...my second Holiday movie, is even better than the first. It centers around the cause-based friendship between two smart, generous, and very manly men--Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) and a dissident CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It’s such a great Cold War story that unstintingly presents the Soviets as cruel, murderous evildoers and properly highlights the importance of the brilliant success of a covert operation of unprecedented funding that it would hardly be right to quibble about its accuracy in every respect. That some of the problems we face now can be traced to our failure to finish the job then is surely true, and the irony that our initial intervention in Afghanistan was, in part, understood to be a humanitarian defense of religous freedom shouldn’t be forgotten. (The suggestions that 9/11 was caused by our indifference to Afghanistan after the fall of communism is ridiculous, though.) Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson was surely a wonderful and indispensable cause of the Soviets suffering their first and, it turns out, decisive defeat. But the regime change ushered in by President Reagan is conspicuous by its absence in the film.
You’ll want to check out the new NEW ATLANTIS, which includes a short article (on Hannah Arendt, space travel, and other matters having little to do with Huck) by ME.
Here’s a new poll from Iowa that has Huck first (but with soft support) and McCain second (and with solid support). Romney has dropped to third, and there’s nothing going on for Fred. (I really this poll contradicts the Strategic Vision one, which was taken at almost exactly the same time and has Romney second and Fred surging.)
Mike Huckabee has some tough talk for the "elites" in New York and Washington. "We [evangelicals]" have been offered a seat on the bus, but are not supposed "ever [to] think about telling us where the bus is going to go."
I prefer the table metaphor to the bus metaphor. There can be many involved in a conversation around the table, but only one bus driver. And on behalf of evangelicals, MH wants to be the driver.
This NYT article offers some suggestions about how he’d behave in the driver’s seat.
Two thoughts: by Huckabee’s account, George W. Bush (pretty doggone close to an evangelical by my lights) apparently wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Or, to put it another way, Bush listened to people who weren’t evangelicals (and, yes, didn’t always treat evangelicals with the respect they deserved). A Huckabee Administration would apparently be different: would he not listen to the non-evangelicals who disagreed with him? Would his White House not have a plurality of conservative voices? The implicit rejection of the Bush model ("evangelical" President with evangelical and non-evangelical advisors, with the former sometimes--perhaps too often--losing to the latter and the latter sometimes--perhaps too often--not playing nice with the former) suggests not. Huckabee’s comments aren’t nuanced, and there is, of course, room for nuance. I’d hope that he would offer an inclusive vision of conservative governance and that, while he demanded that everyone play nice, he wouldn’t shut out those who came from different camps. It’s one thing to say that the "establishment" conservative/Republicans didn’t always behave well and offer socially conservative folks from flyover country the respect they deserved; it’s another to imply that it’s payback time (which seems to be pretty close to what Huckabee is saying). This strikes me as an exceedingly "political" view of what it takes to deserve respect, but political only in the lowest (power-oriented) and not in the highest (reason- and common good-oriented) sense.
On a slightly different subject, the NYT article I cited above raises a related question about Huckabee’s understanding of the relationship between religion and politics. His focus on clemency for criminals is said to be rooted in his religious understanding of redemption. Aside from the fact that Baptists of all people are supposed to understand something about backsliding, there’s also the notion that Caesar also has reasonable and legitimate demands to make of people. I can forgive you, think that you have changed, and still insist that you pay your dues, that part of your redemption requires expressing your respect for the law and the government whose law you violated. Yes, there’s a difference between justice and the rule of law, but in a world where men aren’t angels, government and the rule of law are necessary. Individual judgment can remedy certain egregious defects in the execution of impersonal justice, but we have to be chary of going too far in that regard, both because we want to uphold the rule of law in general and because we’re aware of our own foibles (see, for example, the pardons issued by another man from Hope). Huckabee’s approach to pardons seems remarkably unpolitical, but also remarkably unaware of the fallenness of the human condition (which is what requires politics, coercion, and punishment in the first place) and the fallibility of his own judgment.
Just to show that I’m truly fair-and-balanced or not coyly supporting Romney, let me add a link that begins to explain why we have trouble actually liking Mitt. He just can’t help, in a way that reminds us of Al, embellishing the truth about his hunting and crying and such. He needs to find his character, stay in it, and stop exaggerating. Gore kept changing with every debate, and that kept nim from being able really to exploit his obvious superiority to Bush in policy expertise. This time Mitt is the man when it comes to policy, but he, too, hasn’t been able to take advantage of how smart he is and what he knows, at least so far.
I haven’t seen the movie yet (but read the book a few years back)...this WaPo profile-history seems to capture the real flavor of the man. Even his vices became virtues for this particular enterprise.
I’m sorry . . . but none of your submissions for the best quote of the year contest are coming close to the "Don’t Taze Me, Bro!" masterpiece . . . Our friend Kate suggests giving the kid the mug. It does seem like he should get something for making us laugh this much! If you need reminding or the holiday crunch is fraying your nerves . . . check out this re-mix of the event complete with MC Hammer. It’s a tough call which is funnier: the student or those pants on Hammer. This one isn’t bad either.
I hate that sectarian religious differences have become such a focal point in this election. It is stupid politics and the Dems must just love to watch it. Now that I’m in Ohio for Christmas with my side of the family, I’m finally getting a chance to talk to all the relatives I haven’t spoken with for months and who, in their own way, also have been watching this election unfold. Let me tell you . . . they’re all pretty repulsed by this over-the-top religion talk and they sense that it is very, very bad for Republicans to allow it to continue.
Fair or not, they blame both Huck and Romney for the prolonged God discussion and for what they consider the bad press it’s generating for Republicans. Like I suspected, none of them paid any attention at all to the substance of Romney’s beautiful speech (who was the egg-head adviser who thought regular folks would even listen to that speech? Never were so many beautiful words wasted on so many pundits and so few voters . . . ). All they know is that Romney gave a big speech about religion and that, after the speech, everybody started going bonkers with God talk. Then Huck surged and it continued . . . Let me be clear: it’s not that any of my family are too shy to engage in God talk; it’s just that none of them thinks that the Republican primary is the place for polite people to do it.
I have an interesting mix of religion in my family. One side (Dad’s) are half-hearted "kinda-sorta" Presbyterians (meaning they were churched at a Presbyterian church as children but haven’t seen the inside of another church since the last family wedding . . .) but they’re definitely Protestant and decidedly not Catholic. But coincidentally (and oddly), every one of the brothers is married to a Catholic woman. So all of us grandkids (with the exception of my aunt’s daughter) have been raised Catholic. When we’re all together as a family, we might joke about religion and gently tease our Protestant fathers and grandparents . . . but happily they give back as good as they get and so we’ve all developed pretty thick skin and a fair sense of humor on the subject. Even so, for obvious reasons, we avoid engaging in serious or heated debates with each other about religion at family gatherings. Occasionally a joke will cross the line and get nasty . . . and then everyone will give the offending party a warning look that says it’s best to move on. Now, in smaller groups of us or in one-on-one conversations, no one shrinks from a more direct approach if pressed. But this kind of God talk is not for public consumption with good reason. We know we have more to lose from pressing it than we stand to gain from the exercise. If any of us really wants to take the time to work on the eternal soul of one of our fathers, we have enough time to do that in private. A large gathering--even of family--is a kind of public gathering. When arguments about religion are aired in public like that it is rude.
Granted, a campaign is not exactly a family gathering . . . the voting public are not a family. But it is similar in this sense: we all have more to lose by hurting and dividing each other with this sort of talk than we stand to gain by besting each other in this kind of debate. The object of such jousting cannot be greater clarity about either politics or religion . . . it is always something else. It is always in the service of something much lower . . . like naked ambition or showmanship.
That said--mainly because Mitt and Huck appear like the wise-a** college kids home fresh from break and with all sorts of strong opinions on taboo dinner table conversation--everyone here is giving them that warning look and is leaning toward Giuliani or, begrudgingly, McCain . . . though they are wishing--wistfully--that Thompson seemed to give a damn. I think my family are less fair to Romney in their assessment of him as a wise a** college kid using religion as a way to show us his verbal fortitude--because the substance of what he said was very close to what I have said here . . . but, again, it was the timing. No one listened to the substance of his speech. The perception is what will matter in the end.
...MY FIRST HOLIDAY MOVIE...another mainstream, slacker/teenage/nerdy, very pro-life, very pro-family movie. Very smart and very funny, and realistic without being trashy. The script and acting are good enough (unlike those of KNOCKED UP) actually to win awards. The semi-indy music of today used to good effect and quite melodically throughout. Does more than Gerson to restore my faith in today’s young people. I would say more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you!
Rick Garnett gathers some concerns and raises a reasonable question about where Huckabee stands, say, in the spectrum of theoloically conservative Christian opinion. I have to confess that I’m a little less troubled by Rick Scarborough than he is, though John Hagee does give me cause for pause, as his support for Israel seems in part predicated on a vision of the End Times and, as Kathryn Jean Lopez points out, there’s a substantial admixture of anti-Catholicism in his thought.
Will Huckabee take support from any source, or will he draw the line anywhere?
Again, my linking is stinking. But if you go to RealClearPolitics, you’ll see two more interesting Huck articles. One by Strassel in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, which is yet another extreme, grapeshot attack on this great threat to America and conservatism. The other, by Dionne, is in the WASHINGTON POST. E.J. concludes that Huck is the leader of a rank-and-file rebellion that will be crushed by the Republican establishment. I’m not saying that rebellions shouldn’t be crushed. But the establishment Republicans will need to find common cause with the rebels to win the big war, and that means taking a genuinely sympathetic look at the causes of the rebellion and the charisma of the rebel leader. (I live or almost live in a working-class evangelical, southern, failed milltown neighborhood, and the Huckabee signs are just starting to pop up. Again, this is not an expression of my view, inasmuch as I have no local influence, am not evangelical, and don’t really work much.)
Our friend Jonah Goldberg’s column most excellently shows the vision of government behind HRC’s ad. What’s more, it contains a great P.J. O’Rourke quote:
“I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat,” wrote the indispensable O’Rourke.
“God” he explained, is “a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. ... God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s heavenly country club.”
P. J. continues: “Santa Claus is another matter. ... He’s nonthreatening. He’s always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of a quid pro quo.”
“Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one,” O’Rourke concluded. “There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”
And, by the way, if the Democrats want to Europeanize their appeal even more, they need to remember that St. Nick has
companions, who punish the naughty.
For computer reasons that only make sense to me, I can’t link the articles by Hemingway and Pitney on NRO. They are easy to find there. They’re both much more measured than the Will article that Peter quotes from below. Hemingway, in fact, almost begins by criticizing George for being too comfortable with Giuliani’s anti-ROE position.
Hemingway limits his criticism to the Gerson-ianism of Huck’s published writings. He exaggerates when he compares Huck’s foreign policy to Jim Carter’s (implying that born-againers as such are easily duped by dictators), but Huck’s prohibitionist moralism when it comes to smoking, fatty and salty foods and such does deserve some mockery. The weakest parts of Huck’s writings (which are neither great nor terrible) are those infected by therapeutic narcissism. And he’s also quite weak in a number of specific public policy areas. Hemingway seems to mock both Huck’s styling himself as victimized by the conservative elite, and the conservative elite for thinking it’s its job to decide whether he qualifies for their club.
Pitney, surely one of our most astute political scientists, explains why Huck’s socially conservative stands (on abortion, evolution, same-sex marriage) are, contrary to the view of the MSM, are actually sources of strength for his campaign. He may have expressed his views, on occasion, over the years in ways that seem bigoted and are factually incorrect, but it really is true that most American observant believers (and many non-libertarian conservative public intellectuals) believe that same-sex marriage is not marriage properly understood, that abortion is morally wrong and should be legally constrained, and that evolutionary theory does not explain what is distinctively human about human beings. I would add that Huck has improved in expressing his views in relatively reasonable and sensitive ways, which is not to deny that a lot more improvement might be possible. Huck needs to move from his "evangelical worldview" in the direction of natural law, and that’s not likely to happen over the next couple of months.
. . . in this best quote of the year contest, then Joe Knippenberg is going to get himself another No Left Turns mug . . . and my guess is that he doesn’t need another one. I will say, however, that if you are married, it is a good idea to try and get more than one of these mugs. If you have only one, it will quickly become that little thing about which daily territorial squabbles morph into major mood altering irritations. You see, it’s a large and accommodating mug--much like our blog. It’s the one mug you’ll be inclined to wash rather than pass over for another when its dirty. Mornings are ever so much better now that I have two.
So keep the submissions coming . . . only now, keep them coming here. Also . . . let’s limit this space to quote submissions. If you want to argue about the merits or substance of someone’s quote submission here, I’m going to have to automatically disqualify yours for lack of good humor.
George Will on Huckabee (the rest of the column is also worth reading):
"Huckabee’s campaign actually is what Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy is misdescribed as being -- a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs. Giuliani departs from recent Republican stances regarding two issues -- abortion and the recognition by law of same-sex couples. Huckabee’s radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity. And consider New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers union that is a crucial component of the Democratic Party’s base.
In 2004, New Hampshire’s chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary -- and Huckabee in the Republican primary. It likes, as public employees generally do, his record of tax increases, and it applauds his opposition to school choice.
Huckabee’s role in this year’s ’70s Show is not merely to attempt to revise a few Republican beliefs. He represents wholesale repudiation of what came after the 1970s -- Reaganism."
I’ve been trying to think about the Bush legacy in this campaign, and will probably try to write something more formal about it after the holidays. At the moment, all I have are some very preliminary thoughts, which I thought I’d try out here.
As I noted below, Mike Huckabee is in some sense closer to Bush than are any of the other Republican aspirants. He’s the "compassionate conservative" in this field, the mantle he inherited when Sam Brownback quit the race (as Andy Busch has observed more than once). For a variety of reasons, this is a difficult role to play successfully. First, many Republicans never really cottoned to compassionate conservatism. It has a whiff of big government heresy about it (though plenty of non-compassionate "conservatives" haven’t objected to big government when the recipients of public largesse have either inhabited corporate suites or lived in their districts). Second, the administrative missteps of the Bush Administration (how’s that for a euphemism?) have weakened the "compassionate conservative" brand: if you’re going to be good, you had better be good (and efficient and effective) at being good, and that (unfortunately) hasn’t been the hallmark of this White House. Someone who wants to pave the road from Hope with good intentions runs the risk of having others assume that those good intentions are a substitute for competence. Huckabee would have to persuade us that he’s the good good government candidate, better at being good than the man he wants to succeed.
Third, there’s the war, which has overshadowed everything else in Bush’s legacy. It’s hard to resemble Bush in other respects and not also suffer from guilt by association about this. Sam Brownback tried to distance himself, not very successfully, from the Bush Administration, and I take it that Huckabee’s efforts aren’t going well either.
Lastly, there’s immigration, where Bush tried to unite the business wing of the GOP with compassionate conservatives. Huckabee certainly used to be pretty much in that camp, but the current politics of the nomination battle (see the poll I noted here) make his old position essentially untenable. However socially conservative Catholics come down on immigration, their evangelical counterparts are likely to insist on border enforcement first. Hence the change of heart that led to Michael Gerson’s criticism.
That I like the Obama Christmas ad better than the others, though Rudy’s ironic politicizing of Christmas (surely a response to Huckabee’s) is far superior to HRC’s non-ironic effort along the same lines.
Should it be a requirement that our President be capable of irony? If so, HRC is surely totally unqualified.
"If I had used the name of Jesus Christ in vain and blurted it out as profanity, nobody would be talking about it. It would have simply been ignored," he told the crowd later in his speech. "But because I invoked His name on His own birthday to say to America, ’Happy Birthday, merry Christmas,’ somehow everybody sees in it something that isn’t even there."
"Have we lost our national soul? Have we become so coarse that even the attempt to bring some civility to the political arena is met with nothing more than scorn, disdain and disbelief?" he said to loud applause.
A few weeks ago, I would have been prepared simply to defend him, but the none-too-subtle attempts to rally the faithful (noted
here) have made me suspicious too. Peter L. is right that the questions that are raised about MH encourage "evangelical victimology," but so do Huckabee’s responses. He should turn the other cheek.
Update: Our friend the Friar notes another instance of MH’s unappealing victimology. I wouldn’t call him simply a representative of the "evangelical Left," however. As our friends at Power Line note, Huckabee is in a sense the logical successor to the incumbent, though George W. Bush had something of the self-deprecation (might I call it irony?) of the redeemed sinner about him (somewhat different from the zeal born of successful weight-loss).
According to this poll of likely Republican caucus-goers, Mike Huckabee enjoys the support of evangelical women: there’s an 18 point gap between MH and MR among women (apparently even larger when you factor in religion). Men divide their support evenly between the two.
Hillary Clinton has trouble with (Democratic and independent) men, who apparently deny that it’s because she’s a woman.
Cynthia McKinney, newly resident on the Left Coast, is seeking the Green Party nomination for the Presidency.
Time will tell...quickly, says our own Andy Busch. He’s dubious of Giuliani’s strategy of essentially conceding the early states, thinks that Huckabee’s foreign policy statement reorients the conversation in a way that doesn’t help his prospects, and expects the winner of the early contests to be.... Well, he’s a bit coy about that.
But, as always, his first draft of history is worth pondering, especially since the final draft will be a book that we’ll all assign in our courses on campaigns and elections.
Matt Bai tenderly explores the role of Bill Clinton and his presidency in the Democratic nominating battle. Clinton isn’t quite to Democrats what Ronald Reagan is to Republicans, which poses an immense problem for his wife. She suffers from the part of his legacy Democratic activists don’t like (however advantageous embracing it might be in a general election). And she can’t evoke his "positives" without also calling upon us to compare (unfavorably) her political "strengths" to his.
While Democrats and Republicans surely disagree about the ways in which 2008 differs from 1992, there’s no doubt but that a campaign that depends too much on reminding us of what was has a problem.
Something called the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is rolling out an amibition state-by-state, and national, plan to get better teachers and then to "transform" teacher education. This may merit a closer look.
Romney’s instincts here are dead on. And what I like about it is that he seems to show a little righteous indignation that is almost endearing. He’s also quite right to argue that Petraeus ought to have been selected--though TIME is so thoroughly discredited in its judgment that no decent human being should really want its accolades. But what I don’t like about it is that instead of pursuing the theme of righteous disgust, he moved in the end toward a more or less obscure (I mean obscure from the point of view of Joe Public) list of Putin’s abuses. He ticked them off like a Rhodes scholar on an interview . . . making sure to cite as many as possible to impress his interlocutors with his knowledge of the facts.
I don’t want to be a nitpicker . . . I really don’t. And at this point, I am not sure I want to beat up on Mitt. I’m certainly with him over Huck. But this incident gets to the heart of my discomfort with Romney. This answer of his put me in mind of that silly habit presidential candidates have fallen into since Bush got "caught" not knowing the name of some foreign leader in 2000 . . . now they all try to drop the names of every possible foreign leader they can and in any context that can at all allow it. The trouble is that, as a voter, I’m not voting for the guy who can win a game of foreign policy trivial pursuit. Unless you are a complete buffoon, I am going to have to assume that you’ll have a decent command of the facts. And truth be told, I don’t really want to fill my own head with all of those facts. So stop it already with the listing! If you want to cite some facts, do it in a way that demonstrates your understanding of what is at stake. I want to know more about your judgment and less about your ability to memorize and recite a list of talking points. I repeat . . . all the candidates do this. But with Romney it’s always so darn obvious.
That said, make sure you check out the link and take a good, hard look at Putin’s picture there. Does he look like he’s a man worried about memorizing lists to look good?
That Rod Dreher hearts Huckabee. There is, after all, a certain crunchiness about the man. And perhaps, with Dreher’s advice, he can promote ways of life that help us achieve energy independence within ten years.
I must say, though, that Huckabee’s approach to energy independence is long on new federal programs and relatively short on crunchiness. There are a few nods in the direction of conservation, but little else.
Perhaps the crunchiness only has to do with tobacco.
The Journals of the late Arthur Schlesinger have received a good deal of attention, but most of it has concerned Schlesinger’s writing style, personality, or the broad topic of keeping and publishing diaries. The strangely neglected question of Schlesinger’s politics is finally addressed by the New Yorker’s George Packer, writing as one liberal assessing another. “In [Schlesinger’s] long record of speeches, conferences, lunches at the Century, and dinners at Mortimer’s,” observes Packer, “there’s an unmistakable sense that liberal politics belonged to a small group of the rich and famous who all knew one another and knew what was best for the rest of the country, while knowing less and less about the rest of the country. . . . It’s possible, even if you agree with almost every position Schlesinger held, to find the smugness and complacency not just annoying but fatal. His crowd made liberalism a fat target for the New Right; Reagan and his heirs seized the language and claims of populism from liberals who believed that they had had permanent possession [of it] ever since Roosevelt.”
One subtext of the 2008 election is liberals’ effort to convey that they now “get it” – they understand the damage this elitism inflicted on their cause in a way Schlesinger never did. Packer’s critique of Schlesinger is one instance. Eric Alterman’s assertion that, “One of the great mistakes liberals made in the 1970s was to try to win in the courts what they could not win at the ballot box – thereby allowing their democratic muscles and instincts [to] atrophy and helping to inspire a right-wing backlash against which they were defenseless,” is another.
These mea culpas, however, always turn out to be sorta culpas. No sooner does Alterman identify judicial activism as one of liberalism’s great mistakes than his litany of the “catastrophes” that have befallen America during the Bush years includes “the attack on . . . choice.” The goal of this insidious attack is to re-democratize abortion policy, 35 years after the Supreme Court reduced the number of Americas who could affect it to nine. Roe v. Wade is the biggest land-grab of all the liberal efforts to secure a political victory in the courts that they couldn’t win anywhere else. Conservatives try to reverse this great mistake, and give liberals a chance to rebuild their democratic muscles, and Alterman sputters with rage.
The problem is that liberalism incorporated the agenda and the up-against-the-wall style of the various radicalisms of the 1960s in ways that now make disentangling the New Deal and New Left genomes impossible. According to James Piereson, the ideology that emerged from the 1960s was “punitive liberalism,” which “parted company from earlier liberal reformers such as FDR, Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, who viewed reform as a means of bringing the promise of American life within reach of more of our people.” Punitive liberals wanted America to atone for its sins rather than solve its problems. Their goal was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” as one of the era’s slogan’s had it. The comfortable, made numerous by the postwar boom, deserved to be afflicted because America needed to be redeemed. Arthur Schlesinger, for example, said that we all killed Robert Kennedy: Americans have become “the most frightening people on this planet . . . because the atrocities we commit trouble so little our official self-righteousness, our invincible conviction of our moral infallibility.” This heat-of-the-moment judgment, made in the hours after RFK was shot, was one Schlesinger repeated in a subsequent magazine article and book.
The current liberal attitude about the sort of bourgeois-baiting rhetoric and policies they favored 35 years ago is: don’t worry, that’s all behind us now . . . although it was completely defensible and really quite noble. Salon’s Joan Walsh writes, “Pushed by the civil rights, antiwar and women’s movement, the Democrats [in the 1960s] became the party of inclusion, of racial equality. The Democrats became the party that questioned unchecked U.S. military adventurism and untrammeled corporate power. In my opinion these were all good ideas, but the anxiety they engendered helped lead to 20 years of Republicans in the White House, interrupted briefly by Jimmy Carter after Nixon went too far. Reagan ousted Carter by continuing to hammer away at Democrats as the party of minorities and the poor. Sure, he talked about ‘Morning in America’ and that ‘shining city on a hill,’ but he mostly played on fears that liberalism had run amok.”
Walsh can’t or won’t ask whether there was something about liberalism that engendered the anxiety that Republicans could exploit. Favoring inclusion and opposing military adventures and corporate power doesn’t sound like a recipe for defeat. Canvassing for votes from people you’ve castigated as the most frightening on the face of the planet does.
...thanks mainly to the ridiculously early caucus and primaries. If you go to the CAMPAIGN STANDARD page, you can see and read about Giuliani’s and Romney’s most recent. Rudy flip-flops on the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas issue but is consistently pro-Santa. Mitt’s unfocused commercial seems to claim that the one difference between himself and Huck is that the latter is soft on crime.
Some might say you might be a redneck if you have a Christmas card that looks like this. But I hasten to add: This might cause us to admire even more Huck’s extreme makeover in recent years. Not only that: There’s nothing redneck about the message of Christmas gratitude.
Regarding Bali, first you may wish to check out National Review’s in-house editorial, which, um . . . shall we say, I had some input into (hint, hint).
Then, check out Tom Friedman’s column today, which, when stripped of his typical unctuous snark, arrives at many of the same places.
There is especially this graph from Friedman about what is evident to people who pay close attention to what is really going on (which is almost no one, including Friedman):
And then something unexpected happened. For 90 minutes, Andy Karsner, who runs the Department of Energy’s renewable energy programs, James Connaughton, who heads White House climate policy, and their colleagues put on a PowerPoint performance that was riveting in its understanding of the climate problem and the technologies needed to solve it. Their mastery of the subject was so impressive that it left the room full of global activists emotionally confused. . .
Well, leaving "global activists emotionally confused" isn’t really that hard, because they show up that way in the first place.
Check out Joe’s link below. Here are the nuggets of wisdom I would highlight. I have twisted them, of course, to my own purposes.
To Huck: Now’s the time to expand your appeal. Play the conservative populist card. Combine steadfast social conservatism with alternatives to mere trickle-down economics. Address the insecurities of the middle-class with relatively market-based remedies in areas such as health-care. Moderately compassionate class-based appeals, studies show, work even among Republicans right now. Campaign against the New York conservative elitist establishment, as your brainy advisor Joe Carter is doing on his Evangelical Outpost. Stifle the puritanical and prohibitionist impulses of thin and fit Huck and remember what’s attractive about the inner hefty Huck.
To Romney: You’re actually doing pretty well, all things considered. The real problem is not that you’re a Mormon. Nobody really likes you that much. That’s pretty unfair, I think, but you need to work on being personable and displaying dignified character. Responsible Republicans are bound to continue to flock to you as the "ecumenical" socially conservative alternative to Huck. The odds are you’ll lose in Iowa, but the immensity of the Huck surge makes that no longer anything near fatal for you. Lay off Huck; his success has actually helped you, and you can use it to capture the center. It’s actually a big advantage to have the New York conservative mainstream establishment for you; it’s full of smart and influential people.
To McCain: Romney is going to peel off the "responsible Republicans" from Giuliani. But that’s your opportunity to get Rudy’s "national security" Republicans and do well enough in NH to be in the final three with Huck and Romney. Voters weary of the Mormon-Evangelical in-fighting might turn to you as an authentic man of character at least acceptable to social conservatives. Don’t say anything self-righteous that unnecessarily alienates religious conservatives for at least the next month. And look as young as you can.
Ron Paul. That ought to put him over the top, as Sullivan has such a following in the Republican base.
But seriously: libertarianism "works" if there is virtuous self-restraint, not exactly something that Sullivan champions.
Japan "has for the first time shot down a ballistic missile, testing a defence system aimed at warding off potential missile threats from its neighbours.
A Japanese warship stationed off Hawaii launched a US-developed Standard-3 interceptor missile to destroy a mock target fired from onshore....Japan and the US have worked closely on missile defence since North Korea flew a missile over northern Japan in 1998.
The US has carried out such tests in the past but this is the first time a test has been carried out by one of of its allies."
This will give the paranoid left a new thing to obsess over: I just caught up with the New York Times Magazine story from Sunday describing the reading habits of Chinese philosophy students, where this nugget jumped off the page:
"Translated works were widely accessible in China when Lei Bo was an undergraduate. Habermas, Heidegger, Arendt, Popper, Foucault, and Derrida were all popular then, and now Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss have been added to the list." (Emphasis added. As if any were necessary. Heh.)
So accuses KLo on the NRO page, and I guess that’s true enough. But might it also be the case that the dividing is also caused by the extreme overreaction to his surging by the mainstream conservative media. The chance of Huck getting the nomination is still very small, and the intensity of the attack his candidacy will surely damage the party in November.
At this point, I agree with the experts, the price of a Giuliani nomination (which is still quite possible) will be a fractured party, and so I think the turn to Romney has lot of reason behind it. (That’s not to say I’m endorsing anyone.) Let’s not also have the price of a Romney nomination be a fractured party.
It’s also true that Mormon-evangelical animosity is surfacing in various places, and that can’t be good for November or even for truthfully recalling how much the two very serious and admirable groups of believers share in common morally and politically. Although I’m not at all defending Huck’s remark in the NYTM article about Mormon theolgy (Mormons rightly see it as a coded cheap shot in their direction), it’s ridiculous to attribute the success of his candidacy to some kind of anti-Mormon bigotry. His positions on the issues really are significantly different from Mitt’s, and his character and campaign have been, in ways we need to remember, intrinsically attractive. (I know a good number of liberals who say that Huck is the only Republican they can stand. And to some Catholics he’s attractive as something like a European Christian Democrat.)
Extreme and often unfair attacks of Huck’s campaign, combined with unflagging efforts to parce every word he’s said his whole life for redneck intolerance, will have the main effect of bolstering evangelical victimology--the belief that real believers are constantly under attack in all directions (even conservative ones) by the politically correct thought police. For the most part, Huckabee’s campaign, in truth, has been upbeat and inclusive and even admirable in its genuine (if sometimes misguided in terms of policy) concern for less fortunate Americans.
Finally, I do think Huck is too evangelical (which is different from too progressivist) to be elected, just as I think that Rudy is too indifferent to the genuine concerns of the evangelicals to be elected. McCain might still be looking better all the time.
If the eyes may be said to be the window to the soul, might the voice be said to be its projector? This fascinating book by Anne Karpf seems to make that case. I’ve been listening to an interview with her on Dennis Prager’s show and much of what she says--taken from observation and studies--sounds eminently reasonable and insightful. Voice can project such obvious things as age and sex, etc. But she also makes the case that a trained ear can discern such qualities as height, weight, confidence, etc. It sounds like a truly compelling read and one that would certainly be at the top of my reading list if I were running or advising one who is running for President.
The Byron York article I noted in a previous post raises an issue about politicking during the Christmas season. It’s unseemly. I hate it. Everyone should hate it, even if only out of respect for those who think there are more important things than politics.
The lion’s share of the blame for injecting politics into the Christmas season ought to go to the state legislatures that front-loaded the nominating process. If citizens are serious about not wanting to have their holidays spoiled or politicized, then they ought to send a message to their legislators about the timing of these primaries and caucuses.
Of course, a candidate can’t call for a political hiatus without seeming to seek a political advantage, but we pundits can, especially if it’s done by all sorts of people with all sorts of perspectives and allegiances.
So, fellow pundits: are you willing to demand a political truce around the Christmas holidays? No politicking, no campaign coverage for a few days at least? And a willingness to criticize anyone who violates the truce? Just chestnuts roasting on an open fire, nine lessons and carols, Midnight Mass, and Christmas Day afternoon at the movies for those who aren’t anticipating a turkey-induced afternoon nap.
She regularly asks callers to choose from a host of pull-quotes ranging from the noble to the ridiculous and dubs one "the sound-bite of the week." Today she’s asking callers to identify the "sound-bite of the year." My pick from her list is the John Kerry protester famous for his screaming, writhing and plaintive cry of, "Don’t taze me, ’bro!" I never tire of hearing it and I laugh every time.
I propose that we accept and evaluate nominations from our readers and contributors. Please submit your entries below. This is no democracy, however. I will arbitrarily choose a winner before the end of the year and send you a mug.
That’s the tempting suggestion made here and here. Lest some think that this is just the Washington Establishment putting Huckabee in his place, I happen to know that the Friar lives in a flyover state.
For an appraisal that goes in a different direction (i.e., that MH is perhaps insufficiently Machiavellian when it really matters) see this double flyover (a native of Arkansas living in South Dakota) post.
I say that the unflattering characterization of MH is tempting because I think that it’s difficult for someone whose faith is so central to who he is to avoid the suspicion that his expressions of it are "strategic." Yes, he has been a "Christian leader," but to tell us that in an ad broadcast in a state where he’s running against an opponent most evangelicals don’t regard as "Christian" smacks of calculation, as does the "innocent" question posed to his NYT Mag profiler about Mormon beliefs.
This isn’t to say that a genuine Christian believer can’t engage in politics without arousing suspicions about the way he uses his belief, but it ought to be possible to wear the mantle of faith more lightly than Huckabee has. His jocularity is attractive, but less so in the context of the other moves. And the "Christian leader" ad has, I think, encouraged a hermeneutic of suspicion with regard to everything he says.
And lest some think that I’m singling out Huckabee for this scrutiny, I’ll go on the record here as saying that the Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, are even more calculating in their courtship of religious voters.
Update: Here’s Byron York on the Christmas ad, which makes evident the political calculation that went into it. But York also makes clear that not all political calculation is simply Machiavellian, as Huckabee appreciates:
I saw Huckabee a week or so later in Iowa, and I asked him whether the [Values Voters] speech was too hot to give before a general audience. He seemed a little surprised by the question. “The ultimate purpose of any speech,” he told me, “is to hit the target, and the target is your audience. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh that was a brilliant speech, I didn’t understand it, it was way over my head, but it was a brilliant speech.’ Well, it wasn’t a brilliant speech. If a shooter consistently hits over the head of the target, it doesn’t prove that he’s a good shooter. It proves he can’t shoot. So the whole point is you aim for the target. The target in that room was people for whom faith was the motivating factor to be involved in public policy.”
The question is not whether speech is intended to move people (and is strategic in that sense), but in what direction it’s intended to move them.
With the Hollywood writers still on strike, we have to look to the newspapers and the government for good comedy. The chief science adviser for the British government, Sir David King, is happy to oblige, telling citizens yesterday that "women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming." Will James Bond movies be banned next?
As Will Rogers said, "There’s no trouble writing humor when you have the whole government working for you."
Mike Huckabee’s undiplomatic remarks about the Bush Administration’s diplomacy raise a question. How are all the Republican candidates dealing with the legacy--domestic and foreign--of the Bush Administration? Is anyone embracing anything? Where there are attempts to establish some distance, how is that being handled?
Comments are most welcome. Examples with links are especially appreciated.
A couple of days ago, the buzz and hope in Nashville was that the remains of Charles Henry Dickinson ("base paltroon and cowardly talebearer," as Jackson called him) would be found in someone’s front yard. Dickinson was killed by Andrew Jackson in 1806. Although Jackson was in a dozen duels, Dickinson was the only person he killed. Dickinson fired first, Jackson took a ball about an inch from his heart. Jackson tried to get off a shot, but his gun misfired. He recocked and shot Dickinson in the stomach who then bled to death in agony. The bullet in Jackson remained in his chest for the rest of his life. Some people held this duel against him, but he was elected president. New York Times now reports that Dickinson’s remains were not found at the site.
This Inside Higher Ed story describes the results of a survey (the report will eventually be available on this page) investigating college student "spirituality" (emphatically not the same as religiosity) from the freshman to the junior year. Although apparently not the result of what goes on in the classroom, student "spirituality" increases over the course of their collegiate careers. Unsurprisingly, they seem less involved in organized religion (although I wonder if students think of small group bible study as attending a "religious service").
The way spirituality is defined--"the researchers define religion ’primarily as belonging in a community of faith and following the dogma and the principles of a particular faith,’ while they define spirituality more broadly ’as a search for meaning and purpose in one’s life’ and the posing of existential questions--seems also to include some of the goals of cosmopolitan liberalism. Consider, for example, these findings:
*In 2004, 54.6% of freshman "endorse[d] the life goal of ’reducing pain and suffering in the world,’" while in 2007 66.6% of juniors did so.
*In 2004, 27.3% of freshmen "endorse[d] the life goal of ’helping to promote racial understanding,’" while in 2007 37.5% of juniors did so.
*In 2004, 42% of freshman "want[ed] to improve their understanding of other countries and cultures," in 2007 55.4% of juniors said so.
*In 2004, 83.3% of freshman "believe[d] that ’non-religious people can lead lives that are just as moral’ as religious believers,’" in 2007 90.5% of juniors believed this.
It strikes me that most of these "spiritual" beliefs line up rather nicely with the typical agendas of campus student affairs offices, and are also not the kinds of things that most professors are going to discourage. To be sure, the percentage of students actually engaging in community service declines from freshman to junior years, but I suspect that that’s connected with a change in the locus of service from family, high school, and church to service-learning class, student affairs office, and Greek organization.
To state it another way, the college experience seems to encourage the development of "right-thinking" sentiments (which includes, by the way, a modest move to the political left on a number of fronts) without necessarily encouraging involvement in the principal institutions in "civil society" that regularly encourage and provide the opportunity for action in the service of others. Believing that others need help comes to the fore, while actually helping them recedes into the background. That strikes me as laying the foundation for statism--creating bureaucracies to help others--rather than for a vital and vibrant civil society where people actually love their neighbors.
I realize that these are risky generalizations based upon a single news story, and before I go any further, I need to see the study itself. I would be interested, for example, to see whether there are significant differences between student responses at different sorts of institutions (e.g., public, as opposed to church-related; liberal arts college, as opposed to research university). I would also be interested in seeing whether the male/female ratio of the 2007 respondents is the same as that in 2004, in part because I suspect that men are more likely than women to drop out of college. Indeed, I’d love to know how much of the change in sentiments from 2004 to 2007 could be explained by a change in the population (drop-outs and transfers) and how much by the actual effect of the collegiate experience.
I guess Hillary’s campaign is in trouble. Words are flying. Are they slime?
Kate Phillips of the NY Times recounts (former Dem Senator) Bob Kerrey’s well-chosen (he repeats himself) words on Barack Obama, as he announces he is supporting Hillary. The question is simple: Is this an orchestrated attempt to smear Obama? Is it related to Bill Clinton calling Obama a "symbol" rather than an "agent" (Hillary) of change? Is Obama a roll of the dice, as Bill Clinton called him on the Charlie Rose show? This is David Brooks’ response to that question. And this is Jonah Goldberg’s thought on both Clintons, their words and passions.
John Podhoretz admits he was "foolish" to dismiss Huckabee’s chances at the nomination a few weeks ago. And he wonders whether Huck’s rise may indicate that McCain--who also may have had a premature dismissal--might be able to stage a comeback against Huck in January. In the end, however, JPod seems to share my concern that a ticket led by Huckabee would spell electoral disaster for the GOP in November.
On another note, Michael Medved today was speculating on whether Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain signals a kind of growing disgust with the hyper-partisanship of the last few years (decades?). Are Americans really sick of the so-called extremes in both parties?
While I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon that’s always ready to heap disdain on the two party system, I think there is something to this. I think it is true that this election cycle has produced more of what we might call "niche" candidates. I add this disclaimer--that these are very "off the cuff" reflections--but I might also say that the candidates seem to reflect the growing trend in media toward "niche" reporting. There is a blog and a candidate for everyone . . . but there doesn’t seem to be one that unites enough of any of us. And I might also say that this accounts for the vacuousness of the Obama effort. His instincts are correct in trying to appeal to this vague notion of a need for "unity." But the problem is that he can’t really move away from oblique references to universally admired objectives such as hope and unity. That’s why an Oprah endorsement has been such a boon to him . . . she can and does appeal to the same kind of vague notions and has had great success in this for many years. It will be interesting to see his appeal continues to grow in this vague way or if the harsh realities of politics will force him to embrace some absolutes. As soon as he begins to designate specifics, I think things will fall apart and Hillary will be safe. But a Republican who can continue the theme of portraying her as a divider and successfully color himself as a uniter may have a decided advantage.
I should have gotten to this earlier (but I have been reading exams and term papers, never mind our first December grad ceremonies yesterday, in the middle of the blizzard, no less!) because the 15th was National Bill of Rights Day (as proclaimed by FDR). Joseph Postell has written a fine piece on the Bill of Rights in which he discusses the founders’ objections to a bill of rights, and suggests that the primary reason they thought fit to give us the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to, in Madison’s words, "incorporate into the national sentiment" an understanding of our rights and liberties and a desire to preserve them. Do read it.
You might also want to visit our site on Ratification of the Constitution, and I bring to your special attention this Ratification Overview Table, to see
the various amendments and bills of rights that were proposed, starting with
the Massachusetts ratification. The site is the work of Gordon Lloyd and Roger Beckett.
My father-in-law has lived in Southern California for more than 50 years but he has never visited Mexico--not even TJ--because he insists that once you cross the border "you have no rights . . ." He exaggerates, of course. But, having heard sufficient numbers of real or concocted horror stories concerning wayward and unsuspecting Americans rotting away Mexican jails, one can at least understand his sentiment. But a healthy fear of Mexican Federales was never joined by a similar fear of Canadian Mounties and, unless you count the fear of being stricken by some horrible illness while traveling in Canada and consequently having to utilize their socialized medical establishment, I should think there is no good reason to eschew travel in Canada. My father-in-law reports that it is, indeed, quite beautiful. That being said, those of a more outspoken temperament may now want to reconsider . . .
If you don’t know what I mean, just ask Mark Steyn who is now facing a tribunal in Canada because some Muslim students were offended by the reprinting in Maclean’s of some passages from his book America Alone. David Warren writes a thoughtful piece on the implications of these tribunals here. And here is an amusing attempt by a Canadian liberal to come to grips with the monster their side of the debate has created in Canada. Without wanting to support "free speech" exactly . . . he has to defend Mark Steyn . . . well, just a tad.
UPDATE: More links from the man himself.
UPDATE #2: More from Steyn and see especially his pull from one of the articles found to be too inflammatory in Canada.
Such changes as I can discern on the basis of a quick side-by-side reading of the two are mostly condensations and updatings.
Huckabee did add the adjective "arrogant" to the phrase "bunker mentality," which has evoked a response from Mitt Romney. But just as that is a caricature of the Bush Administration, so are these responses (predictably) a caricature of Huckabee’s essay.
Once again, I don’t think Democrats would say this:
[M]y administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.
The Bush administration plans to increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps by about 92,000 troops over the next five years. We can and must do this in two to three years. I recognize the challenges of increasing our enlistments without lowering standards and of expanding training facilities and personnel, and that is one of the reasons why we must increase our military budget. Right now, we spend about 3.9 percent of our GDP on defense, compared with about six percent in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan. We need to return to that six percent level.
As president, I will not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq any faster than General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, recommends. I will bring our troops home based on the conditions on the ground, not the calendar on the wall. It is still too soon to reduce the U.S. counterterrorism mission and pass the torch of security to the Iraqis. If we do not preserve and expand population security, by maintaining the significant number of forces required, we risk losing all our hard-won gains. These are significant but tenuous.
Withdrawing from Iraq before the country is stable and secure would have serious strategic consequences for us and horrific humanitarian consequences for the Iraqis. Iraq’s neighbors on all sides would be drawn into the war and face refugee crises as a result of fleeing Iraqis. Iraq is the crossroads where Arabs meet Persians and Kurds, and Sunnis meet Shiites. When we deposed Saddam Hussein, we emphasized the potentially dramatic upside of Iraq’s centrality in the region: the country could be a prime place to establish democracy and have it spread from. Today, we face the dramatic downside: Iraq’s centrality makes the country the perfect place for terrorists to create anarchy and have it spread. Those who say that we do not owe the Iraqis anything more are ignoring what we owe our own children and grandchildren in terms of security.
The Bush administration has properly said that it will not take the military option for dealing with Iran off the table. Neither will I.
In order to contain Iran, it is essential to win in Iraq. When we overthrew Saddam, whose regime was a bulwark against Iran, we upset the regional balance of power. Now, we must stabilize and strengthen Iraq not just for its own security but for the security of its neighbors, the region, and ourselves. We cannot allow Iran to push its theocracy into Iraq and then expand it further west.
I welcome the Bush administration’s new sanctions against Iran and its decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its al Quds force as a supporter of terrorism. (The Democrats who claim that such measures are a step toward war are deluded: these moves are an attempt to use economic power instead of, not as a prelude to, using military power.)
"The process will not be quick," Ambassador Crocker told Congress of the progress in Iraq last fall. "It will be uneven, punctuated by setbacks as well as achievements, and it will require substantial U.S. resolve and commitment." Does this sound familiar? To me, the statement could also have applied to the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, or World War II. We paid a heavy price in each of those conflicts, but we prevailed. And we will prevail now. Our history, from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11, has been one of perseverance. I understand the threats we face today. When I am president, America will look this evil in the eye, confront it, defeat it, and emerge stronger than ever. It is easy to be a peace lover; the challenging part is being a peacemaker.
There are surely things to dislike in this approach (as I noted in my previous post), and I too object to the gratuitous slam at the Bush Administration (and appreciate Romney’s defense, even though it was motivated by something other than an effort to identify himself closely with the legacy of the man he hopes to succeed). But no Democrat, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, could have written this article. Of course, Lieberman wouldn’t have omitted in the article this passage from the speech:
Both al Qaeda and Iran seek not just to dominate Israel, but to destroy her and to control the Palestinians. The Huckabee administration would not waver nor flinch in standing by our ally, Israel.
Update: Peter Wehner notes and defends the aspects of the Bush Administration’s record that Huckabee gets wrong. Above all, he’s right that "ungenerous" is not an adjective that should be applied to this Administration. A balanced and extended appraisal of its foreign policy would take note of its AIDS initiative (partly the fruit of evangelical influence) and its efforts in tsunami and earthquake relief, to name just a couple of examples. And Wehner is right to stress the Bush Administration’s efforts at, and successes in, diplomatically waging the war on terror. Huckabee is too quick to draw contrast by caricature. He clearly needs a seasoned foreign policy hand or two on his team. Any volunteers, or is everyone just going to hope that he implodes sooner or later?
Update #2: Stephen F. Hayes goes over some of the same ground, with the same conclusion.
Itr would be easy but unlazy to link numerous news outlets announcing this "crossing of the aisle" right now. Although I like Lieberman and McCain, I almost fail to see how this helps either of them. It’s not real news that Joe would prefer John to any of the Democratic candidates. Still, it undermines his already ulta-weak credentials as a member of his party to say that out loud, and this endorsement keeps him from being able, as a somewhat loyal Democrat, to prefer Hillary to Obama later (should she end up needing all the support she can get). And what Republicans not already planning to vote for McCain would be swayed by anything Lieberman says? Well, conceivably John/Joe alliance might be the basis for a surge in New Hampshire, where the many independents can vote in either primary. But I really do think that possibility depends on Obama not surging all over Hillary in Iowa and creating an exciting and very divisive Democratic battle to the death that would attract every able-bodied independent. I’m also skeptical that Joe can really add to John’s popularity with any group of voters at this point. Joe is now, more than ever, a man without a party--not that there’s anything wrong with that
When the Partnership for Public Service honored her with a Service to America medal, the woman born in Vietnam had this to say about the debt she owed to her new country:
"This land is a paradise not because of its beauty or richness but because of its people, the compassionate, generous Americans who took my family and me in, 32 years ago, and healed our souls, who restore my faith in humanity, and who inspire me to public service. There’s a special group of people that I’m especially indebted to and I would like to dedicate this medal to them. They are the 58,000 Americans whose names are on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial and the 260,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died in that war in order for people like me to earn a second chance to freedom. May God bless all of those who are willing to die for freedom—especially those who are willing to die for the freedom of others. Thank you."
Without going over all the information and opinons on Mitt available today, let me say, once again, that he shouldn’t be in the business of driving Huck’s numbers down through attacking him in various ways. Isn’t it clearer every day that Romney’s strength is as the moderate alternative to Huckabee, and his primary appeal should be made to Giuliani voters? The same advice goes, probably, for Thompson and McCain. The lesson, again: Both Huckabee and Giuliani are both too extreme to have much chance of winning in November.
Feldman picks at DiIulio’s characterization of the Founders, arguing that DiIulio, in effect, reads them through rose-colored glasses on religious matters. He’s right, though the line he draws is itself a little misleading. Madison did indeed oppose non-preferential aid to religious denominations in Virginia, but I’m not sure that we can conclude from that that he would have opposed non-preferential government contracting with faith-based (and secular) charities. Giving money to churches for "inherently religious" activities is one thing; funding their social service efforts is something else.
My own measured but ultimately unfavorable review of DiIulio’s book will appear in an upcoming CRB.
This movement has its own religious tone. References to faith abound in Mr. Obama’s writings and speeches, as they do in Oprah’s language on her TV show and at his rallies. Five years ago, Christianity Today, the evangelical journal founded by Billy Graham, approvingly described Oprah as “an icon of church-free spirituality” whose convictions “cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble.”
“Church free” is the key. This country has had its fill of often hypocritical family-values politicians dictating what is and is not acceptable religious and moral practice. Instead of handing down tablets of what constitutes faith in America, Romney-style, the Oprah-Obama movement practices an American form of ecumenicalism. It preaches a bit of heaven on earth in the form of a unified, live-and-let-live democracy that is greater than the sum of its countless disparate denominations. The pitch — or, to those who are not fans, the shtick — may be corny. “The audacity of hope” is corny too. But corn is preferable to holier-than-thou, and not just in Iowa.
For those Americans looking for the most unambiguous way to repudiate politicians who are trying to divide the country by faith, ethnicity, sexuality and race, Mr. Obama is nothing if not the most direct shot. After hearing someone like Mitt Romney preach his narrow, exclusionist idea of “Faith in America,” [!!] some Americans may simply see a vote for Mr. Obama as a vote for faith in America itself.
Obama is thus the embodiment of America, in which we’re supposed to have faith. Rich’s civil religion isn’t "one nation under God" (how narrow and exclusionist!), but one nation above all else (idolatry, in other words).