Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tight


According to the conventional wisdom, while President Obama and Mitt Romney are running almost even in the popular vote, the President is handily ahead in the Electoral College. Close examination of the Electoral College tells a different story. If one visits the Realclearpolitics website and looks for the Do It Yourself electoral map, one sees immediately that the conventional narrative is not correct. On the DIY map, one begins with the Realclearpolitics map, in which the President is indeed ahead but nowhere close to the 270 electoral votes needed to secure reelection. At present, the map shows the President with 121; if one awards North Carolina nd Virginia to Romney--both of which I think are very likely--then the electoral count is 119-121. Romney will need to fight hard to get to 270, but so will President Obama. The race is much closer than the pundits say and at the moment is at least as likely to go Romney's way as Obama's.

That's one reason for increasing Democrat worry, which TMH thinks will manifest itself in a bitter, sardonic, superior and generally off putting Democrat Convention next week. Another reason for their desperation to reelect the President is that the Democrat Party faces a most uncertain future. Who, for example, can they nominate four years from now if the President should not be reelected? The only Democrat we can think of who has a favorable national profile is Hillary Clinton, while as they showed at the convention this week, the Republicans have an attractive array of people plausible as national candidates. From Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico to Nikki Haley of South Carolina, from Mia Love to Paul Ryan himself the Republican Party has an amazing and attractive deep field of inspirational leaders.

Friday, August 10, 2012

We Told You So


Well, not precisely, but TMH did make the point some time ago that the much-praised Fareed Zakaria is, upon close inspection, a bit short on ideas. As if to underscore the point, Zakaria apparently (partly) plagiarized a recent column in Time. As if further to underscore the fact that while appearing to be an independent thinker he is actually a high-toned liberal, Zakaria plagiarized from The New York Times.

On the credit side of the ledger, he did not claim to be a victim, and he did not blame other people--not even George W. Bush--for his error: he took full responsibility for what he did. Perhaps, then, as with so much else about the man, we need to revise our judgment that he is simply a liberal.

Time has apparently suspended his column for a month. We suppose it's just to rob him of his voice for appropriating the voice of another and to do so only temporarily since he plagiarized only a little. We wonder, though, whether since he did this once he might have done so on other occasions.

That Sly Carney Smile


Today the White House press briefing apparently witnessed quite a clatter about the advertisement by Priorities USA that presents the testimony of Joe Soptic, a former steel worker, who claims that his being laid off after Bain Capital assumed control of his company led to his wife's lack of treatment for and death from cancer. It has now become clear that Mitt Romney was no more connected with Mrs Soptic's death than was Kevin Bacon, yet Jay Carney again and again deflected any suggestion by the press corps that the President should denounce this fraud.

While we had thought that the Clinton Administration epitomized postmodernism, press briefings such as the one today gild the lily by showing that this White House can even spin spin. Far more worrisome than the ad itself--it's not as if we haven't seen and survived outrageous attacks before in American political history--is Jay Carney's supercilious treatment of the matter. With his smile telegraphing a smug certainty that his side only benefits from the controversy, Carney himself did what the Administration has been doing for the past several days in refusing to respond directly to the issue itself. The ad claims quite fraudulently that Romney is partly responsible for Mrs Soptic's death; on the other hand, it is now quite clear that the White House itself is the origin of the lie told in the ad--a lie compounded by the lie given out earlier this week that the White House had no connection to the ad whatsoever. So we are left with a completely bizarre situation of the White House casting opprobrium on Romney for something he never did, while flatly lying about its own behavior.

How to account for this mess? The White House is doing what it's doing because it knows that for the time being, it can only profit from this situation. So far, the White House has managed very successfully to avoid responsibility for any of its bad behavior, intentional or unintentional. With the economy in a dangerous deceleration and fuel prices again on the rise, the White House continues to blame George W. Bush, and the mainstream media utters no protest. In short order, Iran will have a nuclear weapon, which among other things will show the abysmal failure of the President's policy in the Middle East, and again the White House simply refuses to talk about the matter. In the rare moments that anyone pays attention to the deficit, which is rapidly increasing under Obama's tenure, the White House points out that Romney's tax proposals would...wait for it: increase the deficit.

And thus the White House sticks with the tactics that have served it so well over the past several years. Since the mainstream media acquiesced four years ago and refused to hold Obama accountable for any of his shortcomings--from a breathtaking lack of experience to his deeply suspicious associations with people like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright--the White House knows that the majority of the media will refuse to hold the President responsible for any other mischief he may get up to. That leaves more centrist and conservative news outlets, such as Fox or the Drudge Report, but these institutions have been successfully ghettoized by the Administration and those in the mainstream media in competition with Fox and Drudge. Indeed, just days ago Jay Carney attacked the Drudge Report with a wink and a nod, insinuating for all those in the press room who speak his language that Drudge is an unreliable source, and the Obama Administration has practically made a second career of attacking Fox News. Not only, therefore, does itself never take responsibility for any of it's many failings but it has insulated itself from any criticism by others.

So the White House knows that if the President does not disavow the ad, the press will soon neuter the issue by beginning to report not on the President's lack of response but on the controversy as a controversy, which promotes the matter from being a crisis to which the President should respond to a matter that people are talking about. In the meantime, while people talk about it, the original claim--that Romney killed Mrs Soptic--continues to be made over and over, the claim will continue to run up Mitt Romney's negatives, and the swing states will slip ever further into to the blue column. Romney will lose, and in the warm glow of the second inauguration everyone will forget the filthy politics of the Reelect Obama campaign. And all the while, the lie that Mrs Soptic died because of being without health insurance will bolster support for Obamacare. On the other hand, if this controversy should suddenly grow into a crisis for the President, he can always step in and denounce the ad at any moment, in which case Romney's negatives will have still have increased, and the President will look like the post-partisan shining white knight that in his previous campaign he claimed to be.

The only way to handle such a crisis is for Romney himself to forget himself once and for all. He needs to quit thinking that this election is about him, his record, his resume, his ambition, his kind and moral decency and to engage in the fight filled with the conviction that the campaign is about three things (none of which happens to be Mitt Romney): the nation, which is rapidly deteriorating, the utter incompetence of this president, and the outrageous venality of a White House so desperate to fulfill its lust for power that it not only capitalize on the agonizing death of a good woman but freely, smilingly lie while doing so and about doing so. Romney needs, in short not to defend himself in the matter of Mrs Soptic but to talk fiercely and relentlessly about this situation as one that shows the utter corruption of this Administration. And he needs to select as his running mate not an avuncular Midwestern slice of bland white bread but a person with enough of a vision of what American liberty really means that the Republican ticket can wage a bold, inspiring campaign in the late summer and fall. Mitt Romney has a responsibility to all Republicans and all conservatives to do just that.

Whether Romney has the humility to forget himself and think only about the good of the nation is an open question. We sincerely hope he does. Having sought the nomination for president, he has a responsibility to do everything--within the bounds of honesty--to win the office. If he doesn't, those on the other side will have learned, once again, that the way to gain power and to govern is to lie with impunity, destroy the reputations of good people, and smile--ever so knowingly--while they do so.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hate?

Breaking Update: Far Left Goon Is Fired After Abusing Young Female Employee at Chick-fil-A

Having been schooled in the contemporary lexicon of political correctness, we should all note the hate spewed by the employee here and the respectful tolerance of Mr Smith, who as the CFO of a corporation talking to a fast food cashier is obviously speaking truth to power.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don't Blame Us for the Culture War, Part II





This morning, The Weekly Standard had this to say on its website about the apparently record day of sales at Chic-fil-A yesterday: "Pastor Rick Warren reported last night on Twitter that fast food chain Chick-fil-A 'set a world record' yesterday. His claim is based off a phone call he had with Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A who ignited a culture war when he expressed his preference for traditional marriage." While we generally love The Weekly Standard, we recognize that as a fallible organ it occasionally misspeaks, and so it has here.

Dan Cathy did NOT "ignite a culture war": first of all, the culture war has long been raging. Second, Cathy merely said what, for example, President Obama used to say as recently as this winter. Third, those who came out to support Chic-fil-A yesterday showed how opposed they are to an escalation of the war. When one can be punished by the government (in the form of municipalities that refuse to allow your business to expand in their towns) express an opinion that was apparently fine just six months ago, then we are on a very slippery slope to a nightmare world governed by adepts in Doublespeak.

Or maybe it's reached the level of Triplespeak by now. How many of those who say that a person must be punished for saying today what was fine for the President to say several months ago would be willing to punish radical Muslims who think not just that marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals but that those who disagree ought to be killed?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spread the Wealth

A retweet today--a review at Powerlineblog of what appears to be a most interesting book. The thesis is that given a second term President Obama would make it a major goal to tax the suburbs to redistribute wealth to the cities. It sounds plausible, given everything we know about this President:
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/07/michelle-obamas-shhhh-moment-and-what-it-tells-us-about-her-husbands-plans-to-spread-the-wealth.php





As often, the details are the most telling. I haven't read the book and so can't endorse it, but at the very least it seems worth knowing about.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Religion and Tolerance

The controversy stirred up this week both by the remarks of the CEO of Chic-fil-A on the one hand and the mayors of Chicago and Boston on the other has been most revealing indeed. For one thing, the controversy has served to show, once again, that contemporary PC values are on a head-on collision with traditional beliefs of all kinds, most notably traditional Christianity. For decades, we lived with a type of cultural Cold War, in which liberals made headway into the culture by commandeering discourse about race, abortion, economics, divorce, and so on. And about most of these matters, religion was, when it found conflict on these topics distasteful, able to look the other way, since none of these was an existential threat to traditional religion itself. Technically speaking, one might argue that the Bible doesn't address abortion directly; it seems to permit divorce (though it allows remarriage only under very restricted conditions), and it says nothing favoring one economic system over another. So far so good: though traditional religion might be uneasy with liberal positions, it could, to this point, ignore them and get on with its own business.

Lately, however, things have taken a turn. Despite the fact that society is split on the matter of homosexual marriage, and despite it not being allowed in most states, popular culture now seems to view it as a matter of hate worthy of social excommunication if one expresses support for the norm. When a couple of years ago Carrie Prejean said in the Miss USA pageant what a majority of Americans believe and what has been the norm throughout recorded history in virtually all societies about which we have records, she was roundly anathematized by the press. Perhaps she knew then what Dan Cathy, the President of Chic-fil-A probably suspects now--that on the matter of marriage, there can be no compromise between homosexual rights and traditional religion. And this is true not because traditional Christians are bigots but because the Bible, the focus of belief for Protestant Christians, and the Magisterium, which is the collected authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, could not be clearer that homosexuality is wrong. The acceptance of homosexual marriage is directly incompatible with the clear teaching of traditional Christianity. This was clearly demonstrated in Massachusettes when, because the state allows same-sex marriage the Catholic Church could no longer provide adoption services, even though it had long been the largest such provider in the state. Why? Because on the matter of homosexual marriage the Church is required by very clear teaching to voice disapproval: when it condemns what the state recognizes as legal, it can no longer occupy the public space.

TMH has written before that since the question of origins has long been a religious question, teaching on origins that contradicts the religious view must constitute an unconstitutional discussion of religious topics in the public schools: something very similar is true of homosexuality. When the government--as embodied by the mayors of Chicago and Boston--try to enlist the engines of government in saying that the only acceptable position on homosexual marriage is the non-traditional one, then they are, by definition, using the government to attack traditional Christianity. Although they appear to be talking about neutral issues like tolerance and sexual orientation, the logical interpretation and the infallible result of their position is that traditional Christianity is no longer compatable with American culture.

That may indeed be the case, and it may in fact be the result that the kids, in particular, who the pollsters tell us are so fervently in favor of same-sex marriage, wish. But it will be well for the political discourse if we were honest about what is at stake: homosexual marriage is incompatible with traditional religion, and the society that celebrates the one will hardly be able to tolerate the latter.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Much Too Cool

After a long trip yesterday exploring some truly interesting spots off the beaten track in north central Mississippi, I returned home tired but happy. I remained tired, but I grew steadily less happy and more puzzled as I watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. To be sure, the matter of rings, forged by mock factory workers meant to evoke the dark grime of Industrial Revolution, was impressive, as was the presence of the RAF jets, but that was almost the only thing about the ceremony that gave unalloyed pleasure. Anything else that might have pleased tended to evoke confusion: why, I wondered, does Queen Elizabeth jump out of a helicopter? I know that James Bond might, but in what possible way is the Queen asociated with skydiving? There, indeed, was the stunt, impressive in its timing and precision, but instead of being able to enjoy it, one was distracted by a question without solution.

Other moments made more sense: dancing aound the maypole is very English, I suppose (though this summer I saw a truly joyful maypole celebration in Bavaria), as was the business with the Dickensian tophats and smokestacks (though again, the Industrian Revolution is also part of German history), but these moments tended to be flat. In a pageant of English history, we were treated to a glimpse of bucolic medieval life, the Industrial Revolution, marching suffrgettes, and a few guys in uniforms from WWI: toward the end, these were all intermixed with redcoats surmounted with three-cornered hats in what was meant either to evoke such London traditions as the Lord Mayor's Parade or to concoct a soup into which bits of British cultural references floated indiscriminately about. What ingredient the large bicycle with the disproportionately menacing tuba was meant to suggest was, once again, a puzzle.

That part of the ceremony concluded with a phantasmagoria stemming from children's literature, with primary reference to Peter Pan, though near the end, J.K. Rowling managed to toss in a few words--too few to make much of an impression, so that, once again, one was left with the impression that she appeared, ad hoc, for good measure, as if to satisfy the expectations of her fans around the world. One might note that the references to children's literature came in the context of a nursery ward of some sort, in which children presumbaly suffering from illness or neglect were shown to be comforted or entertained by, among other touchstones of British nursery culture, dozens of Mary Poppinses floating down, black umbrellas fully opened at the ends of outstreched arms.

Toward the end England treated the world to yet another pageant, this one lossely based around the story of a boy who likes a girl whom he pursues against a backdrop of allusions to popular British music from the 1950s onward. Straightforward as one might expect such a segment to be, even one of the children in my household expressed confusion at how the boy, on finding and picking up the cell phone which the girl had dropped, managed to use her cell phone to call her--by the normal laws of telecommunications, he would have been calling himself (since he was after all holding her phone and she wasn't). As well as I remember, that was the end of the artistic portion of the O.C., after which the pedestrian parade of nations was a positive relief.

Strangely, the O.C. resolutely avoided any refence to anything that might lift the human spirit by alluding to anything truly great in British culture. The only culture refered to was low and popular. No reference (so far as I could see) to Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest writer who has inhabited the planet, no reference to the defiance of the English in WWII, though during the James Bond sequence we were treated to a passing, ironic reference to Winston Churchill. There was no reference to the great British explorations, the truly awesome power of the Royal Navy on the high seas, no sense of Britain for two hundred years the civilized and civilizing seat of commerce and trade, no allusion to Britain which led the fight among the Western powers to free the slaves. The references to British music--Handel, Elgar, Vaughn Williams--was reduced to an interlude in which a small orchestra played the truly inspiring theme from "Chariots of Fire" (cmposed by a Greek, no?), but Rowland Atkinson's gags during that segment had the effect of ridiculing an otherwise fine performance. The main allusion to British literature was to children's literature, though again to the popularly entertaining, since as far as I could see, the truly uplifting "Wind and the Willows" received no homage at all.

More than anything, what the the O.C. conveyed was a culture uncomfortable with itself and utterly disillusioned. The soldiers that presented the British flag seemed sightly out of pace with one another, and even what might have been a spirited rendition of "God Save the Queen" was made made cute and inoffensive by having the anthem led by a group of children that used sign language all the way through. One got the impression that no true cultural tradition could be left untouched by some gesture, however subtle, of distancing comment, that there was nothing included that might threaten to give the audience an unalloyed sense of wonder and excitement. Particularly toward the end, the cultural references were low at best, and they seemed at times to celebrate those whose controversial lives tended to affront traditional values--Amy Winehouse and Queen most prominent among them.

In the end, I was left with the impression of a halfhearted celebration (did anyone note the listless physical motions of the front line of dancers near the end of the pageant of history?) of an anodyne British culture and a much more energetic celebration of its more recent counterculture. It was, perhaps, all in all an exercise in cultural irony, the meaning of which seemed to be that we are comfortable only with popular culture: of anything else we are either ignorant or it produces in us boredom and indifference.

I seem not to remember other O.C.s besides the one in Beijing four years ago, but compared with that, last night's performance was an embarrassment. In Beijing the Chinese celebrated their culture, even to the point of embellishing it (when, exactly, are the Chinese known for having exported their culture by ship?), but then even such embellishment indicates a culture proud enough to view itsef as the stuff of myth and legend that gives shape to life and helps its members make sense of the world and lead meaningful lives in it. I wouldn't say that China celebrated in an imperialistic way, but their military procession that carried and raised their flag was impressive in the sharpness of its movements, and the incandescent energy of the choreographed movements of the large groups assembled on stage was only one of many positive impressions from the ceremony. The sense of wonder when we found out that the impressive display of moveable type was not mechanical but rendered by humans, the amazingly precise and intricate movements of hundreds of dancers on stage, the use fireworks throughout, and the complete lack of ironic comment on all of this was refreshing and left the audience, if not with a feeling of transcendance, at least with a sense that human beings inhabit and are able to help create a world that takes us out of ourselves. The Chinese relished their moment; the British, by contrast, seemed embarrassed--like a bored school child called upon to give a report on British history. What can he do to show that he's above it all, jaded, sophisticated, an untouched in his spirit because he's too busy, too connected even to have a spirit after all? Do as little as possible and then ironize everything to show your chums that you are way too cool to take seriously the thought that anything, anything at all might be bigger than yourself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nationalism?

The events of the day in Syria are both thrilling and alarming. Thrilling, of course, because the audacious suicide strike that seems to have decapitated Assad's regime may bring an end to the dictatorship much more quickly than was anticipated even a few days ago; alarming on account of the rapid pace of change in that country. More alarming still, we think, because once again America seems to be on the wrong side of history. As we mentioned in this space several times before, the unimaginably brave Syrian rebels, who sacrificed themselves by the thousands in what must for months have seemed like an entirely hopeless cause, deserve the freedom that they have fought valiantly to achieve, but the United States, which ought everywhere to support such opposition to vicious authoritarian rule, was so silent as to essentially show contempt for the Syrian revolution. That we offered scant friendship to freedom in Syria makes little sense, unless one believes what we have so far been reluctant to assert but for which there appears mounting evidence--to wit, that President Obama seems to support the overthrow of regimes like that in Egypt which are friendly to the U.S. and Israel and to offer no support for the overthrow of even more brutal regimes which actively work against our interests. The price of such an insane policy (if it is indeed a policy and not merely pure ineptitude) will inevitably be that the new Syrian government will remember America's indifference and be impervious to American influence, when we could, by aiding the rebels when it would have mattered, have secured yet another ally in the heart of a troubling part of the world.

Speaking of national movements, one notes that there appears in southern Europe to be a growing dissatisfaction with the European Union, largely, of course, because Greece and Italy, whose people have a more casual, less economically responsible way of life than do their northern European counterparts, wish their more responsible neighbors to give them money and do not wish to abide by the rules with which that money comes. Germany is now the colossus that dominates the European economy, and so the Germans now begin to feel the resentments of the southern European nations. Why the resentment? The Germans have several times now transferred to Greece and Spain large sums of cash taken from German taxpayers, yet the Germans are reviled.

The situation is ironic because it mirrors German attitudes toward the United States thirty years ago. In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan, asserting American power, put intermediate range nuclear missiles in Germany to huge outcry from a country that the Americans less than forty years before had liberated from an insane tyranny and had then rebuilt with American taxpayer money. When I was there then, I remember my extended family denouncing American policy to me with an anger that grew sharper as I reminded them of what America had done for Germany in the past. In the end, of course, Reagan's policy succeeded and the existential threat posed by Communism to western Europe died away. And now it is Germany's turn. Just as America was--and often still is--resented by weaker nations simply because it was--and is--powerful, so now the German ant, which has worked and saved all the year long is resented by the southern European grasshopper simply because Germany has more. This is all a reminder that nationalism isn't always a good thing. One major reason, now often forgotten, for the European Union in the first place is that in the old Europe of the early twentieth century nationalism meant rivalry, tension, and often war; countries within the European Union, however, do not go to war against one another. If that Union should dissolve, the old resentments, baseless though they may be, will return and with them will return the possibility, however remote, of war.

The dangerous rise of nationalism is captured in literature nowhere so well as in Joseph Roth's very fine German novel Radetzkymarsch, set in the waning years of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, for which Roth had a great deal of fondness. His fondness was based in part on his conviction that once that old Habsburg empire dissolved into a number of distinct nationalities, the old, generally peaceful, generally civilized order would be drowned in a cacophonous babble of voices all demanding power, all willing to gain that power through the quickest, and therefore the most corrupt and dangerous ways possible. In a climactic scene near the end, a ball in a regional Imperial town is disrupted with news of the Archduke's assassination, and the various military officers, from different ethnic groups but serving the same Emperor Franz Josef I, begin shouting at one another not in the official German that they had been using that night but each in his own native language. As Europe begins its rapid descent into the chaos of contending interests that exploded in WWI, so these characters begin to express with venomous intensity the old hatreds and resentments that had to this been point been subsumed by their common purpose in a large enterprise.

What the overthrow of the old orders, welcome though these changes are, will bring in the Middle East God only knows. As European dissolution looks also like a possibility--though only like a possibility--one remembers that the severing of international ties, while it may allow many little men to strut and fret their hour upon the stage of life, is not always a good thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Comfortable Illusions, Hard Reality

Today is a sad day in American political and judicial history. Our Supreme Court has shown itself once again to be masters of sophistry, laying themselves open to the preposterous arguments of the Obama Administration which claims on certain days of the week that the individual mandate is not a tax and on other days that it is a tax; in so doing, the current ruling lies in a tradition of decisions based upon untruth. The beginning of this tradition is the claim in Griswold v. Connecticut that when the Constitution supplies no grounds for a certain decision, shadows and penumbras (i.e., pretexts) will provide the excuse necessary to allow a ruling that the actual text of the Constitution will not allow; one remembers, too, that Roe v. Wade was based upon the lie that Norma Jean McCorvey had been impregnated as a result of rape, a lie that McCorvey herself has often repudiated. That we are governed by sophistry is really no surprise, since sophistry is simply the most expedient alternative to truth. Truth, which is simply the description of reality, conveys the realities of existence, one of the most basic of which is that success requires hard work and that short cuts usually give us terrible results. Today's decision bynthe Supreme Court underscores precisely those truths about life. As a society, we reject ever more emphatically these ancient truths, and so we are left with illusion, with the hope (half, after all, of the President's reason for being) that we can leave easy, comfortable lives not requiring much in the way of hard, sacrificial contact with the rough surface of reality. It is precisely this love of illusion, which tells us that we can have something for nothing, that has placed us in our current predicament. Several years ago, when things in Iraq were difficult, we began as a society to say that we never needed to be there to make that sacrifice, that in fact the only reason we were there is because President Bush unilaterally decided to invade that nation. We delude ourselves into forgetting that Congress voted to give the President the authority to invade Iraq--even those liberal Senators voted for it. So then, faced with historical reality, we fall back on the illusion that President Bush lied us into war, that he tricked us, once again ignoring the historical reality that President Bush provided all the relevant intelligence to Congress before their vote and that most of those who voted for the invasion and later claimed to be against it refused even to look at the President's evidence when it was offered. So we prefer illusion, which is more convenient in the short term, though it leaves us with the dangerous ability to justify virtually any conduct with virtually any argument. It is this love of illusion that led many people to vote for President Obama in 2008, on the grounds that "Hope and Change" actually meant something, that it was not the empty slogan of the demagogue. And in voting for him, so many were able to congratulate themselves on choosing cool over the solid virtue and hard-won accomplishment of John McCain, President Obama's opponent. Such was the clear implication of Peggy Noonan, who, if she really is as sophisticated as she thinks of herself as being, ought to have known better. But that's precisely the problem: she, and so many others like her, are sophisticated, too clever for the hard old virtues, and so she breathed huskily about how cool and sophisticated Senator Obama is. Her sophistication also expressed itself with disdain about Sarah Palin, also a person who achieved success with hard work bred by her association with old unsophisticated understanding of the hardness of the world in the way it really works. This illusion that we can be politically cool without consequence is now shown finally to be dangerous. A vote for Obama was a vote, as he warned us, for a complete transformation of our society. Now that the damage has been done, we are again faced with a choice, this time perhaps possibly final. The only way to repudiate the dangerous life of political illusion into which we have fallen is to wake ourselves and take up the hard task of hard electoral politics. That it can be done is evident by the recent victory in Wisconsin, but it will take across the nation what it took there--sacrificial financial contribution and sacrificial commitment of time and energy. In the short term, this decision by the Supreme Court is a good thing, since, by placing the very unpopular health care bill at the center of the summer campaign, it may well be the nail in the President's coffin. But the defeat of Obama will not undo his legislation. The only way to do that is to keep the House and win the Senate by an overwhelming margin. Again, that can be done, but it will take a commitment to almost superhuman and sacrificial political virtue. If, as has so far been the case, we prefer life of illusion because political life in the real world is just too hard, then we will find that we have today taken a very great slide along what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom. A couple of months ago on The O'Reilly Factor, Bernie Goldberg made the arresting remark that Americans are addicted to entertainment and that that addiction is a very bad thing. Entertainment gives us cool; its very heart blood is to take the empty and insignificant and by dressing it smartly, providing it with an emotional soundtrack, giving it a script full of currently cool expressions, and surrounding it with carefully-coordinated pastel backdrops, making us believe that it means anything. The mere fact that we can let ourselves be thus deceived--and deceived to the point of electing Barack Obama--means that we are no longer instinctively at home in the world of hard reality. The only way to recover our identity as truly free men is to tear our eyes from the meretricious and eternally flickering images on the wall of Plato's cave and begin the long, hard slog up the tunnel into the harsh light of the world of reality. If we don't, we can continue to enjoy the life of illusion for awhile longer. But if we wish to recover what we've lost, we will need to elect a conservative Congress that will not only repeal the Affordable Care Act and confirm as a matter of course conservative justices to the Supreme Court, year after year. Nothing else will do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fast and Furious

The big news out of Washington today goes to show just how unpredictable important events--like a presidential election--can be in our world of rapidly disclosed information in our tech-rich environment. After making it seem last night as if he would hand over today the documents sought by Congress on the Fast and Furious matter, Attorney General Eric Holder has instead informed the House Committee asking for these papers that President Obama has locked them away under Executive Privilege. We don't here wish to wade into the tiresome debate about Executive Privilege (President Bush invoked it to keep from handing over documents to Congressional committees, so does that make it alright? Senator Obama thought it was wrong for President Bush to do so; does that make it wrong?). We do wish to point out, however, that so intently concerned about reelection as President Obama is at the moment, there is no way that he would risk looking like President Nixon if he didn't have to. Hence it seems clear that according to a cost-benefit analysis the White House deemed it less damaging to stonewall than to reveal what these documents contain. At the very least, that must mean that these documents indicate that Eric Holder lied to Congress when he claimed not to have known about Fast and Furious; at the most, it might mean that the President himself knew about the operation--a huge political liability because Fast and Furious was a stupid program that may well have helped kill a United States Border Patrol agent. The operation involves the emotionally charged issues of illegal immigration of the worst sort, gun ownership for criminal purposes, and drug smuggling. Therefore, being associated with Fast and Furious would be a disaster for President Obama--a bigger disaster even than appearing to cover up by means of Executive Privilege possible malfeasance in his Administration. That is the most plausible reason why a vulnerable President Obama would take the hit that he surely will for not releasing these documents.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Praise and Blame


Kudos to George Clooney for appearing on Fox News Sunday this morning in order to bring attention to the plight of non-combatant civilians in Sudan. Good show first of all that the ├╝ber liberal Clooney would appear on Fox, which is typically a whipping boy of committed leftists, even better that he's calling attention to the hardships of innocent civilians in a corner of the world that few people care about. To our mind, Clooney is a fair-minded liberal of the sort that one can have constructive dialogue with, not one of the all-too-common type today for whom power is everything and who therefore are willing to stoop to any tactics to achieve their goals.


No kudos whatsoever to President Obama for his response to another place in which non-combatant civilians are being ground beneath the authoritarian boot in the worst tradition of the twentieth century: Syria. We have discussed before the odd fact that when the Arab spring came to regimes friendly or responsive to the United States, the President lent both moral and material support to those who overthrew those regimes, while in places like Iran and Syria, with regimes hostile to the United States, he says as little as he can get away with. Not being conspiracy theorists, we don't charge the President here with a hidden agenda, but we do think that he ought to speak out against tyranny where freedom has a serious chance of replacing it. President Obama's virtual silence two years ago during the uprisings in Tehran was shameful; equally shameful is his lack of vigorous response to the rebellion in Syria. The people of Syria are worthy of immense respect for their dogged resistance in the face of overwhelming firepower. Even two months ago their cause seemed hopeless, which alone earns them the respect of freedom loving people everywhere. Now, with no help from the United States, the rebels appear to have a significant chance of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. (According to the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Jazeera this week, Assad seems to have lost politically, and the sense in Syria is that he will be leaving.) That the United States appears indifferent to their heroic and inspiring attempt at freedom is a terrible thing which can only damage our reputation as the friend of freedom everywhere in the world.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Not Mitt


Politically, it has been a rich and confusing cycle. A year ago, speculation was rampant about which of the strong Republican contenders would enter the race for President, and there were many--Mitch Daniels, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Haley Barbour. In the end, we were left with a rather weak field, led by Mitt Romney, who looks good on paper but in the flesh leaves the average Republican voter interested, but for all the wrong reasons. I share with many Republicans two objections to Romney, one which he might have been able to overcome and one which I think will end the prove seriously damaging not only to him personally but also to the Republican Party.

The first is the obvious problem of solving the riddle. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney governed like a liberal--not perhaps compared with most recent politicians from the state but compared to virtually all Republicans anywhere else. He compromised a great deal and did not fight for conservative principles. Many have explained that governing from the right is not a serious option in Massachusetts, and they may be correct; however, governing from the center or center left doesn't leave one with any serious credentials as a Republican man of experience. The fact is that Romney's political experience would suit a Democrat perfectly--leftish but still reasonable enough to make him palatable to voters in the general election. The lack of a serious conservative record means that what we most want to know about him--whether he will fight the liberals in the Senate for, say, conservative nominees to the Supreme Court--is a serious question. In as polarized a polity as is ours at the present time, we can no longer afford David Souters on the Court. Romney claims that he is conservative, but that claim is belied by his record as Governor. Will he govern as a conservative from the White House? His record makes it impossible to say.

The second problem is the manner in which he runs his campaign. Since his politics are murky, he finds it difficult to run a positive campaign: I still cannot say what exactly Romney stands for, other than general competence (precisely what Michael "this election is not about ideology but about competence" Dukakis ran on in 1988). Neither, apparently, can many other voters, which is why, when the field was larger, week after week, the attitude of anyone but Romney launched Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, and Santorum to the front of the pack. In contrast with Romney, each of these candidates had a positive message which allowed voters to distinguish between them. And as soon as each of these candidates began to look like a serious contender, Romney began savagely to attack, wounding each of them so badly that they began to falter. To be sure, some of these candidates, like Perry and Cain, also damaged themselves, but Romney ensured that they would not survive the heavy artillery of his negative ads. That is one way to ensure that no one stands in Romney's way, but it will also ensure bad feeling and further lack of trust. Part of the wisdom of Reagan's famous eleventh commandment is that it promotes good feeling within the Party; Romney's destructive, negative campaign does just the opposite. What he did to Gingrich, and Gingrich's immature but natural and thus understandable response, is a perfect example of what such negative campaigning can do.

In the end, Romney is likely to win the nomination. He may even defeat President Obama. If he does so, however, it will be not because anyone likes Romney and is willing to support him because of what he stands for. Rather, it will be because he trashed the other guys. That is not a mandate. As Newt Gingrich showed in the 1990s and Barack Obama more recently, much can be accomplished by a positive campaign. And neither of these men ran simply one-dimensional positive campaigns: both were willing to make clear distinctions between themselves and what they thought was bad policy for the country. But relentlessly negative campaigns don't do that. In Romney's case, trashing the other guy still tells us nothing about Romney--other than that he very, very badly wants to be President. I am not at all convinced that they who want it the most ought to have it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The President at College

No, we are not at present discussing the fact that President Obama, who promised unparalleled transparency, has not released his college transcripts. Why he has not, no one can be quite sure: perhaps his transcripts would run counter to the myth of Obama's native brilliance, a myth, it's worth pointing out, that involves far more than the current President himself, since every Republican Presidential nominee in our memory has always been portrayed as a dunce (sometimes amiable, sometimes not) and every Democratic nominee as an intellectual giant. It is an article of faith in the mainstream media, so much so that one can hardly blame John Kerry for famously lamenting on election day 2004 in regard to George W. Bush, "I can't believe I'm losing to this idiot." The reflexively contradictory nature of the statement itself might have been a clue that something is inherently wrong with the myth; for those innocent of elementary logic, the historical fact might have been instructive, since the putative Republican dunces more often than not defeat the Democratic geniuses. In an enterprise of such complexity--rhetorical, historical, sociological, statistical, economic, and so on--as a national election, the intellectual David really should not be able to slay the mental Goliath with such predictable regularity.

But let all that pass: it is with President Obama's comments yesterday at the University of Michigan that we have to do. In decrying the rapid rise of college tuition, the President put public universities on notice that if they do not find a way to curb cost, he will find ways to withhold Federal money from their budgets. As usual (and as more usual in an election year), some Republicans reacted negatively to this proposal, arguing that the President is again interfering with Freedom of Enterprise by telling colleges how they should charge tuition. Now we have no doubt that the President, also well aware that this is an election year, is saying what he is saying for the worst possible reasons, but it does give one pause that in the matter of college tuition, the President at the very least has a genuine issue on which to give a speech. For the past fifty years, the best path to a comfortably affluent life led through a college education to a profession that allowed one the potential for growth as the economy continued its predictable expansion. Now, however, college, and with it the reasonable certainty of a good life is being pushed beyond the reach of the middle class. In the case of TMH, college some thirty or so years ago cost (without room and board) about $1000 per year, and the last two years were easily paid for by unsought scholarships that came as the reward of the merest modicum of effort. This was of course at a public university, but certainly not a third-rate one: the fact was that a solid education in the Honors College of a major public university could be had in those days for so modest a cost. In such a case, paying for tuition and books was well within the reach of most middle-class parents, even if it meant some sacrifice. One of the major reasons for these low costs is that the universities in those days were modest affairs that functioned by providing the basic elements of a university education: students, faculty, facilities (including dormitories and a library or two), and the minimal administration necessary to keep faculty and students together.

Now, however, things are different. College costs vastly more--so much more that providing children to college now requires on the order of $15,000-$20,000 a year, even at very small regional public universities. To be sure, some of the increase is due to the cost of better facilities, such as dorms that look like reports, with suites for sleeping, basement wellness center for exercise of the body, and lounges and computer labs putatively for improvement of the mind. Still, such costs are relatively fixed in the sense that the residence resort gets built only once and probably does not cost vastly more to maintain than does the old concrete dorm built a quarter-century ago in the brutalist style apparently so essential to the aesthetic experience of a higher education across the land. A much larger potential expense is new employees at the universities. First, such employees, whoever they be, are not a one-time expense like the new building: they require an annual salary, which may be frequently increased over the course of their twenty-five or thirty years of employment, and they require the medical plans that come with these salaries. Second, colleges over the past quarter century have tended to hire not so much new faculty members but administrators. Colleges do so for the simple reason that colleges--at least public colleges--are, like virtually all other governmental or quasi-governmental organizations, bureaucracies, and the main principle about bureaucracies, first and last, is that they exist primarily for the benefit of those they employ. In the case of public colleges, they have since the 1980s almost without exception evolved into institutions which exist primarily to provide (relatively well-paid) employment for those working there. And so, like all bureaucracies, they must perpetuate themselves, primarily by continuing to hire more administrators to oversee the paradoxically growing number of administrators. Spatula has pointed out that as a national average colleges now employ more administrators than faculty members, a baroque condition entirely unnecessary if universities existed to educate students.

TMH has only a sentimental opposition to bureaucracy: in the cold light of logical analysis, we have no firm opposition to any private corporation that wishes for its own ends to hire as many administrators as there are offices in its buildings, computers to monitor, or keyboards at which to type. But public institutions, which are funded to a large degree by taxpayer money--that is to say by the salaries of average men and women working in order to provide better lives for their families--have a responsibility to treat their budgets and their missions with the greatest respect. Those administrators who are paid by public money have an obligation to use those funds precisely to educate students. When faced with a choice, they should always decide to hire the extra faculty member, who may very well be essential and thus by educating his students make a very real contribution to the public good, rather then the third assistant vice president for intramural affairs. The unfortunate matter of fact is that over time college administrations have grown more autocratic and have taken on more and more power to make the essential decisions, while faculty lose ever more voice in collegiate governance; it is no surprise that in the end the administrators in charge of slicing the pie slice it so that they receive ever larger portions. As an actual fact, then, public universities have to a large degree become marked by a soft and genteel corruption, in which administrators partly direct funds meant for education to increasing their own salaries and hiring lieutenants onto whose shoulders they shift more of the actual workload required to run the institutions they control. This has long been the state of public education from kindergarten through high school; it should be no surprise that the contagion has now spread to public universities.

I suspect that in the case of President Obama's proposal, the devil may be in the details, as it has been in so many of his policies (such as the Affordable Halth Care Act); but in its general outline, we agree with his central idea. If public universities continue unthinkingly to increase the size, wealth, and power of administrations, then they should do so without public money. For the simple matter is that these institutions could never survive if they genuinely had to compete in the educational marketplace. If they had to do so, then they would have to focus upon education and put most of their money to that task: university administrations are free not to do so precisely because they are sheltered from the rough weather of competition by the steady supply of government money. Take that away, and administrators, faced with the choice of extinction or education will either retire or turn their attention to educating students, which will result in leaner administrations and a redressing of the current imbalance of power in favor of faculties. It may be heresy to some whose knees jerk in too reactionary a fashion that President Obama is on the right side of an increasingly important issue, but so he seems to be. We hope that it accrues to our favor to point out that saying so at least causes us considerable pain.