the Republicans. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large.

 

Based on the turnout in 2004, Bush’s margin over Kerry dropped by 4.8 million votes among libertarians. Had he held his libertarian supporters, he would have won a smashing reelection rather than squeaking by in Ohio.

 

President Bush and the congressional Republicans left no libertarian button unpushed in the past six years: soaring spending, expansion of entitlements, federalization of education, cracking down on state medical marijuana initiatives, Sarbanes-Oxley, gay marriage bans, stem cell research restrictions, wiretapping, incarcerating U.S. citizens without a lawyer, unprecedented executive powers, and of course an unnecessary and apparently futile war. The striking thing may be that after all that, Democrats still looked worse to a majority of libertarians. ~David Kirby & David Boaz

As Ramesh Ponnuru (via Ross Douthat) points out, the 2006 showing with libertarian voters in House races was a marginal improvement for the GOP over their showing in 2004.  This is almost inexplicable when you consider that the last two years have marked even greater divergence between libertarian hopes and GOP practices.  In spite of the Military Commissions Act, two more years of the war in Iraq, two more years of earmark splurging, and two more years of the executive running roughshod over everything, the libertarian vote for the GOP held steady and even ticked up a few points.  (In the mad, mad world of American politics, this means that John Kerry’s coat-tails actually helped Democratic House candidates with libertarian voters in ‘04, for reasons that only God can fully comprehend.)   In the libertarian universe, what little GOP action there was on immigration control and border fencing would have made the GOP even more obnoxious to them, yet more libertarians voted to retain the corrupt, inept, hideous GOP majority than there had been two years previously. 

This has happened in the year when most Americans declared their disgust for the very same people.  If I were a GOP poobah, I would almost be laughing at libertarian voters because of their mind-numbing partisan loyalty even as I was making a mental note to pay no more attention to them.  The GOP electoral strategists should now be busily worrying how to recapture populist Democratic-leaning independents and culturally conservative Democrats (i.e., people like Jim Webb, who became Republicans when Republicans were still relatively sane on foreign policy) on the one hand and David Brooksian suburbanites on the other.  In other words, they may need to start thinking how to be more like Buchanan, Dobbs and Tancredo on populist issues (at least in some parts of the country) and how they can be less like David Boaz.  If the GOP cannot figure this out, they are very likely headed to a string of electoral defeats.  Meanwhile, the mighty libertarian swing vote has shown itself to be irrelevant on the national level while doing little more than playing spoiler in some of the least populous states in the nation (the libertarian battle cry: today Montana, tomorrow Wyoming, next week maybe Nevada!).      

The vote tallies from 2004 and 2006 suggest that there is a core libertarian vote that is perfectly willing to be taken for granted by the GOP and that will keep voting for the GOP even at its most abysmally unprincipled and terrible.  In other words: relax, RNC, libertarian voters are almost as big a bunch of chumps as conservative Christians!  You can ignore them with impunity, just as you have been doing for years.  Because the GOP’s core constituencies have turned out for them with virtually zombie-like predictability in the worst of times, the RNC will instead internalise the lesson delivered to them by disgruntled independents: it is the proverbially wobbly and disaffected center and not the base that should be our concern.  The base has played according to the “base strategy” so well that it is making itself functionally irrelevant to the considerations of party leaders.  This is why you withhold your vote from people who have failed to represent you, because when you continue to endorse those who have betrayed your principles they will assume that they can do this forever without penalty. 

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of libertarian voters, who had every reason in 2006 to defect or sit out en masse but who actually started “coming home” to a party that has, by their own admission, increasingly become less and less interested in their sorts of policies.  In other words, the GOP Congress stripped terrorism suspects of habeas corpus protections and more or less handed the executive the authority to determine what constitutes torture, and the great, high-minded libertarian voting bloc–of which we are now supposed to be in awe–voted for that GOP majority at a higher rate than they did before the Military Commissions Act passed.  Nice one, liberts. 

I will bet you that many of these ”libertarian-leaning” voters, in spite of everything else that Mr. Bush has done that might offend them, are concerned about one important thing: keeping those marginal tax rates down.  Seeing the possibility of a Democratic Congress and (gasp!) possibly higher taxes, a fair few libertarians ran home to the Red Republicans out of fear of higher taxes.  Hang the Constitution and fiscal sanity–we need to protect the bottom line!  There are four out of ten libertarian voters who can say that they did not succumb to this kind of thinking, and good for them, but a noticeable number of their ideological brethren inexplicably seem to have come around to the idea that GOP misrule wasn’t as bad as they had thought it was two years ago.  

After all the libertarian whining and lamenting about the dominance of religious conservatives and after the pundits have worked themselves into a lather about the GOP’s endangered hold on the “libertarian” West (both of which threaten to become an important part of the conventional wisdom of Why The GOP Lost), we find that libertarians were even less inclined to vote Democratic in the year of the Great Repudiation than they were in ‘04.  The Schiavo episode must have made libertarians more enthusiastic about Republican control–how else do we explain the rise in the libertarian vote for the GOP?  (Obviously, I kid here.)  Social conservatism did not drive away that many of the independents–the war and corruption scandals did that all on their own–and it also did not drive away any more libertarians than had already been driven away by 2004.  Kirby and Boaz summon the phantom of the “scary” social conservative “obsessions” of the GOP as the thing that is hurting the GOP; social conservatism is the infection that must be eliminated.  Yet libertarian voting patterns show that even the extreme intervention in the Schiavo controversy made no difference in whether libertarians supported the GOP. 

What changed between ‘02 and ‘04?  Gosh, I don’t know.  Could it be the war?  Iraq is the big libertarian vote loser if anything is, just as it is the big vote loser among many other constituencies.  But even Iraq isn’t such a big loser among libertarian voters, since more of them voted for the GOP when Iraq policy was clearly failing than when it was slightly less calamitous.  

All this suggests that a majority of libertarian voters is predictably loyal to the GOP brand in good times and bad.  There is therefore virtually no incentive for the GOP to pander to their concerns about smaller government, less regulation or fiscal responsibility.  The upside of pandering to libertarians is simply not great enough to justify the risk of alienating the much more numerous voters from other very un-libertarian constituencies. 

So there has evidently been some real weakening in libertarian support for the GOP between ’02 and today, but 2006 shows that the bleeding has stopped at the Congressional level and Democratic gains among these voters have ceased.  Short of declaring martial law and sending thousands of people to prison camps, Vendetta-style, the GOP would have a hard time convincing these folks that it was a worse bet in any given election.  So much for the great Libertarian Democrat hope.  So much for the importance of the libertarian vote.  Next!

Jim Antle over at the Spectator has a good article on the political gymnastics of everybody’s favourite overrated Masschusetts governor, Mitt Romney.  In it he describes the recent furore over reminders that he was once very much in favour of gay rights and is now, well, rather less enthusiastic, all of which leaves no one on either side of that debate particularly satisfied…except perhaps for those of us who want to see the Romney bubble pop and disappear forever.  What is striking is how eminently flexible a desperate social conservative leadership can be: not only does Romney’s church affiliation not bother Falwell, Bauer and the boys, but now we find that it is to be expected and admired that Romney has grown and changed his views.  Of course, it’s true that everyone changes over the years.  It’s just that few people happen to change so dramatically so quickly at the most politically convenient moment as Romney has done, and it is not normally considered desirable to be so rudderless that you can hold diametrically opposed positions in the same debate in the span of a decade. 

The trouble with being progressive or “independent” on the Republican side is that ambitions for higher office inevitably require a certain, shall we say, tweaking of certain important symbolic issues in order to make it in the primaries.  Thus John McCain doesn’t think Falwell et al. are a disgrace to Christianity any longer; he thinks they’re just swell.  He spoke against the agents of intolerance before he spoke at their commencement ceremony, which makes everything okay…provided that the voters are senile.  Give Giuliani credit for this much: he is Clooneyesque in how “out of touch” with Republican voters he is on hot-button social issues, but at least he doesn’t insult everyone with the claim that he suddenly cares deeply about a culture of life or the institution of marriage.  He doesn’t, and he can’t be bothered to pretend that he does.  That isn’t what he’s interesting in talking about, and it’s a good thing for him that he isn’t.  

Insulting our intelligence will now be Mitt Romney’s job. 

A spirit which is ready to face danger, but is driven by selfish desire rather than the common benefit should be called not courage, but audacity. ~De Officiis I.63

Some libertarians, but of course not all, are political, not cultural, libertarians: they consider that state power should not be deployed to prevent individuals from selecting things to do. But cultural libertarians, on my view of things, consider that, even in the absence of state and statute, no social convention should prevent individuals from choosing things to do — with themselves and each other.

The distinction is crucial. On the first account, preventing the oppressive overreach of governmental tyranny — a unique power and danger in the world — is the goal, one that conservatives (sigh — generally) share. On the second, promoting the remissive outreach of personal autocracy — a unique power and danger in the world — is a goal no conservative can ever share, for once he or she does, he or she ceases to be a conservative in the decisive sense. Peisistratan tyranny may find even conservative sympathy; not so Calliclean tyranny. ~James Poulos

You would have a hard time convincing me that Peisistratos’ apparent maintenance of the Solonian reforms was the mark of bad government.  An abiding concern of the Athenian aristocracy was a well-ordered polity, for whose benefit they laboured and donated a great deal of wealth.  The sort of self-indulgence that today parades under the banner of “individual autonomy” and the idea of being autonomous from the political community were simply not considered legitimate or ethical alternatives in the life of the polis–this kind of apragmosyne had no place in the community. 

If nomos is not our ruler, but each is a nomos unto himself, you have a recipe for social anarchy sliding towards despotism.  Slavishness and passion truly are linked, and without restraint of the latter there is no way to escape the former.  If no restraints are imposed from within, constraints will be imposed from without.  Cultural libertarians are emancipating themselves straight into the prisonhouses of Leviathan. 

Meanwhile, the woman [Rice] is still with us, more powerful and more disconnected from reality than ever. She apparently still believes there’s no point in talking to Syria and Iran. She still believes that democracy is a feasible goal in Iraq. At the State Department dinner, I watched her speak about the arts. “Arts flourish most when they happen in a democracy,” she said. “The arts give expression to human spirit and give expression to human freedom.” ~Nora Ephron

Raise your hand if you believe this nonsense.  No one?  Good.  Art as an expression of human freedom is itself a tired Romantic fantasy.  Art is an expression of the human desire for beauty and the yearning for proportion, balance and order in space and movement. 

But, by any meaningful standard, it is impossible to believe the claim that “the arts” flourish better in a democracy.  (Leave aside for now the obvious problem that freedom and modern democracy have nothing necessarily to do with each other.)  Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the rise of democratic politics and all manner of egalitarian flim-flam in different parts of the world have tended to coincide with a degeneration of anything like high artistic standards in those same places.  Democratisation and mediocrity do go hand in hand.  Excellence and egalitarianism do not go well together, and the latter will always drag down the former.  If you are a believer in the virtues of democracy, you might very well say that this is an acceptable trade-off, but a trade-off undoubtedly exists. 

“The arts” flourish most in societies with two things: a great deal of material wealth and a relatively high level of education that cultivates new generations of artists and creates an audience capable of understanding or at least valuing in some way the art they create.  It is possible that a democratic culture might allow more people access to “the arts,” but this does not therefore mean that “the arts” are flourishing more than they would have done under a different kind of regime.  To the extent that democratic mediocrity weakens the quality of everyone’s education, it is likely that the practice and culture of democracy positively harm the flourishing and appreciation of “the arts.”  The arts are closely related to the classes that are always considered expendable in public school budget-cutting, because voters will usually treat these classes as extraneous and of secondary importance.  The reservoirs of high bourgeois culture in opera, theater, orchestral performance, art galleries, etc. are now theoretically open to all but are, in practice, still the preserve and the interest of a relative few (and those ticket prices don’t make it easy to broaden their appeal!).  Even though the federal government should have nothing to do with funding the arts, it is not surprising that arts funding takes a low priority, as there are no large constituencies that will be offended by the neglect of this.  

Remarkably greater sums of wealth go towards mass entertainments of low and dubious quality, and consequently there is much more of this sort of thing available at far more affordable prices.  This is the way of things in the world of mass consumption and mass politics, but we do not have to keep lying and pretending that democratic societies enjoy some efflourescence of artistic creativity because of “freedom.”  If “the arts” flourish at all, it is in open defiance of the logic of democracy with its leveling, its refusal to rank and its counterintuitive claim that everyone is equal.  Art is one field of human endeavour where whatever equality of nature men may have (i.e., everyone is equally human–as meaningless a statement as there can be) becomes ridiculously irrelevant in the face of the vast gaps in ability and vision that exist.         

President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that the American program to train Iraq’s security forces had been a repeated failure and he denounced a plan to increase the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi Army, saying it would subvert the country’s sovereignty. ~The New York Times

Thank goodness he stands on guard against the subversions of Iraqi sovereignty.  Otherwise someone might get the impression that the Iraqi government wasn’t in control of anything.

Pithlord has announced that he will be suspending his blogging to make more time for his family, as the heir to the Pithlordship will soon be born.  Congratulations to Pithlord and family.  His wit, commentary and insight into matters Canadian and legal will be missed, but he sets aside the blog for the best of reasons.  We here at Eunomia wish him and his family all the best.  We look forward to his possible return at some point in the future.

The problem for those who have tried to steer the United States away from its long history of expansiveness, then and now, is that Americans’ belief in the possibility of global transformation — the “messianic” impulse — is and always has been the more dominant strain in the nation’s character. It is rooted in the nation’s founding principles and is the hearty offspring of the marriage between Americans’ driving ambitions and their overpowering sense of righteousness. ~Robert Kagan

But, of course, this is all a lot of rot.  This is a clever set-up: the argument we are now having over foreign policy is a very old argument that goes all the way back to the beginning, but my side is the bigger, more powerful one and will always win (so stop arguing with me)!  But it isn’t true.  Not that it would make a messianic foreign policy wise or desirable even if it were, but just watch how interventionists twist history to give themselves a much older, more distinguished pedigree.  The best he can find is to dig up an old line about “empire” that Hamilton gives, which is to take Hamilton, who was an extremist even among the Federalists, as somehow representative of anything–this is a significant error in itself.    But Hamilton’s line about “empire” can be matched by a similar line from Benjamin Franklin that comes from before the War for Independence, but this does not mean that either Hamilton or Franklin necessarily believed in an activist or moralising or messianic foreign policy.  Even the more centralised government under the Constitution did not have the power or the ability to engage in such a foreign policy, and no one desired to give it so much power that it could engage in such a policy.  As for the statement itself, John Adams understood the word “empire” to mean a state subject to no fundamental law, a state that was sovereign–it was in this sense that Thomas Cromwell first designated England an “empire” in the time of Henry VIII in an assertion of the monarch’s rights vis-a-vis Rome (he did not therefore anticipate and foreshadow the Raj and the United Empire Loyalists!).  A constitutional state, by Adams’ definition, could not have been an empire in any case; a republic or other constitutional polity is subject to a fundamental law.  It is therefore not necessarily obvious what usage of ”empire” was being employed in every case, nor is it clear that saying favourable things about “empire” makes one a proto-interventionist, much less a raving mad messianic visionary in waiting.   

This is cherry-picking and teleological history at their worst: because we have an interventionist, meddlesome foreign policy and a messianic impulse to transform the world now, we must have always potentially had one.  A very bad historian will then find this eternally existing foreign policy by engaging in what R.W. Southern mockingly dubbed “precursorism” as he tries to read into earlier national debates our present-day conflicts.  People do the same thing in Western Civ-style history, lamely picking up on the precursor elements of modern democracy in the ancient German tribal things while ignoring most of what was actually interesting and important about the early medieval barbarian kingdoms or treating the Reformation as some great advance towards modern individualism when this is the last thing any of the Reformers desired and was exactly the opposite of what they were proposing.  It is a very superficial sort of intellectual history that presumes the seeds of a current debate or division must have existed from the beginning or from a very early stage of development.  In church history, we have long been treated to a very tired “search for the origins of the schism” in every minor dispute or disruption of communion in the 5th century between Rome and Constantinople.  Bad interpretations will say that the divisions of the 7th century presage and foreshadow the later schism in the 11th century, which is to see the 7th century in an entirely anachronistic and false way.  You would come away thinking that the churches become less united in the 7th century, when, in fact, they become more united; claims of papal authority actually become weaker because of the condemnation of Pope Honorius, etc. 

Likewise, Americans had debates over the nature of the Union and questions of territorial expansion, but these do not anticipate later debates over entirely different questions.  There was a national consensus on foreign policy for at least a century after independence that the affairs of the Old World especially were not really our problem and were best left to others.  Relations and commerce were desirable, but not entanglement. 

If the “messianic impulse” was always so dominant, it continually failed to dominate or express itself.  To the extent that “empire”-building and universal liberal ideals did find expression, it was over internal disputes about the nature of the Union.  But even then it does not follow that all, or even most, Northern Republicans believed in overseas intervention or advocated for such a policy.  At each stage where elite interests have pushed for a more expansive, activist foreign policy, the public has been reluctant to go along.  Interventionism has always needed some calamitous event or provocation to win broader public support–and even then, the public is often unwilling to endorse the “messianic impulse.”  Certainly, WWI stands out as a perfect example where the messianism of the President and the willingness to go to war of the Congress were completely unrepresentative of a large part of the country (70% in Apr. 1917 did not want to enter the European war and opposition continued to run at this high level until the end).  Even after the German declaration of war, Americans generally were not terribly interested in fighting Germany in 1942 and American soldiers were never able to work up the elemental hostility to Germans that they had for the Japanese (for one, the Germans had never attacked us, so our fight with them seemed much less obvious).  Americans grow weary of “nation-building” enterprises because, as much as they believe in the exceptional qualities of their own nation, this same exceptionalism militates against making other nations to imitate us.  If we are exceptional (and we are, properly speaking, not), it is even less likely that our model can be followed by anyone else.  

We have had the bad misfortune to suffer from people in the political class who believe as Kagan does, but the wilder ideas about “global transformation” do not belong to Americans generally but, at most, to a very specific subsection of Americans from back east and mainly from the Northeast and to a fairly limited circle of intellectuals and politicians.  This part of the country and this particularly narrow segment of the population have dictated the course of our foreign policy in the 20th century, and in every case they have represented an elite consensus that was deeply at odds with public sentiment, especially when it came to the wars resulting from the elite (mis)management of our foreign policy.  Wilson’s messianism was terrifically unpopular and not widely shared in his own time; each time it is revived–usually in some time of national security crisis, real or perceived–the people have gone along with it (because of the crisis) without ever sharing the messianic impulse.  Yes, Americans are generally exceptionalist.  They like to flatter themselves that history does not apply to them, and so are constantly baffled when it “catches up” with them.  What many frequently overlook, or what they often do not want to see, is that it is not “history” that has caught up with us (as in, the “holiday from history” coming to an end on 9/11) but that the consequences of bad elite foreign policy decisions have finally come about. 

What Americans want are leaders who have confidence in our ideals but who do not therefore believe it is necessary to send off military deployments to “advance” those ideals in all corners of the globe.  Americans who have sufficient confidence in those ideals do not believe in the need for crusades or militant messianism, since they assume that these ideals, if they are in any sense universal, will succeed abroad without recourse to the sword.  Those who believe strongly in these ideals, but who do not assume them to be simply universal, are even less enthusiastic in forcibly taking them out into the world because they are unsure that the ideals will take in foreign soil. 

History, of course, is not on anybody’s “side,” and you can tell a hack from an historian by whether or not he uses language like this, but if we do learn something from our own history it is that the American people will keep trying to throw off the yoke of a wild-eyed, utopian foreign policy elite and as a result will be treated to the pious hectoring of interventionist court historians who keep spreading the false story of the eternally messianic and interventionist America.  If there were no real danger of interventionism being discredited forever by disastrous misadventures like Iraq, if our “messianic” national spirit were so deeply ingrained and our desire to meddle so profound, all of these things would not need an army of apologists and deeply entrenched powerful supporters to keep them from being tossed out.  The only way that interventionists continue to have any hold on the imagination of any large part of the population is by distorting history and making interventionism into a long-standing national tradition (thus conning nationalists and some conservatives into embracing this supposedly ancient “tradition”) and by making the elite’s power interest in keeping interventionism around into a defense of high-minded American idealism (thus reducing its enemies to a kind of cynicism or, God help us, “realism” or “isolationism”).  In other words, interventionism survives only by distortion and deception, which is the only way that it ever achieved any prominence in the first place.  It is alien and contrary to the American tradition and the American spirit.  It can only thrive by perverting and abusing the native patriotism and trust of the people to other ends.  Because the government’s interests are served by an activist and meddlesome foreign policy, such a policy will be extremely hard to overthrow, but because it is so profoundly against the national interest and the welfare of the people there is always some small possibility that it will finally and permanently collapse. 

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah…”

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Pocito,” I said—a little.

“Pocito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh….”

I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.

It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines.

Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.

“Yeah,” Reyes said, rightly observing, “but . . . it’s not like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s a heck of a lot more complex.

“And I agree with you — we ought to expend some effort into understanding them. But speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.” ~Jeff Stein

Everyone knows 5:00 is quitting time!  Lousy journalist!  He must hate the American way of life, asking questions like that. Oh, sorry, that’s the Republican spiel.  The Democratic spiel apparently is to confess ignorance in a different language: Yo no se!  Behold, Silvestre Reyes, bilingual and incompetent! 

Yes, it’s so hard to keep track of the two sides in what is basically a binary schism in a religion of one billion people, especially when the most fanatical of the majority sect of that religion have made it one of their special goals in life to kill you and yours.  As Trent Lott might say of the two sects, “How can they tell the difference?  They all look the same to me.”  (I see that Stein also recounts this same Lott episode as a way of showing the widespread ignorance of people in the government.)

We [Stein and Silvestre Reyes, incoming Intelligence Committee chairman] warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately [sic]?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up al Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.  ~Jeff Stein

It’s reassuring to know that leading Intelligence Committee members on both sides of the aisle are equally clueluess–we wouldn’t want sheer ignorance of vital information to become a partisan football!  No, stunning, earth-shattering ignorance of the most basic information about the Islamic world and the jihadis is broadly bipartisan.  This helps to explain why Congress has been so bad about holding the executive accountable on foreign policy–it isn’t just that they’re lackeys and weak-willed, but they also wouldn’t know enough to correct Mr. Bush’s own stunning, earth-shattering ignorance about the region. 

Whenever anyone says, “The government knows more than you do,” that person is almost certainly wrong.  This is especially true when it comes to any one individual serving in the government.

I saw Apocalypto last night/early this morning, catching the last show of the night.  It is very good, as most critics have acknowledged.  It is a unique work of art, and I do not mean that dismissively or pejoratively.  It has contributed something hitherto unseen to the world of cinema, but it is not so strange or unusual that the audience will be lost.  Moviegoers who want to see something they have never quite seen before should flock to see this; those who are simply interested in an engaging story and an adventure in a Mesoamerican setting will also be reasonably well satisfied. 

Visually, it is one of the better-crafted films of recent years.  The cinematography seems to this humble viewer to be as good as it gets.  My one gripe here would be that Gibson uses  POV too often when it does not seem to add all that much.  The recreated temple complex and city have been portrayed masterfully, and the richness and level of exquisite, beautiful detail in costume and make-up will have to earn the film an Oscar for that if it wins for nothing else.  It is almost wrong that more time in the film is not spent in this ornately decorated, carefully staged world, because it is clear so much time and work went into creating it for us.  Compared to this part of Apocalypto, most historical dramas are laughably weak.  Perhaps the only modern film about the ancient or medieval world that includes anywhere near the same attention to detail is Alexander, but this is a much better movie than Alexander and surpasses it in this area as well.  

Filmed in Yucatec Maya, as we all know by now, it is another triumph of a Gibson blockbuster foreign-language film.  On a personal note, a couple weird, unexpected parallels with other languages–to which there can be no historical connections–kept occurring to me as I listened to it.  Evidently, “ha” means yes, which also occurs in Armenian and Hindi, and the negative imperative was something like “ma,” which might remind students of Greek or Armenian of the mi and me negative imperatives respectively.  For me, these few superficial similarities made the experience all the less alien.  The dialogue is not at such a high or academic level that the use of another language becomes an impediment to the flow of the movie.  After a very short while, many of the basic words and phrases used repeatedly become more familiar.  The subtitles do not intrude. 

Dramatically, it follows a straightforward loss-transformation-return structure, the classic archetypical hero tale, and joins it together with an elemental man vs. man kind of story.  If stories of loyalty and duty to one’s own people and family are stories that you want to see, you will want to see this movie.  If you feel uncomfortable watching the depredations of a decadent elite and find that the demagogic preaching of a bloodstained functionary hits a little too close to home, you may want to stay away. 

I don’t want to give away too much, but there are some basic themes of this movie that seem to have been lost in all the hubbub about depictions of human sacrifice and filming in Yucatec.  The first is a simple one, but one that defines the central character, which is Jaguar Paw’s father’s lesson that “fear is a sickness.”  The story reveals how Jaguar Paw ”strikes” that fear from his heart in the tradition of all good adventure heroes.  There is nothing elaborate or perhaps even very clever in this, but this is fundamental to the entire story and it is a shame it has not received more attention.  Perhaps it is so obvious that it seems unworthy of mention, but it caught my attention.  But since so many critics seem to be responding to the film with remarks like, “It’s very pretty, but what’s the point?” it bears mentioning that it is making several fairly obvious points, of which this is the simplest one. 

Another one of these points, and this is the moral of the story, is pretty clearly that of hubris calling down nemesis.  This is hubris in both its senses of violence and arrogance, which invites the downfall of those who try to raise themselves up too high or who believe about themselves that, as the bloody priest claims, “we are a people of destiny, we are masters of time.”  Whom the gods would destroy, they first make insufferably self-important.  These words do not necessarily echo (and indict) any particular leader, any particular elite or any particular civilisation (though it is a timeless message and one that all would do well to heed), but rather the tendency of every ruler, every people and every civilisation in its time to claim the mantle of the predestined, the chosen, the invincible, History’s favourites for whom the rules are different and to whom the normal course of history, change and decay does not apply.  The perfect irony of the priest’s declaration to be one of the masters of time on the eve of his civilisation’s fall seems to have been somewhat lost on many of the critics.  If we cannot see how this lesson relates to us or how we can make use of it, we really are in trouble.  If the audience forgets or overlooks this part of the film, I think they have pretty much missed what Gibson is trying to say.

Unfortunately, all the critics have done Apocalypto a grave disservice in their emphasis on its supposedly overwhelming violence.  This aspect of the film has been talked up so much that it almost convinced me, sight unseen, to not see it because the way people were describing it I came away with the impression that this was going to be something like the Chichen Itza Chainsaw Massacre.  It was nothing like that, and not anywhere even close.  In the last decade, we have been treated to a number of non-horror films (and undoubtedly piles of horror movies) that far exceed Apocalypto in brutality, gore and general bloodletting.  Perhaps that is hardly the standard by which we should judge it, but if we are going to damn Apocalypto as being somehow exceptionally violent and gory (which, by any reasonable standard, it really isn’t) we would have to condemn Gladiator and The Passion with even more vehemence.  An earlier Gibson project, We Were Soldiers Once, has such graphic injuries from napalm and shrapnel that they make the wounds in Apocalypto seem pretty ordinary.  You could make an argument that war movies today are inevitably bloodier, but then this would force us to make certain allowances for Apocalypto, which contains a very small-scale war but one that is no more and no less brutal than the hack-and-slash battle scenes of Braveheart.  

It may not surprise some, but in terms of sheer brutality and bloodiness The Passion outruns Apocalypto by a mile.  Perhaps predictably, Gladiator is far more violent, but like Gladiator Apocalypto neither dwells on the gore nor does it minimise the viciousness of hand-to-hand combat nor does it avoid the mostly realistic depiction of wounds.  Unlike GladiatorApocalypto is not just a revenge-and-eternal glory pic (which is perforce what Gladiator had to be once Maximus’ family is dead), but is genuinely a story about the “good home, worth fighting for” that Richard Harris’ Marcus Aurelius observes about Maximus’ home.  The end of the story, to which I will only allude, is one that declares that we should look to our own and mind our own business.  If we have a good home, we should fight for it, and leave the mastery of time and destiny to the bloody-minded frauds who make it their business to slaughter other people for their own advantage.  It is, in its way, the greatest anti-statist movie of the last ten years.  Eat your heart out, Vendetta. 

Having partied with The New Criterion and the Georgetown Graduate Student Organization in the space of twenty-four hours, I now feel qualified to issue judgment on liberaltarianism, that contrabulous fabtraption gaining so much said across the “high-end” blogosphere [meaning mainly the Clown Prince of Libertarianism, Julian Sanchez, the Urbane Paleo M.B. Dougherty, the Dark Lord of Paleoconservatism, Daniel Larison, and the We-Don’t-Need- No-Stinking-Object-Modifiers Straight Up Conservative John Tabin.

——————— 

The only irrational prejudice against conservative Christians is sexual. The idea that some sex things simply ought not to be done, as a matter, at its most extreme, of divine command, and that the respect one has for people can be keyed to such interdicts, generates a massive Dionysian hatred that is the real portrait of the American psyche.

But libertarians still basically side with conservatives who are willing to develop public standards of shame, guilt, and disgust and let people carry on as they may behind bricked-up doors. Not until very recently has the left’s hallmark demand after the triumph of the therapeutic — for publicity as a human right — pressed libertarians to support public sexuality, legalized sexuality, enforced respect for sexuality. And what Dupont University graduate can deny that? ~James Poulos

If I am the Dark Lord (a very satisfyingly gloomy description, I must say), I think Mr. Poulos should be called the Ironic Marquis of Postmodernity.  Now there have been and will be a number of different reactions to Mr. Poulos’ post.  Most of them will be unfriendly or dismissive.  Not surprisingly, Julian Sanchez has declared it the silliest response of them all.  This, Mr. Poulos notes, is fitting for the Clown Prince, but what is a Dark Lord to do?  Fulminate?  Denounce?  Send forth the Nazgul?  (So long as I don’t take my Eye off of Iraq, Sen. Santorum will be pleased.)  It is a puzzle.  Therefore, I will take a more roundabout way to offer my reply.   

Libertarians are predictably always very upset when someone takes their rather staid, boring articles about meaningless, insignificant electoral alliances, rejiggering the tax code and reforming agricultural policy and tries to spice them up and make them interesting to a broader audience by saying that this or that sort of libertarian is mainly interested in sexual liberation.  It isn’t that they are against sexual liberation or necessarily think highly of old-fashioned virtues of chastity and restraint (as if!), but they get so tired of being pushed into this stereotype.  (It is rather the way I respond when people talk about “isolationism”–I don’t actually have any problem with the views of the people who have been called “isolationists” over the years, but I find the word itself terribly misleading and annoying.) 

In fact, there is something to the old idea that people are interested in regulating only those things they think are terribly important, so that libertarians are probably more indifferent to sex than they are preoccupied with it.  It is not that they are personally indifferent to it (they might or might not be), but they are indifferent to it as something that needs any kind of serious control or discipline that cannot be managed by individuals themselves.  Because it is basically irrelevant, no one needs to be so worried about it.  The social pressures and social control of the past are simply obstacles to individual freedom; they serve no real purpose, so just get rid of them.  The libertarian is that person who is deeply, painfully aware that someone else somewhere is possibly attempting to impose his moral values on some other person–and the libertarian feels that this person must be stopped from doing this!  The only really relevant things for them are respect for the rights of people and the principle of non-aggression–mess with these, and libertarians will normally become extremely irate.  Any policy that touches on these “rights” becomes a major concern.  

Besides this, they want you to notice how terribly serious and practical their policy proposals are: “Look, we have a plan for Social Security!  We have market-driven solutions! Look at our charts and numbers!”  They want you to notice how politically significant they are: “Look at how many of us there are!  We’re a swing vote all on our own!”  Libertarian pundits and bloggers say all of this in earnest.  They will fight to the death for a person’s right to indulge his sexual passions in just about any way he pleases (so long as there is consent, because consent is magical and makes all things good), but they themselves will not necessarily partake, nor are they even necessarily all that interested in the more bizarre practices of the day.  There are zoning regulations to be torn down, after all, and they won’t tear themselves down. 

What matters is the defense of “individual autonomy”–something that Brink Lindsey describes as a “core political value” for libertarians and something Nick Gillespie mentioned as being central to libertarianism (just in case someone would like to protest at this point that I am caricaturing libertarians and imposing views on them that they do not hold).  It does not matter whether anyone ever goes into the sex shop down the street; what matters is that the opportunity to go into the sex shop is available to one and all and not restricted by the hateful clerics and their sheepish followers; what matters is that we let free individuals in the marketplace decide.

Libertarians will react badly to suggestions that they’re in it mainly for the sex (or whatever other indulgences others pin on them) since, besides being untrue for many, it makes their political philosophy seem trivial.  But take heart, friends–the triviality of their political philosophy can be shown in so many other ways that we need not take this approach at all.  (I can expand on this part more if anyone would like, but what I have said so far ought to have demonstrated what I mean here.)

If I might add another note of dissent to Mr. Poulos’ post, there is more than one irrational prejudice against conservative Christians.  The other is that conservative Christians (or simply most Christians) are somehow less than rational for acknowledging the claims of their authorities and then attempting to follow what their authorities teach.  If there is one constant theme running through much of libertarianism, it is that appeals to authority and reliance on authority are not things that “free people” with “free minds” do.  It is not because religious authorities seek to control any particular physical action that libertarians often loathe them, but because of the imposition this control puts upon the mind.  Whatever they imagine the opposite of a so-called “free mind” to be (presumably a slavish mind), that is the kind of mind they see produced by deference to authority.  Their mockery of Christian declarations on matters of sexual morality is actually mostly incidental.  They take it as a symbol of the unreasonable lengths (as they see them) to which people will go to satisfy the requirements dictated to them by authorities or by the Supreme Authority, when the libertarians themselves regard the activity being so regulated and controlled is not really that big of a deal.  For them, restrictions on sexual behaviour that become a matter for the public authority and social stigma to enforce are representative of the limitations that people put on their own minds; these restrictions represent the abdication of free and independent thought and the replacement of that thought with ”external” requirements.  Removing the social pressure and the influence of authorities that “impose” these requirements is something libertarians can praise and have praised because I think they believe that, somehow, the human mind and human spirit are relieved of terrible, artificial burdens when these things are overthrown. 

In all of this they are stunningly, painfully wrong, but it is important to understand that it is the need to be freisinnig that drives them.  If sating sexual appetites were their principal drive, libertarians would have been kicking around since the dawn of time.  It seems to be the desire to “make up one’s own mind,” a phrase that must make neuroscientists and theologians alike laugh heartily, that is at the core of what most libertarians think libertarianism is.   That being freisinnig also appears at first glance to make life more enjoyable in some narrow sense may add to its appeal, but it is not the reason why the libertarian takes the path that he does.  The Dark Lord now retires to his Dark Tower for some Dark Refreshments.  

Peter Suderman points to this Apocalypto review in TNR, which led me to look at this story:

Gibson raised eyebrows when his “The Passion of the Christ” was done entirely in the archaic language of Aramaic. Now Diesel has revealed that he wants to make a three-part swords and sandals epic based on the life of Hannibal. And he wants to do the films all in Punic, the language that was spoken by the Alps-crossing conqueror, but not by anyone for 2,000 years.

That last note isn’t quite true.  There were apparently still Punic-speakers in the time of St. Augustine, as I believe he relates in his correspondence (and Wikipedia tells us that it might have survived into the 7th century, though I do not know of any references to Punic-speakers in the 7th century), but then the history of Punic is not something I would expect entertainment reporters to know all that well.  A Carthaginian trilogy would be great fun (but who would pay to make it?), and Hannibal is probably one of only a few great generals of classical antiquity whose story has never been, as far as I know, brought to film.  Shih-huang-di has been covered, but Ashoka fans everywhere are impatiently awaiting a proper adaptation of his life that does not have Kareena Kapoor in it. 

The question I have is this: when will the Armenians in Hollywood get their act together and produce a screen adaptation of the epic story of the Vardanank’ (entirely in Grabar, of course)?  For some background information on the Vardanank’, read the entry on the Battle of Avarayr (451). 

You can also read this, but try to ignore the Theodore Rshtuni worship in the section on the 7th century if you can.  If Theodore Rshtuni initiated a policy of “compromise between Arabs and Byzantines,” Vidkun Quisling was a hero to his country.  Rshtuni’s “compromise” was effectively to side with the Arabs against the Byzantines, who were still ruling the country at the time.  Some Armenian nationalists have long regarded him as one of the great national heroes because he helped overturn the church union with Constantinople, thus reestablishing Armenian “independence” in church matters at the expense of making a deal with the Muslims.  (And, yes, I do see the parallels with the Byzantines in the 15th century–but I would not therefore say that Lukas Notaras and Mark Evgenikos initiated a policy of compromise between the Latins and the Turks!)

However, telling the story of the Vardanank’ these days might be complicated by some recent developments.  Because Armenia has been pinned between the basically hostile states of Turkey and Azerbaijan, it has been forced to rely heavily on its ties to Moscow and Tehran, which has also necessarily hurt her position with Washington.  Partly as a result of this close relationship with Iran, the long and close connections between Armenian and Iranian cultures have become much more important for a lot of ethnic Armenian scholars and Western scholars of Armenian history (Armenian vocabulary is heavily dependent on Iranian words).  Part of this shift has involved something of a revisionist effort aimed at the Battle of Avarayr and the memory of Vardan Mamikonean, who is also commemorated as a martyr and saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church.  In some of these new interpretations–which are by no means widespread, but which are becoming more popular–seeing Avarayr as a fundamental clash between the Christian Armenian and Zoroastrian Iranian worlds has become less fashionable and there is a tendency to judge Vardan, who has hitherto been the archetypical national hero, as someone who led his people into disastrous resistance against an overwhelming foe.  (It is as if Scots started to belittle William Wallace for being too confrontational.) 

Earlier, pre-Soviet efforts by Armenian intellectuals to emphasise their people’s considerable common ties to the European and wider Christian world no longer necessarily command the attention that they once did, and the story of cultural exchange and interdependence between Armenians, Iranians and other peoples in the region has consequently gained in prestige.  Before the Vardanank’ suffers from the revisionist idiocy that has afflicted other great mythic moments of national struggle, we need a major feature about Vardan.  Maybe there is an opening in Gibson’s schedule. 

Historically victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over. ~Shelby Steele

Unless world history only extends from 1799 to 1945, this is a remarkably inaccurate statement.  If he is speaking strictly of American wars, this is once again not really true.  For much of history, and especially before the modern rise of insurgencies and guerrilla warfare, victory entailed defeating the enemy’s armies in the field, seizing the objectives of the war (which did not, until the modern period, normally even theoretically include the enemy’s capital) and extracting concessions from the defeated party.  It did not necessarily require the occupation of the enemy’s territory, much less the ability to dictate terms about how the enemy governed his own domain.  Only in uncivilised, total warfare or wars of conquest and empire does this definition of victory apply.  To think of war in this way is to think of it in WWII-centric terms, which is typical of a lot of Americans, for whom this war is now the standard and the archetype of all other wars (hey, they watch the History Channel–they know it is!), is to misunderstand every other kind of war.    

Take a couple famous examples across history of where this definition does not apply.  For instance, Heraclius’ war against Persia–which was a defensive war that he won through a large counteroffensive thrust into the heartland of the Persian empire–was concluded not by the establishment of Roman/Byzantine hegemony over the Persians, but by decisively defeating the Persians in the field, resulting in the overthrow of the Persian ruler.  The war was soon brought to an end by the new Persian government, which was favourable to the Byzantines but was not under their control. 

A modern example might seem less strange.  Victory over Germany and its allies in WWI was not total, but was the result of a negotiated settlement.  There was no viable way to impose hegemony on the Reich, and while there were significant changes of territory there was no question of dictating what kind of regime the Germans or any of the Habsburg peoples would have.

The trouble with defining victory in Iraq does not come from muddle-headed relativism or our fears of “international responsibility” (because victory is not always hegemonic, it does not have to be colonialist, either), but from the nature of the war itself.  This war does not allow for “complete military victory” without using the means of total war, which, as we all understand, involve killing large numbers of innocent people.  (This is why total war is barbaric, and why people who think of war primarily in terms of total war are so frustrated with the Iraq war, because it does not allow them to use the only template for warfighting they know.) 

Many modern insurgencies have been rebellions against imperial rulers or rebellions against a central government in one of these newly independent former colonies.  Victory for the old imperial ruler, like that for the later central governments, was the suppression of the insurgency and the restoration of a degree of effective control over the whole territory.  Reestablishing the monopoly of force was usually the goal and the standard by which military victory might be said to have been achieved.  In settling insurgencies successfully, there has often been a political settlement that tries to alleviate or address at least some of the causes of the rebellion, or that at least makes some deals with the local, native authorities in exchange for their securing the obedience of their fellows–otherwise, it would start all over again.  These deals were acceptable because the imperial power or central government probably wasn’t going anywhere.  When the empires failed to hold on to their possessions, as they continually failed to do in the 20th century, it was partly because there was a sense that it was now possible to make them leave and that there was no longer any need to accept the deals they offeredThere was always the hope of a better deal after independence. 

As occupiers who are merely passing through, and who have made it clear that we do not intend to stay forever, any deal we make is unreliable and obviously open to later revision.  Having gone to great lengths to endorse our puppet government as legitimate and independent, we are in the absurd situation where our puppets do not accept their role as puppets but believe, as we have been encouraging them to believe, that they are the sovereign government of Iraq.  The one intermediary mechanism we might have to attempt to control Iraq was the one we handed over to people of less than certain loyalties.  Because we are merely passing through (or so we tell everyone), anyone who works with us always has his eye on the exits, because he thinks he may be able to make a better arrangement for himself by working against us now and making alliances with the people who will probably still be there in 10 or 20 years.  This is not an accusation; they would be fools to do otherwise. 

We are invaders and occupiers, but we have none of the leverage of a real conqueror who imposes a settlement.  (Not that we should want to be conquerors, either.)  Full-on imperialism would have also been a disaster, but it would have taken a different shape (as all of Iraq would probably have risen in resistance, rather than different parts of the population at different times).  Our half-a-loaf imperialism combines the evils and consequences of aggression and domination with those of the absurd weakness of “nation-building” projects around the globe.  We manage to inspire the hate a subject people has towards a master and combine it with all of the idiocy of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa.  That is why there can be no agreement about what constitutes victory and why there can be no “complete military victory”–the government conceded long ago that there will be no military solution, which means that the government long ago committed to the success of a U.N. “nation-building” and peacekeeping model without having first brought an end to the war.     

No one speaks of how KFOR in Kosovo will one day achieve “victory,” because victory is not the goal (a cynic would say that enabling Albanian terrorism has been the goal of NATO and KFOR from the beginning); such operations in the Balkans work under the illusion that some kind of “victory” has been achieved, when all that has happened is that the conflict that “we” have supposedly brought to an end has simply gone into hibernation.  It will reawaken when we depart.  Even the appearance of victory can sometimes be misleading if we believe that it represents some fundamental political change in the country, when it has only briefly damped down the conflagration.   

Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about the hegemonists, after they have been condemned for their injustice, is that they do not even understand how to expand hegemony.  They want pliant, useful foreign governments to serve as the supports for that hegemony, preferring this kind of indirect rule to the costs of formal and direct rule, but they seem not to understand that there is no longer (if there ever was) any incentive for the peoples of other nations to abide by this arrangement.  Our presence in Iraq is less than permanent but of long enough duration that we have inherited all of the evils of occupation with none of the advantages of permanent dominion.  (Not, I hasten to add, that permanent dominion would be either desirable or justifiable.)  Direct rule and full hegemony would not have brought meaningful victory, but would have precipitated a different sort of war against us.  The only victory that we were ever going to be able to accomplish was against the formal regime of Saddam Hussein.  This the armed forces achieved with admirable speed and success.  Any hope of a definable victory after that was, it seems to me, an illusion. 

Mel Gibson, of course, is very far from the only filmmaker who makes a fetish of gore. What’s so bothersome about Gibson, at least in this movie, was captured by LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan in his NPR review this morning. Turan notes that “Apocalyto” begins with that famous quote from historian Will Durant: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” Gibson’s apparent message to us with this film is that our own decadence could easily lead to our destruction. A solid and necessary point, to be sure. But Turan points out that by any sane measure, our civilization’s capacity for reveling in extreme violence is a sign of decline. On evidence of this film, says Turan, Gibson is not the cure for the problem, but part of it. ~Rod Dreher

Rod offers a sober and appropriate corrective to the Apocalypto enthusiasm that I have been indulging lately.  He makes an important argument that this is a work of art that incites the passions and may even indulge something of the demonic.  I think I will be going to see it, probably today, but even if it proves to be as well-made as Peter and others claim I may not be able to recommend it. 

But Apocalypto is more than a high-velocity Hollywood adrenalin rush. It’s also, arguably, the ultimate reactionary movie, a savage rebellion against modernity that holds up technology and urbanity as poisonous to society. After warming his audience to the good-natured rural villagers, Gibson reverses this trick and paints their urban counterparts as ghoulish and decadent, almost inhuman. The captives’ journey into the city is filled with nightmarish sights — slave markets, sickly children, chalk covered laborers in a stone quarry looking like hollow-eyed ghosts — and capped off with a terrifying scene of ritual human sacrifice. Gibson films it all like an ancient macabre freak show, implicating the sin-filled city, with its suffering masses, devious leaders and enslaving inventions, in the desecration of the simple agrarian life he presents at the beginning. ~Peter Suderman

For not only is he an enormously talented filmmaker, he is also one of genuine conviction. And so we have Apocalypto, a stunning action epic, a gory personal indulgence, and a forthright defense of family, tradition, and local community against the decadence of urban modernity. It is a journey into an ancient foreign land filled with exoticism and excitement, but it is also a visit to the haunted, occasionally disturbing, yet undeniably compelling cinematic world of Mel Gibson. ~Peter Suderman

He stood there at the podium, the kind of podium he’d stood at 5,000 times in a long political life, and talked to the kind of audience he knew well: supporters and loyalists, old friends and new. He knew how to play them, how to use the old jokes and have fun. And suddenly he was sobbing.

He had referred to his son Jeb’s first campaign for governor. He had seen some “unfair stuff,” but Jeb “didn’t whine about it, he didn’t complain.” The old president began to weep. “The true measure of a man,” he then said, “is how you handle victory, and also defeat.” And here a sob tore out of him and he could not continue. ~Peggy Noonan

I’m not sure how this sort of thing becomes news, much less fodder for opinion columns (and, now, blog posts!), but talking about this sort of thing really must stop.  Yes, it’s odd that the man started crying in public and it might have had something to do with the state of his relationship with his elder son and that son’s manifest inability to handle defeat well.  But let me state this plainly: I don’t care.  I don’t care whether the autocrat gets on well with his father, or whether his father is upset by the way the autocrat has failed his country.  What does concern me is the continued misrule of the autocrat and his refusal to do anything to bring his war to an end.  What concerns me is a nation so preoccupied with the personalities of its rulers and their families that we indulge in this sort of psychoanalysis of the Bushes rather than engaging in the tasks of a self-governing, republican people.  What concerns me is that not a month goes by without some story of palace intrigue and dynastic quarreling, as if we lived under the rule of the Sultan and we were waiting to see what the grand vizier Baker and the eunuch Karl Rove would do next.  People now study the interactions and relationships of the Bush clan with the seriousness of old Kremlin watchers or tabloid reporters who cover the Royal Family.  If George Will would like us to live in a republic, as he has claimed, perhaps he could be the first to argue for an end to all of this excessive chatter about the strained relations of the imperial household.  I won’t be holding my breath, for he was surely born to be a courtier and hanger-on of Caesars if ever there was one.

But this is not at all apparent from the movie. What is apparent is that the movie is an all-out attack on tribal culture, which Hollywood has idealized throughout its history and made a fetish in the era of political correctness.

I’m not sure how conscious this is on Gibson’s part. It’s likely not a position he has carefully thought out. In many ways, this is the work of an angry, unstable, self-destructive artist guided by pure instinct: a Modigliani or Van Gogh painting on a $100 million canvas.

But his movie definitely is telling us that tribal sensibility, which films like “Dances With Wolves” celebrate so nostalgically, actually is primitive and backward; and its resurgence in Africa and the Middle East is causing all the problems in our world.

In the climax of “Apocalypto,” when signs appear that the white man and his Christian civilization are coming, we feel relief. That relief flies in the face of everything the movies have taught us since the ’60s, and no one but Gibson would have dared try to induce it. ~William Arnold

Apocalypto opens to general audiences tomorrow, and I plan to see it then.  But this review caught my attention, as it is my impression that this interpretation misunderstands the theme rather badly.  It is not, I am guessing, a simple story of savage natives destroying themselves, only to be delivered by the white man–in fact, I am doubtful that the conclusion is meant to be a relief.  It is probably intended as judgement, a confirmation of the Durant quote cited at the beginning about the collapse of civilisations, and proof that the mayhem you have been watching for the past two hours has had the consequences of distracting everyone from real dangers by focusing on phantoms and illusions and seeking false solutions through an orgy of violent bloodletting.  (What could the movie be referring to, I wonder?)  Combating the wrong ills all along, this people has ruined itself and prepared the way for its own downfall.  We have been treated to moralising tales of the fall of the civilisations like this for a very long time; both the fall of the Republic and the fall of the Empire have often been expressed in terms of corruption and the decline of virtue that paved the way for autocracy and barbarian invasion respectively.  Occasionally, this has been put on film, though in the Roman case the movie version has sometimes been horrendously bad (e.g., The Fall of the Roman Empire with Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren and Michael York), but there is nothing new about the idea.  Only the setting and the intensity of the violence, I suspect, are what make it seem so unusual. 

I say all this about Apocalypto based only on what I have read about the film and what I have heard from a couple reliable sources who have seen it, but it seems to me that the film is not so much an indictment of tribal society or tribalism as much as it is an indictment of failed ruling classes everywhere that attempt to shore up their crumbling edifices of power with the blood of the people.  (Ahem.) 

If the film depicts ”tribal” life as something other than idyllic and as the subject of some romantic pastoral, that is all to the good, because people have never lived in such societies.  If he has drenched the screen in the blood of sacrificial victims, it is to set forth clearly the insanity of the rulers of a collapsing civilisation.  (And, yes, we should recognise that it is an exaggeration of historical realities.)   

Gibson has almost certainly overdone it with too much violence–this is virtually a given in any of his productions–but if he has gone a bit overboard (again, I still haven’t seen it myself) he has also possibly recaptured a kind of intensity and ease with the violence of life more befitting the ages in which his stories take place.  It was an observation in Huizinga’s Autumn of the Middle Ages, if I am not mistaken, that medieval European man was much more prone to strong emotion because of the intense and often straitened circumstances in which he lived and that medieval man was also far more accustomed to and more tolerant of violent spectacle and violence itself.  It was routinely a part of life in a graphic way that simply has ceased to be the case for a very long time in most of our part of the world (and we can appreciate the obvious benefits of this while noting that it makes us far more likely to be unsettled and disturbed when we see violent spectacle).  If his corrective is excessive, it is only because we have become accustomed for the most part to avoiding that spectacular violence (except in our cartoonish horror flicks) all together. 

It is funny that Mr. Arnold should mention Dances With Wolves, since the film that springs to mind in connection with Apocalypto is Zwick’s Last SamuraiSome people, who are very smart and have generally good taste in mlovies, don’t think much of The Last Samurai, so they may find the comparison silly, but my guess (and right now it is still just a guess) is that both represent variations on a theme of either internal decay-civil strife-foreign influence/domination or traditional society resists state-state crushes its opposition-state succumbs to invasion after it has ripped the heart, so to speak, out of the traditional society that it governed.  Last Samurai is slightly different, in that it is a last stand of the old guard against modernisers, so there the state is actually strengthened by foreign support and adopting foreign ways but, as the conclusion of the film tells us, the director wants us to view the fallen defenders of the old traditions as the moral victors.  There are strong echoes, from what I understand, of a purity vs. corruption theme in both Last Samurai and Apocalypto, where the state embodies corruption and the hero and his family/followers embody the antithesis of everything that the state represents. 

Things that recur in all Gibson movies, to varying degrees, are elemental forces of loyalty to family, the desire for revenge, man’s constant recourse to conflict, our lust for power, our resentment against injustice and the permanence of violence in this world.  Whether he is showing how these things are ultimately overcome and conquered in The Passion, or whether he is showing how they are possibly turned to good ends (Braveheart), he sees all of these as being closely bound up with suffering, violence and blood.  Because of this, he may understand some of the elemental forces that drive men as well as any filmmaker today, and this leads him to show those forces in their raw and exposed form.  As Gibson moves farther and farther away from subjects that are familiar or safe for a comfortable, squeamish modern audience, his movies might well become even more intensely bloody. 

That was a quote from Russell Kirk, which Gene Healy read at the start of AFF’s February 2005 debate over whether fusionism could be saved that Michael mentioned in his recent post.  The quote was one of a series of examples given of the rocky and quarrelsome nature of the “marriage” of fusionism over the years, and it helped set the stage for the debate that followed.  I was moved to go back and listen to the debate (audio available online here) because of something Michael cited from it that caught my attention:

Then there are the memorably named, Dupont Circle Libertarians. They no longer see what conservatives consider moral decline as the result of liberal social policies but rather as the natural progression of things - the loosening of religion’s power over society. I’d like to discuss Dupont circle libertarians at length soon.  But one notices from the 2005 AFF debate that Nick Gillespie considers the decrease in social stigma against gays to be an increase in freedom.

Once upon a time, I was, or at least considered myself to be, a libertarian.  Obviously, those days are long gone, but I remember how I saw the world back then and I can recall how a statement like Mr. Gillespie’s would have made a great deal of sense.  If the libertarian typically has no use for the claims of authority, at least those of temporal, earthly authority, and thinks the word authoritarian is a kind of insult (and I think most libertarians would fit this definition), he will normally have no use for social stigmas, or he will normally have no use for social stigmas that he comes to believe are merely the product of a taboo, a prejudice or a religious belief.  Prejudices and stigmas of all kinds, which conservatives tend to accept as part of the human condition, are positively detrimental to human freedom in the libertarian view because they impose burdens on individuals for reasons that seem to the libertarian to be irrational or irrelevant.  Especially if the stigma or prejudice focuses on something believed to be innate and unalterable, burdens imposed on the individual on account of these things that he cannot change and had no control over seem particularly unjust and damaging to human freedom.  Thus it makes a kind of sense to see the end of a social stigma as an advance of freedom, provided that you assume that these stigmas are the enemies of freedom rather than the boundary markers that make stable and orderly social life possible and so create the conditions in which real political and economic liberty, in addition to other, far more important things, can flourish. 

Their view requires a fairly flexible and often elusive definition of freedom, and a definition of freedom that many traditional conservatives would might not even recognise, much less accept.  It is a freedom for individuals to act as they will (yes, I know, provided that it infringes on no one else’s “rights”), which conservatives will always see and will always parody as a lack of restraint and the surrender to the passions.  This is, in the end, why fusionism fails on an intellectual level and will always fail.  What we mean by freedom and what libertarians mean by freedom have surprisingly little in common; what is for them the top priority is at best a second-order good for us that is certainly desirable but simply cannot take the same precedence. 

Practical cooperation for common goals and friendship are all very well and good.  However, there is no coherent theoretical justification for a conservative-libertarian alliance.  In truth, there never was, but most everyone played along with the “tradition of liberty” because there was a very specific sense of respecting the constitutional patrimony that made the idea of this tradition seem remotely plausible.  There is instead the need to work together against common adversaries and advance mutually beneficial proposals that we embrace for radically different, largely incompatible reasons. 

There are, however, powerful disagreements that might still pull the alliance apart, nowhere perhaps more so than on questions of economics and immigration.  If the alliance worked in the past because both sides saw the expansive welfare state as a major threat to their respective goods, the alliance increasingly breaks down when what Brink Lindsey called capitalism’s “relentless dynamism” seems to be one of the forces dissolving social bonds and stable communities.  This is one of those disputes where there is probably no happy middle ground: what we see as disintegration and dissolution of vital social bonds, many libertarians will see as the exhilarating explosion of individual energies and the inevitable consequences of “creative destruction.” 

Many conservatives have contented themselves with being warmed-over classical liberals on economic questions for a very long time, so much so that when some propose to start thinking about economics as traditional conservatives once did they are roundly attacked by these Austrianised and Wal-Mart conservatives as incipient state socialists.  These other conservatives adopted the worn-out clothes of Bastiat et al. perhaps because they believed that there no alternatives available, state socialism was the great, common post-war adversary at home and, besides, capitalism “delivered the goods.”  (Even though this demands us to ask, ”Which goods does it deliver, and do we want them more than others?”)  It is possible that some sort of fusionism may live on through the collaboration of the Wal-Mart conservatives and libertarians, but it will survive mainly through the conservatives’ embrace of almost all libertarian premises about economics and society.    

Julian Sanchez sums up the reactions to Brink Lindsey’s “liberaltarian” article, which drew this matter-of-fact comment from Steve Sailer: 

Libertarians are a lot more prevalent in the high-IQ swatch of the web than they are in voting booth. This argument is eliciting a lot more excitement in the high-end blogosphere than in the offices of campaign consultants.

Steve Sailer has been making this point elsewhere whenever people begin speaking breathlessly about the prospect of libertarians seeking new alliances.  It is a point that ought to be restated again and again.  Even if someone could cook up a rather shaky Unified Field Theory of libertarianism and liberalism (if I see one more mention of a possible ”reconciliation” between Hayek and Rawls, I believe I may become violently ill), it would change very little. 

The political irrelevance of the entire discussion is something that I alluded to a bit in my rather long, winding post on the same article when I noted that libertarians don’t pack much of a political punch:

For all of the enthusiastic talk about the “libertarian” swing vote this year, nobody on either side seemed terribly interested in appealing to it.  Why?  Because no one believes he is likely to win elections by appealing to it.

But there is another problem.  In addition to rather ridiculously small numbers (which have to be inflated by the category of “libertarian-leaning” voters in Cato’s recent study to make the “swing vote” idea remotely plausible), libertarians do not reliably vote as a bloc for a specific slate of issues.  As Sanchez hints when he refers to the problem of internal disunity, there is no “libertarian vote” to which a candidate would even be able to appeal, because libertarians seem to not agree among themselves what takes priority (which is true of any group of people with strong political opinions, but it is more damaging to effective political action the smaller the group is).  The argument over which “side” libertarians should take–the old fusionism or the new, liberal fusionism or something else all together–is about as meaningful as arguing over whether Monty Python’s Judaean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judaea or the Popular Front would be better able to overthrow Roman rule in Life of Brian.  Even if you settled the argument and came up with a satisfactory conclusion, it would amount to very, very little.  It could make for fun debate.  Unruly reactionary observers of the debate could also occasionally toss out Bolingbrokean fulminations that declared the two traditions to be equally obnoxious and therefore in some sense made for each other.  But whatever the outcome the impact of the “libertarian vote”‘ on matters of policy would remain as miniscule as it is today.  

I find I am compelled to agree with Michael’s concluding statement to his related post: “Frankly I think it’s unseemly how much attentions libertarians are getting these days.”

 
Addendum: I should have been more precise in my earlier post.  I spoke indifferently of libertarians and “libertarians” who participated in the conservative movement; I should have made it clear that this latter group would be better identified as fusionist libertarians, and that it was particularly these fusionist types following Frank Meyer’s lead in their rather dismissive attitude towards traditionalist concerns that I was berating.  This also had the effect of confusing Reason-style open borders libertarians with these fusionist libertarians, who are pro-immigration but not nearly so batty about it.  Because this was unclear in the original post, there may have been a good deal of confusion about who the subject of my criticism was. 

These elections were one of the things that were alleged to be impossible by many of the “realists”.  ~Andrew Cunningham

A citation on this point would be helpful, since I cannot recall a single person, realist or no, arguing against the war and saying that “elections” would be “impossible” in Iraq.  Elections occur in the Near East and North Africa with a kind of dreary regularity.  They vote in Lebanon, they vote in Yemen, they vote in Egypt, they vote (to no purpose whatever) in Algeria, they vote in Iran, they even vote in Bahrain.  Nobody doubts that elections are possible in every corner of the globe.  Even relatively “free and fair elections,” such as they are, take place in countries that no one would reasonably call free, such as Russia and Pakistan, and whose governments no one would confuse with being representative or constitutional.  But if, as the democratists now try to aver, “elections are not the whole of democracy,” having elections does not a successful implantation of democracy make.  If elections–and nothing else–are what democratists wish to introduce to the world, then they are even more dangerous than I thought. 

Furthermore, what realists and anti-interventionists of various stripes were usually saying was one of two things: a) elections will empower illiberal, dangerous or otherwise despotic characters or b) elections will empower forces hostile to the United States and her allies.  (Some went further and noted that in ethnically and religiously divided countries democracy was simply a way to politicise these divisions and inflame divisions to the point of violence.)  In the event, those who held one or both of these views have been vindicated by events in Iraq, as the political forces endorsed by elections have been largely illiberal, anti-American and hostile to American allies in many important respects.  Especially in the developing world (but not necessarily limited to it), democracy often means in practice authoritarian populism or some form of illiberal democracy, often dictated by the pressures of nationalism or religious fundamentalism.  Realists and anti-interventionists questioned the wisdom of unleashing political forces hostile to American interests and forces that were no more inclined to basic Western political values (and perhaps less so) than the Baathists they were replacing.  In other words, the idea that democratisation would make Iraq moderate, peaceful and pro-Western–which many a pro-war pundit definitely did say would probably result–was a lot of hogwash and some opponents of the war said as much before the invasion.  But none of us ever said that elections were impossible.  In our eyes, they were only too possible, and their results were only too predictable

In those wars we fought against European tyrants and their allies, from the Kaiser to Hitler to Lenin, Stalin, and their heirs. We fought them because we knew that our survival was at stake. The tyrants would never stop attacking until they had defeated us, or we had defeated them. ~Sen. Rick Santorum(07/20/06)

I know this is a bit like kicking a guy when he’s down, but in searching for a transcript of his latest “gathering storm” speech I came across this oldie-but-goodie from earlier in the year.  Does Sen. Santorum really believe that WWI was a war for “our survival”?  Does he think that Kaiser Wilhelm and Bethmann-Hollweg were plotting the conquest and partition of the United States?  Does he think the Kaiser was a worse “tyrant” than Woodrow Wilson or Lloyd George, and if he does, can he explain why he thinks this? 

Robert M. Gates has just been confirmed overwhelmingly, though not unanimously, by the full Senate to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. The vote was 95-2, with ‘no’ votes cast by Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rick Santorum, who lost his reelection race in Pennsylvania. In a speech following the vote, Mr. Santorum cited the threat of “Islamic fascism” and concern that Mr. Gates would not focus sufficiently on Iran.

Update: …and now he has moved on to Venezuela…and Russia. This is Mr. Santorum’s last chance to give an epic foreign policy speech. He’s calling this “the gathering storm of the 21st century,” echoing Winston Churchill. ~The Caucus

After Gates was confirmed, Santorum — who lost his seat in the November election amid a wave of unhappiness about the Iraq war — took to the Senate floor.

He delivered a nearly hourlong speech, warning of the dangers of not confronting “Islamic fascism” and its budding alliances with anti-American countries such as Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba.

“We are sleepwalking through the storm,” Santorum said. “How do those who deny this evil propose to save us from these people? By negotiating through the U.N. or directly with Iran? By firing Don Rumsfeld, (and) now getting rid of John Bolton? That’s going to solve the problem?”

He said he felt Gates is not “up to the task.” ~CNN

Via Ross Douthat

I agree with Ross that Santorum has positioned himself perfectly so that, in the unlikely and “wildly implausible” event that his crazy foreign policy ramblings ever come to pass, he will be vindicated and will be called upon by a terrified people to guide us to a safe harbour.  He will certainly have gone down to the end of his career in the Senate warning us against the dangers of Venezuela.  When the red, blue and yellow tricolour is planted on the shores of Florida and the Chavistas are marching through Houston, we will know that we should have listened to Rick when we still had a chance.  You can engrave it on the monument they erect in his honour: “He saw Venezuela as a huge threat to the United States.  He believed that Iran would conquer the world.  But at least he never played politics!” 

It is interesting how many of us assume that taking bold, probably irrational positions on grave policy questions is not playing politics with an issue, when the only words that might fairly describe a policy view that holds Venezuela to be a major security threat are frivolous, unserious and puerile.  If serious politicians work at politics, we had better be hoping that people who recklessly throw around phrases like “Islamic fascism” and consider the world to be in stark danger from the Caracas-Tehran axis are simply playing around at something else.  Anyone who honestly, truly believes this is certainly not “playing politics” in the sense that he is pandering to voters or taking the easy way out of an issue; he is simply treating international relations like a game of pretend in which he gets to be Churchill and the other kids are the mean, nasty Venezuelan imperialists come to take the Golden Child (or whatever) back to their dark master, who has his Eye focused on Iraq (where Santorum wants the Eye to stay).  There is no accountability for people like this, because when they are shown to be impressively wrong they can always claim, “I was just thinking out loud, cooking up crazy scenarios to keep people on their toes.  Nobody actually thinks Venezuela is that dangerous! Don’t be silly.  When did I ever say that?” 

Upshot: Santorum basically said, “You’ll still have me to kick around in the future outside of government, and, yes, you are very glad that you voted me out when you had the chance.”

Some Mayas are excited at the prospect of the first feature film made in their native tongue, Yucatec Maya. But others among the 800,000 surviving Mayans are worried that Gibson’s hyper-violent, apocalyptic film could be just the latest misreading of their culture by outsiders.

“There has been a lot of concern among Mayan groups from Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, because we don’t know what his treatment or take on this is going to be,” said Amadeo Cool May of the Indian defense group “Mayaon,” or “We are Maya.”

“This could be an attempt to merchandize or sell the image of a culture, or its people, that often differs from what that people needs, or wants,” Cool May said. ~AP

I see Sam Brownback’s big chance to show that he is just super-compassionate about this.  Get Mel, George and Zach on the phone, Senator.  Make sure that the Maya are not exploited, Senator, because if you don’t act, who will?  You can be the first compassionate conservative to make sure that the concerns of Mayan rights activists are taken seriously and to bring back the rockin’ sound of Rage.  Think of it as killing two birds with one stone: demonstrate deep concern about the abuse of the people of Chiapas (thus winning the Zapatista vote) while also bringing the conservative message of Bulls On Parade to a wider audience. 

“Rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells” sounds like the perfect defense of hearth, home and gun rights, doesn’t it, Senator?  That’ll be the way to shore up your support in some of those early primary states.  Show them that you care and that you share the Zapatistas’ concerns about the right to keep and bear arms against the government of Mexico.  If we adopt your views on immigration, they will all eventually be in this country anyway, so you may as well get started on trying to represent their interests.  Your compassionate foreign policy starts here, Senator!

Everybody in the whole world (except the Anglophone centre and right) predicted disaster, more-or-less of the kind that occurred. Hippies did. Gaullists did. Andean peasants, Buchananite reactionaries, John Paul II, Al Gore, the career US military, pulp novelists, realist IR professors and pissy arts students all saw this one coming. I know it’s kind of embarrassing for the English-speaking right to admit that they didn’t have the foreign policy chops of the Berkeley Women Studies’ department, but them’s the facts. ~Pithlord

This is, unfortunately, only too true.  It will be one of the consequences of the Iraq war that most of the American right’s reputation as being wise and serious about foreign policy will be–or at least should be–ruined for decades.  After a while, all those Nazi analogies began to take the place of real thought and analysis, and there seemed to be no ability to discern and judge the nature of real, present-day threats.  It was simply an accepted prejudice on much of the center and right that Hussein was a major threat and “we” had to do something about him.  That is what “responsible” people believed.  My view is that anyone whom people in Washington consider “responsible” should probably be locked up for the good of all.     

Pithlord is responding to part of a statement from Andrew Cunningham that comes at the end of his post about the collapsing population of Russia and the surging presence of Islam in Russia.  Andy is making a lot of sense that this large-scale demographic crisis and Islam’s role in filling the vacuum are among the major problems faced by the West (and certainly by Europe) today, but then ends the post with this more or less complete non sequitur:

If you’re wondering why we’re in Afghanistan or why we (Canadians) should be in Iraq, it is more than anything because we need to counter the notion that all this is feeding on…that the West will risk nothing in defence of its supposed “ideals”. Even if one were to concede (in hindsight) that the Iraq invasion wasn’t the best thing to do in 2003, it is crucial not to give up now. The establishment, there and in Afghanistan, of moderate, prosperous and democratic Islamic societies is still possible, and one of our last best hopes for a “sustainable” world.

I would first of all have to challenge the claim that the establishment of “moderate, prosperous and democratic Islamic societies” in Iraq and Afghanistan is possible.  Not whether it might be desirable (it very well might be, save for the democratic bit), but whether it is possible.  Nothing that I see today or understand about these two countries gives me any expectation of any such thing being possible.  As always it has been incumbent on the people saying this to demonstrate it with something more than the elaborate arm-waving that is the typical assertion, “Freedom and democracy are universal.”  (I don’t accuse Andy of holding such a simplistic view of the matter, but I await an argument that explains how such a thing is possible that does not rely on such stunningly false assumptions.)

Second, what do either Afghanistan and Iraq have to do with the defense of our “ideals,” real or imaginary?  Afghanistan can be reasonably justified as a necessary and proper retaliation for an attack on American soil, and America’s allies have aided America significantly in that retaliation, but this is very plainly an act of self-defense or retaliation against a physical threat.  “We” are, I’m sorry, no more defending our “ideals” in Paktia province than “we” were defending them at Midway.  Our “ideals” can only be threatened by those who pervert them or who, here at home, reject them outright.  That is, unless we believe that our liberty is diminished when it is diminished somewhere else, in which case what goes on in Afghanistan does somehow impact our “ideals”–this seems to me to be plainly untrue.  In Afghanistan, with some plausibility, we can say that we are defending our country, and that our allies are aiding us in this defense.  In Iraq, it is difficult to conceive of the war there as a defense of any kind of anything, since it was an openly aggressive war.  Were the British defending their ideals in 1899?  No, they were attacking the Afrikaner republics.  Were the Japanese defending their ideals in 1937?  No, they were invading China (though they did cook up an incident that provided a pretext for calling the invasion self-defense).   

Third, if the dangers are to be found on the one hand in the failure of Western peoples to reproduce themselves and maintain their populations and and on the other in the incursions of Islam into the Western world, what do the missions in Afghanistan or Iraq do that combats either of these trends?  They commit Western nations to send young men (and, praise be to egalitarianism, young women) to risk their lives and, in some cases, lose their lives, draining away still more of the native Western population, while at the same time doing nothing to prevent the spread of Islam or the migration of Muslims to the West.  Indeed, by causing such disruption at the heart of the Islamic world, the Iraq war is probably helping in the long term to encourage still more migration out of the Islamic world to points west and north. 

The message that Iraq in particular sends is that we assume two things: a) every political community should be organised in more or less the same way as our own and b) we are apparently more concerned with dominating and/or reorganising someone else’s political community than we are in securing the basic reproduction of our own peoples and the integrity of the historic religious and cultural identity of our civilisation.  In having recourse to the sword (and democratisation and nation-building) as the supposed means of our deliverance, we are acknowledging that we are in every other sense too weak to resist the eventual extinction of our peoples and the moral and religious collapse of our civilisation.  This need not be the case, and I think the reserves of our civilisation in these areas go deeper than some may suppose, but the continued focus of our attention on reorganising and reforming another civilisation rather than ensuring the vitality and preserving the old identity of our own seems to me to arrange our priorities horribly poorly.   The attempt to reform and reorganise the politics and culture of the Islamic world also happens to be a fool’s errand. 

Two centuries ago, Europeans dreaming of reform and freedom must have felt just as crestfallen as they watched their continent’s ghoulish elder statesmen gather for the Congress of Vienna. Both assemblies symbolize a victory for the ancien régime, the bloody-minded refusal to accept that the world has changed profoundly and will continue to change. ~Ralph Peters

This would be the same Ralph Peters whose solution for Iraq is to start killing lots and lots and lots of people–but the Iraq Study Group is made up of “ghoulish elder statesmen.”  I suppose he must qualify as a revenant or perhaps one of the infected from 28 Days Later. 

I don’t really know why people like Ralph Peters are allowed to speak on matters of grave importance.  I say this because I cannot for the life of me understand how any sane, much less conservative, person (I have strong doubts about Peters on both counts) could look at the Congress of Vienna and see anything other than one of the great and good triumphs of the modern age.  Many things might be said against the Restoration era, but in its favour it must be emphasised that it marked a departure from decades of bloodshed, fanaticism and destruction.  If anyone could accomplish the same today in the Near East, he would be a hero to dozens of nations.  

After the anarchy and despotism of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, after the virtually constant warfare, death and destruction of two decades of conflict, Metternich and the Congress crafted an arrangement to secure the peace of much of Europe that was to last without major, long and devastating wars for almost a century.  There were wars, even between the Great Powers, but they tended to be sharp, short and decisive, rather than the regular and devastating campaigning of the beginning of the century. 

The champions of “reform” and “freedom” had been the “bloody-minded” ones who had brought death to every corner of the Continent and whose destructive example spurred on still more revolutionaries after them to continue to convulse European politics for generations to come.  When Metternich set about trying to suppress them, he was doing the only thing a sane man could have done.  When the world is changing for the worse, good men typically don’t throw up their hands and say, “Oh, well, that’s how it goes!”  They try to remedy the ills of their age or, if possible, crush them underfoot. 

Metternich and the Congress refused to yield to the insanities of liberal revolution and nationalism.  For this Ralph Peters hates them!  Given the later history of Europe where both returned with a vengeance, they ought to be lionised as some of the wisest statesmen of the last five hundred years.  The great calamity of European civilisation, WWI, occurred because the men responsible for the governments of Europe in the July crisis had none of the understanding and none of the European consciousness of their predecessors.  In so many ways petty, chauvinistic and limited in their understanding, they could not grasp the importance of a general European peace and so ushered in the death of a vital part of our common civilisation.    

The Iraq Study Group is, of course, nothing like the Congress of Vienna.  To compare James Baker to Metternich is a hideous insult to Metternich.  I will not allow this slight to Metternich to go unanswered.  Unlike Baker, Metternich actually succeeded as a diplomat and minister.  He had his failures, but in the greatest work of his career he succeeded as few others ever have. 

Baker is like Talleyrand, in that he never goes away, but entirely unlike him in that he has none of the talent or wit of the Frenchman.  There is no reason for him to stay around, and yet he does anyway.  If we must have a certain contempt for James Baker (and it seems to me that we must), then let us not muddy the waters with attacks on far better men now dead.  Were Metternich here today to aid us in making our foreign policy, we would have to count ourselves to be fairly lucky.  Unfortunately, we have no such figures at our disposal–at least none in any position of authority.  No, instead we have a President who is twice as daft as Emperor Ferdinand and a foreign policy establishment that is singularly unqualified to advise anyone about the rest of the world.  Thus we have been compelled to turn to a gang of has-beens and insiders so that they can offer up half-baked ideas designed to do nothing more than cover for the foreign policy and Washington establishments that so manifestly failed the country.  In a more sane system, such as the old Austrian one, these people would have all been replaced years ago.  As it is, in our fine, “representative” system of government, we are forced to endure the same incompetents from generation to generation.  That one of the alternatives is to be forced to listen to the caterwauling of a Ralph Peters and the like is perhaps the only thing that is even more depressing about all of this than the rank incompetence of the political and administrative classes. 

A quirky individualist who wants no part of the phony collegiality of Washington, Webb was rightly insulted when Bush pressed him in that bullying way—“That’s not what I asked you”—trying to force the conversation back to Webb’s son. Webb could have asked how the Bush girls are doing, partying their way across Argentina. He could have told Bush he was worried about his son; the vehicle next to him was blown up recently, killing three Marines. Given the contrast between their respective offspring, Webb showed restraint. ~Eleanor Clift

Normally, if Eleanor Clift and I were in agreement about virtually anything, I would assume that I had badly misunderstood something.  In this case, I don’t think I can say that.

In all my time in Washington, I’ve never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority.  Self-congratulatory.  Full of itself.  Horrible.  ~Bill Bennett

That’s one reason why Florida’s Jeb Bush — an outstanding governor — has decided to spare his country, his party and himself another Bush on the ticket. Such selflessness is not the Clinton way. ~Jonah Goldberg

Via Clark Stooksbury

I’m sure it was Gov. Bush’s deep reserve of humility and selflessness that convinced him not to run in ‘08 (though there is still time for him to change his mind).  It couldn’t have been the overwhelmingly obvious assumption that his name would drag him to the bottom of the field as fast as you could say Schiavo.  If his brother were enormously popular and was being considered for deification by the Senate, Jeb would probably still retire to spare the nation from the pains of Bush fatigue.  Yeah, that’s it! 

Pundits and political junkies have virtually nothing political and interesting to talk about in the month after a big election (except for dreary chit-chat about whether Nancy and Jane will make up and be friends after study hall), which is why so many of us have been sucked into ridiculous pre-predictions about a presidential race that hasn’t even started yet.  Pundits are already coming up with their narratives. The first among these: Bush and Clinton fatigue! 

I would have thought that the nation ought to be suffering from such fatigue in, oh, 1992, but I was frequently disappointed.  In 1996, I was positive that there was no way Clinton could be re-elected.  How could people re-elect him?  I knew he was rotten and no good, and that seemed to make it obvious that no one would vote for him in large numbers ever again.  How could 2000 have been so close, when everybody I knew wanted Gore to lose?  Well, that goes to show you that you really shouldn’t let your enthusiasm (or contempt) get the better of you when you are making claims about the state of the electorate.

I don’t think such a thing as “Clinton fatigue” or ”Bush fatigue” exists.  George W. Bush fatigue exists most definitely, but the reasons for that are obvious.  Like it or not, Bubba left office with shockingly high approval ratings, and he remains not just tolerated but indeed beloved by some considerable number of people in his party.  He is also intensely hated by many of the rest of us, but Dobleve’s disastrous reign, er, administration has managed to dim and soften the memories of the bad old days.  Bubba’s wife is liked less in the party, and she carries added burdens of having supported the resolution that led to the Iraq war and serves as a symbol to progressives of all that is wrong and impure in the DLC wing of the party, but if so many people are so fatigued by the endless parade of Clintons and Bushes they seem to have an awfully bad habit of continuing to support them.

Which brings us back to the overhyped, oversold Barack Obama.  (Personally, I still think Harold Ford, in spite of his narrow loss this year, is a far more credible, potentially nationally viable black Democrat, but then I don’t get to invent the truth as journalists do.)  The unhinged enthusiasm for Colin Powell was much the same.  The enthusiasm for Obama will fade, because it will be seen to be the product of a completely artificial media circus.  If his fans really wanted him to win, they would pipe down and stop making him into the Anointed One.  Sometimes voters will decide that they don’t much care for other people making their decisions for them (unless they are GOP primary voters, in which case they will often vote for just about anybody with a pulse whom the party elders endorse). 

Unlike Powell, though, Obama cannot even boast the much-coveted “centrist” label.  He is as “moderate” on the left as I am on the right.  If anyone proposed that I could help unite the country and transcend the partisan divide, I would make sure that he found the medical attention he so desperately needed.  Yet we are supposed to believe that, in the interests of a “fresh start” and the possibility of seeing America as one country rather than two warring factions pitted against each other, we are supposed to be enthusiastic about one of the youngest and most left-wing members of the Senate who has no real credentials except that he is charismatic and black (but not so black, the pundits will whisper, that he scares you).  Extremism in the cause of bipartisanship is no vice, I suppose. 

Progressives are excited about him because they hate Hillary–that part is true–but the media are excited about him because he is an archetype of “racial reconciliation” and a sort of multiculti success story; he is the Tiger Woods of politics without the accomplishments to go with the overinflated reputation.  Some conservatives are excited about him because, well, it seems that they still hate Hillary, even though they will tell you in the same breath that that is so ’90s.  If the goal is to distract, divide and weaken the eventual Democratic nominee, boosting Obama makes a sort of sense for the GOP.  But the more credibility all of these groups give to his candidacy, the more credible he inevitably becomes, which is simply incredible. 

I don’t mean to belabour the point, but Obama has nothing to campaign on.  He can say, “I have two published books attributed to me!  One of them has a really stupid title!”  (I am going to start refusing to say that a politician has “written” any book published under his name.)  As far as Democrats are concerned, he would be a disaster of a nominee.  Think about it, folks.  He does not have, and could not have, the national security chops for the job he would be seeking.  After the Kerry debacle, there may be an allergic reaction among the Dems to basing the nomination on supposed national security and/or military credentials, but in the wake of the debacle that is the Bush Presidency voters will be hungry for someone who appears capable of handling foreign policy and security policy far better than Mr. Bush ever did. 

That means that Americans will not want yet another inexperienced man who is beholden to his advisers and incapable of making serious independent judgements about major policy questions.  The ever-deferential-to-experts (at least of a certain kind) Mr. Bush, who seems unable to say anything about troop levels in Iraq that does not begin with, “The commanders on the ground tell me…”, is not the model of leadership that anyone should want to emulate.  Yet his considerable lack of experience in either being an executive or in making policy ensures that he would be heavily dependent on advisers and would end up being beholden to the Democratic side of the foreign policy establishment with all of the terrible ideas that go with it.  Were strange and impossible things to happen and Obama were to be nominated, the Dems would have their heads handed to them (not an all together unpleasant prospect, I grant you).  It is the height of absurdity that people who worry about Hillary’s electability would think that the answer is to find someone manifestly less electable and start enthusing about how it is his race to lose.               

Nora Ephron (via Rod Dreher) writes about Sen. Webb’s figurative dust-up with the President in much the same way I did (minus the remarks about tyrants and autocracy, etc.):

So finally someone said to George Bush, Don’t think that what you stand for is beside the point. Don’t think that because you’re President you’re entitled to my good opinion. Don’t think that asking about my boy means that I believe for even one second that you care. If you did, you’d be doing something about bringing the troops home.

George Will thinks this is bad manners.

I don’t.

I think it’s too bad it doesn’t happen more often.

Ms. Ephron is right.  Ironically and rather disturbingly, Bush’s behaviour represents the disconnect of the entire country from the reality of the war: he asks about soldiers he sent to Iraq as if they were off at college.  He might as well have asked, “Has he enjoyed his time in Baquba?”  Sen. Webb, for obvious reasons, cannot be as disconnected from it.  

Think about the possible parallels, and consider whether Sen. Webb’s response was really out of line.  What would Bob La Follette have done if he had had a son in WWI and Woodrow Wilson had pretended to care about the welfare of his “boy”?  “Fightin’” Bob might not have been as restrained. 

The best thing Sen. Webb might have done would have been to avoid the mixer all together, at which point the great and the good would have accused him of being…rude.

Nowadays, Mr. Olasky is the editor in chief of World Magazine, a Christian-oriented weekly publication. Asked in e-mail about the current Republican field, he had this to say: “It’s still early. I wrote a book in the late 90s, ‘The American Leadership Tradition’ which among other things looks at trustworthiness in marriage as a leading indicator of trustworthiness in public office, so I’d like to know a lot more about several of the candidates. Regarding Giuliani, I’d like some sense of the types of judges he would be likely to appoint. McCain and Giuliani have name recognition right now, but January surprises are now traditional in election years.” While unwilling to officially endorse any one candidate, Mr. Olasky did trumpet one dark horse candidate — Senator Brownback. “Brownback is embracing compassionate conservatism, and that could have great appeal to religious conservatives.” ~The New York Sun

It is interesting that Olasky makes a candidate’s marriage a possible test for gauging political leaders in terms of their trustworthiness. One might note that Mr. Bush is apparently steadfastly faithful to his one and only wife, but has also been one of the more duplicitous presidents of the last century. I would have thought that if anyone was going to make an issue out of the marital histories of the major GOP candidates, it would be for straight-up moral reasons (i.e., divorce is simply wrong and unacceptable) or because of the symbolism and role-model effect of selecting an adulterer (”it sends a terrible message to the country to nominate someone who has broken his marriage vows”). I think a mix of these two arguments (the moral and the symbolic) would be fairly effective at undermining a Gingrich or Giuliani run.

The line of attack would be personal and straightforward: “How can we expect X to fight for the institution of marriage when he failed in his own marriage? He could not keep his promises to his wife–what makes you think that you can trust him to keep his promises to the people?” (At which point, the cynics would point out that no politician keeps his promises anyway, which renders the issue moot!) The personal nature of such an attack could backfire, and the injured party could complain about the dangers of hypocrisy and moralism, etc, etc. The press would love it, and the attacks would almost certainly have to be outsourced to a 527 group. No candidate would want to be caught on tape making those attacks, even though a significant bloc of Republican primary voters would be turned off by Gingrich and Giuliani’s personal, um, foibles. But the sheer absurdity of the party that makes a very big deal out of its defense the institution of marriage nominating a known adulterer (Giuliani or Gingrich) or someone who has been once divorced (McCain) might not be too much for the big-name pundits to take, but for the voters it might introduce some confusion.

Olasky’s mention of Brownback’s “compassionate conservatism,” which I have noted and skewered before, is noteworthy for what it tells us about Sen. Brownback’s chances. The last ‘Olaskyian’ candidate was George Bush, who adopted the “compassionate conservative” shtick, er, philosophy as a way of demonstrating that he was not some right-wing maniac, because he fully expected the real challenge to his candidacy in the primaries would come from the right. As it happened, McCain came at him from the left and forced him to seize the true-blue conservative mantle, which made the “compassionate conservative” angle much less significant for defining Bush’s appeal. It was the primaries that created the illusion, encouraged by the media and the GOP, that Mr. Bush was some kind of real conservative. Thus we have been treated to a fair number of stories and editorials up until this year telling us that Bush is so much more conservative than Reagan ever was, which in so many important ways is fantastically, horrendously wrong that it would take a separate post to untangle the whole mess. Aside from the occasional refrain about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and the endlessly repeated “uniter not a divider” mantra the happy, “compassionate” Bush of 1999 and early 2000 largely went away. He was settling into rather dreary moderate Republican mediocrity in the first months of 2001 with his faith-based initiative effectively wilting into insignificance before the first year was out. He continued to blather on for years about “armies of compassion,” but you didn’t have to be a trained political analyst to know that this was never Bush’s strength nor was it a terribly appealing message.

I risk making a wildly overgeneralised statement when I say this, but I don’t think most religious conservatives care very much for “compassionate conservatism” at all and are instead fairly embarrassed by it. This isn’t so much because they think conservatism is merciless and cruel, but simply because they have traditionally been wary of secular and progressive reformist appeals expressed in the syrupy language of compassion and emotionalism. (The hysterical and at times insane enthusiasm about Terri Schiavo lead me to think that I may not understand religious conservatives today very well at all, but I would very much like to think that this episode was an extreme and bizarre mutation of much more normal pro-life concern.)

“Help the children” and the like used to be the kind of appeal that conservatives quite appropriately mocked as manipulative and often somewhat dishonest–now the “compassionate conservatives” want to come up with their own ways to “help the children”…and children in Africa, no less. Religious conservatives, if I understand them at all, once regarded this kind of language as the cover for some kind of con, which it often is, but they also have viewed it as a hijacking by government of the legitimate functions of private charity and the work of the Church and thus a danger to and an imposition upon churches. There are also some Christian conservatives, and not simply the most conservative ones, who react badly to the vague, weasel-worded appeals to “people of faith” and “faith-based” this or that; for the folks who think this is a Christian country or for those who think that Christianity in particular has been marginalised or driven out of public debate more than other religions, the deliberate refusal to speak plainly about Christian charity and Christian works of mercy probably strikes them as an appalling concession to the spirit of multiculturalism and an embarrassing accommodation with an interreligious ecumenism in which they almost certainly do not believe. (On a related note, the statements of some of the leading religious conservative leaders about Romney–it’s the issues, not his church affiliation, that matter–will encourage Romney to walk right into the middle of this minefield, as he attempts to smuggle his non-Christian beliefs into his appeal for religious conservative votes by talking about “faith” and values” that will, I suspect, leave a lot of people cold.)

Contrary to the people raising alarms about theocracy, the “faith-based” initiative appears to quite a few religious conservatives as a real defeat in the culture wars both with respect to the role of the government and the influence of Christianity on public discourse. Those who, apparently like Katherine Harris (but preferably without the lunacy), think that serious Christians should be the leaven of the nation most likely see “faith-based” government subsidies as an insulting attempt at buying off Christian voters and a means for exercising control over churches rather than having the churches exert their influence on government. Secularists become nervous about this because they think it breaks down the mythical “separation” barrier, which religious conservatives would be very glad to see repudiated once and for all provided that Christianity triumphs as a result, but I think Christian conservatives view this kind of program in a harsh light because it intrudes upon the liberty of the Church and delays and retards any progress towards a “restoration” or “taking the country back,” as they sometimes put it.

That the people who seem most likely to embrace this idea, such as it is, also seem to be rather un-conservative by the standards of many different kinds of conservatives in many other important respects does not lend it a lot of credibility. Brownback hitches himself to this broken-down “philosophy” at his own political peril. It may win over Rick Warren and some of his evangelicals, but to just about everybody else this appeal comes off sounding at once sappy and uninspiring. When Brownback starts talking about intervening to help the people of Darfur, he just sounds recklessly idealistic. When he applies the “compassionate conservative” approach to immigration, he appears to most core GOP voters as being just as bad as Bush and possibly even more sanctimonious about it.

I’ve been working up a few scenarios given the primary calendar (which isn’t set in stone, with states like California looking to move up), and really, it would be Obama’s race to lose. ~Kos

We’ve all known that Markos Moulitsas was always a bit odd and excitable, but it is now official: he has gone mad. Even though Kos is only speaking of the nomination, and not the general election, this is probably the most absurd thing he has ever written (and that is saying something). The fun of making bold, outlandish predictions almost two years before the party conventions is that no one takes these predictions seriously and no one will attack you for having made obviously ludicrous predictions. For pundits, it is the best of all worlds: you can make the most outrageous, contrarian or bizarre claims, and no one will fault you for it when you are proven horribly wrong. For the record: Kos will be proven horribly wrong, and we will know it as early as mid-March 2008, if not sooner.

Obama has three things going for him: his charisma, a McCain-like media love-fest and his position on the war. (His happy God-talk will not help him significantly in the primaries, and it is to his party’s primary voters, not to Rick Warren and Sam Brownback, that he needs to make his appeal.) He campaigned against the war when he was running for the Senate, but he was able to avoid having to make the decision that Clinton, Biden, Kerry and the rest had to make in 2002 (would they give Bush the authority to do whatever he wants to Iraq or would they appear “weak” and oppose the resolution?). Every “responsible” Democrat with aspirations to higher office voted for the resolution, while the Senators and House members who knew they were never running for President voted as their constituents and convictions demanded. Obama, running in a safely Democratic-leaning state against Alan Keyes, could oppose the war without fear of significant political fallout. His most admirable policy position is therefore not a testament to his own wisdom or judgement (I suspect one will search in vain to find Obama op-eds against the war dating from 2002 and early 2003), but to his perfectly predictable alignment with the antiwar views of his state party. He happened to be right about Iraq, because antiwar Democrat sentiments put him on the right side of the issue, but his own foreign policy judgement is anything but sound if his rather careless saber-rattling against Pakistan is any indication. Put more simply, besides his political charm, he has all of the “assets” of a McCain and Dean rolled into one! How could he fail to win?

The progressive drooling over Barack Obama (here Arianna Huffington practically covers the junior senator in her copious saliva) tells us just how deeply some progressives hate Hillary Clinton. They desperately want, need, Anyone But Clinton. Hey, I understand why people would loathe her–I grew up with the anti-Clinton conservative culture of the ‘90s, and it was exceedingly easy to regard the then-First Lady with enthusiastic contempt. But that is all that this Obama enthusiasm is. They certainly aren’t drooling over anything that has to do with Obama in matters of substance. He is, as I have said before, an empty vessel into which the ABC forces will pour their dreams and hopes, only to find that he is far from being their dream candidate. (The horror of the Americans for the Separation of Church & State will be powerful: “You mean he actually believes in God? And he talks about it in his campaign? That’s outrageous!”) This is interesting, and it will create problems for Clinton, who has formidable obstacles in her way, but right now she has so many more advantages over Obama that it is almost painful (if it weren’t so funny) to see the vaunted party strategist and would-be Field Marshal Kos making such an astonishingly bad prediction (revealing a host of bizarre assumptions in the process). Progressives, behold–this myopic Californian is your visionary commander! No wonder you keep losing.

I will say this: Obama has a certain smoothness and ability on the stump that will make him slightly more formidable than John Edwards was in ‘04, but Edwards was fairly smooth and revived the One America shtick while Obama was still running around South Side Chicago. Edwards managed to become the losing VP nominee. He made a strong showing in Iowa and managed to win in both of the Carolina primaries, but never toppled the front-runner–and he was running against John Kerry! Yet he was allegedly the second coming of Clinton and the much-needed “centrist” Southern Democrat that people routinely look for every four years. A lot of the same oohing and aahing went on then that is going on now about Obama. He’s young! He’s able to speak English fluently! We’re saved! It didn’t matter. The voters had other ideas.

Edwards will run for President in the coming cycle and go nowhere. Edwards’ fate is also Obama’s future if he runs in ‘08. He will probably make a strong challenge, lose and be selected for the VP slot. He doesn’t even have to do that well in many of the primaries; he will be considered a good running mate because of the “enthusiasm” and “energy” he will bring to the ticket. It is not clear who the nominee would be on the ticket with him, but it is fairly clear that he does not have either the executive experience or the experience in campaigning generally that would make him a viable presidential nominee. This might not have mattered if the next election were like 2000 or 1992, but a presidential election that takes place while the Iraq war is still going on or has only just concluded will focus on questions of leadership, management, competence and foreign policy experience. The final outcome, like everything else in the future, is obviously uncertain, but I am betting that the Democratic ticket will probably lose.

Regarding his national aspirations, he adopted a posture of self-protective self-deprecation. “What chance does a five-foot-seven billionaire Jew who’s divorced really have of becoming president?” he asked. ~New York Magazine

Well, when you put it like that…none at all. How about this: what chance does the New York Mayor who openly and cravenly cavorts with the cop-bashing, race-baiting Al Sharpton in the wake of a controversial police shooting have of becoming president? If it were possible, even less of a chance. (On the Sean Bell shooting, see Heather Mac Donald’s thorough repudiation of the hysteria surrounding the entire episode.)

It is election years like 2008 that fully reveal the amazing arrogance and self-confidence that someone has to have to believe so strongly that he should become President of the United States that he actually goes around the country telling everyone this every chance he gets. In “normal” years, Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy wouldn’t even be a bad joke. No one would even mention it. What constituency is up for grabs that he represents? The billionaire vote? Gates and Buffet are probably going to vote for the Democrat anyway, so he’s already behind among the billionaires. Frank Luntz says that Bloomberg’s polling in the mid-20s in a three-way contest with Clinton and a Republican not McCain or Giuliani, but what that mid-20s figure really represents is just how much a large part of the public really doesn’t want one of the candidates from the major parties to win. Normal, non-partisan people are so disgusted by them, you could probably put my name on the same poll and I might draw 10 points. But would those people actually vote for Bloomberg when it came time to push the button? Almost certainly not, because they would find that there is virtually nothing distinctive about the man’s views that a voter couldn’t already find in one of the other two.

If they are to be even marginally successful, except in strange states like Connecticut, independent candidates have to represent something genuinely different from what the major parties are selling. More importantly, they have to be able to tap into the issues where the establishment candidates are singing from the same hymnal and blatantly ignoring the majority of the people. Trade, immigration and foreign policy are three vital areas where the leadership of both parties holds views manifestly out-of-sync with tens of millions of Americans, and it is often the same people who find themselves completely unrepresented on all three. (There are non-interventionists who actually think free trade brings peace and who think immigration is our strength, but you can practically count them on two hands. Most non-interventionists would, I think, tend to take the view of “Let’s mind our own business, and keep other people out of ours.”) If the nominees for 2008 were the likely front-runners, the two-party establishment consensus on these three areas creates a real opening for an independent candidate. Just not an independent candidate like Bloomberg, who stands with the consensus on at least two out of the three (and evidently has no coherent foreign policy views worth mentioning).

Nonetheless, it is a measure of how wide-open both sides are that someone who probably couldn’t win election outside of a large metropolitan area on the coasts thinks he has even a remotely plausible shot at doing well enough in the general election so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself and become the fodder for late-night comedians for the next year afterwards. It is also a measure of how hopeless his cause his that the folks at New York Magazine have to include the note on their cover: “He’s Serious.” Naturally, no one would assume that he was serious unless the magazine explicitly told us so, because a Bloomberg for President campaign is about as unserious of a venture as it gets. No doubt, he himself has, or will be able to get, the money needed to run. But run where? To represent whom? To say what? “I was Mayor of New York”? To which a disgruntled Chicagoan might reply, “Good for you! Stay there!”

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with another eccentric billionaire who thought that he was no less ridiculous of a candidate than the major party nominees (and he was right), but Bloomberg will not be the Perot of our time. He will be more like the last Republican-turned-independent presidential candidate of my lifetime. Why does Bloomberg want to be the new John Anderson? What is the deep, abiding vision that the man has that simply must be brought before the nation? To begin with, there is the megalomania:

Today, he seems to view himself as a man of destiny, whose wealth and wisdom empower him to transform not just the city but the country and even the world.

Beyond that, his backers advance the image of Bloomberg as competent, successful mayor. He has evidently done an acceptably good job in New York. For the 280 million Americans whose lives have little or nothing to do with New York City, this is an interesting thing to note and then set aside. What else has he got? That is, what about him would make anyone want him as president?

As an aside, I should add that I have no personal experience of the city pre- or post-Bloomberg to gauge whether it has improved, as the statistics suggest it has. New York is to me like a strange and faraway kingdom that one hears about in stories, sees on television or reads about in The Economist, but which could be, for all I know, an elaborate Hollywood sound stage. It is telling that I have been to London on multiple occasions, and I have visited both Berlin and Edinburgh twice and yet never once have I gone to New York City. I can’t say that I really dislike the place, because I have never been there, but nothing about it makes me want to visit–what can I say? I just don’t get the attraction.

Besides, would Americans really be able to tolerate two former New York mayors campaigning in the same year? I would get tired of it pretty quickly. In fact, I’m already tired of the two of them, and neither has really started campaigning yet.

So what does Mayor Bloomberg stand for? Rather predictably, he seems to hold the conventional laundry list of acceptable urban liberal views on just about every contentious issue out there today. He favours gun control, he is pro-immigration and pro-amnesty, and he is supportive of all stem-cell research and apparently supportive of the Dubai ports deal. Since he was a Northeastern Democrat until fairly recently, this is not in the least surprising. His “vision” thus far induces yawning, not a sense of someone about to reshape the political landscape for good or ill. If I had been forced to pick his positions for him, these are the positions I would have chosen. He plays to the stereotype of urban Northeasterner with precision. There is scarcely anything about his political views that would get the attention of a Midwestern suburbanite, a small-town Westerner or a Plains state rancher. Entire stretches of the country would be like a foreign land to him, and he would seem very strange to a lot of people in those stretches of the country. On immigration and Dubai, he is fantastically out of step with the country, and I think he understands perfectly well just how unrepresentative his views are on many things. To whom, then, would he make his appeal?

He has aided Claire McCaskill in her successful Missouri Senate bid, which will make him particularly obnoxious to many Republican voters, and he has aided Joe Lieberman, which will make him The Enemy of All Progressives Everywhere, second only to Joe Lieberman himself. So, support for embryonic stem-cell research and warmongering are the best-known positions of two of his chosen candidates. His campaign slogan might be: “I support destroying human life at all stages of development.” It’s a winner!

He begins to make more of what might genuinely be called a “centrist” appeal when he talks up the failures of the major parties and the problems of deficit spending and the ballooning national debt. The article writer, John Heilemann, hears echoes of Perot here, but this is not exactly right. Why? For the very reason that he seems to count as an advantage for Bloomberg:

And Bloomberg has none of Perot’s isolationist or nativist leanings.

Naturally, someone writing for New York Magazine may not appreciate that Perot’s “isolationist and nativist leanings” were the very things that distinguished him and made him desirable to the disenchanted Middle American middle-class voters who felt betrayed by Bush’s tax raise, and who felt ignored by his preoccupation with foreign policy questions, alienated by excessive Democratic spending and threatened by the establishment consensus on NAFTA. If Bloomberg doesn’t have his “giant sucking sound” moment (the moment where Perot memorably and dramatically took a popular stand on free trade and also happened to be substantially right about the effects of NAFTA) as an independent candidate, he won’t have much success, no matter how much money he throws at the race.

In the end, there is no great likelihood that Bloomberg will even make the attempt. But it’s never too early to make clear why that attempt would fail rather badly.

Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era–the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration–were championed by the political left.

Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation–the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns–have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture, which pushed blacks off the farm and out of the South with immense consequences. Likewise, feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework. Greater sexual openness, as well as heightened interest in the natural environment, are among the luxury goods that mass affluence has purchased. So, too, are secularization and the general decline in reverence for authority, as rising education levels (prompted by the economy’s growing demand for knowledge workers) have promoted increasing independence of mind. ~Brink Lindsey

If Mr. Lindsey had wanted to bring together a laundry list of all the things that conservatives have typically considered to be evidence of the decline of America (i.e., divorce, abortion, vulgar and offensive pop culture, immigration, the “progressive” fruits of capitalism’s “relentless dynamism”) and if he had wanted to come up with a list of precisely those policies that deeply, profoundly offend a broad Middle American constituency (i.e., divorce, abortion, vulgar and offensive pop culture, immigration, the “relentless dynamism” of capitalism and its “progressive” consequences), he could scarcely have come up with better.  The reality that these policies have provided the fuel for the last generation of conservative populism, which shows no sign of being either less popular or less intense than it used to be, and have represented in most cases the great betes noires of traditional conservatives does not seem to cross Mr. Lindsey’s mind.  To wit, he seems unconcerned that the very things libertarians have in common with the left are the things that have made the left politically radioactive in many parts of this country for 40 years.  One can see why libertarians might have a lot of common ground with the left, but one is hard-pressed to see why liberals would want to embrace more strongly the image that has alienated so many Americans from them in election after election. 

Instead of setting himself up for the usual knocks on libertarians for deficient understandings of community or excessive approval of individual desires, Mr. Lindsey offers up an abundance of reasons for traditional conservatives to be only too willing to help him out the door.  For example, he does this when he describes as “libertarian breakthroughs” things that seem to traditional conservatives to be unmitigated disasters.  He reminds us why traditional conservatives have long been skeptical of the virtues of capitalism when he correctly points out how capitalism has led to many of the social changes that strike the traditional conservative either as deeply worrisome (greater sexual openness) or downright horrifying (secularisation, decline in reverence for authority).  In showing what liberals and libertarians have in common, he also shows us just how deeply at odds libertarians and traditional conservatives are and have been for a very long time over some of the more fundamental questions of the age.  This is not exactly news, but it is something that fusionists have been good at keeping at the back of their minds.  The more interesting question in all of this might be this: how did fusionism ever last this long?  Short answer: the old New Deal-Great Society model of liberalism was uniquely hostile to libertarian economic concerns and forced them into the embrace of people whom they would, all things being equal, sooner throw into oncoming traffic–figuratively speaking, of course.

It is true that different varieties of conservative populism, be it social or economic or both, are inimical to libertarianism.  It is also true that, especially in Webb’s case, an important part of the successful Democratic appeal in more conservative states this year had more to do with economic populism than with “libertarian” views on the 2nd Amendment and abortion.  (The war and accountability for misrule were, of course, the transcendent issues, but Webb’s populism helped make him more competitive in parts of the state where a NoVa wine-and-cheeser would have fallen flat.)  Libertarians might be able to find Democratic candidates they can support, but a crucial point in all of this is that no Democratic candidate is really winning because he is running on libertarian themes.  They are winning because they are exploiting the right’s indifference to economic insecurity (Middle American people are less than thrilled about the “relentless dynamism” of capitalism than Mr. Lindsey) and because they are making at least symbolic gestures towards the social populism of the right on cultural issues and immigration.  For all of the enthusiastic talk about the “libertarian” swing vote this year, nobody on either side seemed terribly interested in appealing to it.  Why?  Because no one believes he is likely to win elections by appealing to it.  To this extent, I am willing to agree with Ross and Reihan when they rather brusquely laugh at proposals to rejuvenate small-government governing philosophy as the answer to the GOP’s woes.  I am not convinced that the American people are as “meliorist” and given over to government solutions as David Brooks thinks we are, but I am certainly convinced that when Middle America tastes the bitter fruits of trade and immigration policies that the more doctrinaire libertarians cheer on it turns away from anything resembling laissez-faire attitudes with disgust.  As it should.  If libertarians are the red-headed stepchild of American politics, it is because they have made themselves uniquely hostile to the core values of all other major constituencies with such dedication and zeal that it seems like a deliberate campaign to achieve their own permanent marginalisation and irrelevance.   

One of the most prominent examples in recent years of the general, national horror at doctrinaire free trade attitudes was the response across the spectrum to the Dubai ports deal.  (Some of this almost certainly was opportunistic Democratic posturing, but for the most part the stunned disbelief of people throughout the country was, I think, quite real.)  Libertarians can huff and puff about nationalism, Islamophobia and anything else they like in this case, but they will not blow down populism’s house.  The party that eschews this populism, especially on national questions of immigration, trade and the economy, and pursues more of the libertarian line will come out the political loser.  (That said, not all populisms are equal, and particularly fiscally reckless or redistributive populisms will go down to defeat as well.)  Putting it simply, if the “progressive globalists” among today’s liberals and libertarians want to team up on the basis of their shared prog-glob outlook, they will be outnumbered and will lose repeatedly.  Liberals are finding their way back to power by allying themselves with populist and nationalist appeals, which they have hitherto tended to run away from or actively attack.  The libertarian approach offers them the fast-track back to their coastal ghettoes.

Arguably, in these two passages alone, Mr. Lindsey offers many excellent reasons not only for why libertarians should switch “sides” to join with their historic benefactors on the left but also why conservatives would have to be something very close to mad to keep wanting to appease and satisfy people who are fundamentally hostile to most of the things they actually wish to conserve.  If fusionism were a marriage and you are playing the part of the traditionalist, the libertarian would be rather like the spouse who burns down the house, commits adultery and occasionally tries to run you down with the car, all the while continually threatening to leave you. “You’ll never find anyone else like me!” the spouse screams at you, which is fortunately true.  To this the traditional traditionalist response has been, “Oh, no, please don’t go!  We can work it out!”

This sick relationship has been in need of serious revision for a long time.  If they are so keen to go, maybe it is high time to send the libertarians packing.  On many practical policy questions, libertarians and traditionalists still have considerable common ground.  But one gets the sense from all of this chatter about flirting with the left that some libertarians place a much higher priority on all those things where we differ with them and that they feel somehow oppressed by the alleged preeminence of social and religious conservatives. 

To which I, as a social and religious conservative of a sort, must reply: where is this great and impressive preeminence that we are supposed to have in the movement, much less in the GOP?  Name a single major policy that has actually catered to the interests of these people.  And if you show me a faith-based initiative, I will show you just another big-government boondoggle that offends quite a lot of traditional and religious conservatives as much as it offends libertarians.  When pressed for specifics, people lamenting the dominance of “theocons” or evangelicals or any other demonised group of religious conservatives have difficulty coming up with more than a vague sense that “they” control things which is why everything has gone wrong.  We observe from all this that the Dougherty Doctrine has been proved over and over again:

At the end of the day, the arguments all seem to boil down to something similar: If it were more like me, the Republican Party would be better off. It’s failing because it’s like you.  

Secular, “skeptical” and “libertarian” conservative books and articles about the alleged predominance of religious conservatives abound (Mr. Lindsey’s article makes reference to a few).  Heather Mac Donald, Andrew Sullivan, and Ryan Sager, to name a few of the more prominent, have laid out their indictments in shorter or longer form in recent months.  No matter which one of these interpretations you read, you find that there is a common attitude that religion and the religious have somehow taken over the movement in a big way.  That the only people echoing this assessment are generally hyperbolic progressives who see American theocracy around the corner does not bode well for their case.  Sager and Sullivan also go on to paint lurid pictures of galivanting religiosity somehow inducing people to engage in massive overspending and pork-barrel indulgences.  How this happens is not, so far as I can tell, ever explained.  It is an axiom of these critics: religion in politics leads to big government and big spending (because I, noble critic, oppose both religious politics and big spending–QED).  Given the ridicule of the faithful and all things “faith-based” these criticisms usually involve, the lack of empirical proof for these charges is striking.  Unbeknownst to anyone else but the insightful Defenders of the Skeptical and Doubt-ridden Libertarian Faith, the Bridge to Nowhere was actually a religious monument.

While my small-government views are usually about as reliable and often libertarian-like as one is likely to find among conservatives (you see, I have this funny respect for the Constitution), I have never put much stock in the fusionist alliance since I first came to understand what it was.  The alliance has always worked something like this: libertarians or libertarian-leaning conservatives in the alliance (along with the more purely pro-business and, in the old days, anticommunist conservatives) proposed, and traditionalists disposed.  Traditionalists were the shock troops filling the polling stations and making up a large part of the membership, while the others were safely ensconced, Hague-like, back at HQ, always quick to point out how the trads had failed them and betrayed their vision whenever something went wrong.  

Frank Meyer’s “tradition of liberty,” the oxymoronic formulation at the heart of fusionism, always cut against whatever traditionalists sought to defend when their views clashed with the “libertarians.”   (My earlier, more irenic critiques of fusionism and Meyer are available here and here.)  Whenever the “libertarians” and others failed or led the alliance to political defeat, the traditionalists were nonetheless acceptable whipping boys and scapegoats.  The lesson was that any rhetorical nods to tradition and community in the past were already a few too many.  With the arrival of neoconservatives, traditional conservative concerns about community and social order at first ironically seemed to be taken somewhat more seriously and with a level of social scientific rigour that expressed in terms of function and structure certain virtues of adhering to traditional norms and valuing intermediary institutions.  However, the traditionalists soon discovered that neoconservatives were among the biggest boosters of the state capitalist and welfarist structures in our society hostile to the traditionalist vision of local community and decentralised government.  The neocons eventually secured the “reform” of these institutions as one of the main goals in the mid-’90s, and they had discovered pretty early on that when it came to the vital question of immigration neoconservatives and libertarians were squarely on the same, wrong side.

Each time the “libertarians” and others led, or tried to lead, the movement more and more away from traditionalist concerns, the traditionalists convinced themselves that they had to be prudent and stay in it for the long haul and patiently await the delivery on the small-government promises which they had originally signed on to see fulfilled.  Maybe, just maybe, we told ourselves (or so it seems to me), if the GOP continues to ally itself with the moneyed interest and the forces of “creative destruction” it will gain enough power to undo all of the damage caused by the government and…the moneyed interest and the forces of “creative destruction.”  For having followed them down this primrose path of creative destruction, we traditionalists have really only ourselves to blame, but it does not absolve them from the responsibility of having built the primrose path (which is, of course, paved, garishly lit by neon with conveniently located fast-food joints every couple of miles, and whose construction required the condemnation of several old historic districts, the leveling of a forest and the destruction of numerous houses).

But a funny thing happened on the way to the fulfillment.  Most dedicated libertartians found themselves on the losing end as well when it came to questions of reducing government power, which is where they continued to find common ground with traditionalists and Middle Americans who still liked (and, I believe, would still respond well to) the “leave us alone” mantra.  Most fusionist libertarians inside the movement, on the other hand, got into the dubious game of “market solutions” for welfarist ends.  But, during the ’80s and ’90s, they found that they were the big winners in defining what it meant to be economically conservative and in making enthusiasm for corporations, free trade, free markets and, effectively, the free international flow of labour the cornerstones of that definition against which someone inside the movement dissented only if he was independently wealthy, masochistic or simply convinced that dogmatic adherence to these things was deeply mistaken.  These things predictably tend to unite libertarians, whether paleolibertarian, “modal,” or other, and unite them to the classical liberals of the 19th century for whom most libertarians have such warm regard.  Now that even just one of these (the free international flow of labour, i.e., mass immigration) has been attacked on the right, there is a great deal of wailing going on in libertarian circles about “nativism” and Nazis.  For these folks and their comrades who call themselves conservatives, we have a simple, straightforward statement.

As you will have noticed, Eunomia was out of commission yesterday, thanks to continued server problems.  It seems to have been resolved now, and I hope there will be no more interruptions.  I have some “posts” that I wrote up while the blog was down, but it will take a little while to add the appropriate links.

Sen. Sam Brownback filed documents with the FEC this a.m., allowing him to create an exploratory cmte. In a presser, Brownback highlighted the following as his reasons for a presidential bid:

 

  • “to rebuild the family and renew our culture”  
  • to bring back “genuine conservatism and real compassion”  
  • “to raise the level of discussion about issues of life at home and abroad; renewed fiscal restraint, tax reform, and economic growth; and a vigorous yet compassionate and consistent foreign policy.”  
  • to “achieve much… with courage, generosity, and realism.” ~Hotline
  • I have already outlined why I think a Brownback candidacy will go nowhere  (his emphasis on the compassionate conservative theme is one reason), but the speed of his campaign’s failure will be determined to some degree by the meaning he gives to this phrase about “vigorous yet compassionate and consistent foreign policy.”  All three of those adjectives leap out at me as warning signs of a very, very foolish foreign policy.  Vigorous sounds like interventionist to me, but it might not necessarily be that.  (The later mention of achieving things with “realism” is a small ray of light that hints that he does not have some knee-jerk reflex against the very name of realism, which might conceivably have desirable foreign policy implications.)  Compassionate certainly suggests drippy humanitarian interventionism, and we have good reason (e.g., his Darfur advocacy, his appearances with Obama on AIDS in Africa, etc.) to think this is exactly what Brownback means by it.  Consistent implies that there will be no double standards or different treatment for different countries depending on such things as strategic national interests, regional stability or previous commitments. 

    That is, the treatment we mete out to Sudan over Darfur would require us to treat Pakistan in similar fashion for its repression of Baluchis, and likewise Burma for its treatment of the Karen, Mexico for its treatment of the people of Chiapas, Russia for its prosecution of the Chechen war, and so on and so forth.  In the Mexican case, maybe he could team up with Mel Gibson, George Clooney and Zach de la Rocha in a campaign for “Mayan rights” and call it Apocalypto: Never Again!  (Perhaps he could use his good offices as President to get RATM back together for one last Zapatista-flavoured reunion in a cunning bid for the radical leftist and alternative music-loving student vote–Karl Rove, eat your triangulating heart out.)  

    Consistency can sound wonderful in the abstract, but a lot of foreign policy involves making the best deals possible with regimes one would rather denounce.  If Brownback’s idea of a consistent foreign policy is what I think it is, it suffers from the classic mistake of thinking one solution fits all problems and thinking that all conflicts and structural realities of other societies are “problems” that can or should be ours to solve.  It is political optimism run rampant.  We have endured enough of that nonsense in the last few years to last us a lifetime.  Dressing it up in the dull pastels of compassionate conservatism will make it doubly unwelcome. 

    Given his attention to Iowa politics in the last cycle, he has probably made some good friends there who will remember his support two years hence.  Brownback might make an okay top-four showing in Iowa, but he will run out of money before he is able to get any traction anywhere else.  His obvious, biggest problem: most people would respond to questions about him with the question, “Sam who?”  Amusingly, the media’s fits of Obamania (which, as correspondents have noted, is entirely artificial media hype of the worst kind and is the same kind of media hype Obama has been receiving since he first appeared on the political scene) may work to raise Brownback’s profile on the national scene for free.  The downside is that Brownback will have to keep appearing in public with Obama, which will decidedly hurt his credibility with the very “genuine conservatives” he will seek to represent. 

    Oh, yes, one other killer for Brownback’s campaign: he is a pro-immigration, pro-amnesty Senator in an intensely anti-immigration, anti-amnesty party.  Because of his Catholicism and social conservatism, I had previously said that he was the Santorum of Kansas, but on this he is decidedly not Santorum-like at all.  It is a no-brainer that the Bush Mk II that is Sam Brownback’s campaign will sink from its own weight.   

    Update: Here (from another paleo who graduated from UChicago) is an even more powerful indictment of Brownback on immigration.  I make no endorsement of the Opus Dei-bashing in it, but he skewers Brownback’s immigration record very well.

    Now that John Bolton is set to resign as U.N. Ambassador when his recess appointment expires, a couple people are again mentioning the possibility of Rick Santorum as a replacement.  Don’t just laugh this idea to scorn or shout your derision from the rooftops–think about all the possible benefits of a Santorum nomination.

    Once nominated, he could speak as convincingly about the Venezuelan threat to Argentina as any nominee to this post ever has.  Think about the genius of this.  He could make any future confirmation vote as lopsided as the election returns from Pennsylvania.  The resulting 59-41 defeat would show the Democrats as harsh obstructionists who obviously want Chilean guano resources to fall into the hands of Hugo Chavez.  What a public relations coup!

    But it could be even better if he could be confirmed.  Imagine how much more interesting life at the U.N. would be if Santorum somehow won a confirmation battle and represented U.S. interests to the world.  He could be to international relations what John Ashcroft was to law enforcement!  Each time Hugo Chavez gave a speech denouncing Mr. Bush as “the sulfrous devil,” Santorum could go one better and declare Chavez to be the incandescently burning, ash-spewing, sulfrous devil and a new Hitler all rolled into one.  If Chavez says, “North American imperialism,” Santorum could say, “South American imperialism.”  Take that, Hugo!  There is no doubt that no one could represent America to the rest of the world in quite the same way that Rick Santorum could. 

    Unfortunately, Mr. Bush probably does not share the same vision of the titanic struggle for the future of Bolivia and Uruguay that Santorum and his fans do and will nominate some State Department dweeb who thinks that there is something called “international law,” which we all know is just something that the Axis powers made up to trick us and keep us from stopping their return from the grave.

    Bush has not stepped back from the decisions he has made on Iraq. At the core of Bush’s Iraq dilemma is the fact, still denied at the White House, that the president has lost his political base on the overriding issue of the war. In contact mainly with fawning campaign contributors, Bush may not appreciate the steady decline in support of his war policy that I have seen deepening among Republicans in the past year.

    This undercurrent of GOP protest roared to the surface with the party’s election debacle Nov. 7. At the Republican grass roots, there is no question that Iraq lost the election. State officials and party leaders who are no specialists on foreign policy tell me the Republican Party simply cannot go into the 2008 campaign with troops still fighting in Iraq. ~Robert Novak

    2008 will include, if it comes to that, the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war’s beginning (God forbid).  If the relationship of the two Bush terms to Iraq is at all similar to that of Kennedy-Johnson with Vietnam, 2008 functions roughly as the equivalent for Republicans what 1968 was for Democrats, the year of the great crack-up over the war.  Iraq hurt the GOP in 2006 as a drag on the party’s popularity and its ability to compete for independents.  What it incredibly failed to do, so far, is to destroy party unity as it may yet do in two years.  As the post-election gurus never tire of telling us, the GOP turnout machine did not fail to deliver; it simply could not deliver enough to overcome huge losses among non-Republicans. 

    What another two years of war do to the party’s cohesion is anyone’s guess, but if Novak’s claims are correct the war stands a good chance of dynamiting the GOP from the inside.  This is not because Republican voters will have had some epiphany about the evils of pre-emption and the lunacy of Mr. Bush’s general foreign policy approach–would that it were so.  It will be because the war failed and will count as a national humiliation in the eyes of people who take such humiliations especially poorly, which may wreck the GOP’s traditional (though increasingly inexplicable) appeal as the pro-military, competent foreign policy party.  For dedicated party loyalists, this failure will be counted as a deviation from the high principles of “moral clarity” to which Republicans will have to return if they hope to continue to hold the White House.  Foreign policy as such will not be the dominant issue in ‘08.  Competence and the related ability to secure America and vindicate her cause (whatever it is these people think that cause is) in the world will be central and decisive to who wins the nomination.  

    The Iraq failure will cut through the party and divide it into three very unequal parts.  The major schism will be the alienation of the hard-liners, represented in the ‘08 field by McCain and Gingrich, who are so much more aggressive on Iraq and foreign policy questions generally that they seem to inhabit their own universe.  They will ironically be perhaps the most disgruntled Republicans after an Iraq defeat, because they maintain the illusion that if their more aggressive, heavy-handed and brutal tactics were employed victory would be the inevitable result.  Call them the Dolchstoss faction.  Incredibly, they will spin the failure in Iraq as an example of what too much diplomacy and consultation cause, and they will tap into the resentment of a core nationalist constituency that will make the primaries very hotly contested.  Expect to hear a lot of talk from the hard-liner candidates who will claim that they are both smarter and ”tougher” than Bush was.  They will say, “Bush let us down because he failed to live up to our hype–but we will live up to our own hype!”  Since this involves starting many more wars and ruining the country, we may take them at their word that they will certainly try.  

    Among pundits, these candidates will find vocal support from the usual suspect neoconservative organs of opinion.  Frighteningly, this faction seems to command the support of a number of the prominent talk show hosts and a large number of regular conservative columnists.  Whether anyone is willing to put money behind their insanity for yet another election is an open question, but enthusiasm and intellectual firepower (if intellectual is the right word for it) will be available to these sorts. 

    The infinitely smaller antiwar and noninterventionist conservative splinter in the coalition will rebel against almost any GOP candidate that does not have some kind of traditional American foreign policy credibility.  As of right now, there are no candidates who would satisfy this splinter, which is irrelevant to most Republicans because they have no interest in such a candidate.  This splinter will make some noise and theoretically ought to be in the strongest position (since their arguments pre-war have been more or less vindicated), but it has no constituency in the party and especially none among primary voters.  This is a shame, but that is what appears to be the political reality.  In the event that a truly dreadful Democratic nominee appears on the scene (Clinton or Biden), these people might even convince themselves to bite the bullet and vote GOP in spite of their strong opposition to what the party now represents in the knowledge that a Clinton or Biden administration would be horrific on foreign policy. (For those who doubt that Biden would be a nightmare, simply consider his dangerous recent remarks about Russia.) 

    The remaining rump of the establishment-cum-realists will find itself backing some rather dull consensus candidate in an attempt to chart a dissatisfying middle course on Iraq and a general foreign policy approach that will emphasise international cooperation and opening negotiations with unsavoury regimes who are deemed off-limits by the hard-liners.  Who will be that dull middle-ground candidate is not yet clear.  The field is heavy with loopy idealists, raving loons and egomaniacs, with perhaps only a Duncan Hunter or Tommy Thompson representing a more conventional establishment view.  This dull candidate may be enough to hold off a strong challenge from the Dolchstoss crowd in the primaries.  It is not clear that such a candidate can retain the loyalty of the neocons and hard-liners in the general election.   

    Consider their contempt for the Baker Commission and realism in general as a foretaste of what is to come in the primaries.  If these people cannot get their way inside the GOP, they might even openly support a Democratic nominee if they determined that said nominee was sufficiently velociraptorian for their tastes.  If they will not go that far, they will be grudging in their support for any realist candidate and will sap enthusiasm from the campaign.  There will almost certainly not be 1968-style fights in the streets of the Twin Cities.  But you can expect the infighting to be especially brutal and you will see the knives brought out, especially by the very people who will cry about how they, with their glorious vision for U.S. leadership, have been stabbed in the back by cowards and weaklings.  2006 was the people’s reckoning with the GOP.  2008 will be their reckoning with themselves, and that is a recipe for implosion.  

    Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war — an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president’s right to attack another country “whenever he shall deem it necessary,” Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to “fix any limit” to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln’s warning. ~Eric Foner

    One wishes even more that Lincoln could have managed to heed his own warning and not start a war (against other Americans, no less) when he deemed it necessary.  But pay no attention to that–he’s a great President!

    I think Doug Bandow is slightly annoyed by the alternating “blame the Iraqi people, blame the American people” excuses being made by various warmongers.  He doesn’t seem to buying the new official line:

    Who’s fault is Iraq? It is the fault of those who opposed social engineering at home but SUPPORTED social engineering abroad. It is the fault of those WHO BACKED the invasion. It is the fault of those WHO BOTCHED the occupation. It is the fault of those WHO REFUSED TO ACKNOWLEDGE the growing mess in Iraq or ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY for creating the mess. The problem isn’t a wimpy American people. Or an obstructive opposition. It is the fault of a coterie of IGNORANT, ARROGANT, and INCOMPETENT ideologues, who decided to turn the Middle East into their sand box, and have now left the mess for the rest of us to clean up.

    Mr. Bandow is entirely right.  The latest episodes of treacherous buck-passing by the people with the ruin of Iraq on their heads are impressive in their singular lack of any shred of moral or intellectual integrity.  I knew the warmongers had it in them to be even more disreputable.

    He [Dawkins] counsels readers to imagine a world without religion and conjures his own glimpse: “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ no Northern Ireland ‘troubles,’ no ‘honor killings,’ no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.” ~Nicholas Kristof

    Good one, Dawkins!  Without mixing religion into it, Croatian nationalists would never have killed Serbs, nor would Serb nationalists have ever killed Croats!  Because nationalists otherwise love foreigners until you start mixing God into it.  Nazis, whose religion was the nation and the state, would also have left everyone in peace if it hadn’t been for all those religious people spurring them on to acts of violence.  If the kulaks hadn’t been so stubbornly old-fashioned with their belief in God, they probably wouldn’t have starved in the Ukrainian genocide.  No one would ever overthrow or attempt to kill English monarchs but for quarrels over transubstantiation–why would anyone contest power if it were not to force everyone to pray in Latin?  There have also never been con-artists or frauds until the televangelist appeared on the scene (except, possibly, for Richard Dawkins). 

    Imagine!  Instead of religious honour killings, you would just have tribal honour killings (because izzat and similar ideas in other cultures are cultural values that transcend religious loyalties), along with turf, money, resource, racial, nationalist and gang killings, which are much more gentle and not nearly so bigoted.  There is no possible reason why the Palestinians might have looked dimly on the establishment of Israel had they not been mystified by the opium of the masses.  They would have sat down with the Zionists and sung Kumbayah, except that they wouldn’t sing anything so deeply fanatical and dangerous as a religious song!  Finally, peace in our time–Dawkins shows us the way. 

    Had we been without religion, when the Hutus slaughtered Tutsis at least you wouldn’t have had Hutu Catholics participating–no, sir, the genocide would take place without any involvement of religious people.  What a relief!  There would never be suicide bombers, even though the tactic was innovated by ethnic separatists in a (continuing) war of independence, because oppression, hatred and war would disappear once we stopped arguing over confessions of faith.  Thank goodness Dawkins has come to deliver us from evil–what would we have done without his guidance? 

    For those who attempted to visit here earlier on Sunday and found someone offering to hire out audio and video jukeboxes, here is an explanation: my hosting service was switching between servers in a big move today, so for a few rather nervous hours Eunomia seemed to have vanished.  My apologies for the disruption.   Posting will resume shortly.

    For those who might be interested in some contemporary Armenian music, I heartily recommend the new album of Anush and Inga Arshakyan, Tamzara.  It has some slightly modern-sounding songs, but all of the songs are adaptations of Armenian folk (or zhogovortakan) songs and the ballads of famous traditional goosans, or bard-poets.  I had picked it up about a year ago, but had only listened to it once before coming back to it this week.  For whatever reason, the music resonated with me much more this week than it had before.  Ari, lsenk’

    For those desperate for late-breaking Canadian Liberal Party leadership election coverage, Andrew Cunningham (the Ectomorph himself) and Pithlord have you covered.  Ecto has a great description of Michael “We Must Be Evil To Beat Evil” Ignatieff’s convention speech:

    The final speaker, Ignatieff, was something else — really weird. If I hadn’t known what famous public figure this was, I might well have guessed “L. Ron Hubbard”. His speaking manner seemed evilly hypnotic, replete with demands for the audience to chant little catchphrases back at him. I just can’t see Mr. and Mrs. Canada falling for such an…odd fellow. From a Conservative point of view, I’m really hoping Ignatieff wins, of course, but I think he just lost it. Non-supporters at the convention won’t be won over by someone who seems so out of place in politics — not to mention in the party and even the country.

    And yet, now that I am Orthodox, I see a couple of things about the East-West relationship more clearly than I did back then, as a Catholic. Catholics tend to think of the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy as relatively minimal, and much easier to overcome than they actually are. Even if Catholic and Orthodox leaders came into dialogue with the greatest possible amount of goodwill, there are theological facts that cannot be ignored or overcome. The 800 years of history since the Great Schism has seen tremendous theological development in the West. Whether this represents progress or decline is beside the point; the point is, Catholicism is now fundamentally different from Orthodoxy on some important points. For someone like me, it’s sobering and even sad to realize how far apart the churches are, because I can’t see how reunion is possible on a basis of shared belief, without requiring either Catholicism or Orthodoxy to change things that can’t be up for negotiation. What I’m trying to say is I thought as a Catholic that the Orthodox had a lot more room to move than they really do, and were just being obstinate, and fixating on historical grievances. Even though you can find without too much trouble individual Orthodox believers who don’t require much provocation to launch into an anti-Catholic rant about the Sack of Constantinople, the plain fact is that even if you forget all the historical animosity, you have two expressions of the Christian faith whose self-understanding would appear to close the door to the restoration of full communion. Which is not to say that we cannot and should not work for unity at every possible level. But I just don’t see how unity in every respect is possible. ~Rod Dreher

    Rod’s entire post is very good and worth reading.  I remember reading Rod’s WSJ article when it first came out.  I had not yet converted to Orthodoxy by May 2001, but I was certainly well on my way to embracing Orthodoxy.  In the event, it was not for another year and a half that I would do so fully and be baptised, but I was already fairly sure that this would be where I would go.  Seeing that Rod has changed his view some, I am terribly interested in rehashing all of the reasons why I reacted very strongly against the article when I read it originally, but one point stood out for me that came back to me when I re-read the article:

    There are deep theological divisions between East and West, and any ecumenism that pretends otherwise is false. But isn’t working more closely to combat the functional nihilism that accompanies the spread of consumerist values a more pressing concern than fussing over the fate of the Filioque clause?  

    This, like the references to Pope John Paul II’s good works of anticommunism (which were very good and which do not appear to the Orthodox to be terribly relevant to the discussion about relations between the confessions), struck me as conveying the gap between Catholics and Orthodox as well as anything I had read.  To help explain that gap, these lines deserve some additional comment. 

    First, the question of ecumenism.  It isn’t, I think, that ecumenically minded Catholics and Orthodox have undertaken efforts at reconciliation consciously supporting a ”false” ecumenism that does not take full account of the depth of the divisions.  They do not pursue this path in the full knowledge that they are ignoring glaring problems–I do not presume to accuse anyone of such willful neglect of the truth in this case.  Instead, almost of necessity, in order to begin any ecumenist venture people from both confessions must convince themselves that reconciliation is at least remotely possible.  They then convince themselves that reconciliation is much more straightforward than it really is and that doctrinal disputes are not necessarily as grave as they may actually be.  Orthodox negotiations with non-Chalcedonian churches often follow the same path, where somehow the people working on the commissions and committees to determine whether or not reunion is possible always manage to come back with optimistic answers of, “Yes, we basically believe the same thing,” when anyone not involved in the effort looks at the same problem and simply cannot see it. 

    The reason why many Orthodox, especially Traditionalist Orthodox, tend to look down on ecumenist efforts is typically because these efforts are almost always bound to be just this kind of “false” ecumenism that pretends the differences are minor, semantic or culturally constructed and therefore of no deeper significance when they are anything but minor, semantic or the product of cultural misunderstanding.  This is not really as much of a knock on the ecumenists as it sounds.  Ecumenists have to make these sorts of arguments about some of these disputes, because otherwise they and everyone else know that the disputes will be intractable if there is not some way found to go “around” them by relegating them to the category of historical and cultural accident.

    This is why Rod’s 2001 line about “fussing over the fate of the Filioque clause” expresses the Catholic-Orthodox gap so well.  With the exception of some spirited medieval defenders, including Thomas Aquinas, and the addition’s traditional place in all Western forms of the Nicene Creed (and in spite of the Catechism’s endorsement of the addition), Catholics have tended to regard the entire Filioque question as something not much better than “fussing” about terminology.  If you push some theologians hard enough, I bet they would say, “What big difference does it really make anyway?”  Between a Latin mind that could entertain the scholastic principle of diversi, non adversi and the Byzantine mind that was focused intently on akribeia, there was bound to be tension.  But once the significance of the issue itself no longer seemed to be equally great in the eyes of both confessions, a resolution of the controversy was all but impossible.   

    In addition to the tremendous dogmatic significance of the change (and again, this is an area where, even when Catholic theologians fully appreciate Orthodox objections, they usually cannot quite take it as being as meaningful as we do), Filioque became bound up with claims of papal authority and prerogative during the unionist episodes in Byzantium in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.  That is what makes it such a charged issue beyond its simply theological significance.  If you think the Orthodox have irritatingly long memories about 1204, just get some folks started talking about Lyons II (1274) and Michael VIII or Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), John VIII and Bessarion.  Athonite monks cultivate the memory of what is sometimes called Michael VIII’s “reign of terror” that he inflicted in the wake of Lyons II to enforce the union on unwilling Byzantines.  The name of John Bekkos, hero to Henry Chadwick and ecumenists everywhere and Michael VIII’s patriarch, remains a curse in the mouths of many Greek Orthodox.  

    Not everyone might be willing to say along with the fifteenth century Byzantine admiral Lukas Notaras some variant of, “Better the turban than the mitre” or the Athonite cry of “Orthodoxy or Death!” but most Orthodox still view this attitude, as they view the stories about the martyrdom of Tsar-Martyr Lazar at Kosovo Polje (where, according to the hagiography, the military defeat of 1389 comes across as a spiritual victory for the Kingdom), as something of an ideal.  To put it bluntly, it is difficult to negotiate with people whose history (or their interpretation of that history at any rate) tells them that the act of negotiation itself is usually an unacceptable compromise.   

    St. Mark Evgenikos, the lone holdout at Florence, is commemorated as one of the three Pillars of Orthodoxy in fairly pointed anti-Latin fashion along with St. Photios and St. Gregory Palamas, and he, like St. Maximos or St. Athanasios before him, represents to the Orthodox a heroic defender of the Faith.  While anti-ecumenists have tended to emphasise these figures more than others, it is the case that there is a certain kind of instinctive anti-ecumenism woven into the history and mentality of Orthodox peoples.  Unionism has occasioned too many betrayals and too much bitterness for some to ever consider it a legitimate path.  For those who do not understand this, I am afraid they may never understand, which is half of the problem.      

    With all the continuing Obama hype, I was reminded to go back and find a column by the late Dr. Samuel Francis, who had understood the reason for the enthusiasm for Obama long before anyone else.  In August 2004 he had written:

    The reason, Tilove suggests, is that black political style in this country is changing. Sharpton’s overt and in-your-face attack style is vanishing, and Obama’s smooth moves are crystallizing. “I think this is really the end of an era of race and politics,” history professor Angela Dillard told Tilove. “Something’s shifting and changing, and people like Sharpton can’t change with it, and something new and different is being created, and it is about people like Obama.” What kind of people are “people like Obama” exactly?

    One reason for Obama’s smoothness and fashionableness is his Harvard degree (Keyes has one, too), but more to the point is his racial ambiguity, a trait that as Tilove notes cuts both ways. Obama, you see, had a father who was a black native of Kenya and a white American mother. “People like Obama” are multiracial people.

    His racial identity or supposed lack of it enables him to be both black and non-racial, white and multiracial, at the same time. When he wants to be black, he can be and is. He calls himself black, and the media routinely identify him as a “black” or “African-American.”

    But he can also be white or not racial at all, which is useful when he’s presenting himself as “above” race and appealing to the white voters he’ll need if he’s going to be elected or when he’s denouncing his critics and opponents for playing race cards as he himself of course would never do. Moreover, while openly racial candidates like Sharpton or Jesse Jackson helped instigate white racial consciousness—if they can be black, why can’t whites be white?—Obama works against it: If he’s neither white nor black, why should you be white?

    Obama, in other words, is both a living testament to the power of black racial consciousness and identity and at the very same time a living renunciation of white racial identity. He joins Tiger Woods and Halle Berry as the model of what the New American is supposed to be—the multiracial utopia where every racial identity is legitimate except that of whites.

    As Tilove notes, Obama “can argue for policies virtually indistinguishable from Sharpton’s in cooler, non-racial terms, while still affirming a message of racial identity and uplift implicit in his very being.”

    “I think he is talking about race when he’s not,” Dillard says. “Something about the way he pitches things is perfect for this moment.”

    And what is “this moment” exactly? It’s the moment when America ceases to be a nation defined and characterized by the white racial identity of its founders and historic population and is transformed into the non-white multiracial empire symbolized and led by “people like Obama.”

    First of all let’s be clear on one point: it was the Turkish government that dictated the framework and the official status of his visit. The pope’s original intention was to pay a strictly pastoral visit to Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch. It was NOT his intention to have a state visit to Turkey, and certainly it had not been his intention to visit Ankara at all. Your listeners need to know that the Turks, even though nominally secular, are treating the Orthodox Patriarch as an obedient subject of theirs—and he did not have any say in this matter. What the Turks have done is the equivalent of the Italian Republic telling the leader of the Anglican Church that he cannot come to the Vatican and visit the pope, unless he agrees that his visit is to be a fully-blown state visit to Italy that would include formal visits with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the laying of a wreath at the tomb of king Victor Emmanuel. ~Dr. Srdja Trifkovic

    Just after the fighting began, the leader of the largest group of Christians in the Middle East, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, met with Vice President Dick Cheney in the White House. Sfeir happened to be in Washington for the dedication of a new Maronite church bearing the timely name Our Lady of Lebanon. The patriarch’s remarks to the media following the meeting were mystifying, considering the Vice President’s strong support of the administration’s policy on the war: “[Cheney] will see what he can do for us. It’s not so easy because of a lot of complicated situations with a lot of countries.” Cardinal Sfeir indicated that he believed Cheney did not share the U.S. government’s plan, presumably referring to Condoleezza Rice’s call for a “new Middle East.” Cardinal Sfeir added that Cheney did not communicate his own plan for the Middle East in their meeting, if he had one. The patriarch’s words reveal the confusion felt by pro-Western political and religious leaders in Lebanon following the U.S. government’s overwhelming show of support for Israel during that country’s systematic destruction of the infrastructure, economy, and population of Lebanon. After a year of optimistic dialogue with the Bush administration following the 2005 withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the young government in Beirut received only condolences and promises of humanitarian aid from Washington, which chose to let Israel “finish the job” in Lebanon. ~Andrea Kirk Assaf

    “No, I wasn’t trying to say he is Saddam-like,” he laughed. “The context was, this guy’s a lightweight. Never have I seen so much swoon for so little biography. If he can make something out of this, it proves he’s very thin-skinned and he ain’t ready. Hillary will beat him like a rented mule.” ~Maureen Dowd, The New York Times

    I haven’t heard that phrase in years.  What an image it conjures up–especially for an intra-Democratic primary squabble!  It almost certainly can’t help Obama’s appeal that he doesn’t have one name that most people in the country will be able to recognise without having unfortunate associations with, well, you know who.  Maybe if he went by his initials–good old B.H. Obama, or maybe just run it all together as one word, Bhobama.  It couldn’t hurt, could it?

    It turns out that Saddam sought nothing in Niger and that the British government was wrong. By the time that became clear, however, it was too late. We were already at war and learning not just how badly the CIA and the Pentagon could screw things up, but that British intelligence, for all its tea services, wasn’t worth a damn, either.

    This was truly shocking. I don’t know about you, but whatever Bush said in the run-up to the war I took with a grain of salt. After all, the man could hardly speak English. But Tony Blair was a different matter. Blair spoke perfect English, full and well-rounded sentences—subject, predicate, verb. He was Bush’s adult translator and when he stood in the Commons, placed his notes before him, and fulsomely Winstoned about the coming war and the dangers of appeasement, I paid attention. He sounded so awfully good, and behind him, seen but unseen, was all of British intelligence, never wrong and always well-dressed, heirs to a legacy dating back to the East India Company, Gordon in Khartoum, Lawrence in Arabia, Bell in Baghdad, and even George Orwell and Leonard Woolf, serving the empire (and taking notes) in far-off Asia: Bond. James Bond. ~Richard Cohen, Slate

    If I had had any idea that Bond movies could induce this kind of unthinking Anglophilia and general nitwittery, I would have been urging their ban for years.  Encouraging some dunderheaded awestruck reverence for the competence of the British Government (!) in the old colonials has to be among the worst consequences of the Bond phenomenon.  Anyone who could come away with the impression that dowdy little Tony Blair with his vapid speeches and his ridiculously large ears was the natural heir to the tradition of ”Chinese” Gordon and T.E. Lawrence is someone with a serious case of Received Pronunciation-envy.  Would anyone confuse David Cameron with the heirs of the legacy of Marlborough or Wellington?  I should think not.  And where did anyone get the idea that British intelligence was never wrong?  Please don’t tell me, “I saw it in Live And Let Die!” 

    But Cohen isn’t done yet:

    In my mind, Bush was not exactly Leighter, but Blair was definitely Bond. When the British prime minister spoke, he did so with a forthrightness and authority that Bush lacked. He seemed the very voice of Newtonian, Darwinian, Shavian reason. “We do not want war,” he said shortly before the war began. “No one wants war.” I thought Bush did. I thought Blair didn’t. 

    Why?  In what deranged fantasy world did you have to be living to think that Blair, who deploys military forces to kill other people the way most people brush their teeth, did not want war?  Besides the occasional speech about Europe and the launch of a new failed initiative here and there, Tony Blair has done nothing else for the past nine years than start, engage in or otherwise become enmeshed in a war somewhere.  Sometimes it was for the sake of human rights, sometimes to bring peace, sometimes to back up the Yanks, but always and everywhere he was ready to send British soldiers on missions that no one else in Britain understood or supported.

    Anyway, after all this time, are we Americans really so completely pathetic that we still cannot get over our sense of inferiority to the Brits?  Are we still that impressed with the ability of some sizeable percentage of their population to speak our language (and theirs!) with fluency?  

    Anyone suffering from excessive confidence in the intelligence-gathering capabilities of MI6 is encouraged to watch The Tailor of Panama.  Of course, it’s a fictional story, just like the Bond movies, but maybe it will be the cure for what ails you. 

    Oosti koo gas, gharib blbool,
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.
    Doo vart ptre, yis gozalin.
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.

    Whence are you coming, wandering nightingale?
    You are crying, I will also cry.
    You seek the rose, and I the beautiful one.
    You are crying, I will also cry.

    Ari blbool, khosi baren.
    Okhnevi koo ekats’ saren.
    Ki vartn erits’, indz im yaren.
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.

    Come nightingale, tell me the word.
    The mountain from which you came is blessed.
    The rose burns you, my love burns me.
    You are crying, I will also cry.

    Man im gali didari hit,
    Voonts’ gharib blbool khari hit.
    Doo varti, yis yari hit.
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.

    I am wandering with the picture,
    Like the wandering nightingale with the insect.
    You are with the rose, and I with my love.
    You are crying, I will also cry.

    Salbooi nman kananch im,
    Ek, khosi, dzaynet chananch im,
    Doo vart kanche, yis yar kanchim.
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.

    I am green like the cypress,
    Come, speak, I know your voice.
    You call to the rose, I call to the beloved.
    You are crying, I will also cry.

    Gharib blbool, dzaynet maloom,
    Yis oo doo ervink me haloom,
    Sayat Noven asats’ zaloom,
    Doo mi lats’ li, yis im laloo.

    Wandering nightingale, your voice is miserable,
    You and I are burning in the same way,
    Sayat Nova said cruelly,
    You are crying, I will also cry.

    Translated by Larison

    Dard mi ani, jan oo jigar, mitket divats’ chtesne
    Achk khauri, angach khulana, yereset tats’ chtesne

    Grieve not, my beloved, my soul, your mind will not look to the demons.
    The eye grows dark, the ear grows deaf, your moist face will not see.

    Voonts’ aregagen shughkhen tay, voonts’ lusinen loos ane.
    Aval koo tesnoghen mirni, kiz glkhabats’ chtesne.

    The sun will not give a ray, the moon will not make any light.  Let your viewer die first, he will not look at you bareheaded.

    Doon glookhtet mahi koo tas, yis el kizit koo mirnim.
    Mir ednen tamam askharhes sov kashe, hats’ chtesne.

    You will give your head to death, and I, too, will die with you.  After us the entire world will suffer famine and will not see bread.

    Tevoor chgam oo chtesnim, hazar babat ban kosis.
    Kashva mart voonts’ gay, voonts’ khosi, voonts’ ki tkhrats’ chtesne.

    If I do not come and I do not see, you will say a thousand different things.
    I wish that man would not come, would not speak, would not see you grieving.

    Astoodzoo bernemen arnis mkhitarich soorp hogin.
    El vagh mirni Sayat Noven, chided gtsats chtesne.

    You would take from the mouth of God the comforting holy spirit.
    Sayat Nova lets you die unseasonably, he will not see your curved neck.

    Translated by Larison

    Obviously, I must have answered some of the questions wrong.  Gene Healy outscored me!

    Via Doug Bandow

    Time, more specifically, has already been best friend to Iran. What in God’s creation will make Maliki more likely to “forge a settlement that would be in American interests” when every passing day, in the act of ticking by, augments the power of the militias, strengthens the hand of Iran, and drives Iraq deeper into post-benchmark psychosis? The time’s come to recognize that Maliki, along with anyone and everyone else, including, clearly, the Kurds, can “seek out help” from America and Iran simultaneously, that is, hedge their bets in doing whatever seems expedient to patch together some semblance of basic order.

    The language of that Person who Participated is flaccid with the same stupid nonsense about “sense of urgency” that we’ve now heard ten times over from all quarters. Creating a sense of urgency is so less important than creating actual physical urgency as to make one not sure whether to laugh or cry. Sense of urgency! Oh, if only Maliki seemed really worried! Then we’d be on our way! No, for good or ill the ultimatum of picking up stakes creates actual urgency, namely an urgent reclamation of initiative on the part of the USA and an urgent dumping of initiative upon the Iraqis left holding the bag. If this is a wretched idea it’s because — and only because — Iraq might become so hopelessly anarchic that the Middle East will implode, sucking every people but the Persians into a vast hellbroth. What’s likely to be the Study Group recommendation is not bad advice for any other reason; it cannot be.

    The inability of Iraq to form a national army capable of even the pretense of monopolized force is their fault, not ours, and the position that this bedrock reality does not far overwhelm the ability of the government of Iraq to “forge a settlement” more in our interests than the recapture of our own initiative is one I cannot comprehend and will not support. ~James Poulos

    Mr. Poulos’ comments include a number of interesting observations, but I was specially impressed by the phrase “vast hellbroth.”

    Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. ~George Will

    Is Will familiar with the proper meaning of words?  He seems pretty confident about his command of the language, since he makes it his purpose in the second half of this Webb-bashing article an expose of Webb’s allegedly sloppy use of language.  So Will calls him a boor.  Is the son of Scots-Irish dirt farmers supposed to take being called a rustic as an insult, or as a badge of pride?  The word comes from the Dutch word boer, which means farmer or peasant, and refers to a rustic.  Of all the things that Will could have accused Webb of being, I cannot think of one that would probably please him more.  Of course, the use here is one intended to insult and belittle, but it is a telling choice of word for an urban sophisticate from the Beltway to make about Webb.  In short, if he knows what the word means (how could he not–he’s George Will!), Will denounced Webb’s manners here because they are too provincial and not suitable for the metropole and the inner sanctum of the court.  If Will doesn’t know what the word means, then, well, he might ought to be quiet about other folks’ possible lapses in the use of words.

    It is all the more entertaining when you consider that the dandified Southern poseur Allen began his long, painful descent to defeat with a speech in which he claimed that Webb had no connection with the “real Virginia.”  That would be the Virginia of the “boorish” folks of the Southside, the Valley and the Appalachians, who, of course, have more hospitality and gentility in their little fingers than George Will probably has in his entire body.

    Citizenship Roman style was a deeply aristocratic concept.  The social ties that held Roman society together were those of authority, rather than of fraternity.  It was a “communitarianim” of the “right” rather than of the “left,” which is part of the explanation why the ancien regime’s elite was drawn towards it (and also why most present-day “communitarians” turn to Greece instead of Rome). ~Andreas Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History

    Untried men, without any experience in any affairs and ignorant, took their places in the assembly and then undertook useless wars, then they put factious men in charge of the state, and they drove the most deserving citizens out of the country. ~Cicero, Pro Flacco

    Finally, the social constraints upon the farmer and the trader are different in two important ways.  Primo: farming produces rootedness, trade volatility.  The farmer has a stake in the land, which makes him much less mobile than the trader.  Also, his means of livelihood are much more secure than those of the trader, who can make huge profits one day and go broke the next.  As a consequence, the farmer is a lot more predictable and trustworthy than the trader.  In contrast to the latter, he can be relied upon to take a keen interest in and to take part in the preservation of the realm.

    Secundo: the farmer depends on no one for his livelihood; he is independent.  He can therefore speak for or against anyone, as he wishes.  He can afford to be proud.  The trader in contrast is dependent upon the favorable opinion of others.  Trade therefore demands, or at least goads into deception. “Those who buy (..) and sell again immediately, should (..) be thought of as demeaning themselves.  For they would make no profit unless they told sufficient lies, and nothing is more dishonorable than vanitas–misrepresentation.”  Moreover, traders are likely to be sycophants; they cannot speak their minds freely, but have to fawn upon their customers and swallow their pride. ~Andreas Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History

    One more time:  we must think in terms of the real war, which currently runs from Afghanistan across Iran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Somalia, and very soon to Kenya and Ethiopea [sic]. ~Michael Ledeen 

    Yes, any day now Ahmadinejad will be standing in the ruins of Nairobi as the Iranian armies of conquest patrol the savannah.  If the ambulance is coming to take Michael Ledeen away to the sanitarium, I think I speak for all of us when I say to the driver: faster, please!

    Kevin Drum is on a tear again.  A couple weeks ago it was the Randian Republican geek patrol that had taken over Congress in 1994, and now we are treated to much wailing about the “toxic” “Texification” of the Republican Party.  Using Michelle Goldberg-like chains of reasoning, Kevin Drum shows us that Bush is from Texas, then tells us that the Texas state party platform (which he quotes from at length here) from the time when Bush was governor in Texas is just super-crazy (I guess the fact that I could agree in good conscience with all but two of the provisions listed in his post would confirm in Kevin Drum’s mind that it is super-crazy), which somehow proves that the entire GOP has been Texified, and he then asserts (this is in his older post):

    This is not a fringe group. It is the biggest, most active, most energetic, and most determined segment of the Republican party today.

    How is the “biggest, most active, most energetic, and most determined segment” doing in terms of realising their super-crazy goals?  Not very well.  The reason for this is fairly straightforward.  Like the national party, whose old, 1994 positions the Texas state platform of 2000 mimics, the supposedly energetic and determined Texified national Republicans have virtually no intention of attempting to carry out any of the controversial items on that platform.  Gradually phasing out “the Social Security tax”?  You don’t need me to tell you that this is not high on the list of the national party’s priorities!  They are more likely to raise that tax to “save Social Security” than they are likely to dismantle the whole structure.  This is why small-government conservatives are disillusioned with the GOP: the GOP does not follow the principles that things like the Texas state platform would lead you to believe it follows. 

    It follows very often an almost completely contrary set of principles, except when it comes to their common endorsement of a lunatic foreign policy.  Bad foreign policy ideas seem to be the glue that holds the whole party together, even if they disagree about a lot of other things, which is not a result of Texification but is instead the product of the rise of interventionist ideas in the top levels of the party and the conservative movement.     

    Not only do the people who would support the things in the Texas state platform not have very much power in the national GOP, they have been progressively losing what little power they ever did have.  The backlash against Big Government conservatism is coming, but it will probably be smaller than some of us expect, and we will not soon be hearing proposals to abolish HUD and HHS anytime soon or see legislation to return the country to the gold standard.  Were the GOP actually committed to doing these things, it would become a bit easier to see my way to supporting them from time to time (provided they fixed their insane foreign policy ideas, didn’t shill for multinationals and started combating mass immigration–I’m hard to please, I know).  Do I have any expectation that the party will pursue any of these goals in the future?  Nope. 

    To read that platform and then see how George Bush campaigned for President and how he has governed in the last six years is to understand how completely divorced from the old positions and ideas of Republican conservatives Mr. Bush was then and has always been.  To believe that this platform somehow represents the core of what today’s national GOP believes is to have not been paying attention for the past six years.  To believe this, as Drum does, he would have to just keep recycling his own delusions about what his adversaries are interested in doing.

    For a more up to date and accurate sense of what the national party claims to want (to say nothing of what they actually do, which obviously almost always falls well short of their platform claims), I invite you to look over the national 2004 platform, which stands out on domestic policy in its ho-hum, dull, me-too wonkery.  (Obviously, its foreign policy section is full of looney ideas, but you already knew that.)  It is precisely because that platform has almost nothing in common with the Texas platform Drum so loathes that I often find it impossible to support the GOP.  In my eyes, the GOP has not only not become Texified (or whatever you’d like to call it), but has become progressively less “Texan” (and thus less conservative) in the last six years. 

    The Texas 2006 platform is interesting for how completely divorced it is from national Republican policies and the actual record of GOP governance.  In addition to calling for revisions to the PATRIOT Act where it compromises constitutional rights (Kevin Drum must be horrified at the mad extremist proposal!) and an end to executive orders and the repeal of all previous executive orders (they didn’t get the “inherent powers” memo), which puts them completely out of step with the surveillance-state, autocracy-loving national party, the state party continues to support the phasing out of “the Social Security tax” while nothing could be farther from the minds of Republicans in Washington.  The national platform of two years talks about how the program must be “stregthened and enhanced for our children and grandchildren”–why would we want that?  For the “biggest” and “most determined segment” in the party, these people sure are lousy at getting their ideas accepted at the top levels.  Maybe that’s because they’re not “the biggest” or “most determined” segment in the party, or at the very least they have nothing to show for it if they are all those things. 

    State party platforms that address national issues, such as Social Security, are typically unrepresentative of what the national party accepts and is willing to implement.  Taking them as the true face and core of a national party is, well, silly and not worthy of a smart political observer, which is what Drum normally is. 

    The Economist can often be good for telling people in the West all sorts of interesting things about Ivory Coast and Bhutan (or, this week, Ethiopia and Somalia!), which is why I still read it, but when it comes to their analysis of American politics and culture I am usually puzzled where they get their information from.  Not this time.  This time, Lexington (their pseudonymous American politics commentary writer) has fallen in with the rising CW on the future of American politics, according to which the GOP is danger of being restricted to the South.  This is deeply wrong for several fairly clear reasons.

    First, practically everyone was saying the same thing about Democrats and the Northeast only two years ago and they have been shown to be remarkably wrong.  Some offered elaborate theories about “coastal” and “continental” mentalities and cultures that were becoming increasingly mutually exclusive and hostile, and others asked stupid questions about Kansas.  Because of Democratic weakness in the South, some Democrats, who look increasingly silly, wanted to write off Dixie all together.  Zell Miller anticipated the hysteria, gave up on the Dems entirely and stumped for Bush (no word from James Bowman whether he considers Zell Miller to be unacquainted with Southern ideals of honour). 

    There is a need to knock down one particularly misleading claim, which Lexington makes here:

    The Republicans also suffered big losses in a region that voted solidly for Bush in 2004—the Mountain West. Three Republicans lost house seats. Conrad Burns lost his Senate seat in Montana (59% for Bush in 2004). Democrats now control five of the eight governorships in the region, compared with none in 2000.

    Even given the smaller population and limited number of House seats out west, losing three seats in the House and one in the Senate does not really constitute “big losses.”  The Republicans remain respectably strong in the Mountain West.  They have been weakened a little, but with much gnashing of teeth I would point out that New Mexico’s congressional delegation is still majority Republican after Heather Wilson’s close call.  If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere. 

    In Colorado, Republicans held on in both CO-05 and CO-04, where they were struggling late, and only lost CO-07 because Beauprez made his disastrous run for governor and was being replaced by a very weak GOP candidate.  That means that they would have likely retained their majority of House seats in the CO delegation but for Beauprez’s departure from the House. 

    The combination of Beauprez’s weak candidacy and the national wave made for a relative blowout in a state that trends Democratic but is by no means out of reach for the GOP.  The Montana Senate race was flukey for all kinds of reasons; Tester isn’t exactly your daddy’s wine-and-cheese liberal and ran a credible quasi-libertarian, independent campaign, and, as we all know, Burns was tarred by Abramoff scandals.  Wyoming’s At-Large House district was put in jeopardy because Barbara Cubin, the Republican, is an obstreperous buffoon who apparently likes ridiculing the disabled, and Idaho’s 1st (which they held) was put in jeopardy because a great many Republicans who know him think Bill Sali is a horrible human being.  The point is that, even with candidates who would and should have lost anywhere else, they held on in these strongly Republican states in spite of themselves.     

    The great gap in GOP armour this past cycle in the region was Arizona.  Two of their three losses in House races came from here.  They did not notice Hayworth’s vulnerability until it was far too late, losing them that seat in addition to the loss of Kolbe’s open seat.  They have been unable to compete in gubernatorial contests there since Napolitano arrived on the scene, but she may other ambitions than continuing to be governor.  However, if the unlikely occurs and McCain becomes the GOP nominee Republicans will run well in Arizona and we will be left wondering why anyone ever thought that the Mountain West was in any jeopardy at all. 

    Governorships are a bigger concern for the GOP, since they can affect future redistricting, but once Napolitano is gone in Arizona and if Richardson goes off on a doomed quest for the Presidency both of these states will be up for grabs before the next Census.  This is just one region that I am a bit more familiar with, and I’m sure locals from other regions in the country could similarly poke a lot of holes in the idea that the GOP has been driven back to its Southern bastion.

    What about the “solid South”?  In fact, the South was almost as badly (or minimally) affected by anti-Republican sentiment this year as the Mountain West.  As in the West, one Senate seat flipped (again, for admittedly completely flukey reasons).  In addition, four House seats were lost (two of these being open seats created by scandal) and control of the Arkansas governor’s mansion changed hands.  The Republicans very nearly lost the Senate race in Tennessee.  If someone wants to judge the party’s long-term prospects by a blowout election like this one, he is welcome to do so, but it will give a very misleading picture of party’s strengths.  The Senate race in Tennessee would suggest that the state is beginning to move away from them, when this is not the case.  In the same way, anyone who takes the results from Indiana and Ohio as definitive proof of new Democratic strength in the Midwest is ignoring some of the most important reasons for Republican collapse in these states.  The collapses were caused directly by the policies or scandals of current governors of those states, and they were made worse by the national environment, but as bad as the outcome was it is not proof that the GOP cannot compete in the Midwest.  The one region were there really was disaster was obviously the Northeast, but only time will tell if that purge of Republicans was a function of this election alone or a more general trend.