Eunomia · March 2007


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This is not a post where I intend to get intensely pro-Palestinian, since I believe it should be a basic maxim of our foreign policy that the squabbling of other peoples over small patches of land in small, relatively unimportant Mediterranean countries should properly have nothing to do with the United States (we are not deeply exercised by the continued occupation of northern Cyprus, nor are we much troubled by disputes over Ceuta), but this report almost makes me want to start talking about al-Naqba and playing “Ya Quds” by Nawal al-Zoghbi:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in interviews published Friday that Israel would not allow a single Palestinian refugee to return to what is now Israel, and that the country bore no responsibility [bold mine-DL] for the refugees because their plight resulted from an attack by Arab nations on Israel when it was a fledgling state.

This is, of course, the standard story of the 1948 war, which every good American has learned by heart (along with the justifiability of the “pre-emptive” 1967 war, in which there was also no attempt to sink the USS Liberty).  However, I am earnestly trying to think of another example where a modern government that engaged in deliberate and conscious ethnic cleansing has been allowed to tell the story in such a way that it can claim that it not only will not take back any of the people it forced out (which might simply be a political reality) but that it also bears no responsibility for the plight of those refugees because the state was under foreign attack. 

This would be like the government of Croatia, after having expelled the Serbs of the Krajina, declaring that they bore no responsibility for this act because they had been attacked by federal Yugoslav forces.  The Croatian government probably has made this claim (indeed, I have to assume that it has at some point), but I doubt that a lot of non-Croatians are tempted to believe this self-serving propaganda (except to the extent that Washington was also culpable in the expulsion of the Krajinan Serbs and so also has a vested interest in confirming this distorted view).  It is, in fact, the logic of the Turkish position on the Armenian genocide: we were under attack, “stuff happens” in war and that’s too bad, but we are not responsible for anything that may or may not have happened.  (For the record, in case this last comparison gets on anyone’s nerves, I am not saying that the Palestinians are victims of an attempted genocide.)  The Turkish government can advance this view all it likes–virtually no one else believes it, much less does anyone consider it a legitimate, defensible position. 

This statement by Olmert may be nothing more than a negotiating posture, but even for something related to politics it stinks to high heaven.

The newest lefty spin on the USA ”scandal” is that the “improper” political firings of the eight USAs now jeopardises…the prosecution of one of the corrupt Democrats whose alleged criminal activities David Iglesias was slow or inept in leading.  That means that the thing that got Iglesias fired was probably related to his ineptitude in handling big corruption cases, demonstrated so clearly in his very near failure in getting a Vigil conviction.  In other words, after what was almost a completely botched case against Robert Vigil, Iglesias’ tardy and uninspiring pursuit of Manny Aragon’s corruption probably convinced anyone interested in combating corruption back home in New Mexico that Iglesias wasn’t really cut out for the job.  Maybe there were inappropriate phone calls from members of Congress that shouldn’t have been made, but the Aragon indictment ought to make everyone think about this “scandal” a bit more. 

Now that the U.S. Attorney’s office is finally indicting Aragon, he of Wackenhut connections fame and any number of other scams against the New Mexican people, we’re supposed to be simultaneously convinced that the administration was using the USAs to target poor, innocent Democrats while also screwing up the prosecutions of Democrats who are probably guilty of everything their opponents say they are because the USAs were being used as political tools.  Of course, if Democrats, with ample help from morons in the administration, had not made this episode into a “scandal,” no one would have any reason to think that the prosecution of Manny Aragon was politically motivated or in the least improper, which makes the entire spectacle seem to be one generated for the advantage of their fellow partisans who are under suspicion of corruption or other lawbreaking for good reason. 

This is, after all, Manny Aragon we’re talking about, and anyone who has lived more than a few years in New Mexico knows that this is probably the only illegal thing that the government thought it could actually prove that he had done.  It’s about time that they have him cornered.  Personally, after watching the Vigil case almost implode thanks to Iglesias’ bumbling, I am relieved to know that he will have nothing to do with future corruption prosecutions in New Mexico.  For this I am supposed to be upset at the Bush administration? 

He is his own vision. ~David Axelrod on Barack Obama

So, when people complain that Obama’s campaign is mostly just a lot of egocentrism, gauzy sentimentality and meaningless drivel without any strong or coherent policy elements, don’t worry: that’s the master plan!

So I’m thinking of taking intensive Arabic this summer, since facility with that and related Semitic languages has obvious importance for Byzantine studies, and I have been dabbling a little with it so far.  My early dabbling reminded me that the Arabic word for ‘right’ or ‘correct’, sahih, was taken into Hindi (presumably by way of borrowings from Persian and/or Islamic influence) along with its antonym, galat, which I happened to come across also in my Armenian reading earlier this week.  The main reason I know that these words are in Hindi is that I have seen Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, everyone’s favourite Bollywood movie, so all those hours spent watching Indian flicks have not been entirely in vain. 

On a lighter note, here is where Lebanese pop meets Bollywood: the pop star Nawal al-Zoghbi singing Gharib el-Ray.  There are more random foreign locales than in a Yash Raj spectacular (I guess because she is wandering, gharib).  Here is a video filled with apparently random scene changes–now she’s in Prague, now she’s surrounded by badly rendered computer-generated helicopters.  Perhaps if I spoke Arabic, it would make more sense?  At least the music’s enjoyable.  Meaningful blogging will resume later. 

If a Martian came down and read Charles Krauthammer and you asked him whether what he had read made any sense, he would be be baffled and would wonder why you had even asked the question.  ”Of course not,” the Martian would say.  “How can you earthlings read this junk on a regular basis?” 

It seems to me that Krauthammer brings in his argumentum ad Martianum whenever he’s feeling particularly strapped for bad excuses for the policy he is defending in a column, but I have no solid evidence that he trots out his Martian friend with that much regularity (he has so many columns filled with bad excuses for general belligerence).  Perhaps this is why he is so concerned to continue the space program and put a man on Mars?  So that he can finally meet all those Martians who somehow always manage to support whatever cracked idea he happens to be selling?  He certainly needs to find someone who thinks he knows what he’s talking about, so perhaps looking to inhabitants of other planets would be the way to go.

What follows seems like a pretty obvious objection, but it would appear that Krauthammer has so far largely gotten a pass on his most ludicrous column of this year.  One of Ezra Klein’s guest bloggers takes a shot at it, but really doesn’t do much with it.  What does Krauthammer’s conference with the Martian tell us?  Iraq is much more important than Afghanistan!  (How did I know he was going to say that?)  Krauthammer writes:

Thought experiment: Bring in a completely neutral observer — a Martian — and point out to him that the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan, a geographically marginal backwater with no resources, no industrial and no technological infrastructure. The other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure which, though suffering decay in the later Saddam years, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e. wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait ,and the Gulf states. Then ask your Martian: Which is the more important battle? He would not even understand why you are asking the question. 

If you were to then tell the “Martian” the rest of the information that would show the true significance of the two theaters, even the “Martian” would have to agree that Krauthammer doesn’t understand the first thing about geopolitics or strategy.  What rather strategically significant country borders Afghanistan and could be affected rather signficantly by a resurgent Taliban in the borderlands?  That would be Pakistan.  That would be the Pakistan that has a nuclear arsenal, and which has a highly unstable authoritarian government and the Inter-Services Intelligence branch that is heavily compromised by sympathies with and ties to jihadis forged over decades of sponsoring jihadis in Afghanistan and India.  Western Pakistan also now serves as the base for the Taliban and, to the extent that it is centered anywhere, the center of the leadership of Al Qaeda.  Of course top Al Qaeda figures would talk up Iraq as the main front–all other things being equal, if you could convince your stupid enemy to fight you far away from where you are and make him think that he was dealing you a death blow in the process, you would do this, especially when the effect of this is to reduce his attention on the far more pivotal battle going on in the supposed backwater.    

There is a very real possibility that jihadis of one sort or another could seize control of the government of Pakistan and its nukes, precipitate a war with India or use jihadis as couriers for nukes to attack targets abroad.  There is virtually zero possibility of Sunni jihadis controlling any of Iraq’s oil resources, and no chance of them controlling a large, somewhat effective military or a nuclear arsenal, since Iraq doesn’t have either of these (on the military, Krauthammer is recycling things that used to be true about the relatively ”advanced” Iraqi military infrastructure, but which really ceased to be true in 2003). 

American withdrawal from Iraq will very likely be bad for many Iraqis, but failure in Afghanistan and the added destabilisation of Pakistan that would result from it would probably create evils so many times greater and so much more numerous that even the comparison between the two might strike the thoughtful observer as rather silly.  If you explained all that to the “Martian,” he would probably wonder why it is you are wasting so much time, energy, money and men in Iraq.  Some of us aren’t even from Mars, and we already knew this.

Update: Writing a little bit after I wrote the above post, Michael Crowley at The Plank gets it:

But is Afghanistan really so “geographically marginal”? I would say that Martian might take careful note of Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan. He might wonder why Americans aren’t downright panicked that an unstable nation infested with Islamic radicals constantly trying to assassinate its dictator has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. And moreover that a top Pakistani nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, has shared nuclear secrets with America’s enemies. And that other Pakistani nuclear scientists are reported to have met with Osama bin Laden himself.

I see the Pakistani bomb as a greater near-term threat to my own life than anything that might happen in Iraq in the next few years. Given the proximity of Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the way Islamic radicals play the two countries off one another, it seems to me that creating stability and a climate inhospitable to anti-American terrorists there is no “marginal” thing at all. Surely Krauthammer’s Martian could understand that.

It doesn’t tell us why other people are supporting Obama, but this “diavlog” from bloggingheads featuring the very pro-Obama Rosa Brooks from the Open Society Institute has her saying exactly the sort of nonsense about his transcending the divisions within this country and around the world that is supposedly merely the projection of Obama observers.  Instead, Ms. Brooks makes it explicit that she thinks Obama would be good for the country’s image around the world partly because of his race.  See the seventh section of the diavlog at 3:20 and after.

Via Poulos, I see that Ron Paul is polling better (3%!) than several of the other better-known, somewhat more-hyped second-tier candidates, such as Hunter, Huckabee and Tancredo.  (Poor Tommy Thompson pulls a whopping 1%.)  Granted that this is Zogby, and granted that it is a phone poll of adults, but it seems noteworthy that Brownback doesn’t even show up in the results and Ron Paul is already pulling a third of the support of the super-hyped Fred Thompson and the money-laden, media-soaked Mitt Romney.  Brownback’s absence makes me a little skeptical of the poll’s reliability, since he will be a player in Iowa even if he fails everywhere else, but if accurate it would mean that Ron Paul is in a solid fourth place among actual, declared candidates for the Republican nomination.  You never thought you would read that sentence, did you?  I expect that National Journal will be changing their presidential rankings accordingly.  Yeah, that’ll happen.

Reihan says that he has a problem picking sides between Sullivan and Brooks in a new Sullivan fit over a recent Brooks column, but there really is an easy solution: I think Brooks is wrong, but Sullivan is out of his mind.   

Unlike Reihan, I have no qualms about criticising both of them.  Brooks starts:

There is an argument floating around Republican circles that in order to win again, the G.O.P. has to reconnect with the truths of its Goldwater-Reagan glory days. It has to once again be the minimal-government party, the maximal-freedom party, the party of rugged individualism and states’ rights.

Actually, there’s a lot of talk going around about the need to “get back to Reagan,” but what that means in concrete terms is never spelled out very clearly.  No mainstream pundit or columnist I know of has even mentioned “states’ rights”–what a quaint idea to talk about federalism in a serious way!  There are some, such as Ryan Sager, who talk vaguely about the “libertarian” side of the fusionist mix and regard big spending Republicans and Christians alike as internal enemies to be beaten down.  But very few people are really proposing anything that anyone could call Goldwaterite or small-government conservative.  So Brooks’ analysis starts off with a pretty flawed premise. 

Sullivan responded:

So far, nothing but rhetoric and cliches from David. “Rugged individualism”? Why the “rugged”? Why not just freedom to live one’s life as one chooses, as opposed to the way in which David’s allies in the religious and authoritarian right want to boss us around?

So far nothing but hysteria and name-calling from Sullivan (as usual).  Why not “rugged”?  What’s wrong with “rugged”?  It’s the individualism part conservatives should have a problem with, not the ruggedness or lack thereof.  David Brooks has allies on “the religious and authoritarian right”?  I must have missed the latest staff meeting down at Religious Authoritarian HQ, since no one except for the excitable Andrew Sullivan could ever mistake David Brooks for being an ally of these people.  This is right down there with the time Sullivan declared in person to Brooks that “your magazine” (he meant The Weekly Standard) was founded for the purpose of promoting religious fundamentalism.  Brooks is a defender of the administration’s unconstitutional and abusive policies in many cases, but it is impossible to take seriously Sullivan’s arguments thanks to his habit of reducing every disagreement he has with someone to their servitude to dark fundamentalist forces.

Brooks writes a bit later:

In short, in the 1970s, normal, nonideological people were right to think that their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. People were right to believe that government was undermining personal responsibility. People were right to have what Tyler Cowen, in a brilliant essay in Cato Unbound, calls the “liberty vs. power” paradigm burned into their minds — the idea that big government means less personal liberty. 

Here Sullivan has bigger targets, and he even manages to hit some, since it seems plain that liberty must wane as government increases:

But bigger government always means less personal liberty. This is simply a fact, not an opinion.

More amusing is Sullivan’s “I’m a small-government Goldwater conservative, but” section, in which he manages to explain exactly how he is no such thing:

I’m a small government Goldwater conservative, but I think compulsory high school education is worth the trade-off of freedom. I think universal healthcare insurance is an infringement of liberty, but since we have committed to providing emergency healthcare for all, it’s a trade-off worth making for fiscal and moral reasons. Small government conservatives don’t want to abandon government. We want it small - but strong and focused on what government really ought to do.

And he thinks government ought to compel your children to go to state schools and force you to sign up for health insurance, a la RomneyCare, whether you want it or not.  In other words, when it comes to things that he deems “moral” and “necessary,” he is an even bigger statist than the people he constantly berates as authoritarians and fundamentalists and oppressors.  He wants to expand government even more than the hated “Christianists” have ever proposed doing when it suits his doubt-ridden convictions. 

Sullivan then cites another bit from Brooks and makes this hilariously oblivious comment:

Normal, nonideological people …

Please. This is a straw man. Everyone who differs from David is ideological and abnormal?

But, correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t the entirety of Andrew Sullivan’s book several hundred pages of saying, in a shrill, excited voice, that virtually everyone in the conservative movement besides Andrew Sullivan is ideological and abnormal?  His book might very well be called, “Everyone Except For Me Has Betrayed Conservatism, Embraced Fundamentalism And Must Be Ideological And Abnormal,” right?  Not quite as catchy of a title, I grant you, but far more reflective of the contents of the book.

Sullivan actually has the better of the philosophical argument, to the extent that he is even engaging in argument, but he responds to Brooks in such a fashion that it comes off seeming unconvincing even to those of us small-government conservatives who instinctively reject whatever it is that David Brooks has to say about anything.  Maybe that’s because Sullivan says things like this:

Could it be that David’s project of bringing in a cohort of religious zealots has tarred the GOP as a bunch of intolerant, bossy bigots?

Again, where is the evidence for any of this?  He calls it “David’s project,” as if Brooks had ever met a “religious zealot” he didn’t automatically loathe.  Note also that what Sullivan calls “religious zealot” other people would call “weekly suburban churchgoer.”  He repeats this canard again:

No, they’re simply registering that the Brooks experiment in turning the GOP into a religious, statist party for cronies and incompetents has been a disaster for Republicanism and a catastrophe for conservatism.

Can anyone in his right mind believe that whatever superficial religiosity there is in the GOP has anything to do with David Brooks or a “Brooks experiment”? 

He does manage to get one bit right:

Brooks was an intellectual architect of both visions - massive intervention abroad, and warmed-over socialism at home.

Indeed, and both positions are repugnant.  Which is what makes Sullivan’s ham-fisted, often buffoonish reply to one of their leading advocates so painful to read. 

Sununu is trailing Shaheen by ten points in an early N.H. Senate poll.  It might have been a good idea for Sununu to either vote in support of the anti-”surge” resolution or for the latest supplemental/withdrawal bill.  Without something real he can take home to show that he isn’t married to the GOP on the things that are most of concern to New Hampshire voters, he will have a difficult time hanging on. 

Bush’s low approval ratings are an illustration. Some experienced GOP campaign strategists believe that there is virtually no chance that a Republican can succeed Bush if his approval ratings remain mired in the 30s. The Democratic strategy of investigating administration scandals and policy blunders is calculated to achieve exactly that goal — and the burgeoning controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys has given Democrats in Congress yet another inviting target. ~The Politico

Come to think of it, has the outgoing President’s party ever won the next election when he has approval ratings below 40%?  I don’t think modern approval rating-taking existed before Truman, but we can also see from the fairly lopsided Harding victory in 1920 that unpopular Presidents consistently drag down their succeeding nominees down to defeat.  Relatively more popular Presidents, such as T.R., Coolidge and Reagan, have been able to hand over control to someone from their own party (though not always necessarily their Vice President), which also makes Gore’s inability to match these examples particularly bad. 

All this seems obvious enough, but for some reason much of the commentary on ‘08 has been treating the election as if we still lived in the 50-50 nation and it’s anybody’s guess which way the election will go.  All generic polls and common sense tell us that the Democrats will once again do pretty well, barring some catastrophic failure or scandal on their side.  Even if we were not still in Iraq, it seems probable that Mr. Bush’s low approval ratings and the GOP’s generally poor reputation these days will make the GOP nominee this time around a dead man campaigning.   

That once again makes 1920 the more appropriate model for understanding what is likely to happen next year (with all of the obvious caveats about significantly different electorates, circumstances and issues taken into account, lest I be accused of young blogger naivete).  Another comparison would be 1952, which technically included Truman early on in the election but was effectively an election without an incumbent from either party.  In terms of the final margin of victory, 1952 is probably the better comparison than 1920, which saw a massive blowout that does seem unlikely given recent voting patterns.

Clark offers his pessimism as an antidote to any excessive optimism experienced at Charlottesville.  I do have to confess I share Clark’s puzzlement about Prof. Deneen’s reference to people being “wildly optimistic” about human nature.  It is not necessarily true that all or even most people at the conference would share my enthusiasm for active pessimism, but as something of an arch-pessimist I would have thought I would be able to detect if anyone was a believer in the unspotted goodness of mankind.  Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention, or perhaps I simply drank too much vodka and was no longer discerning much of anything.

One is thrust in the potential position of being un-American, of feeling homeless in America.  I once spent a few hours waiting for a flight with a colleague at an airport, and began explaining to him this argument that modernity included both dominant contemporary political camps, and engaged in a critique of presumptions of individualism, rights-based political theory, thoroughgoing free market economics, and mobility – and he looked at me with growing horror and called me “Anti-American.” And, he was nothing if not a good liberal and a good modernist, although he called himself a conservative. Indeed, nothing brings the Left and Right together quicker than a good critique of modernity. ~Prof. Patrick Deneen

This problem of being “homeless in America” arises only if we continue to believe the myth (and it is to some considerable extent a myth) that we all must be Lockeans to be Americans and to accept the constitutional tradition of our country.  As I have suggested before, Bolingbroke shows us the way to avoid falling into the Lockean ditch while still maintaining our proper respect for the good things in our constitutional inheritance, which, not surprisingly, are the very things the successors of Locke and the Whigs set about ruining as quickly as they could once they held power. 

As for the last point, I can vouch for the truth of it, since there is no one members of the conventional Right would sooner drop-kick than the person who actually values tradition, authority and hierarchy (how gauche!).

To defend Lockean philosophy in the name of conservatism is to open the back door to the progressive hordes. ~Prof. Patrick Deneen

Much as I enjoyed the fellowship of the past weekend in Charlottesville, there was a persistent and palpable animosity toward politics and government generally held by many of the participants. For all the talk of community, it was a community bereft of the idea that communities require more than just good feeling, but laws and institutions as well as the willingness on the part of citizens to work publically toward the formation and enactment of the public good and the recognition that such work will result in conflict. There was something of a gauzy sentimentality and even anarchic libertarianism that pervaded the sessions. As much as I admire Wendell Berry, his work does not sufficiently attend to the needs for, and demands of, politics. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between two camps that otherwise might be thought to be polar opposites - agrarian communitarians and libertarians. Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to “do their own thing” without the “interference” of politics and government. ~Prof. Patrick Deneen

I heard Prof. Deneen’s talk in Charlottesville, and I was pretty sure there was nothing really troubling in it, but I went back through it again today and made sure.  Since I, anarchopaleo-retroneotradcon populist agrarian Bolingbrokean reactionary that I am, still haven’t found anything all that objectionable in it, and I didn’t notice the “gauzy sentimentality” in the attendees that Prof. Deneen noticed, I assume I am either missing something tremendously important or there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding somewhere.  Yes, there was much talk about Wendell Berry, such that it became the running joke of the conference, but it was not just aimless gushing about the grand old Kentuckian; the references and citations were all, for the most part, part of the defense of rooted, limited and human-scale living. 

The talk itself should have made any neo-Schumpeterian and neo-Schuhmacherian’s heart fill with joy and gladness, and the conference attendees should have reassured everyone that a room could erupt in applause at the mention of Ron Paul’s impending presidential victory and believe in and try to live rooted traditional community life at the same time and that they cheered for Ron Paul because they believed and lived in this way.  (Am I just imposing my own perspective on all the attendees?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.)  The people who were there despise what the political class calls “politics” because I think they understand that this “politics” has nothing good or positive to do with the immediate political communities to which they belong.  They loathe “government” generally not because they think any and all government is undesirable, but because they believe this kind of government that we have today is significantly and dangerously corrupted.  Prof. Deneen may find in the enthusiasm for Ron Paul an example of precisely the sort of disengagement and lack of realism about politics that he thinks is the problem, but I would suggest that any expression of enthusiasm for a presidential candidate, even an extreme long-shot such as Rep. Paul, demonstrates a strong sense of engagement and perhaps almost undue preoccupation with politics as conventionally defined. 

There is a sense in which D.C. is less of a monstrosity as a city than Las Vegas or Phoenix, engaged in perpetual war with nature as those cities are, but there is also a very real sense in which those places could not thrive without the policies and priorities set in Washington.  Washington is not at war with nature, but it is at war with our America, and so it is not terribly surprising that people who consider themselves patriots regard it with special loathing.  For my part, in my visits to the Georgetown campus and the rest of the metro area, I have found some things to enjoy in the District and its environs, but on the whole I take Kekaumenos’ advice about going to the capital: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, and leave as quickly as possible.  

Were there libertarians at the conference who had an unfortunately optimistic view of human nature?  Probably.  Did they make up the bulk of the speakers and attendees?  I am doubtful about that.  Are there some romantics who pine for settled communities simply because they like to have things to pine for?  Probably.  But that is not what anyone I met was talking about.  Maybe I didn’t meet enough of the people at the conference.  I would like to suggest, however, that the hostility to politics and government (which I suppose can hardly satisfy a professor of government) that Prof. Deneen encountered there was very far from a desire to live in a world beyond politics.  The ISI folks, as I understand them, view attempts to escape the inevitable realities of politics as fairly insane.  As Chantal Delsol’s book would have it, it is the attempt to eliminate the structures of power (among other things) all together that constitutes one of the grave mistakes of modern Western man.  The existence of power and the existence of disparities of power will be constants in human experience, and so there is the ultimate choice of attempting to constrain and limit the corruption that comes from concentrated power (according to the finest Anglo-American traditions of Bolingbroke, the Country party, the Anti-Federalists, who are the very same people who embody what Prof. Deneen calls the alternative tradition) or acquiescing to various degrees in the monstrosity of the Robinarchy on the grounds that there has to be a government somewhere.  To be against the Robinarchy does not mean that you reject authority or government, much less that you have an optimistic assessment of human nature, but that you would like to see government rightly ordered according to principles of legitimacy, lawfulness and justice. 

Over the past year it has been interesting to see reactions to the conservatism of virtue and place (this seems to be the most succinct name for what we are trying to describe) that has been on display at different points.  When traditional conservatism was advanced during the debates over “crunchy conservatism,” all of the talk of virtue and the criticism of megacorporations immediately aroused the suspicions of the enforcers of acceptable fusionism that some sort of lefty statist coup was in the works.  Citing John Lukacs saying negative things about paving over green fields was taken as proof that we wanted to collectivise the farms, or something like that.  Libertarian terror at the prospect of actually living your life in accordance with nature was palpable.  It was the foes of the traditionalists, paleos and “crunchy cons” who wanted to talk about a “partial philosophy of life” and who advanced the idea that politics somehow stops at the voting booth and the government office.  The anarcho-traditionalists, if we want to call them that, were the ones saying that political life is first and foremost concerned with the affairs of the institutions of your local political community and the needs of your family, and these are what ought to take priority.  They were proposing practicing politics as if the Permanent Things (i.e., virtues, among other things) really existed and actually mattered, and you could see the unmitigated horror this induced in every “mainstream conservative.”  

There was an equally harsh reaction in the other direction when the exact same people begin speaking favourably about “front-porch anarchism” and Wendell Berry and Dorothy Day in a slightly different context.  All of a sudden the same people who were a few months earlier supposedly attempting to regulate every aspect of your daily life with supposedly fascist dreams of transcendence were dangerously oblivious to the need for order and stability!  This would be the “gauzy sentimentality” objection Prof. Deneen voiced earlier.  However, I think I can explain how people keep having this mistaken impression.  

The “front-porch anarchist” folks were talking about ”anarchism” with the understanding that this means a rejection of consolidation, concentration and centralisation, a repudiation of war, the extraction of wealth by the state and the exploitation of the land and the people by corporate masters together with a rejection of the trashy culture, the degradation of the human person and the general ugliness of the age.  It is difficult to discern this at first, because the label anarchist is immediately off-putting to most conservatives (as it should be in its normal meaning of bomb-throwing assassins), but what needs to be understood is that these “front-porch anarchists” are irrevocably opposed to the kind of anarchist who believes that destruction is creative, since they are adamantly opposed to the kind of “creative destruction” that requires the destruction of all they love to create the bland, homogenous, dead world that they hate.  From everything I heard in Prof. Deneen’s talk, it seems to me that he and they are in more or less perfect agreement.  What have I missed that I think this? 

 

What would I object to? Well, I thought there was an undertone of something in that talk, and this later post by Professor Deneen makes it explicit. He detects “gauzy sentimentality” in the libertarian and generally anti-statist bent of some of the participants, as well as an overvaulting optimism about human nature. To me, it looks like the statists are the optimists about human nature: they believe that some people, given lordship over others, will not abuse their powers. I would contend that that view holds up neither in theory nor experience: with a very few exceptions, growth of state power comes at the expense of community and civil society. ~Dan McCarthy

I am even shorter on time this morning and there is much to say about this important question, but I will propose the following compromise between Prof. Deneen and my anarchist and agrarian friends: I think I know what Prof. Deneen is talking about, because I used to get the same sense from people who would speak approvingly about anarchism and agrarianism, but I then realised that the traditionalists and conservatives talking about anarchism weren’t really in favour of laissez-faire anything and the agrarians had a profoundly realistic assessment of the virtues and vices of man–which was why they felt so strongly that power and wealth needed to be dispersed as widely as possible and why they believed it was so important to keep man grounded in nature and place that would tend to impose limits on their fallen tendency to excess and sin.  Prof. Deneen is worried about the “gauzy sentimentality” of some of the anarcho-traditionalists (our latest tongue-twisting designation) he met at Charlottesville, but I would submit that there is more gauzy sentimentality in Sam Brownback’s little finger than there was in that entire conference and the two respective visions put forward have nothing do to with each other. 

Prof. Deneen is also rightly concerned to stress that men are not angels and need laws and institutions.  He would find that most of the people there, I believe, are actually far more in agreement with him than a lot of more conventional “conservatives” and libertarians who do embrace Reaganesque, Paine-quoting optimism, a belief in progress and the possibility of improving human nature.  What they do insist on, though, is that the laws of an abusive central state are actually destructive of respect for law and authority itself, and that the institutions of a centralised state are the enemy of natural and intermediary institutions that function to protect human liberty and the communities that make that liberty possible in the first place.  Now I really must go, as I am already late for Armenian.

Because you are all dying to know what other words Armenian and Hindi share, I will tell you another one.  Reading Namus (yes, I’m still reading Namus ever so slowly), I came across the colloquial expression ghalat chari, which is apparently still used in Armenia today and which is basically an imperative phrase that means, “Don’t do something wrong/bad.”  The word sounded familiar to my Bollywood-trained ears, and sure enough my first intuition that ghalat was the same as galat in Hindi was confirmed when I checked my Hindi dictionary.  To someone hearing it pronounced in Hindi for the first (or even the fifth or sixth) time, it sounds an awful lot like ghaland, but that is not actually what they’re saying, much as zarur (of course) comes out sounding to English-speakers (or at least to me) as zerul

Language bleg: Does anyone happen to know which language galat originally comes from?  Arabic, maybe? 

Update: Yes, it does come originally from Arabic.

It’s not much of an oversimplification to say that the blue-collar Democrats tend to see elections as an arena for defending their interests, and the upscale voters see them as an opportunity to affirm their values. ~Ron Brownstein

Via Ross Douthat

This would help explain why Obama, whose entire campaign platform as of right now is, “Hope is good,” apparently wins over a lot of the latter and few of the others.  Upscale voters apparently like hope, while blue-collar voters are apparently not so astonishingly gullible.  More basically, a politician who complains that politics is about power more than it is about principle, while nice to listen to, reveals himself to meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar voters to be well-meaning but hopeless as someone who will secure for them the spoils they expect.  The quote in Brownstein’s article from the union rep was telling:

But familiarity alone may not solve Obama’s blue-collar challenge. Rick Gale, the president of the firefighters’ Wisconsin affiliate, was shaking his head after Obama’s reform-heavy message to the union convention. “In my view, that’s really not a message for our guys,” Gale said. “They’re really not afraid of politics.” 

The high-minded reformer act comes across as someone who either a) thinks he is better than the people he is claiming to represent, which usually doesn’t win a lot of sympathy, or b) hasn’t got the grit and skill in delivering the goods.  He laments that power is at the heart of politics, when his constituents instinctively understand that power is being contested and these contests determine whether they or some other group gets the appropriate share of that power.  If your guy doesn’t win the contest for you and yours, what did you elect him to do?  Talk about the virtues of bipartisanship?  Not likely.   

Amusingly, the Real Obama–the one who voted against CAFTA, allegedly against his better instincts, and the one who worked as a ”community organizer” in Hyde Park–is possibly the sort of guy blue-collar Democrats probably would want to support despite Obama’s own thoroughly privileged background.  However, through some bizarre contortion of reality two wealthy lawyers who have both been prior to 2006 New Democrat boosters of free trade, “education” and “empowerment” as the solution to everyone’s economic anxieties have become the tribunes of blue-collar Democrats.  (Clinton basically remains on the New Democrat bandwagon even now.)  Strangely, perhaps as part of the project to make Obama into a “viable” candidate, Obama has been a great one for talking about the virtue of education in ways that make progressives physically ill, while he has allowed Edwards to be the one to position himself as a supposed economic populist. 

Update: Bradford Plumer at TNR gives a more detailed picture of just why Obamania is not contagious with organised labour, including this gem:

Clinton gets far and away the loudest applause line of the entire conference when she declares that she will soon introduce legislation to give “meaningful access to contractor payroll records.”   

Are you feeling excited yet?  Meanwhile, John Boehner also showed up at the same conference and managed to make himself unusually unpopular by recycling administration lies on Iraq.  Good thinking, John!  So that would probably be a good example of the GOP not developing anything that even hints at lower-middle reformism.  This might just have some political consequences with these workers.

And since Ross and Reihan are finding a Strange New Respect for Buchananism (or whatever passes for “paleoconservatism” these days) I should say that I’m reminded of a point Ramesh made years ago in his article on Buchanan. “Conservatives tend to place a lot of emphasis, maybe too much, on the idea that ideas have consequences,” Ponnuru wrote. “They hoist their ideas up the flagpole and then see who salutes. Buchananism puts its idealized social base first, and lets it drive everything else.” This sounds quite a bit like what’s going on with Lower-Middle-Reformism.

The late Sam Francis must be smiling from wherever he is (I have my hunches on where that might be) knowing that his Middle American Radicalism is getting a fresh coat of paint. ~Jonah Goldberg

Tom Piatak joins in the enfilading fire aimed at Goldberg’s obnoxious post.  Reihan responds in a fashion that is far more good natured and generous than the post deserves.  I have every intention of drawing out just how many things are wrong with Goldberg’s post (I suspect I will have some help in this department), but for now a few simple points.  No one does more flagpole-raising and salute-demanding than people at NR, whose last remaining productive function (besides flacking for the warfare state) seems to be the enforcement of ideological purity whenever it is challenged by a crunchy con, an anti-imperialist, neopopulist or, well, anyone resembling a traditional conservative.  Right around this same time last year Goldberg bestirred himself to write off, if not write out, Rod Dreher and anything remotely resembling a conservatism of place and virtue.  Idiotically, this champion of rootless, Wal-Mart America has decided that the advocates for “Sam’s Club Republicans” are the latest batch of dissidents to beat down and skewer with not-so-subtle efforts to associate them (however implausibly) with the ideas of Dr. Francis.  He did the same to another young blogger from the other side of the spectrum, Matt Yglesias, who had the temerity to state certain obvious truths about the influence of hawkish pro-Israel people on the political process and the politics of foreign policy.  Goldberg replied by noting the similarity between the views of Yglesias and Lindbergh, as if this were an innocent observation intended to further debate. 

From my perspective, there is actually nothing wrong with being associated with Dr. Francis or Col. Lindbergh, since both were honourable, patriotic and admirable men, and if modern observers come to similar conclusions or express similar views as they did it is probably because these gentlemen were substantially in the right in their own time.  However, the intent of someone at NR invoking their names is clear: it is to demonise, discredit and defame those being so compared, because their names have been (unjustly) tainted with the vicious smears of earlier ideological enforcers.  Why make these comparisons?  Because the one engaged in the demonisation knows he cannot actually take on his adversaries in legitimate debate, but must always resort to the cheap, heavy-handed tactics of a commissar. 

To the end of exerting control over the collapsing movement they have helped to ruin, the ideological enforcers will be perfectly happy to appear otherwise very flexible, pragmatic, empirical and politically savvy, and they will be champions of a supposed mild reasonableness that happens to coincide perfectly with agreement with their own positions.  In this view, other people “idealise” and “romanticise” things, whereas they are supposedly the epitome of cautious, grounded common sense.  It would be a clever rhetorical move, were it not so utterly transparent and weak.

Some might have ”hunches” about the fate of Goldberg’s soul, but then charitable and decent people do not speculate about the eternal damnation of their political opponents as Goldberg was clearly trying to do.   

If Dr. Francis were ever to be bothered to follow the ins and outs of blog fights, which I imagine he would have considered a waste of time and energy, he would probably be smiling at this one if only because it would have confirmed his low opinion of the modern National Review.  Goldberg’s latest certainly does provoke laughter, if not smiles.  If Ross and Reihan have developed a “Strange New Respect” for certain paleos, including myself, that might have something to do with certain paleos treating their ideas (even the Big ones) with respect rather than tut-tutting and pretty blatantly attempting to tar them in the eyes of “respectable” conservatives through association with someone widely loathed in the “mainstream” but who was a brilliant political analyst and an unjustly maligned figure.  More later.

I hate to sound condescending because I’m a fan of Reihan’s and Ross’s and I’m generally friendly to the new generation of younger bloggers. But, I’m sorry: this is nonsense and it’s a bit representative of what one hears from the super-smart and very young these days. The idea that anyone, anywhere can spot an intellectual trend of any kind and then extrapolate out nearly two years to say that the GOP will or won’t win the presidency because of its refusal to embrace this or that advice is just absurd. Young wonky bloggers love Big Ideas. But Big Ideas are not the North Star of electoral politics, and you cannot navigate by them this far away from an election. ~Jonah Goldberg

Ross has already ably defended the honour and lack of naivete of his co-blogger and a friend of Eunomia, but let me add a few points.  When a blogger, especially a young blogger, writes something grand and sweeping about an overall trend (which said blogger understands to be far more complex and is perfectly happy to qualify his general statement when asked to do so), he is deemed naive and in thrall to Big Ideas.  When an established pundit or newspaper columnist (such as, say, David Brooks) makes the same sort of broad, overreaching generalisation about a new trend or the direction of American politics (sometimes based on nothing more than an amusing anecdote or two), he might well be described as pithy, insightful or forward-thinking.  There are definitely two standards that people apply to standard op-ed political commentary and blogging, and for some strange reason bloggers, whose product is by definition topical, brief and quickly written, are being held to a different and apparently higher standard for nuance, qualification and balance than columnists who not only craft their pieces over a much longer period of time but who get paid to do it.  This is not one of those horrendous Hewittian, “The New Media is better than the Old Media” posts, because I hate all of that idiocy, but it is simply to point out that Goldberg here has made a criticism of a blogger that he would not in all likelihood have made of a columnist making much the same argument.  This is made all the more silly by the fact that Reihan is substantially right in the point that he has made.  Indeed, I suspect that it is because Reihan’s analysis is basically right on target that Goldberg, who is on record all the time saying how little he likes any kind of populism, has responded so negatively to a post that, in its entirety, makes a good deal of sense.    

Does the GOP’s need for some kind of economic populist appeal, demonstrated rather painfully by their drubbing in places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, define the whole of the coming electoral cycle?  Obviously not, and Reihan never said any such thing.  He made the argument that he and Ross have been making for, well, many years, which is that small-government conservatism doesn’t sell and “strong government” conservatism does, which has the virtue of being true.  I don’t like it, but it is true.  Ceteris paribus, a GOP that does not attempt to co-opt or develop its own answer for ”lower-middle reformism” or populism is a GOP that is much more likely to lose in a nationwide contest with a party that has started turning to precisely that kind of politics.  It will in all likelihood lose the presidential race if it does not address this weakness and instead continues to trot out the old “tax cuts and deregulation” mantra.  That does not mean that the GOP doesn’t have a host of other weaknesses (the war, the appallingly bad quality of most of their “viable” presidential candidates, etc.) that might also cripple it.  So-called “lower-middle reformism” is a necessary element for GOP success–it may not be a sufficient element.  I would imagine that this is part of Reihan’s point, but I expect he will be able to elaborate on his point with his usual panache and the odd musical reference. 

Even if liberals detest the Crusades, however, there is no good reason for many of today’s Muslims to care about them, and there is no evidence that they think about the subject at all. ~Dinesh D’Souza

No reason not to welcome D’Souza back to the fold if he just forgets that recent nonsense about all our friends in the Muslim world, even among the mass murderers, who really like Christians and Jews. ~Richard Reeb

It’s true that Muslims historically had no great focus on the Crusades…until recent times when Muslims and Arab nationalists rediscovered the Crusades (and the defeat of the Crusades) as a useful historical precedent for what they saw as their own struggles against the West.  Similarly, few in Russia were ever probably aware of the details of the battle at Lake Ladoga or the Time of Troubles, but they were familiar with the heroic mythology of resistance against invasion that became useful for propaganda during the invasions of Germans.  Thus the communist Eisenstein could make a Russian nationalist epic film about Alexander Nevsky, someone venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church, because his defense of Novgorod against the Teutonic Knights, although largely incomparable to the Soviet situation, served as a potentially powerful symbol used to inspire people.  The basic message was this, as with all good nationalist propaganda films: those people have invaded before, they lost back then and they will lose again.  Memories of past successes become all the more important as a people has fewer and fewer successes in the present.  Hence it is not only the case that many Muslims today cultivate a grievance about the Crusades, but it was to some extent inevitable (especially with certain obvious geographical parallels with the foundation of Israel) since past victories were bound to become more important as Muslims suffered setback after setback even in the post-independence period. 

The fact that the Crusades have been taken up as a manufactured grievance to impart a sense of enduring resistance against European “aggression” to those who would very much like to model themselves on Saladin and Baybars does not make the real-world effects of that grievance any less potent or less real.  There is no evidence that anyone thinks about this stuff?  D’Souza should get out more.  Some people in Syria to this day celebrate Sultan Baybars’ victory against the Mongols and his successes against the dwindling Crusader kingdoms of the Levant.   

Of course, the Muslim rediscovery of the Crusades as a grievance is a political manipulation of history, not entirely unlike the sudden discovery of the virtue of the Crusades even among largely secular Westerners who would normally denounce the “intolerance” of pre-modern Christian Europe under any other circumstances.  But that sense of grievance does exist today.  That doesn’t mean that we have to make any concessions or blame the Crusaders for our problems today (problems we have, indeed, done much more to bring upon ourselves), but it does mean that D’Souza still doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 

I am all for intervening in Darfur any way we can. ~Jonah Goldberg

It’s interesting that the absurdity of the Fred Thompson Phenomenon should call to mind the (non-existent) presidential potential of Larry Craig in particular for both Matt Yglesias and myself.  Yglesias also asks sarcastically, “Where’s Tommy Thompson?”  Tommy is, of course, running as fast as he can all over Iowa attempting to pull off the upset of all upsets in a campaign no less (but no more) deserving of mockery than the other Thompson’s.  That idea struck me as laughable when I first heard about it, but then I seem to find virtually every presidential candidate’s chances laughable.  Somebody has to win, I suppose.  Why not a Thompson-Thompson ticket?

Tommy Thompson is actually a very good example of the kind of candidate–accomplished reform governor of a Midwestern state re-elected with broad support–that the GOP desperately needs right now.  The only problem is that he hasn’t been the governor of anything for years.  Oh, the other problem is that virtually nobody knows who he is outside Wisconsin.  Then there’s the lack of money.  Other than that, he’s in great shape.  But if his optimistic claims are to be believed, he is practicing intense retail politics and just might surprise all of the people engaged in the celebrity-watching political “journalism” that first anointed Hagel as a minor deity (before overturning his statues and burning his temples in recent weeks) and that now makes Thompson into the messiah.  I really hope so.  Larry Craig isn’t in the race (yet), so we need someone like Tommy Thompson to step up to the plate and save us from the insane celebrity politicians.

There are things we need to be afraid of; we need to be afraid of Islamic fascists; we need to afraid of the internal terrors that we face. The fact that many people will go to work this Friday and get a pink slip and be told that the job they’ve been working at 20 years won’t exist anymore. The fear that people are going to get a phone call that their 8 year old has broken his arm on the playground and they’re not sure how they’re going to pay the doctor bill and pay the rent on the first of the month.

That’s real terror. I mean, people have to understand that there are many forms of terror in the United States. There’s a terror that exists because our healthcare system is upside down and we’re just so overwhelmed with chronic disease that it’s bankrupting us and making us non-competitive. Parents are afraid their kids are going to spend twelve years in schools and still not be prepared to challenge the issues of the world.

So those are real true forms of terror for many American families. What changes that is when we start saying, ‘alright, if we know what the problems are, let’s start working toward the solutions. Let’s quit taking all of this in the realm of political ideology and start bringing a practical way to solve the problem.’ ~Mike Huckabee

Huckabee hits on some important things here, demonstrating that he may actually grasp contemporary American anxieties better than a lot of the candidates, but since he just finished saying that he wanted to restore a sense of optimism to America he has gone about it in a very odd way.  Terror isn’t just the work of ”Islamic fascists” (is this now a required phrase that every candidate has to utter?)–HMOs and teachers’ associations are evidently part of some kind of terrorism, too.  He doesn’t put it quite that way, he doesn’t name names, but you get the impression that the people preventing whatever Huckabee deems to be suitable health care access are equivalent to “Islamic fascists.” 

I think I understand what Huckabee is doing here: he understands that Republican primary voters these days won’t respond to anything unless it can somehow, however implausibly, be tied to fighting Terrorism, so he is trying to remake his syrupy, “being pro-life means having art programs” spiel into a more hard-edged, “being pro-life means fighting the HMOfascists.”  Huckabee can use HMOfascists free of charge–it is my gift to him.  However, it won’t work, since the people who use phrases such as “Islamic fascists” won’t be thrilled to have “terror” associated with health care or education.  They might think, not without reason, that this somehow cheapens or clouds the problem of terrorist violence. 

Joining in the general revelry, I propose the following:

Washington, D.C.: We destroyed the Constitution, and all we got was this ugly architecture.

Too positive?

In his Global Me, Zachary provided the readers with a tour of the New, New Brave World and introduced us to fascinating characters, ranging from high-tech entrepreneurs to international aid workers, who posses the attractive mix of “roots” and “wings,” that is, hyper-mobile “global hybrids” with “transnational identities,” who won’t stay put in one place, who experience “the breakdown of the unitary self, the rising appetite for diversity, the growing taste for gumbo [bold mine-DL], the proliferation of voluntary attachments to places, practices and communities.” These individuals with roots in more than one nation and with wings to fly anywhere and anytime were “the fruits of the new patterns in migration and mobility,” Zachary wrote. “They are the future,” he concluded. ~Leon Hadar

A growing taste for gumbo?  That’s proof of a new cosmopolitanism?  What does an appreciation for masala chai suggest?  The Apocalypse?

Dr. Hadar also talks about the story that explodes all of these fantasies of globalised humanity.

Update: Incidentally, I had heard about The Namesake when it was first released and saw a copy of the book in the airport bookstore during my brief exile in Philadelphia.  There I was, wandering past the stacks of dreadful paperback novels and copies of Maxim, and suddenly Kal Penn’s loving face was staring back at me.  Kal Penn, best known to the stoner set through his work in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, is actually a somewhat decent actor who made the obligatory desi, “We are all desis, bhaiyye!” movie in Dude, Where’s The Party? (originally titled Where’s The Party, Yaar?), though he was actually upstaged by the relative unknown (Sunil Malhotra) who played the visiting FOB Indian, Hari (or, as he insists on calling himself when meeting new people, Harish Kumar Satish Kumar Patel).  Now he plays the desi torn between two worlds in Mira Nair’s adaptation of The Namesake, ultimately (so I understand) choosing in the end to return to the old country and his own people (which is also the take-home message of that Shah Rukh Khan vehicle Swades, which overflows with India’s Dilwale-esque call to NRIs everywhere: “Aaja, pardesi, tera des bulaaye re!”)The problem of the divided desi is normally resolved in other such stories by the untimely-yet-comical death of the gauri who has attempted to take away the Indian man from his people (Bollywood, Hollywood) or by stealing back the Indian woman who has become involved with a white guy (Second Generation) and returning to India with her.  This latest story sounds less interesting than the Lear-like BBC production Second Generation, but might still hold some interest for me, since I have become something of a Mira Nair fan over the years. 

Polygamy is a rank offense against the equality principle, which is why the Republican Party in their 1856 platform denounced it along with slavery as the one of the “twin relics of barbarism.” ~John B. Kienker

Perhaps it was their deep love of equality that drove them to denounce polygamy, or perhaps it was that many Mormons had adopted strong pro-slavery views and represented a potential impediment to the spread of Red Republican “free men, free labour” ideology into the territories.  It would have had the added advantage of associating their opponents in the minds of the public with a rather scandalous marital practice.  But I’m sure it was the profoundly principled stand that was the main motivation, since the Red Republicans have always been great ones for principles.

So I haven’t said anything since my return about my excursion to Charlottesville and the ISI conference I attended there.  Fear not–I will have some more remarks before too long.  Until my pen ran out of ink, I was taking fairly detailed notes on each talk, so I hope to be able to sketch out at least a couple of the ones that I found most striking.  Prof. Deneen’s talk was one of these, since it seemed on first hearing to agree with the thrust of something I had written a little over a year ago.  Amusingly, this was the piece that dragged me into the rather tiresome skirmishes with the West Coast Straussians during the Crunchy Wars, which was then followed by an even more tiresome argument with those people after I mentioned that Claes Ryn had figuratively given the Jaffa-style Straussian reading of “the Founding” a good swift kick to the ribs in a speech at last year’s Philadelphia Society meeting. 

When Prof. Deneen remarked in his talk, as I remember it, “Sometimes, I think I am the only Straussian left,” I thought to myself: “If only that were true!”  But, no, that’s not quite fair, and that wasn’t the whole of my reaction.  I later thought: “If this is real Straussianism, it isn’t anything like what those people at Claremont have said that it is and it isn’t that bad after all.”  How refreshing!  The delight of apparently finding a Straussian using Strauss to argue for a position that I, non-Straussian that I am, had previously made from an entirely different perspective and one that the self-appointed successors of Strauss had vehemently attacked was considerable.  

Present at the Charlottesville conference were some of my TAC/Chronicles colleagues and partners in blogging thought crime, Dan McCarthy (who says he disagrees with a “great deal” in the talk) and Clark Stooksbury, as well as the fun, witty James Poulos, IMP, those champions of prairie populism and prairie populists, Caleb Stegall and Jeff Taylor, plus many, many more.  I had a very good time at the conference, and I believe the talks were well worth the trip (which unfortunately involved getting stuck in the Philadelphia airport for eight hours thanks to US Airways, whose motto ought to be, “Just try to fly with us if you dare”). 

While you’re waiting for my remarks on the conference talks, I will point you to another source for your edification and entertainment: Prof. Deneen of Georgetown has the beginnings of his remarks that he delivered at the conference up on his blog (via Dan McCarthy). 

Update: Prof. Deneen posts the rest of the talk here.

If you were a traditional Muslim, would you want to associate yourself with people who were constantly attacking your prophet, your holy book, your values, and your religion? ~Dinesh D’Souza

Well, obviously not.  I don’t expect them to do any such thing.  It is the neocon Islamophiles who think they can “win over” part of the Islamic world against the ”Islamofascist” part, and they are the more foolish for it.  I don’t expect Muslims of any stripe to associate with me–I wouldn’t want them to be associationists!  (Okay, that was a bad Islamic theology joke–does D’Souza even get it?)  But, then, as a Christian, I don’t want to associate myself with people who say–indeed whose scripture requires them to say–that my Saviour and God was a mere man, who deny His Resurrection (and even His Crucifixion!), mock the Holy Trinity, desecrate and destroy the sites dedicated to His glory and His holy Name, deface the sacred images of His beloved saints and His All-Holy, Most Pure and Ever-Virgin Mother and kill my co-religionists without mercy.  The people most inclined to agree with some of the moral judgements (if not the juridical punishments) of “traditional Muslims” are the very people who have no time at all for people whose entire religion is a shoddy, warmed-over version of the worst heresies and deviations from our religion.  With Islam, significant doctrinal differences really do make all the difference, not least because these differences have dramatic, immediate real-world consequences (as, indeed, does almost every significant theological difference).  I generally tend to think that agreement on “common values” is not entirely possible with people who have a completely different doctrine of God, since in some of their most basic convictions they believe something that I regard as manifest falsehood.  If they are that wrong about God, how much less will they understand about the less important things of worldly matters?  If they are actively hostile to the Church’s teaching about God and His saving economy, how in the world can I justify taking their side in any quarrel, no matter how many superficial points of agreement D’Souza can throw out there?

Remember Christie Todd Whitman?

As recently as four years ago she was held up as a symbol that the Republican Party was moving away from its conservative roots and would maintain national dominance by appealing to moderate, suburban women. Ms. Whitman herself won two terms as governor of New Jersey and was tapped to run the Environmental Protection Agency by George W. Bush. She left government in 2003, published a book called “It’s My Party Too” and created a political action committee aimed at establishing her as a moderate anchor for the GOP.

She then precipitously sank into political oblivion as her party sailed on without her. It’s not likely she’ll make more than a cameo appearance at next year’s Republican National Convention or, for that matter, at any other high-profile Republican event. She won’t, we can be confident, persuade many voters to follow her lead with whomever she endorses for president. In a few more years, no one will remember who she is or why she was once an important political figure. ~Brendan Miniter

Held up by whom?  An important political figure to whom?  Probably she was held up by other Northeasterners like Miniter shilling for the moderate wing of the party in the same old effort to push conservatives down and out to the margins.  These are the people who would have thought she was an “important political figure.”  These are the people who probably thought John Anderson was a bold and courageous leader of men.  Why might other people not take their opinions seriously? 

Nobody west of the Delaware and east of Palm Springs considered Ms. Whitman to be anything other than a rather bad joke.  You might as well claim that Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee were held up by a lot of people as the future of the GOP.  It isn’t true.  Everyone knows it isn’t true.  Why say things like this?  Oh, right, Miniter continues to flog his theory that the GOP is being reduced to regional isolation and has been driven out of the Northeast.  The GOP did suffer badly in New England, especially in New Hampshire and Connecticut (which, a generation or two earlier, would have been unthinkable, just as Democratic weakness in the South was unheard of), and got hit relatively hard in Pennsylvania and Indiana (the latter mostly because of intense anti-GOP sentiment aimed at the governor), but it actually held up better than expected in New York and also fared relatively well in the total disaster that could have been Ohio (again, the product of backlash against the corruption of the state GOP).  They probably only lost KY-03 because Rumsfeld was not forced out until after the election, and it is possible that the concerted pro-gambling attack on Jim Leach was the decisive factor in pushing that district, which Leach had held for years and years, into the Democratic column.  If Michelle Bachmann (!) can get elected in Minnesota in 2006, the GOP is hardly facing an unavoidable future of routs in the Midwest–provided that they pay some attention to what their constituents want. 

It would be a colossal error to assume long-term political trends from the repudiation of Mr. Bush and the corrupt GOP majority that 2006 represented.  If we followed this thinking, 2004 would have proved that Ohio was going to be eternally Republican–after all, if the Democrats couldn’t win in Ohio in 2004, they were never going to win there, right?  Three years later, people are making identical arguments that Ohio is now probably lost to the GOP.  This is silly.  It would be equally mistaken to conclude that the answer to the GOP’s woes it to suck up even more to the priorities of Northeastern Republicans–the sorts of people and the sorts of policies that helped bring the GOP and conservatism to their present lowly states.  Leave it to someone in New York writing for the ultimate metropole rag to not understand this.

Never mind that the Islamic tradition helped to pioneer the figurative reading of biblical texts. ~Andrew Sullivan

Yes, what would Origen have done without Muhammad?  It’s interesting that Muslims could have pioneered something that predated their religion by many centuries, especially when they explicitly reject figurative interpretations of their own scripture, since it is taken to be the uncreated Word.  Unlike our understanding of Christian Scripture, which is one of divinely revealed truth with multiple layers of meaning, there are no other “senses” of Islamic scripture, at least not in traditional Sunnism (in other words, the bulk of Islam throughout its history). 

I only just read Sullivan’s review in its entirety today, so I had not seen this amazing statement until today.  The folks at The New Republic should be embarrassed to run something with such a manifestly false, easily checked statement as this–and Sullivan has the gall to make this statement as a way to take a shot at D’Souza.  As Dr. Trifkovic has shown, D’Souza’s ignorance about the religion of his proposed allies is impressive and extensive, but this is not part of it. 

This is perhaps the single-most ignorant statement Sullivan has ever made.  There are so many competitors for this honour, but I think this one wins by a good distance.  I welcome nominations for runners-up.

So I was going to ignore D’Souza’s apologia pro libro suo (with apologies to Newman), but I happened to come across part IV (!) of his apology and read this amazing line:

So why the bellicose attacks against me? Consider the difficulty now faced by some American conservatives. The right-wing strategy based on the “clash of civilizations” idea first proposed by Samuel Huntington has proven intellectually short-sighted and politically a failure. This is what is so hard for these conservatives to digest.

As Rod Dreher has pointed out about Huntington’s thesis, Huntington was not proposing that we have a clash (that is more Michael Ledeen’s area), but that civilisational difference was and is such that these clashes are likely and the flashpoints of the boundaries between civilisations will be the ones that will precipitate larger, more intractable conflicts because they will be rooted in strong cultural differences than cannot be obviated by political maneuvering, ideological sloganeering or the promise of economic globalisation (this is my synopsis and paraphrasing, but I believe this is the general idea).  These are enduring differences that will cause conflict–foreign policymakers need to understand this and adjust accordingly to the new world.  On this and other things, neoliberals of The New Republic and DLC schools and neocons have absolutely failed to adjust, because they don’t even understand the question, because they are still bound to old formulae appropriate to twenty or forty or sixty years ago, and because they are so far removed from understanding their own civilisation, much less are they aware of what motivates others.  Few who acknowledge the reality of these differences want full-on war with another civilisation (indeed, some of us are even more opposed to such a conflict than those oblivious to the deep-rootedness of these differences), but they do recognise the incompatibility of the “values” of different civilisations. 

The final D’Souza installment actually shows what is so especially funny about Andrew Sullivan’s ludicrous, lengthy attempt to pin D’Souza’s thesis on the rise of “fundamentalism” on the right and the theocon takeover of conservatism: not only does Sullivan show himself to be absurdly overcommitted to the thesis of his own bad book (which I skewer here), such that he is compelled to declare D’Souza an arch-representative of the logical conclusion of a movement that now despises and rejects both D’Souza and Sullivan, but D’Souza in this last installment reveals himself to be a kindred spirit with Sullivan in their common penchant for whiny self-importance and total disregard for the possibility that they experience universal contempt and repudiation because they are wildly, horribly wrong about everything.  No, instead of facing up to that possibility, they think they are enduring the suffering of far-seeing thinkers who challenge rigid orthodoxies and worn-out structures–every criticism is the knout of the oppressor coming down, every voice of opposition an inquisitor coming to take them away to be burned.  To put it mildly, they are both equally mistaken about a great many things, albeit not quite the same things. 

In their common confusion about what conservatism is and what conservatives today represent, they are actually much more like one another than either would care to admit.  The movement has had a bad habit of casting out people who are far better conservatives than the people doing the casting out, but when even the outcasts declare that you have fallen into the ditch of moral and philosophical error you have really had it.  D’Souza has enjoyed much more toleration from his colleagues than Sullivan because the former still supports hegemonic foreign policy and all its terrible works, while Sullivan has at least managed to come around (albeit rather tardily) to seeing the Iraq war as a grave error.  The oft-repeated canard that he did so because of Bush’s opposition to gay marriage, which is not true, would actually be more admirable in a way, since it would at least have been based in some kind of commitment, and certainly more so than the obvious opportunism and ship-abandoning rat act that it really was. 

Amazingly, D’Souza holds that Huntington’s thesis has proved “intellectually short-sighted and politically a failure” at the very moment when even more people on the right who likely had reservations about or objections to Huntington’s ideas are beginning to say that he was really onto something.  If Huntington is one of the “winners” of the Iraq war, so to speak, then D’Souza and, well, Wolfowitz, Bush, Frum, Bennett, Krauthammer, Hanson, Ledeen, Kristol, and Fukuyama, etc. are all obviously the losers.  No wonder that D’Souza should take a shot at Huntington in his final installment, since he must know that Huntington’s thesis of powerful, significant cultural difference between rival civilisations makes the very idea of ecumenical jihad that D’Souza proposes so ridiculous that it will be almost impossible to believe in ten years’ time that anyone ever seriously proposed it.  To say that Huntington’s thesis has been a political failure is to believe that it has been applied to policy somewhere and found wanting, when all of the current administration’s policies to date have been based on the assumptions that there is not only no necessary conflict between different civilisations but that there aren’t even really different civilisations as far as fundamental “values” are concerned.  You don’t attempt to bring freedom and democracy to a people you regard as basically alien to the “values” of your civilisation–you do this only if you believe in an historically ignorant universalism in which all men not only yearn to be free (which might be true, but is irrelevant) but also in which all men are equally capable of acquiring and know how to possess liberty.  No one could want “tribe or religion or whatever” more than freedom!  Oops.

And I realise that the girl in Dr Noll’s seminar isn’t spouting this stuff about “jihadists” travelling from Iraq to America because she supports Bush. She is just frightened. She is genuinely afraid of all the “terror” warnings, the supposed “jihadists” threats, the red “terror” alerts and the purple alerts and all the other colour-coded instruments of fear. She believes her president, and her president has done Osama bin Laden’s job for him: he has crushed this young woman’s spirit and courage.

But America is not at war. There are no electricity cuts on Valdosta’s warm green campus, with its Spanish style department blocks and its narrow, beautiful church. There is no food rationing. There are no air-raid shelters or bombs or “jihadists” stalking these God-fearing folk. It is the US military that is at war, engaged in an Iraqi conflict that is doing damage of a far more subtle kind to America’s social fabric.

Off campus, I meet a gentle, sensitive man, a Vietnam veteran with two doctor sons. One is a lieutenant colonel, an army medical officer heading back to Baghdad this week for Bush’s “surge”, bravely doing his duty in the face of great danger. The other is a civilian doctor who hates the war. And now the two boys - divided by Iraq - can hardly bring themselves to speak to each other. ~Robert Fisk

Can it really be the case that so many people actually buy this line that the jihadis will “follow us back” to America if “we” withdraw?  I suppose the 75% of Republicans who think Mr. Bush is doing a bang-up job will believe just about any nonsense that the man utters, which is a painful thing to contemplate, since my own family is made up of a lot of Republicans and this means that the odds of some of my relatives buying into Mr. Bush’s cons are very good.  Perhaps one of the reasons people in my extended family continue to get on as well as we do is that we simply don’t talk about Iraq at holidays, so I don’t know just how pervasive the groupthink is.  Nonetheless, if we did talk about it I would like to think that we would be able to remember that we are bound by things more important than our position on this or that policy. 

I am moved to say all this by the last item in Fisk’s column.  That last item is insane.  Brothers, both of them doctors presumably committed to healing and the preservation of life, who will barely speak to each other…because of Iraq?  Imagine having your family torn apart by something as dreadful and hideous as the Iraq war–just consider how ridiculous that is!  From my perspective, it is genuinely difficult to understand how anyone could still be so convinced of the rightness of the war in spite of everything, but I can acknowledge that there are people who have become as firmly entrenched in their view as I have in mine.  Naturally, I think the pro-war doctor is wrong on the war, but both of them are wrong if they allow their positions on the war to poison their relationship.  To sacrifice something real and human to some less immediate political commitment is to commit a kind of impiety. 

Some people will think that I am engaged in hyperbole when I call the war those things, but I really don’t know what other words to use (abomination is one that I have often used).  In any case, I don’t care which side of the war debate people are on–to turn against your brother or cousin or friend because of Mr. Bush’s War is to let the hegemonists win two unjust victories, as they have managed to sever real, healthy, living bonds between two kinsmen or friends by convincing everyone involved that some lousy political question is more important than their affinities and loyalties to one another.  This is to elevate either loyalty or opposition to the state above loyalty to your own, which should almost always take precedence (I would say always, but there are probably exceptional cases that aren’t springing to mind right now that would make such an absolute statement seem a little crazy).  Each time someone puts politics ahead of his blood and his people, the horrid ideologues win another triumph.  If they can divide us against our own flesh, they can conquer any and all of us. 

If I had a brother (I don’t–I am an only child), I would hate to think that I would ever turn against him over some political quarrel, even one pertaining to a serious matter of war.  Obviously, I am just about as opposed to this war as anyone can be, but to choose either the War Party or the antiwar folks over your own flesh and blood reveals the far more troubling corruption of our society.  I realise that this would hardly be the first time in our history that relatives and friends have taken opposite sides of a political quarrel, but it seems to me that we may be able to locate the ultimate cause of the repeated defeats of local and particular loyalties at the hands of people spouting universalist and idealist claptrap in this tendency of some people to prefer their “cause” over their kindred in the flesh.  

On the Republican side, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson shook up the field with his announcement that he would consider getting into the presidential race. Thompson is familiar as the actor who plays District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order.

Chosen by 12% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, Thompson is third in the Republican field. He trails former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, at 31%, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, at 22%. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is at 8%.

Thompson’s support seems to come largely from voters who had supported Giuliani. In the USA TODAY poll taken March 2-4, Giuliani’s standing had been 13 percentage points higher, at 44%. McCain’s support had been 2 points lower then.

Backing for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, widely considered a leading contender, has dropped. He was chosen by 3%, the same as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. Romney’s support in early March had been 8%. ~USA Today

So we have managed to determine that some guy most people have never heard of (Thompson) pulled away support from someone most people have heard of (but about whom they know virtually nothing-Giuliani), while some guy nobody has heard of and knows nothing about (Romney) lost support for reasons unknown.  It is on the basis of such “evidence” that the entire world of political commentary is operating in making their bold pronouncements.  It will not be shocking to hear that I think all of this is pretty meaningless, and if anything could have confirmed that the Giuliani boomlet really was an airy bubble just waiting to be popped I think Fred Thompson’s sudden burst of support proved it.  I would love to say that this is proof of how pathetic the Terrible Trio are, but I just don’t buy any of it now.  Strangely, Tommy Thompson’s actual announcement of candidacy did not catapult him to the head of the field–how could that be?  His candidacy was always so compelling.

In fairness, I laughed at people who said that Fred Thompson would be in third place if he entered the race–but here he is, already in third, and he hasn’t even held a press conference at which he defers his announcement!  I acknowledge I will have to eat those words now, though I might still quibble with the idea that he could be in a “strong” third place when he declared.  Anyway, I am eating those words–I obviously underestimated the ease with which a TV actor could become a “credible” presidential candidate without making any effort at all.  This is America, after all, and one of the only people more likely to vault to the front of the presidential field than Fred Thompson (if this man were a U.S.-born citizen) would be Simon Cowell from American Idol.  Yes, voters are horribly irrational and ill-informed–behold the total arbitrariness of the demos and be very afraid.    

I could note that the poll is one of general adults and does not take their status as either registered or likely voters into account, but that would be to give it far too much credibility as a measure of actual future voting intentions of the people who will be doing the voting.  However, I hope that the sheer absurdity of a relatively politically unknown, retired Senator (whether or not people know his name from Law & Order, no non-Tennessean outside the chattering class knows anything about him) bursting onto the scene with 12% support in this poll will demonstrate beyond any doubt that polls approximately nine months from the first voting are so meaningless that they probably shouldn’t even be taken.  This sort of poll-taking rewards and reinforces celebrity and punishes the real candidates who have made significant efforts to build organisations and actually do hard work campaigning by talking to voters and giving speeches and traveling hither and yon.  Fred Thompson’s sudden prominence in the presidential field is an insult to the democratic process, all of the real, declared candidates in the race and to everyone who cares a whit about anything resembling serious political thought.  For those who yearn for the coming of President Camacho from Idiocracy, your dream has just become that much more possible.

Michael Moore, look out. Rick Santorum is getting into the documentary filmmaking business and he’s out to tell ‘’the other side of the story.'’

Less than three months removed from his congressional career, the former Pennsylvania senator said in an interview last week that he is planning two film projects in part to counter what he characterized as the stream of left-wing documentaries coming from Hollywood and independent filmmakers.

The first project, Santorum said, would explore the relationship between radical Islam and the radical leftists in various countries around the world, including Latin America. It would be about an hour in length.

The second would be a longer, broader documentary that he said would aim to ‘’change the culture of America.'’ He declined to go into specifics about the proposal.

‘’Politics and political dialogue has some impact on America but changing the culture has a much bigger impact,'’ Santorum said about his new role outside the public sector and his push to make documentaries. ‘’That is what the left is doing and doing it in a big way, producing a lot of left content for Hollywood, and even not just out of Hollywood. Even independent films are now more and more left-wing driven, whether it is Michael Moore or Al Gore.'’ ~The Morning Call

Okay, you can stop laughing now.  No, really, you can stop. 

This strikes me as a really bad idea, and this isn’t just because I have been such a harsh critic of Santorum on foreign policy.  I don’t object to the suggestion that more conservatives should make documentaries.  Conservatives definitely should make more documentaries, but they should do so because they actually want to be filmmakers and want to tell stories.  They should do this because they have a talent for doing it, which ensures that they will be doing the work that best expresses their particular gifts.  Conservatives should not make documentaries just because that’s what leftists do and we need to counter their propaganda arm with one of our own.  As much as it may stun certain folks to read this, left-wing politics prevails among actors and artists for the same reason that it prevails among most journalists: it is a kind of politics that initially fits very well with the kind of work that these people do, and these professions attract people who already tend to share these beliefs.  Left-wing politics becomes an unquestioned set of common assumptions in these professions over time.  After a while, it is just a given that traditional Christianity is basically bad and dangerous, most or all forms of patriotism are retrograde, government is here to help us, the media exist to improve and reform society and all cultures and religions are OK (except for Christian culture and Christianity and those that bear strong resemblances to traditional Christianity).  I suspect conservatives don’t get into a lot of acting or art or journalism today because they know a few things about all of them: they know that these areas are all full of people who are not like them temperamentally or culturally, there are some strong entrenched forces opposing the sorts of work they would like to do (consider how difficult it was for Robert Duvall to get The Apostle made) and this sort of work strikes them as unattractive because they deem it less practical or less meaningful. 

It is the real-world impracticality of it that is especially discouraging to kids who have artistic ability, love making movies or find writing and reporting fascinating.  The same goes for fiction writing or any kind of writing–this would be my more prosaic explanation for why there are so few Republican or conservative fiction writers running around out there.  Making a living at these things is not only hard (which might not be the main problem), but sometimes it is impossible for a lot of people, and it only becomes more difficult if you have children.  The lifestyle of a journalist or actor in particular would have to put strains on the kind of grounded, family-centered life that I assume most conservatives desire to have to one degree or another.  If these conservatives are traditionally-minded people, they will be thinking a lot about being able to provide for the families they undoubtedly want to have, which means that they will pursue those professions that offer the best prospects for this.  If their parents are also conservative, they will have added pressures to pursue a practical line of work, if only for their own self-sufficiency, to say nothing of supporting a family.  Trying to become an actor is usually so unlikely to provide the means for supporting a family (and not necessarily terribly conducive to starting a stable one) that the uncertainty of it will probably discourage most conservatives, especially conservative men, to follow a different path.  The same goes for music, art, literature, academics, etc.  (Add to this conservatism’s cultivation of reflexive anti-elitism, in which the elite villains are always artists, actors, journalists and academics, and you have an endless feedback loop of increasing conservative hostility to these fields.)  Because the broad base of political conservatism in America is middle and lower-middle class, most conservatives will in their own lives be concerned to pursue stable and relatively well-paying work, which is the definition of what most writing, acting, teaching and reporting are not.  I think there is also a comfort ethic in the middle class that makes middle-class conservatives tend to shy away from professions that might not necessarily be able to provide the level of comfort to which they have become accustomed. 

Since many of the greatest conservative thinkers of the last sixty years were academics, there is nothing inherent about being a scholar that militates against conservatism (and actually a lot about it that I think could encourage this persuasion), but the impracticality of dwelling in the wasteland of graduate school for years (okay, it’s not that bad, but sometimes it can feel like it) seems to be an overwhelming argument against doing it.  As ”higher education” (one of the more misleading phrases around today) becomes more and more expensive, the impracticality of continuing it through post-graduate work only increases, especially for those who do not want to take on immense amounts of debt.  Thus among professional and post-graduate students you usually wind up with fairly disproportionate conservative representation in the business and law schools (that’s certainly true here), while the other departments are almost uniformly made up of folks on the left or those who take no strong position one way or another.  Obviously, the more “trendy” fields (e.g., Gender Studies) will have no conservatives at all, since almost all conservatives can barely avoid openly snickering (if they are even trying to avoid this) when such a field is mentioned.  There is nonetheless surely something weird about American conservatives who will gladly cite Chesterton and Muggeridge and Kirk and Weaver but who usually use the words ‘journalist’ and ‘academic’ as insults, but I think most embody this apparent contradiction.  As a matter of description of the state of academia or newsrooms today, it is reasonable to refer to them with a certain open disdain for their obvious left-wing biases, but to rule out these professions (as I think some do) because they are somehow automatically tainted by that bias strikes me as odd.  

For my part, I agree with Ross’ line of thinking that fighting the culture war means actually producing some cultural products (and, no, George Bush action figures and 24 don’t really count), so there is no reason why conservatives should avoid making all sorts of films and getting into every other kind of art.  Arguably, really horrendous first attempts might even be tolerated as the first moves towards creating conservative cultural products, but it would probably be better if certain people didn’t go out of their way to make sure that the first attempts really would be horrendously bad.  Santorum’s effort seems designed to ensure that his attempts will be.    

Indeed, I don’t even object in principle to the suggestion that crazy ueber-jingoes such as Rick Santorum want to make documentaries.  It might be interesting to watch the product of someone obsessed with the military threat from Bolivia.  He could point his camera at menacing-looking Bolivian coca farmers, whose latest crops have been destroyed by defoliant chemicals dropped in the name of the drug war, and document the seething rage and the occasional remarks about the “Yanquis” who have ruined their livelihood.  He could film the crowds of exuberant pro-Morales supporters while a voiceover reads the bizarre words of the Bolivian foreign minister Choquehuanca.  It could be quite powerful stuff.  The underlying message, “These people are sort of crazy,” might even sink in, provided that it was made with subtlety and cleverness.  Why do I think that Rick Santorum is uniquely unsuited to operating in this way?  Gosh, I don’t know.

If put together honestly, a documentary on “the Venezuelan empire” would be very illuminating for all the things that it doesn’t show (rows of Venezuelan tanks rolling through Brasilia, for instance).  Santorum might even discover in the process of making his films that he had been mistaken about certain realities.   

No, it is a really bad idea for two fairly obvious reasons: 1) to the best of my knowledge, Santorum has hardly ever picked up a camera in his life and has no experience in making documentaries or any other kind of film, which makes him one of the last choices for going into this sort of work; 2) the precedent of The Half Hour News Hour.  Who actually thought that the man who brought you weekly torture sessions and constant violence, mixed with bureaucratic office intrigue and bad speechwriting, was going to produce something that was really funny?  As we have seen before, the explicit attempt to provide a “balancing” perspective to genuinely biased productions from the other side of the spectrum always fails.  Part of this may be that the temperament and general outlook of one “side” are probably better suited to certain media and certain kinds of expression than others, and the other part is that any conscious attempt to mimic and offset someone else’s project will almost always come off as stilted, derivative and uninspired…because it is stiled, derivative and uninspired.  If the knock on left-wing documentaries is that they are too politically biased, how on earth does someone make a better documentary by going into the project with the explicit goal of providing an overtly right-wing documentary?  If the problem with these documentaries is that they are poorly done because they are too political (which is what many conservatives will often say), making documentaries for no other purpose than to answer the political arguments of your opponents seems likely to create something potentially rather horrid.  Instead of a documentary, you would end up with something more like a cross between FoxNews reporting and a reality TV show. 

As is the case with anything that involves investigation and learning, it is fair to say that documentary filmmakers who already know the answers to the questions they are about to ask are probably going to miss a lot of important things about their subject.  Alexandra Pelosi’s documentary is apparently well-done (at least in the opinion of some) because in so many places she simply lets evangelicals speak for themselves.  Of course, what she chooses to film and keep in the final cut will reflect her perspective, but probably the most effective and most honest documentaries, like the best fiction writing according to the bromides of creative writing teachers everywhere, show and don’t tell.  Santorum’s project, because of Santorum’s personality, will involve an awful lot of telling and probably not much showing.  In the realm of filmmaking, even in documentaries, there is always plenty of borrowing from other directors, but the filmmaker that states explicitly at the outset, “The Originator is the movie that will provide the answer to James Cameron” usually ends up making a movie that is simply bad.  If Santorum goes out to make the anti-Alexandra Pelosi documentary and calls it “God’s Enemies,” complete with interviews with Abe Foxman and members of Americans for the Separation of Church and State, he will probably create a very bad documentary, just as Joel Surnow produced some really bad comedy by trying to create the anti-Stewart.  (Actually, he succeeded in creating the anti-Stewart in one respect: he created TV personae who were not in the least funny.)

My book isn’t like Dinesh’s latest book. It isn’t like any Ann Coulter book. It isn’t what the Amazon description says or what the Economist claims it is. Or what Frank Rich imagines it is. It is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care. ~Jonah Goldberg on his forthcoming book, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton

Goldberg was responding to the strange Timothy Noah piece that speculated that the reason why Goldberg’s book keeps getting delayed is that it is running up against the “post-election Zeitgeist shift.”  Goldberg proposes the rational answer that he has had, well, lots of other things to do and it simply hasn’t been finished yet.  Even if that weren’t the case, book publishing is notoriously slow and unpredictable and delays can happen for all kinds of reasons that normally have nothing to do with content or the public mood.  Byzantinists have been waiting for years to see John Haldon’s new revisionist interpretation of Iconoclasm, and it hasn’t come out yet.  This is probably not because his publisher decided that there was a big upsurge in public hostility to Iconoclasm.

Even so, unless Goldberg produces a masterpiece of scholarship in fascism studies and political philosophy, I am doubtful that he will be making a “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.”  Ezra Klein has fun with this rather excessive statement.  First of all, it is arguably the case that another, far greater NR contributor of the past, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, has already more or less advanced the core of any argument linking left-liberalism to fascism to the extent that he has thoroughly defined leftism and classified communism, fascism and mass democracy as embodiments of the principles of 1789 in his classics Leftism Revisited (the updated version of Leftism) and Liberty or Equality?  Why is it that I think that someone who senses latent fascism in Rod Dreher’s book will not do as good of a job in analysing the subject as the great man K-L?  I just have a feeling. 

The traditional knock on any suggested overlap between left-liberalism and fascism is that fascism is supposedly a reactionary, anti-1789 force, while K-L has done generally very good work exploding that myth (and Stanley Payne’s work on fascism specifically further explodes the image of fascism as reactionary or counter-revolutionary).  It is quite possible to make an argument that left-liberalism and fascism do share in the principles of 1789 and essentially possess the same view of human nature as something malleable and perfectible (although they may have fairly different ideas of what the perfected, new man should look and act like), but K-L and others made arguments like this for decades.  Old Right critics of the New Deal noticed and pointed out the blatantly obvious similarities between FDR’s economic policies and those of Mussolini–how bitterly ironic it is that the New Dealers could somehow accuse their foreign policy opponents of sympathies for fascism that they possessed to a much, much greater degree!    

Because K-L was a right-liberal, I think his one blind spot was his confidence that classical liberalism of the post-1867 Austrian type was fundamentally different from the ideologies he was condemning.  He connected the identitarian and totalitarian aspects of communism, fascism and democracy through their common inheritance of the principles of 1789 and their other common features, but the right liberals in Austria, Germany and elsewhere inherited just the same principles as their ideological cousins.  In their centralism, “rationalism,” nationalism and hostility to Christianity (at least in any institutional, established or Catholic form), the right-liberals of the 19th century were in many respects the forerunners of collectivist nationalism in Germany, Austria and Italy.  (They are “right-liberals” only to the extent that they are less collectivist, egalitarian and democratic than some of their fellows–their liberalism did and always will place them on the left.)  Looking at it in terms of voting patterns, we see that Freisinnigen and National Liberals became German nationalist and Nazi voters.  (In his earlier work, K-L stressed the Protestantism of these voters, but he should have emphasised more the reduction of their religion to a vague Herrgott piety that was easily compatible with the exaltation of state and people.) 

Goldberg’s argument will probably end up making a certain amount of historical sense, because he will largely be echoing what other students of this question have already said.  I suspect he will have to do some fancy footwork to exonerate much of the late 19th century right-liberal tradition and pin fascism entirely on “left-liberalism,” since I assume from his past writings that he has zero sympathy for much in the European conservative tradition that opposed all such manifestations of liberalism.  In any case, all of this material has not only been covered before but has been thoroughly and fairly extensively covered.

The bigger problem with this project, it seems to me, is that it simply turns around against the liberals the old Marxist and liberal habit of trying to discredit an opponent by calling him a fascist.  I don’t actually disagree that left-liberalism and fascism do share certain characteristics, just as I wouldn’t disagree that neoconservatism (a species of left-liberalism as far as I’m concerned) shares certain characteristics with fascism.  Both of these seem to me to be empirically demonstrable claims.  As a matter of historical interest and understanding, such observations might be useful.  As political commentary, I have to admit they usually wind up sounding pretty tendentious.  They do not come across as thoughtful, even if the author does make such observations thoughtfully. 

Once you have affiliated your enemies’ ideas with fascism, you have moved that bit closer to saying that your enemies’ ideas are more or less inherently illegitimate and dangerous.  It is still possible, though not very common, to espouse sympathies for certain elements of communism without being driven into the wilderness, but for fascism this is simply impossible.  To link someone’s views with fascism is to attempt to damn them irreparably.  It’s true that many leftists and liberals have often done this and still do this all the time, but it used to be a mark of the restraint and prudence of conservatives that we did not generally engage in the same sort of quasi-intellectual smearing.       

Steve Sailer has an interesting excerpt from Dreams From My Father about Obama’s encounter with one of his half-brothers.  I thought the most telling moment in their exchange was when Obama asks if his half-brother has any desire to settle back in Kenya, and the half-brother matter-of-factly answers, “No, I mean, there’s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn’t have a telephone.”  This answer was perfectly reasonable, but showed how completely differently the two men viewed one of their ancestral countries. 

At the same time, the exchange shows a remarkable difference between two mixed-race men from the same family, one of whom has no real interest in “finding” or reconnecting with his Kenyan heritage and one of whom defines himself to some large degree by that heritage.  Of course, it’s possible to find that difference in any family, but the two really were equal and opposite.  What struck me reading the exchange is how much more I could identify with Obama’s perspective than I could with his half-brother’s.  Then again, the half-brother had to grow up with the drunken Barack Obama Sr., and Obama never did, so it’s a little more understandable that the former would have fewer fond associations with his ancestry and the old country. 

All the same, people basically uninterested in who they are and where they are from make no sense to me–if that were really who Obama was and what he represented, I would probably dislike him even more than I do.  To be cut off from your ancestors and to feel as if you owe them nothing seems to me to make a person somehow less complete. 

He [Giuliani] has the same attitude towards the unborn that Canadians have toward baby seals. ~Jonah Goldberg

At bloggingheads, Ezra Klein and Will Wilkinson have an amusing discussion of the evils of post-graduate school in the context of the flaws of neoliberalism.  (Quoth Wilkinson: “Take that, Mickey Kaus!”)  I particularly liked Wilkinson’s description of people reaching tenure as being “beaten down.”  That certainly can be true, but I think it is probably more true of people who specialise in philosophy, which is just about the worst academic field for someone who actually wants to get a job.  The second worst is probably Byzantine history.

So Mubarak and the ruling party in Egypt rammed through constitutional changes and are giving the public and opposition almost no time to get a handle on these changes before they are put up for referendum.  This is the point when interventionists of various stripes begin yelping that we must “do something” or complaining that we “haven’t done enough” or hitting the administration for hypocrisy on democracy promotion.  The last point is fair, to the extent that the administration still maintains the fiction that it cares about whether and how Arabs vote, but it has been steadily backing away from its “reform” impulses for months. 

Abu Aardvark (a.k.a., Marc Lynch) notes the rise of “Baathism on the Nile,” which isn’t very surprising, and Kevin Drum pitches in with the predictable complaint:

You will be unsurprised to learn that U.S. reponse has been virtually nonexistent, yet more evidence that George Bush’s commitment to democracy promotion was never anything more than a nice sounding slogan.

But let’s actually think about this for a moment.  Does anyone over here actually want free and competitive elections that would almost certainly be won by the Muslim Brotherhood?  Freedom and democracy sound lovely to most people, but in practice introducing them into certain contexts winds up producing death squads and terror.  We should be very glad that Mr. Bush has reduced his commitment to democracy promotion to the level of nice-sounding slogans.  We would be even more glad if he stopped talking about it at all!  Commitment to full-fledged democratisation in the Near East is fairly crazy, and it has only been after several years of bitter disappointments that the administration has been forced to acknowledge, in deeds if not in words, that it was not a terribly good idea.  The reality of actual democracy promotion in the Near East has meant the increased power of Hizbullah, the Hamas government (which no one knows what to do with now that it’s there) and the farcical Shi’ite sectarian coalition of Maliki.  Thank goodness that we will at least be spared any such “successes” in Egypt.  Indeed, can anyone tell me why we think the internal affairs of Egypt are either our business or our concern?

But he [Fred Thompson] has one advantage over the former governor: He didn’t just come to these positions over the last year or so, in a “Road to Des Moines” conversion. ~Ryan Sager

No one would be more thrilled than I to see Romney’s campaign abruptly collapse into a shambles, but Sager’s analysis, as usual, leaves a lot to be desired.  Let’s start with basic facts.  Fred Thompson ran as a pro-choice candidate in both of his runs for office.  Our man in Tennessee, A.C. Kleinheider, has the goods (via Evangelicals for Mitt).  If Thompson has had a Romney-like change of mind, it would have to have happened in the last five years, which would put him in basically the same spot Romney is in.  Perhaps he could claim that his conversion predated his campaign maneuvering, since he had not given much thought to a presidential run prior to this year, which is something that Romney cannot claim.  If Thompson were still pro-choice, then I really wouldn’t be able to understand the Fred Thompson buzz.  Have things reached such a point where the new definition of “the next Ronald Reagan” is “some second-rate actor”?

The biggest problem with all of this is the idea that Fred Thompson is some kind of political hot commodity who will blow away the weaker members of the field.  Politically speaking, he has about as much influence and clout as Joe Scarborough.  No offense to Scarborough, but if he were to run for President he would not be in any danger of overtaking the majority of the field.  Thompson may have a little more name recognition, or at least face recognition, than most of his lower-level competitors, but he has absolutely no rationale for his candidacy that could not be applied equally to one of the second-tier candidates.  As Kaus noted, quite correctly, Thompson doesn’t really bring anything to the table.  In terms of accomplishments and tenure in the Senate, Thompson is a sort of balding, male version of Hillary Clinton.  Comparatively, Tommy Thompson, whose candidacy induces snickers in all of us, probably should be taken much more seriously as an experienced, successful reformist governor from a political battleground region, but for reasons unknown he is relegated to that dark and dreary corner of the presidential field where he doesn’t even get mentioned in most discussions of the candidates.  Of course his candidacy is ridiculous, not least because he has been out of real political circulation for years, but then so is the would-be candidacy of Fred Thompson.

Sager does acknowledge some of Thompson’s flaws, and notes:

Third, while Mr. Thompson has an actor’s flair for talking plain and talking tough, it’s not entirely clear what qualifies him to lead a nation at war with worldwide Islamic fundamentalism.

That’s very true, but then it isn’t at all clear what qualifies Giuliani to do the very same thing, yet for some reason large numbers of people are convinced that he is qualified in some mysterious way.

Why would Ryan Sager, besides his habit of poor political analysis, buy into the Fred Thompson myth even a little bit?  My bet is that he would encourage anything that would help torpedo one of the declared social conservative candidates in the race.  Even though Romney is a fraud, he is a fraud pretending to be a social conservative, and Ryan Sager regards social-cons as the cause of Republican defeat and conservative woes generally, and so it is quite understandable that Sager would look to encourage anything that might help knock off one of the putative social conservative candidates currently in the race.

Query: does anyone know off-hand what Fred Thompson’s views on amnesty and immigration policy are?  He left the Senate just after Mr. Bush had already started floating an amnesty proposal, so he may not be on the record about it.

For the fact is that Dicker, like Alan Dershowitz, and like most American Jews, is more committed to the liberal Democratic political agenda than she is to Israel. Unlike evangelicals, these Jews didn’t see Israel’s security trumping everything else [bold mine-DL]. They can’t bring themselves to make common cause with conservative Zionist Christians because they hate the conservative agenda more than they love Israel. ~Abby Wise Schachter, The Weekly Standard

And this is a surprise because…why exactly?  Wouldn’t you expect most people in any group to be more concerned with the politics in their own country as opposed to the national security of a different country, even if these people had strong personal or emotional ties to that country?  Indeed, isn’t it really, really weird that there would be any non-Jewish Americans who make the security of Israel such a top priority?  Even when you can give the reasons why some evangelicals are so concerned about it, it still seems quite strange.  It’s one thing to be concerned about the security of Israel and to take a strong pro-Israel stand, but quite another to make it one of your very top priorities. 

Yglesias gives his take, which exposes very nicely the double game being played by neocon, “pro-Israel” outfits such as the Standard:

The other thing to say is that we once again see conservative Jews berating their much more numerous liberal co-religionists on the grounds that we are failing to manifest dual loyalties, but just try suggesting in print that “pro-Israel” groups are trying to foster a sense of dual loyalties and see how The Weekly Standard reacts to that (the Standard, it seems to me, is actually loyal only to the cause of war and bloodshed rather than any particular nation; though they clearly do prefer Americans or Israelis to be either killing or dying).

That last bit is absolutely right.  For most folks at the Standard, America and Israel seem to me to be just springboards and vehicles for their ideological project.  They would rather keep those vehicles around as long as they can, and so appear at first glance to be interested in protecting both against external threats (though they exaggerate those threats and have horrible answers for how to cope with those threats), but the real security interests of both nations are ultimately pretty much expendable in pursuit of regional or global hegemony respectively. 

Anyway, the question shouldn’t be why Jewish liberals aren’t embracing their domestic political opponents because of a single foreign policy issue, but rather why anyone in his right mind would think that this is the normal or rational thing to do.  Any one issue, no matter how important it may be, is not enough to create the basis for a lasting alliance among normal people.  Ideologues or fanatics for whom there is one and only one issue view things differently, but there are fortunately not as many of these rather abnormal people. 

This is, incidentally, also why every proposed grand alliance of left and right on the Iraq war falls apart almost as soon as it begins, because everyone involved (with a very few exceptions) doesn’t really believe that the war is the single, most important issue that makes everything else irrelevant.  TAC and Antiwar try heroically to give progressive opponents of interventionism their due, but the attention and respect are not typically widely reciprocated, since most antiwar progressives regard antiwar conservatives as being in some ways even worse than the neocons because of our other beliefs not related to the war.  For more than a few antiwar conservatives, the feeling is usually mutual.  This is regrettable from the perspective of trying to upend interventionist foreign policy, but it is also eminently normal.

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did. ~ “Pseudo-Iamblichus”

Naturally, I don’t agree.  This is why I try not to speak in terms of “the West” all that often, because it is a definition that has historically not only excluded the Orthodox Christian world, which is an arbitrary and baseless exclusion, but has normally also excluded much of the central and eastern European and Near Eastern Catholic world.  It normally means “everything west of the Oder and north of Rome,” because those liminal zones in southern Italy and Sicily are so troubling to those who would like to define the West exclusively in terms of Latinity. 

Historically and culturally, Catholics and Orthodox belong to the same Christian civilisation and always have belonged to the same civilisation.  The entirety of Christian civilisation has suffered from the ravages of modernity, revolution and destruction to one degree or another, and both Catholics and Orthodox have battled against these forces with varying degrees of success.  The ignorance of our common civilisation’s overwhelmingly culturally Byzantine and linguistically Greek roots, for example, is an appalling abandonment of an enormous part of the common heritage of all Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  (The Protestants also obviously share in this heritage, but I am not speaking about them in this particular post.)  Ps.-Iamblichus here would like to ignore the profound Greek and Byzantine inheritance that his own church possesses, and so impoverishes his own tradition in a way no less troubling than the common Orthodox refusal to treat St. Augustine as the holy man that he was and that the Sixth Holy Ecumenical Council acknowledged him as being.  If some Orthodox were unwilling to acknowledge their Latin Fathers, they would be dismissing part of Church Tradition for no reason other than anachronistic cultural chauvinism that would have embarrassed even the most self-important Byzantine. 

I don’t want to make this into a Catholic-Orthodox throwdown, since I am perfectly well aware that rehashing arguments that have not been settled by wiser and greater men than I will not advance anyone’s understanding in the least.  This post is not an argument over the rival doctrinal and ecclesiological claims of the two confessions.  There are Orthodox converts who spend too much time lamenting the errors of Catholics and all kinds of other people, and this is not a healthy preoccupation for them to have.  However, the reality is that their misplaced enthusiasm tells us little or nothing about Orthodoxy. 

My point here would be that Ps.-Iamblichus (what a bizarre name for a Catholic to take as his pseudonym!) does his confession no credit at all in the way he has chosen to define “the soul of the West.”  If we are speaking figuratively here about a civilisation’s soul, as I assume we must be, it is very odd that he says that it doesn’t care what was done a thousand years ago, since surely what was done a thousand years ago has more than a little to do with defining what his church was and is and laid the foundations for all of the later accretions that he finds so important (e.g., lace and side altars).  Virtually no practices done today anywhere are precisely what the early Church did, and only a sort of odd liturgical literalist with no sense of the development of Orthodoxy liturgy, for instance, could insist on some absolute first-century standard precision.  Those who do so, if there are any such people, do so against the better judgement of Orthodox scholars and bishops.  Of course, no credible authority, whether episcopal or scholarly, argues for such an understanding of the practical life.  There are, however, liturgical reforms and liturgical deformations, and the same is true in every area of the life of the Church, and understanding the difference is part of spiritual and intellectual discernment.  Nonetheless, the attitude expressed here by Ps.-Iamblichus is odd, since it seems to suggest that he and the “soul of the West” are indifferent to adherence to traditions handed down and received from the Fathers.  This is not true for Catholics, and he does his church no great service by implying that Catholicism lacks in respect for traditional practices.

Presumably, Catholics do not “pray to statues,” which would be idolatry, but pray to the saints represented by those statues for intercession.  How a soul, which is any case a metaphor, can wear lace while also being “covered with side altars” is a metaphysical problem that I leave to better-trained philosophers.  Ps.-Iamblichus’ post gives the impression of a sort of panic that Orthodoxy is somehow sweeping over the land and taking over one Catholic church after another in waves and waves of mass conversions.  This would be a crazy thing to think, since Orthodox Christians in the United States make up one of the smallest religious minorities of all, while Catholics bestride the land like a colossus.  If Eastern Orthodoxy really were nothing more than the spiritual fad in western Europe and the Americas that he makes it out to be (which would seem to contradict Catholic teaching on the subject), why would there be any need to engage in such histrionics?  If Orthodoxy is just a passing fad that will soon disappear from “the West,” Ps.-Iamblichus has nothing to worry about and can return to wearing lace in his side altars in the contented knowledge that no cassocked converts chanting the Damascene’s Odes will be disturbing his Latin prayers to statues.

Some few of my coreligionists seem to believe they really are 19th century Russian peasants or 6th century Byzantine philosophes. They give their children unpronounceable names, dress in something approximating homespun, fumble with their comboschini while you’re talking to them, memorize Greek and Slavonic prayers they don’t understand, and worry about the spiritual lineages of obscure Balkan startsi. I exaggerate, of course (and certainly not everyone engaging in the above is necessarily a boutique religionist), but you get the idea. ~D. Ian Dalrymple

This is an interesting discussion, and at the conference last weekend there were some Orthodox converts talking about related problems that converts have.  There is always a tendency among and temptation for converts to attempt to make themselves more Orthodox and more ‘correct’ than St. Symeon Stylites, which would be a much less lamentable attitude if they demonstrated any hint of knowing how to do this successfully.  As one of my colleagues at the conference said, “Orthodox people should be normal people.”  By this I think he meant that they should not be engaged in massive affectations of eccentric hyper-piety. 

Now, on the other side, respecting and embracing the cultural and practical habits of the church that you enter into seem to me to not only be appropriate but a vital part of cutting your own will and becoming part of the community that has accepted you.  Most converts in my church do not groan under the use of Slavonic, but there are some who rebel against the use of traditional liturgical languages, couching their own discomfort in dubious appeals to mission.  Those who find Slavonic the most unsatisfying will be the first to cite the example of Sts. Cyril and Methodios as pioneers in encouraging linguistic diversity in the Church, all the while missing out on the substantial irony of this move.  I think those who want to push to Americanise their parishes and hope to create an American Orthodoxy mainly by making Orthodox people become more like Protestants are gravely mistaken and they are stripping their churches of those characteristics that make for the full experience of living Orthodoxy.  The Church is accommodating, but She is not a mystical catering service that will bring and fetch whatever strikes your fancy.  Those who go perhaps a little overboard in embracing the traditions of the Church, while perhaps missing something more important in the process, are at least approaching the Church with the right attitude, which is exactly the opposite of the religious boutique shopper who comes to pick up the latest fashionable item and who says things like, “Oh, the Jesus Prayer is very ‘in’ right now!”  Of course, no one actually says that, and few people consciously approach things this way, but any who find Orthodoxy ‘trendy’ or vaguely ‘New Age’ would be the ones I worry about a lot more (to the extent that I’m worrying about these things, which isn’t much) than the people who get as excited about blinis and the Slavophiles as they do about church services.  

The people who give their children “unpronounceable names” (though most Orthodox names are not really all that unpronounceable) are, I think, to be preferred to those who only grudgingly give their children proper baptismal names and then never use those names again.  If people are memorising prayers they don’t understand, that’s just bizarre.  How can they actually remember them if they don’t know what they’re saying?  What I mean to say is that those who take the time to memorise Otche nash in the Slavonic or Pater hemon in Greek should be able to learn without much added effort which foreign words go with which English words–the same would go for any other prayer.  Adherence to forms, while far from the fullness of experiencing Orthodox life, is a better beginning than a disregard for the forms.  It’s the same way with fasting or even something as great as forgiveness–you will never acquire the spiritual maturity of dispassion if you do not first begin with some minimal discipline, and you will never be able to truly forgive anyone unless you at least begin by uttering the words.  These are lessons in obedience and humility.  They are not ends in themselves, but exist to turn man away from himself and back towards God and towards his brethren.  Those approaching many of the things in the Orthodox Church as exotic accoutrements or as the definition of akribeia will probably end up not appreciating their proper role and their importance for cultivating in us a spirit of metanoia together with the desire to experience fully the abundant life that is in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

And then I went to a different country and saw how different life could be if we didn’t have the values and the kinds of opportunities that exist in America. ~Mitt Romney

Somehow, I don’t think a two-year mission to France in the 1970s qualifies as an example of seeing how radically different cultural values change life for the worse.  What is this guy’s real problem with the French? 

The French have many extra holidays, short work weeks, subsidised farmers, artisanal bakers (ah, fond memories of MAPSS final exams are coming back now), abundant cheese production, the occasionally superb film along with a lot of junk, some glorious older architecture, a lot of hideous newer architecture, surprisingly powerful labour unions, a hideous technocratic elite and an absolutely destructive belief in equality combined with waves of poor Muslim and African immigrants, but they also have fewer single-parent families (though they also have far more cohabiting parents), they have an active pro-natal policy and have ruled out same-sex marriage, which the Mitt couldn’t even manage to get people in Massachusetts to do.  They have enough sense not to belong to NATO, which we still haven’t figured out after all these years.  In other words, it’s a very mixed picture with a lot on the debit side (just as is the case in this country), but what exactly was so terrible in Romney’s experience that he has made it a defining part of his outlook that France is his primary example of deprivation and misery?

The genius of FNB politics is that it can make those who diagnose it sound like barking moonbats. ~Rick Perlstein

Why would anyone say that comparing a Nixon commercial to Birth of a Nation makes you sound like a barking moonbat?  Isn’t the connection obvious to everyone?  I think we all remember how powerful the Klan was in Yorba Linda, don’t we?  Yeah.

Perlstein must have some kind of second sight–and way too much time–to come up with this crazy stuff.  This is the same guy who conjured up an elaborate vision of Romney sending coded signals to neo-Nazis and Anglo-Saxonists through his choice of venue at the Henry Ford Museum.  It apparently never occurred to Perlstein that Romney could simply be politically tone-deaf and a little bit dense when it comes to symbolism, but then he didn’t have the advantage of seeing Romney destroy his position in Florida with an ill-chosen invocation of Castro’s favourite slogan.  Perhaps what Romney was really trying to do in reclaiming that slogan for a “free Cuba” was to show his secret support for the continuation of the communist regime, or perhaps he was indirectly admitting to his own lifelong, hidden devotion to communism.   

It is actually possible to find Limbaugh tedious, vacuous and offensive without constructing baroque theories of coded boundary maintenance and cunning psychological manipulation of unconscious prejudices.  There’s nothing clever about what Limbaugh and Coulter do, and no need to dig deep to find out why it has an appeal.  For people who really loathe the politics, the personality and the general worldview of a John Edwards, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, any mockery will do.   

Perlstein says later:

The bonus: His [Nixon’s] charge also revealed liberals as shrieking and hypersensitive.

You see, no one would ever have gotten that idea on their own.

I’ve given Mickey Kaus a hard time lately (and I was so close to getting on bloggingheads, I’m sure), but he has an excellent post on the pro-amnesty media distortions in reporting on immigration policy debate (while also delivering a few more right hooks to Adam Nagourney’s bruised jaw).  We are all fairly familiar with these distortions, beginning with the misleading language that pro-amnesty folks get to call their position “comprehensive,” which implies that opposition to amnesty somehow fails to contend with the entire problem.  Restrictionists and enforcement-first folks are really the ones who take the problem at all seriously, while open borders advocates would like to wave a wand and declare that which has been illegal to now be legal.  Of course, the only thing comprehensive about any of the McCain or Hagel legislation on immigration is the comprehensiveness of the surrender of our borders and country. 

Kaus also makes the crucial point that the Pence plan isn’t a compromise plan, but a scam to sucker restrictionist and pro-enforcement members to back what will effectively be no better than amnesty.  For those who think they wanted Mike Pence to be in a position of leadership in the House, this is the main reason why you should feel relieved that he lost the leadership contest.

The reviews were so neo-con, so homophobic. They couldn’t just go see the movie without trying to over-intellectualize it. ~Zach Snyder

Some Corner readers are not pleased at this pejorative use of neocon, and no wonder.  Virtually every neocon has fallen down in prostration before 300, but the meme of neocon has spread so far and wide and has been associated with such hideous things that it has apparently managed to become the new ‘fascist’ as a catch-all for everything ugly and reprehensible in the world.  Perhaps where someone would have ignorantly said fascist before, now he says neocon.  That sounds about right to me.  Considering the actual neocons’ preference for labeling their enemies fascists and their absurd need to call jihadis Islamofascists, there is no more perfect poetic justice than their name becoming synonymous with the thing they allegedly hate.  When people begin referring to jihadis as Islamoneocons, then the circle will be complete.   

On a slightly related note, for those interested in a serious response to the travesty of history that is 300 Dr. Fleming has some wise words.

How much does Obama want to be considered a solid friend of Israel?  Enough to criticise his billionaire supporter Soros when he attacks U.S. Israel policy and AIPAC.  Meanwhile, Romney continues to battle back from his titanic gaffe among the Cubans.  Isn’t gutless pandering fun?  If this is how these candidates respond to the lobby groups at this early stage in the race, just imagine how they will jump through hoops for them if one of them gets elected.

Before January 31, I hadn’t flown in over two years, and since then I have already been on five flights and will be on at least six eight more before the end of spring quarter.  Friday I fly to Charlottesville for ISI’s conference on liberty, community and place, where I will be meeting several of my blogging and TAC colleagues in person for the first time.  This will be the fourth conference I have attended since October, and there are at least two more before the school year is over.  Perhaps for true conference-going veterans, this is a light load, but for me this is an unusually busy schedule. 

While Ross is out of the country, I must protest on his behalf against his and Reihan’s adoption by Mark Satin as representatives of the “radical middle” from the right.  Ross and I may not agree on everything (indeed, I bet we actually disagree on all kinds of things that we don’t write about), but I would insist that he does not really fall under this designation and that it is an insult to associate him with something like this.  In fact, I doubt very much whether anyone (perhaps not even David Brooks!) deserves the dubious honour of being declared a radical one-world squish in quite this way.  Maybe Ross will disagree, but I don’t think he will.   

What is the “radical middle”?  This is part of the definition from Satin’s site:

It’s “radical” because it’s seeking solutions that are holistic and sustainable. It’s “middle” because it accepts that you can’t change people very much.

Well, okay, that’s pretty vague.  At first glance, this sounds a bit like traditional conservatism, but you quickly discover that these people are using words such as “holistic” and “sustainable” simply as foils against their opponents: whatever they are for is holistic and sustainable, and whatever people not of the “radical middle” support is neither.  More concretely, what is this guy talking about?  He is, in fact, mainly describing the pursuit of some sort of globalised nightmare mixed with the “pornography of compassion”:

  • One-world citizenship.  A commitment to overarching human values and to a cosmopolitan identity as world citizens.
  • Business and law.  A recognition that what’s going on in certain boardrooms and law offices today may be more important — and more promising — than what’s going on in the traditional political arena.
  • Consciousness.  A recognition that values, virtues, attitudes, religion, and culture may have more to do with individual happiness — and social progress — than economic growth.
  • One-world compassion.  A refusal to accept that the well-being of people in Rumania or Nigeria or Malaysia is any less important than the well-being of people in Arizona.
  • Ambition, achievement and service.  In the Sixties it was a badge of honor to drop out.  The strategy backfired.  Today most socially committed young people are rushing to become doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, social workers, academics, and that is — or can be — a good thing.

Blech.  Of course, “values” and religion are more important than economic growth and saying that you support “achievement” and “service” is a bit like saying that you are for education and against crime (who exactly is arguing the point?).  When these obvious, basically non-controversial things are combined with all of this other nonsense it becomes a slightly more silly version of Sam Brownback’s already fairly silly worldview.  Throw in the odd reference to Unity08 and you have a real traveling circus of meaningless gestures towards political and policy reform.  Anything that finds its voice in “the words of Vaclav Havel and Tony Blair” (as the original statement had it) can only ever be the enemy of a sane and decent society. 

The year 2008 will witness Hillary and her fellow opportunistic 1960s student protesters known as the Coat and Tie Radicals campaigning against the young conservatives who in the late 1960s were dismissed as negligible but a decade later manned the Reagan Revolution. It is going to be an epochal match-up and a very bitter one.

Though the generation that fought World War II is called the “Greatest Generation,” the 1960s generation is the most momentous political generation of the 20th century. Now its left and right are squaring off for one last battle to claim title to their generation. Whoever triumphs, it will be as memorable a victory as Franklin Roosevelt’s defeat of President Herbert Hoover or as Ronald Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. What will make it even more momentous is that Hillary now represents the political heritage of liberalism that Roosevelt began. Though in the Clintons’ hands that liberalism has been disfigured, Hillary embodies an Old Order that is desperate for victory. The looming battle between the two wings of the 1960s generation — one championing the Roosevelt heritage, the Old Order, the other championing the Reagan heritage, a New Order — explains much of the bitterness of contemporary politics. ~R. Emmett Tyrrell

Unless, of course, HRC is not the nominee on the Democratic side, which is not just plausible but an increasingly likely outcome.  It is also unlikely to be the epochal, era-shaping electoral event that Mr. Tyrrell is making it out to be.  2008 is structurally very much like the 1920 or 1976 elections: coming off a war and two consecutive terms of the same party in the White House, the opposition party enters into a period of more or less brief control before the next real realignment takes place.  If 1932, 1968 and 1980 represent the major realignments of American politics in the last century, 2008 will actually wind up being one of those relatively uninteresting preceding election cycles that does not actually represent an epoch-ending moment.  2008 is actually more likely to be like 1976 in terms of the closeness of the race (there will probably be no 1920-like 60-34% victories for either side), and the results of a likely Democratic victory in 2008 may be as short-lived as was the Age of Carter.  In any case, 2008 will not be quite the Boomer generational battle royale described by Tyrrell, but I can understand why an inveterate Clinton foe who is writing about Bubba would want to cast the election as a contest between Hillary Clinton and the GOP as the last throwdown of the old politics of the Boomers.  

By the way, this may be another factor behind Obama’s rise as an alternative to HRC: in his age, if not in his actual policy views, he does represent a change from the preoccupations of the Boomers, which is something that all Americans under 45 would very much like to get away from.  We actually are tired of refighting the battles of the 1960s and 1970s, since many of us were not even born then, and we are definitely tired of having to speak about foreign policy with Vietnam constantly looming over our heads.  To the extent that 2008 represents one of the last gasps of this old argument, it does not point to the future but represents the beginning of the end of the brief Boomer ascendancy that began in 1992. 

The weariness of the younger generations with this dated bickering may be why some young conservative and progressive bloggers are impatient with the worn-out dogmas held over from the ’70s and ’80s in both parties, since these ideas, if they were ever useful, stopped having much relevance in about 1991.  It has taken many people of our parents’ generation the last fifteen years to figure out that the world cannot be understod through the respective lenses of bankrupt neoliberalism and neoconservatism, while some of us growing up in the midst of this tired rehashing of old points of dispute have instinctively moved away from the ideologies that seem suited, if they were ever suited to anything, to the end of the Cold War.  Both have failed primarily in the failure to recognise that the Cold War did, in fact, end and that this would have implications for both foreign and domestic policy.  The insane, bipartisan obsession with demonstrating hostility and opposition to Russia is one of the more destructive legacies of this inability to adapt.  The inability to confront jihadis in a way that faces up to the explicitly religious and specifically Islamic nature of the threat and the constant recourse to inaccurate and confused labels of generic terrorism and fascism both reflect how useless the old doctrines are for combating the threats of the present.

Neoconservatives in particular have been desperate to pretend that some kind of Cold War redux is always in the offing (first China, then Russia, then the Islamic world, then Russia again) and that we are now fighting Islamofascism, because their rather strange and warped Munichocentric foreign policy views only make any sense in the context of ideologically charged conflicts with totalitarian revolutionary world powers.  (They didn’t make that much sense even in that context, but at least they didn’t seem entirely self-evidently absurd.)  In a world where these powers do not exist or where religion, and not secular ideology, drives conflict, they have no answers because they don’t even understand what the questions are.  Uninterested in history, confused about the nature of Western identity and largely disconnected from the religious heritage of their own civilisation, they have neither the intellectual resources, nor the right understanding of who we are and what we are fighting to defend, nor the appropriate frame of reference for grappling with the threat from jihadis.  In their visceral opposition to economic populism of any kind and their embrace of free trade agreements, neoliberals seem to me to have been similarly myopic on the domestic front (however I must plead a certain degree of uncertainty about just who can reliably be called a neoliberal).  The Popperian moment has passed, and the Popperians of left and right can now offer nothing but dreary slogans.  May 2008 be the last year we must endure these derelicts.

 

He [Brownback] praised the dozen immigrants in the crowd at Oracle’s Nashua office, where more than a third of the engineers come from China, India and other countries.

“You make us strong,” he said. “You make us great. This is a nation of immigrants. . . . Thank you for helping us build a new box, a new mousetrap, for taking this nation to the world.” ~Concord Monitor

A new box?  Are there really that many ways to build a box?  Does Brownback think that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants from Latin America are busily building “new mousetraps”?  It’s stupid, effusively sentimental episodes like this that make conservatives want to say zaijian and aujo to Samnesty.

Catching up with some responses to my pre-conference blogging, I noticed Philip Klein’s thorough response to my blast against his proposed limited government/activist foreign policy fusionism and Jim Antle’s comments on the same topic.  I appreciate Mr. Klein taking the time to give a more elaborated answer to my criticisms.  I do understand the haste with which blog posts are written (something that I think some non-blogging readers tend to forget when they accuse us of making unqualified or exaggerated statements), so I’m glad to revisit the question at some greater length.

Mr. Klein allows that calling this fusionism the “most practical” was probably too strong.  I think we all do agree that providing for the common defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government.  Clearly, we will still disagree sharply about what falls under the rubric of national defense.  Jim has staked out the middle ground on this and he concludes thus:

This observation doesn’t solve all the problems of a neocon/libertarian fusionism. After all, there can still be disagreements about what constitutes a just national defense or vital national interest. Wars grow government, both in terms of foreign entaglements and domestic functions. But a conservatism based on performing government’s vital functions while shedding illegitimate or unsustainable commitments seems a lot more prudent — and thus more conservative — than one that fuses compassion at home with activism abroad.  

Jim is certainly right that this vision is more prudent than Brownbackian moral interventionism and Romneyesque rhetorical overkill.  Indeed, Jim has hit on the nub of the problem: do proponents of an activist foreign policy actually want to start shedding illegitimate and unsustainable commitments (e.g., deployments to Germany, Korea, the continuation and expansion of NATO, bases scattered around the globe, outdated Cold War-era defense treaties), or do they want to increase the number of commitments beyond what we already have?  If the former, a common approach of shrinking the size and scope of the government could be applied to domestic and foreign policy.  If the latter, any alliance between limited government conservatives and these activist foreign policy types would be doomed before it began.   

For my part, I was probably a little too ready to dismiss this fusionism.  This is not just because I am intensely opposed to interventionism, but also because I tend to have an allergy to all kinds of fusionism.  Let me explain why the concept irritates me so much.  In one of its latest iteration, fusionism has been associated with Joseph Bottum’s “new fusionism” of moralistic interventionism combined with social conservatism at home, which is an alliance that has inevitably privileged the interests of the interventionists and has expended little or no effort on social conservative concerns.  As I have somewhat harshly noted, such “new fusionism” in practice seems to mean that conservatives will argue that pro-lifers should back Giuliani because he will make sure that the government kills people in other countries (and, yes, presumably prevent people from other countries from killing Americans here at home).  This strikes me as a rather unsatisfactory arrangement.  A limited government/interventionist deal seems likely to produce similar unsatisfactory compromises.  I don’t insist on some absolute purism that avoids all political compromise, but the compromise has to actually serve the goals of both parties making the deal, and I simply don’t see this happening in the case of Bottum’s fusionism or Mr. Klein’s proposed alliance (about which more in a moment).  The other appeal to a new fusionism has come from Ryan Sager, who has made it his personal mission in life to denigrate social and religious conservatives and blame them for the political woes of the GOP and the confusion of the modern conservative movement.  So the word fusionism automatically conjures in my mind rather insultingly lopsided and exploitative alliances. 

I think most fusionist bargains are set up in such a way as to be profoundly unequal, where one party in the alliance ends up setting the terms and priorities of the alliance such that his would-be allies end up becoming marginal players.  If this were a matter of one party being numerically vastly superior, that would be one thing, but I am very skeptical that dedicated interventionists qua interventionists are actually all that numerous in the movement.  It is my impression that interventionists are disproportionately influential relative to their small numbers, because they tend to hold prominent positions in the journals of opinion and institutions of the movement.  Because of this, they have become accustomed to proposing and have come to expect others in the movement to do the disposing and not engage in much backtalk. 

I believe we have seen similar bad bargains before, and it has not generally advanced a limited government vision or socially conservative policies.  From the traditional conservative perspective, the original so-called fusionist bargain during the Cold War didn’t accomplish many specifically traditionalist goals, but rather overwhelmingly served the interests of the “libertarians” in economic policy and those who were primarily anticommunists in a relatively activist foreign policy.  (Of course, to some degree, all conservatives were some mix of these three, but those who placed the primary emphasis on anticommunism wound up becoming the dominant voices, especially after 1981.)  The fusionist hope was that all of these goals were complementary and mutually supportive, but I am skeptical that this was ever really true for the traditionalists.  The experience of the Cold War shows us that reducing government was practically very low on the list of priorities of all Republican administrations, even those brought to power on rather more explicitly conservative platforms, and the building up of the national security state (in both temporarily necessary and sometimes undesirable ways) not only took precedence but actively worked against the impulse for smaller and more constitutional government.  From the limited government conservative perspective, the overall fusionist bargain was slightly better because of some antitax successes in the ’80s, but the priorities of the internationalist, national security state folks always seemed to involve trading off pursuing shrinking government at home in exchange for getting support for expenditures on defense and containment. 

During the ’90s, interventionists tended to be proponents of reforming the current system rather than radically shrinking the state.  When the moment for a real rollback of the state in all areas came, those most associated with interventionism were fairly uninterested in doing that.  Many of the most interventionist people had no real beef with the extent or nature of the welfare state itself, but simply wanted to make it run more efficiently.  It is not clear to me how reducing the size of government would take greater precedence in any future alliance with interventionists than it did in the past.  It may have been the case that 9/11 created a moment when shifting resources from the welfare state to the warfare state could have been attempted, but it seems to me that the overall power and size of government would not have been reduced at all (here I am voicing the criticism Mr. Klein has already anticipated) but simply shifted to another part of the government, albeit one that does at least have some constitutional warrant at its core.  This might satisfy many limited government conservatives, but I don’t think it should.  In any case, that particular moment is gone, as I think Mr. Klein and I agree. 

Without some hint of “warfare reform,” if you like, where interventionists accept the cutting out of unneccessary, wasteful or redundant commitments to countries that can defend themselves right now, I am skeptical that the public would ever accept the linking of entitlement reform or the elimination of certain entitlements to the needs of national security.  Even if the savings from closing down redundant bases and ending deployments in Europe and Asia were not comparable with savings from changes to entitlements, it would be symbolically and politically important to show that the wastefulness or excess of the “warfare state” was being trimmed at the same time.  Beyond eliminating current ongoing costs, ending these deployments or dismantling NATO or any number of other changes in how Washington runs foreign and military policy would cut down on a host of extremely costly potential future conflicts, thus setting certain limits on what future spending on the military might be.  These are the sorts of changes I doubt most interventionists would be willing to make, since they do not believe that NATO or the deployment of American soldiers in South Korea are really optional and unnecessary.  That brings us back to what I expect will be more fundamental disagreements about what commitments really are in the national interest and what the real threats to our national security are. 

Mr. Klein ends his post with this:

However, I believe that such animosity was amplified by the fact that on top of being for military intervention, neocons acquiesced to the Bush administration’s spending spree. If neocons were committed to fighting spending, I don’t think the gulf between the groups would have become as wide as it has today.

I agree that neoconservative support for “big government conservatism” aggravated the rift, but I would point out that they didn’t merely “acquiesce” in this but, especially in the case of The Weekly Standard, became leading proponents of a big government view and defended the administration’s new entitlement program as part of the new Republican politics of the future.  This wasn’t just a case of neoconservatives failing to speak up against a policy that they didn’t really support–they actively endorsed and promoted the kind of government expansion it represented, and I assume they did this because most of them are not and have never been interested in shrinking government, eliminating entitlements or returning the federal government to its constitutional limits.  It isn’t just that they don’t think it is politically possible, but it seems that most of them don’t even think that it is desirable in principle. 

There is also still the question of electoral viability, and here I am beginning to be convinced that a straight-up Club for Growth-style limited government appeal is not going to win over many supporters, at least not in the present environment.  As a matter of contemporary politics, more populism of some kind and less (or at least smarter) interventionism seem to be the winning combination, rather than less government and more interventionism.  I would love it if Americans wanted both much less government and much less interventionism, but strangely enough that position seems to win relatively little support. 

Cubans in Miami are steaming mad at former Gov. Mitt Romney for shooting his mouth off in stumbling Spanish, mispronouncing names and erroneously associating a notorious Fidel Castro-spewed Communist catch phrase with freedom fighters.

Politicians in South Florida have lashed out at the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential hopeful for describing the socialist saying “Patria o muerte, venceremos” as “inspiring” and for claiming the phrase was swiped from liberty-seeking Cubans by leftist admirers of Castro.
The phrase, which means “Fatherland or death, we shall overcome,” was bellowed as a political speech sign-off by the dictator for decades. ~The Boston Herald

Wow.  This has to be the most disastrous ethnic pander gaffe ever.  What’s worse is that Romney knew that Chavez and Castro use this phrase, and he went ahead and said it anyway because he thought he understood Cuban patriotism better than the Cubans.  Always a mistake. 

There are good reasons why English-speakers should campaign in English, rather than lamely attempt to show solidarity with ethnic voters by speaking in their language.  The most obvious is that the potential for misunderstanding or mispronunciation is much, much greater.  The other is that you will use phrases that seem harmless or even good to you, but which have terrible associations in the minds of the audience.  This was actually a very easily avoidable error, and Romney’s failure here shows that he is not only a foreign policy dunce (Chavistas proudly use the patria o muerte slogan for a good reason–it is now a long-standing commie revolutionary slogan and everyone paying attention would know this) but he is also an absolute political disaster waiting to happen.  Can you imagine trusting this man to represent the country to the rest of the world?  His rhetorical bumbling might well start a war somewhere.   

It does Romney no good to say that the slogan “ought” to belong to a free Cuba.  Cuban-Americans and Cubans immediately associate it with Castro and communism, because it is inextricably tied up with that regime, and they have grown to loathe what might otherwise theoretically be an expression of genuine patriotic devotion.  The point is that the phrase has always been paired with Castroism–there wasn’t a time when it used to belong to pre-1959 Cuba and was appropriated by the communists.  Romney’s take on this is rather like saying the phrase “great leap forward” or “long march” shouldn’t belong to communists, either, because the phrases might be put to better use by someone else.  It doesn’t matter whether someone else might be able to use them or should be able to use them.  These are phrases indelibly marked by their communist usage and stained with the blood of its victims.  Only the rhetorically inept and politically mindless would attempt to transform the meaning of a phrase with an audience that very likely immediately associates it with everything they hate.  For his next tricks, Romney will go to the Republican Jewish Coalition and say that allahu akbar should belong to the Jewish people, and then he can go to a group of Armenian-Americans and say that “union and progress” are words that should belong to all Armenians.

Update: Ed Morrisey demonstrates that he doesn’t understand rhetoric or Cubans any better than Mitt Romney.  The people listening to the speech knew what Romney was trying to say.  They were just appalled and deeply offended by his lame attempt to tell them that the slogan associated with their most hated enemy is actually a nifty expression of their own deepest desires.  Instead of immediately backing down and acknowledging his error, Romney wants to insist that he meant this insulting gesture (which is how it was taken) in only the most friendly way.     

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No one can stop the venture capitalists’ revolution!

It’s far-fetched to believe a political consultant told him that pushing back against cloning and gay marriage as governor of Massachusetts would be the perfect Iowa-primary pander. More likely, his staff - the core of which is conservative - told him “this is important for humanity,” and he did the right thing. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

So it’s more likely that an ambitious politician with his eyes on the White House took up an issue that is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts but vital for the Republican nomination out of a concern for humanity and not his own political future.  Really? 

In some ways, I wish I could possess the kind of bright-eyed naivete and enthusiasm that so infects Romney supporters such as Hewitt and Ms. Lopez.  It must be so much easier to trust politicians when you think that they are actually out to do good things and not con people for the sake of power.  Like all optimists, however, these folks have a faith in something that doesn’t exist and will be doubly disappointed when their idol fails them (as all idols of this world do). 

What a happy, bright, completely unrealistic world you must live in if you believe that politicians come around on highly controversial issues because of the profound moral implications involved!  It seems simply incredible to me that Romneyites actually think that Romney is a man of conviction, when everything we think we know says otherwise.  Yet I have no real doubt that the Romneyites are sincere.  Indeed, almost all of them are so sincere that it is painful to watch them lash themselves to the deck of Romney’s doomed ship. 

I could at least acknowledge an argument that says Romney switched positions out of political expediency, but that in difficult times it is better to have a well-funded nominal ally than a relative electoral no-hoper, a loon (that would be McCain) or an opponent as the nominee of your party.  The argument that his political views bob about like a windsock and he has a deep abiding set of principles, so we therefore should support him because he is both flexible and dedicated to the cause, makes me slightly ill. 

The White House either hired a bunch of incompetent U.S. attorneys to start with, or hired a bunch of competent U.S attorneys that were incompetently fired. ~Rahm Emanuel

Well, at least that’s a clear statement of what the stakes are.  They aren’t really very high now that we see them being laid out in a single statement.  If it is the former, how is it shocking any longer to find out that this administration chose people who were unqualified for their positions?  They almost always choose unqualified people (see Rice, Condi).  If the latter, how is it shocking that this administration bungled something so elementary and basic?  They very often bungle the firing of their people (see Brown, Michael; O’Neill, Paul; Rumsfeld, Donald).  The Democrats seem to think they can lower the public’s opinion of Mr. Bush, but it cannot go much lower before it begins hitting the bedrock of absolute loyalists.  These are partisans and ”wingers” who will never turn on Bush, so there is really nowhere for this scandal to go.  Support for the administration can’t collapse much below where it is, and the only thing that will come of this is Gonzales’ resignation.  In other words, the covering up of the incompetent firing of incompetents will result in the resignation of an incompetent, and then that will be that.  What am I missing?

Several Democratic officials were unabashed in discussing the potential political benefits for their party if they can convince voters that President Bush ousted U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Democratic strategists said the controversy is already helping them recruit House and Senate challengers for ‘08 races. “We know from last cycle that Democrats can win in Republican districts where corruption is an issue,” one of the officials said. ~The Politico

Don’t you usually have to have evidence of corruption that you can run against before you have your candidates run against corruption?

Much of the commentary on this story has seemed disingenuous about this: breathless revelations that the White House was involved in the decision, that it may have been (gasp!) political, and so on. ~Michael Kinsley

I share Kinsley’s puzzlement about the scandal of this when we are talking about something that was neither illegal nor obviously, necessarily unethical.  Believe me, an epic, administration-destroying scandal would be a glorious thing to behold, and no one would be more glad of it than I would be.  I would be cheering on the dogs as they tore Mr. Bush and his entire team down, if they were actually tearing him down for his real crimes.  My view here is very much like my view of the hounding of Clinton in ‘98.  Had they gone after him and Gore for any of their real misconduct and violations of the law, whether in fundraising scandals, violations of the Constitution or possible breaches of national security, I would have been a lot more enthusiastic about the entire process; instead they chose to go after him for the most trivial of his failures and his lies about them.  Consequently, they could not actually remove him, even though he had broken the law, because the basis for the entire proceeding was ultimately too trivial to merit taking the political risk.  

In the case of this “scandal,” it is possible that something unethical is going on here, but if the case of Iglesias in New Mexico is representative the unethical behaviour may have been Iglesias’.  He may have demonstrated a lack of diligence in prosecuting voter fraud, and he may have done this because he didn’t want to upset the powers-that-be in Santa Fe.  Which is more corrupting of the course of justice: a prosecutor who overlooks prosecutable crimes, possibly out of concern for his own political career, or the administration that fires him because he does this?  The people outraged by this scandal often want to deal in great generalities (where the political firing of political appointees is political and therefore somehow bad), even though they insist that it is the details that indict the administration here.  The Democratic approach seems to be to keep stressing how “serious” the charges are: “Perverting the course of justice!  Politicisation of the law!These are very serious charges that have to be addressed!”  Baseless, meaningless charges in these particular cases, maybe, but very serious.  What baffles me is why the Democrats are pushing so hard on this.  Do they really want people to start digging into questions of voting irregularities in 2004?  Do New Mexican Democrats really want to get into an ethics contest with Pete Domenici?  They would lose.  Guaranteed.  And I don’t even like Pete Domenici.    

It seems that the main knock on the administration is that, after being the most obtusely politically-obsessed administration in its hirings of key managers and major agency heads, when it finally fired some political appointees for equally political reasons (and perhaps some other reasons as well) it refused to admit its political motivations and pretended that it actually cared about competence.  Since they have never cared about competence in six years, everyone could tell that something was fishy, and the AUSAs being denigrated didn’t want to suffer the indignity of being called incompetent.  This is the case even though, according to folks back in New Mexico, David Iglesias handled the prosecution of Robert Vigil pretty incompetently and only barely got a conviction in the second go-round, and he probably ran his office just as badly as he ran the Vigil prosecution.  So people are mad about this because…why exactly?  Because it proves the administration is incompetent?  We knew that already.  Now they are just shooting themselves in the foot politically rather than starting a war or abandoning an American city to be annihilated.  That sounds like a kind of progress to me!

I don’t know whether it proves that neoliberalism is dead, or that Joe Lieberman is just so easy to make fun of, but this parody is very good.

Right. This strikes me as the essential problem with most Obama-related theorizing. Pundits are basically using made-up stories about the roots of Obama’s political appeal as hooks for their own writing about race. If you look, however, at Obama’s base of support the phenomenon looks pretty banal. Obama is popular among the intersecting groups of black people, young people, and people for whom Iraq is a high priority issue. This, of course, is not very hard to explain. Obama is black, relatively young, and has a consistent record of opposition to the Iraq War. And, obviously, he’s good at giving speeches to large crowds. ~Matt Yglesias

Yglesias makes a fair point here.  Talking about Obama as a race-transcending figure (or the ways in which he is not actually that figure) makes no sense of why his current supporters among regular voters are supporting him, so perhaps a lot of this talk is less interesting in understanding current trends, but this talk seems very relevant to understanding why Obama has received an unusually large amount of unusually favourable media coverage and bizarrely effusive responses from crowds of people who don’t even necessarily know anything about his Iraq war views when they first show up to hear him talk.  This level of enthusiasm for a Senator of no great accomplishments after a very few years on the national stage is simply inexplicable without taking race and attitudes about race into account as significant factors.  They may not be as important as some of the observers have concluded, but it seems unlikely that they are entirely unrelated.  

Meanwhile, the media have shown tremendous tolerance for Obama’s preference for vague platitudes over substantive policy remarks, which is something that journalists do not normally endure for very long before becoming much more critical of a candidate.  He is getting something of a free ride, and has actually gotten such a free ride that the overkill of it is practically the only thing that has started to make people turn against him.  Some of all of that has to relate to his being the first “viable” black presidential candidate and what that does or doesn’t say about race relations and Obama’s appeal to people from different races.

This media love fest has probably helped propel Obama among younger voters who, I’m sorry to say, are among the least informed, least curious and least politically involved voters in the country.  I am guessing that young supporters are responding to the media’s treatment of Obama as a kind of cultural icon and they are most susceptible to his meaningless chatter about hope and a new politics.  Another possibility is that the “Millennials” have significantly different attitudes about race relations and therefore serve as a kind of leading indicator of what Obama’s strongest appeal is, which is that he represents or embodies (however ideally or fantastically) their own attitudes about race, which are rather predictably more “liberal” than that of their parents.   

Mickey, along with so many young men of his generation, fought and died face down in the mud, in the jungles of the New Republic, trying to kill unions and other pro-Democratic interest groups in the 1990s. And now, does anyone appreciate the sacrifice? Does Mickey get a parade? Of course not; rather, some young kid like Ezra Klein comes along and spits in his face, and tells him it was all for nothing. ~Robert Farley

So, neoliberalism was a political version of the Vietnam War.  I have to say that this is actually one of the more appropriate analogies coming out of the recent chatter about Brooks’ lament for neoliberalism’s passing.  Following up on the Vietnam connection, watching Kaus run about attacking Ezra Klein and arguing over technical definitions of neoliberalism and making what look to outsiders to be fairly hair-splitting distinctions between DLC New Democrats and Washington Monthly neoliberals is a bit like watching Walter Sochek (John Goodman) from Big Lebowski lecturing the waitress in the diner about the technicalities of the First Amendment and the sacrifice of his buddies in ‘Nam after she has asked him to stop shouting profanities in the middle of a restaurant.  Sochek, like Kaus, might be completely right about these technical distinctions and the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers, but twenty years on no one cares and it doesn’t change how obnoxious the entire display is.

Update: Note to Mickey Kaus: When advocating the viability of a political position, do not use phrases such as “Gorbachev-like” and “perestroika-like” to defend your preferred policies.  Neoliberalism may or may not have had some important successes (of course, “successes” from a neoliberal perspective may be regarded as failures by progressives for the very reasons the neoliberals regard them as achievements), but Gorbachev was a uniform failure  in his express goal of preserving the USSR through reform.  If neoliberalism is to the Democratic Party as Gorbachev is to the Soviet Union, Kaus has just handed neoliberalism’s enemies the perfect analogy with which they demolish neoliberalism forever.

The nation long ago removed such impediments to voting as property requirements, poll taxes and literacy tests. Perhaps we should add one: No one should be allowed to vote until he or she has driven across the country. ~George Will

By the simple fact that essentially all of New York City would hereby be disqualified from voting, I am all for it.  (I am still a little annoyed about my La Guardia experience.)  We flyover country folk would rule, while all the flyers from the coasts would be reduced to their geographically apt marginal political position.  However, this could create some potential problems, since it would mean that almost the entire electorate would be made up of truck drivers, itinerant graduate students, road tripping twentysomethings and hitchhikers.  This might create slightly skewed perspectives in its own way.  Actually, this would be a terrible idea, since it would not promote anything healthy in our politics and would definitely overemphasise the considerable nomadism, mobility and rootlessness in our society that are already terribly destructive of a healthy polity.  The best way for people to reacquaint themselves with regional variety is by turning off the dreadful television and cultivating some regional variety of their own.  Southerners could fight against the spread of the flat Midlander accent that creeps in over the television, while incomprehensible New Yorkers could create appreciation societies to preserve their baroque and strange accents.  New Mexicans could restore cockfighting to its rightful place as our national pastime, and make understanding of the “state question” a prerequisite for entry.  Anyone who did not know what a roadrunner looked like could be banned from ever setting foot on our beloved tierra amarilla.  Those who made Bugs Bunny references could be expelled from Albuquerque’s city limits. 

Incidentally, the very thing that Will seeks to encourage (appreciation of regional diversity in Americans) is going to be effectively destroyed by what the folks at Hotline call “Tsunami Tuesday” on February 5 next year.  Next year’s primaries will be the most nationalised, least region-specific primary season ever.  As such, they will probably end up producing the most blow-dried, cookie-cutter, homogenous candidates as the nominees.  Hey, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton do have a chance after all!

I turn off a light and say, ‘Take that Iran’ and “Take that, Venezuela.’ We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values. ~Hillary Clinton

I can picture HRC getting really excited about this as she walks through her house.  Perhaps she also gets a kick out of denouncing Nigeria by not using her hair dryer, or enjoys mocking the Mexicans when she buys a hybrid.  As has been pointed out by others, ceasing consumption of a fungible commodity for which there is particularly inflexible demand, such as oil, does not significantly affect the price and so cannot “punish” oil-producing countries that have governments that you dislike.  Especially in a heavily cartelised industry, such as oil production and export, price is dictated somewhat more by the producers in collusion with one another and somewhat less by the market.  In theory, OPEC could ramp up prices to $100 per barrel by slowing production or arbitrarily withholding exports, but they have little interest in precipitating global economic meltdown.  Divestment from the companies that do business with such governments is just as ineffective as this boycotting, since selling your shares in the “tainted” companies simply creates a buying opportunity for all those investors who are not so burdened by fairly fake moral dilemmas (this would be most investors).

By the way, how pathetic have “centrist” Democrats become that they feel obliged to join the looney jingo fringe in vilifying Venezuela as a major foe?

Far worse than anything else that might be revealed about Obama’s past, the recent LA Times story reveals Obama was a teacher’s pet:

Obama’s Indonesian teachers all said he was a leader at a young age. Fermina Katarina Sinaga, Obama’s third-grade teacher, didn’t have to quiet her pupils before class because Obama did it for her.

We all knew kids like this in school, and none of us ever liked those kids.  Nobody is worse-suited to positions of responsibility than a fawning sycophant. 

As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Obama crisscrossed the religious divide. At the local primary school, he prayed in thanks to a Catholic saint. In the neighborhood mosque, he bowed to Allah.

Having a personal background in both Christianity and Islam might seem useful for an aspiring U.S. president in an age when Islamic nations and radical groups are key national security and foreign policy issues. But a connection with Islam is untrod territory for presidential politics. ~The Los Angeles Times

As noted at The Plank, the Obama campaign hastily denied any Allah-bowing:

Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ. Accounts in the L.A. Times that suggest otherwise are simply not true.

Was the next headline, “Obama Embarrassed By Muslim Ties”?  Somehow I don’t think it was.  Note how nicely the LA Times spun the story and gave it a pro-Obama title.  It wasn’t a story that stressed that he had actually been a Muslim for a short time or grew up as a religiously confused child, both of which could in any case be attributed to his mother’s decisions, but that one that said he had “crisscrossed” a “cultural divide.”  This supposedly shows that he is capable of uniting different religions, different cultures, different anything, because he can be on both sides of the fence at the same time.  He is Mug and Wump and everything in between. 

However, the story did say:

His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama’s grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended.

This could be easy to spin as a case of bureaucratic formality where the step-father had to put down something for registration and picked his own religion as a matter of convenience.  Whether anyone would believe it or not is another question, but these full-throated denials don’t help Obama’s credibility more generally for people who would otherwise not necessarily care about this.  It is clear that Obama is embarrassed by this detail in his past and so eager to move away from anything that might conjure up an idea of foreignness or the phrase “black Muslim.”  As the first example of a presidential candidate’s Muslim ties being publicly revealed, it is hard to know whether this will become the equal and opposite version of the politician’s public embrace of his recently-discovered Jewish heritage.  However, from what can be found in this story Obama really has nothing to fear from his years as “Barry Soetero,” but he may well badly damage his credibility if he keeps strenuously denying that he was ever a Muslim.  To most people, if you prayed in a mosque, saying that you were never a Muslim is a bit like saying, “I smoked, but I didn’t inhale.” 

Actually, the bigger problem Obama might have with this story is the bit that draws attention to his knock on prayer:

In the Catholic school, when it came time to pray, I would close my eyes, then peek around the room. Nothing happened. No angels descended. Just a parched old nun and 30 brown children, muttering words.

Taken out of context, this citation makes it sound as if Obama is something of a great cynic about religion and prayer, as if anyone ever claimed that angels would be visibly descending or that anything should “happen” during class prayers.  That hardly fits with the man who likes to talk up the importance of faith and refers to a “righteous wind at our backs.”  Some people might begin to think that Obama’s religion talk is just a lot of self-righteous wind.

Ehrenstein is just not cynical enough about white motivations. First, I don’t know any whites under 55 who personally feel guilty for the status of blacks. ~Steve Sailer

On a conscious, individual level, Sailer is right.  No white person 55 or under does actually feel personally guilty for the status of blacks, because as far as all of these people are concerned it would be basically impossible for them to have anything about which they should feel personally guilty.  However, as part of the shared cultural assumptions that have been drilled into the heads of two generations of white American kids from the day they were old enough to understand the word slavery, a sense of corporate and historic white guilt for the status of blacks–in which contemporary whites are made to feel somehow complicit–is as pervasive as it is exaggerated.  Added to that was the generally offensive multiculti indoctrination, which falsely presupposed that the white kids were all thoroughly familiar with and committed to European and Christian civilisation and therefore had to be taught about all of the crimes and errors of that civilisation while simultaneously being told about, for instance, the glories and tolerance of the Islamic “Golden Age” (most of which was the product of fairly uncreative imitation and use of Greek texts translated by the conquered Christian populations of the Near East), the (non-existent) peaceful and environmentally-friendly Native Americans or the (non-existent) peaceful and harmonious world of the K!ung Bushmen that was, of course, only ruined because of their integration into a Western society.  Not only have these generations grown up without even the most meager grounding in the Biblical and classical traditions of their fathers (hence widespread Biblical illiteracy that is just now beginning to be seen as a problem by people other than cultural conservatives), but they have grown up believing that it is ethically necessary to resent and dislike their ancestors or the heroes of their ancestors because of their flaws and failures. 

They have been taught that it is imperative to be ashamed of their heritage and to actively deny that they even have anything that might be called a positive racial identity (ethnic white, mainly southern and eastern European, Americans are allowed to continue their own traditions, provided these are limited to amusing diversions of music, dance and food).  These generations do not approach Obama’s candidacy primarily with the sense that correct opinions about Obama matter for in-group status fights among whites (though they may also be worried about this), but they view approval and well-wishing of Obama as a moral imperative and as a kind of purgation of the sins they have supposedly inherited from their fathers.  Many of them actually feel guilty at some level, even though they themselves have never done anything, because they have been taught for their entire lives that they should feel guilty simply because they are white and are therefore beneficiaries of past exploitation or oppression.  The only positive affirmation of being white is an affirmation aimed at identifying whites as historic villains and inculcating in white people today the desire to repudiate that villainy by yielding to whatever policies or reparations are demanded as the way to make up for the past. 

The media, the political class and the masters of the educational system have all worked to advance this message, and this message sinks in.  Add to that the desires to avoid social and professional ostracism that follows from taking potentially controversial or unacceptable views on matters of race (such as the wild idea that something called race actually exists in any meaningful sense), and you have a significant psychological burden of guilt that most white people educated since maybe 1980 have been told that they are supposed to carry around with them.  Those of us who never bought this crap when they were telling it to us in school, or who rejected it later, look at all of this and cringe at how pathetic it is that people are so dominated by this brainwashing.  If there were not a pervasive sense of corporate guilt in which most white people have learned to share, the enforcement of social stigmas against those who say or believe “inappropriate” things would not be possible.  People know what to say and what not to say because they have been indoctrinated since they were children that making true observations about racial differences between people, except perhaps in jokes, is simply not done.  Correct opinions on race have only become a mechanism of white in-group status maintenance because inculcating white guilt was first a mechanism of elite social engineering.  The first may be in some sense as “cynical” as the last always was.  It has nothing to do with equality or justice, and everything to do with mobilising people against each other for the sake of acquiring power and prestige.  Nonetheless, the former would not have been possible if the latter had not happened first, and the fact that it was a cynical manipulation of the psychology of people doesn’t mean that this manipulation does not have extensive and long-lasting effects. 

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn’t project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him. ~David Ehrenstein

As I read the article, Steve Sailer basically said some of the same things about Obama’s appeal (call it the Poitier Factor, if you like) and then set about trying to show who the “real” Obama was (or at least the person he portrays himself as being in his first book) with a typical Saileresque flair for the provocative.  Mr. Sailer has noticed Ehrenstein’s article and comments on it here.   

Since Obama of the “curative black benevolence” type is indeed a fantasy and a stock stereotype from the world of film, it stands to reason that the actual Obama would be different, complex and human and not the gooey purveyor of hope made out of cotton candy and syrup that media reports make him out to be.  For attempting to find out who Obama is, or who he has claimed to be in the past, Sailer has received some of the usual tut-tutting, while I assume Mr. Ehrenstein, who is black, will not hear a contrary or discouraging word.  Someone might do well to write an article about that phenomenon. 

Isn’t it the case that quite a few pundits and journalists have bought into the Obama-as-healer view of the man because they have mistaken what Matt Yglesias might call “politico-media reality” for the actual merits and characteristics of Obama as a candidate? 

On this point, Yglesias writes about the right’s national security fetish being played out through adoration for Giuliani the tough goombah:

I think this brilliantly sums up what’s so wildly off-base about conservative thinking.  Absolutely nothing in Giuliani’s history suggests that he is any more skilled than a randomly chosen individual at plotting a military response to an armed attack on the United States of America.  I understand, of course, why it is that as a matter of electoral politics an “image of toughness” matters more than actual experience or sound policy ideas. What’s crazy about today’s rightwingers, however, is that they’ve chosen not only to accept this slice of politico-media reality but actively embrace it. 

Likewise, I might say about Obamamania: “I understand, of course, why it is that as a matter of electoral politics Obama’s image of racial reconciliation and good feelings matters more than Obama’s actual policy views or past attitudes and associations with radical black nationalism.  What’s crazy about a lot of white pundits and journalists is that they’ve chosen not only to accept this slice of media-driven reality, but treat it as if it were the absolute truth.”

The alternative to Sailer’s reading of Dreams From My Father would seem to be to say that Obama told not simply a slightly fictionalised account of his own life, but that he was just making up things all over the place to pander to readers who wanted to find in him the angst-ridden, aggrieved black man they were expecting to find.  Obama might just be that smooth and good at selling himself as anything his given audience wants him to be (see below), but to conclude this you would also have to conclude that most of Obama’s autobiographical account is a lie.  This might overthrow Sailer’s article but it would also make Obama into the left’s equivalent of Mitt Romney, which would not be all together good for Obama’s political hopes.

I think Sailer’s “head or heart” bit at the end of his article was one of the weaker parts of the piece, because it treats Obama’s enthusiastic expressions of solidarity with Kenyans as genuine statements of allegiance.  This is like the mistake evangelicals made when they took Mr. Bush’s invocation of the name of the Lord as proof that he was “one of them,” since the man has rarely done anything politically that would indicate such powerful and deep solidarity.  Whatever else Obama is, he is still a smooth-talking pol who frequently identifies with his audience in idiom and manner (as Sailer himself noted in the same article).  A closer reading of the rest of Sailer’s article would show that this final, provocative concluding note isn’t really all that plausible, not because Sailer’s general interpretation of Obama is really all that mistaken, but because Obama always pretends that the people around him are his “brothers and sisters” even when he has nothing in common with them.  This is why he can generate such fawning press coverage and such exuberant reactions from crowds.  Similar to of Clinton’s campaigning style with individuals (”he made me feel like the only person in the world”), Obama’s style is to make whichever group he’s talking to feel as if they are the fulcrum of political and social transformation on a world-historical scale and he makes them momentarily believe this garbage long enough to win a favourable impression.  As a politician, what he cares about is leaving that favourable impression, which tends to make policy disagreements or other objections to the candidate fade into the back of voters’ minds. 

Politicians of this sort have natural talent at winning people over, and they know that the fastest way to win people over is to convince them that you are, in some sense, one of them (and someone who will therefore “fight” or “work” for them once in power, which is a silly thing to assume).  In Obama’s case, doing this involves at once ignoring his heritage and revaluing it, so that he can convince voters of any race that he is basically on their side while also emphasising his own heritage enough to make it seem as if he represents some epochal shift in race relations and racial attitudes in this country.  Precisely because such a shift is not and has not been taking place to such a great degree, the image of Obama as someone transcending race both provides space for his natural political talent to flourish with every audience and serves as the reason for all of the excessive, absurd adoration lavished on the man.  He can become the “Magic Negro” because everyone knows that there’s no such thing (it is a stereotype and a fantasy), and he can appear to “transcend” race because everyone knows that nobody has and nobody actually can.  That is, these two ideas that have been pounded into the minds of modern Americans for the last forty years are seen as desirable and laudable in inverse proportion to their actual existence in the world.  Some might call this magic.  I would call it the product of propaganda and cultural indoctrination. 

After some aggravation thanks to Friday’s snowstorm, I made it back last night only about five hours later than I should have been here.  The delay from my cancelled flight wasn’t that terrible (especially compared to the epic incompetence of JetBlue a few weeks ago), so I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but let me just say that I’m not a big fan of La Guardia.  The airport, that is.  Judging from the absurd-looking statue of old Fiorello that they have put up in the Marine Air terminal, I would say that the people who run the airport don’t much like the former mayor.  Neither am I pleased with the horrid Northeastern habit that people have of automatically putting milk in your coffee.  I didn’t even ask for a ‘regular’ coffee, which I understand is Northeasternese for, “Please ruin this perfectly good coffee with some milk.”  No, apparently it’s simply taken as a given that coffee should never be good and there is no need to consult the person ordering the coffee.    Even leaving aside the question of Lent, such coffee will go from an unpleasant ordeal to being simply undrinkable in a matter of minutes.  This is one of those amusing regional customs, rather like the default of putting sugar in tea in the South, that I find a little tiresome after a while.  (Southerners, being generally more hospitable, do understand that they should ask whether you would also like to have your tea ruined.)  I don’t begrudge people their regional customs, but I do reserve the right to point out that they are ruining their coffee and tea.  I should say that Brookline was very nice, and I’d be glad to go back there anytime.  Boston, however, left a different, sour taste in my mouth.  

The conference itself was a great time.  As I had briefly mentioned in one of the comments, it was on the campus of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Theological School.  It is an unusual experience for me, as I imagine it is for most people, to be able to go to a campus chapel and find an Orthodox church.  The daily Orthros (albeit in a very shortened form) and Vespers were very good ways to start and end a couple of the days.  The weather was not entirely cooperative with us, leading to the later problems of traveling home, but the atmosphere of the conference, which was one made up entirely by graduate students, was very cordial and pleasant.  There was one contentious session on Hesychasm, which didn’t surprisingly create an argument between Orthodox and non-Orthodox participants (since Palamite theology is usually seen in all Orthodox-Catholic exchanges as a fundamental disagreement).  Ironically, it was a paper arguing that St. Gregory of Thessalonika had turned what could have been a “dialogue” into a “polemic,” which was unfortunately the effect of the paper on that topic.  Instead of sparking confessional dispute, it set off a strong intra-Orthodox quarrel between one Orthodox speaker (who, curiously enough, had also gone to my alma mater) and the other Orthodox students.  The poor Protestant seminarians and other non-Orthodox in the room seemed to be mostly at a loss as to why this paper had generated such intense feelings.  Gatherings of Orthodox academics should come with a warning label: “Danger: Converts and Greeks may create a combustible and unstable situation.”  However, this particular debate wasn’t one of converts vs. cradle Orthodox or Americans vs. Greeks, but really was a debate between the one speaker, who was taking a very hard line against Palamas over a single response that he had made to Barlaam the Calabrian, and everyone else fairly sputtering and gasping in disbelief.  Several of the people in the audience did make what I considered quite solid replies to the paper’s argument, but the session had definitely gone from being a venue for exchange and inquiry and had become a more fundamental and visceral argument over the place of monks in the Church. 

My own session generally went very well, and I think the session in which I was giving a response was fairly productive.  All of the papers I heard were interesting, though the one mentioned above would undoubtedly have done better with some less provocative language about St. Gregory, and it made for a good opportunity to meet some of the rising early Christian studies, patristics and Byzantine scholars.  What was remarkable was how many had either previously gone, were currently going or were considering going to Chicago.  Officially, we had four speakers participating in the conference, which put us behind the folks at Notre Dame, but our “unofficial” representation including former students and other attendees put us closer to nine out of a group of roughly forty-five.  Somehow or other Chicago attracts or produces quite a few people interested to one degree or another in church history.  I have no idea whether this is actually above average or not, but it certainly seems unusual for a place normally associated with its economists, lawyers and businessmen. 

The strangest thing I saw on the entire trip was on the Boston T on the Blue Line.  As I was riding in from the airport, I looked across the way to see a big, prominently displayed advertisement for “Guaranteed Swahili.”  Is there a great need for Swahili speakers in the greater Boston area?  It wouldn’t exactly surprise me, given that there is plenty of immigration from Africa in several of the major Eastern cities (as I understand it, Washington is the largest concentration of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia), but I am a bit more used to seeing ads for learning Spanish where I’m from.  I suppose some gradual cultural takeovers seem a bit less bizarre than others.

An interesting discovery was a new academic press, Gorgias Press, that had put some of its books out at the conference.  I was looking at their book collection last night after returning, and they have an impressive number of publications or reprints of many things related to Syrian and Persian Christianity and early Christianity generally.  The reprints are often quite expensive, but in the case of the book I found at the conference, The Maronites in History, it would have been worth the full, non-conference price.  The book on the Maronites is a recent reprint of a 1986 work that apparently went out of print (how could that have happened when the book talks extensively about monotheletism?).  In it, the author, Matti Mousa, lays out quite clearly and, I think, mostly accurately the history of the Maronites as a distinct religious community.  I assume that many Maronites do not like this book, because it is a pretty relentless debunking of the extremely shaky myths Maronite apologists have woven around their origins as a religious group.  Mousa’s control of the Byzantine material is a little shaky, and therefore his dating sometimes just follows that of the Syriac sources, but it would appear that he knows the Arabic and Syriac sources very well.  From all of this he reconstructs the duration of monotheletism in the Maronite church, which was actually much, much longer than I had ever thought.  Most accounts seem to assume that monotheletism ended soon after the Maronites submitted to Rome in the 1180s, but Mousa claims, based on ongoing Italian missionary work to Lebanon, that Maronite service books and doctrines remained formally and materially monotheletic into the late sixteenth century, if not longer.  This is an even longer duration than Fr. Louth allowed for in his fine book on the Damascene, but unfortunately the footnote for this particular point is actually missing from the bottom of the page (even OUP makes mistakes, I suppose).  If that is accurate, it is even more important for the historian of monotheletism (who, at this point, seems to me, given that there are so very few competitors for the title) to get into the study of the Maronites, who represented the continuation of monotheletism for more than ten times as long a time as monotheletism existed in Byzantium.  It is fascinating to think that monotheletism endured well into the early modern period in at least one small corner of the world.  Perhaps if there were more attention paid to this continuation a greater interest in understanding monotheletism would develop.   

Why was Obama so insistent upon rejecting the white race? ~Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer’s massive article on what Dreams From My Father tells us about ”Obama’s Identity Crisis” is online at TAC’s site.  You will either be very impressed (as I, amateur Obama-watcher, was) or you will be scandalised and possibly horrified, but you should read the whole thing and chew over the ideas in it. 

He’s the first Republican in the Congress to call for Gonzales to be dismissed. Sununu is also one of the few truly principled conservatives on the Hill. A coincidence? I think not. ~Andrew Sullivan

I won’t bother with defending Sununu against the insult of being praised by Andrew Sullivan, but I will just note that a Republican from an ever-bluer state up for re-election next year needs to demonstrate independence from the administration early and often.  This is an easy way for Sununu to show that he is not a reflexive administration loyalist, since no one can really blame him for wanting to kick out an incompetent AG.  If I were convinced that this controversy is the reason why Gonzales should go (rather than all the other dreadful things he has done), I might not get too excited that Sununu is prominently associating himself with the anti-Gonzales effort.  This is the bold, courageous Senator who literally sprinted away from journalists to avoid telling anyone what his views on the “surge” were.  I suppose that does make his call for Gonzales’ resignation that much more surprising, but a vulnerable Senator criticising members of the administration is hardly proof of rock-solid conservative backlash.

Gonzales rates being defended strictly because it would be an outrage if he lost his job over this manufactured scandal.  But the president shouldn’t be shocked that there isn’t exactly a tidal wave rushing to the attorney general’s defense. ~Andy McCarthy

Do tidal waves normally rush to the defense of people? 

I should think that Mr. Bush would be relieved  that this “scandal” has so far not generated any real political tidal waves headed at that very low-lying coastline of administration credibility.  Any mention of tidal waves in connection with this problem would probably not be appreciated at the White House.

Mr. McCarthy methodically lays out in his post all the reasons why this episode clearly shows just how incompetent Gonzales is and would, under normal circumstances, merit being shown the door, and then complains about how “infuriating” it is to have to defend him.  Here’s a suggestion: don’t.

Mr. Obama also set off some murmurs at his reception by talking about cynicism, which he alternately called the “biggest enemy” and “one of the enemies” of peace in the Middle East.

“One of the enemies we have to fight — it’s not just terrorists, it’s not just Hezbollah, it’s not just Hamas — it’s also cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. ~The New York Times

Whose cynicism?  Hizbullah’s?  Ours?  Olmert’s?  What is he talking about?  Is this the sort of thing he learned as an international relations major?  I didn’t realise that Columbia had a class on vacuous political rhetoric.

Pace Yglesias, Obama didn’t say anything favourable or sympathetic about the Palestinians by themselves in his actual AIPAC speech.  The remarks about Palestinian suffering, without any mention of Israelis, were in Iowa, while his actual AIPAC speech was as much of a party line speech on Israel as you could reasonably have expected him to give.  He does talk about getting out of Iraq, but otherwise he hits all the predictable notes, right down to the old “I took a trip and saw just how small Israel really is,” as if you could not have learned this by consulting a map.  Every politician who goes on that guided tour comes back with this same “revelation,” as if they had never given it any thought until that time. 

So, if taking on AIPAC in their house is what progressives wanted Obama to do, he failed miserably.  Indeed, if one looks at the transcript, the main references to Palestinians he makes are in the context of the general bromides about the two-state solution or explicit criticism of the recent Mecca agreement.  He did say something supportive of Abbas, which I suppose requires a certain amount of political courage at that venue, but it isn’t much.  As I noted before, the great would-be transformer of the nation doesn’t seem to have any interest in challenging the status quo in most areas of foreign policy. 

Members of the main pro-Israel lobbying group offered scattered boos to a statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the Iraq war has been a failure on several scores. 

The boos, mixed with some polite applause, stood in stark contrast to the reception House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) received minutes earlier. Most of the crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 stood and loudly applauded Boehner when he said the U.S. had no choice but to win in Iraq. ~The Hill

But remember, folks, AIPAC and the Iraq war have nothing to do with each other, and there never was and still is no political pressure from any pro-Israel lobby on politicians with respect to Iraq.

Name a candidate for President with these characteristics:

1. worried about global warming.
2. anti-torture
3. thinks abortion is murder.
4. supports a guest worker program

There are three. Brownback, Huckabee, McCain. ~Hotline

With all respect to the folks at Hotline, what can it mean to say that Brownback and McCain are “anti-torture” when they both voted for the Military Commissions Act?  Incidentally, not one Republican Senator voted against this bill, and only seven Republicans voted against it in the House: Jones, Paul, LaTourette, Gilchrest, Bartlett of Maryland, Moran of Kansas and Leach.  Leach, of course, was not re-elected, but it may be worth noting that LaTourette and Gilchrest were also later among the Republicans supporting the anti-”surge” resolution. 

Can it really be that the nauseating Marty Peretz has the gall to mock someone (in this case, his nemesis Matt Yglesias) for a typo?  Yes, he does have the gall.  This is the ignoramus who didn’t even know which party is in power in Australia when he writes a post about Australia.  This is the sorry excuse for an observer of world affairs who didn’t know anything about the internal politics of Thailand in his post about Muslim violence in Thailand.  This is the illiterate who doesn’t know the meaning of the words ultramontane and chiliastic and uses them to refer to Muslims!  This is the remedial English speaker who does not know the proper time to use ‘fewer’ instead of ‘less’.  The man has no shame.  I suppose we knew that, but this is sad even for Marty.  How pathetic do you have to be to snipe at your enemy for a typo?

For all the recent talk about fusionism, the one blend of fusionism that’s the most practical has been largely ignored: neoconservative hawks uniting with advocates of limited government to take on entitlement spending so that America has more money to spend on national defense, which is the primary function of government.  ~Philip Klein

That sound you hear is Ross and Reihan spurting their coffee on their screens in disbelief.  They might say, “It’s been ignored because that’s just crazy talk!”  They would say it less bluntly than that and would have more statistics, which is why they have full-time jobs doing this pundit thing and I do not.

There are at least a couple bigger problems with this idea than the electoral non-viability of such an alliance, but that is a good place to start debunking this designation of neocons and limited government types as the “most practical” fusionism.  I think some combination of a peace & neutrality foreign policy, coupled with a strong defense capability and “realist” assessment of threats to national security and a pro-family, cultural conservatism and a decentralist economic populism seems to me to stand a far better chance of building a majority and advancing sane and decent policies.  (It would be somewhat like the old Catholic corporatist parties or early Christian Democrats, or would be a sort of Swissified conservatism.)  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the foregoing is basically my view of things. 

I am not entirely persuaded, as Ross and Reihan are, that there is not much of a constituency for limited, small government conservatism, but I acknowledge that it is a hard sell at any time.  The combination of limited government with massive defense outlays and the prosecution of any number of wars would manage to combine two positions that are on their own normally political losers into one gigantic losing proposition.  Add in a socially liberal plank, as a Giuliani booster might be tempted to do, and, well, you would have the platform of a sort of pro-war libertarian party, which would have to be the single most unpopular set of positions out there.  Call it neolibertarservatism.  I can see the talking points now: “We should have private pensions, administered with the same kind of efficiency and intelligence that brought you the Iraq war!”  The stampede of people away from such an alliance would be stunning to behold.  Thousands would be trampled in the headlong rush to get away from this particular fusionism.

The two bigger problems I mentioned before are these: 1) a fundamental incoherence of a limited government philosophy at home and an activist, interventionist foreign policy overseas and 2) an abiding dislike that most limited government-cons and neocons now have for one another. 

The first was one reason why the Cold War guaranteed that small-government conservatism would never go anywhere, because the foreign policy part of the coalition always demanded and received precedence in all things.    Ramped-up domestic spending and new social programs are the price interventionists are willing to pay (or rather, they are willing to impose those costs on the people) to keep people back home sheepish and quiet while they build the empire.  It seems possible that limited government folks can hitch a ride on a neocon/big-government bandwagon and occasionally get some crumbs from the table, but the neocons don’t really believe in limited government and limited government folks, if pushed hard enough, don’t really believe that we should be running the planet or anything even close to it.  Both can see the irreconcilable opposition between their conceptions of the role and size of government.  As that opposition has become more and more obvious and more intense over the last ten years, I think they have really learned not to like or trust each other very much.  To cite a prominent example of how impractical such an alliance would be, David Horowitz, prominent neocon, evidently hates Ron Paul, hero to small-government conservatives everywhere, and I suspect Horowitz is not alone on his side in having a low opinion of Rep. Paul.  Ron Paul is a living reminder to the GOP of what they used to say they believed in, but in which most obviously do not believe now.  I’m sure many small government conservatives feel at least some degree of strong dislike for pretty much all neocons, whether for their warmongering or their statism at home or both.  Even if the ideas could theoretically be matched up, very few people in either camp, as far as I understand the camps, would want to have much to do with the other.  

In fairness, Mr. Klein acknowledges this gap in the next sentence:

I think, unfortunately, that the time for such an alliance was the aftermath of 9/11, and it’ll be hard to bridge the gulf that has developed between the two groups in the years since.

However, the only reason why the immediate post-9/11 moment would have been conducive to such an alliance is that limited government conservatives were panicked and outraged and fell into the waiting arms of state-expanding “national security” conservatives who never encountered something that was not the government’s business.  This alliance would be like a man proposing to a woman by saying, “Well, you’d better marry me, because you don’t want to be raped and murdered.”  Always charming, those neocons. 

Personally, I use the Corner as a check on whether an issue is actually hurting Republicans. If they don’t talk about it, it’s usually serious. If it’s really serious, they tell jokes. ~Andrew Sullivan

This is classically irrational Sullivan.  By this standard, there would be nothing but jokes about the Iraq war at The Corner.  No one would mistake me for someone who defends the intellectual integrity of most of the people at The Corner, but perhaps they aren’t talking about the prosecutor “scandal” because there isn’t very much to talk about. 

If today’s Post story was supposed to be some devastating body blow to the administration, I think I must misunderstand what a body blow is.  Is it good for Mr. Bush to have confirmed that the woman he thought should be on the Supreme Court is really as dense and unsuited to positions of great authority and power as everyone thought she was?  Not really, but more news about Miersian foolishness can only cause people to shake their heads and laugh that she was ever nominated to the Court.  This reflects poorly on Mr. Bush’s past horrendous errors in judgement, not on anything that has happened recently.  At this sad, sorry, late stage in Mr. Bush’s presidency, he has become such a risible figure that it is almost hard for me, after six years of going from mild suspicion to burning contempt, to get worked up over stories like this one. 

Following the U.S. Attorneys “scandal,” I am surprised to find that there aren’t more of the usual flacks recalling that Clinton fired all U.S. Attorneys upon arriving in office in 1993.  They had no replacements, and their posts were left vacant for quite a while.  Everyone knows about this.  I am sure everyone knows about this because I remember it and I was only a kid at the time.  Okay, a kid who read The Economist and Chronicles, but still just a kid.  As the Post story tells us, even the hideous Gonzales knew better than to do something as stupid and harmful as firing all of the prosecutors at the start of the second term.

What about the fired prosecutors?  The Post says:

Only three of those eventually fired were given low rankings: Margaret Chiara in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Bud Cummins in Little Rock; and Carol S. Lam in San Diego. Two were given strong evaluations: David C. Iglesias in Albuquerque, who has alleged political interference from GOP lawmakers, and Kevin V. Ryan in San Francisco, whose firing has generated few complaints because of widespread management and morale problems in his office.

So four out of eight probably were dismissed legitimately for poor performance or poor management of the office.  As I was reminded recently by folks back in New Mexico, Iglesias was something of an absentee overseer of his office and almost completely bungled the Vigil prosecution (the first trial was a mistrial).  He very well might have been ignoring legitimate voter fraud cases, and there almost certainly were some–it’s New Mexico, for goodness’ sakes!  If his firing had good cause, that makes for five firings that were probably not really all that ethically objectionable.  If the prosecutor up in Washington state really did drop the ball on investigating legitimate claims of voter fraud in their very close gubernatorial election, maybe that firing was also legit. 

Of course, the administration has squandered all goodwill and trust, and people are right to trust nothing they say.  As some of us have been saying for years, these people are egregious liars.  Certainly, no one is happier than I am to see them brought low any which way, but it is bizarre that this is the administration decision that seems to have brought the roof crashing in upon them.  They have done so many far worse things through the years that it is hard to believe that firings that were possibly fairly routine have become the great scandal of our time.

Starting today, blogging will have to be cut back significantly.  Unlike previous (failed) attempts to get away from Eunomia, this time I will be out of town for some extended periods and will be increasingly busy in the coming quarter.  Thursday I go to Boston/Brookline for a conference on patristic studies, where I am talking about (what else?) monotheletism and St. Anastasios of Sinai (he was agin’ it, if you couldn’t have guessed).  The following weekend I will be down in my old college-day stomping grounds of Virginia for an ISI conference on liberty and community in the American tradition, where I expect I will be meeting a few of my blogging and magazine colleagues for the first time in the person.  Then comes the start of the quarter and the class that I will be working on as a T.A., followed by Holy Week and then shortly after that another ISI conference up in Mecosta.  In May, the medievalist conference at Kalamazoo awaits.  Happily, I got a head start on both conference papers earlier, so both have been ready for a while.

So, since time is limited this week, I do not have time to critique fully the piles upon piles of nonsense that D’Souza and Sullivan have dumped onto the Web this week.  Most people will not even bother to read this drivel, and I don’t blame them.  D’Souza threatens to dump still more text on those intrepid readers who dare to click the first two links.  Suffice it to say that no one espousing the mad, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” ecumenical jihad proposal of D’Souza would be allowed to write a defense at NRO or anywhere else on the jingo right if he were not blindly, unswervingly supportive of interventionist foreign policy.  Indeed, those who question or reject that foreign policy on patriotic and traditionalist grounds will sooner get raked over the coals and denounced with quasi-religious zeal than they will ever receive a fair hearing from these people, while the civilisational traitor D’Souza is held warmly to their bosom and gently comforted after all the mean things that have been said about him.  

The theocons can take care of themselves against Sullivan’s aimless rambling, but given the current atmosphere in which blaming the Christians seems to have taken on new importance for secular and “libertarian” conservatives they might not want to wait too long to dispute the conflation of their views with those of D’Souza, even when it is Sullivan making the argument.  Some of the less principled “atheist conservatives” might just pick up that argument and run with it, which will cause everyone a lot of headaches down the road.

Update: Ross has taken up the challenge, and knocks down Sullivan’s review without even having to warm up.

Endorsements by your average governor or senator are usually not that big a deal, especially from a state that does not have a significant role in the nominating process, but Louisiana Sen. David Vitter’s endorsement of Giuliani is a big positive for the Giuliani campaign, because it sends a message that Rudy is acceptable to social conservatives. ~Tom Bevan

The Vitter endorsement may or may not be important, but if it is it is not important for this reason.  Philip Klein, who is nothing if not pro-Giuliani, wrote about this endorsement:

One aspect of the story that hasn’t been mentioned in news accounts I’ve read is that in 2004, Giuliani campaigned for Vitter when he was seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. John Breaux. According to a New Orleans Times-Picayune article from back then, Giuliani headlined a $300,000 fundraiser for Vitter. This made me wonder whether with the Vitter endorsement we’re beginning to see Giuliani cash in some of the political IOU’s that he’s built up over the past three election cycles, in which he’s used his star power to campaign and raise money for many Republican candidates.

So Vitter may be representative of a trend we will start to see where some of the Republican pols Giuliani has helped over the past five years will come around and endorse him, which is not politically irrelevant.  But if, as Bevan says, Louisiana doesn’t play a big role in the nominating process (and it doesn’t) and these endorsements aren’t normally that big of a deal, Vitter’s reciprocation of Giuliani’s support is interesting but precisely not a real sign of social conservative approval.  If Giuliani raised that much money for every social conservative in office, he might get a lot of these endorsements that may be nothing more than repayment of a debt.  This seems to be an open case of a social conservative who owes Rudy paying off his debt.  I’m not sure this is necessarily the image a Brooklyn goombah wants to cultivate: “Senator, Mr. Giuliani would like you to show your appreciation of his loyalty over the years.  You know that Mr. Giuliani takes care of you, and he would hate to see anything happen to you.  It would be a real shame if something happened to you, you know, Senator?  Mr. Giuliani would be very upset.”

As if actively trying reach ever lower levels of intellectual seriousness, Sullivan quotes this “all progressives are really conservatives who are really progressives who are really…” article, which says:

Since America was founded on enlightenment liberalism, conservation of the status quo meant a vigorous defense of meritocracy, individual freedom and free markets. This stands in contrast to European conservatism, which was pushed forward by Agrarian landholders seeking to defend aristocracy from the radical concepts of democracy and capitalism.

No, not a defense against democracy and capitalism!  What could they have been thinking?  They were trying to defend aristocracy, but they were also trying to defend an entire social order and a set of moral and political values that they believed were integral to the flourishing and well-being of their country.  The dismissive tone in the TCS article is amusing, but Sullivan’s “analysis” is priceless:

Except that British conservatism in the age of Thatcher decisively broke with that tradition, and became a more American model. And American conservatism under Bush has retreated to a more pre-enlightenment, European model. Exhibit A: theoconservatism. I have no idea which party will represent the small-government, individual freedom model of post-modern society. I once thought that the Republicans would always have the edge in this fight against the statist left. Now, I’m not so sure. Which is why this election, and the many brands of liberalism and conservatism on offer is such a pivotal and fascinating one.

The bit about conservatism under Bush is just so very painfully wrong in every possible way.  They pay him to dish out these pearls, do they?  Theocons as agrarian reactionary radicals?  I must have missed the issue of First Things in which Michael Novak denounced democratic capitalism as the ruin of the mixed constitution!  But who can forget when Bush spoke so movingly of Filmer’s defense of the prerogatives of the Crown?  Who doesn’t remember Rick Santorum’s moving rendition of Wha wadna fecht for Charlie?  Aye, those were the days! 

What does ”pre-enlightenment European” model even refer to?  European conservatism scarcely existed as a coherent political persuasion before the French Revolution.  Very basic “King and Church” Toryism as a political view was roughly coeval with the early English Enlightenment and the Tories became, by the time of Bolingbroke, the side interested in conserving the gains of 1688 while combating the concentration of power, abuses and excesses of the Whig oligarchy and the moneyed interest.  To the extent that Americans were following the Old Whigs and Bolingbroke together, they were attempting to conserve an agrarian and constitutionalist order; to the extent that they were following primarily Bolingbroke, they were not following “Enlightenment liberalism” but the reaction against it and its philosophical assumptions.  If American conservatism follows in the tradition of Burke, it also stands much more in the tradition of Bolingbroke than Locke; we, as conservatives, do not ever have to doff our cap and bow before pure whiggery out of some false sense of indebtedness to certain English philosophers.   

How many differences are there between Chuck Hagel and Ron Paul?  Let us count the ways.

Via The New Beginning

According to the new Times poll (.pdf), support for America ”changing a dictatorship to a democracy where it can” (question 18) has shrunk to a new low of 15% against 69% opposition (the highest level in the last twenty years), which is 20 points higher than in 2003.  48% favour reducing legal immigration (question 16).  Among Republicans, 48% still oppose changing a dictatorship to a democracy when possible, which means that one of the signature ideas of Bush foreign policy receives the support of barely one-third of his party, and 51% of Republicans want reduced legal immigration as opposed to 14% that want more and 31% that want it to continue at its present level.  How can a party so at odds with Mr. Bush’s policies not only continue to support him at absurdly high rates?  More importantly, how is it that they seem to be rallying to the establishment candidates who embrace the same policies in which significant pluralities or majorities of Republicans do not believe?

In a sure sign of partisan loyalty and voter irrationality or sheer ignorance of the President’s own positions on the above, 69% of Republicans believe that George Bush “has the same priorities for the country as you have” (question 30).

“People should be concerned — we’ve had a tough last year and a half or so,” said Glenn Bolger, a Republican strategist. “But if you go back in time to 1991, the Democrats had a lot of the same concerns, both about the candidates running and their possibility of winning. And it turned out pretty well for them.” ~The New York Times

That’s a nice pep talk, but as the new wisdom is shaping up it is telling us that this election will not be like any other cycle before it in important respects.  The lack of an incumbent President or Vice-President in the race is a huge difference, but then so is the protracted, unpopular Iraq war.  The former might theoretically help the Republicans escape the shadow of Bush, but the latter will continue to drag down the GOP barring some near-miraculous turnaround.  Where Bushian foreign policy triumphs fed into an image of a globe-trotting President indifferent to his countrymen in 1991-92 that somewhat counterintuitively worked to the incumbent’s disadvantage, Bushian foreign policy disasters have possibly irreparably damaged the Republican reputation for national security competence and will continue to have negative consequences for Republican candidates through the next several cycles.  Since every Republican candidate except for Ron Paul supports the Iraq war to one degree or another, and the major candidates all support it to the hilt, this bad reputation will translate into a liability for almost every prospective nominee.  Unlike Clinton or Tsongas in the ‘92 cycle, all Republican candidates except for Ron Paul basically see nothing really amiss in how the GOP governed in the past on most things, or they certainly don’t make a point of mentioning it very much.  Rather than adapting to the landscape and innovating in their message to respond to new realities, most of the Republican candidates for ‘08 are reiterating messages, particularly on foreign policy, that have no resonance with the general electorate. 

Except for Ron Paul, that is.  He has not had to chang or adapt, but has simply retained the same constitutionalist principles he has always had, which naturally led him to oppose the war before it became a popular thing to do.  Unlike some, he has not had to become a “convert” on questions of life, nor did he, a practicing physician, need to wait until he was in his fifties to discover the ethical and moral implications of abortion, but at the same time he manages to espouse a consistent constitutionalist view of the appropriate remedy to legalised abortion.  Unlike a third of the Republican field, he opposes illegal immigration and all forms of amnesty.  Logically, Republicans unsatisfied with the rest of the field and the state of their party should rally behind him en masse.  Who knows?  They say that this is supposedly the most open year in presidential politics in our lifetime. 

1992 comparisons cannot be encouraging for Republicans, because they are not acting in 2007 as the Democrats acted in 1991.  How did the Democrats respond to the environment of 1991?  Most of the prominent, well-known Democratic leaders bowed out, assuming that the ‘92 election was almost automatically Bush’s to be had.  Back in the days of stratospheric, post-Gulf War Bush approval numbers, that seemed like the wise move.  As it turned out, a politically savvy, unknown governor was able to exploit populist discontent and the unusual entrance of a major third party challenge, but this was only possible because the opposition party had not saddled itself with an anointed establishment candidate who could be easily pigeonholed as Dukakis had been. 

None of that is happening this time around, because there is no presumptive favourite or incumbent to run against.  To the extent that there are actually any prominent Republican leaders, they are in the race.  The GOP establishment is trying to put a stranglehold on the process, making sure that only those figures most complicit in the Bush Era, whether ideologically or personally, are able to get the nomination.  This is so phenomenally stupid that it is almost too stupid even for the Stupid Party, but this is what they are doing.  They are playing this election as if it were the anointing of a nominee in 1988 when the GOP had most advantages, when it is nothing like that election. 

The frequent comparisons with 1928 are also somewhat misleading, since Hoover inherited the goodwill and popularity of Coolidge, even though he was not the Vice-President of the administration.  1920 is the most apt comparison, and in that year the administration’s party was shellacked in a historic repudiation of its war, domestic tyranny and taxation.  Like Wilson in so many things (his tiresome temperament, his self-righteous arrogance and his idealistic foreign polict nonsense), Bush has probably similarly destroyed his party’s fortunes for a decade.  Perversely, the departing administration’s party may benefit from the continuation of the war through the election, which was something that the Democrats did not have working in their favour in 1920.  Then again, the public may have already passed its point of having lost all patience with the Iraq war. 

While nearly 6 in 10 Democratic voters in the poll said they were satisfied with the candidates now in the race for their party’s nomination, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans said they wanted more choices.  ~The New York Times

I’m not unsympathetic to the complaint about the GOP presidential field, since I have made disparaging or dismissive remarks about almost every one of them, but I am pretty sure that this result has to be a product of a lack of awareness of just how many Republicans are in this race.  If we were just talking about the Terrible Trio and Brownback, this 60% of Republicans would have a point, but in addition to these four there are five more officially in now that Ron Paul has formally declared.  Hunter, Tancredo, Tommy Thompson and Huckabee round out the field.  Theoretically, Pataki has not absolutely said that he is no longer running, but everyone knows he isn’t.  There are slightly reasonable expectations that Hagel may join the crowd (at some distant point in the future) and there is a lot of hype about Gingrich and Thompson, though I honestly don’t understand the enthusiasm behind the boosting for either one.  All together, that makes twelve actual or reasonably probable candidates ten months before the first votes are cast.  While there are a few reasons here or there for one faction or another to object to this or that aspect of each candidate, how whiny would Republican voters have to be that 60% of them can’t find enough satisfying in these twelve, or even in the declared nine candidates, that they need to have more?  How many more?  Five?  Ten? 

This really is unreasonable and unbelievable.  I have to assume that this is a complaint about the Terrible Trio and not about the rest of the field, since most voters have no idea who anyone else in the field is.  The GOP rank and file have declared that the candidates they know about do not really interest them and want other options besides the drab bunch they have in front of them in the mainstream and conservative media coverage.  This makes all of Giuliani’s advantages in the polls seem particularly meaningless: if a majority of Republicans are unsatisfied with the state of the field, and you, Giuliani, are the leader of the field, it is a testament to how much they really don’t want to have to endure your nomination if they can possibly help it. 

Ron Paul, a nine-term Texas congressman who describes himself as a lifelong libertarian, formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination today.

Appearing on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” Paul said he was at first reluctant to run, but that “a lot of people want to hear my message and I’m willing to deliver it.” ~The Houston Chronicle

This is very good news.  Here’s the video of the announcement.  Here is Ron Paul’s campaign website.  His CNN interview is here.  In that interview, he says of the Iraq war, “We should come home as quickly as possible.”  Amen to that.

For those interested in the travails of neoliberalism and the New Democrats, Jim Antle has a smart piece in the latest American Conservative (March 12 issue) on their present political decline.  Unlike some of us, though, he is not ready to count the New Dems out just yet.

Try to picture a work of contemporary literature that exhibits a faith in the global free market, that understands exurbs as the latest manifestation of the American dream, that exposes wasteful social programs and presents sympathetic Republicans struggling to stand by their principles. Admit it: it’s tantalizing. ~Benjamin Nugent

I shouldn’t have said in the last post that Nugent asked the wrong question or the question that misses the point, but simply that he asked the far less interesting question.  He really is primarily concerned with finding people who will write a specifically Republican novel, to which I would have to reply: “Who cares?”

Ross points us to this interesting Benjamin Nugent article, which asks the question, Why Don’t Republicans Write Fiction?  Of course, as phrased, the question already misses something important, and this is that party men qua party men almost never create anything worth remembering (not even parties).  If I were to write the Great Paleo Novel, for example, it would not be credited to the lists of Republican fiction-writing, since the Great Paleo Novel might very well throw down the idols of Red Republicanism from the high places and, like Phineas, drive a javelin through the bodies of adulterous ideologues.  The real question ought to be why conservatives generally don’t write fiction. 

The answer is actually much more straightforward: the sorts of grand conservative thinkers who were scholars of literature (Weaver, Bradford) and writers of ghost stories (Kirk) are sadly no longer with us, they have not found worthy replacements and the importance of imagination is much, much less in the thinking of most self-styled conservatives than it was in theirs. 

Part of the problem is indeed an excess of optimism, and optimism on the American right is one part Yankee, one part capitalist and one part Reagan.  Whatever else you want to say about these three, they are not generally regarded as the fathers of great writing.  Optimistic people typically are not the best artists, and I don’t just say this because I prefer the pessimists among us.  Their frame of mind does not allow for real tragedy or real failure.  For the optimist failure is not only unlikely, it does not ultimately, truly exist.  The best days are always yet to come!  But without a sense of nostalgia for a lost age or a lament for your people or even a full appreciation for the petty indignities of life combined with reverence for sacred mysteries (and sometimes, if a writer is really wise, he knows how to find the mystery in the petty indignity–see Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn), I think it is very difficult to write really captivating, good fiction.  Just consider how little of the best poetry is an expression of contentment and joy in love compared to dissatisfaction, betrayal, loss and yearning.  Optimistic people can’t even tell the story of that most depressing sci-fi novel, Solarisproperly.  For optimistic people there is always a silver lining, when sometimes there are no silver linings, life is filled with suffering and all that man can do is endure.  This sounds grim, and Americans generally do not like to sound grim and they do not like grim-sounding things.  This is why Americans usually ignore the more serious thinkers who tell them hard truths and embrace the charlatans who fill them with vain hopes. 

Understanding the role of suffering in life and taking it seriously, perhaps almost too seriously, are vital to great literature.  Good literature can probably get by with fine phrases and a nicely-structured story, but the great works capture something more elemental.  This is why the Russians have produced the finest literature on earth, because they have not simply endured suffering (every people in the world has, at some level, endured it), but the best of them have actively embraced it as essential to their cultural worldview.  I do not write off the great accomplishments of other literary cultures, but, in my admittedly limited experience, I am convinced that the Russian achievement is far superior.  Americans either recoil at the sight of this Russian view, or they simply find it depressing, which may again explain why even the figures Nugent cites among Old Right writers come from England and not from here.  The English, Scots and Irish are also all capable of perceiving something about life and the old ways of life that have vanished, as can most any people with a collective memory that extends more than a few centuries, but this was something that we, as Americans, have either not fully inherited or have pretty thoroughly purged from our system–and we tend to be proud of this.  The nation that produces phrases such as “We can do it!” and “We shall overcome” is not a nation that will understand the overwhelming bulk of human history and all of the examples through the ages in which there was failure, defeat and no overcoming anywhere to be seen.  Even American railings against various injustices assume that injustice can be to some large extent ”fixed” and is not built in to the structures of our existence and unavoidable here below.  “We will never forget” and “history is bunk” are mutually exclusive views, and most Americans functionally embrace the latter most of the time (while watching the travesty that is the History Channel and considering themselves amateur historians).  This is also why, I suspect, the greatest efflourescence of worthwhile American literature comes from the South, the only region that has fully known and incorporated the sense of the tragic into its sensibility (a sensibility that the New South has attempted to throw to one side, not entirely successfully, with its internal improvements and progressivism), and why most of the last, greatest right-leaning writers in the English-speaking world come from the pre-WWII period.  The therapeutic has driven out most of whatever remained of the tragic.  The spirit of Atlee has spread like a poisonous cloud over the green fields of Logres, and the purpose-driven life has driven us into Babylon rather than leaving us to remember Jerusalem at the edge of her waters.

I wish we knew more about the theological differences between the historic American Muslim groups and Sunnis. ~Mollie

 

If Fred Thompson gets in the race, he would likely vault to a strong third very quickly. ~Tom Bevan

Of course, that would be completely negated by the surprise December entry of Dan Quayle, unless, of course, Elizabeth Dole has the whole thing wrapped up by then.  You know what they say about Liddy Dole and national election campaigns, right?

Have I missed something?  When did the Cult of Thompson (not Tommy) become a powerful force that could conjure up massive political support from thin air?  Who actually believes that Fred Thompson’s candidacy could begin with this much support?  I’m not even sure that Fred Thompson could finish with that much support.   

Is this based on the ongoing polling of a Gingrich candidacy?  Even assuming that Gingrich’s ridiculous 10-15% polling is not simply a function of name recognition at this point, it doesn’t follow that a Fred Thompson or, to name a few other out-of-circulation Republican politicians, a John Engler or Gary Johnson (New Mexico governors could be all the rage in ‘08!) is going to become a major contender for the nomination.  Since there is a concern for the GOP about their remaining competitive in the West, Alan Simpson is also relatively unoccupied at the moment, and who can forget the political dynamo that is Murkowski the Elder?  I think Bob Beauprez is also available to seize the moment, as is Fife Symington.  Sure, Fred Thompson argues for Libby to receive a pardon and raises money for his defense fund, but Fife has actually been pardoned after his convicton for bank fraud–top that!       

The Fred Thompson pre-announcement boomlet has actually become more laughable than the pre-announcement Hagel boomlet, if only because Thompson’s boosters are even more unrealistic about their candidate’s political chances.

Ryan Anderson at First Things‘ blog has a good post on Chris Hedges’ awful book, American Fascists, saying some of the same things I wrote in a post on the book about two months ago.  Besides the many obvious problems with Hedges’ strident, unreasonable attack on Christians, there is the more general problem of flinging around the word “fascist” as a term of abuse.  The problem is widespread and does not seem to be in any danger of going away anytime soon.  In that post, I wrote:

If I can overgeneralise a little, left-liberals are liberals who tend to see fascists all around them at home, while neocons are liberals who see fascists everywhere else in the world.  They are two sets of liberals who use the same kind of language, the same warnings, the same lame allusions to mid-twentieth century politics and international affairs and work from roughly the same assumptions about what constitutes the good, liberal democratic alternative.  All of them are preoccupied with finding and combating the new fascism and with preventing the rise and/or success of some supposed echo of Nazism; their shared moment, which they pretend they are always reliving, are the years just before and during WWII.

Politically, that may have been the right tactic, although I’d argue the Gingrich Revolution suggests otherwise. But substantively, it didn’t move the country very far forward at all. Its lasting legacy will be the elevation of counterintuitive argumentation and sardonic detachment in the press corps, but that’s a rather slight mark for a political ideology to make. ~Ezra Klein

It seems hard to disagree with Ezra Klein’s assessment of neoliberalism’s failure, which it certainly was from a progressive perspective.  If I were concerned about most of the things that progressives are, I would have to regard the age of neoliberalism as a long, unpleasant period of liberal collaboration in their own relative marginalisation.  But even from the more narrow perspective of advancing Democratic political fortunes, which I believe was always a central part of its rationale (by making liberalism more pragmatic and responsive to the voters the “paleoliberalism” of earlier decades had alienated), it is hard to see how it was not a colossal failure. 

The problem with the Democratic Party model was not so much its focus on interest group politics, but its increasing lack of interest in considering white ethnic working and middle-class voters to be important interest groups worth serving and its increasing tolerance for culturally radical views that these voters were never going to accept.  The era of neoliberalism was the era of general Republican political ascendancy across the nation (to which Clinton’s two terms were actually something of the odd exception).  With the collapse of the GOP’s power, neoliberalism stands not only discredited with respect to the policy views that it included but also stands discredited as the persuasion that was going to make the Democratic Party competitive again. 

Democrats became competitive again (admittedly in what was already going to be a very bad year for Republicans) when they stopped listening to the neoliberals in certain ways and tapped into opposition to the war, turned to economic populism and mobilised abiding popular resentments against the corporate and economic regime favoured by Red Republicans and New Democrats alike.  They also developed a certain flexibility that had been entirely lacking in previous years, so that they could run somewhat more conservative candidates in conservative districts, demonstrating some understanding of what it would take to become a fully national party once again. 

The one area where neoliberals have had a salutary effect on the Democratic Party is in their awareness of the cultural alienation of Middle America from the “values” of “Blue America.”  Unfortunately, even when a Harold Ford understands this and makes his credentials as a cultural conservative somewhat believable, he seems to think that reflexive militarism and support for the warfare state at home are necessary parts of the same cultural conservative package.  Jim Webb, meanwhile, would appear to bridge at least some part of this cultural divide without feeling obliged to kneel before either corporations or the foreign policy establishment.  For the neoliberals, there seems to have been a belief that there needed to be concessions in all three areas for their ideas to be politically viable.  They were deeply mistaken, and in their collaboration on the neoconservatives’ preferred policies on trade and foreign policy they have shown themselves to be not simply politically useless but also fundamentally wrong on the major policy questions of the day.

I believe the political currents in America are more unpredictable today than at any time in modern history. We are experiencing a political re-orientation, a redefining and moving toward a new political center of gravity. This movement is bigger than both parties. The need to solve problems and meet challenges is overtaking the ideological debates of the last three decades—as it should. ~Chuck Hagel

There are three things that bother me about Chuck Hagel’s statement.  First, he treats the debates of the “last three decades” as “ideological,” which would suggest to me that he thinks they have no bearing on the real world and properly should have nothing to do with government.  This seems to me to be rather similar to the treatment some journalists and most secular people give to the intersection of religion and politics: religion is this thing that is unconnected to “real life” that intrudes and creates a number of difficulties for those trying to ”solve problems” or “resolve conflicts” or whatever it is that these people believe political work should achieve.  For them, religion is an ideology and religion is one of the main problems to be managed in any given society. 

We already know that Chuck Hagel has a low opinion of religion’s role in history, so it bears asking whether he thinks religious conservatives have had a net negative impact on American politics over the last three decades (why only three? why not six or four?)?   What “ideological debates” is he referring to, and what pragmatic policymaking does he think should have replaced them?

The second thing about the statement that bothers me is that it implies that no one in the last thirty years either tried or succeeded in solving any of the problems identified by voters as matters of concern, as if we have been living in a world of fantasy for 30 years from which Hagel (and Unity08?) will save us.  It as if anti-tax activists were not trying to solve the problem of excessive government and anemic economic activity.  Were/are some anti-tax people actually ideological about their commitment to lower taxes?  Yes.  Does that mean that a fight over the level of taxation is simply an “ideological debate”?  Obviously not.  The same might be said about any number of other policy debates over the last thirty years. 

The third thing that bothers me is this use of the word “ideological.”  For pragmatists, as Hagel likes to portray himself as being, any strongly held belief, no matter its nature or form, is ideological, while ideology is really properly defined by its abstract quality and its tendency to reduce complex realities to extremely simple yes/no questions.  This is the flashcard approach to political thought, and it has unfortunately been greatly encouraged by the rise of televised media and the constraints television will always put on any exchange.  (In theory, given their greater space, online publications and blogs should produce a higher level of discourse than the old ha yah na approach, but it is still quite rare to find.) 

Ideology is the stuff of party programs and bullet-point lists (Russell Kirk’s lack of a “programmatic” list of ”actionable” items, which so annoyed Frank Meyer, was typical of the man who spoke of conservatism as anti-ideology); it is the lifeblood of the revolutionary and the activist.  Not everyone who argues from definition and invokes high principle is engaged in ideological debate, but to listen to Hagel you would think that the last thirty years has seen nothing but this sort of “ideological debate.”  It has certainly seen its fair share of ideology, but another crucial quality of ideology is the ideologues’ complete lack of interest in debate.  Conformity and submission are the goals of ideology, not persuasion, truth or understanding.  A debate implies at least some minimal engagement with the opposition and an exchange of views.  Ideologues can really only manage to recite slogans (sometimes these are slogans dressed up in very elaborate phrases) and issue denunciations.

But plainly voters judge presidential candidates first and foremost by party ID and general policy preferences, and secondarily by personality traits. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I do it too. Don’t let dumb poll questions persuade you otherwise. ~Kevin Drum

Drum is mostly right, though I think he overstates the importance of policy preferences for determining voting preferences.  Policy is a distant second to factors of identity.  This can be as simple as party identification, or it can be layered with many different symbolic elements in a candidate’s campaign to which voters respond.  An important thing to take away from this is that American electoral politics is actually “tribal” and it is based in voters’ sense of identity.  The candidate himself may add a personal appeal on top of this, or he can detract from it by having a very poor campaigning style, but a weak candidate appealing to the symbolism that can be embraced by the majority will usually win over a hyper-charismatic figure who lacks the symbolic connections to the voters.  

For example, I would guess that relatively few voters know, and even fewer care, about the details of Sam Brownback’s actual views on the Iraq war.  Many conservatives, aided by the tendentious Andrew Sullivan, as well as Republican and Romneyite bloggers, will now claim that Brownback is “antiwar” because he quibbles with the new battle plan, and they will actively oppose his candidacy because of this perception that he is somehow “weak” and “not one of us” on a question pertaining to the war.  Only indirectly is the actual policy question involved in the decisionmaking here.  The policy issue could be anything at all–what matters to these voters is not the substance of the issue, about which they know little or nothing, but the image of party loyalty or lack of party loyalty.  (Incidentally, this is also why McCain, who is the most reliably conservative of the Terrible Trio, for whatever that’s worth, suffers so much at the hands of activists.)  In other words, solidarity with other Republicans, the tribal “us,” is far more important in determining who is a “good” candidate on the war and who is lousy.  The response to Lieberman among progressives is exactly the same.

This is one reason why political efforts such as Unity08 will go nowhere and really should go nowhere.  Premised on a related false assumption that most voters don’t care about divisive issues and don’t agree with the two parties’ attention to their respective “bases,” Unity08 believes that the center is unrepresented in American politics and that the system is held hostage by the “extremists” in both parties.  This is patently false.  Ask a Republican voter if he thinks his party leadership is held hostage by restrictionist forces in the party “base” and watch him either laugh bitterly or weep in frustration.  Rarely has elite bipartisan consensus been more powerful and more stifling than it is today, and Unity08 diagnoses the problem as a lack of partisanship and difference! 

Rarely has our politics been more celebrity-centered, personality-driven and less issue-oriented than today, and yet the same boring “good government” centrists will probably hold up the poll results Drum mentions as proof that voters are concerned more with character than issues.  They just want a good guy!  It doesn’t matter what he believes!  Well, if it doesn’t matter to most voters what an honest candidate believes, something like Unity08 suddenly appears to be a credible operation. 

But even this claim about voters preferring honesty is clearly untrue.  No one in politics is more honest than Ron Paul, and virtually no one in the current presidential field is more shady than Giuliani, yet their respective standings in the polls do not reflect this supposedly deep desire on the part of voters for honesty.  For his supporters, Romney’s deceit is almost a political asset.  

These claims about issues and partisanship are all part of the centrist trick, part of which is to convince as many people as possible that a focus on issues can only be divisive and negative, both of which are supposedly bad and contribute to a “poisonous” political atmosphere.  For the centrist, no disagreement is so fundamental or real that it cannot be massaged into consensus, which means that they think that any strong disagreements must be manufactured and encouraged by party leaders for narrow advantage.  If you actually think that party and issues are not terribly important to voters, you will very easily fall into a habit of thinking that partisanship and strong disagreement over policy are the problems in our politics and you will start to think that these “problems” are things that the voters despise.  But you would be wrong to think this. 

But to have a different position than the president’s on a war doesn’t qualify anyone to be an anti-war candidate. ~Chuck Hagel

You can say that again!  Oh, yes, Hagel did say it again just today in his non-announcement announcement.  It serves the arguments of antiwar commentators to turn Hagel into an antiwar candidate, and Republican hacks would like nothing better than to be able to frame every mild disagreement over tactics into a question of treason or loyalty, but neither interpretation does justice to the man’s actual views.  Justin Raimondo writes in another praise-filled column on Hagel:

Hagel insists he’s not an “antiwar” candidate, but this is precisely what I mean about the effective stereotyping of all opposition to the neocons’ foreign policy: critiques of the war not steeped in either pacifism or blame-America-first leftism are simply inconceivable.

It’s true that this stereotyping exists and has a pernicious influence on the debate, but that’s not what Hagel means when he says he’s not an antiwar candidate.  He means, “I am not opposed to this or, for that matter, any other war.”  Since he has never said that he does oppose the war and goes out of his way, as he did today, to reiterate that he doesn’t oppose it, it is odd that anyone could think that he does.  Like other critics of how the administration is waging the war, he quibbles with their methods, tactics and decisionmaking, but he does not object to the project itself nor does he really reject the foreign policy paradigm that is behind the war.  He doesn’t oppose interventionism and is not an anti-interventionist, so how can he inject anti-interventionist arguments into the debate? 

I appreciate Mr. Raimondo’s acknowledgement of the criticism that I and others have made about Hagel’s foreign policy and other views.  (Libertarians will be amused to see my perspective referred to as a libertarian one, which they and I would both heartily deny, but no matter.)  If he sees all these flaws and wants to embrace someone he calls a Republican “realist,” I can see how that makes a certain amount of political sense.  It was very good to see Mr. Raimondo write at length about Ron Paul in some of the rest of the column.  When Rep. Paul gets into the race, then we will have an antiwar candidate and more than just an antiwar candidate: a candidate who actually believes in adhering to the Constitution strictly, reducing the size and scope and power of government and defending liberty by actually defending it against its foremost antagonist, which is the central government, rather than airily talking about its defense while making the state ever more powerful through intrusive laws at home and unjust wars abroad.

I have no problem if some folks want to applaud Hagel’s criticisms and acknowledge that he has at least dissented a little bit from the party line, but let’s not get carried away.  I also have no problem if some want to support his candidacy, if and when it ever comes into existence, provided that they understand that he is not an antiwar candidate and represents pretty much standard-issue Republican Party political establishment views on everything from immigration to foreign policy to trade.  Chuck Hagel is a party man in the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency, so Hagel supporters should consider themselves forewarned.  You may as well support Sam Brownback–you would be getting almost exactly the same thing.  When Hagel does do something really impressive, then we can start praising him.  Until then, the unseemly gushing over someone who isn’t even on our side in the debate and who makes a point of distancing himself from our positions is bizarre.  Rick Santorum has also dissented from the administration on foreign policy, albeit in the opposite direction of ever-crazier and more dangerous ideas, but his status as an “outspoken” critic alone shouldn’t recommend him to us.

And Allen Weh, the chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, told McClatchy News that he twice sought Karl Rove’s help — the first time via a liaison, the second time in person — in getting David Iglesias, the state’s U.S. attorney, fired for failing to indict Democrats. “He’s gone,” he claims Mr. Rove said. ~Paul Krugman, The New York Times

I’m sorry, but it’s episodes like this that make me yawn when I hear about this scandal.  Trust me, nothing would please me more than to see Alberto Gonzales go down in flames from a fire that he started, and any self-inflicted scandal that could batter and humiliate this administration even more would be a great thing, but if New Mexico Republicans are complaining about a U.S. Attorney’s failure to indict New Mexico Democrats the complaints are almost certainly valid.  There almost certainly was election tampering in 2000 and 2004.  In some counties, the dead are regularly among the most reliable voters.

While it is supremely rich that Republican partisans now complain about the “politicisation of justice” when Libby is convicted for breaking the law, after the administration had just engaged in what an outside observer would probably regard as a much greater politicisation of justice, I have a hard time getting worked up over the fate of someone, such as Iglesias, who might very well have been overlooking the corruption of the Democratic machine in New Mexico if he wanted to have a future in state politics.  Going after Vigil is one thing, since his corruption was too egregious even for the Democrats in the state to ignore.  But if he went after the entire apparatus, he could forget about running for statewide office again.

Maybe that’s not the case.  Maybe Iglesias really is the principled, decent public servant that his friends say that he is.  Maybe Iglesias was pushed out because he refused to become a party tool and refused to engage in political witch-hunts.  In New Mexico, it is always safer to assume that there are a lot of corrupt pols who are getting off scot-free with a wink and a nod from the attorneys with local connections.  That is how New Mexican politics has worked for years, and I wouldn’t assume that anything has changed.

New Mexico has a culture of political corruption, and the Democratic Party has been the party in power for seven decades, which can only reinforce this culture.  It would not surprise me that there were many Democratic officials in New Mexico who deserved to be investigated and indicted for corruption, vote-rigging or other crimes.  We are coming off of one of the bigger bribery scandals in recent state history (a case, it is true, that Iglesias did bring to trial).  Attorney General Patricia Madrid was probably complicit in or indifferent to the abuses going on under her nose, and she actively meddled in the federal investigation by indicting federally immunised witnesses.  So far as I know, despite evidence that she was possibly personally implicated in aspects of the corruption cases under investigation, Iglesias never seriously looked into her involvement.  News reports to this effect probably hurt her politically and may have been the reason why she lost the race for Wilson’s House seat, but there were no real legal consequences for her because of these reports.  While her official intervention in the case might very well have been proof of Ms. Madrid’s now-legendary stupidity (she was famously flummoxed for about twenty seconds by the question of whether she supported raising taxes) rather than of her malicious intent to derail corruption prosecutions, it is representative of what passes for New Mexican government.

Since there were several other U.S. Attorneys removed at the same time, and probably for much the same reason, a pattern of improper politicisation does seem to emerge.  However, using examples from New Mexico is probably not the wisest thing for Democrats who want to portray this purely as an issue of Republican corruption.  Democrats in New Mexico do not want the national media crawling all over the state looking into the question of corruption.  Referring to New Mexico examples in this scandal only weakens and undermines the general case against Gonzales and the administration.

In reality, Obama provides a disturbing test of the best-case scenario of whether America can indeed move beyond race. He inherited his father’s penetrating intelligence; was raised mostly by his loving liberal white grandparents in multiracial, laid-back Hawaii, where America’s normal race rules never applied; and received a superb private school education. And yet, at least through age 33 when he wrote Dreams from My Father, he found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against his mother’s race. ~Steve Sailer

The excerpt from Mr. Sailer’s long piece on Obama, which is sure to cause great agitation among Obama fans everywhere, gets to the heart of the strange appeal that Obama apparently has (I say apparently, because I confess that I still do not entirely understand how it works) and shows that appeal to be false.  To the extent that I do understand this appeal, it is that he somehow “transcends” racial divisions and antipathies by being the son of two races, thereby uniting difference, harmonising discord and smoothly blending together the two peoples.  For some people, this is not just a possibly nice idea, but a solution to the Fundamental Problem of America.  For people of a certain generation and conventional political views, the state of “race relations” bothers them so much that they are constantly forced to talk in vague, euphemistic terms about how this country is founded on ideas and propositions and by fulfilling the “promise” of those ideas and propositions all major problems of race relations will be solved.   

This ideal Obama does not have all the “baggage” of resentment politics that most white voters find so unattractive in the self-appointed spokesmen for the black community, and can at the same time somehow win the crowd at Selma more convincingly than any Northerner has ever been able to do while also winning the admiration of white pundits and voters alike.  But, as his memoir tells it, this image is not who Obama actually is, and thank goodness for that.  Let me explain.  The image that has been presented to the public about Obama is so entirely unreal and unbelievable, and I think this is an important part of why some people are so enthusiastic about his image and the candidacy built on that image.  It is because the image is so unreal and unbelievable that people who like what they see in it embrace it even more zealously: the viability of Obama’s candidacy, such as it is, is not proof so much of progress but of apparently widespread frustration with a lack of any meaningful improvement in the state of race relations.  If there was real, abundant comity in America between races, Obama’s candidacy–and the myth surrounding it–would be unnecessary and would not generate the kind of enthusiasm that it is generating in certain quarters.      

It must be that this image of the ideal Obama fills some need for a great many people.  Why they have that need, I am unsure, but many do seem to have an abiding need to find someone who will “bridge” the divide between races in this country.  In any case, it is worth being reminded that Obama is nothing like the transcendent unifier of all that some people desperately want him to be, because no living man is anything like that and, strangely enough, to view Obama in this way is to view him as something either more or less than a man.  This would be to give a politician either way too much credit or to do an injustice to a real, complex human being who happens to have dreadful leftist politics.  The first is folly, and the second is a serious mistake. 

This image is the product of the pouring of other people’s hopes and dreams into the empty vessel that Obama has been for at least these last many months since he started campaigning.  The media and his admirers have made him into a political sensation because they have made him into what they want him to be, rather than what he actually is.  He has obliged, because in doing so he has catapulted himself into contention for the highest office in the land, and the actual Obama is nothing if not ambitious.  Frankly, it would be much more interesting to know more about the real Obama, the one now so scrupulously hidden from view, and it is a shame that he wants to run on a platform of platitudes and promote uninspired, rehashed conventional left-liberalism.  Like Mitt Romney, who has for his part put on the mask he thinks he needs to wear to advance in GOP politics, Obama has invented himself anew (and he has been working on this new self since he came onto the national stage) and tried to sell himself as the great problem-solver, the figure who will “transform” the country and its politics.  Like Mitt Romney, he will fail when it becomes evident just how false this new self is. 

Given the man’s truly radical background, he might really shake up the political scene one way or another if he ran as himself.  But, then, of course, he would have no realistic chance of becoming President, and that, as we have discovered, is something that he has been aiming at for quite some time.  In the end, this widely-adored public image is the true inauthenticity of Barack Obama, because it is a product of the fantasy that the media would like to create about the progress and improvement in race relations that they apparently need to believe has happened.  It remains to be seen whether enough Democrats will tire of the fantasy before the primaries are concluded, but the fantasy does no justice to Obama’s political skills or the political realities of this country.  It is almost as if to say, “Obama would never have a chance if we did not weave some preposterous but highly attractive myth around him,” which is, in the end, a disservice to the man his admirers and boosters claim to support. 

But the effort to marginalize, even demonize, Christian conservatives is unworthy of anyone who considers himself a member of the political movement that is trying to preserve the American tradition. ~Steven Warshawsky

Mr. Warshawsky makes many smart points, some of which I’ve touched upon in my numerous posts against skeptical and secular conservatives, and he represents part of what may be the beginning of a backlash against the hyperventilating of members of what Warshawsky calls the “atheist wing” of the movement.  The hyperventilating continues here.  Of course, in terms of total numbers, it is more like an “atheist feather” than a whole wing, but it is a useful designation as any (though it will be greeted with outrage by Sullivan, Vicar of Doubt and Defender of the Quite Possibly Untrue Faith).  Consider these sentences from near the beginning of Christopher Orlet’s piece in the New English Review:

But I, for one, am not so ready to concede that atheism is “against our reason.” Historically I have had the theologians on my side.

But this is absurd.  He hasn’t had “the theologians” on his side, historically or otherwise, since the entire enterprise of theology is the use of reason to make the ways of God known to man.  If believers assumed that reason was somehow naturally inclined to atheism, theology would never have come into existence in any religion.  It is precisely because Christian believers consider our Faith to be the most rational thing and in perfect agreement with the workings of reason that Christians took over and adapted Greek ontology, metaphysics and logic for the purposes of discoursing about the nature and works of God.  Mr. Orlet cherry-picks from Luther at his most anti-intellectual and somehow thinks he has proven his blatantly false claim, while ignoring the other two thousand years of Christian theology and philosophy.  Can the “skeptical” conservatives begin to see why their religious friends do not take their complaints very seriously?

What is one going to do with an article that begins so poorly?  I suppose we must soldier on, if only to get to the more ridiculous bits that come later.  Posing the question to Edmund Burke, whose quote about the innate quality of man’s religiosity opens the article, Mr. Orlet asks:

What then would Burke have made of his spiritual and intellectual heirs who have recently and publicly emerged from the closet of skepticism, and thereby suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons?

It is hard to say what Burke would have said, since the situation would probably have seemed very strange to him, but he might have said that it is not surprising that people so egregiously ungrateful to their ancestors and disdainful of the religious inheritance these ancestors received, added to and then passed on have been met with less than warm enthusiasm among those who believe that we have obligations to the dead and those not yet born.  This is where the Burkean conservative looks at the atheist and sees an impious fool–impious not really because he rejects God, but rather because he rejects the established customs and centuries-long traditions of his ancestors and thus cuts himself off from the contract binding past, present and future.  He separates himself from the great continuity and wisdom of the tradition, even though, as Kirk said, conservatives believe that the individual is foolish and the species wise. 

From Burke’s mildly religious perspective, he would probably marvel at these people, who are neither oppressed nor actually marginalised by anyone, complaining as if they have all suffered the fate of Giordano Bruno or Mennochio, the hero of Carlo Ginsburg’s cheese book.  Let’s be specific.  Who has “suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons”?  Mr. Orlet tells us:

We’re talking about a Who’s Who of conservative writers and pundits: Stephen Chapman, Theodore Dalrymple, John Derbyshire, Heather MacDonald, Andrew Stuttaford and James Taranto.

With the exception of James Taranto, who is obnoxious for any number of other reasons, I generally like the writing and work of all of these people.  Several of them have had articles appear in a magazine, The American Conservative, to which I have also contributed, and I am proud that TAC welcomes smart commentary from so many widely varying perspectives.  Thus Ms. Mac Donald and I have both ridiculed Mr. Bush’s vacuous “freedom is God’s gift to humanity” propaganda, but from entirely different perspectives and with somewhat different arguments.  The irony is that she does not seem to care that Mr. Bush may be simply using and exploiting Christians’ beliefs when he drags God into his awful foreign policy decisions.  Nor does she seem concerned that his conception of God is so far removed from that of traditional Christianity as to make the indictment against Mr. Bush irrelevant to her criticism of religious conservatives generally. 

When these writers make smart, well-formed arguments and present copious amounts of evidence to back up their claims, as they often will, they are among the better pundits in mainstream conservatism.  Mac Donald’s work on immigration, Chapman’s columns on civil liberties and Derbyshire’s blasts against Intelligent Design are breaths of fresh air after choking on the miasma of “nation of immigrants” pablum, panegyrics for the unitary executive and muddle-headed enthusiasm for pseudo-science that fill so much conservative commentary today.  Obviously, almost all of them are at prominent conservative or at least vaguely right-leaning journals and newspapers, where they have bigger and more prominent platforms than many a religious conservative, most of whom must be satisfied to eke out a living in the “provinces” of the movement.  It is like people living at the courts in Rome and Constantinople complaining that they lack the tremendous access to power and prestige afforded the monks at St. Sava’s in Palestine.  It is ludicrous, and I am frankly tired of hearing some of them whine about how the mean theocons have made their lives unpleasant.  I should emphasise that it has only been some of these people, as far as I know, who have complained at any great length about the perverse influence of religion on modern conservatism.  What have been the consequences?  Has anyone been fired from his or her position?  Has anyone even attempted to force them into the political or professional wilderness?  The answer to both of these questions is plainly “no.”   

But it should come as no surprise that at least some of these people have earned the enmity of “so-called fundies and theocons”!  For starters, they call their religious allies things like “fundie” and “theocon,” both of which are obviously disparaging terms intended to reduce intelligent positions with which they disagree into easily dismissed caricatures.  (Mr. Orlet has already shown that he prefers to keep his argument superficial and light as well by stating right away that he thinks theism and reason have historically always been at odds.)  Next, some will attack religious conservatives, often with great vehemence, as people who have somehow done terrible violence to the content of conservatism (as if it was religion, and not galloping ideological commitments to militaristic foreign policy and expansion of government, that had distorted or changed conservatism in recent years).  This is always a charged statement to make about any other conservatives, and it had better have something behind more than the fact that the critic is an atheist and doesn’t believe all this God-talk nonsense anyway.  It is unseemly that these skeptics and atheists have suddenly discovered their voice at the very moment when everyone and his brother seems to have a book out blaming Republican political woes and conservative disarray on the role of religious conservatives in the most dishonest campaign of scapegoating I have seen in many years.  It certainly doesn’t help when there seems to be an assumption among at least a few of the “skeptical” conservatives that their position is the natural and obvious one that conservatives ought to take, and that the connection with religion, or more specifically Christianity, is bad for conservatism.  This is not the plea of the persecuted dissident for toleration, but the demand of the ideological cadre for a takeover of the entire operation at the expense (obviously) of the religious-cons whose views they loathe so. 

The only trouble is that the religious-cons are not the wicked establishment that the heroic skeptical rebels are trying to overthrow.  Far from being a great and all-powerful force ruling over the movement, religious-cons are actually much more like the Kansan fellow behind a certain curtain who could put on an impressive show.  Much like religious conservative leaders, who enjoy boasting about their access and their influence far out of proportion to what they actually achieve in policy terms, he was able to convince people who were willing to believe in the display of power that he was much more powerful and mighty than he really was.  The heroic rebels are not so much engaged in a struggle to liberate the conservative mind as they are simply engaged in conservative fratricide as a way of pushing views they dislike even farther out to the margins than they already actually are.  It annoys the skeptical conservatives that many pundits and intellectuals pay lip service to Christianity or religious “values” as things important to the conservative movement, but what they never seem to grasp is that so much of this is nothing more than lip service.  It is weird how anyone could come away from the last six years and think that conservatism had been too much pervaded by the teachings of the Lord!

Mr. Orlet then goes on to say something that is categorically untrue:

This, and MacDonald’s earlier piece for The American Conservative, led to many loud catcalls for her excommunication from the communion of conservative Republicans.

One need only go back through the NRO archives to prove this false.  Many loud catcalls?  From whom?  How many?  How loud?  Mr. Orlet doesn’t say, and no wonder.  The response to her article was so low-volume that you could hear a door hinge squeak.  NR, ever that engine of ideological purges, bent over backwards to appease, flatter and butter-up Ms. Mac Donald.  Every criticism was prefaced by a paragraph of how much the critic liked and admired Ms. Mac Donald, and how she was just the best.  Her, I’m sorry to say, rather commonplace and predictable objections to revealed religion were treated as if they were the utterances of one of the Muses herself.  You see, there are deviationists on important things, such as the Iraq war, and they must be roundly denounced in the strongest possible way (”unpatriotic,” etc.), but those who deny the existence of God are typically sporting folks from the metropole with whom one can laugh about the mad evangelicals over cocktails.  There’s no need to turn your backs on people who reject the Creator, but those who reject the empire are clearly a bunch of lunatics. 

It’s true, most of her interlocutors there and elsewhere disagreed with her claims and her atheism (no surprises there), but far from calling for her “excommunication” many of the participants in the conversation almost seemed anxious to accelerate her on the path to conservative sainthood, so great was their praise of her.  Rather than simply ignoring her, as might be done to those whom conservatives wanted to shun and drive out, all of us from the various conservative factions engaged with her arguments; I found the arguments severely wanting, but there was never really any question in my mind of declaring her persona non grata (as if I were in any position to declare anything of the kind!).  I did question how it was possible to be a conservative while being an atheist, and I think it is a legitimate question, but when even Santayana makes it into The Conservative Mind I am inclined not to harp on the question as much as I could. 

Never has a dissident received a less stinging rebuke and correction than Ms. Mac Donald did at the hands of the First Things and National Review crowd.  This kid glove treatment is striking for what it said about the participants themselves and their perceptions of what was at stake in responding to Mac Donald: while some of her respondents are religious people, they seem to have endorsed the idea that numerous conservative pundits and intellectuals are not and they concluded that they risked alienating large numbers of these folks if they savaged Mac Donald in the way that they would denounce and belittle traditional conservatives talking about agrarianism or antiwar conservatives.  For them, Mac Donald represented a large number of their current allies, while other dissidents from consensus positions within the movement about, say, corporations or interventionism were of no consequence and could be run off without a second thought.  Going against God, or tolerating those who did, was easy; going against corporations or the foreign policy establishment would have required real conviction. 

While I opened up, figuratively speaking, with both barrels against Ms. Mac Donald’s spurious claims about the nature of modern conservatism (in which there is, she says, a “crippling” reliance on religion) and also against her atheism, I do not recall urging her anathematisation.  Indeed, if pressed I suspect Mr. Orlet will have a hard time coming up with even a handful of catcalls, loud or otherwise, calling for Ms. Mac Donald to be expelled from “respectable” (or even marginal) conservative company.  She is in no danger of any expulsion, because, as she herself has said, probably half of the pundits covertly share her views, thus proving that the core of her complaint about conservatism (i.e., it is too religious) is unfortunately based on the most superficial analysis of a few rhetorical and symbolic nods to religious voters.  The martyrology of Heather Mac Donald will have to wait for another day.

Mr. Orlet says in his closing remarks: “Conservatives have, in a sense, made a deal with the diety [sic]…”  But we know this to also be untrue, since Mike Huckabee has been languishing in the polls for weeks.

But Catholics are big on the whole hierarchy thing. ~Jonah Goldberg

It’s a right-wing shibboleth that Jesus’ phrase “judge not lest ye be judged” should be ignored, because after all it’s only an excuse people use for not doing what we (the good people, the religious in-group) know to be the right thing. ~Mike Potemra

Yes, as you can see, just as Sullivan and Sager have told us, Christianity has deeply pervaded the upper echelons of the conservative movement and suffused conservative pundits’ every thought.  What insight!  What profundity!  Ahem. 

In fairness, Goldberg was more or less defending the role of Catholic teaching authority against the burblings of Hannity, who has apparently decided that some elements of Humanae Vitae are less important to him than others and feels compelled to say as much publicly.  As Hannity sees it (see here for video), this is okay because he went to seminary and studied Latin and theology (in fact, these are excellent reasons why his public views should be scrutinised even more closely and held to an even higher standard, since he theoretically ought to know better than the average layman why he should not publicly contradict church authority).  In his fairly disrespectful exchange with one Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, Hannity manages to distinguish himself as being even more loathsome than we already thought he was.  Watch as he actually equates contraception with natural birth regulation.  For his next trick, he will equate aggressive war with self-defense.  Oh, wait, he’s already done that one. 

Perhaps the most appalling thing, besides flinging scandal in the face of a priest as a means to diminish church authority (Donatist, thy name is Hannity), is the way in which Hannity rationalises his support for contraception as being the lesser of two evils, which suggests that his lessons in moral theology at whichever seminary he allegedly attended did not take.  It is “better” to use contraception rather than have an abortion only in a purely utilitarian sort of analysis, which at once degrades the people involved and embraces an act contrary to nature by accepting that the only alternative to this is another evil.  At once, Hannity affirms his contempt for created nature, his lack of discernment and his effective denial of the realistic possibility of the cultivation of continence among non-Catholics, which seems to this non-Catholic to contradict the very idea of ius gentium

Mr. Potemra’s comment was also a strange one worth noting, since I don’t assume that it is a “right-wing shibboleth” that we ignore Dominical commands.  If there were such a shibboleth, it would need to be destroyed right now.  It also has nothing to do with whether “we” are “the good people” and it is not, in fact, what ”we” know that matters, but rather it concerns what the authoritative interpretation of Scripture shows us to be the truth, which we Christians are in turn called to declare to the world.  When conservatives object to the flippant invocation of this verse, they are objecting to people using it precisely the way in which Hannity was using it: as a shield against doctrinal and moral correction.  It is remarkable that a verse that implies that God alone is Judge–which is in its way a terrifying and humbling thing to understand–can be taken as a kind of “get out of jail free” card for sinners, when its plain meaning is entirely the opposite.  If God alone is Judge, and if He has called us to be perfect and if He has given us the Way to perfection, this makes lapses and errors even more serious than they would be otherwise.  Fortunately, God is all-merciful at the same time, but then that mercy is found in exhortation, reproach, command and chastisement.  So, too, are those entrusted with the care of God’s people called to love them just as God loves them. 

When the verse is coupled to exhortations to not be “judgemental” (which is code for accepting anything and everything), it is the people who hide behind that verse to defend their errors and lapses who abuse or ignore the actual content of the verse.  The verse’s meaning is at least twofold: it drives home the point that God is Judge, and it is not your place to judge the state of another man’s soul or his righteousness (or lack thereof), while also inculcating a sense of humility that every man should be concerned first with putting out the fire in his own house before he begins quibbling over his neighbour’s broken windows.  Distinct from all of this on the one hand is indifference to sin and error, which most of the people who invoke this verse defensively possess, and moral discernment, which is something to which all are called to practice.  Offering a brother reproof in a spirit of charity or challenging a member of your confession who openly contradicts the Faith in public is not only entirely different from passing judgement on him, but the latter in particular is aimed both at the correction and lifting up of the fellow Christian who has fallen into the ditch and at the instruction of the rest of the flock who may be tempted by the bad example set by the one who has fallen into an error.     

The shameful state of veterans’ healthcare has just been exposed. ~James Forsyth

It is true that the extremity of the shabby treatment doled out to veterans is something that was not widely known before the exposes on Walter Reed were published, but anyone who has ever had a friend or family member in the VA hospital system already knows how fairly miserable the services for veterans are.  This is a function of very poor resources and poor management of the VA.  That the conditions are even worse than many of us imagined possible for returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan simply puts an exclamation point on a longstanding complaint against this administration.  The dreadful way that it has reduced veterans’ benefits at the same time that it has thrown more and more soldiers into intense combat has been something that some have noticed for years.  The public’s general indifference to or ignorance of the tens of thousands of seriously wounded veterans has been a black mark against the entire country.  The media have not completely dropped the ball in this area, and lately they have done some good work in focusing on the treatment of the wounded, but they have not made it much of a priority.  Obviously, pro-war commentators have never had much to say about these wounded soldiers, since their numbers and the gravity of their injuries bitterly mock the idea that this war has been relatively low in its human costs on the American side. 

As to whether a Thompson entry into the race would harm Romney’s chances of winning the nomination, of course it would. His entry will also make the hill steeper for McCain and Giuliani. ~Dean Barnett

Let’s start out with the positives: Fred Thompson is a pretty decent actor, and as I recall he was mostly all right when he was in the Senate.  Of course, right there is a big problem: he hasn’t been in Washington as an elected official in a few years.  He is just about as fresh in the political world today as that other Thompson running for President (Tommy), and he has less of a record to run on.  What exactly is his election slogan?  Is it “I replaced Al Gore in the Senate, but I am not Al Gore”?  Obviously, he has followed the herd on foreign policy and has lately even distinguished himself by jumping on the “Libby is a victim” bandwagon, so there are many reasons why I would be unenthusiastic about a Fred Thompson run. 

But the idea that he would have some sort of major impact on the race one way or another is bizarre.  Does Fred Thompson have some vast army of loyalists that no one has ever noticed before?  How did he suddenly supposedly become a major player in the GOP, when he has lately been “that funny guy who is in Law & Order“?  Saying that Thompson’s entry would “make the hill steeper” for anyone is a bit like saying that the entry of, say, Larry Craig of Idaho would throw the entire field into disarray.  I’m sure this sort of talk is flattering to Fred Thompson and his fans to think so, but it simply isn’t true.  No one thinks that a surprise Max Cleland campaign would create big problems for Democratic candidates, and no one is even suggesting such a thing because it would be so bizarre and pointless.  Besides, Fred is probably making more on Law & Order than he would if he even managed to win, and he almost certainly would have a better time acting than being the guy saddled with all the woes that the next President will inherit.     

Neoliberals often have an air of perpetual youthfulness about them, but they are now in their 40s, 50s and even their 60s, and a younger generation of bloggers set off a backlash. If you surf the Web these days, for example, you find that a horde of thousands have declared war on the Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. ~David Brooks

That does have something to do with a generational shift from (failed) neoliberalism to a more combative progressivism.  It also has a lot to do with Joe Klein writing and saying any number of phenomenally foolish things about all subjects that draw the ire of all self-respecting bloggers everywhere.  In this sense, the war against Joe Klein is simply a war of relatively more insightful, interesting people against a dreary consensus journalist.  It is like what would happen if conservative bloggers declared war on David Brooks. 

More representative of the neoliberal/progressive fight would have to be the short-lived spitting contest between the Kossacks and The New Republic.  Even though Lieberman won the election, TNR pretty much lost the contest for the loyalty of Democrats, as its downwardly spiraling circulation and recent change in management show.  A generation gap doesn’t entirely explain the collapse of neoliberalism.  No less than neoconservatives, neoliberals have been wrong, either morally or practically or both, about every major question of the last fifteen years, and it is this serial wrongness and Democratic political weakness and failure that have pushed neoliberalism towards extinction.  

Mitt “Innovation and Transformation” Romney sucks up to the Cuban community in Florida, and Barack “Transform Our Country” Obama makes it clear that he will do whatever AIPAC wants. 

Romney said, “I look forward to the day when the stain of Castro is finally washed from the soil of Cuba.”  As, I expect, do most people who give any thought to the matter. (Incidentally, I had attempted to write a post on The Lost City several months ago, but my browser crashed and I didn’t return to it, but in it I talked about its strong similarities to The White Countess as an anti-ideological, anti-revolutionary movie that functions as a kind of antidote to Casablanca-style romanticisation of causes and political violence.) 

What this Romney statement represents is really the reiteration of a worn-out, absurd policy of embargo that today stands no closer to eliminating the party dictatorship in Cuba than in the 1960s.  Embargoes and sanctions isolate a country and reinforce the power of the party or dictator in power, not least by giving the government a plausible foreign foe to demonise and blame.  Support for the embargo of Cuba is one of these unreasonable litmus tests that an influential ethnic lobby has imposed on the foreign policy of the United States out of a sincere, perhaps originally admirable, but nonetheless effectively misguided attempt to bring down the Castro regime through external pressure.  After nearly five decades of this approach, which has failed as badly as any policy has ever failed, it is surely time to try something else.  The rest of the world pays no attention to our bizarre preoccupation with embargoing Cuba, and we are simply postponing the day when commerce and travel to Cuba begin again.  I don’t see how that benefits Cuban-Americans, and I certainly don’t see how it makes the condition of the people in Cuba any better; it definitely doesn’t hasten the end of the communist dictatorship there. 

However, as will happen with politically influential ethnic lobbies in the setting of foreign policy, the powerful interest and commitment of a relative few will outweigh the basic indifference of the overwhelming majority.  Because of this, a bad policy will be preserved because its defenders are far more willing to punish a candidate over deviations from the policy than supporters of a new policy are likely to rally around a candidate.  That leads us to the other candidate who groveled before a different influential lobby. 

Obama referred to the AIPAC meeting as a “small gathering of friends,” and referred to the captured Israeli soldiers from last summer as those who have been “kidnapped.”  (As a few have pointed out, soldiers in wartime are not “kidnapped” when they are seized, but are captives and prisoners of war.)  He spoke of the “unique defense relationship” between the U.S. and Israel (a phrase that is so ripe for mockery that it is hard to know where to start–it is certainly unique!), and he recited the propaganda version of the Lebanon War without any suggestion that Israel erred at any point in the scale or nature of its response.  He even went so far as to say:

Yitzhak Rabin had the vision to reach out to longtime enemies. Ariel Sharon had the determination to lead Israel out of Gaza. These were difficult, painful decisions that went to the heart of Israel’s identity as a nation.  

However, as I think many Israelis would acknowledge, Gaza has never been seen as being at “the heart of Israel’s identity as a nation” and it does not possess anything like the same symbolic or Biblical associations that are used to justify the ongoing occupation and settlement of the West Bank.  Even for the more nationalistic in Likud and those on the farther Israeli right, while withdrawing from Gaza may not have been popular with them, Gaza never did possess quite the same ideological significance as the claims to the other occupied territory.  It was politically controversial, but it was relatively easy as a matter of national identity for Sharon to order the withdrawal from Gaza.  At every point in the speech when Obama could have demonstrated some shred of that new and “transformative” politics he always talks about but never delivers, he settled for the easy, comfortable and safe path.  That’s good for fulfilling the ambitions of an ambitious pol, but it is neither impressive nor interesting.  Anyone looking for Obama to demonstrate anything like independence on questions of Near East policy and foreign policy more generally will, as usual, be disappointed. 

A woman needs Bush like a fish needs an interpretive dance act?

Via Politico and The Plank

“That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, said Thursday. ~AP

The “persecution of our migrant brothers”?  Clearly, these folks don’t know who they’re dealing with.  If only they knew just how non-persecutorial Dobleve is, they might reconsider their ritual cleansing and give him a hero’s welcome instead.  There are still the wars, I suppose, so maybe they could purify the land of just those war-related ”bad spirits” and be done with it. 

However, in spite of this, I believe that Mr. Bush might be able to find some common ground with the Mayan priests.  It is said of classical Mayan religion:

The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is demonstrated on the Maya belief in the Maize God as a central religious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of the young Maize God, which is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life for the Classical Maya.

If this holds true today, Mr. Bush could make an appeal to Mayan traditionalism by promoting ethanol, as he has been doing all over Latin America.  Sam Brownback really needs to get on the ball with his fight for Mayan rights.  As this would suggest, it would be the perfect marriage of his ethanol pandering and his bleeding-heart need to meddle in the affairs of other countries.

Only America can produce people this happy. ~William Tucker

Because only the American government sends so many of its people away from their homes to godforsaken, foreign deserts?

Of Tucker’s report, Wlady at AmSpec’s blog asks:

What does it say that on arrival at Baghdad International he has to wait long hours before it’s safe under cover of dark to be transported to the Green Zone?

Cue Hugh Hewitt: “It says that the surge is working!”

And then there are his personal peccadilloes. Just this week, Gingrich revealed that while Clinton was being hounded by congressional Republicans because of his dalliances with a zaftig valley girl, Gingrich himself was engaging in an extra-marital affair. When this information gets added to the shabbiness that surrounds his first divorce, an unflattering portrait emerges. ~Dean Barnett

How does someone “reveal” something that has almost certainly been common knowledge among politicos for a decade?  How do we “add” this information to what we already knew about Gingrich, when it has been part of what we’ve known about Gingrich for a long time?  In short, how little attention has Barnett been paying over the years if he finds this information either new or remarkable?  There’s an even a Marvin Olasky column from 2002 that talks about Gingrich’s affair. 

Besides, it’s Gingrich–how could this surprise anyone?  After all, this is the guy who has classy divorce down to an art form:

Marianne and Newt divorced in December, 1999 after Marianne found out about Newt’s long-running affair with Callista Bisek, his one-time congressional aide. Gingrich asked Marianne for the divorce by phoning her on Mother’s Day, 1999.  

Since his fall from grace (more on that in a bit), Newt has steadily contributed to the conservative movement where we’ve needed it most – intellectually. ~Dean Barnett

Yes, where would we be without Gingrich’s deeply intellectual screaming about WWIII (or is it XII by now?) and his promises to provide every Pashtun a laptop*?  If I had to pick just one person who has debased and reduced conservatism more than Gingrich, it would be difficult.  There probably are a few who have done more damage to the specifically intellectual climate of the conservative movement, but he certainly gave it the old college try.

* He didn’t actually promise that, but it is the sort of foolish idea that he would come up with on a regular basis.

What makes McCain’s conversion all the more tragic is that it’s plainly not working. He has spent the last three years plotting to make himself the candidate of the GOP establishment that he once attacked. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “2008 is shaping up as the worst presidential year in three decades to be the candidate of the Republican establishment.”

His career since then has indeed resembled a certain famous Jedi. He began as a crusader for justice. Soon he realized that he needed to acquire more power in order to accomplish his noble goals. But over time, his pursuit of power became the goal itself, and by the end he lost his capacity to differentiate between right and wrong.

This is not Luke Skywalker here. This is Luke Skywalker’s father. But at least Darth Vader attained his position before the Death Star exploded. ~Jonathan Chait

By the strange logic of Rick Perlstein, this Chait denunciation of McCain should prove that McCain is now a “real” conservative because his former admirers on the left have now savagely turned on him.  Romney and Romneyites seem convinced that there is a media conspiracy to get Romney and that this conspiracy is proof of Romney’s conservative bona fides.  However, as is the case with McCain, this is simply a case of political observers seeing through transparent (or, as Yglesias put it, “freakishly transprent”) lies and pandering.  Unless Republican voters wish to claim that the two most obviously two-faced candidates in the race are the “real” conservatives (which seems unwise), they would do well to let McCain and Romney implode and find someone else who is not Giuliani.  

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is viewed by Democratic insiders as rising to the top of the party’s second-tier presidential candidates, becoming a leading vice-presidential prospect and an increasingly possible nominee for president. ~Robert Novak

I have been paying attention to Richardson as the relatively most serious contender on the Democratic side for a while now, and I think he stands a reasonably good chance of getting the nomination.  When I first heard that he was running, I was very dismissive, because I know something of the man’s record and I don’t like him very much, but compared to the veritable non-records of his main competition he is like a giant among pygmies.  This is not said with any real sense of approval–it simply emphasises how poor the rest of the field is. 

And why should they not? Russert is a perfectly honest man who would not lie. He was undoubtedly giving his best recollection.

But he is not the pope. Given that so many journalists and administration figures were shown to have extremely fallible memories, is it possible that Russert’s memory could have been faulty? ~Charles Krauthammer

Tim Russert will be shocked to learn that he is not the Pope–how did that happen?  (Only Krauthammer could make a bad column worse by inserting a totally erroneous understanding of papal infallibility into a discussion of perjury!)

Now I’m not a journalist, a White House press secretary or the Vice President’s chief of staff, so I can’t say that I know what it is like to do the jobs that they do.  Maybe they talk to so many people about so many things that it is impossible to keep it all straight, and it is possible that witnesses will have faulty memories and forget things or remember them incorrectly.  I’m going to assume that the jurors were capable of grasping this rather obvious idea, because, apparently unlike Libby’s apologists, I do not regard them as certified morons.  Krauthammer’s entire article rests on the assumption that the jurors never considered the possibility that the witnesses had poor memories and that he is somehow doing everyone a great favour by pointing out what would have occurred to anyone sitting on that jury.  Perhaps the jury factored in exactly what Krauthammer is saying and still believed that Libby knowingly made false statements under oath.  To kick up the epistemological puzzle a notch, how does Krauthammer know that they didn’t already take this into account?    

Let’s suppose, then, that the jury deliberated and reached its verdict as if they were also capable of understanding the most basic potential problems of witness testimony.  Let us suppose that they were, in fact, minimally competent at their task.  Let us suppose that they were at least as insightful as Charles Krauthammer (not a high standard to meet, I grant you).  If they were, I find it difficult to believe that they convicted a man on four counts because they were working under the delusion that Tim Russert has perfect recall and had never considered the possibility that witnesses could misremember.  What Krauthammer is talking about are all the reasons why one might reasonably doubt that Libby knowingly lied under oath.  The jury weighed the testimony and apparently decided that these and other reservations did not introduce enough doubt into the matter.  That’s how it works.  If we applied the Krauthammer test (busy people can’t possibly remember minute specifics of time, place and subject of conversation) to criminal prosecutions, it would probably be quite shocking how many convictions based on witness testimony would be overturned.  Probably not even Krauthammer would want to go down that road, so why is there such a concerted effort to undermine the legitimacy of this verdict?  (Of course, we all know why there is such a concerted effort, but how can it begin to be squared with a commitment to the rule of law?)   

 

The four former Senate leaders know, more than almost anyone else, how difficult it is to find such agreement. So they are choosing their targets with care. The Iraq war is not on the agenda. They have launched a national security initiative, to be headed by retired Gen. Jim Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander. But the emphasis will be on nonmilitary applications of American power and influence.

They may offer “common ground” approaches to other problems as well. Mitchell, for example, thinks they could synthesize the best suggestions on improving port security and perhaps take on part of the challenge of the dysfunctional health-care system. ~David Broder

Call Unity08–I predict a groundswell of support for a Baker-Daschle or Dole-Mitchell ticket!  Wouldn’t that be something to see?  Can you feel the excitement?  I sure can.  As Yglesias has disparagingly put it:

I’m no Senator, but here’s my commitment to Broder and to everyone out there in the grant-writing community. If you want to give me “a staff of 20 and a budget of $7 million a year” I will gladly put partisanship aside and reach across the aisle for solutions. Yes, yes, it’s true — I’m that selfless.

The really impressive part about this senatorial quartet is how they have committed to finding common ground only on those issues where people aren’t terribly divided.  They wouldn’t want to have find a compromise on anything so divisive–and important–as the war, because that might show their tired invocation of bipartisanship to be a waste of everybody’s time.  By focusing on all those things that aren’t terribly controversial, the quartet may succeed in forging a consensus, but in most cases it will simply be restating a consensus that probably already exists.  The main divisions between (and within) the parties today are not over “nonmilitary applications” of power and influence, but very specifically over military applications.  It is worse than useless to have a group dedicated to finding common ground on issues where there is scant division.  It would be like tackling the sharp divide over abortion by talking about how to improve pre-natal care.  It would be like addressing immigration reform by passing a resolution marking Cinco de Mayo.  They find “common ground” by talking about a completely different subject.  That is what you get with this idolatry of bipartisanship: nothing of any value.

“Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, terrorism, security, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq,” he said mockingly. “He seems incapable of developing even a single idea.”  ~Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Whether by accident, reflexive anti-Americanism or actual insight, Chavez has managed to hit on something that some of Mr. Bush’s die-hard supporters still refuse to admit.  Mr. Bush does seem incapable of developing even a single idea.  He does speak endlessly and pointlessly about Iraq and terrorism, and he always says the exact same things, none of which inspires any confidence.  But, then one might mock Chavez thus: “Anti-imperialism, North American imperialism, oil, oil, oil, anti-imperialism, oil, revolution, oil.”  These two are really made for each other.

How ridiculous is developing ethanol as an alternative fuel?  So ridiculous that even Hugo Chavez can see through it:

But Mr. Chávez quickly shot back in an interview on a popular morning television program in Argentina, dismissing the ethanol plan as “a crazy thing, off the wall.” He accused the United States of trying “to substitute the production of foodstuffs for animals and human beings with the production of foodstuffs for vehicles, to sustain the American way of life.”

If only someone would tell Sam Brownback!

When a movie review begins with references to Der Ewige Jude, it is safe to say that it is not going to be a complimentary review.  Dana Stevens of Slate starts out in heavy-handed fashion with the Nazi references and never stops to take a breath.  Then she says:

But to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness.

Only in the most general sense can one cast the telling of this story as political, in that it is a story about a battle (which takes place, after all, in Greece, not in the Near East) and therefore the conflict being depicted has some political dimension as all wars do.  It may therefore have something to say generally about the politics of independence or anti-imperialism or opposition to aggression and conquest (none of which, mind you, does much for the 300-as-Iraq war propaganda argument), but in this it is no more a commentary on current policies than Braveheart referred to the Balkan Wars because both involved questions of national independence to one degree or other.   

I have been similarly unimpressed in the past by attempts to read political messages into the third season of BSG, because it seemed clear to me that a) this was implausible given the content of the New Caprica episodes and b) it was explicitly contrary to what the directors and writers themselves said they were doing.  When everyone involved in the production of something says, “No, we’re not talking about the United States government!” it makes sense to assume that they are probably telling the truth.  After all, it isn’t as if people in the movie and television business make their predominantly left-liberal politics a secret.  If they wanted to state that their project was a pointedly political one, they would do so, because that is what politically active film and TV types do.  Had BSG decided to go that route, they would probably have won as many viewers as they would have lost, so I find it unlikely that they shied away from open criticism of the government because they feared a backlash from fans.  Those who insist that they are not using their art, such as it is, to criticise a specific policy, but who say that they are trying to tell an entertaining and perhaps interesting character-driven story, are probably just trying to tell a story.  If it is set during wartime, wartime themes will keep cropping up that people living through a real war, however remote from the fighting they are, will naturally associate with their war–but that doesn’t mean that the two have any connection at all.  I think the same would hold true for projects that tell a story that might at first seem more favourable to a pro-war view, such as 300 at first appears to be.

I have not seen 300, but I did read the “graphic novel” some years ago and I am, in any case, familiar with the story of Thermopylae.  What are the important details of this story?  It valorises courage against overwhelming odds, praises patriotic defenders of their country against foreign aggression, and espouses the importance of a society governed by nomos and not by the arbitrary will of one man.  Pretty horrifying stuff, let me tell you.  An argument could be made (perhaps I will make it after I have seen the movie) that 300 is one of the most deliciously anti-imperialist, anti-Bush movies ever made.  Bush would obviously play the role of Xerxes (as the Times has already suggested).  His opponents could see themselves as Leonidas and the Spartans, an embattled few who nonetheless prevent the ruin of their country.  It would be really overdrawn and absurd in its own way, but not nearly as absurd as what Ms. Stevens has to say about the film, the experience of which she likens to being raped.  No, really, she does. 

When this sort of story is set at Minas Tirith and the vaguely Oriental hordes of the Hradrim are pressing down on the Riders of Rohan, most left-liberals don’t bat an eye–they cheer on the Men of the West, because they have entered into the fantasy world where the forces arrayed against Minas Tirith are clearly in the service of the Dark Lord.  Not even most multicultis like the Dark Lord, and their radar for ethnic stereotyping seems to turn off as they see strange, vaguely Arab-looking archers on the backs of oliphants.  Even animal rights activists don’t seem to get too upset over the rather mean despatching of the oliphants in Return of the King.  Now, set this same story in history, indeed identify it as a specific, critical moment in the history of our own civilisation, ignoring for the moment that this is an adapted and literally comical retelling of that moment, and watch how the liberal, in this case Ms. Stevens, throws a fit.  Did I not tell you this was coming?  Earlier this week I wrote:

They are pretty much all “over the top” once you see people sprouting claws, leaping from building to building or, in this case, fighting an army depicted with such purely Orientalist imagination that it would make Edward Said spin in his grave.  Everything about 300 the “novel” is over the top.  From the few clips I have seen in previews, the costumes and ethnic stereotypes seem to have leapt full-blown from the deeper reaches of George Lucas’ mind onto the screen.  I expect the cacophony of PC screeching any day now. 

I wrote that on Thursday morning.  By Thursday night, Ms. Stevens’ review had appeared.  Apparently without any sense of irony, Ms. Stevens wrote:

The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.

Er, well, I don’t know about the traits of a “club fag” (a phrase which, if stated at CPAC, would probably merit denunciations from Hugh Hewitt), but to depict the Persian shahanshah as bejeweled and heavily decorated with makeup is not really that far from what we understand about Persian court ceremonials (at least in the late Achaemenid and again in the Sasanian periods) and proskynesis, which was the hateful barbarian custom that Alexander demanded of his commanders, was the ritual prostration before, or at the feet of, the emperor.  Obviously, it symbolises complete submission to the will of the ruler and represents a reminder of the prostrator’s much lower status.  Diocletian, probably not someone whom anyone would have called a “club fag” (certainly not to his face!), adopted proskynesis from the Persians and made it an integral part of what became Byzantine court ceremony.  So in other words, one of the things that really bothers Ms. Stevens is one of the things that 300 actually gets more or less historically right.  Um…okay. 

Since proskynesis is something that an imperial autocrat demands of his subjects, or indeed his slaves, it doesn’t seem so terribly outrageous to depict a ruler who demands such servility as being, well, an arbitrary ruler who demands servility.  Making the heroes of the movie into the opposite, free men who will not abase themselves before a mere mortal, also makes sense from the perspective of telling the story as a morality play (which, at bottom, almost every comic book worth its salt does).  That it actually has more than a little connection with the real Spartans and Persians of history is an added bonus! 

If the story were about heroic resistance fighters battling a Panzer division, or if there were derogatory references to “goose-stepping,” Ms. Stevens would probably be enthralled.  “Race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth” are great for most left-liberals, provided that the “race” being baited is German and the nationalist myth being promoted is that of FDR’s America.  It all depends on whose gigantic rhinoceros is being gored. 

To recount the story of Thermopylae as shown in 300, which is essentially a hyped-up version of an historically true account, is not necessarily to actually embrace the entire binary structure of Greek conceptions of identity where the free, rational Greek men are set off against effeminate, slavish barbarians and irrational women.  Of course, the point is that the Greeks perceived things in this way and understood the peoples around them through this lens, which Miller (probably unthinkingly) reproduces with his own exaggerated flourishes.  Perhaps it does not jibe with multiculti sensibilities as much as the multiracial rebels of The Matrix series, but the story is actually much the same: a dedicated few fighting off hordes of enemies, who are themselves enslaved by the ruler.  Possibly, the movie may try to subvert or alter the entire structure by making the story into one of the resistance of the relatively weak against the mighty. 

Ms. Stevens goes on:

Leonidas likes to rally the troops with bellowed speeches about “freedom,” “honor,” and “glory,” promising that they will be remembered for having created “a world free from mysticism and tyranny.”

This is apparently, from her perspective, a bad thing.  Now let’s understand something.  This is a perfect example of how Miller’s version of Thermopylae, and apparently the movie’s as well, is distorted by Miller’s own biases.  The Spartans weren’t fighting against mysticism.  Only the Romans were more superstititious than the Greeks when it came to mystery cults, oracles and divination, and the Spartans were no exception.  They may have been fighting, in some sense, for the gods of their city, but the rationalist, anti-religious strain that comes through here is entirely anachronistic and better suited to Ridley Scott’s nonsense of medieval history in Kingdom of Heaven.  In any case, these were not 5th century B.C. Voltaireans duking it out with theocrats.  Left-liberals and libertarians alike should love this angle of 300.  It is like V for Vendetta on speed in its bloody hostility to both religion and authority.  (This may be why an Objectivist friend of mine, who introduced me to 300, thought it was such a great story when we were in college.) 

It’s conservatives who should feel reluctant to lend 300 any cheers or support.  Why, after all, are mysticism and tyranny paired together?  What does one really have to do with the other, unless you believe that reason is reason-against-piety and hold that religion is the enemy of human liberty?  Isn’t this just some rehashed Gibbonian Enlightenment garbage about religion as a tool of despotism?  Yes, it is, and conservatives should be on their guard against it.  In this respect, 300 is a gorier version of Ryan Sager’s book or one of Andrew Sullivan’s madcap posts about “big-government Christianists.”  Slate readers should be thrilled by it, and it should tell religious conservatives something about him and his colleagues that Victor Davis Hanson is a big booster of the film. 

So Pete Domenici and the Congresswoman I love to mock, Heather Wilson, have found themselves in something of a pickle with this U.S. Attorneys scandal.  It’s a shame that this issue didn’t come up four months ago when it might have saved us all some trouble and brought Wilson’s re-election bid crashing to the ground.  But let me say that if the scandal did bring about the political undoing of Domenici and Wilson, no one would be happier than I.  Domenici has had an undue and unhealthy influence on Republican Party politics in New Mexico, most especially in his boosting of Wilson over Bill Davis after the death of Rep. Steve Schiff in 1998.  He imposed Wilson on us, and some of us who never wanted her as the Republican candidate have been trying, without success, to get rid of her ever since.  Before the majority was kicked out, Domenici was also Budget Chairman and so was deeply implicated in all of the spending excesses of the old majority.  She, however, is ill-suited to run a statewide race to succeed Domenici, since the only reason she has managed to stay in office is that the First District is so unusually favourable to Republican candidates for a medium-sized city and its environs.  This is at least partly a function of Kirtland AFB and the tech corporations that now have operations in Albuquerque.  Once she has to campaign in northern and western New Mexico, even against a weak Democratic candidate, she will have a very hard time defending her reflexive Bush loyalism.   

The scandal, such as it is, is not enough to bring her down now that she is safely ensconced once more in her House seat, and Domenici is untouchable in New Mexico.  People love him back home.  He has been a fixture in state politics for my entire life, and I find it hard to believe that he is going anywhere unless someone finds something truly damaging.  Only in the event of his retirement does it become a contested seat, and I am betting that he will not retire.  In any case, the Democratic bench is pretty weak, battered by intra-party fights in the Roundhouse and scarred by the bribery scandal of recent years.  There is always Tom Udall, who could easily be replaced by almost anyone to hold NM-03 for the Democrats, but if both he and his cousin (Mark Udall in Colorado) run for Senate in the same year people might suffer from Udall overload. 

You didn’t need Ryan Sager to tell you any of that–you could have just asked me.

As an approach to national policy, doing the reverse of what Krauthammer recommends will get you 87 percent or so of the way to perfection. ~Matt Yglesias

Ross casts Nixon as the devil (see here for a slightly more friendly interpretation) in connection with this post.  I am actually less interested in Mr. Casse’s talk about the state of the Republican coalition than I am in the response the post elicited.  Ramesh Ponnuru wrote that Daniel Casse…

is a smart guy, but what a bizarre post that was. Paul Craig Roberts’s trajectory actually doesn’t tell us anything interesting about the future of the Republican coalition; it tells us that he’s a nut.

Two points.  First, it is probably more significant than not that a former high-ranking official of the Reagan administration would become an intense enemy of the Republican establishment and all its works on what he holds to be specifically conservative and patriotic grounds.  If Mr. Roberts were the only prominent Reagan-era official or pundit who had broken so dramatically with the GOP, it might be less meaningful, but we all know that he is far from the only one.  It might also just say something about the direction of the modern GOP and the conservative movement that someone with an “impeccable” background in both should feel compelled to become such a staunch oppositionist.  It probably does not mean that he is a “nut,” or else there is an increasing population of “nuts” who happen to agree with the overwhelming majority of what Mr. Roberts has to say.  The second point is that someone at a group blog that plays host to Michael Ledeen’s posts should take care with throwing around the word “nut” when describing people with whom you disagree, since it could so very easily be applied to some of your colleagues.

In Britain Thatcherism is not in favour and in America Reaganism is not on offer. But that doesn’t mean reformist conservative candidates are inferior to their socialist and liberal opponents. In a hostile political environment a scaled-down conservatism is still better than no conservatism at all. The current generation of Republican and Conservative leaders recognise this and are working to renew conservatism rather than destroy it.

The right thing to do is not to make faces at this bandwagon but to jump aboard and keep trying to drive it in the right direction of freer markets, freer people. If they hang together in this struggle, conservatives have a good chance of advancing their cause as a governing strategy, not as an angry protest. It they do not, they will, most assuredly, hang separately. ~Gerard Baker

This seems to be an increasingly widespread justification for backing bad, unrepresentative leadership based on little more than intimidation and dread of the other side.  This is essentially the GOP campaign theme from 2006.  Perhaps it was understandable that blinkered incumbents could offer nothing more than, “Hey, at least we’re not those guys!”  That was, of course, the exact same appeal the Democrats were making last year.  The difference is that it was much better to not be Republicans last year, and if their continued cluelessness and hopeless commitment to Iraq continue it will certainly continue to be better to be anything but a Republican.  The old “we’re not as bad as they are” spiel only makes works if there is some flickering memory of what real, competent and good conservative government looks like.  Lacking that, many people will laugh at the idea that the people who brought you Mr. Bush are here to help you, the conservative. 

It is bizarre to watch, but there is at least a certain consistency in these appeals to backing the party that “represents the conservative interest” (even though, when in power, they did stunningly poor jobs of representing the conservative interest, preferring instead the corporate interest and always reliable self-interest).  It is the same appeal that party men make at each stage.  They start this way: back the party because it believes what you believe.  When that is proven to be obviously untrue, they say: back the party because it will help you get what you want.  When that doesn’t happen, they say: back the party so that we can get “back” to a point where the party will actually believe what you believe.  Since the party was never really there in the first place, do you have much confidence that it will be returning to a place it never was?  The question for conservatives is this: having been duped at least twice, will you play the fool a third time?  Gerard Baker says that you must and threatens you with hanging (figurative, we assume) if you don’t agree.  Somehow, I don’t believe him.

In the US, the party that represents the conservative interest, the Republicans, is in a state of historic collapse that makes the fall of the Roman Empire look like a narrow by-election defeat for the emperor in Parthia Northwest. ~Gerard Baker

The psychology of a blogger:

First response: the Republicans represent the conservative interest?  Since when?  Second response: If only this were true!  Third response: the Parthians were already long-gone by the time of the fall of the western empire, which in any case had no real effect on the eastern frontier and would probably have remained unknown to most people in the Sasanian Persian empire.  Fourth response: what is wrong with Gerard Baker? 

Now that he has a post with a link up explaining what has happened, I think that I should say something about the fate of Chris Roach, an early friend of this blog who linked to Eunomia before most.  After I learned that Chris Roach was booted from Brainwash’s site because of something he had written in the comments here at Eunomia, which his associates there deemed unsuitable and racist, I have to say I was stunned.  No, not stunned.  I was offended.  I have a very low opinion of people who engage in PC purges, which is what this was, but most especially when they are unmerited and committed out of a hysterical desire to appear correct only to those who despise everything Brainwash purports to represent.   

Whatever the hyperbole of the original comment that the management at Brainwash used to justify Chris’ removal (and I grant that there were some ill-chosen words), he more than made up for any mistake with his subsequent explanations as far as I was concerned.  To the extent that he erred, he erred in terms of expressing himself clearly so as to avoid misunderstanding.  In the content of what he said, he said what countless conservatives have said before and will say again–though they will make sure to couch all of it in preciously appropriate language that will avoid touching the tender sensitivities of some.  He made a claim about social pathologies and cultural dysfunctionality in the black community, except that he did not make the appropriate ritual prostrations as he did so, and he was therefore cast out. 

I don’t know Chris personally, but we have been blogging colleagues and share a great many views, and I have never once gotten the sense from anything he has written that he holds any malicious or hateful views.  To cut ties with someone on the basis of one comment and one comment only, even if it was intemperate, is the mark of cowards.  Brainwash is, of course, within their rights to let go whomever they please, but that does not make them right for doing so. 

I regret that I did not get into that comment thread to lend some help, but I assumed that Chris was able to answer well enough for himself.  Indeed he is, and he continues to blog separately from their site.  Frankly, Brainwash has embarrassed itself by acting like a third-rate ideological rag.    That their management probably thinks they have done the right thing, and not merely the expedient and easy thing, is all the more to their discredit.  The limits of perimissible opinion on the right just became even narrower. 

You were promised a 12-step solution: it’s called Unity08. Unity08 is basically a gang of smart, hopeful politicians and recovering consultants, young people and business types who want to run a third party candidate in 2008 who will be selected entirely by delegates to Internet convention, through online voting. The president and vice president must either be from different parties or independents. ~Dick Meyer

I share Ezra Klein’s strong antipathy for Unity08, which he stated most powerfully in this bloggingheads appearance with Ross Douthat.  He said: “I can’t overstate how much I loathe Unity08.”  Hear, hear!  “It’s truly insulting to the real disagreements,” he added later.  The premise of Unity08 reminds me of some of the obnoxious traits of centrists I laid out in my list of traits of “centrist extremists”:

–never trusts in any dogmatic statement, but believes that the truth always lies “somewhere in between” two extremes, which he has conveniently pre-selected so that the happy middle matches his own views precisely.

–thinks that partisanship is the cause of nation’s political woes, and consequently thinks that bipartisanship is the solution to most, if not all, of those woes.

–doesn’t like negative campaigning.

The Atlantic ran an article on Unity08.  Joshua Green described how the ‘great’ movement began:

The three decided on the spot that they would create a third party to represent the center in the 2008 presidential election.

Perhaps I find this painfully insulting for some slightly different reasons than Ezra Klein, but painfully insulting it surely is.  The strange thing about the idea behind Unity08 is this claim that the center is somehow unrepresented, pushed down or out of the way by the two-party system when the two-party system abides in a very narrow political center in which a Sam Brownback is regarded as fairly far-right in most quarters and Chuck Hagel can be described, without irony, as a “rock-ribbed conservative” on numerous occasions.  From my perspective, which is admittedly on the very distant rightwards edge of the spectrum, the idea that the center lacks for representation is crazy.  Virtually nothing but the very narrow middle 10-20% band of American opinion that is the consensus center-right and center-left has any meaningful representation.  Hundreds of millions of people stand outside of this narrow band for one reason or another.  The mockery that the two-party system makes of representative government is not that it somehow artificially forces a broadly unified American people into rival, warring camps, but that it very artificially insists that all kinds of people who have no business being in the same party (such as, say, Brownback and Giuliani) should be smashed together and their distinct voices stifled for the sake of preserving the narrow consensus.

Even in their would-be rebellion, Unity08 is drearily conventional:

The creators of Unity08 believe that the answer is to open the process to the Internet masses, causing a tectonic shift powerful enough to disrupt the two-party system. They have not, however, lost faith in that system—merely in its power to correct itself. “The two-party system has worked well for 200 years and can continue to do so,” Bailey says, “but only when elections are fought over the middle. Our goal is to jolt the two parties into recognizing this, by drawing them into a fight over the middle rather than allowing them to keep maximizing the appeal to their bases at the extremes.”

This is where it goes from merely annoying to insulting.  Elections always are fought over the middle right now.  Remember 2000?  The most uneventful, boring election in the history of this country?  Why was it so dull?  Until Gore discovered some populist rhetoric towards the end, the contest was fought entirely over the middle by saying as little as possible about everything.  “Compassionate conservatism,” while a massive fraud in its own way as far as the conservative part went, existed to appeal to the middle and, to some extent, to the center-left.  Even the primaries in the two parties are ultimately being fought over who will serve as the best standard-bearer who can appeal to the general electorate.  Manipulating and whipping up “the base” and actually representing them are radically different things: one demonstrates contempt of party elites towards their supporters, the other indicates that the party actually serves its members.  Obviously, the former arrangement prevails to differing degrees in both parties.  The idea that elections are held captive by wacky extremists is one that partisans from both sides enjoy circulating when it helps undermine the opposing party’s candidate, but how many people really believe that Hillary is some rabid leftist?  By my standards, she is, but then by my standards so are George Bush and Sam Brownback, so perhaps my standards are not very representative.

What does Unity08 aim to do?  It does not aim to rebalance or fundamentally restructure the political system as we know it.  They just want to give the system a jolt and get it “back on track.”  They assume, of course, that the normal state of affairs for the last several decades is somehow not “on track.”  For these people, the two-party system is assuredly failing the American people, but they were under some misguided impression that it had ever really done the job they think needs to be done.  This effort isn’t political reform.  It’s a snit-fit parading as high-minded idealism and pragmatism all rolled into one.  At least ideological and policy protest votes for coherent third parties have a certain logic to them.  In theory, the existing minor parties would like to become real players in policymaking and they would like to become permanent parts of the system. 

Unity08 aspires to nothing but acting as a one-time defibrulator for the heart of American representative government.  If more radical surgery is needed, they aren’t going to bother.  Not only is this a loathsome pose in the eyes of people actually interested in correcting the flaws in the present system, but it is a nonsensical one as well: when it comes time to vote, voters become very tribal and rally for or against a candidate for visceral, irrational and often inexplicable reasons.  If there is a ticket that represents bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship, no one will pay any attention to it.  It neither excites nor terrifies–it puts you to sleep, like listening to Joe Lieberman talk.  The entire effort is based on it being shocking and invigorating, when it is almost guaranteed by its very design to be plodding and uninteresting.

If Hagel were better fitted for metaphor, Zorro would be an awfully good one, certainly better than that overrated royalist stooge Robin Hood. With his Michael Curtiz pastels and his Merry Men, the former Earl of Locksley fought to restore to the throne Richard I, the bloodthirsty slaughterer of Saracens, who’d left England to corruption and destitution while he went haring off to the Middle East on some damned Crusade. A renegade aristocrat himself, Zorro fought only to free the peons from a tyrannical governor. Zorro wore black. Zorro always rode alone. ~Charles Pierce, Esquire

Overrated royalist stooge?  Is that any way to talk about a Saxon hero?  Anyway, Hagel is about as much like Zorro in his political career as Lieberman is the Lorax.  When has he ever fought to free peons from anybody?  He votes with the White House more frequently than anyone else in the Senate!

I am frankly getting tired of these puff-pieces in which pro-war, interventionist pols who simply quibble about details of how such wars are fought get this glowing, reverential treatment:

A rock-ribbed Reagan conservative, he’s become the voice of uncompromising dissent on this war.

Uncompromising dissent?  I’ve never heard it, I’ve never seen it.  He dissents over tactical arrangements and management, not over anything fundamental.  He sometimes states things bluntly when he disagrees with the administration, but the idea that he is this fiery opponent of the war who takes no guff and stands tall, etc., is a lot of nonsense.  The Vietnam veteran-turned-politician who actually does oppose the war and has been working, however blunderingly and confusedly, to achieve some sort of American withdrawal is Jack Murtha.  People on the left had their Murtha-praising moment, but now he is practically ignored, almost as if he were an embarrassment to them.  Where has Chuck Hagel been in all of this?  Oh, yes, he talks about selling shoes and Cambodia and even drops impeachment into his conversation, but when it comes time to do something he doesn’t do very much at all.  “Let’s have a debate!” he says. 

Curiously, Hagel has appeared first in GQ, and now he’s in Esquire.  Is Hagel going after the metrocon vote?

 

As to the polls, the description of some respondents as being “less likely” to vote for a pro-choice candidate includes me among them. By this, I mean that all things being equal, I would support a pro-life candidate against one who was not. This does not mean I would do so if things were NOT equal: for instance, I would vote for Joe Lieberman over Sam Brownback, or another Republican who was not strong on the war [bold mine-DL]. ~Noemie Emery

Wow.  I have always assumed that “new fusionists” and Weekly Standard folks privilege their irresponsible foreign policy views over literally everything else, including little things like truth or reality (such as the truth that Brownback is as pro-war as they come), but I don’t think I have ever seen one of them state it so succinctly and plainly.

Speaking of Romney, he has been making the rounds on the national TV circuit, providing endless fodder for critics who paint him as a constant flip-flopper.

In yet another example, CNN profiled the 2008 presidential field and Romney listed his favorite movie as “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But as recently as 2003, Romney told media outlets that his favorite was the George Clooney flick “O Brother Where Art Thou.”

Why the switch?

Perhaps the answer lies in this very Biblical description of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the CNN piece: “Renowned archaeologist and expert in the occult, Dr. Indiana Jones, is hired by the U.S. Government to find the Ark of the Covenant, which is believed to still hold the Ten Commandments.”
And we all know how much the religious right loves the Ten Commandments. ~The Boston Herald

Even though I am a tireless Romney critic, I will actually allow that it is perfectly acceptable for someone to change his mind about his favourite movie.  They are both pretty good, as these sorts of things go, so I can’t even fault him for having bad taste.  Of course, no one would even think to bring up the change if he hadn’t been engaged in pure cynical pandering for the past year.  When you start reinventing yourself entirely as a politician, people begin to distrust you about everything you do, no matter how innocent or normal. 

As it happens, the films convey distinct messages about piety and religion, and O, Brother, Where Art Thou? has a far more explicit theme of the hubristic wanderer brought to repentance and humility (as everyone can see, it is an adaptation of The Odyssey in much of its story).  Might that message have hit too close to home for the ambitious politician who can’t decide which state he’s from? 

If politics had anything to do with the change, I would guess that George Clooney’s leading role in O, Brother was probably what put Romney off the film.

Blogging isn’t a complete waste of time and energy–it improves your knowledge of made-up blogger vocabulary that no one else will understand.  Take “Rethug,” for instance.  As in: “Compared to most Rethugs, Huckabee’s a socialist.”  

I don’t really know now what it means anymore than I did when I first saw it, but it seemed at first to be a reference to social conservatives or evangelicals or some combination thereof.  Any explanations or speculations are welcome in the comments.  Is it a play off of the word Republican, which I guess is the most obvious explanation, or is there some more arcane meaning that I’m missing?

Update: The author of the post cited above writes later on:

The kingmakers in the Republican Party are more like David Frum, who wants to economically stress the middle and working classes so that they will develop good moral character…

To be blunt, when did David Frum ever care about anyone developing good moral character?

And I think he’s right that all three current GOP front-runners are less awful than some seem to think. ~Andrew Sullivan

If Sullivan is vouching for the Terrible Trio, they must be worse than I supposed.

I have seen some bad campaign swag in my time, but this has to take the cake:

And despite Dean’s warm welcome to Senator Hagel, I think the Nebraska senator has figured out that Senator McCain’s campaign is fading fast and that the “maverick” vote needs a home.  If Senator Hagel gets in, it will indeed draw some votes from Senator McCain and give the Buchananites a home as well. ~Hugh Hewitt

In addition to not understanding that the Politico story on Richardson is not a “take-down story” (just as the Romney ancestor story is not an attack on Romney), but simply a reporting at the national level of facts that are well-known to New Mexicans, Hewitt doesn’t seem to understand much of anything about GOP primary politics.  Hewitt’s confusion of a news story with an attack piece is understandable, since the “new media” do not actually report anything to inform people for the sake of having an informed citizenry but selectively and even more tendentiously report on only those things that serve the turn of the “new media” celebrities.  I suppose we should start calling people like Hewitt members of the MNM (mainsteam new media).  In the world of the MNM, news stories that reveal potentially embarrassing details, even when they are common knowledge and of no great political importance in the candidate’s home state, cannot be anything but attack pieces, because the MNM cannot conceive of something called “journalism” that does not have a malevolent angle to it.  In this they are even more myopic than the biased journalists they presume to replace.

It is bizarre that Hewitt doesn’t understand that McCain’s appeal, really his only appeal at this point, is his position on the war and his potential credibility as a suitable leader in wartime.  It is especially bizarre since Hewitt is constantly lecturing everyone about how important the war is to “the base” (i.e., it is really important to him and therefore must be important to “the base”).  The position McCain holds would be, incidentally, the same position that Hewitt holds, and both seem to hold out that position out of the same wild-eyed ideological zeal that makes both of them so worrisome.  McCain is also the most reliably pro-life of the Terrible Trio (which may not be saying much, but there it is), which would also apparently jibe with Hewitt’s own stated views.  So what is not clear at all is why Hewitt is pretty openly backing Romney the dancing fraud and not the man who is much more clearly in agreement with him on the two issues (the war and judges) that he says transcend all other issues. 

But this post explains why: McCain is a “maverick.” You see, he has been tainted by the MSM’s love and is therefore untouchable by the likes of Hewitt.  He is tainted unlike, say, Romney, who is entirely a creature of the MSM and would have no name recognition at all if it weren’t for the MSM.  In any case, Hewitt’s deep and penetrating analysis amounts to this: 1) the MSM likes McCain, therefore I, Hugh Hewitt, don’t like McCain, so I accept that he is a “maverick”; other silly people in the MSM say that Hagel is a “maverick,” and therefore Hagel and McCain must both represent the “maverick” vote; Hagel has criticised the war and opposed the mighty “surge,” which would probably be punishable by death if I, Hewitt, had my way, and therefore he falls into some vague category of “White Flag Republican” which actually stands for “anyone who disagrees with me [Hewitt] about any aspect of the war.”  The “Buchananites” (translation from Hewittian: real conservatives) naturally fall into this category, since we certainly disagree with him and oppose the war, so Hewitt seems to think that we “Buchananites” want to support Chuck Hagel.  On this last point, while there is an occasional exception here or there, he could not be generally more wrong.  In all of this, he has shown himself to not only be a first-class dunce of a political analyst, but someone whose every opinion about any number of topics related to the war and the primary contest has been completely shaped and dictated by the MSM and its “narratives” about McCain and Hagel.  Amusingly for someone who so fervently hates the MSM as he clearly does, he is completely taken in by their descriptions of all these things and shows literally no ability to scrutinise or criticise the claims that they make except when it comes to making broad, sweeping statements about partisan bias or a failure to report the “good news.”

Update: Hewitt then criticises a post (the link Hewitt gives is broken) by my former EM colleague, Leon Wolf, for circulating a story about a couple of Romney’s sons being at a Brownback event and supposedly “crashing” it.  Mr. Wolf claims no such thing, but simply remarks on the Spartanburg straw poll results: “It is perhaps no wonder, then, that Romney’s campaign folks were apparently busy trying to discover Senator Brownback’s secret at a recent campaign stop in South Carolina.”  Mr. Wolf makes no claim that Romney’s people are “crashing” the event or that they weren’t allowed to be there.  The point Mr. Wolf is making is that Romney’s campaign is doing so badly that he has his sons out there doing research on Brownback to figure out how he is appealing to more people in South Carolina than Romney.  Besides rather blatantly misrepresenting Mr. Wolf’s post, Hewitt doesn’t seem to grasp the signal of the Romney campaign’s weakness that this story about Romney’s sons at the event sends out. 

Mr. Wolf (my link, unlike that of Mr. New Media, is not broken) linked to the Prowler piece I linked to earlier.  This is incidentally accompanied today by Philip Klein’s pretty thorough takedown of Romney.  The Prowler refers to the Politico “rehab” story about Romney.  The Prowler link to this story would be bad enough, but the Prowler then comments on another element of Romney’s campaign: 

The fact that Romney is apparently tweaking his message, moving toward “family” issues, is also interesting, particularly since it puts him in the position of parroting one of his competitor’s longstanding issues. Sen. Sam Brownback has been running on a platform of saving the family from a culture of death and depravity for months. Suddenly Romney has discovered it?

The Prowler concludes sarcastically, referring to Romney’s sons at the Brownback event: “We hope Mitt’s boys were taking notes.”  This follows the remarks on the Politico story, which note about Romney’s ad buys: “Such buys are unheard of at this point in the campaign.”  In other words, the campaign is sending out a warning signal: “Help! We’re drowning!”  In his madness, Hewitt also regards the Politico story as “very favorable to Romney.”  It is a story detailing how Romney hopes to recover from one of the worst months in recent presidential campaigning!  It is a story that talks about how Romney is planning to fritter away his money at an absurdly fast rate.  If that’s favourable coverage, I’d like to know what Hewitt thinks a hit piece looks like.  Oh, we’ve already covered that.

Here’s a pretty easy test to determine whether you should vote.  For some reason, I completely blanked on the last two questions, but got the rest right (which isn’t saying much).  At the risk of distorting your results, watch for Michael Moore sporting a UNM baseball cap.  I had no idea our university was so popular with left-wing rabble-rousers.  That will make some of the students there very happy. 

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland. long a province, be
A Nation once again!

As the old Fenian song reminds us, the story of Thermopylae has been used and reused more than a few times.  300 the “graphic novel” was no different, and shares with this Fenian song the conceit that Spartans were fighting for “freedom,” which is only true in the sense of thinking of the independence of their polis and resistance to barbarian rule as defining freedom.  In the mouths of Miller’s Spartans, the invocations of “freedom and reason” come off sounding like bad speechwriting for the current administration or, just as annoyingly in its way, the motto of a libertarian magazine.  Whether or not the lines from the “novel” sound as trite when spoken in the film, I don’t know.  When reading it, I do remember thinking that it was this forced ideological part of the “novel”–where the Spartans simply had to be fighting for some high Ideal and couldn’t just be fighting to repel the invasion of foreign conquerors–that was the least interesting.  No doubt it is only a matter of time before certain jingo enthusiasts of the movie begin referring to war opponents as new Ephialteses. 

The AP movie critic has dubbed 300 “ultraviolent.”  If the hype about how supposedly super-gory the mildly violent Apocalypto was is any indication of how squeamish modern movie critics have become, the knock on 300 for being excessively violent (which seems silly, since it is a movie about the comic version of a battle) is probably overblown.  I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t say myself whether the other knock the AP critic gives it is justified.  Like 300 the “graphic novel,” which I have actually read (who says four years of college and five years of graduate school taught me nothing?), the movie is apparently extremely pleased with its own seriousness and insists that you, the audience, take it just as seriously:

But Snyder’s depiction of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans fought off a much larger Persian army, is so over-the-top it’s laughable — so self-serious, it’s hard to take seriously. 

I don’t know what it means to say that a movie based on a comic book is over the top.  There are bad comic book movies (Daredevil, Fantastic Four, X-Men 3) and entertaining comic book movies.  They are pretty much all “over the top” once you see people sprouting claws, leaping from building to building or, in this case, fighting an army depicted with such purely Orientalist imagination that it would make Edward Said spin in his grave.  Everything about 300 the “novel” is over the top.  From the few clips I have seen in previews, the costumes and ethnic stereotypes seem to have leapt full-blown from the deeper reaches of George Lucas’ mind onto the screen.  I expect the cacophony of PC screeching any day now.  But criticising exaggeration and camp in comic book movies would be like ridiculing Bollywood movies for all the song and dance numbers–these things are integral to the genre and cannot be cut out without making it into an entirely different kind of movie.  You may as well hold the moodiness of noir films against them, or discount the New Wave for its unconventional style–what’s the point? 

Matthew Dowd, who was a senior strategist to George W. Bush in 2000 and his chief strategist in 2004, has said that if Republicans are to win national elections in the future, they must increase their share of the minority vote. And the Hispanic vote is the most fertile ground.

“Hispanics are more like European immigrants of the early 1900s or late 1800s,” Dowd said. “They are like the Irish: They start out Democratic, but as they become part of the economic mainstream, they become much more valuable to Republicans.” ~The Politico

That must be why there are so many Armenian-American Republicans running around.  Who can forget the great work done by Hnchaks for Bush in ‘04?  That’s also why there are so many Irish-American Republican voters tipping Massachusetts, New York and Illinois into the GOP column on a regular basis.  Obviously, there are some Irish-Americans who have been or have become Republicans (Reagan was the most famous example), just as you had a large number of white ethnic voters who changed party affiliations in the ’80s or, in some cases, even earlier, but I am guessing that non-European immigrant groups tend to affiliate with the Republicans in relatively smaller numbers and these low levels of support for the GOP persist generation after generation.  It was probably culture war and national defense matters that brought a lot of these ethnic voters over to the GOP side, rather than the result of the gradual embourgeoisement of the immigrant groups.  That doesn’t absolutely rule out the possibility that the latter will bring in a few new supporters, but the overwhelming majority will always go to the Democrats, because they embody the political values and programs that the immigrant groups are more likely to embrace because of the political habits they have inherited and brought with them.  The GOP can wage demographic revolution against this country, but they should not mistake it for the route, whether in the short or long term, to their own future political dominance. 

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2008 presidential campaign has been burdened by unusually public discussion about his behavior with women. ~The Politico

Back home we are all familiar with the stories of the governor’s, um, hands-on approach to personal interaction, and those of us who don’t like him (myself included) are glad to point out that he can be quite crude when he is around women.  That being said, I have never heard any serious allegations of really improper conduct, and, as far as I know, unlike with a certain other Governor Bill there have never been any stories about the governor’s wandering eye.  John Dendahl, former state chairman of the GOP and his opponent in the gubernatorial race last time around, would have used even the slightest hint of scandal against Richardson, but it has simply never come up.  There are all sorts of reasons why Richardson shouldn’t be President, but this isn’t one of them.

It is the one-size-fits-all mentality, that’s what lies behind it. Individualism is notoriously eclectic in the sort of human lives it regards as perfectly legitimate, acceptable, capable of being lived properly, virtuously. But what do so many conservatives want? To get a clear view of this one need but read the non-fiction works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who would send us all back to live on the farms; or John Lukacs, who has become an environmentalist and is urging us all “to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where [we] live.” ~Tibor Machan

Apparently these citations are supposed to serve as some kind of insult.  Farming!  Tending the landscape!  You can almost hear him sneer when he says Prof. Lukacs “has become an environmentalist.”  How can he live with himself?  Before you know it, these people might even be encouraging others to get married and raise families.  What will the mad fools think of next?   

If Mr. Machan were in the least familiar with the tradition of conservative thought represented by ISI and the IR, both of which he maligns in this article, he would know that the last thing these folks have is a “one-size-fits-all mentality.”  Decentralism, variety, and the encouragement of regional and local diversity are among their guiding principles.  If they don’t accept the ideas that liberty entails self-indulgent license or that liberty should mean the collapse of community, this is indeed because they want to uphold the integrity of the variety of people who are inevitably reduced to increasingly identical masses of individuals in a world where particular loyalties and attachments are swept away in the storms of “creative destruction” and the homogenising effects of centralised politics, mass media and mass consumerism.  It is because individualism is the prelude to every abusive collectivist backlash (because the atomisation and separation of individualism is unnatural for man) that those genuinely interested in preserving inherited liberties regard individualism in every sphere as an abomination and a threat.

Inexplicably, after reading (or, more likely, quickly browsing) Look Homeward, America he has this to say:

Each of these advocates embraces just one of thousands of ways of living a good human life, favoring it above all the rest but for no discernible, rational reason one
can identify.

There are thousands of ways to live a good human life?  I suppose there may theoretically be thousands of kinds of work a man can do, or thousands of places he can live, but when it comes to living a good, humane life the alternatives are actually surprisingly few.  You can hold fast to the traditions and customs of your fathers, remain loyal to your hometown, raise a family, cultivate habits of restraint and discipline of the passions (submitting them, by the way, to reason and moral imagination) and worship God as you have learned from your religion, or you can choose to neglect one or more of these things.  Ayn Rand, to pick on the hero of Objectivists (since they feel compelled to kick around some of our folks), neglected pretty much all of them and was proud that she had done so.  We on the traditional conservative side argue that the former assist in cultivating human flourishing, and we discern this from the effects these practices actually have in the real world and the effects that their neglect has.  Individualism cannot contribute to human flourishing, because man was not meant to live in just any old way.  There is a way of life in accordance with nature, so in the sense that everyone is human (which even includes the Objectivists) it is appropriate to say that there is, broadly speaking, one, virtuous way to live.  That a man can live a virtuous life in a variety of professions and settings is not in doubt.  How insisting upon the life of the virtues dictates a “one-size-fits-all” view of things, I have to confess I have no idea.   

Just to keep matters in balance, let me point out that although it is mostly the Left that hates individualism—remember, socialism means that we, humanity, are all just one organism—the Right’s hostility toward it is no less virulent.  Just recall that both Hitler and Stalin hated individualism, in any of its varieties. ~Tibor Machan

Actually, Hitler and Stalin hated personal liberty and they hated individualism.  To confuse the two is typical of people who think that individualism is somehow a good thing.  Also, Hitler was a radical nationalist who endorsed the supreme importance of labour and encouraged the collaboration of the state and industry in a state capitalist economy.  Only in the fever dreams of libertarians does that place him on “the Right” or associate him with conservatives of any stripe.  If this is how Mr. Machan begins his tiresome attack, you can just imagine how much worse it gets. 

Peer into the abyss, if you dare.

These kinds of associations of money and politics are wrong in my view….I do not like the influence of money. ~Mitt Romney

This is the man whose profound commitment to the First Amendment was only recently awakened.  Perhaps he was meeting with a local director of the ACLU and they were discussing freedom of speech and association when it struck him.  Perhaps he would tell it this way: “I was sitting there with my chief of staff and we just sort of looked at each other and realised that all these reforms we had been supporting were unconstitutional.  We had never really given it much thought before!”

Of McCain-Feingold, Romney has, of course, said something different: “one of the worst things in my lifetime.”  Perhaps he can square his newfound contempt for the major piece of campaign finance legislation of the last thirty years with his opposition to money in politics, but I doubt it.  I would hazard a guess that a well-heeled, connected corporate type who wants to become President, such as Romney is, realised that having “moneyed interests” in politics weren’t so bad after all as long as you’re the one receiving the money. 

More on Romney and the ’08 race here and here.

 

Even if you argue that Mr. Bush brought this on himself, the fact remains that presidential authority is in a hole. At this rate of erosion, there will be such lack of clarity about the presidential role come January 2009 that any new president will spend an entire term merely reestablishing his or her authority.  A Democratic president who hasn’t drawn a line in the presidential sand will be in hock to the party’s pacifist left. Absent a vigorous debate on these matters, we are likely to elect a weak President, no matter who wins.  ~Daniel Henninger

Having a weak President is like having a weak jailor–it means that there is that much more chance of a successful escape from his clutches. 

We and they seem to be operating in separate universes just now: they in the beanbag political world as defined by campaign consultants and we in the world defined by al Qaeda, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin. ~Daniel Henninger

Is Daniel Henninger’s world really defined by Al Qaeda, Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Putin?  How terribly sad.  What a miserable life he must be living if the contours of his world are set by people he will never meet and who have, on the whole, nothing to do with him.  It makes political junkies fretting over Giuliani’s social views seem positively grounded and normal.

There’s much more tolerance for serious freethinkers — the Johns Hopkins scholar Eliot Cohen was just hired at State. ~David Brooks

Is Brooks trying to be funny?  Did he just use the words “serious” and “freethinker” in the same sentence with Eliot Cohen’s name?  This Eliot Cohen, who wrote this?  If he’s a freethinker, what on earth does a mindless conformist look like?  I didn’t realise that Eliot Cohen now works for the State Department.  That is a very depressing thing to learn.

Dan McCarthy is similarly unimpressed by Will’s column and doubts that the experience of addressing NYC’s problems in the last decade has any bearing on the problems of the nation today.  He asks:

Is Ruday gonna save the country from the legions of menacing squeegee men rampant in Peoria and Albuquerque? 

Hey, that’s squeegeefascist!  Some people clearly don’t take the threat of militant squeegeeism as seriously as Rudy does.  How many times have I been driving around Albuquerque when I am at home and been beset by the roving hordes of squeegeefascists?  How many times have Albuquerqueans of all classes and races cried out, “How long, O Lord, until Thou shalt send us a deliverer from the torment of the squeegee?”?  Too many, let me tell you.

Rudy will probably also be able to fix the plague of jaywalking that is currently crippling Hyde Park.  He may prove to be completely incompetent when it comes to doing anything required of the President, but he has urban reform down pat. 

I’m not sure why George Will and other boosters of the Terrible Trio feel obliged to point out all of Reagan’s worst deeds in state government.  They seem to think that what Reagan did on economic and social policy shouldn’t disturb us much because we all know that he became a paragon of conservatism.  If he could become a great conservative icon after signing legalised abortion and no-fault divorce bills, surely Giuliani can become another icon!  Of course, this does nothing but to drive home just how unduly flexible and unprincipled our use of the word “conservative” will have had to become if we want to whitewash Reagan’s past mistakes in the name of hero-worship.  It’s also worth pointing out that Reagan did not actually become the nominee until a lengthy, decent interval had passed between his Californian errors and his 1980 campaign.  If Reagan was engaged in rank opportunism as he moved somewhat to the right on social issues, he did not benefit from it without having to wait for a while.  Romney would like to skip the decade-long wait and the failed nomination challenge, and McCain and Giuliani would prefer to not play the role of Reagan at all.  They are all obviously unusually power-hungry men who radiate an exceptionally dangerous sense of self-importance, and voters would have to be either drunk or mad to give any of them the kind of power they want to have. 

Will seems to see nothing wrong with the possibility that Romney is merely cynically manipulating voters with this appeal.  But Romney knows that Mr. Bush didn’t have to govern anything like a conservative and still won re-election; he simply wants to get a shot at the White House, and he thinks he has found his way to do that.  Once he’s in, he can govern however he likes while still mouthing all the right platitudes.  As long as his reversion to form isn’t too blatant or sudden, he will not suffer too much politically.  He doesn’t have to turn back into a full-blown pro-abortion, tax-hiking pol to betray the people whose support he wants now; he simply needs to not act on any of the things that matter to conservatives, and he will have shown himself to be a con-man.  Having been burned by one massive fraud of a conservative President, whose lack of conservatism some of us could see from a mile away, many more on the right are now unsurprisingly not content to go through it all over again. 

There are two big problems with Will’s use of Reagan here: the very examples Will cites remind us that Reagan was never that paragon of conservatism in all respects, and breathless invocations of him as such are bound to come off sounding a little strange; even if Reagan were that paragon, what sort of accomplishment would it be for conservatives to be right back where they were 27 years ago in terms of their choices for leadership?  That is what Will and other party establishment types are insisting upon: after a generation of building a (rather largely unsuccessful) movement, conservatives should be willing to accept these three astonishingly poor, unelectable candidates because Reagan, who was actually a strong, electable candidate who showed more respect than offering mere lip service to conservatives, also failed to live up to social conservative orthodoxies that had not yet become prevailing concerns of what had been hitherto primarily a government-shrinking, constitutionalist political movement.  Because at least some of the most radical innovations in social policy had not yet occurred, there was not yet a groundswell of religious conservative opposition to those innovations, so it is no wonder that there would have been a greater tolerance for new and possibly opportunistic “converts” in those days.  Now one might expect to be able to find someone much more reliable and credible on these matters.  Meanwhile, these three, unlike Reagan, have all had the chance to see the bad fruits of past mistakes and the disintegration of social order attendant upon socially liberal policies that they have all supported or still support and yet they were/are completely unconcerned about the consequences of the bad policies they favoured/favour.  They have all demonstrated decades-long persistence in anti-conservative views on some of the more important questions of the day; only Romney has had the unusually poor taste of pretending that he is now truly “one of us.”  According to Will, because Reagan, who was always of a more socially “libertarian” bent when it came to government, made similarly gross deviations particularly from social conservatism (a social conservatism that had not yet become politically important), their gross deviations should be accepted today in the vague hope that maybe, just maybe, one of these three might also…cut our taxes! 

In fact, Will seems to be confirming what social and religious conservatives are already saying: whether or not conservatism comes in quite as many flavours as Will thinks (including those delicious non-conservative and faux conservative flavours), the social conservatives don’t much care for the taste of any of these three.  Will here simply tells them to shut up and eat their socially liberal vegetables.  In short, the establishment doesn’t care at all whether the rank-and-file like the options being forced down their throat, and it is telling them: you’d better get used to it, because we’re not going to allow any of these other candidates to go anywhere.   

But it isn’t just the folks primarily concerned with abortion who are unhappy.  If you’re an antitax man, Romney and McCain are definitely bad bets; if you’re a restrictionist, Giuliani and McCain are far beyond the pale, and Romney can’t be trusted (just as he can’t be trusted on anything).  You can do this on every policy question, and you will discover just how horrendous these three are.  It is not for nothing that an amnesty-backing humanitarian interventionist such as Brownback can gain some traction when he portrays himself as a “full-scale conservative.”  He isn’t any such thing, but he is so much more believable than these other three and so much more reliable on a host of issues (notably not including immigration) that it is laughable than the others are leading the field. 

Even understanding their establishment ties and their contempt for the broad mass of conservative voters, it is still somewhat bizarre to watch Republican pundits push these candidates.  It is as if many of the major Democratic talking heads and writers rallied around an unreconstructed Southern Democrat, Joe Lieberman and a recently-converted liberal zealot, James Inhofe, who just ”discovered” that Kyoto is imperative for planetary survival and wants to campaign on a “Share Our Wealth” platform.  Far from being treated as the natural or obvious top three candidates for the Democratic nomination, virtually no one would give them the time of day, since they would be either completely unrepresentative of the party they were trying to lead or completely untrustworthy.  “I have learned from experience that global warming is not the elaborate conspiracy and hoax that I have been saying it was for all those years,” Inhofe would say, and perhaps little websites would be started up called Greens for Inhofe.  Perhaps someone will say that this is the virtue of the “broad-minded” “big tent” of the GOP that you can have three leading candidates who don’t believe in most of the things the rank-and-file believe (or whose convictions cannot be trusted), but I imagine that would simply confirm for everyone that the “big tent” rhetoric was always just a way to foist unwanted candidates and policies on the voters. 

 

Shorter pro-Giuliani argument: Because of 9/11, pro-life conservatives have to support someone who will make sure that the government kills a lot of people overseas.

Shorter Belle Waring: What if we lived in a world where everything was completely different from the real world, human beings were nothing like actual human beings and there was never any danger of crime?  What if we lived in Aldous Huxley’s head?

Via Ross Douthat

Dr. Trifkovic’s latest confirms what I thought to be the case about the “surge” back in January.  He begins:

During a recent White House meeting, the Washington Post reported on March 5, a group of governors asked President Bush and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about their backup plan for Iraq if the current “surge” fails. The conclusion they took away, the governors later said, was that there is no Plan B; or, as Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee put it, “Plan B was to make Plan A work.”

As I wrote on 30 January:

If we’re playing a “field position” game, as Sen. Lugar absurdly describes it, that means we had better have an awfully good “punt kicker.”  In the real world that means we would have to be something like a back-up plan when the surge (sorry, “draw play”) fails.  (For those paying attention, we don’t have any such back-up plan.) 

Dr. Trifkovic was very clear-eyed about the “surge” two months ago:

What was really new in the President’s address? It was his statement that he would establish certain benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, and that if they fail to do so there would be certain consequences, presumably unpleasant consequences for Mr. al-Maliki and his team. What is also new is not a “strategy” but a tactical military matter. Instead of simply going into neighborhoods, cleaning them up and then going out and thus enabling the insurgents to come back again, the President now says that U.S. troops will have sufficient numbers to retain a presence in the neighborhoods from which the insurgents had been expelled. Presumably those neighborhoods would then be transferred to the Iraqis’ control once a modicum of stability has been achieved. Let me emphasize, this is a purely tactical issue, nothing to do with “strategy.”

In strategic terms, the only novelty is the stress on the behavior of the Iraqi government, and in particular its commitment to end the sectarian strife. But this is an element that does not depend on the will and the resources of the United States. In other words, the President is basing his “new strategy” – such as it is – on a “known unknown,” to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld. He is basing it on the assumption that the Shia-dominated government of al-Maliki (who is a protégé of Muqtada al-Sadr) will work for the establishment of a truly unified Iraqi security force that will eliminate all militias regardless of their sectarian coloring and regardless of their core allegiance. In my opinion, that expectation is completely unrealistic.

Dr. Trifkovic argues in his new article for containment of the Iraqi civil war within Iraq and a sort of dual containment of the insurgency and the Shi’ite majority inside Iraq combined with containment of Iran. 

He also writes that Iraq “did not attack us,” ignoring the multiple instances of it trying to shoot down our airplanes that were enforcing the no-fly zone created not unilaterally by the United States but under U.N. auspices. ~Quin Hillyer

I’m sure Mr. Hillyer must believe this claim, as so many war supporters seem to, since it is one of those claims repeatedly thrown in the face of war opponents.  It is, however, simply untrue that it was under U.N. auspices.  Perhaps proponents of the war do not believe that the no-fly zones should have needed U.N. authorisation, and perhaps they think U.N. authorisation and operating under the organisation’s auspices are vastly overrated, but they cannot claim U.N. authority for the no-fly zones.  They were set up quite unilaterally, or trilaterally if you like, by the United States, Great Britain and France.  By my reading of the U.N. Charter, they were pretty clearly illegal infringements on Iraqi sovereignty.  No-fly zone defenders have claimed that these actions were legal under UNSCR 688, but the text of this resolution does not even begin to authorise ongoing air patrols.  The resolution was a statement about repression of minorities and humanitarian crisis.  It does not say that other member states can or should intervene to stop this repression and it specifically states in its opening sections:

Reaffirming the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq [bold mine-DL] and of all States in the area…   

Perhaps all of that doesn’t matter to war supporters, and they think that Washington and the allies did the right, albeit illegal, thing.  But what none of them can do is claim that the no-fly zones were anything other than American and allied intervention done without legal sanction under international law.  If they really want to argue that responses to such repeated, systematic violations of another state’s sovereignty constitute an attack by that state on our forces and thus constitute a cause for war, they can do so, but it won’t be convincing.

Quin Hillyer and Robert Dreyfuss square off over the question, “Is Iraq Worth Fighting For?”  Mr. Dreyfuss makes many arguments about the implausibility of victory that seem to me to be fairly sound (I have made more than a few of them myself), but Mr. Hillyer is correct that Dreyfuss doesn’t exactly answer the question at hand: is Iraq worth it?  Mr. Hillyer says yes, because he regards the fight as not only honourable and noble, but as being in the national interest.  That last point seems to me to be the most important. 

If there is/was a compelling national interest in success in Iraq, it might very easily be concluded that the fight is/was worthwhile.  That wouldn’t necessarily change any of the prudential arguments about whether the fight could actually be won (thus making the whole discussion a bit academic), nor would it address whether any of the pre-invasion goals were ever achievable, but it would mean that the fight had not been entirely without some legitimate purpose.  It might imply that Americans should even be willing to tolerate more American deaths in pursuit of a worthy cause, but even this hinges on practical questions of the likelihood of success. 

So, is Iraq worth it?  Is this war actually a just one?  Is this war in the national interest? 

In a word, no.  Quite plainly, I have always believed, and have argued since the beginning in whatever forum I could find before I had this blog, that Iraq was not worth one American life.  Not one.  That remains as true today as it was in 2002.  There is no real American interest that required or even hinted at the need for an invasion of Iraq, and I am convinced that the United States should never risk the lives of American soldiers except where some real American interest requires that risk.  There can be arguments over what constitutes a “real” American interest, but I would like to think that there ought to be a general consensus, at least among conservatives, that if there is no such interest our government has no business getting involved. 

I know what the foreign policy and political establishment types have said and what they continue to say about ”threats” to this country from countries in the Near East, and they are almost always wrong.  They were spectacularly wrong about Iraq, but not simply in the obvious “bad intelligence” ways.  Almost every assumption they made about how Iraq supposedly threatened the United States was wrong.  In no conceivable way did it threaten the mainland U.S., nor was there any real threat to Europe, nor was there an uncontainable threat to Israel or the Gulf states.  A weak, fractured despotism that had been economically half-starved into compliance not only didn’t pose a serious threat to anyone, but couldn’t even begin to do so.  We might as well regard Zimbabwe as a major threat to the world by the standards used to judge Iraq to be a threat.  Whether these establishment folks are very bad at what they do, or whether they are dishonest, I cannot tell for most of them, but wrong they certainly are.  I say “almost” in these statements simply because I do not want to rule out entirely the possibility that they may, at some point, get something right.  But it has been a while since that happened. 

Besides, any invasion of Iraq was inevitably going to be a war of aggression, which cannot be squared with a commitment to international law or justice.  As it happens, the war is also unconstitutional and is being run by executive fiat, which ought to trump everything else in conservative circles, but I have long since given up hope of trying to convince war supporters of anything related to the Constitution.  People who believe the executive has broad, undefined ”inherent powers” will believe just about anything. 

This is, I suppose, about as hard-line antiwar as you are likely to find, but the reasons for this position seem to me to be abundant.  There are three elements to my position: strategic, legal and moral.

For there to have been anything in the national interest that actually might compel the government to invade Iraq, at least one of the following three things had to be true: 1) Iraq was an uncontainable threat to vital resources or allies; 2) Iraq was an uncontainable threat to the United States itself; 3) Iraq was working hand-in-glove with Al Qaeda.  Some opponents of the war (rightly) never believed government claims about WMDs, and many correctly dismissed claims about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda as being essentially inherently absurd.  (Interestingly, having pushed this falsehood as strongly as he could, watch how Feith now runs from this position as quickly as he can.)  This latter claim was entirely untrue as far as any meaningful or active cooperation between the two were concerned.  The WMD question was somewhat more vexed, but there were inspectors who correctly claimed prior to the invasion that the weapons had been eliminated and the programs shut down.  It is therefore not true if anyone should say that we did not have good reason to think government claims were false.  These claims, which were by far the most accurate, were simply ignored or brushed aside.

Success in its most optimistic, pre-invasion terms of a genuinely liberal democratic Iraq that would make peace with Israel and serve as a model for the region was not actually ever possible for many of the reasons antiwar conservatives gave before the war, but suppose for a moment that it was possible.  Wouldn’t that great dream have been worth it?  No, not at all.  Two reasons: 1) America should never, barring an attack or uncontainable threat from that country’s government, attempt to dictate through the use of force the political future of any other country; 2) even the most optimistic scenario of liberal democratic Eden serves no compelling U.S. interests. 

Does it actually matter to American security whether people in the Near East vote in their bad governments or not?  Well, no, it doesn’t.  Latin American countries are going hog-wild with democratic mass movements, most of which seem antithetical to U.S. interests and liberal values, just as would be the inevitable outcome of any kind of democracy in the Near East. 

I will have to assume that Mr. Hillyer is at least partly joking when he invokes the colour revolutions, since one of these was simply a jockeying for power between different clans (Kyrgyzstan), the other was a jockeying for power between different sets of oligarchs (Ukraine) and in the Georgian case it has raised to power a rather foolishly belligerent demagogue who likes picking fights with Russia over South Ossetia and who rallied his followers during the “revolution” at the birthplace of Stalin.  If this is the “light of freedom” spreading, I would prefer increased darkness.  That the Cedar “Revolution” precipitated the internal political upheaval that has been rocking Lebanon ever since and has worked to empower Hizbullah more than it already was would have to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm about its effects.  This is not just a matter of good revolutions going slightly awry.  These revolutions were never the great democratic movements that they were made out to be, if by democratic we mean anything remotely resembling our own system.  They were mob demonstrations of vested clan, sect or regional interests, and it is the political constitutions of these countries that have made these “revolutions” “fail” to live up to their promises, since most of the high-flown rhetoric serves simply as a screen for pursuit of power and the exploitation of the institutions of government for the benefit of their faction.  If democrats want to say that this is democracy and is desirable, they can, but I don’t see how that would encourage anyone to want to promote democracy.   

Let’s ask a different, related question: is it the proper business of the United States government to use its military so that people in other nations can be liberated from repressive governments?  Quite simply, no, it isn’t.  That isn’t what our government exists to do.  It should use its military to defend our country, any allies with which we may have defense treaties and vital resources.  It cannot be worthwhile to liberate other peoples because it is a kind of war that not only goes far beyond what our government is supposed to be doing and engages in conflicts that it has no right to involve our people in, but also because it quite clearly harms the United States in the process.

More basically, any such intervention is, by definition, an act of aggression by one state against another.  An intervention with the stated goal of regime change is even more obviously an act of aggression.  This has no justification in international law and clearly violates international law in its infringement on the sovereignty of another state. 

Aggressive war cannot be moral and it cannot be just.  To choose war, as our government indeed did, is to choose to unleash all the horrors of war on people who have done no lasting, grave or permanent harm to us.  They may or may not be wretched, awful people.  They may or may not be tyrants.  Whether they are or not is actually irrelevant to the question of whether our government has the right to commit aggression against another state.  The bottom line is that the attacked state has done nothing to deserve our attack on it.  How much less, then, do the civilians killed in the process deserve it?  How can a war of aggression ever be “worth” the moral stain and illegality that it entails?  How can unleashing hell on earth without cause ever be worthwhile?  It cannot be.  That is the answer Mr. Dreyfuss should have given. 

Update: In his response to Mr. Hillyer, he does make a few of these arguments as well. 

The extremists understand only the language of power, and any reluctance or softness on the part of the Iraqi or U.S. government would only embolden them.  In this way the clearly voiced commitment of President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki was exactly the type of strong message that needed to be sent. ~Omar and Mohammed Fadhil

Apparently they also understand forceful language.  All we need to do is give them (”the extremists”) a stern talking-to, and everything could be straightened out.  That’s good to know.  It couldn’t be that with the Shi’ite militias going to ground (proof that the “surge” is “working”) we would see a replay of the rampant anti-Shi’ite carnage of 2003-2004 that originally caused these militias to begin carrying out revenge and sectarian killings, could it?  No, obviously not.

Tradition is another name for contingency. ~Andrew Sullivan

While I really don’t want to be too pedantic, this is ridiculous conceptual confusion.  Nothing new about that in Sullivan’s writing, I know, but this is a particularly bad example of dismissing an important concept (tradition) by completely misunderstanding what it is.  Tradition is contingent, historically, culturally, even to some extent geographically, but that does not mean tradition = contingency.  That would be like saying that history = contingency. 

This would also be like saying, “Sunlight is just another name for warmth.”  You couldn’t get away with saying something that silly, except perhaps in a poem, but I wonder whether everyone would be equally aware of just how silly this statement is.  You cannot take an attribute, make it into a substantive and then say that this substantive is identical with the thing that it modified when it was an attribute.   

This is to take a quality of a thing, even one of its major qualities, and confuse it for the thing itself.  This is to make an attribute the equal of its substance, which is a fundamental confusion of categories.  It is neo-Barlaamism, and we all know why Barlaam was wrong, don’t we?  Well, Sullivan probably doesn’t.

When President Bush leaves tomorrow on a five-nation tour of Latin America, he will be entering a region that has become more important to our national security than at any point since the Cold War. ~Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Exactly how has it become more important?  She’ll tell us:

A fresh wave of authoritarianism — fueled by petrodollars, populism and anti-Americanism — has cast a dark cloud over the future of freedom in our hemisphere. In order to deal with this emerging threat, we need to dust off the Cold War playbook and become increasingly active in helping our friends to the south.

This would be the authoritarianism brought about through the ballot box.  I am perfectly happy to agree that mass democracy leads to authoritarianism and even to despotism, and I believe it is doing just that in Latin America, but let’s be very specific about what we’re talking about.  Several Latin American countries will become, or have become, basketcases because of the proper, regular functioning of mass democracy.  Mass democracy is a threat to freedom, indeed its very antithesis in many respects, but if we were going to make it our business (which we shouldn’t) we should be very clear that we are opposing the rise of successful democratic polities in Latin America because of the politics of the majority of the people in many Latin American countries.  This seems short-sighted and pointless to me, as most interventionism always does, but I insist that if Mr. Bush wants to meddle he has to admit that he is meddling to stymy democracy and oppose the will of most people in Venezuela, Bolivia, etc.  That should make for an amusing press conference, if nothing else.

Not only do we have a moral responsibility, but we have a larger responsibility here, Jim, in our obligations to NATO, our commitment to those people. And I think the president is right on this one. We can’t defer this tough decision any more, because if we do, it will get worse. There’s butchery going on in the backyard of NATO — my goodness, if NATO can’t deal with it there, a few hundred miles away from NATO headquarters. So any measurement of the responsibilities that we have as a people, it’s very clear to me that we have to get in and deal with this along with our 18 NATO allies. And I think we can and I think we should. ~Sen. Chuck Hagel

That icon of the “appeasers” then went on to say about the bombing of Yugoslavia, using words that probably will be thrown back in his face today:

At the same time, we have to be careful we don’t squander some precious time here and give Milosevic the wrong message that we may be divided. We are in this to win. That debate is over, as far as are we committed or not. We’re committed. As Senator Hutchinson said, we crossed that line, and we have elevated expectations. We can’t lose this. This is not only the credibility of the United States and NATO, but as we move into this next century, other Milosevics, people in Iraq, in North Korea, in other places are watching this very intently to see what the will is of the United States and NATO.

Can someone remind me again why antiwar conservatives should like Chuck Hagel?

This, of course, is the perplexing thing about the Munich analogy. It’s made with a sort of eerie constancy, like the world is just chock-a-block with Hitlers. The salient fact about Hitler, however, and the world situation in the 1930s, is that it was unusual time and Hitler an unusual person. The suggestion that we should make recourse to strategies that, allegedly, would have, in retrospect, have been optimal for coping with Hitler as our regular basis for dealing with foreign leaders who don’t eagerly submit to American hegemonic aspirations is daft. ~Matt Yglesias

Yes, it is daft.  It is also the sum total of the neoconservative understanding of how to run a foreign policy.  Naturally, Yglesias is commenting on a Ledeen post.  This post tagged Hagel as the “ideal standard-bearer” of appeasers (meaning, of course, all people who oppose Ledeen’s brand of mad interventionism of the “throw a crappy country against the wall every ten years” variety).  Given Hagel’s foreign policy views and his record, that’s like saying Lieberman is the “ideal standard-bearer” of pacifists or McCain is the “ideal standard-bearer” of paleocons.  Hagel is such an “appeaser” that he voted to authorise Bush to attack Iraq; he was such an “appeaser” that he supported the bombing of Yugoslavia and he gives you no reason to think that he would not have been a supporter of the Gulf War and Panama had he been in the Senate at the time…well, you get the point.  When it came time to put up or shut up, the man has never not backed the use of force since he was elected.  This lie about Hagel is very much like the reinvention of Jack Murtha as some sort of lily-livered peacenik–it is the only thing neocons have left in their arsenal when traditionally very hawkish and internationalist figures turn against their lunatic policies.  This does not mean that I think Hagel has actually turned against the war, but that even his pointed criticism of how the war is being fought is enough to put him in the ranks of the new Chamberlains.  This is absurd on every level, as you would expect from Ledeen.  The strange thing is that this view of Hagel is widespread on the right, so it cannot be explained away as the fantasy of Ledeen alone.  Brownback is getting similar treatment because he kinda sorta opposed the holy “surge” (but refused to vote for cloture to bring an anti-”surge” resolution to the floor). 

On the constant Munich and appeasement references of the “1938ist” jingoes, I wrote this last summer along similar lines:

Indeed, these paradigms are likely to distort and confuse us more than help our analysis of the situation, not least because certain examples–particularly the 1938 one–impose a moral and emotional weight on the debate that is dangerous and irresponsible.  If you treat this as 1938 and you really think Hitler is on the rise and about to launch his war, nothing is going to deter you from taking action against him, knowing what you know about Hitler.  This makes people get very excited and muddles their thinking.  There is also the problem that Hitler is dead and we are not actually facing Hitler redivivus.  Indeed, it may be that if we act now as some believe the West should have done in 1938 we will precipitate precisely the kind of disaster that we believe we are going to prevent.  Comparisons of this kind are fun, and they give us historians work to do, but they cannot be the basis for analysing international tensions with any effectiveness.  Besides, any ten year old can come up with these comparisons after watching enough History Channel propaganda.  Historians more than anyone know that it is our attention to historical differences that can tell us the most about any given period relative to others.  

And then there’s Nigeria. Is Nigeria just the happiest place in the world, or what? It’s always an outlier in these polls, and this one is no different. Nigerians have a more positive view than the world average of every single country in the poll. They like everyone! Except Venezuela. Why are they so sunny in their outlook about everyone except Venezuela? ~Kevin Drum

I generally share Drum’s amazement at the Nigerians’ belief (40%) in the positive role that North Korea has in the world compared to the mere 28% who believe it has a negative role, but I imagine the problem many Nigerians might have with Venezuela is that it represents a major competitor in oil production.  They also have pretty negative views of Iran (48% neg/31% pos), albeit below the world average, but unusually positive views of Israel (45% pos/31% neg).  They love us (they are more positive about the U.S. role in the world than Americans are) and the Japanese, perhaps because we and the Japanese buy their oil?  Could we really explain the attitudes of an entire country towards other nations solely based on the economics of one of their major exports?  We could try, but that would not explain Nigerian ambivalence about India (43% pos/33% neg).  It also doesn’t work when the Kenyans are just as enthusiastic about everyone and just as down on the Venezuelans.  Apparently the Bolivarian revolution doesn’t translate well in Africa.  Actually, everybody except about half of Lebanon seems to be down on Venezuela (especially the Hungarians!).  Maybe Rick Santorum should go on an international speaking tour.  Actually, what the poll shows is that most people in these countries have no views of Venezuela one way or the other, but most of those who do have an opinion tend to view Venezuela negatively. 

It’s tough out there for a Chavista.   

You hear a politician who says he wants to help people, a sort of Dr. Phil-meets-Ned Flanders for the political arena, someone who just might be able to talk, listen and care his way into the Oval Office. ~Michael Scherer

A politician who wants to help people?  Mr. Bush wanted to help children, and gave us NCLB; he wanted to help Iraqis, and they are now being massacred by the dozens and hundreds every day; he condemned the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and embraced hard-edged, city-destroying incompetence with a little torture thrown in.  Because he cares.  Because he has compassion, and wanted government “to move” when “people hurt.”  Unless they hurt in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Iraq or anywhere else.  Spare us a politician who wants to help people!  I think I may finally understand why the Brooklyn goombah seems so attractive to some people–whatever else you can say about him, he would never unload this treacly garbage about helping people on his audiences.  The point is not that actually helping people is objectionable, but that governments that attempt to “help” invariably do not help and inflict more suffering than if they had left well enough alone.  If governments focused their attention on the very few tasks they should be doing, they just might manage to provide public order and basic border security, keep the streets in good repair and prosecute lawbreakers most of the time.

On a much more fundamental level, Mr. Scherer has just described exactly why Huckabee will go nowhere in the primaries.  Real-life conservatives hate Ned Flanders as an idio-doodli-otic caricature of who we are, and I think all men with a pulse must despise Dr. Phil.  I suspect, but do not know, that all single men want Dr. Phil thrown in prison, where he never will be able to unleash his smarminess on the rest of humanity.  I assume most single women, if they allow themselves to admit the truth, feel the same.  To put these two figures together and have this hybrid talk about the need for arts programs would be to summon forth a lot of hostility.  I mean, a lot.

Of Huckabee, Michael had this good observation a couple months ago:

I recently noticed Mike Huckabee is releasing a book of feel-good psychobabble. I worry that there is an irreversible trend away from Southern politicians who shared folksy wisdom through entertaining metaphors towards Clintonian self-help-helplessness. I don’t want a President whose primary qualification seems to be the self-mastery of weight loss, spurred by diabetes.  I fear also that this is exactly what the American people do want.

Perhaps they really do want a Dr. Phil who can fit into the ugly clothes of Ned Flanders.  If that is the case, God help us all.

Update: On the other hand, Huckabee can also say things like this that make you want to forget the problems with his saccharine huckster act:

“Folks, I stand here today knowing full well that I am probably not the first choice to be president on Wall Street. I am probably not the first choice among the people on K Street,” he told the crowd. “I just want to be the first choice among the people who live on Main Street, out there in the heartland of America, who shop at Wal-Mart, who go to church, who hunt, who fish, who drive pickup trucks and listen to country music and follow NASCAR, the kind of people who are tired of politicians telling them what they want to hear rather than what the politician truly believes.”

“There is a very strong feeling that we have to assert ourselves or we’re going to end up with somebody we can’t support,” says Paul Weyrich, a longtime conservative activist and cofounder of Moral Majority. Weyrich says Christian right leadership is currently split “around fifty-fifty” over whether to pursue such a plan or to adopt an every-man-for-himself approach, in which activists would gravitate toward the candidate of their choice.

A concerted attempt to steer evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic voters toward a second-tier candidate could hit Romney hardest. In reversing his support for abortion rights and gay rights, Romney’s strategy is to convince right-wing Republicans leaning toward Huckabee or Brownback that he’s the more viable candidate. (The plan presumes that McCain and Giuliani will fight for the votes of the Republican establishment.) “There’s a big group of pragmatic social conservatives who don’t want to waste their votes,” says a Romney aide. “We’re going to be the second choice of a lot of people who want to follow their hearts but want a strong candidate.” ~U.S. News & World Report

Via Kirsten Powers

Obviously, nothing would satisfy Romney and the other two more than to watch religious conservative leaders scatter to different campaigns in a such way that is absolutely guaranteed to minimise their influence.  Pretty clearly, they need to rally around someone (I really think their best bet is probably Hunter, because Brownback’s immigration views will kill him with actual primary voters and Huckabee may be quite charming but doesn’t have any experience with military or foreign policy).  In my fantasy world, they would rediscover their inner constititionalist and back Ron Paul, but I know that isn’t going to happen this side of the millennium.  

So the Romney campaign is appealing to “pragmatic” (read gullible) voters on the basis that Romney is a “strong candidate” they should rally around.  It seems as if they have everything they need to make this plan work, except for the strong candidate part.

Read the following and just try to tell me that you didn’t have the same puzzled, baffled reaction I had:

Of the three front-runners, Romney has been courting evangelical leaders most zealously. After a meeting at his Massachusetts home last fall with roughly 15 high-powered religious conservatives, Romney sent each attendee a wooden captain’s chair mounted with a brass plaque that reads, “You are welcome at our table anytime.”

Gar, mateys, ’tis time to vote for Cap’n Romney!

Wooden captain’s chairs?  Where does he come up with this stuff?

On the Republican side, by contrast, things are a bit of a joke. You’d think a fairly normal conservative Republican would win the Republican nomination. But it hasn’t been possible for any normal conservative Republicans to get famous under the Bush shadow, except for Bush’s brother Jeb who, it seems, can’t run because he’s the incumbent’s brother. Instead, we’re left with the Terrible Troika of Romney, Giuliani, and McCain. ~Matt Yglesias

Terrible Troika does actually sound even more terrible than my preferred phrase to refer to these three, the Terrible Trio, so I have to give Matt Yglesias credit for coming up with a phrase that better expresses just how terrible they are.  But, wait, his article gets even better:

Mitt Romney is the most freakishly transparent liar I’ve ever witnessed. His party is desperately reliant on playing the Christian card on election day, but most traditionalist Christians deny that his religion counts as Christianity. He can’t decide which state he’s from, invested major resources in barely winning a Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll last weekend, and, for his trouble, managed to snag the endorsement of Ann Coulter at the same time she was calling John Edwards a “faggot.”

You really can’t accuse Yglesias of exaggerating how bad the top three GOP candidates are, because it is extremely difficult to exaggerate this.      

This seems pretty basic, but if someone gets charged with obstruction of justice and perjury and it later turns out that we discover that there was no “underlying crime” (as some put it in their Clintonian burbling), the justice-obstructing perjuror does not get some sort of “do-over.”  “Oh, see, I couldn’t have lied to the grand jury, because I had nothing to lie about–some other guy said so.”  That’s a bizarre claim to make, especially when it can be demonstrated that this person did lie to the grand jury.  If you think that witness oaths matter, since they are, well, rather fundamental to our entire judicial system, it is matters whether people violate them.  Was 1998 really that long ago?  Did the Goppers lose their copies of the old talking points? 

The main problem with obstructing justice, the evil that the law tries to remedy by criminalising this activity, is that it delays and hamstrings investigations unnecessarily because of a failure to cooperate with officers of the court, which may serve as a cover for far worse crimes.  It may be enabling criminals to destroy evidence that they might otherwise not have had a chance to destroy, or it may be enabling them to cook up a cover story, or it may simply be running up the costs of the investigation in an attempt to drag it out and exhaust the patience of the prosecutor.  Because the investigation has been thwarted and delayed, the prosecutor would not have been able to discover whether or not there were other crimes to investigate, because the person obstructing justice has prevented him from doing his job.  Having wasted the prosecutor’s time and prevented him from reaching the appropriate conclusions about the question of the ”underlying crime,” the justice-obstructing perjurer does not get to say, “No hard feelings!”  He has shown contempt for the rule of law and has to be held accountable.  That is, by the way, what the rule of law means. 

Libby was held accountable.  That is as it should be.  If Republicans really think that having the President pardon a convicted perjuror is the right kind of image of their party that they want to present to the public, by all means push for Libby’s pardon.  Many Americans suspect that Republicans will tolerate any amount of corruption when committed by people on their side.  This is the chance to remove all doubt–don’t disappoint us by suddenly discovering ethical integrity!

This was a political show trial, and partisans of Joe Wilson will use the guilty verdict to declare vindication. ~James Taranto

Needless to say, perhaps, Fox’s Alan Colmes did a pathetic job of challenging Coulter’s flimsy defense. The whole segment was a show trial in reverse. ~Michael Crowley

I don’t know whether this represents some sort of trend in atrocious uses of language, but it is interesting that both of these ridiculous statements appeared on the same day.  The first refers, of course, to the Libby conviction, and the other to an appearance by Ann Coulter on Hannity & Colmes

You can believe that Fitzgerald’s prosecution was driven by political or personal vendetta, as some would like to believe, and you can believe that this case should never have been brought to trial.  I disagree fundamentally with both of these views, since I think that obstructing justice and perjury are wrong regardless of why someone does it (lots of Republicans used to believe the same thing) and that such crimes should be prosecuted if the charges can be proven, but it is possible to hold these other views without becoming a squawking buffoon.  James Taranto, as usual, bounds across that line and never looks back when he calls this a “political show trial,” demonstrating either his tremendous ignorance or his utter corruption of mind.   

A political show trial has a very definite meaning.  These were trials conducted during the Purges of the 1930s whose outcomes were predetermined by the Party and Stalin and therefore whose entire procedure was purely for “show.”  Hence the name.  (Incidentally, Republicans were very eager to talk about ”purges” during the Connecticut Senate primary last year, invoking a word chiefly associated with Bolshevik terror in the context of a domestic election, once again showing themselves to be unfit to comment on anything.)  These trials had no logic or purpose, except to provide a certain veneer of public legitimacy for the deposition of prominent Party men (including top figures such as Zinoviev and Kamenev) that paved the way for their exile, execution and elimination from the historical record.  Unless I have misunderstood the sentences for violations of federal perjury and obstruction of justice statutes, Libby does not stand in much danger of summary execution by NKVD operatives or their equivalent.  He has not been fraudulently charged with crimes he didn’t commit as a way of covering up a purely political prosecution.  The court will not “request” his suicide, nor will his picture be artificially scrubbed out from all official records.  Indeed, we all know that he is going to go scot-free with a pardon, because we are not ruled by laws but by particularly venal and self-serving men, so please spare me the whinging about how Libby is the victim of neo-Stalinist jurisprudence.  This is not only an insult to the millions of victims of Stalinism, but is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.  It is also particularly rich to read complaints about politicised justice coming from the pages of the right’s Pravda, which never thinks that anything the administration does in matters of national security or other policy is as heavily politicised as it obviously is. 

Now to the other example.  While I might theoretically enjoy comparisons of Hannity & Colmes to Stalinist purges, if only to show the relatively greater intellectual integrity of the latter, when someone is silly enough to refer to a cable talk show as a show trial, whether it is in “reverse” or not, it becomes immediately clear how wrong this use of language is.  Most of us do not, I think, make pithy comparisons between certain things we happen to dislike and, say, concentration camps, gas chambers or mass graves.  You don’t usually hear someone say, “Boy, this week’s Meet The Press was a sort of journalistic Kristallnacht–only in reverse!”  I leave it to my readers to puzzle out what “show trial in reverse” even means, but I think it prompts the promulgation of Larison’s First Law of Political Commentary (not to be confused with the Laws of Foreign Policy Commentary): unless you are referring specifically to a contemporary case of politically motivated kangaroo courts that serve as a pretext for the exile and/or execution of political enemies, you never get to compare anything in present-day domestic politics to a show trial; first-time violators should be prohibited from speaking about domestic politics for a period of not less than ten years; repeat offenders are banned for life.

So Matt Yglesias asks.  As readers of this blog will probably already know, he was noted for being more pro-Israel than the Israelis last summer during the war in Lebanon, declaring  the bombing of Lebanon to be a “miracle of God.”  That his “miracle” was busily killing Christians along with other Lebanese civilians never seems to have troubled him.  Naturally, he was speaking at AIPAC.  Yglesias sums up:

So you see, John Hagee, who wants to see Israel adopt a hawkish foreign policy that he believes will result in its destruction at the hands of a Russo-Arab alliance is a friend of the Jews. By contrast, everyone who thinks a little pressure to make peace could wind up helping Israel in the long run is an anti-semite.

Despite all of this, will it matter what she has to say about Libby, knowledgeable or not? No, because she said “faggot” at CPAC, and shot herself in the foot. ~Mary Katharine Ham

I have no love for Ann Coulter or pro-Libby apologetics, but obviously it is the reasonableness or lack thereof of Coulter’s argument about the Libby case that ought to matter.  To take seriously the weird idea that anyone should hereafter ignore everything she says because of one example of name-calling is to give the episode far too much importance.  Instead, do what I do: ignore what Coulter says because she has a stunning habit of being wrong, as I assume she probably is on the Libby case as well.

Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature:  there is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. ~Victor Davis Hanson

So it sounds as if 300 will be worth watching, but an obvious question remains: why would Hanson et al. endorse a film that derides “imperial subjects who give obeisance”?  Do they like seeing themselves ridiculed on screen?

 

Not since the days of the Hitler Youth have young people been subjected to more propaganda on more politically correct issues. ~Thomas Sowell

Good grief, these people can’t even talk about education without mentioning Nazis!

A new low has already been struck with an exploitation of the religious issue with claims that some of Governor Mitt Romney’s Mormon ancestors had multiple wives.

Are Governor Romney’s ancestors going to be on the ballot? The fields are so crowded that I hadn’t noticed. The irony in all this, as someone has pointed out, is that Governor Romney seems to be one of the few politicians these days who has had only one wife.

The religious issue was supposed to have been put to rest back in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president. Actually, it wasn’t that big an issue in 1960, and some cynics said that the only one talking about it was JFK himself. ~Thomas Sowell

As I have said before, the AP story on Romney’s ancestors was a huge boon and benefit to Romney by making it clear how Mormonism has changed and how basically normal and conventional his family life is and has been.  People who don’t understand that really puzzle me.  The idea that a story that could only improve the public’s perception of Romney and his religion is a “low blow” or a “new low” is just bizarre.  Take note, journalists: only write scurrilous hit pieces that denigrate the candidate himself in especially lurid and gruesome ways, or else you will be accused of…writing scurrilous hit pieces.

It seems perverse to pretend that Kennedy’s Catholicism was not a problem that cost him votes.  People seem to forget that Kennedy prevailed in what was at that point the closest electoral victory in a presidential contest ever, and even then he probably only prevailed thanks to fraud.  It seems strange to argue that a Democrat could not have reasonably expected to do much better than Kennedy did.  In a country where roughly 50% of the population identified with the Democratic Party at that time and GOP party identification was at one of its lowest points at roughly 25%, Kennedy pulled a mere 49.7% of the vote.  The Democrats failed to carry Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, all but one of which Truman had carried in 1948 with a similar percentage of the national vote.  Kennedy did not carry these states because of something to do with his candidacy.  Arguably it was not his Catholicism that did him in with voters in these states, but it seems odd to pretend that Kennedy did not underperform compared to the total Democratic/Dixiecrat/Progressive take of 54% in 1948.  Given that his Catholicism is one of the most plausible explanations for Kennedy’s performance, all this talk of how it didn’t really matter seems awfully like wishful thinking on the part of Republicans who are trying to pretend that Romney’s Mormonism will not be an issue.    

Surely I am not the only one who notices the strange incongruity of Republican whining about the “dirty tricks” of talking about Romney’s ancestors while Democrats talk up the frankly strange and partly foreign ancestry of Barack Obama as if it were itself a qualification for being President.  Just the other day in Selma Obama once again made his parentage and his biography his “in” with the civil rights leadership by tying (rather cleverly, as far as it goes) his parents’ marriage and, by extension, his birth to the civil rights movement.  This is identity politics at its most elemental, and Obama has been playing the game masterfully. 

Romney meanwhile has fumbled about throughout his career with references to his parents, talking about his mother’s Senate run in ‘94 and ‘02 (though he doesn’t talk about her Senate run anymore, you’ll notice!) and then reminiscing about his father at the Henry Ford Museum.  The museum was “full of cars and memories” of his father, while Romney was just full of it.  Then his supporters become indignant that anyone would bring up his polygamous ancestors, even though this provides a helpful contrast with Romney himself.  In the meantime, Obama quite freely and happily talks about his family background, even though his probably polygamous Muslim grandfather, his father’s multiple marriages, his parents’ divorce and his absentee father hardly qualify as the kind of family history that a candidate might be inclined to publicise.  Like Clinton, though, Obama has taken to making his biography into a political asset (Clinton sometimes did this by inventing the most egregious lies) by weaving it into a story of struggle and wrestling with his own identity, and in this way he tries to make the strangeness of his family background into a sort of virtue.  This works well with Americans, many of whom are obsessively genealogical, while the Romneyite horror at revelations about Romney’s family comes across as the reaction of people who find their candidate’s ancestry profoundly embarrassing and scandalous.  Take note: it is the Romney boosters, not his critics, who have been making the most out of this story. 

American voters may not know much, but they are not completely foolish.  What a man’s great-grandfather did or didn’t do is of no concern to them.  But if a candidate and his supporters seem unduly embarrassed by the man’s own ancestors, some folks will think he and his supporters are a bit odd.  Surely, of all Americans Mormons should be the most interested in telling about their family histories.  In viewing the telling of that history with such horror and offense, Romneyites give the impression that there is some reason why we should view this story about Romney’s ancestors as a slight against Romney, when instead they could try to turn it to his advantage.  

Both Obama and Romney have potential political liabilities because of their backgrounds.  The difference is that Obama knew his background could be a liability, so he got out in front of attempts to define him and worked to tell his own story.  Romney continues to operate on the optimistic, but probably false assumption that his Mormonism will be irrelevant.  He might be right, but everything we think we know about attitudes on this subject says otherwise.  The longer Romney avoids talking about his background, the greater the advantage his critics will have to paint him as we see fit.  To the extent that the Romneyites express dismay each time the subject comes up, they are hurting their candidate and helping those who want to shut him down. 

“They’ve got some kind of wild teachings, I guess, but they [Mormons] are such decent people,” she [Ruth Malhotra] told me. ~Howard Fineman, Newsweek

I guess that’s some kind of endorsement.  Ms. Malhotra has joined the Romney fan club, it would seem, because of his “business mind set.”  So the one thing Romney can hope for is that enough Christian conservatives are more concerned about Mammon than “values,” as so many Republicans often are.

A journey of political self-discovery is what one would expect from a college student navigating between his professors’ chalk-dust-encrusted socialism and the liberating ideas of Milton Friedman. A tax-abused businessman pondering his first bid for public office at age 35 deserves such latitude. However, a 59-year-old prospective commander in chief of the United States Armed Forces should be more firmly rooted in his beliefs than Romney appears to be.

On the other hand, Romney truly could be further Left on the political spectrum than he now admits and has lurched sharply Rightward merely to impress conservative GOP primary voters. If so, he is fueled more by ambition than principle.

No wonder an astute, free-market-activist friend of mine recently christened Mitt Romney “Slick Willard.” ~Deroy Murdock

Romney’s serpentine statements are becoming almost too numerous to tabulate. ~Deroy Murdock

Those blasted liberals in the media keep hammering away at poor old Mitt!  Why won’t the liberals…oh, what’s that?  This is in Human Events?  That’s strange–don’t those misguided conservatives know that Romney is our saviour who endured the harrowing of Massachusetts so that he could mandate that everyone in the country buy health insurance on pain of fines?  Deliverance is at hand!

Fortunately for him, he didn’t shave his head first (although that would get rid of the “slick hair” and “Ken doll” image problems):

Mitt Romney may be low in the polls right now, but he is a man with a plan, a plan to make him the Republican nominee for president.

Though he is at only 4 percent in national polls, The Politico has learned that in the coming weeks and months, he will:

— Game the system. Romney intends to take advantage of the various and complicated rules governing the primaries.

The prime example is the change in the way California will conduct its Republican primary on Feb. 5.

Unlike Democratic primaries, Republican primaries are winner-take-all. Whoever wins statewide gets all the delegates at stake. This favors front-runners, who, with their early money and early support, can wrap up the nomination quickly.

But, in a barely noticed move, California Republicans have changed the system. Now it is winner-take-all by congressional district.

That means a candidate no longer needs to win the whole state to get delegates. It also means a candidate does not need a $25 million TV budget to do a serious statewide media buy.

Romney not only will target his TV ads to certain congressional districts, but he intends to treat California as if it were a “retail” political state instead of a tarmac state. (Because California is so large geographically, candidates spend most of their time flying from airport to airport, standing on the tarmac, doing a sound bite for local TV and then flying on.)

Romney intends to emphasize more intensive, face-to-face campaigning in select congressional districts in which he has the best chance of winning delegates.

— Feel the burn. While Romney expects to raise significant amounts of money, his “burn rate,” or expenses, will be high. (Howard Dean impressed the media by raising tens of millions of dollars on the Internet in 2003, but his campaign burned through it so fast that he had almost nothing left by the time he faced the New Hampshire primary in early 2004.)

Romney says he’ll spend his money wisely — but spend it. Although it is early, he’s already putting TV commercials on the air. He has to raise his poll numbers, which are in the single digits.

Via Jim Antle

Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted Tuesday of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI in an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was accused of lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters. ~MSNBC 

One down, and somewhere around fifty to go.

 

Dan McCarthy makes some very smart points about the Coulter brouhaha.  The problem is not that Coulter predictably says obnoxious things, but that when it comes time to dissent from any party line on anything that actually matters she is mute or, worse, serves the role of an enforcer.  Her fake image as this hard-charging, truth-telling conservative, while always somewhat absurd for a lawyer who clerked at the Supreme Court, doesn’t even have the benefit of unsettling the functionaries and lackeys by using her popularity to oppose or criticise the GOP when it is going wildly astray (as it always is).  All the more reason why it would be far better to ignore her and her remarks than to rush about declaring how appalled everyone is supposed to feel.  This lends her credibility as some sort of rebel or dissenter when she is anything but that.  She is a party hack, of course, and should not get much sympathy now that her fellow wolves have turned on her.

The Daily Show and now Steven Colbert have taught a generation of college students that Republicans are ridiculous, absurd, hopelessly past it. And their work has had an effect: today’s 20-somethings are more Democratic than any equivalent cohort since World War II. ~David Frum

Don’t give the comedians too much credit.  I’ll wager Mr. Bush has done the lion’s share of the work in scaring off the next generation from the Republican Party, and he deserves acknowledgement for that accomplishment.  It’s not every day that a politician ensures the defeat of his party in the present and the future as well as Mr. Bush has. 

Roosevelt had a special appeal to immigrants, and as one congressman put it this week, “Immigrants are the lifeblood on which this country is built.” Well said! ~Joseph Sobran

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich believes it is and he has developed a compelling approach to new and better politics not seen since the days of Abraham Lincoln. ~Cal Thomas

He believes in illegally raising large armies to kill his enemies and occupying their lands?  Or perhaps he believes in imprisoning his critics and shutting down opposition newspapers?  Or perhaps he is in favour of dissolving dissident legislatures by force of arms?  All of those would indeed remind us of the heady days of Lincoln.  Such might be the “new and better politics” that would appeal to the likes of Cal Thomas.

Oh, actually he means holding a series of debates.  How predictable and dull!

My once and future blogging colleague Paul Cella writes in defense of Pope Paul XII.  Taki offers an account of the achievements of Nixon and talks about Andy Warhol.  Chronicles‘ managing editor, Scott Richert, has one item on Keith Ellison and Muslims in America and another on the possible use of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the Near East.  Robert Spencer wrote on the Christians of Iraq, Justin Raimondo takes on the “homintern” over homosexuality and civil rights legislation and Richard Cummings offers the following poetic interpretation of neoconservatism:

“How do you do, Mr Podhoretz?”
“Quite well, Mr. Frum and you?”
“And where might you be going, sir?”
“I’m looking for a war, how ‘bout you?”
“Well, let me help you find it,
for I’m looking for one too.”

Together:
I’ve never seen a war I didn’t like,
the bombs, the guns, the tanks and all the planes,
and soldiers shooting everywhere and landscapes now all bare,
they tell you that the losses are not losses but are gains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
with cities going up in brilliant flames,
and all the carnage and the killing and the maiming,
the battle field all strewn with human brains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
the torture and the raping and the dead.
But don’t ask us to be in it, ‘cause we’ll be gone in just a minute,
and no one will know exactly where we’ve fled.

But with all the blood and gore,
the corpses all alike,
we’ve never seen a war,
no we’ve never seen a war,
no, we’ve never seen a war
we didn’t like.

One Eric Kenning also has an amusing take on Cheney:

Cheney’s strict adherence to militant Islam has also caused problems with his fellow neoconservatives, most of whom are equally devout, but adhere to a rival sect, militant Bedlam.

Late in January, Dr. Trifkovic weighed in on D’Souza’s book, touching on themes that I have been talking about recently:

It is noteworthy that D’Souza is condemning our writings as “Islamophobic” without further elaboration. Like the term “Islamophobia” itself—a classic product of the Hate Crime Industry—his technique is characteristic of the totalitarian Left. I remember reading, as a teenager in Tito’s Yugoslavia, similarly worded condemnations of dissident writers and their “tracts” in the communist-controlled press. Once they were defined as “anti-socialist,” “reactionary,” or “nationalist,” no further elaboration was needed and no debate allowed.

That D’Souza’s invocation of Islamophobia is of a piece with other invocations of anti-Semitism, homophobia or racism to silence political opponents and force through the conclusions of the person wielding these terms should be quite clear, but Dr. Trifkovic goes on to explain just how all-inclusive D’Souza’s use of this term is intended to be.

Early last month Dr. Trifkovic had this to say about Abe Foxman and the ADL:

What it does in practice has very little to do with its stated objective. It has a radical political program and social engineering agenda that goes way beyond “fighting discrimination.” It insists on America’s total demographic and cultural transformation into something that it is not, even when that transformation is manifestly detrimental to the interests of the Jewish community itself.

ADL’s immigration policy illustrates the point. For decades ADL has been advocating more or less unrestricted Third World immigration into the United States, on the grounds that a restrictive policy was inherently discriminatory and that a more diverse population would make the Jews more secure. In November 1965 it hailed the abolition of national origins quota system and stressed the “educational role” it played in helping to bring this change about. For the ensuing four decades it became strident in equating any advocacy of immigration control with “discrimination.”

But as many American Jews now realize, ADL’s agenda was driven by its leftist ideological blinkers, not by its concern for the community.

Dr. Clyde Wilson had a fine series of posts on “The Lincoln Fable.”  He concluded the first with these words:

So one aspect of the proliferating Lincoln fable was the cynical use far into the future of the fable of a martyred leader of supreme virtue for emotional ammunition to keep the Republican party in power. Another aspect of the fable is far more troublesome—the creation of Lincoln the Christ figure. It can be and has been thoroughly documented that this icon was created in post-assassination sermons. As a historian two generations back put it: “That the Lord had sent Lincoln to earth as his mysterious representative, to die for his people, was a belief that rose from many Easter sermons and grew with time to blend into the faith that the humble backwoodsman had been by some miracle the savior of the Union.” The literature that created the Lincoln/Christ is vast and stomach-turningly blasphemous. And, of course, it is never asked just what made saving the Union such a divine cause.

The Lincoln thus imagined and propagated was a fictitious narrative which has long been proclaimed to contain the true account of American history and the essential meaning of America. The fable gained its purchase in the midst of war, revolution, assassination, violent and vengeful self-righteousness, and most important and worst of all—religious disintegration. Lincoln the Christ figure was thrust into the vacuum created by the erosion of belief that had been steadily undermining Northern Protestantism in the previous decades. Out of public anxiety and near hysteria was created the religion of Americanism: America The Father, Lincoln The Son, and Democracy The Holy Spirit.

 

To this day and to the immense peril of our souls and bodies, many of our fellow citizens are incapable of distinguishing between God and “America” or comprehending that one who occupies the throne of Lincoln and uses the hallowed terms that Lincoln used can be capable of wrong.

In the second, he wrote of the fable’s distortions of Lincoln’s pseudo-religiosity:

The fable presents us with a pious, praying, saintly Ole Abe, a rail-splitter of humble birth, rather resembling a well-known Carpenter of similar background, and who also was martyred on Good Friday and wafted to Heaven by flights of angels. So far as we know the real Lincoln was an agnostic who was a prolific retailer of dirty stories and who cynically made his political speeches sound like the King James Bible. One of the few evidences of belief he showed was in the Second Inaugural when he blamed the war on God, for whom Humble Abe Lincoln was but an innocent instrument.

In the third he wrote a telling assessment of the evils Lincoln unleashed on America:

One hardly knows where to begin in dealing with this rampant balderdash. Who appointed those generals? General Sherman himself observed that many of Lincoln’s appointments looked like they had been made to purposely lose the war. In fact, Lincoln’s conduct is understandable only if you perceive the real pattern of consistency—that his primary objective was to keep himself and his party in power and that the war was the instrument for that objective. This was the tender-hearted leader who auhroized ruthless terrorism against women and children, refused generous offers of prisoner exchange while declaring medicine a contraband of war, accepted Grant’s costly policy of losing three men for every one Confederate killed, was not above keeping his own son out of harm’s way, and invited his own fate by clandestinely organizing the attempted assassination of Jefferson Davis.

I do not know whether Lincoln was personally corrupt in that he made money from his office. I do know that he was politically corrupt—that he took to previously unimagined levels the use of government jobs and contracts to buy political support and by design made the government a machine for doing favors for the wealthy and well-placed that has remained the hallmark of the U.,S. Government to the present day. Historians again give Abe a free pass. He was somehow the innocent victim of the corruption of the day. Mysteriously, the Great Barbecue blossomed without his awareness or complicity. But in fact, corruption was implicit and endemic in his political platform and his political conduct. This is not noticed because we are so used to what he created, but it would have shocked earlier generations and did shock honest people at the time. Just one example: until Stanton made him stop, Lincoln freely signed and gave out to his financial supporters what were called “cotton certificates.” This gave them leave to conduct an illegal and immoral trade with the enemy. A brisk business developed on the coast of Confederate Texas where Republican industrialists traded gold, medicine and other goods for Southern cotton.

There is a simple and obvious thing which we must always remember but is almost always left out of discussion of the War to Prevent Southern Independence. What happened in American in the years 1861–1865 was, rhetoric aside, a brutal war of conquest. The South was invaded, laid waste, a fourth of its men killed off, and its people deprived by force of their American right to self-government and subjected to military rule. At the same time peaceful critics of Lincoln’s government were suppressed in fashion previously unthinkable to Americans. The Union of the Founding Fathers was not saved. It was destroyed and replaced. The Gettysburg Address covered up the revolution by a rhetorical feat of having it both ways. By religious-sounding language and evasion and misrepresentation of fact, Lincoln made his destruction of the Union seem to be simultaneously a preservation of the old and sacred and “a new birth of freedom.”

Mel Bradford was wise and correct, I think, that Lincoln is best discerned through his rhetoric. Lincoln provided the rhetoric by which the rational republican discourse of earlier generations of Americans was replaced by sermonistic verbiage of the pseudo-religion of Americanism, like “saving the world for democracy.” Perhaps the ultimate limit of this poisonous style has been reached by George W. Bush, who uses words like “freedom” as magic incantations devoid of content.

Dr. Trifkovic has two recent pieces on Kosovo and another on a State Department ventures in the “integration” of European Muslims modeled on the non-existent integration of many American Muslims.

Dr. Wilson wrote a few weeks ago:

The Australian writer John Pilger nails it: Iran has no nuclear weapons—unlike the United States and Israel. Iran has generally complied with international inspection rules—unlike the United States and Israel. Iran has not engaged in aggressive attacks on other countries in recent years. Unlike the United States and Israel.

He wrote again late last month:

Solzhenitsyn has reminded us often that despotic regimes rest upon two pillars—violence and lies. George Bush has shown a proclivity for both.

Dr. Fleming has this typically clear-eyed assessment of the recent “reporting” about HPV vaccines and related matters:

If everyone had to pay for his own treatment—or die—some of us might think twice before engaging in risky behavior. But in a country where the President describes a Lesbian as a wonderful mother, personal responsibility is unfashionable. Frankly, I don’t care much what people do. Let them kill themselves, trying to perform every act described in the Philosophie dans le boudoir. All I ask is two things: Don’t tell me about it and don’t ask me to prolong your suicide by subsidizing it.

But Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric, and Brian Williams (and their writers and handlers) are probably not intelligent enough to be active promoters of the Playboy Philosophy. Even if they wanted to promote virtue and truth, they would not know how to go about it. They are too stupid to ask any of the right questions, and their stupidity is a fatal disease that has long infected the American mind and is now, from is bad reporting on medical science, infecting our bodies.

 

Mr. Obama recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them with a first-rate accent. In a remark that seemed delightfully uncalculated (it’ll give Alabama voters heart attacks), Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.” ~Nicholas Kristof

Actually, calls to prayer by muezzins are justly famous for their lyrical quality, though this tends to be a feature of any kind of singing or chanting done in Arabic.  Like many a language unappreciated by those with only a superficial acquaintance with it, Arabic lyrics can be quite beautiful.  Take, for instance, a favourite of mine, a CD of Byzantine liturgical hymn-singing by the Maronite nun, Sister Marie Keyrouz.  Needless to say, while fluency in Indonesian Malay and childhood Qur’an classes may go over well with columnists at the Times, most Americans are not impressed by this and will be positively worried by some of it.  Maybe that shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

Joe Klein is on extremist alert.  He has put together a list of characteristics he believes are typical of “left-wing extremists” and now has one for the right-wing.  (Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat chime in helpfully.)  A “right-wing extremist” would exhibit “many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes,” of which I have selected just a sample:

–believes that capitalism creates perfect justice, and that any attempt to tax or regulate it constitutes “social engineering.” (Doesn’t believe in evolution, but does believe in social darwinism.) 

–sees transnational non-governmental groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as “the next threats” to U.S. sovereignty. Calls them Transies, derisively.

–believes global warming is a left-wing myth.

–believes that homosexuals are condemned to hell.

Of his list he says:

This is just a partial list, off the top of my head…but I’m sure, as with lefties, these guys simply don’t exist, either.  

Of course, the number of people who are actually as keen on capitalism as Klein sets out here is unbelievably small to the point of being almost non-existent.  Anyone as zealous for capitalism as this wouldn’t care to talk about justice, much less perfect justice, since the preoccupation of market zealots is not justice by some sort of liberty-cum-property.  The people who “don’t believe in evolution” usually aren’t hard-core market fanatics, and the people who are hard-core market fanatics typically have no problems with evolution because they are not usually creationists of any kind.  To the extent that anyone does hold these views, these views are held by radically different kinds of people.  The next time you run into a Young Earth creationist libertarian, you give me a call, because you have surely encountered a rare and endangered species. 

There may be people who refer to members of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch as “transies.”  It’s just that no one has ever met any of these people, because they exist in a Joe Klein-specific dimension.  I’m not even sure what transie is supposed to mean.  Is it short for “transnational”?  I have no idea, because I have literally never seen anyone use it, and if I am not familiar with something it probably doesn’t have anything to do with right-wing extremism.

There are people who think that certain explanations of global warming are myths and, yes, these are myths propagated by people on the left.  There are many people who are not at all convinced that the remedies proposed by certain environmentalists will either do any good or will be worth the enormous costs they will impose on society.  There are very, very few people, if any, who dogmatically insist that absolutely no global warming is taking place, since for many of us who oppose ratifying Kyoto global warming over the ages is an established reality that occurs periodically.  For the record, we are also people who are aware that it was a lot, lot hotter in the Mesozoic Era (somehow the planet managed to putter along just fine), so we are also not inclined to reject evolution out of hand. 

As for people being condemned to hell, that is, of course, for God to decide, but if Scripture can be relied on at all for understanding what God desires for man it is not that remarkable that those who believe Scripture to be inspired would assume that anyone persisting throughout his life in what would be considered mortal sin would fare poorly on the Day of Judgement.  By the way, that standard also applies to the sinners who are reading Scripture, and they know that they will be judged by an even higher standard because they were given much and knew what was expected of them.  So if this view makes believers into “right-wing extremists,” right-wing extremism is doing quite well in its recruiting. 

I think it is only fair that we have a list of traits for the “centrist” extremists (who are, I wager, far more dangerous, because people inexplicably trust them with power and influence).  A centrist extremist exhibits many, if not necessarily all, of the following:

–thinks Joe Lieberman is a thoughtful, independent-minded, moral person.

–thinks John McCain is an honest straight-shooter who wants to reform government.

–regards campaign finance reform as one of the burning issues of the day (see previous trait). 

–views religion as the cause of more bloodshed than anything else in history.

–views Christianity as potentially quite dangerous, but considers Islam to be the “religion of peace.”

–thinks any idea of one religion being superior to another in any respect is wildly dangerous and proof of extremism; presumably also thinks that all answers to all questions are equally valid.

–understands all foreign conflicts as the product of “ancient rivalries” and “centuries of fighting” that cannot be rationally understood by modern man.

–pays no attention to the religious and ethnic aspects of a society until after invading the country in question, whereupon he discovers ethnic and religious diversity and the importance of culture (he then reverts to the previous point).

–asks silly questions such as, ”Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King?”

–writes things like, “the world is flat” or “I used to see the world as a landscape of rolling hills.”

–indulges in wild swings of unreasonable optimism followed by stormy moods of disenchantment and confusion.

–thinks that free trade is good for American workers.

–thinks that mass immigration is good for American workers.

–believes that Harry Truman was a great President.

–compares every new and interesting presidential candidate to JFK.

–thinks that talk radio and its “climate of hate,” not government abuses, inspired the Oklahoma City bombing; is constitutionally incapable of criticising the government about much of anything except cover-ups, waste, gridlock and partisanship.

–never trusts in any dogmatic statement, but believes that the truth always lies “somewhere in between” two extremes, which he has conveniently pre-selected so that the happy middle matches his own views precisely.

–thinks that partisanship is the cause of nation’s political woes, and consequently thinks that bipartisanship is the solution to most, if not all, of those woes.

–doesn’t like negative campaigning.

–thinks we should have invaded Iraq and then intervened in Darfur.

–makes lists of characteristics of extremists to emphasise his own reputation for moderation.

–describes opponents as extremists to maintain the fiction that he represents the logical center of every debate.

Do my eyes deceive me, or does Stephen “Politics of the Future” Schwartz actually have the chutzpah to attack someone else’s views of the Spanish Civil War as unduly rose-coloured and propagandistic?  What did Schwartz miya have to say about the war a few months ago?  He wrote:

Spain represented a confrontation between the politics of the past, represented by Franco, and the politics of the future, embodied in a confused but nonetheless genuine Republic. 

That this person was at the same time gamely trying to downplay the civil war in Iraq by making pathetic comparisons with the Spanish conflict only made this obnoxious view that much worse.

Stephen Schwartz's picture

Victory For POUM, Insh’allah

Can Schwartz miya really be so cheeky as to refer to someone else as a poseur?  But of course he can!  Look on in wonder as the old commie and neocon fellow traveler re-fights old fights over that old worry, “Who lost Spain to fascism?”  All of this might be interesting except for the problem that the Republicans weren’t fighting fascism and the Second Republic was a good example of how democracy can empower the fanatics who lead it to destruction.  Like another old commie, Ronald Radosh, who edited Spain Betrayed in the tradition of the anti-Stalinist radicals of the Republican cause, Schwartz miya is still mired in disputing over whether the Republic’s domination by the Soviets or its lack of domination and direction by them was its undoing.  It is the Soviets’ responsibility in undermining the Republican cause that so energises Schwartz miya, rather than the horrors inflicted by the Republicans in a war precipitated by their radicalism.  It would never cross the mind of this old lefty-turned-Muslim that the Republican side was itself in the wrong and deserved to lose if moral desert has anything to do with military outcomes (it doesn’t).  How neoconservatives can continue to consort with people like this and somehow pretend that they are not still at some level rehashing their old sectarian fights on the left, I do not pretend to know.   

Tough is fine. Even some of Ann’s over-the-top jokes can be written off as just that– jokes. But you can’t write off every hateful, politically damaging crack as a-O.K. simply because that Ann’s a jokester. I, for one, am proud that there are Middle Easterners, gay men and women, and other minorities for whom conservatism is an ideology that empowers. Don’t they get enough crap from our lefty colleagues for “leaving the plantation?” Why should they be subjected to more from one of their supposed allies?

Ours is not the ideology of identity politics and knee-jerk, manufactured outrage that serve political ends, not people [bold mine-DL].  But it is an ideology that should seek to serve everyone, regardless of color or sexual orientation. ~Mary Katharine Ham

There are Middle Easterners “for whom conservatism is an ideology that empowers”?  Perhaps she means that there are Arab Christians and Muslims in this country who subscribe to certain conservative ideas?  I don’t know, because the statement is horribly unclear.  But that isn’t the main thing that’s wrong with this statement.  You already know what I’m going to object to: this dreary, careless use of the word ideology. 

Conservatism is not an ideology, or rather it should be said that the conservative mind rebels and casts out every ideology.  There is undoubtedly some sort of ideology masquerading as conservative thought in this country, and Townhall’s bloggers routinely give it expression.  Anyone who wants to know why the rising new generation is fleeing the right as if they were fleeing the plague needs only peruse the ramblings of Hewitt and Co. to understand why so many Americans are running away from the proponents of the cult of the Presidency and reflexive endorsement of military action.  More than that, any sane person would be right to flee from any group of people that speaks quite openly about their “ideology,” since there is no surer sign of dangerously mindless politics than a politics governed by an inflexible ideology.  Nothing could be more alien to the conservative tradition, yet such is the low state of conservatism that many of the prominent outlets for supposedly conservative opinion will have no difficulty speaking of “conservative ideology” as if it were the most natural thing.  In the end, it is that habit of mind, which Coulter shares, that is far, far more damaging to conservatism and to the reputation of the political right in this country than any crude joke that Coulter could tell.  Predictably, in spite of the movement’s far more egregious problems of groupthink and often shocking automatic deference to President, the blog right has bestirred itself to declare that it is horrified by Coulter’s latest bomb. 

The people who wanted to go to the wall for Danish free speech, because it poked a finger in the eye of Muslims who presumed to dictate to other people what they could and couldn’t say and draw about Muhammad, are the same people who now feign or, worse, genuinely feel ashamed by Coulter’s joke.  This is pathetic.  I would be absolutely in favour of nothing but polite political discourse in which no one ever used ad hominem attacks and slurs (which would mean that many  columnists would suffer drastic reductions in output), but since we have nothing like that discourse this precious cherry-picking of this particular use of a slur is simply ridiculous.    

In rushing about denouncing Coulter these Republican bloggers legitimise every attempt to control and regulate speech through stigma and ostracism, even when the entire edifice of modern speech taboos exists solely to declare certain quite traditionally conservative convictions automatically unacceptable.  You don’t get to talk about states’ rights except in highly qualified ways, because otherwise you might be a racist.  Don’t say anything favourable about Germans in any context ever, and don’t question the absolute necessity of entering WWII, because if you did you might be an anti-Semite.  Whatever you do, don’t suggest that the successes of European civilisation had anything to do with the Europeans themselves, or you will have really gone where no one is supposed to go.      

Every conservative is compelled by the force of social stigma to speak about things he regards as morally repugnant, such as homosexuality, while using only the most vague euphemisms.  He feels obligated to qualify every statement of opposition to, say, same-sex “marriage” by declaring his lack of “homophobia” (which, literally, means “fear of the same,” which is a nonsense), when it is obvious to everyone in the debate that one of the first reasons why same-sex “marriage” seems so objectionable is that it is an endorsement of a kind of sexual relationship that most conservatives regard as fundamentally disordered and immoral.  That most conservatives can only rarely or meekly say this in public is a sign of how cowed by these speech controls many of them have become, and the more prominent they are the more submissive they become, lest they jeopardise their growing audience with anything so offensive as giving their true opinion of something.  In this respect Coulter is slightly unusual among the national pundits, since much of her appeal is in being deliberately provocative by saying things that she and everyone else knows are now “off limits.”  Who agreed that they should be off limits?  Primarily, people on the left decided that they should be and the right went along with all of them to remain “respectable,” because so many on the right had already bought into the self-loathing view that they really had held disreputable opinions in the past that needed to be excised from the discourse–along with any of their colleagues who made the mistake of making the wrong kind of statement.  Such are the repressions of an “open society” that is open to one, bland, generic consenus view from which you dissent only at your social, political and professional peril.  The conservative feels compelled by these same stigmas to refrain from calling homosexuality an abomination, which is what any honest Christian conservative has to call it, and to never on any account lend any substance to the impression that conservatives object to anything related to homosexuality because it is related to homosexuality, but always for some other reason.  Mitt Romney objects to same-sex “marriage” ”for the children,” where a much more honest statement would make an objection because of the nature of the relationship itself.     

So now there is great moaning and lamenting about Ann Coulter’s joke on the “respectable” right.  Somehow the blog right cannot summon up similar anguish for all the other things about so much modern conservative commentary that are even more off-putting to reasonable people who are just coming to the world of political ideas.  They will continue to write off, shun or exclude any number of their colleagues, whether or not these colleagues are particularly valuable contributors, and wonder how it is that they lost the culture wars in the process.  Of course, the people who define and control language control the debate and thereby control the outcome of the debate.  Each delimiting of what is acceptable and unacceptable is an exercise in power, and each time the right cedes control of that delimiting and definition to its foes the more likely it is that the right will lose more and more of the debates that have already been rigged by all of the things that they will no longer be allowed to say.      

Turning to another questionable claim, let us look again at what Ms. Ham wrote:

Ours is not the ideology of identity politics and knee-jerk, manufactured outrage that serve political ends, not people.

I know it is one of the standard talking points on the right to say that we are against “identity politics.”  Identity politics is what other, bad people do.  Yeah.  Of course, all political mobilisation against this or that statement or event is “manufactured” to some extent and the outrage that this mobilisation produces is always to some degree “artificial,” because any effort to organise politically is something artificial.  It doesn’t just spring out of the ground or come together through some organic process of congealing.  People align themselves with one another, identify with one another and rally around cherished symbols and institutions when they are attacked because they see these things as being part of their identity.  People are political animals, but that does not mean that all political action is a purely spontaneous expression of our nature.  People will form political associations and create political cultures that are more or less in accordance with human nature, and those that are most in harmony with our nature will tend to flourish by encouraging human flourishing, but the work of making a political culture is very much one of artifice and construction.  For at least one good reason and at least one less coherent reason, conservatives have tended to reflexively react very negatively against anything that smacks of postmodernity and deconstruction.  The good reason is that deconstruction and most pomo efforts are aimed at subverting and overthrowing the norms of Western society that conservatives wish to preserve, starting with the meaning of words and moving on from there to criticism and dismantling of entire institutions and habits of thought.  The less coherent reason for objecting to this is the idea that if this or that identity is constructed it is therefore not real or not important and can therefore be dismantled and chucked onto the scrapheap.  It is as if we were to embrace the pomo view that no one before the pomos ever knew that identity and meaning were constructed, as if people for thousands of years could have missed their own constructions of identity, and insist that we must defend full-on essentialism or embrace total critique.  But this is silly.  Once something is constructed, it exists and has significance, and to believe that identity is constructed is to believe that collapsing cultures can be reconstructed and reinvested with meaning.  To engage in identity politics is to attempt to make use of the identity to which you have adhered yourself as part of the ongoing process of construction.    

Everyone practices identity politics.  When Christians, including myself, went after Marcotte for her bigotry (which was bigotry), they were engaged in identity politics.  When Southerners defend the battle flag as a symbol of their heritage and identity as Southerners, they are engaged in identity politics just as surely as black politicians are engaged in identity politics when they demand slavery reparations.  This myth of people who are not engaged in such politics or who are not motivated by their attachments and loyalties simply has nothing to do with real human beings and how they interact with each other.  Some kinds of identity politics are obviously worse and more destructive than others.  Eliminationist nationalisms are clearly evil and premised on finding meaning for themselves only through the annihilation of other peoples, while there can be cultural and constitutive nationalisms that generally provide meaning and solidarity for people who may desperately need it.  However, to ”object” to someone’s position because it is a form of identity politics is like objecting to a writer’s book because he uses words. 

In the past, I’ve defended her, even as her rhetoric got worse, as a “gateway conservative”– an entertaining act that pulled in folks who are ticked off at the modern liberal movement, but not necessarily ideological conservatives.  However, once those people start reading her, I argued, they generally migrate to other conservative writers like Thomas Sowell and Charles Krauthammer, which I felt was a net win for conservatism. ~Mary Katherine Ham

So these people migrating from Coulter (who at least occasionally stumbles across something true in her flacking and spittle-laden diatribes) to the less sensational, but far more reliable War Party hack that Krauthammer is represents a win for conservatism?  I have never seen a more succinct summary of why people should be against Ann Coulter’s writings than their function as a path that leads the innocent and naive into the dark underworld of Krauthammer columns.

Some of my best friends are libertarians and the greatest intellectual influence on me was Hayek. However, in practical political matters, libertarians tend to live in alternate universe, without regard for the real world consequences of their actions. Ron Paul – the only Libertarian in Congress – is a disgrace. He has waged a war against America’s war on terror, in lockstep with the left, and against the state of Israel, the frontline democracy in this war. ~David Horowitz

Via David Beito and Matt Barganier 

Far be it from Horowitz to contemplate the possibility that many of the measures enacted in the name of the “war on terror” are unconstitutional and that in defending them many Republicans and conservatives have become as hostile to the plain reading of the Constitution they once allegedly endorsed when the fundamental law was being distorted by overly broad interpretations.  It is, of course, inconceivable for him that on these matters people on the left may have come to the right conclusions (if not always for the best reasons or with the best arguments), and even farther outside his grasp that opposing various power-grabbing and state-expanding policies may be the very essence of patriotism and civic virtue when so many other politicians meekly submit to whatever the executive demands.  If our system of mixed and balanced government survives at all, it will have a lot more to do with the principled integrity of the Ron Pauls of the world than it will with the bloviations of David Horowitz and his ilk. 

As Barganier notes, Ron Paul is a Republican, so Horowitz can’t even manage to get the basic details right in his attack.  He has been a Republican for most of his career, except for his brief excursion as the LP’s presidential candidate in ‘88.  I am proud to say that my mother voted for Ron Paul in that election, when the nation was confronted with a choice between Bush the Elder and the ridiculous Dukakis.  Indeed, given such a dreadful choice, it is fairly strange that Paul did not pull in tens of millions of votes.

 

Still, it still is odd. If Coulter had accused Edwards of Treason nobody on the right would have batted an eye. ~Matt Yglesias

More on the book in a moment.  Interestingly, I actually had a similar reaction to the Republican blogger reaction to Coulter’s failed joke.  Perhaps that’s because many people on the right whom I admire have been accused of treason and/or lack of patriotism, as have implicitly all antiwar conservatives and libertarians been declared to be in league with the enemy, so it seems obvious to me that it is much worse and much more obnoxious and poisonous to question so baselessly and cavalierly someone’s loyalty to this country than to bluntly question his heterosexuality.  Similarly, to cavalierly call someone a racist or anti-Semite in the course of a policy argument, as supporters of the Iraq war have done unapologetically numerous times, is actually infinitely worse than taking a shot at Edwards’ masculinity (which is, of course, the point of every Coulter shot at some Democratic politician’s sexuality, be it Clinton, Gore or Edwards–it is aimed at reinforcing the “Democrats are weak” idea).  That many of these people would then twist themselves into knots and make all the right PC noises about how offensive Coulter’s latest remark is, while being perfectly happy to recycle the most disgusting and vile accusations against their political opponents, says volumes about these people who claim to speak on behalf of conservatism.  Any on the left who continue to use the same labeling tactics against conservatives or their fellow progressives while expressing their shock and outrage over Coulter’s latest shot would also have to be the most stunning hypocrites.  

Nonetheless, when Coulter declares large portions of the country to be godless traitors, most of the very same people on the right who are shunning her today have cheered loudly.  This seems to be the thinking of the Hordes of Hewitt: they begin with the axiom that opposition to a bad government policy or law (e.g., invasion of Iraq, PATRIOT Act, the “surge,” etc.) undermines Vital and Necessary measures for national security (even though they have not demonstrated that these measures are either vital or necessary or that they will even achieve the stated goals), and therefore no one can persist in opposition to these things without a willful hatred not only of the government but of the country itself.  Therefore, to call these opponents traitors is not inflammatory or inappropriate, because the Hewittians believe it to be self-evident.  This is, of course, lunacy on stilts.  The reason why charges of treason seem to fall from the lips of Republicans so much more readily these days is a combination of reheated abstract nationalism and an abiding conviction that they have a monopoly on political virtue.  In other words, the neo-Jacobins are acting like neo-Jacobins. 

But even throwing the treason accusation around has its limits on the right, as the case of D’Souza has shown us.  Weirdly, D’Souza somehow managed to find himself on the wrong side of the acceptable treason-accusing line, too, since he suggested not only that cultural decadence had inspired terrorism against the U.S. (which you might initially think would satisfy two Republican preoccupations in one go) but that, at least at some level, decent people everywhere should want to respond to cultural decadence with the same kind of indignant response, if not necessarily with political violence.  Worst of all, he called for solidarity with “traditional Muslims” against the “radicals”–a proposal I consider meaningless because it assumes a meaningful distinction and opposition between the two not in evidence–which is what really set off his former allies.  D’Souza has made an argument charging the cultural left with civilisational treason of a sort (an argument with which, in its broad outlines, I actually do not really disagree), but here he has violated the Ultimate Rule of Republican PC: thou shalt never attempt to explain, understand or rationalise the actions of jihadis, because they are inexplicable, incomprehensible and irrational.  Any attempt to provide an analysis that accounts for “why they hate us” that does not return the result “they hate us for our freedom and all our many virtues and maybe even Wal-Mart” is clearly an attempt to “blame America first” and to treat jihadis as political actors whose motives and goals can be understood and therefore potentially addressed by means other than cluster bombs.  For all kinds of obvious reasons, this is entirely unacceptable to significant numbers of Republican pundits and a large part of their audience.

In fairness, I should say here that the generic habit that Coulter, Hewitt, Frum and others have of imputing disloyalty and treason to their political enemies at home (a habit that is, by the way, quintessentially identitarian and leftist, to use Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s taxonomy, and therefore quite natural to democratic politics) is somewhat distinct from at least some of the specific arguments in Coulter’s Treason itself, particularly as they relate to McCarthy and Hiss.  In laying out Hiss’ actual treason and thus alluding to the decades of liberal apologies for Hiss (which continued up until his guilt was finally confirmed beyond all doubt) and in showing the extent of actual communist infiltration in the government that McCarthy made his pet cause, she could show that there were huge blind spots on the left to communist infiltration in the Cold War.  With the rise of the New Left, these blind spots became in some ways even more vast.  Absurdly, because of the idiocy of the two-party system, the name McGovern became inextricably tied in Republican collective memory with New Left radicalism in all its worst extremes, when no one could have better represented the mainline Old American contempt for foreign wars, such that McGovernite “isolationism” became, like America First “isolationism” before it, tainted by associations that it either did not have or that were entirely incidental to it. 

So, Coulter takes some concrete truths and overgeneralises from them so as to make them almost meaningless.  At some level, I strongly sympathise with the view that there is something inherent in left-liberalism that attenuates and undermines patriotism, and I would go so far as to say that whiggery in general is guilty of this disease of disloyalty to one’s own country, but in many cases what Coulter is talking about is not a lack of patriotism but a lack of zeal for statist activities overseas. 

In conflating loyalty to this or that state policy or loyalty to the government generally with loyalty to country, Coulter makes a typically nationalist move that would rephrase Clinton’s phrase this way: “You can’t love your country and hate its government’s wars.”  Actually, very often you can, but such is the wretched state of conservatism today that doing so as a conservative earns you the hatred of most other “conservatives.” 

While someone like me might regard an internationalist foreign policy that privileges the independence of other nations that have virtually nothing to do with us over American lives and liberties as fairly unpatriotic, an interventionist jingo such as Coulter holds herself out to be can really have no complaints whatever about most pre-1968 Democrats during the Cold War.  These were her kind of people in their zeal to meddle overseas, invade other countries and, when the occasion called for it, kill foreign leaders (or acquiesce in the locals’ killing of those leaders).  The kinds of policy preferences she despises are the sorts of policies that Republicans used to pursue and advocate during much of the first two decades of the Cold War.  Conservatives weren’t usually the ones who spoke crazily about “rollback,” though they did on the whole embrace containment, which at the time was pretty much a forward strategy that seemed unnecessary and unwise to the remaining figures of the Old Right and a few of the earliest figures in the conservative movement.  With Vietnam, the American right increasingly fell into reflexively defending what was really a misguided liberal interventionist war because they did two things rightists should never do but often wind up doing: they trusted the government, and they assumed that what the government was trying to accomplish in the war would actually benefit the United States.  These two things will always yield disappointment and sorrow, because government fundamentally cannot be trusted and foreign wars have rarely, if ever, benefited the United States over the long term.  But when countercultural radicalism and opposition to the war began to be intertwined, this only reinforced the idea that supporting the war had something to do with affirming traditional American values.  To be a hawk then was, perversely, to align oneself with normal America, because so many of the doves seemed tobe in favour of sacrificing the normal to the abnormal (to borrow from Chesterton’s famous dictum on the modern mind).  Thus was born, I think, the unfortunate link in the minds of many conservatives between opposition to pointless wars and what they saw as contempt for America, which has since morphed into an all together insane militarist litmus test: failure to endorse maximal war powers claims of the executive and maximal hawkishness in foreign policy questions is proof of one’s “weakness” and in engaging in such “weakness,” if you persist in these “failures,” you demonstrate your disloyalty.  I don’t hesistate to say that there is something more than a little Soviet about this kind of thinking. 

No one should interpret Romney’s CPAC showing as representative of his strength among conservatives. But it’s not clear why his attempt to gin up support — and demonstrate that he can put on a good show — is hinky. ~Hotline

Of course, Romney boosters have been portraying the victory as representative of Romney’s strength among conservatives and as proof that he now cannot be accused of being a phoney.  It isn’t a credible argument, but they’re making it anyway.  As in David French’s statement:

This is huge and will blow away all the “he’s not a real conservative” garbage of the last few weeks.

That would be great, except that it isn’t huge (it’s a rather disappointing result given all of his preparations) and it doesn’t do anything to convince doubters that he’s a real conservative.  It tells us that he’s fairly good at organising things, which I think we already had picked up from, oh, I don’t know, the 2002 Olympics.  Here’s a reminder that expectations for Romney were a lot higher in the week leading up to the straw poll:

Matthew C. Hall, youth chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said that he had tried to get other campaigns to provide buses, too, but that none were [sic] willing.

“I would expect Romney will do pretty well in the straw poll because his campaign is the one we are seeing investing so much money and energy into it,” Mr. Hall, who said he was not affiliated with any primary campaign, wrote in an e-mail message. “The response we’ve seen from students in Michigan is that regardless of who they are supporting for president, they are more than willing to take a free trip to the conference if all they have to do in return is wear a shirt and vote for him in a straw poll [bold mine-DL].”

But besides underperforming, Romney’s campaign may have been doing things they shouldn’t have been doing.  The good folks at Hotline have linked to this post that purports to show one of Romney’s agents of influence, Jordan Sekulow, engaged in what are apparently not all together appropriate activities.  Says Krusty Konservative:

I’ve had a number of people email me that attended the CPAC konference [sic] and tell me that what is important to know about the video is that Jordan Sekulow shouldn’t have even had the badges, since the Straw Poll was only open to registrants to the conference. Each badge is one vote.

So it might be the case that Romney’s people inflated his showing at CPAC not simply by the technically above-board distorting of the vote by bussing in supporters, but perhaps also by more devious or inappropriate methods.  However, whether or not Romney’s people engaged in any underhanded tactics at CPAC (these are political operatives we’re talking about, after all), it won’t change the reality that Romney would have won relatively little support had he not brought in and paid the way for 200 people.  He would have polled around 8% without those people, which pretty much matches the level of support he’s getting nationwide in many polls.  That sounds about right: I can believe that one out of every ten conservatives is either desperate enough to find a viable candidate or gullible enough to believe his stories to embrace Romney’s appeal.  All of this also doesn’t change that Romney is not credible.  No number of straw polls will change that. 

Dave Weigel (via Matt Yglesias) on the video of “awkward fanboy” Romney and Ann Coulter prior to Coulter’s failed joke:

The most interesting exchange is Coulter’s defense of Romney’s Mormonism (most probably how the media covers Romney’s Mormonism).

COULTER: No, they don’t understand! We hate liberal atheists! You can’t get these sectarian wars going with us. We’re all Christians.

ROMNEY: We’re not Sunni and Shia here!

Iraq civil war humor - slays ‘em every time. But seriously, this is evidence that Coulter doesn’t actually go to church. I’ve been to Baptist Bible studies where the question of whether Catholicism is a cult was heatedly debated. Romney may be doing a good job of papering over his differences with evangelical Protestants, but the differences exist.

I don’t know which is more amusing: that one of the few famous right-wing pundits to endorse Mormonism’s claims to being Christian is Ann Coulter (which pretty much proves those claims false right there if nothing else does) or that Ann Coulter has effectively affirmed here that she must approve of all theists anyway (which tends to render moot her whole “we’ll convert you to Christianity” shtick), since it is apparently only “liberal atheists” that “we” hate.  There is something grimly ironic about sectarianism jokes from the sort of people who wouldn’t have known or cared about the differences between different sects in Islam four years ago.  With the invasion they backed having stoked and even more sharply politicised those sectarian rivalries than they already were and turned them into the source of widespread violence, it is now a throwaway line to laugh about the supposedly enduring hatreds of two groups that this war has encouraged and inflamed. 

This is not unlike when ham-fisted internationalists were meddling in the early break-up of Yugoslavia, which precipitated open war between the constituent republics of Yugoslavia and then, through foreign recognition, turned that internal war into an international one.  Their own meddling, which helped reopen the old wounds and politicise the ethnic and religious identities of the peoples in the region, then gave way to scenes of exasperated Americans and western Europeans puzzling over the supposedly “ancient” and “centuries-old” rivalries between the different groups.  Having thrown fuel on the fire of relatively recent resentments from their own century, about which they knew nothing and cared even less, these buffoons then pretend that the entire conflict is some timeless, inscrutable blood-feud that cannot be understood by “rational” and “enlightened” people such as they are.  This allows them to pose as the superior, benevolent outsiders who have come to make the squabbling child races stop their petty bickering–but, remember, it is the people who acknowledge and take seriously the reality of ethnic and religious difference that are the ones denigrating the humanity of other peoples!    

There is something else worth noting.  Prior to the invasion and during the early years of the war, paying attention to those sorts of different identities would mean that you think other peoples privilege “tribe or religion or whatever” over sweet freedom (the public assertion of which is obviously “racist,” and we have that on good authority).  If these loyalties supposedly weren’t important for Iraqis in 2003 and afterwards, because that would evidently be a mark of some kind of backwardness (rather than being, oh, the normal experience of humanity), it is no wonder that Republican elite figures have no clue that the same kinds of religious and cultural identities make relatively quite strong claims on Americans (albeit not as strong as in many other parts of the world).  This tells you something about the superficiality of the religious identities they publicly hold if they literally cannot imagine how confessional or religious differences might cause tensions or political opposition.  In this they are as blind as they were when calling for the invasion of Iraq on the assumption that the “Iraqi people” would all join together in the work of rebuilding the country together.  On the other hand, to the extent that they might be able to acknowledge that such religious identities are tremendously powerful in this country, they would almost certainly view people committed to such identities as regressive or dangerous.  One gets no sense from this little exchange that these people use their respective religions as anything more than a flag with which they can rally seriously religious people to their side, while they meanwhile snicker and laugh about potent religious identities in private.  That is in its way far more damning of both Romney and Coulter than anything else they have said in the past, because it makes their public pose as some sort of Christian or religious conservative vanguard to be little more than a pose. 

The first direct Tehran-Caracas flights have begun, enabled by Condoleezza Rice’s decision to grant the Iranian aircraft industry spare parts despite Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. ~Michael Rubin

When they add a connecting route to La Paz, I guess we’ll just have to bow down and proclaim Rick Santorum our king for his prescience.  Why, if someone took the first flight and then took the second one, you’d suddenly have an Iranian in Bolivia, which proves that their plans for world mastery are drawing close to completion.

P.S. Rubin’s post had to be a joke, right?  Right?

Maybe Congress has no business debating Turkish history, maybe it is doing so for the wrong reasons. Yet if Turkey is to become the stable, Western-oriented democracy that it aspires to be, its politicians will have to learn, at least, to react the way everyone else does to nonbinding House resolutions: that is, with a shrug. ~Jackson Diehl

I think I know what Mr. Diehl is trying to say here.  Even though I have argued that the genocide resolution should be passed over the objections of the Turkish government, while Diehl seems to think the entire thing is more or less irrelevant, he is making the proper point that Ankara’s threats and tantrums are absurd, do Turkey no credit and hurt the development of its domestic politics.  But Diehl seems to be missing (as Diehl often will) the more important point, which is that the ultranationalists and Kemalists in Turkey are some of the biggest barriers to Turkey’s development into anything other than any other tinpot Near Eastern state.  The propagation of the official lie that no genocide took place shores up their power and serves as a tool to suppress liberal dissidents of all kinds who oppose the regime.  I have no illusions that Turkey will actually become a full Western-style liberal democracy, because its political and religious cultures are ultimately hostile to such a development.  However, continuing to play along in their genocide denialism only strengthens the worst elements in Turkish politics while discouraging the relative few who have some genuine commitment to Western values.

Meanwhile, Ankara has to understand that it has a lot less influence in Washington after it refused to allow U.S. forces to launch part of the Iraq invasion from Turkish territory.  The clueless Wolfowitz was assuring everyone right up till the end that the access would be granted and seemed to view it as a surprise when the access was denied, when it was plain for all to see that the government and public opinion in Turkey were both firmly against it (because they were quite rightly against the war).  The Turkish government has a much weaker hand this time around and is almost certainly overplaying that hand. 

Of course, Diehl makes a very odd statement, given the debates we have just had over the past two months.  Did “everyone” react “with a shrug” to the nonbinding resolution on the “surge”?  These people certainly didn’t.  Come to think of it, almost everyone in both parties became quite animated by the entire question of a nonbinding resolution about the “surge.”  Perhaps the Turkish government noticed this and determined that nonbinding resolutions were actually deeply serious and meaningful.  If they ever thought this they would have been, much like Hewitt and his gang, very, very wrong.

Conservative blog readers aren’t their own standalone constituency; they’re a proxy for the movement. The lineup in the blogosphere probably isn’t too far off from the organic votes cast at CPAC. ~Patrick Ruffini

So roughly 13% of conservative bloggers and their readers are bought and paid for by Mitt Romney?

I just have to do what Popeye used to say: “I am what I am and that’s all I am.” I indicate what my positions are, what I think about issues. ~Mitt Romney

Well blow me down!  Of course, Popeye didn’t used to donate money to Bluto and vehemently reject all association with spinach and then turn around and decide that Bluto was his enemy and spinach was the source of his strength, since that would be, well, less than honest.  Romney may be what Romney is, but the question everyone else has is: what exactly is that?

The standard Famous Studios Popeye the Sailor opening title sequence, giving the ever-present steam whistle-like toot on his corncob pipe here taken from Ancient Fistory (1953).

Romney Hates All Palookas?

But I think what you’re seeing is that blogs are able to get to bottom of things and to cut through the spin. ~Mitt Romney

We do what we can.  The former Governor of Massachusetts gives us a lot of spin to cut through, so I guess we bloggers should be grateful that he has presented himself as such a ripe target for our tender mercies.  I wouldn’t want to disappoint his high opinion of the blogosphere by laying off and giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Let every fraud be revealed. 

Like it or not, conservatives such as Tanner will have to grapple with the political, moral and fiscal consequences of an imperial foreign policy. ~Jacob Heilbrunn

Of course, conservatives such as Tanner presumably also want no part of such a foreign policy, since they suffer from no schizophrenia about the size of government when it comes to Pentagon budget requests.  Unfortunately, most conservatives not only do not want to grapple with these consequences, but they even deny the premise of the recommendation.  Nonetheless, even most conservatives do not make a priority of the government-shrinking goals of Cato, as Ross would be only too happy to tell us.  

Even so, for many conservatives, there isn’t any such “imperial foreign policy” and 700+ military bases around the world (like the invasion of Iraq!) have something to do with “national security.”  Huge disbursements for the military and an expansive and activist foreign policy are often considered separately from the question of supporting ”small government.”  After all, we have to dominate the Near East to make the world safe for vouchers and partially privatised pensions, or something like that.  I hasten to add that this separation of domestic and foreign policy questions is not true of people at the Cato Institute, who understand the inevitable connection between the empire and Leviathan at home, but then to say that most conservatives do not share the foreign policy views of Cato is to say something so obvious that it is almost not worth writing. 

Sometimes liberals will hit interventionists on the right with what they think is a clever line: “Don’t you realise that the military is part of big government?”  They are, of course, arguing against the rhetorical self-presentation of their enemies, since the people who actually oppose big government have next to no influence in the real world (because, as Ross would tell us, there aren’t very many of us and we don’t draw any water in any of the places that matter), or they are arguing against mythical foes from the last generation, since many of them have probably never actually encountered a real government-shrinking conservative in political office in a long time. 

In any case, the neocons have long had an annoyingly effective rebuttal to this shot at the supposed ‘contradictions’ between small government in domestic policy and big government abroad: “Yes, we do realise that, and we don’t care.  We want to make government even bigger in that respect, and we are quite content with big government everywhere else, too.”  Most conservative activists are allergic to the phrase ”big government conservatism,” and they are only too happy to mock it when it fails (as fail it inevitably will), but many of the same people put up half-hearted (at best) opposition to the policies of big government conservatives when they were being pushed through. 

So Heilbrunn’s critique would be a lot better aimed if Tanner and other small government conservatives were the ones advancing neo-imperialist foreign policy arguments, but the few of us small-government types who remain are among the only ones on the right objecting in principle to interventionism and the continuing pursuit of maintaining an unsustainable–and undesirable–superpower status.  We see the dismantling of the empire as essential to rolling back the power of the state here at home, so it is hardly a telling rebuke to us to say that we must count the costs of empire.  We have been counting them, and they are too high.  Now we just have to somehow pull off the miracle of convincing the other 85% of the right that their foreign policy views are deeply inimical to the best interests of this country.

Nothing could induce full-blown conservative nostalgia better than the little shop of horrors that was this year’s CPAC, but there are good reasons to temper any sense that the movement was actually in such great shape, say, twenty years ago.  The use of Reaganite nostalgia as a club with which to beat Mr. Bush and the nightmarish GOP majority has only limited uses, and it serves as an argument that is for certain Bush apologists to knock down by throwing Reagan’s bad policies back in the face of his hagiographers.  This nostalgia has limited value in no small part because most of the divergences from high conservative principle for which traditional and paleoconservatives hammer the administration are many of the same divergences that were promoted and enacted in the Reagan years–which they complained about at the time when Reagan was doing them.  Because Reagan has taken on a kind of unquestionable authority and sanctity among modern conservatives, akin to Lincoln among Radical Republicans and FDR among the Democrats of the last sixty years, it is now much more useful to skate over his bad decisions and excessive optimism and reinterpret the man as someone who would have been shocked and horrified by the entirety of the Bush Era.  This is because real conservatives are shocked and horrified by the Bush Era, but need to find a prominent, recent figure who endorses their view of things, which leads them to place too much weight on the good old days of the ’80s (because they would otherwise have to acknowledge that the GOP has, to one degree or another, always been at war with conservative goals, which is a rather depressing thought for many people).  Judging from his rhetoric and record, I think Reagan would have been shocked and horrified by some of this era, but would have been far less shocked and horrified by other parts of it.  

Of course, the relevant question any conservative should ask about any given measure or proposal is not, “Would Reagan approve?”  The question is, “Does this contribute to a humane, well-ordered, decent society that enjoys the benefits of ordered liberty?”  More specifically, a conservative might ask, “Does this threaten my hearth and home, my family and the more or less intact, existing communities to which I belong or does it help secure and defend them?”  Whether a charismatic politician from California, who was certainly admirable in many ways, would have approved or not ultimately ought to be far down the list of questions to ask.  We do conservatism no favours by investing such importance in any one figure, when it is part of the wisdom and virtue of conservatism to remember that the species is wise and the individual foolish.  We would be very foolish if any of us insisted on basing most of our arguments on what any given individual’s political priorities were, and there is a certain mirroring of Bush Republican loyalism in invoking a different past Republican President as some sort of anti-Bush archetype.  It is assuredly the dependence on the GOP and the debilitating effects of this attachment on the Red Republicans that have created so many problems for realising conservative goals; it has reached such a point that many conservatives can convince themselves that their own co-optation to the priorities of the GOP is proof of their great success.  The contrast between Reagan and Bush is useful to show just how completely divorced from conservatism Bush has always been, but if anti-Bush conservative dissenters try to reify the ’80s as some sort of era of high principle from which we have fallen we will be setting ourselves up for a fall later. 

Now, before admirers of Reagan get too upset, Reagan was obviously infinitely so much more of a movement conservative than Bush ever was.  He took up the torch from Goldwater and challenged Ford when the ”accommodationist” Rockefeller style was all the rage and when that approach seemed to GOP elites to be the future.  (In fact, as I laid out the other day, Rockefellerism was unfortunately the future of the GOP, but this did not come about without at least some struggle.)  Despite his political background, Reagan had far, far more of a pedigree as a real Goldwaterite than Bush ever did, in part because Goldwater’s legacy was obviously never fully or firmly embraced by the GOP itself and Bush was first and foremost a creature of the party establishment.  One reason for this disdain for Goldwater’s legacy was, as Ross never fails to point out, that there was actually not much of a large constituency for dismantling the New Deal or the Great Society and today there is essentially none at all.  (More’s the pity, I say, but it is very hard to deny this observation.)  Another reason is simply the self-interested desire of Northeastern party men to keep control of the apparatus of power, which any implementation of Goldwater’s agenda would have seriously threatened. 

The GOP were happy to enter Goldwater into the stories of conservative martyrology and pay his campaign some lip service as a “defining moment” in history, but they had little or no use for his ideas except to drag them out every few years as campaign slogans.  By the time these people were done with intelligent limited government arguments, they might have been summed up by something as crude as the supply-siders’ “Less government, more filling!” 

One of the things about the Bush years that I think really shocked a lot of conservatives was just how brazenly and openly the administration and its supporters embraced the tradition of these “accommodationists” and the neoconservatives in domestic policy.  These people had always been there and had always been making arguments for basically leaving the old usurpations in place, but I think there remained a sense in the movement that this was simply tactical positioning to prepare the killing blows.  So all of these people with their fundamentally center-left views about the role of government were tolerated because they could be good policy wonks (we welcomed converts, for all the good it did us back then–it contributed to winning elections and losing so much of what mattered in the process), but along the way these people, because they demonstrated some ability at wonkery and were very good at intra-movement politicking, gradually took control of more and more of the institutions and organs of opinion until they began calling the shots.  Before you knew it, there was no question of shrinking government, much less returning it to its specifically constitutionally designated activities, and suddenly a great concern with making government work more effectively.  Why, in the name of all this is holy, would anyone want more effective government?  The one thing that gives us peace of mind about horribly powerful centralised government is that the bureaucracy manages to retard the implementation of new legislation, and this tends to limit the damage done by any new law–just consider how unsettling it is to have government running more efficiently! 

A significant part of the old ideal was that we wanted government to be relatively ineffective, powerless and held in check.  To make Leviathan more effective would seem to an earlier generation of conservative to be like giving your murderer helpful hints on how to more quickly strangle you.  But, of course, all of this is dressed up as empowerment, which, following the logic of all such euphemisms, inevitably means further disempowering the people in question and granting more power to the state.  You can reliably understand pro-government propaganda by taking whatever it says its intended benefit for the people will be and apply that benefit to the state instead.  I understand that this is often a formula that wins elections.  That there is something horribly wrong with all of it is also just as obvious. 

No one will ever accuse me of being a marketing genius, but I do have a piece of advice for Joel Surnow, chief of the torture-cons: when writing an appeal to conservatives to watch your fake news comedy show, do not begin with the line, “Hello, I’m Joel Surnow, co-creator and executive producer of the TV show 24.”  The 24 reference will garner some interest, but starting an article with “Hello, I’m…” makes you sound like a telemarketer.  No one likes telemarketers.  I don’t even pick up the phone when I see a toll-free number come up on the caller ID, except for the two seconds it takes me to lift the receiver and slam it back down again.  That is much the same impulse I had when reading your self-promotional article, but I pressed on in the interest of my readers, who may be curious why a producer of good, successful television shows would decide to stop producing those sorts of shows and do something so radically different.

Oh, and one more thing–when you start telling jokes in the article about your fake news comedy show, make sure that the jokes are funny.  That will encourage people to think that your show will also be funny, which is pretty much what most observers have concluded that your show isn’t.  For example, under no circumstances should you tell jokes in your article in a Q&A format.  You may as well tell knock-knock jokes if this is the best way you can find to present your material.  Furthermore, you should not then use that Q&A format to tell jokes this worn-out:

What is the show like?

It’s a “Weekend Update”/Daily Show/The McLaughlin Group hybrid, which makes The Half Hour News Hour the first hybrid ever endorsed by the FOX News Channel, its management, or its parent company, Halliburton.

Oh, you slay me, Joel.  Not quite as effectively as Jack Bauer would with a Glock 9mm, of course, but I certainly do feel a kind of shooting pain after having read that one.  A pun on hybrid!  And that Halliburton bit at the end, well…it was pretty forced actually.  The last line at the expense of Limbaugh and Coulter is, however, slightly funny, but there has so far seemed to be no indication of any of that sense of irony making its way into the show.

The dogged Romneyites at Evangelicals for Mitt have latched on to this positive spin of Romney’s CPAC victory:

Some people will tell you that Mitt Romney didn’t deserve to win (because he bussed in College Republicans to vote for him). That’s like saying George W. Bush didn’t deserve to win because he raised more money than his opponent. Romney’s ability to organize, inspire, and transport college students to the conference is precisely why he did deserve to win! A campaign that has the organizational ability to bus in college students has the organizational ability to do a lot of other things, too. The rules allow for it, so what’s wrong with Romney doing what he has to do (within the rules) to win?

Ethically speaking, I suppose there isn’t much “wrong” with it.  No one’s really saying that he cheated exactly, but we are saying that the result isn’t very representative of conservative opinion when a large number of participants in the straw poll had their way at CPAC paid on the condition that they vote for Romney.  As Dan McCarthy, who was at the conference talking about conservative ideas and fusionismtells us, the rumour is that Romney shelled out $350,000 to get that rather meager result.  It may not seem like it to the man who raises $6 million in a day, but that is a lot of money to blow on a straw poll of no great importance (or rather, it is of no great importance to anyone who isn’t desperate to prove that he is a real conservative).  Is that the sort of expenditure that a consultant from Bain Capital would think was well-spent? 

There was apparently a grand total of 1,705 votes cast.  Evidently, Romney got 350 votes.  Of those, he brought in 200 people on his dime.  That works out to $1750 per paid supporter in a straw poll that everyone pretty much acknowledges has only very limited importance.  Howard Dean in ‘03 was a big one for flinging money around like he had an endless supply of the stuff, only to find that the supply wasn’t endless and that streams of cash do not automatically translate into votes in the primaries.  Romney’s ad buys and now this CPAC buy all suggest the same habit of frittering away resources on bad decisions or on what are relatively minor campaign events.  At this rate of spending on symbolic victories, he will be shelling out tens of millions of dollars for the Ames straw poll in Iowa this summer, where tens of thousands of votes have been cast in the past.  Of course, as the Spartanburg vote has already shown, when it comes to real voters whose support cannot simply be bought Romney doesn’t do all that well.  Maybe that’s because people don’t trust him and are not inclined to trust someone who feels compelled to buy support at an event that he, as the great conservative he supposedly is, ought to dominate as a matter of course.    

If election laws allowed blatant vote-buying, Romney’s methods at CPAC would have immediate real-world value and his victory there would show that he can buy support better than anybody.  The trick is that he fares poorly in straw polls where he can’t game the system, because his actual candidacy doesn’t inspire as much enthusiasm as getting your conference registration and hotel bill comped by a desperate politician. 

The point is that the CPAC straw poll isn’t really a measure of what conservative activists believe about their preferred candidates if the poll can be so easily distorted by a glut of Romney-paid Romney supporters.  You can applaud Romney’s win if you want, since it never hurts to win these polls, but what you can’t do is use that win as some sort of vindication that conservatives have endorsed him as their guy when he manipulated the rules of the poll to maximise his result.  It means that the participants who backed him there may well have no intention of backing him in the real world.  The result shows that a lot of people he effectively paid to vote for him voted for him.  In fact, it fairly shouts to the entire world that Romney knows he isn’t a real conservative and he knows everyone else knows it, so he feels compelled to inflate his level of support through these sorts of artificial tricks because he knows his boilerplate proposals aren’t winning anyone to his side and he knows that virtually no one is buying his “conversion” story.

But even 9/11 has its limits. Later, I do a little push-polling of my own. I ask Max Kaster, a local pastor and party chair for Calhoun County, a half-hour south of Columbia, what people down here would think of America’s Mayor if they knew he had moved in with a gay couple after separating from his second wife. “Really?” Kaster says. He fiddles with a lapel pin that combines an American flag and a cross. “I think that would roll a lot of people’s socks down.” ~New York Magazine

Via The Plank

Put this anecdote in the ever-growing file of “Damaging Information That Conservative Voters Don’t Know About Giuliani.” 

One might think that it would be his flagrant adultery and the horrible public separation and divorce that must have inflicted such embarrassment and suffering on his children that would set off conservative voters far more than the fact that Giuliani temporarily moved in with a gay couple (and, as almost every media report insists on including, their shih tzu, as if the lapdog were the really scandalous part of the story).  But then I guess I don’t understand many conservative voters as well I supposed I did.    

Besides, saying things like ”character counts” is so very ’90s.  I guess it became something of a liability for the GOP, when so many of their top people didn’t have particularly admirable characters, so at some point GOP voters just learned to stop worrying and love their leaders’ vices.  Conservatives who used to despise politicians for blatant public adultery with a subordinate (something about the dignity of the office or some such crazy talk about moral integrity) have apparently discovered something more interesting in Rudy’s cult of personality.  We should understand that a cult of personality is what is being built up in front of us, and it should bother everyone quite a lot. 

Respecting actual marriage, rather than mouthing phrases about protecting the institution of marriage (not that Giuliani does this), must be part of that 9/10 mentality (except that Rudy couldn’t even manage it back then).  For my part, we could stand to have a little more of a 9/10 mentality when it comes to dishonourable old lechers.  Oh, I forgot, we can’t talk that way about “America’s Mayor.”

He’s a successful two-term governor who was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote in New Mexico, a red state. ~David Brooks

It’s nice to see David Brooks catching up to where Matt Yglesias and I have been for weeks and months.  I don’t just think Richardson is the one most likely to rise, but that he is the natural benefactor from the bloodletting among the top three relatively weaker candidates and will likely be the last one standing when it is all done.  He is now the centrist governor candidate in a party whose only successful nominees in the last thirty years have been more or less centrist governors, but he is also reliable on having been opposed to the war all along so that he does not have that “centrist” hawk baggage that Clinton and Edwards carry.  When the next six months fully reveal the major candidates as deeply flawed, which they certainly are, Richardson will be waiting in the wings when the party decides to take a second and third look. 

However, it’s unfortunate to see that Brooks is repeating this idea that New Mexico is a “red state” that makes his overwhelming re-election somehow significant as proof of his “crossover” appeal.  Richardson has a centrist record, and he has been good at winning independent voters, but as I wrote almost six months ago he doesn’t have any history of winning Republican votes.  He has never had to campaign in that way, because his elections have always been in extremely favourable environments against weak opponents.  His last three electoral victories (including his last term in Congress) were against John Dendahl, John Sanchez and Bill Redmond, all of whom were either widely disliked or were political novices or nonentities.  In this sense, he is Obama with a longer resume.  Since he talks up his ability to “deliver real estate,” it is important to understand that he will not be able to deliver any parts of the West that are not already heading rapidly towards the Democrats.

New Mexico is not now, nor has it ever been, what anyone could reasonably call a “red state.”  The state’s political leanings are as purple-blue as the Sandias in the evening.  It is true that Bush won New Mexico in 2004 and he only narrowly lost the state in 2000 (thanks to some probably creative vote-counting in northern southern New Mexico), but what people need to understand about New Mexico is that our state follows national trends just about as closely as any swing state ever has.  Matt Yglesias understands that New Mexico is a swing state and calls it that.  Only twice since statehood has New Mexico gone for the losing candidate in a presidential race: NM went for Ford in ‘76 and Gore in ‘00.  New Mexico has an eerie habit of almost always backing the national popular winner, and usually by roughly the same margin of the vote.  Given the demographics and party registration of New Mexicans, this really should not be happening, but the state’s population is so strangely diverse and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole that it somehow ends up producing outcomes for the presidential race that reliably track the country as a whole.  The relatively great numbers of Catholics, the infusion of investment from tech corporations and a strong military presence (which has been maintained in the face of base closures elsewhere through the influence of the aging Domenici) all combine to create a political culture that is far more right-leaning than should be the case for the state whose capital is the City Different and whose population is a minority-majority one. 

Given the national mood today, New Mexico has to be considered a Democratic-leaning state in the presidential race, just as it was certainly a purplish blue state in 2006.  Richardson would probably be the best standard-bearer the Dems could nominate out of the current field (which really tells you something about how pathetic the current field is), but he will not be bringing any states into the Democratic column that were not already going to be there.

After everything Romney did to boost his numbers at CPAC, he managed to beat Giuliani (who apparently expended no resources on this vote) by a whopping four points and outscored Brownback, a rival he absolutely overwhelms in terms of resources and media coverage, by all of six.  This has to be seen as another example of an underperforming campaign that is not seeing sufficient return on investment.  If Romney’s campaign were a corporate enterprise, they would be calling in the turnaround artists any day now, except that the chief turnaround artist is already running the show and is the reason for the enterprise’s weakness.  

Romney has managed to demonstrate that he can effectively dupe one in five activists with his song and dance, and he has spent a hefty chunk of change to do it.  When it comes to getting voters in primary states to the polls, he will have to do a lot better than this.  McCain even managed to get 12% and he didn’t even bother to show up.  He has bothered to show up in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Romney has to be worried, and Brownback has to be energised.

Update: Liz Mair seems to have a similar take:

Assessment: it’s worrying when paying 200 people to vote for you only enables you to beat an unapologetically pro-choice, pro-gay candidate with no organization present on the ground at the country’s biggest conservative conference, dominated by social conservatives who should like your pro-life, pro-FMA line.

Ed Morrisey has a lengthier analysis that comes to much the same conclusion:

However, the straw poll probably reflects Romney’s organizing abilities far more than his popular support among conservatives. The Romney campaign turned CPAC from a get-acquainted event to a mini-convention by recruiting scores of young activists to attend CPAC and haranguing attendees to vote for Mitt. The Brownback campaign did the same with a smaller coterie of foot soldiers. None of the other candidates bothered to do anything of the kind.

Understanding that, these numbers should be somewhat disappointing to the Romney campaign. Take a look at Giuliani’s numbers. Here’s a candidate who supposedly didn’t impress in his speech on Friday, whose consistent positions have him in conflict with more than a few of the groups comprising CPAC, and who didn’t have any organization at the conference or spend any time with the attendees outside of the speech. Despite all of these handicaps, 17% of the conservatives at CPAC selected Rudy over any of the other candidates — only four points lower than Romney. He beat Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich, who is widely presumed to be preparing his own bid for the presidency.

John McCain also scored rather highly despite his snub of CPAC. He came in fifth, but still managed to win 12% of the straw poll without any organization or appearance at the conference. That’s only nine points behind Romney.

Romney had a good CPAC with or without a straw poll win. He scored well on his speech, with the consensus at the conference being that he delivered big when he needed it the most, and his personal appearance later generated some glowing comments. However, this result shows that he has only made himself credible as a candidate. He hasn’t really beaten anyone.

Weirdly, Giuliani and Romney tied among “limited government conservatives,” which evidently means that these people either don’t know much about their preferred candidates or they don’t know what “limited government” means.  The man who praises the PATRIOT Act and the man who gave you MassCare are not limited government conservatives and should not really be the preferred candidates of people who claim to be that.  Of course, neither of the candidates is conservative to start with, so what else is there to say?

If Ann Coulter really were, to use the words of Sullivan, a “drag queen posing as a fascist,” would that also mean that Giuliani is a fascist posing as a drag queen?  Discuss.

Last year’s CPAC straw poll results make for a little amusing reading.  Note that last year’s poll, unlike this year’s, asked participants to select the person they thought would most likely be the nominee:

Allen received 22% of the vote, topping his Republican colleague, Sen. John McCain, who had 20%. Others finished in the single digits.

Somewhere Jim Webb is laughing heartily, and we laugh with him.

Among Republicans, Romney had the most backing among party insiders, with 20% support, followed by Giuliani with 14%, McCain with 10% and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia — who has said he might enter the race in the fall — with 8%.

In a potentially worrisome sign for McCain, just over 1 in 10 RNC members said they would not support him if he won the party’s nomination in his second attempt.

“It shows just how much resistance there is within the Republican establishment to McCain and how open the party is to candidates who either aren’t very conservative, like Giuliani, or only recently minted conservatives, like Romney,” Cook said. “McCain has worked pretty hard since 2000 to be a team player, but these numbers would suggest that there is still a problem for him.” ~The Los Angeles Times

Via Evangelicals For Mitt

So the party doesn’t like McCain, and the sun rises in the east.  But that is a nice phrase from Charlie Cook: “recently-minted conservative.”  Of course, it gives him too much credit as a conservative to say that, but I think Romney would have had a much more interesting reaction if his audience yesterday fully appreciated just how recently this recently-minted conservative was minted.   

It’s understandable that the Romneyites would be excited about this news, since they haven’t had much else to get excited about recently.  But what does this tell us?  It tells us that the supposed outsider, the man who is running against the broken Washington establishment, is the favoured candidate of many in the broken Washington establishment.  When it comes time to organise and turn out supporters in actual primary states, how does his campaign do?  Naturally, he fares poorly.  Today will be the test among conservative activists in a straw poll that Romney has been desperately seeking to win.  Obviously, Romney knows how relatively important these straw polls can be for building momentum for a struggling campaign, such as his certainly is.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have wasted a lot of money bringing in his loyalists and/or what are effectively paid supporters from Michigan and Massachusetts.  All the insiders in the world mean nothing if they cannot actually bring people to the polls come the time to vote, just as all of the enthusiasm and fundraising Dean was able to bring together didn’t mean a thing if he didn’t have an organisation on the ground.  Romney’s organisation is apparently much more extensive and well-connected than Dean’s ever was, yet for some reason people still don’t want to vote for him.  That spells trouble. 

He’s just another slick politician - he [Romney] doesn’t stand for anything. These people aren’t running for president, they’re running for American Idol. ~Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minutemen (via Dave Weigel)

That would unfortunately seem to track with my creeping suspicion that the election right now is not much more than a celebrity contest.  Feedback from friends attending the conference echoes Simcox’s low, low estimation of Romney.  Having one of the top figures of the Minutemen essentially declare you either a liar or a drama queen or both is not exactly a vote of confidence for someone who wants to use his alleged anti-immigration views to distinguish himself from the top candidates.

Meanwhile, the Romneyites are boasting about Ann Coulter’s “seal of approval” on their man.  That’s a good idea.   If my guy just finished fifth in a South Carolina straw poll he had been preparing for over the last several months, I would also be quoting enthusiasts who think McCain, who won the poll, is a “non-starter.”  When Romney loses the CPAC straw poll, in spite of the absurd amount of money he spent bringing in supporters to rig the vote in his favour, will it be time to declare him an also-ran?

David French writes at EFM:

I am growing increasingly puzzled by the continued intensity and viciousness of the attacks against the Governor by a few vocal critics on the right.

Of course, there aren’t just “a few” of us, but let me see if I can solve this puzzle: we think Romney is an opportunist who seeks adulation and power and will say what he has to in order to get it, and we don’t much cotton to his kind of politician.  We don’t trust him, and we actually don’t like his public persona (though some people seem to think he’s just dreamy), and we don’t mind saying so.  Conservatives have been told to settle for watered-down or unreliable candidates in the past, but many have been hoodwinked one time too many and aren’t going to put up with it again.  There are several more credible (in the sense that you can believe what they say), more conservative candidates running right now that pro-lifers in particular should be looking at before  settling for the counterfeit version.  Two of them (Hunter and Brownback) just beat Romney in the straw poll, and there are others (Gilmore, Paul, Tancredo) to choose from as well.  In the real world, which Mr. French is so concerned that we Romney critics acknowledge, former Gov. Romney’s religion will actually play a very big role and will cripple his candidacy.  His campaign will be finished by the end of the South Carolina primary, if not before.  Perhaps that troubles the folks at EFM and other pro-Romney sites, but that is part of the political reality of our time.  In wishing it away or declaring it to be untrue, it is the Romneyites who appear to have divorced themselves with the real world of primary politics. 

I am a Ron Paul man myself, in case that wasn’t abundantly clear from my multiple posts stating this to be so, because there is no greater defender of the Constitution and no more honest man of integrity in federal office today.  Note those traits: honesty and integrity.  Consider which candidate is lacking in them, and then there should be no puzzle about why we hammer Romney as often as we do.  Ron Paul has amassed a record of principled small-government constitutionalism second to none, and he does not waver from those principles because it might bring him advantage or fame or plaudits.  Rep. Paul possesses a fidelity to old American republicanism that would be as foreign to Romney’s understanding as the French whom he apparently loathes so much.

Mr. French asks:

Am I crazy to think that we might find that the “big three” will be the “big two” (Rudy and Romney) soon?

Does he really want us to answer that?

I like the fact that he [Romney] tricked liberals into voting for him. ~Ann Coulter

I like the fact that Ann Coulter can be so easily duped by the Romney campaign’s spin about his rank opportunism.  Presumably he voted for Paul Tsongas and donated money to Democrats as part of the elaborate ruse!  Isn’t there something a little bit strange about this kind of “endorsement”?  Who was the last nationally-known Republican frequently associated with the word trick?  Hint: it wasn’t Reagan, and it wasn’t complimentary!

In 2000 he felt he could take on Christian conservative leaders in the South. Bad timing. In 2000 they were at the peak of their 20 years of power. Now their followers are tired and questioning after a generation of political activism. And many leaders seem compromised–dinged after all that time in the air. Mr. McCain could rebuke them now and thrive. Instead he decided to attempt to embrace them. ~Peggy Noonan

This is an interesting column on McCain, and most of it makes a lot of sense.  What I think Ms. Noonan underestimates here is just how much McCain’s shots at religious conservative leaders angered religious conservatives around the country, and not because of any particular fondness of or loyalty to Falwell and Robertson, the main targets of his derision.  This would have been true whether or not those leaders were very influential or not.  What mattered was the language McCain chose to use and the targets he chose to direct that language against. 

In hitting Falwell and Robertson as “agents of intolerance,” he actually came off sounding like someone who believed that religious conservatives in the party as a whole were also “agents of intolerance,” which reinforced the image and confirmed the reality that McCain was not only not “one of us” religious conservatives (which everyone already knew) but that he would be only too glad to skewer Christian conservatives if he thought it would make for good press.  It was part of his, “I’m an independent, moderate guy” shtick and he said it to curry favour with the press and convince independent voters that he was their kind of guy.  It was the signal of contempt for Christian conservatives as a whole that really sank his chances in 2000 in South Carolina in particular (not helped by his flip-flopping on the battle flag and the brass-knuckles tactics of the Bush team) even more than his tangling with somewhat influential pastors.  That is why he crawls back to seek the support of the people he mocked last time, yet ironically the leaders he now flatters have less influence than before while the religious conservative voters themselves are not impressed by McCain’s sudden re-discovery of their importance in the nominating process.  If Romney has flip-flopped, McCain has simply flopped as far as these voters are concerned, and they have no interest in letting him get back up. 

While Sam Brownback is a good speaker, his seemed to be trying to touch as many bases as possible, flitting from the war on terror to a flat tax to to ending cancer (huh?) to gay marriage to abortion to energy independence. (The energy stuff was the usual replace-oil-with-corn pipedream; I’m not sure why he didn’t retool his speech for a non-Iowa audience.) Far better to get a little deeper on a few big themes than to skate over the surface of so many little ones. ~John Tabin

What, no Darfur references?  I’m disappointed in Samnesty. 

I certainly share Mr. Tabin’s puzzlement with Brownback’s “end cancer in ten years” preoccupation.  Even when you remember that he had a cancer scare himself and became a strong advocate for research and treatment, it is still fairly bizarre in its way, yet it is one of the items that crops up in his major speeches with remarkable frequency.  In principle, reducing deaths from cancer and increased research and improved treatment are all things that reasonable people can and, I think, do support pretty much wholeheartedly, but “ending all deaths from cancer in ten years” is the essence of an unrealistic, absurd political proposal.  It is unfortunately rather typical of Brownback’s overall style–he wants to show that he cares so much that he will make the most outlandish proposals to demonstrate the extent of his concern.

The scatter-brained approach to policy speeches seems to be a Brownback favourite.  His announcement speech was very much like this one, at least from what I can glean from Mr. Tabin’s description.

Update: Ed Morrisey has items from Brownback’s speech.  Brownback felt the need to repeat his idiotic “yellow brick road to the White House” line.  Ross, if you have any influence with this guy and can persuade him to stop using this phrase, all political observers everywhere will be grateful to you.  Morrisey remarks on the end of the speech:

Wrapping up; he says in answer to “why us, why now?”, “Because … it is your destiny.” In my mind, it instantly recalled Darth Vader trying to convince Luke to switch to the Dark Side.

The phrase does have that association (it also comes just after he has sliced off Luke’s hand, which makes it even more menacing), but I will say that I think Darth Vader might be a bit of a harsh comparison for Brownback.  Even so, beware politicians who talk about destiny, whether theirs, yours or, worst of all, “ours.”  They have a funny way of compelling people to go to other countries to get into wars to fulfill that “destiny,” and it usually doesn’t end well.  The idealist’s talk of destiny winds up creating a very different destiny for the country that follows said politician than it would have otherwise had, and not in a good way.

Your next speaker grew up in Brooklyn when the Dodgers were still there, and nevertheless rooted for the Yankees. ~George Will at CPAC

How does treason to one’s home borough recommend a man to anyone?  You might as well say, “Our next speaker grew up in America during the Cold War, but nonetheless supported the expansion of Soviet communism.”  How on earth does it make him comparable to Margaret Thatcher?  Was she also in the habit of despising her hometown?  I think not. 

What sort of decent person roots for the Yankees anyway?

Fair enough, I guess. But still, the primaries are a long way away. You’d think it might be the role of a magazine like National Review to try and promote the fortunes of a proper plain-vanilla conservative Republican. A Jim Gilmore or a Mike Huckabee or whomever. It’s not exactly a rare breed in the country, it’s just that nobody who fits the bill (except for Jeb Bush) has the requisite level of ex ante fame to get buzz. But why be a journalist if not to try and generate buzz about people you think are being unjustly ignored?

Do conservatives understand that given the gross unpopularity of Bush’s military adventures at this point, nominating someone whose main profile as a conservative is grounded in his strong rhetorical support of Bush’s military adventures isn’t going to work out well?  ~Matt Yglesias

Unfortunately, many really don’t understand that, or, what may be more striking, they simply don’t care.  Once you have tied yourself to the Iraq war as closely as many conservative pundits have done, especially those at National Review, and argued year after year that the Iraq war is essential to national security, McCain’s identification with the actually makes him appear to them to be a “stronger” candidate in some ideological sense, even if it almost certainly makes him unelectable.  Many a Republican primary voter regards McCain’s position on the war to be one of his best, while they find his lack of enthusiasm on granting the President discretion to define torture to be proof of his treachery.  In such an environment, rational political calculations tend not to prevail.  As far as the pro-war pundits are concerned, McCain passes the Lieberman test (indefatigable support for the invasion) and therefore all else can be forgiven.  This is because passing the Lieberman test means that nothing else really matters.

The aversion to talking up the lesser candidates is a little harder to explain.  It certainly seems politically suicidal to entrust your party’s political success to one of the three big clunkers.  Part of it is sheer establishmentarian bias: the celebrity candidates are part of the party elite, so members of the party and movement elite want to boost the celebrity candidates who belong to that group.  Part of the reason is undoubtedly the Iraq war.  McCain and Giuliani in different ways serve for these people as symbols of Republican “toughness,” and therefore qualify as “leadership material” regardless of whether they are actually good leaders rather than egomaniacal gloryhounds.  (They throw in Romney as the acceptable alternative for people who want to crack down on the southern border and make threatening noises about Iran, but the interest in him has been waning–he is acceptable because Romney will probably do very little about the border but will endorse crazy foreign policy adventures.)  The other candidates have either shown what these folks would call “irresolution” on Iraq (Brownback) or have not distinguished themselves with reckless, sabre-rattling rhetoric in the past (as Romney did when he was grandstanding about Khatami’s visit and again at Herzliya). 

Plus, Brownback wants America to go fight in…Darfur.  This does not get the pro-war pundit’s blood racing.  Huckabee wants to sponsor education in the arts and reduce obesity!  Again, not much enthusiasm for this among the big pundits.  Hunter is automatically out of the establishment sweepstakes because he is an anti-immigration politician who actually means what he says, and he opposes “free trade” deals that are a central part of GOP orthodoxy.  Tancredo is viewed by most of the established pundits as slightly mad and certainly unelectable.  The day establishment pundits get behind Ron Paul will be at the end of the world.  Gilmore?  Gilmore, from what I have read about him, is supposedly generally non-interventionist and only supports wars fought in self-defense, which means that he is automatically unacceptable.  That leaves Tommy Thompson.  These pundits may like Thompson all right, but when they can get behind real warmongers why bother with a mild-mannered Midwestern welfare reformer?  The rush to anoint the top three of the presidential field and studiously ignore the others has everything to do with the Iraq war, and it shows just how profoundly the war has confused and warped the priorities of the party.

But it was revealing. The entire speech didn’t work. The whole thing was off. It was boring. Rudy entered the hall welcomed as a rock star. He then put the crowd to sleep as his lack of preparation became a glaring weakness. ~Dean Barnett

Conservatism would be in trouble, Norquist added, if the top candidates were saying, ‘I’m not where Reagan is, and I don’t want to be.” 

“There’s no Rockefeller wing of the party left,” he observed. ~The Politico

Well, that’s just ridiculous.  Of course there is a “Rockefeller wing” or its equivalent, or else Giuliani wouldn’t even be Republican.  The whole ”metro Republican” idea reflects a new ascendancy of people who are culturally and politically far more attuned to the spirit of Rockefeller.  Having co-opted the exurbs, suburbs and countryside to its cause, Red Republicanism can now burst forth once more in all its dreadful urbanite, Yankee corruption.  

What a stupid thing it is to say that there is no more Rockefeller wing, and how perfect that the oblivious Norquist would be the one to say it.  What were/are the defining features of Rockefeller Republicanism?  Social liberalism or, more accurately, indifference to social issues, a willingness to coexist with a large, centralised welfare state, which they wanted to more “efficiently” manage , an embrace of high levels of taxation (mighty budget-balancers were they) and reliable support for the interests of Big Business.  Immigration was not as much of a burning issue in the ’70s, but when it became a burning issue later these were people who could be relied upon to support mass immigration in all its forms, again because Big Business wanted it that way.  Regionally, they were often the Republicans of the Northeast.  Weirdly, even though everyone has been crying about how the GOP has been routed from the Northeast, we are being forced to endure a presidential field where two of the top three “major” contenders are Northeasterners by birth or by choice and whose careers certainly match up with the cultural and political leanings of Rockefeller Republicans much better than they do with Sunbelt conservatives.  The Rockefeller wing has not only survived–it has in most respects triumphed within the GOP and increasingly within the movement itself.  For much of the transformation of the latter you can thank FDR-admiring neocons and appeasers of the welfare state such as Newt Gingrich. 

In other words, the policies embraced by neoconservatives domestically and championed by “moderate” Republicans such as McCain and Giuliani are almost exactly the policies of the Rockefeller Republicans.  It is McCain’s Rockefellerism that makes him so unpopular with conservatives and which makes him a laughable successor to Goldwater; Giuliani is a more pure embodiment of the policies, if not exactly the social background, of the old Republican left.  To the extent that “mainstream” Republicanism differs from the bad old days of Rockefellerism at all, it is mainly only in tax policy and the occasional obligatory, usually meaningless nod to the concerns of social conservatives.  Not only has the Rockefeller wing never disappeared, but it has actually managed to grow and dominate more and more of the conservative movement itself.  The difference now is that the Rockefeller Republicans have the good sense to pretend that they respect and admire Reagan and pretend that they are good conservatives (or work steadily at redefining what conservative means so that it includes them), while continuing all of the same policies that conservatives used to oppose and still should oppose if they don’t actually oppose them right now.  The conservatives, meanwhile, in what I suppose must be a desperate attempt to convince themselves that they have accomplished something lasting in the last ten years, tell themselves that they have vanquished the spirit of Rockefeller, when all they have done is made it obligatory for the Rockefeller Republicans to pay homage to Reagan and then go about opposing everything the conservative movement used to stand for (and which some parts of it still do stand for most of the time).  That one of the big-name players in the movement does not see this or cannot publicly acknowledge it without destroying the credibility of the entire project tells you how bad things are.

“There is no agenda,” said Soren Dayton, a young consultant and blogger, complaining that GOP candidates are only offering up predictable platitudes.  “You say you’re pro-life, you say you’ll ban gay marriage and you say you’ll cut taxes.” ~The Politico

Of course, my fellow blogger has a point.  There is certainly not much new out on the hustings, even if there are some smart conservatives wonkishly contemplating problems of social policy.  Contrary to the claims of ”Smiling Eyes” Kristol, there are no “fresh ideas” on offer from the candidates, and I think this is because none of them thinks any new ideas are necessary.  All of them, except for Ron Paul, Hunter and Tancredo, seem to think that most of the policies of the current administration were on the right track and just got fouled up in the execution.  The motto of the rest of the field besides these three (who obviously take strong exception to major parts of the Bush consensus), would seem to be: “Like Bush, but competent this time!”  This reflects a far deeper problem than gloom and malaise in the ranks, and this is the apparently widely held view that the principles of the policies the GOP enacted while in the majority were sound and just got muddled in implementation.  There does seem to be broad agreement that spending got out of hand, but there seems to be much less agreement about how and why that happened. 

That being said, being anti-tax, pro-life and opposed to gay marriage are all part of ”the agenda,” broadly speaking, and have been for some time.  The problem with today’s GOP is that it has already cut taxes as much as their free-spending habits will allow for the near future, it never does anything about reducing or restricting abortion and it merely gestures at gay marriage and makes shrieking noises.  It ignored or dithered on one of the great policy problems of the day (immigration), punted on anything related to entitlements, servilely submitted to corporate interests on trade policy and offered a foreign policy vision so simplistic and childish that it would embarrass nine-year old players of Risk.  Many Republicans don’t even see anything wrong with these things and regard Risk-worthy leadership skills as proof of foreign policy mettle.  “Giuliani promised to invade Kamchatka next turn–we should vote for him!”  So many of the areas where Republican candidates could break with their party’s immediate past and chart interesting, popular and smart courses are out there waiting for someone who can conjure up something more than the old bromides, but they would either run into entrenched opposition or would probably fail to inspire a lot of voters.  Many good policy reformers make lousy national political figures and vice versa, because the focus and expertise of the former make them appear monomaniacal to a national audience while the latter can only make vague gestures in the direction of policy details without losing that awful superficiality that being on the national stage seems to require.  In other words, there’s no agenda in the presidential race right now because…it’s the presidential race and policy unfortunately tends to take a backseat to a tiresome focus on biography, personality, clothing choices, whether the candidate loves his wife (and how much he loves her), etc.  Indeed, what does anyone expect in a mass democratic election but a lot of sloganeering and boilerplate rhetoric?  They don’t really expect a battle of ideas, do they?  Oh, they do. 

On the other hand, there is no more specific “agenda” at this stage for the simple reason that you don’t roll out concrete policy proposals 10 months before New Hampshire.  You give broad, thematic speeches and “introduce” yourself and your record to the voters.  Political junkies want to know in detail how you plan to fund the mind-boggling liabilities of welfare programs and see a chart with your projections of benefit levels through 2035 (actually, I don’t want to see any of this, but someone must) and they want it now, which is, of course, completely absurd in March 2007.  If you rolled out your Social Security privatisation plan already, the same people would be complaining about how the candidate was campaigning on the same Social Security plan for a year and a half.  “There are no new ideas since last spring,” the junkies would start complaining.  With the explosion of blogs and news channels, the need to avoid saying very much for a very long time has only grown.  We chatter so much that we have compelled candidates to say nothing that we might find controversial, which therefore shuts down most interesting avenues of discussion. 

Perhaps what Mr. Dayton means is that all of the candidates are simply going through the motions, because they think they can win support simply by mouthing tired platitudes.  If Romney’s early endorsements are any indication, mouthing tired platitudes will convince some people, but apparently not enough.  Certainly, with Romney and McCain, you get the distinct sense that they say the things they say on any number of issues because they believe they have to use the right code words to convince people that they are what they and everyone else know they are not, namely reliable conservatives.  (McCain is actually conservative on a few things, but not nearly enough and not enough of the most important things.) 

But there is a certain disconnect here between conservatives who complain about the lack of credible conservative candidates and the same people complaining that the candidates are mouthing all the right phrases designed to appease a conservative audience.  (Not that they would call it appeasement, of course, because people at CPAC would tell you that appeasement is Very Bad and would probably throw things at someone who made kindly remarks about diplomacy.)  There is the feeling that any pol saying all or most of the right things is being insincere or unsatisfactory in his sales pitch, but the failure to say all or most of the rights is also disqualifying.  In other words, this is an almost unreasonably tough crowd. 

If a candidate says something new and potentially interesting for the field, such as, “Let’s withdraw from Iraq right now,” most CPACniks would metaphorically (and perhaps actually)tear him limb from limb.  If he does not hit every issue and state his commitment to the right view in just the right way, he suffers politically by appearing to be unreliable or uncommitted.  Look at poor Sam Brownback and his position on the “surge”!  He is generally more pro-war than just about anybody you could find and loves the idea of intervening in other countries, but because he came to a different prudential judgement about an ill-chosen tactical deployment he has been cast into the outer darkness of villains where people like me reside. 

If the candidate actually holds a different view, instead of being praised for his interesting, different take that might reflect the mind of a serious, thinking human being, he is shunned as an agent of corruption and perversion of the true message.  When you have a politics where successsful candidates have to subscribe to a laundry list of widely accepted, not necessarily connected positions to “prove” their fidelity to “the cause,” you are going to have candidates rattle off predictable statements of devotion to…the cause.  Some politicians do this easily and without breaking a sweat (e.g., Tancredo, Hunter, Brownback with some important exceptions), because they either know the spiel backwards and forwards or they really believe in all of these things, while others make it seem as if they have been rehearsing this stuff over the last few months because they know it is what they have to say but don’t really know how to unite it in any sort of coherent, comprehensive vision.  Romney’s NRI Summit speech was just such a listing of positions without any imagination or thought given to them–he declared that he was against the welfare state!  Talk about being behind the curve.   

You can almost see the Mitt going over his announcement speech: “What’s wrong with government is that it’s too big…I have to remember that one, that’s a good line…too big.  And the people are….oh, I keep forgetting this part…we are…oh, that’s right, we’re overtaxed.  Right, tax hikes are bad.  I really have to carry that around on a card or something, or else I will forget that I am now against tax hikes.” 

It is important to scrutinise candidates certainly, because there are frauds who will try to present themselves as people who hold fast to the platitudes they are reciting.  The difference is not so much in what the different candidates say, because they are all going to repeat more or less the same basic points, but in whether they have any credibility when they say it.  Based on their records, Giuliani, McCain and Romney do not, while the others, to varying degrees, do.  But there should be no expectations that anyone will be offering clever or interesting new ideas in the coming weeks and months.  What is worth watching is whether any of them find a new and interesting way to convey the same old positions, because the candidate who can do that (and it certainly isn’t any one of the Terrible Trio) is the candidate who stands a decent chance in the general election.  And, no, Sam Brownback, this does not mean recycling “compassionate conservatism.”

“It’s a struggle,” said conservative activist and public relations specialist Mike Thompson.  “Conservatives want to win, but they aren’t really sure the guys at the top of the field are conservative.” Reconciling purity and pragmatism is always a challenge, Thompson added, but it’s especially so going into 2008 because “of the fear of the other side.” ~The Politico

May I just note that it is this sort of obsession with “fear of the other side” that ushered in the disaster of the Bush years?  No matter how badly the man governed, no matter how many principles he betrayed (or never held in the first place), the mantra was always, “Well, the other side would be worse.”  Perhaps some people sincerely believed that in early 2002; I might have even agreed with it at that unusual moment.  But it didn’t hold for long. 

To choose your standard-bearer based in this fear of Democrats will usually result in the selection of someone who might be good at kicking around political enemies but will otherwise be incredibly incompetent when it comes to governing and setting the kinds of policies that you and yours want.  Principled “purity” and pragmatism are arrayed on one side of the balance in this calculation, while the pure lust for power exists on the other side.  There is nothing pragmatic or worldly wise about selling yourself to ambitious pols simply because they hold out the promise of winning elections.  That is, in fact, the definition of being a gullible patsy.  Bush was one for winning elections for the GOP, but was an all-around nightmare for advancing most of the things conservatives thought they were in politics to advance.  Now many have buyer’s remorse…but seem set to do the exact same thing all over again, and all because they are scared of Hillary or some other bogey from the left.  Not exactly inspiring to watch, is it?

And on some issues, someone else will be more conservative than I am, but that just depends on the issue, and I’m by no means the most conservative on all issues. ~Mitt Romney

Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III will become the first Republican presidential contender to say publicly that the three top-ranked party candidates are phony conservatives. ~The Washington Times

Well, I already like Jim Gilmore better just for making this claim in public, since it is what quite a lot of people out here in the country take to be obvious.  In the past, I have written dismissively, or usually not at all, about Gilmore’s bid.  However, as a former governor of what will likely be a swing state and someone with a generally good record, he is a far more plausible nominee than, say, Mitt Romney and he is probably a much more electable general election candidate than either of the other two from the Terrible Trio.  The problem he faces now is that he has entered the race relatively later than everyone else and has done so so hesitantly that even most people who are following the election probably don’t know that he is running.  By all means, take out the Trio at the knees for their lack of conservatism, Gov. Gilmore.  Will he be able to do anything more than that?  I guess we’ll find out. 

Update: Gilmore’s ad refers to his desire to lead the “Republican wing of the Republican Party.”  Ha!  Has the right found its Howard Dean, or just a pale imitation?

Updated Below 

1) McCain 164 (24.4%)  2) Giuliani 162 (24.1%)  3) Hunter 158 (23.5%) 4) Brownback 85 (12.6%) 5) Romney 80 (11.9%) 6)Huckabee (3.1%)

Let me start by saying that straw polls are pretty meaningless, especially when they are held 10 months before any primary votes are cast.  The Spartanburg straw poll is just such a meaningless straw poll.  In another five months, the Ames straw poll might tell us something more reliable.  Even so, the South Carolina straw poll can tell us some potentially interesting things. 

One of these things is that Romney’s vaunted organisation is completely failing to win the candidate much support even for symbolic votes.  Winning CPAC’s fairly meaningless straw poll will become that much more important to Romney. 

Update: According to Hotline, McCain, Giuliani and Hunter were the top finishers, followed by Brownback, Romney and Huckabee in that order.  McCain has to be less than thrilled with his finish, since it feeds into this sense that his campaign is faltering (whether or not it actually is faltering).  McCain pulled out a squeaker at the end, bumping Giuliani down a notch with Hunter a close third.  Virtually nobody hearts Huckabee. 

The other thing we can take away from this is that the media–and here I include the conservative opinion journals and Republican blogs–will have to stop pretending that the Terrible Trio are the natural triumvirate of Republican presidential candidates.  Hunter and Brownback are not only potentially credible challengers, but, if we took this straw poll really seriously as a gauge of grassroots attitudes (which I don’t), would have to be considered the close second and fourth-place candidates right now.  Even though the poll is not that meaningful, the main question coming out of this has to be: how long before Romney drops out?  He can certainly raise enough money to keep going, and he has a fair amount of the stuff himself, but at what point does he take his underperforming campaign and uninteresting message and go home?  Romney has been working South Carolina for years at this point, and he can’t come up with a better showing than this?  He has his resources and organisation and can’t beat out the relative shoe-string operation of Brownback?  Is this an early sign of the anti-Mormon factor?  Possibly, but it’s hard to say. 

Brownback’s campaign is already trying to spin Hunter’s success here as being simply a function of a good match between Hunter’s opposition to “free trade” and local conditions, but that drives home the point that Hunter’s views on trade (obviously unpopular with corporate Republicans) may be far more appealing in our present populist moment than Samnesty’s embrace of “free trade” dogma.  Hunter’s fairly solid record of opposition to immigration will also be a winner in GOP primaries, while Samnesty, McCain and Giuliani have nothing to offer conservatives on this question.  People should be taking Duncan Hunter much more seriously than they are.    

Having said all of this, as fun as it is, I have to stress again how relatively unimportant this result really is.  As someone who has said that Hunter is the dark horse who will come out of nowhere to seize the nomination, and as someone who agrees with Hunter on immigration and trade, I would like to think that his candidacy is a serious and competitive one.  However, I must recognise that he will have a horrible time raising money and will have the bulk of the establishment against him.  This result may help him a little in fundraising and getting some more publicity. 

There will be a wave of posts and articles latching on to Giuliani’s narrow first- second-place finish as proof of something.  What it will really indicate is that Giuliani’s celebrity wins over straw poll voters just as it wins over voters when they are being polled on presidential preferences.  Can a man run an entire presidential campaign on not much more than celebrity and a mayoral record?   Obviously, it’s never been done before, and there seem to be a lot of reasons why it won’t work.  It is somewhat telling that candidates who were not named Giuliani and McCain took nearly three-fifths of the votes about half of the votes.  Most Republicans do not want these old, unconservative candidates who are being foisted on them, and it’s no surprise.  They’re bad candidates who have any number of problems that make them unelectable in the general election.  It’s high time that pundits and voters started paying attention to the rest of the field.   

After a rough 2006, conservative magazines are seeing an uptick in subscription renewals, right-wing websites are getting more hits, and Republican and conservative groups here at Harvard (yes, Harvard!) seem invigorated. ~Bill Kristol

Well, in that case, all is well.  As long as the groups at Harvard are ”invigorated,” there’s no need to worry (of course, one can be invigorated by desperation as well as exuberant confidence).   If the websites are getting more hits, that has to be proof that everyone is full of joy (”cheerful” is how Kristol puts it), because no one ever goes online to vent his frustrations and express the views that are not getting represented in the major conservative media, right?  Oh.

No, it’s time for big grins all around.  Why?  Well, check out these exciting reasons!  First, of course, the “surge”!  Kristol says:

The ouster of Rumsfeld and Casey and the announcement of a new strategy backed up by additional troops and a new commander, General David Petraeus, gave hope to those who still think success is possible in Iraq–which, polls show, is still a healthy majority of Republicans.

It’s true that a majority of Republicans supports the “surge,” but what this has to do with their being cheerful is beyond me.  Most of the pro-”surge” talk I’ve heard is grimly purposeful in a last ditch, “we’re on the verge of real disaster” sort of way.  No one is smiling.  In fact, if someone were smiling, I suspect that he would get smacked in the face by the other people who understand the gravity of the situation.  Presumably cheerful, happy Republicans would not now be abandoning Mr. Bush in ever-larger numbers, or perhaps by “cheer” Kristol actually means “discontent.”

But it isn’t just the “surge” that should cheer everybody up.  After all, there are always Republicans in Congress to give everyone that warm, fuzzy feeling.  No, really:

Mitch McConnell’s performance as Senate Republican leader has also–for the first time in a long while–given Republicans a congressional leader worth rooting for as he outmaneuvers the Democrats in their efforts to put Congress on record against Bush’s Iraq policy.

I guess if tying your party ever more inextricably to a bad policy and ensuring that everyone thinks that Iraq is a purely Republican war are smart moves, Mitch McConnell should be feted as a genius.  If putting some space between the GOP and the war is one of the few things that may prevent another electoral catastrophe for them, maybe blocking maneuvers to stop a non-binding resolution are the expressions of stupid, broadly unpopular, tone-deaf political posturing that they appear to be.

If that hasn’t made you as much of a grinning idiot as Bill Kristol, there’s more: the Democratic and Republican fields for ‘08.  The Democratic field is pathetically weak, that’s true, so it can hardly be encouraging that in every generic ballot the Democrats are routinely whomping (see question 12) the Republicans by 15 or more points and the GOP’s “best” candidates right now are in close races with all of these pathetically weak Democrats.  Meanwhile, Bill Richardson, who bizarrely has more executive experience than the entire Republican top three put together, waits in the wings to take up the mantle of “electable, centrist Democrat” who has some foreign policy credentials and is also strongly antiwar.  Meanwhile, in the other corner are….Giuliani, McCain and Romney?  Good grief.  As a Gopper, you have to be hoping that isn’t the real field and that someone has been playing a cruel joke on you till now.  You have to be hoping that one of these lesser-known candidates comes out of nowhere.  If I were a Republican party loyalist (which I assuredly am not), it wouldn’t seem to be a time for smiling.  It would look like it is time to start drinking heavily.

Update: The smiling Republicans are apparently not at CPAC.  The Washington Times reports:

Regular CPAC attendees spoke yesterday of a “malaise.” 
“It’s a sense, a feeling that none of the top candidates really excite conservatives this year,” Illinois publisher Jameson Campaigne said.

Maybe by “malaise,” he meant “cheerfulness.”  Or maybe Bill Kristol is a tiresome party propagandist.

If the base is really so wary, how exactly is Mr. Giuliani so far ahead in the polls?

The fact is, the base is already fairly comfortable with Mr. Giuliani and is quite seriously considering his candidacy. ~Ryan “Blame The Christians” Sager

Mr. Sager’s ”argument” here is a good example of a habit that a lot of activists and pundits on the right have: whatever it is that you believe and desire, “the base” somehow magically always believes and desires the same thing.  Hugh Hewitt is always talking about what “the base” wants, when he actually means to say, “what I, Hugh Hewitt, want.”  Many a socially conservative pundit will cluck his tongue about the “sophistication” of social conservative voters, when what I suspect he is basing this statement on is his own sense that he is a social conservative and a sophisticated voter and therefore other social conservatives must be similarly complex in their approaches to voting.  More than any of us like to admit it, political observers will substitute what we know or what we think we know for explanations of what is motivating other people.  To some degree, this is unavoidable, since we are alll bound up in our own contingent perspectives and have a hard time forgetting that other people are not necessarily viewing things as we do.  When this method is employed for obviously polemical purposes, however, as Mr. Sager has been employing it here, it becomes rather grimly self-serving.  Even being self-serving would be less of a problem if it were at least based on something more substantial than these ridiculously early polls. 

We are familiar with the politicians’ method of pretending to speak for “the American people,” and we’re all used to ignoring what they have to say on this score, but on the right we are still inclined to listen very seriously when someone begins speaking in hushed tones about “the base.”  Perhaps because the party leadership and talking heads have so assiduously ignored most ordinary folks on so many other their major policy decisions (e.g., immigration, trade, foreign policy, etc.) or simply paid mostly lip service to their socially conservative values, there is some desire to overcompensate by constantly gesturing towards the constituents whom they routinely ignore on almost everything that matters.  Still, you’d think we’d just received a prophect revelation the way some people fall all over themselves trying to scrutinise the true intentions of “the base.”  Just watch the haruspices fumble with the bird entrails that are polling results to divine the appropriate conclusion!  Of course, you, the pundit or activist, haven’t necessarily surveyed “the base” yourself, nor do you have some automatic telepathic connection to all other conservatives, but you just know (because it’s so obvious!) that “the base” agrees with your position.  That everyone on either side of every question is confident that this claim of support from “the base” is true might begin to inspire doubt that “the base” even exists and is actually just a figment of pundits’ imaginations. 

Even though it would normally be considered perilous and unwise to base an interpretation of the state of the GOP on preliminary polling ten months before the first primary, quite a few people are popping up to tell us how the rise of the Terrible Trio and Giuliani’s popularity show us that everything has changed.  The rise of the “metro” Republican, instead of being stunning proof that the party establishment is once again foisting a bunch of unpopular elites and Northeasterners on their constituents quite against their will, is taken as proof of a new “trend” in GOP politics.  There is, of course, nothing new about the GOP establishment imposing bad but well-connected candidates on the party.  That is what the GOP establishment does–it can do no other without losing its essential self.  Conservatives have just lived through six years of the results of that same practice when Mr. Bush was made the prohibitive favourite early on.  Unlike 1999, however, the “frontrunner” in the polls has not received the blessing of the overwhelming majority of party honchos.  Giuliani boosters would have us believe that his numbers in the low 30s (rather comparable to Liddy Dole’s 27% or so around this time in ‘99) show that the party faithful are going for him even when the leadership is not.  If so, this would be a rather shocking change in Republican practice.  It is the case that GOP voters do tend to follow where the party leadership takes them (whether it is to follow Dole off an electoral cliff or to follow Bush to Iraq), which makes Giuliani’s lack of support from those leaders a clear sign that he will ultimately not go very far.  Even so, why anyone should wish to repeat the undemocratic anointing of a mediocrity, such as the GOP experienced in ’99-’00, I will never understand.  Yet to listen to some tell it, the field of three has already been determined.  The early polling for Giuliani is being taken as “proof” that the traditional leaders of social and religious conservatives no longer have the same influence they once did, which works very nicely with Mr. Sager’s story of a social conservatism in decline.  Here’s Sager:

And these gatekeepers are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a party that wants to find its way out of the political wilderness and, to some extent, blames the more extreme elements of the religious right for leading it into the woods in the first place.  

This is Mr. Sager’s “base”-invoking rhetoric at its laziest.  The “party” doesn’t blame the “more extreme elements of the religious right” for electoral defeat–Ryan Sager does.  In fact, whenever you see him make a generalisation about what the GOP wants or needs today, it is usually a statement of what Sager believes and not much more than that. 

In fact, however, there are actual conservative voters whose apparent preferences for Giuliani have nothing to do with their “comfort” with Giuliani and everything to do with celebrity, ignorance and misconceptions about who and what Giuliani is.  Giuliani the pro-life evangelical sounds like a formidable candidate, and for a sizeable percentage of voters (roughly 15% or so) Giuliani evidently must be pro-life and evangelical because, well, he just has to be.  What it means for the rise of secular and “libertarian” forces in the GOP that many of the people who back Giuliani may actually think they are backing a pro-life evangelical candidate is not something that Mr. Sager would want to have to talk about.  If I were Sager, I would probably also say that the polling is “unambiguous” (even though there is rarely anything more ambiguous than early primary polling), because if I were Ryan Sager I would have to believe that this is true. 

Mr. Sager’s “discovery” that “the base” is comfortable with Giuliani fits very nicely with his other “discoveries” that the GOP is dominated by religious maniacs (unbeknownst to all but Andrew Sullivan and Heather Mac Donald) and that it was this supposedly overflowing religious mania (not outrageous deficit spending, the war, catastrophic incompetence and, well, failure in almost everything) that doomed the GOP in ‘06.  Strange that someone like Harold Ford could come very close to winning in a strongly Republican state by talking up his religiosity and traditional upbringing–Tennesseans must simply have been driven towards him by their disgust with that Bible-thumping theocrat Bob Corker.  Yeah.  It’s a good thing that Michelle “Fool for Christ” Bachmann didn’t win election to the House, or you might begin to think that religious conservatives aren’t that much of an electoral liability after all. Oh, wait, she did get elected.  In Minnesota.  But obviously a big social-con such as Marilyn Musgrave would get swept out in the “libertarian West”…oh, wait, no, she’s still there.  Mr. Sager is confident about all of these “discoveries” because they also fit very nicely with his own policy views and factional preferences, which are decidedly not those of a religious conservative.  After the year when Democrats felt compelled to fall over themselves in talking about God (and a year in which, separately, economic populism triumphed all over the place), Mr. Sager is selling secular “libertarian”-conservatism.  No wonder he is clutching on to the hem of Giuliani’s dress–he needs to find some sign that his kind of politics is not destined for complete marginalisation.  How better than to go on the offense and declare that his rivals are finished and their time has ended?  Religious conservatives are in full retreat, he declares to us.  “There are no American soldiers in Baghdad,” said another equally confident propagandist.  

Mr. Sager’s preferred policies and loyalties wouldn’t be as much of an issue, except that he has decided to make virtually everything he writes these days part of this unfolding narrative that religious/social conservatism has destroyed the Republican Party and he has chosen to tell this particularly unconvincing story without much in the way of evidence.  Since virtually nothing much that might be confused with a social conservative agenda was ever passed or signed into law in the last six years, it is difficult to understand what that ever had to do with Republican defeat.  This is not a problem for Mr. Sager’s arguments, since his “blame the Christians” rhetoric benefits from its sheer vagueness: social-cons are to blame because, well, they just are and everyone knows it (but you should still buy my book!).  Hence the importance of Rudy’s early lead in the polls–it proves that “the base” is headed Sager’s way and that “the base” agrees with his diagnosis about what’s ailing the party.  What could be a better indication that the rank-and-file share Sager’s weariness with social conservatism than the full-on embrace of someone like Giuliani, right?  Presumably the early “embrace” of Joe Lieberman by a plurality of Democratic voters in early ‘03 reflected their abiding love of the Iraq war and their conviction that unrealistic hawkishness was the wave of the future.  That would pretty well describe the Democratic Party rank-and-file of the last three years, wouldn’t you say?  It’s not as if there would be some revolt of “the base” later on in the year that would propel a staunchly antiwar candidate to the front of the pack!  How could that happen?  After all, the polling was unambiguous, right? 

Former Sen. Rick Santorum has drawn at least one conclusion about the Republican presidential primary field: Anybody but John McCain.

The Pennsylvania Republican, who signed a contract Thursday as a Fox News contributor, said he has spoken with every GOP candidate – except the senator from Arizona – but it’s still too early for him to endorse.

“The only one I wouldn’t support is McCain,” Santorum said during an interview in his office at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where he is a senior fellow.

“I don’t agree with him on hardly any issues,’’ Santorum said. “I don’t think he has the temperament and leadership ability to move the country in the right direction.” ~The Politico

While this will no doubt undermine McCain’s appeal to the large (and, I’m sure, influential!) Venezuelan exile community, you would almost have to think that McCain has recruited Santorum to make a public statement in which he absolutely refuses to endorse him.  As the man who suffered what I believe was the largest margin of defeat of any incumbent Pennsylvania U.S. Senator ever (an 18 point margin) and someone whose “gathering storm” speech draws either groans or laughs from most people in this country, Santorum is not exactly the person whose endorsement a campaign manager bends over backwards to acquire.  Indeed, his endorsement might well be the beginning of the end for a struggling campaign.  The headlines would prove awkward at best: “Repudiated politician fears the rise of Venezuelan empire, supports McCain” ; “McCain, si! Chavez, no!” ; “One good warmonger deserves another,” and so on. 

Santorum’s repudiation, on the other hand, is something that McCain can hold up as proof of his electability.  It does hurt McCain’s vain attempt to win over Christian conservatives, many of whom still admire Santorum for his stands on social issues in spite of his wacky foreign policy views.  (It is worth noting that Santorum refuses to rule out Giuliani, who makes no pretense to being pro-life and whose temperament is, if anything, worse than McCain’s famous temper.)  There is always the danger that McCain can now be cast by his enemies as being “weak on Bolivia,” but I think that’s a risk he’ll be willing to take. 

On a separate note, it is interesting that Santorum doesn’t want to go into lobbying now that he is out of government.  Why?  One reason is that it isn’t his kind of thing, but there’s another:

Besides, he added, “I want to keep my political options open.”

That’s a good idea, Rick.  You don’t want to prematurely rule out all those opportunities for a political comeback that are just piling up for you.

But I’m actually in the camp of people who thought that Dennis Miller’s abrasive, I’m-smarter-than-you shtick was never, ever funny - and I can’t tell you how annoyed it made me that of all the entertainment-industry types who could have converted to right-wingery after 2001, all we got was him. (Why couldn’t, say, Angelina Jolie have discovered the virtues of pre-emptive war? I’m sure PNAC would have been as eager as the CFR to have her on board.)

Though I suppose there are always worse people who could have joined the conservative fold . . . ~Ross Douthat

I share Ross’ sense of annoyance, though mainly just because I find Dennis Miller to be really, really annoying.  Anything that would have associated him, however extremely remotely, with my kind of politics has to be quite unfortunate.  Fortunately, most of Miller’s move to “the right” has had a lot to do with becoming a booster for Bush and very little do with anything recognisable as conservative ideas, so the association is minimal.  But I think Miller’s shtick explains a good deal about why he joined up with the Red Republicans when he did.  If there was one thing that the Bush Administration implausibly exuded for years and years, it was that they were the trusty, competent hands who knew better than we did.  How many times did silly war supporters say things like, “The President knows more than I do”?  I bet they wish they could take those statements back!  Dennis Miller is the embodiment of the continuing war supporter pose of claiming to know a whole lot about the world and claiming to be more firmly in tune with reality than the morons whom he happily derided  combined with a stunning lack of understanding of any of the relevant subjects.  Miller is, in this sense, the living symbol of the snide condescension that many Bush supporters expressed towards anyone who lacked their profound vision of the future world they were going to create.  The government was able to invade Iraq because tens of millions of people were as self-important and ignorant as Dennis Miller and could therefore be easily manipulated into backing the war if it meant that they could brag to everybody they knew that they possessed superior “moral clarity” and idealistic zeal for freedom.  Perhaps that sets too much importance by Dennis Miller–indeed, talking about him this much already invests him with too much importance–but it is worth considering.

But Miller was not alone in his political move, even if he didn’t have much company.  Ron Silver stands out as one of the more high-profile, post-9/11 ”converts” to the Republican cause in the entertainment industry and one who “converted” entirely because of 9/11 and the administration’s response.  Silver is an odd character, but perhaps he is one of those socially liberal jingoists to whom a Giuliani ticket would theoretically appeal.  He is, as he said to the convention in ’04, a “September 11 person,” which apparently means that he is one of those people whose core values are so easy to ignore that he could embrace an entirely different political agenda because of one particularly traumatic and terrible event.  In a sense, the move for Silver was an entirely logical one, if what I understand about him is correct. 

I first heard of Ron Silver from an anecdote about Clinton’s first inauguration.  The story that I heard goes that there were fighter jets flying overhead in honour of the new President, and Silver was initially bothered by this until he thought to himself that the jets were “our planes now.”  It was now okay to enthuse about displays of militarism, because the right people were in charge.  So it is not really all that terribly surprising that when there was an actual war on and there was a chance to be on the side of the “war President,” Silver would join the side of that President.     

Now, criticism of Israel, as of anything else, is all a matter of context, and if the context, from a Jewish point of view, is acceptable—if, that is, the identification with Israel is clear in it—then the criticism itself, whether or not one agrees with it, is certainly permissible. The question really is then: when is “identification” clearly present and when isn’t it? Ira Youdovin, for example, wants to know what’s wrong with Rabbis for Human Rights, “an Israeli-based pluralistic organization that . . . advocates a two-state solution, even as it accuses Israel of violating human rights.” Dan Fleshler argues on behalf of Jewish activists who are “ideal candidates for addressing the [anti-Israel] claims of the far Left [because they] aren’t afraid to say publicly that the occupation is morally repugnant.”

This is curious language for someone who “identifies” with Israel. “Morally problematic?” I’d have no difficulty with that. “Morally injurious?” I’d sign to that, too. But “repugnant?” It’s obviously not the Palestinians who are being labelled “repugnant” here, but the Israelis—the same Israelis who (whether or not you think they should be) are living, at considerable danger to themselves, as settlers in the historic heartland of the Hebrew Bible and whose presence there alone can enable Israel to redraw the perilous 1967 borders to its advantage. How identified with Jewish history or Israel can you be if you find such people, or the army that is protecting them and preventing daily acts of terror aimed at Israel proper, nothing but “repugnant?” How “identified” are you if you see in all this only a “violation of [Palestinian] human rights” and not, at the same time, an upholding of Jewish rights? ~Hillel Halkin

Of course, Mr. Fleshler doesn’t say that Jewish history, Israel, Israeli settlers or the Israeli army are morally repugnant, and presumably doesn’t believe that they are any such thing, but he did say that the policy of occupation that the Israeli government continues is “morally repugnant.”  Mr. Halkin regards this as excessive.  A certain degree of criticism is okay, but real, fundamental criticism is not tolerable.  This is comparable to the “centrist” hawk line that it is legitimate to criticise the administration on how it has managed the Iraq war, but not on the fundamental necessity and justice of the war.  You can be a respected dissenter, provided that it is of the McLieberman variety in which you find fault with the administration for moving too slowly and using too little force and not increasing troop levels sooner.  To do otherwise, at least as far as much of the American right is concerned, is to have entered the land of the moonbats and crazies, though this is still better than being cast out among the outright traitors and “unpatriotic” (translation from jingo: sane) conservatives. 

This is a fine example of the tendency among pro-Israel activists of all stripes to say, “Why, yes, we welcome criticism, provided that it is not fundamental or very deep criticism that strikes at the heart of one of our preferred policies.  By all means, express concern about some of the methods employed, but don’t question the inalienable right to illegally occupy someone else’s land and repress the current inhabitants.”  You, the dissenter, can disagree about how to reach the same goal that these activists have, and you can find fault with certain individuals for their failures to execute the necessary plans properly (no one excels in Olmert-bashing more than the ardent hard-liners), but you cannot question the goal, much less issue moral condemnation of a fundamental state policy–at least not without forfeiting your claim to have any real identification with Israel and implicating yourself, in the eyes of the ideological guardians, as an unwitting (or perhaps not so unwitting?) abettor of the enemies of Israel. 

I am not Jewish, but this strikes me that this is a supremely lousy tactic to employ against other Jewish people who insist that they are pro-Israel and who refuse to define being “pro-Israel” as reflexive support for whatever the Israeli government is doing.  It seems to me that, if Israel were the weak, endangered state that its defenders routinely make it out to be, its defenders would want to have as many allies as they could possibly find and would not impose maximalist demands of ideological purity on those who actually try to fend off Israel’s harshest critics.  Halkin’s test is similar to the standards used by watchdogs here in America on the lookout for “anti-Americanism.”  Expressing opposition to government policy or contempt for figures in government somehow translates into being “anti-American,” when there is every reason to think that the policy and government officials in question are opposed to everything good about our country and violate many of the moral ideals that we aspire to as a people.  We often hear the old refrain that we are undermining the government or enabling the enemy, but what we are actually doing most of the time is challenging bad policy that certain ideologues and chauvinists would have us believe is some kind of embodiment of the nation’s highest purpose.     

Does Romney really not understand how big of a problem his Mormonism is with a sizeable chunk of the electorate?  As Roger Simon notes in Politico that “poll after poll shows [Mormonism] is a significant problem for him.”  Is his campaign staff so oblivious or so, shall we say, brainwashed by the multiculti lie that voters don’t care about these sorts of things (even when they say that they do care) that they aren’t even considering how it would affect his candidacy?  His not-so-secret top-secret battle plan suggests that they are aware of the problem, but I don’t think they have even attempted to understand just how serious of a problem it is for their candidate.  His public remarks to date indicate that he has no idea what he’s about to run into in the next year.  If he weren’t such a pandering opportunist, I would even feel sorry for him.

Update: Leaving aside the Mormonism business for a moment, just consider the shift in Romney’s fav/unfav rating in the Post poll.  He went from 22/24 (not great, but not disastrous) to an even worse rating of 26/34.  Simon concludes:

But something very troubling has happened to Romney over the last 10 weeks:

The more voters learn about him, the less they seem to like him.

That basically obliterates the happy-talk in the memo from Romney’s senior strategist Alex Gage (is every top level staffer for Romney named Alex?) in which he declared, among other vain attempts to put lipstick on a pig, that the more people know about Romney the more they like him.

The attenuated attacks are so unusual that I think it proves that the media has determined who the conservative candidate is because they’re going after me with hammer and tong and that’s the way you would expect to go after the conservative candidate. And I’m proud of the fact that the mainstream media isn’t wild about my candidacy and that’s why I’m going to win. ~Mitt Romney

Attenuated?  The attacks themselves are weakened and diminishing?  Certainly the attacks will attenuate Romney’s political appeal, but the attacks are not attenuated.  If anything, they are too strong and dense for Romney to handle!

Strange diction aside, this is blind optimism in the face of (political) death.  I suppose you have to spin it positively and make it seem as if articles that describe you as a “loser” are really being written because the left secretly fears that you are a big winner, but nobody except for the true loyalists are buying this stuff.

It is possible that you can make a hostile media into your adversary and try to rally populist resentment against the media to boost your candidacy by non-traditional means, but that is hardly something that any candidate enjoys or wants to have to do.  The media across the spectrum actively hated Pat Buchanan, and that did not exactly win him the nomination.  If media loathing were an indication of the certainty of future conservative success, Barry Goldwater would have been President for eight years.  Of course, Romney is neither Buchanan nor Goldwater nor anything like them.  As Dean, Obama and McCain have shown, if the media love you they can generate a lot of “buzz” and make you into a viable candidate when you would normally have no business even being in the race. 

What I think is so amusing about this latest bout of Romneyite whining about the media is that Romney would not even be a remotely serious candidate right now but for the tremendous attention the media have been giving him.  He has no more business running for President than Obama, yet he has been promoted and taken seriously by many observers (including the great election watcher Chuck Todd, who believes, in opposition to everything Democrats actually say about Romney, that the Dems are most afraid of a Romney nomination) who should know that he is not that great of a candidate.  Without the mainstream media, which really has to include the major conservative opinion journals that have been boosting his candidacy to one degree or another over the past year, Romney’s candidacy would be nowhere.  Very few people know who he is, but even fewer would know about him if he had not been getting the third-degree over his flip-flopping and the publicity from the endless stream of ”Mormon question” articles.  The Weisberg and Linker articles, while deeply wrong or mistaken in different ways, probably generated more attention for Romney in the press than some of his own campaign activities!  Because he has apparently been deemed by many insiders to be the anointed establishment alternative to McCain, in spite of Romney’s record and opportunism, the media have treated him with far more serious scrutiny than he really deserved, and now he is discomfited by the attention and wants to use the scrutiny as proof that he is the real conservative that all of the media coverage has proven him not to be. 

This scrutiny has less to do with the media’s concern to “get” the conservative candidate as such, and has much more to do with the inevitable intense scrutiny that any major candidate will face.  Romney has failed the test of this scrutiny time and again and is now using the last trick he has, which is to lump the media into his enemies’ list as a last-ditch way of rallying people around him.  Now if he could just get Le Monde to run a hit piece on him, he would really be in good shape!   

Update: If Romney were confident that he was the obvious conservative candidate in the race, he wouldn’t be bringing in Michigander students and activists to CPAC to make sure that he wins the meaningless straw poll there.  He desperately craves legitimation from a prominent conservative body, because he knows how badly he needs it.  The other candidates, except for Giuliani (obviously), don’t need to rig meaningless votes to win credibility–they already are conservative!

Their biggest headache was insufficient troops on the ground despite the increase ordered by President Bush, the former official said. “We don’t have the numbers for the counter-insurgency job even with the surge. The word ’surge’ is a misnomer. Strategically, tactically, it’s not a surge,” an American officer said.

According to the US military’s revised counter-insurgency field manual, FM 3-24, written by Gen Petraeus, the optimum “troop-to-task” ratio for Baghdad requires 120,000 US and allied troops in the city alone. Current totals, even including often unreliable Iraqi units, fall short and the deficit is even greater in conflict areas outside Baghdad.

“Additional troops are essential if we are to win,” said Lt-Col John Nagel, co-author of the manual, in an address at the US Naval Institute in San Diego last month. One soldier for every 50 civilians in the most intense conflict areas was key to successful counter-insurgency work.Compounding the manpower problems is an apparently insurmountable shortage of civilian volunteers from the Pentagon, state department and treasury. They are needed to staff the additional provincial reconstruction teams and other aid projects promised by Mr Bush. ~The Guardian