Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Wyoming GOP caucuses

"Mitt Romney captured his first win of the Republican presidential race on Saturday, prevailing in Wyoming caucuses for a much-needed boost to his candidacy three days before the New Hampshire primary." Thompson came in second. Wyoming Democrats hold their caucuses March 8.

Polling the races

This Pew poll is already a few days old, but it offers some interesting results, especially on the Republican side. Evangelicals are more divided than Catholics. Among the former, it’s Huckabee 28, McCain 21, Thompson 16, with Romney (8) trailing even Giuliani (12). Giuliani might be accused of playing identity politics with Catholics, who support him 31-17 over second-place Huckabee, with McCain (15), Romney (8), and Thompson (5) bringing up the rear.

Two points are noteworthy here. Romney does equally poorly with evangelicals and Catholics; anyone want to accuse the latter of religious bigotry? And then there’s Giuliani’s success with Catholics, where he does better than Huckabee does with evangelicals. Considering that Giuliani’s Catholic identity is "cultural," rather than religious, what does this tell us about his Catholic base? Are they all cultural Catholics, parting company with the Church where he does? Or are there some who still haven’t gotten the message about his heterodoxy? Or--heaven forfend!--perhaps religion informs without determining their voting preferences.

On other matters, note the national Rasmussen surge for McCain. We’ll have to watch whether Iowa gives Huckabee a Huckabounce (today’s numbers aren’t up yet). Here are the Rasmussen reports on N.H. Republicans (McCain over Romney with Paul and Huckabee far behind) and N.H. Democrats (Obama by 10 over Clinton). Now there’s a bounce!

To the left, left

The always readable Mark Steyn argues that a Huckabee-Obama contest would be between the religious Left and the secular Left. I’ll concede that Obama is a card-carrying member of the religious Left, but Huckabee as a secular Leftist? C’mon!!

But seriously, the attempt to paint Huckabee as a member of the religious left--undertaken most recently here--is quite a reach, as is the attempt to paint Obama as an essentially secular Leftist.

The best short and accessible piece on "evangelical ’conservatism’" is this article by Bill McClay, adapted from this lecture. Quoting from the lecture:

Although many secular observers seem not to understand this, evangelicalism, by its very nature, has an uneasy relationship with conservatism. To call someone both an evangelical and a conservative, then, while it is not to utter a contradiction, is to call him something slightly more problematic than one may think. Of course this is, or should be, true of all Christians, who have transcendental loyalties that must sometimes override their political commitments, even very fundamental ones. But it is especially true of evangelicalism. As a faith that revolves around the experience of individual transformation, it inevitably exists in tension with settled ways, established social hierarchies, customary usages, and entrenched institutional forms. Because evangelicalism places such powerful emphasis upon the individual act of conversion, and insists upon the individual’s ability to have a personal and unmediated relationship to the Deity and to the Holy Scriptures, it fits well with the American tendency to treat all existing institutions, even the church itself, as if their existence and authority were provisional and subordinate, merely serving as a vehicle for the proclamation of the Gospel and the achievement of a richer and more vibrant individual faith. As such, then, evangelicalism, at least in its most high-octane form, may not always be very friendly to any settled institutional status quo. In the great revivals of earlier American history, it nearly always served to divide churches and undermine established hierarchies, a powerful force for what Nathan Hatch called “the democratization of American Christianity.”

True, evangelicalism can also be a force of moral conservatism, in insisting upon the permanence of certain moral and ethical desiderata, particularly if those are clearly stated in the Bible. But it can also be a force of profound moral radicalism, calling into question the justice and equity of the most fundamental structures of social life, and doing so from a firm vantage point outside those structures.

What distinguishes Huckabee from Obama is, above all, the stress on evangelical in the former’s self-understanding, which gives him an anchor outside history. In the case of the latter, "Christian Left" means, above all, Left, as in his "apotheosis of the moment" Iowa victory speech. The hope he sells is principally worldly hope.

Update: Our friend The Friar
disagrees with me, arguing that Huckabee is a secular leftist on his way to religious leftism. His argument has two linchpins. First, there’s the subjectivity and suspicion of reason characteristic of some evangelicals. I agree that the loose worldview language used by some has a postmodernist cast that can be quite corrupting. But I don’t think that, by itself, necessitates a leftward tilt; consider, for example, the Burkean suspicion of rationalism in politics. More problematical is the individualism and anti-traditionalism, but textualism, churches, and the self-conscious efforts of some to reconnect with traditions are countevailing tendencies. Where Huckabee stands on these matters is hard to tell. That he’s a praise service kind of guy means he’s not a liturgical traditionalist, but I’ve also seen arguments that suggest that liturgical traditionalism is one of the features of contemporary church life that tends to license theological innovation. Here, for what it’s worth, is Huckabee’s home church. Seems like a pretty standard evangelical megachurch to me.

The second of The Friar’s points has to do with Huckabee’s style of governance. I’m not prepared to make the case that he has governed as a prototypical conservative, but I would say that he has governed as a prototypical southern governor (with economic development--roads and education--looming large, as it continues to do across the south).

Dreher Correction

I didn’t mean to say that Dreher’s traditionalist concerns in general are nuts. I waa actually trying to praise his openness to Huck for reasons that make good sense. But if you scroll through his website or read his book you’ll see what I mean about a lot of his particular judgments. Let me strike "nuts" from the record and replace it with something like "eccentric." I wouldn’t vote for Rod for anything, but he’s always worth listening to... Thanks to wm for alerting me to my rhetorical screw-up.

What Do We Owe the Puritans?

That’s the question that animates this smart little article.

Well, we can thank the Puritans for ABOLITIONISM, which lacked prudence but was morally admirable in its fiery devotion to justice. We can also thank them for a lot of our anti-Southern and anti-Catholic bigotry.

We can turn to Tocqueville, who finds in the Puritans the source of our idealism, egalitarianism, love of political life, concern for the unfortunate, and of what devotion we have to education for its own sake. Puritan laws, of course, were often ridiculous and tyrannical, and their lack of concern for individual liberty was an important downside of their communal intensity.

And what do we owe to our Southerners? Our Catholics? Not to mention Catholic Southerners such as Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor.

(Thanks to the Friar...all this gets our mind off Huck, although not really.)

Huck and the Crunchy Cons

Mr. Dreher is attracted to Huck because he sees that social conservatism exists in tension with a libertarian faith in the market, and that social conservatism necessarily includes an element of populism. Rod (scroll down) also noticed Huck’s cool quoting of Chesterton on his victory night (on the love of a warrior). Evangelicals start quoting Chesterton as evidence they’re now reading real books and are ready for an ecumenical outreach to all orthodox believers. Rod wants to buy Huck a beer for quoting so well, and the new man from Hope would continue his outreach to Catholics by drinking it. (I have to add the obvious: I’m far from a Crunchy, and Dreher is sort of nuts in some ways: His second-favorite candidate is Ron Paul.) [And thanks to semi-Crunchy Gary Seaton.]

Clinton Fatigue?

If this New York Times story on Hillary’s day in New Hampshire is any indication, Hillary’s camp is at least downcast, if not in disarray. Note the multiple use of "Clinton fatigue" in the article, reference to empty seats at a rally, their anger at the media, and whether or not Bill helps her campaign (and note that Bill is tired). There is also a not so subtle implication that the campaign--in the well known Clinton mode--would really prefer to attack Obama harshly now, but have decided not yet, not yet. In my opinion, they don’t think it necessary, yet; there is some hope left, in their opinion. When she loses New Hampshire, necessity will force the attack, I’m guessing. If not after New Hampshire, then certainly after South Carolina, at the latest. It could be fun to watch. Also note this NYT story on how blacks are savoring the Obama victory. Some thoughtful and revealing opinions. But also note this cautionary note from Jonah Goldberg, should Obama become the Dem nominee and then lose.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Voter Scorned . . .

I’m just back in California and in the midst of unpacking from our trip to Ohio and also re-packing everything away from Christmas, so I haven’t been able to follow all of this as closely as I would have liked. But I heard el Rushbo today as I was working, and he remarked upon the popularity of both Huckabee and Obama in Iowa with the ladies. And that led me to a thought. There are two separate types of women who came out in full force for both of these guys and--if I were a smart Republican (or Mr. Obama) hoping to win the nomination and the general--I think I’d be looking for the common thread between these women. The first type (for Huck) is the home-schooling, evangelical woman. Of course, they’re not all home schoolers and they’re not all evangelicals . . . but they are the "salt-of-the earth" types (Rush’s phrase) who has otherwise felt neglected in this race. She sees some hope in Huckabee. He strikes her as someone who may re-invigorate the things that she knows made our country great. For Obama, we have the Oprah-watching (dare I say, worshiping) well-intentioned but more secular woman. She is put off by Hillary (probably because she’s had enough of people talking AT her) and thinks--or, rather, hopes--that Obama’s message actually means something. In any event, she likes that he talks about "hope" and the notion that together "ordinary people can do extraordinary things." (Rush, by the way, said that this is one of his lines . . .)

What do both groups of women have in common? I think Schramm is really on to something with his analysis of Huck’s and Obama’s words and what those words seem to have in common. The fact that both of their words seem to appeal to women is also significant. But how? Women are drawn to strong leadership that is persuasive and inspiring--rather than pushy or insinuating-- for one thing. They like to be told that they know what they are talking about. They like men to listen to them and take their views seriously. And when men don’t (or don’t seem to) . . . well, there’s a problem awaiting those men. Could it be that women on both sides of the aisle are a kind of metaphor for the voting public--all a bit frustrated about being ignored by their party’s leadership? Could it be that there is something in the words of Huck and Obama that seems to represent an appeal to something higher than the run of the mill policy speech? Something that puts people in mind of American greatness and suggests a role for them in it? Something, even Reaganesque in an appeal to it being "morning again" in America. Never mind that it doesn’t really mean anything to say that. It didn’t mean anything, really, when Reagan said it. But it did capture a mood. It meant that Americans were looking for a way to dust ourselves off and go at the world with a bit more of a spring in our step. We didn’t like the naysayers (Carter) and we didn’t like the dry, dusty, unimaginative Oldsmobile Republicans (your father’s Republican--thanks Joe K!) telling us what to do. We wanted someone who could think out loud and who was willing to invite us into the conversation. We wanted to believe (as we should) that it is we who make our country great. The specifics are another matter . . . and really, in some ways less important.

A while back, Hillary Clinton was going around the country inviting people into staged "conversations" with her. She must have had focus group information that led her to understand that a big problem of hers is that she is uninviting and seems to push people away from dialog. This is why women often don’t like her. They perceive her (correctly) as someone who is inclined to talk AT you rather than with you. She is a know-it-all. The reason this "conversation" ploy of hers didn’t work was precisely because it was staged (like her "victory" celebration last night--I have heard it described by several commentators as something more akin to a wake where people had to have a subpoena to attend).

Maybe the problem that the party establishment on both sides is having during this election cycle is that all of us unsophisticated rubes out there in the voting public are actually too sophisticated to be taken in by their perfectly groomed and manicured candidates and their ever-so-carefully crafted words. We’re on to them and we’re skeptical. I’m only afraid that once the substance (or lack of it) behind the appeal of a Huck or an Obama comes to the surface, it’s going to make people cynical. It’s fine to long for leadership and for someone to appeal to what makes us great as a people. But in the end, it really is we the people, who make us great. It is a rare thing for a president to be able to affect that. He may tap into it, he may hinder or help it along . . . but he can’t change it, start it, or stop it.

NRO and Huck

The symposium on the Huck victory linked by Joe below is really remarkably ungracious and generally obtuse. Huck is an intelligent man with a reasonably coherent (if very undetailed) message. He’s to the left of the Repbulican center on economics and to the right on the social issues. And he appeals to the anxieties of a lot of the middle class. As David Brooks pointed out today, he appreciates the connection between economic and moral insecurity, and he’s a rather consistent (from the perspective of a Reagan Democrat or evangelical Republican) anti-elitist.

It goes without saying that his campaign has been way too narrowly evangelical, which surely will make it difficult for him to reach out now to like-minded Catholics and Mormons. But it’s still been an impressive campaign in a lot of ways. Iowa is not a particularly flaky state. It’s a swing state with a relatively highly educated population. New Hampshire is a lot stranger.

Again, I’m not endorsing Huck or anything like that. The problem the Republicans have now is that, from the perspective of the so-called Reagan coalition, there are no real Republicans left in the race. Huck and McCain actually pride themselves in their dissent from characteristic Republican positions on domestic issues. And Giuliani dissents on the social issues.

There may be hope for orthodox Republicans in an energized Romney campaigning hard against McCain’s domestic incompetence over the next couple of days. He can reasonably say that on many key issues he’s the only real Republican in the race. Maybe adversity will show his character. And his new "change agent" slogan that Washington is the problem and McCain is part of the problem might work.

Again, I’m not for Romney either (for now). He’s been a pitiful candidate so far. Money, organization, policy wonkiness, and determination to succeed aren’t enough. Both he and Hillary reminded us of that. And Peter’s right (see below) about the personal qualities and personal talk that link Huck and Obama together.

Jesus and Lenin rolled into one

Obama-worship from Ezra Klein:

Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.

I’m waiting for Jim Wallis and C. Welton Gaddy to call this idolatry. And for my old acquaintance Daniel Casse to call upon the ACLU and PFAW to start writing legal briefs.

I’d rather worship God with Huckabee in the pulpit (so long as it’s not a praise service) than worship Obama with Ezra Klein leading the hosannas.

NLT’s big tent

Our friend Patrick Deneen calls out our friend Jonah Goldberg.

I patiently await Jonah’s explanation of whether or not socially (and economically--Patrick’s correction) conservative Catholics are, by his lights, fascists.

Update: Jonah’s response is here. The difficulty of an "American" conservatism is that, to the extent that the American tradition is "liberal," and hence dynamic (note the care with which Madison in Federalist #10 wrote of the [dynamic]faculty connected with the acquisition of property rather than of property [perhaps more static] itself), there is no ancien regime to be conserved. To the extent that it’s American, our tradition doesn’t readily lend itself to traditionalism. Our principles can perhaps be read in a way that maintains a creative tension between dynamic classical liberalism and "natural law" (which is conservative, but not particularist or traditionalist). And I’m willing practically to fudge lots of stuff to head off things I regard as much worse (including Obama’s apotheosis of the moment), but theoretical clarity is a good thing.

Update #2: Read the comments on Patrick’s post.

A word on words

Fred Thompson’s comment "We just got our ticket to the next dance," reminds to say a brief word on the language used by both Huckabee and Thompson, and why it appeals to folks. Romney (and Hillary) speak in platitudes and abstractions, and this, in large measure, explains why their campaigns don’t seem to have energy. Their words don’t bring forth images. They are too abstract, stiff, cold. Her rhetoric always gives the impression that she is talking at you, rather than having a conversation with you. A candidate should be able to talk with people in a way that also gives the (honest) impression that he is having a conversation with not only them, but also with himself. This mode verges on poetry, not just rhetoric. I recollect Fred Thompson’s statement a few days ago that although he wanted to be president he really didn’t like campaigning (Peter Lawler noticed this); he was questioning himself, hence seemed very honest, authentic. (That it was misunderstood by the MSM is another matter).

Hillary is the best example of cold talk, but Romney is not far behind. This nis what folks mean by "boring." She can’t inspire. She also does not tell stories, or doesn’t tell them well (also true of Edwards, who tells a few, but they’re always brought forth by anger). This, I assert, is one of the reasons why Huckabee and Thompson are liked (and is also related to why Obama is liked, but that is a more complicated story) and explains why their supporters are more enthusiastic and why such candidates are said to be more "authentic." I don’t mean to say that the candidates’ positions, etc., don’t have anything to do with it, but "white papers" can’t seduce, only spoken words can in a campaign. And those words become part of the person who speaks them, and as that person seems comfortable is speaking, he pulls the listener towards him, in every way. I think this is worth paying attention to, especially as we are coming out of an era in which (unfortunately) our president doesn’t seem able to speak thus in public (in private, I am told, is another matter). This also explains my bias toward southerners and westerners, their talk is more enlivened, vivid, full of metaphors, more human. Do you think this dog hunts?

Huckabee’s victory

There’s a lot to read. At NRO, Byron York draws the contrast between the Huckabee and Romney campaigns, the latter too professional for its own good, the former relying on very healthy pre-existing networks. And John O’Sullivan respects Huckabee’s natural political skills, hoping that if he somehow gets the nomination (unlikly in any event), conservatives begin to have a conversation with him (one, I add, that both sides ought to welcome). No one in this NRO symposium is happy, and no one seems to think Huckabee can be talked to (s worth talking to?). If he’s not "educable," are his supporters? Or should they just settle for whatever the conservative elites give them, and not ask too many questions or demand too much?

I’m not saying that Huckabee’s constituency should be in the driver’s seat, but they deserve an honest hearing. And they might actually learn something from a conversation, just as might their interlocutors.

Update: Peggy Noonan has read a lot of mail from Huckabee supporters:

From the mail I have received the past month after criticizing him in this space, I would say his great power, the thing really pushing his supporters, is that they believe that what ails America and threatens its continued existence is not economic collapse or jihad, it is our culture.

They have been bruised and offended by the rigid, almost militant secularism and multiculturalism of the public schools; they reject those schools’ squalor, in all senses of the word. They believe in God and family and America. They are populist: They don’t admire billionaire CEOs, they admire husbands with two jobs who hold the family together for the sake of the kids; they don’t need to see the triumph of supply-side thinking, they want to see that suffering woman down the street get the help she needs.

They believe that Mr. Huckabee, the minister who speaks their language, shares, down to the bone, their anxieties, concerns and beliefs. They fear that the other Republican candidates are caught up in a million smaller issues--taxing, spending, the global economy, Sunnis and Shia--and missing the central issue: again, our culture. They are populists who vote Republican, and as I have read their letters, I have felt nothing but respect.

But there are two problems. One is that while the presidency, as an office, can actually make real changes in the areas of economic and foreign policy, the federal government has a limited ability to change the culture of America. That is something conservatives used to know. Second, I’m sorry to say it is my sense that Mr. Huckabee is not so much leading a movement as riding a wave. One senses he brilliantly discerned and pursued an underserved part of the voting demographic, and went for it. Clever fellow. To me, the tipoff was "Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

I agree with Noonan that "conservatives used to know" that "the federal government has a limited ability to change the culture of America," but haven’t liberals used the federal government to change the culture? Isn’t the biggest instrument of cultural change the public school, officially controlled by local and state entities, but actually reflecting a national ethos that can be affected by a President, his speeches, his Department of Education, and his Supreme Court appointees? I know, I know: the federal government probably shouldn’t be in the education business. But to get out of it also requires a federal effort.

I could say more, but this post is already too long.

Iowa again

Here are the latest Iowa results, together with the Republican and Democratic polling data (again, but from a different source).

Below, our friend Clint suggests that another way of reading the polling data is that Huckabee is the conservative choice. After all, he won among "very" and "somewhat conservative" voters as well. My response is that if you do the math, over 80% of the Huckabee vote was evangelical (27.6% of the 34%), while almost 90% (30.4%) was "very" or "somewhat conservative." I’d stake quite a bit on the claim that most of the evangelicals who showed up at the caucuses regard themselves as falling into one of those two categories. In other words, Huckabee’s conservative support is in large part a product of his religious support. And while I have some issues with some of my evangelical brethren (I’m a member of a theologically conservative "Reformed and evangelical" denomination), I don’t regard them as "nuts," nor, as a homeschooler, do I regard all my fellow homeschoolers as "nuts." (Some surely are, but so are some parents who send their kids to public schools.)

Another Iowa question

After reading Peter L.’s post, I have another question. To what degree will the press focus on the Obama story, giving much less attention to what happens on the boring old Republican side? Will that leave the Republican race much less conclusive (with people unable to get much of a bounce from winning a primary) until the Democratic race is settled?

Props to Peter, by the way, for the best instant analysis I’ve read.

Huck and Obama

They both won through big turnouts. My apologies to Clint for underestimating Huck’s ground game. (And his people predicted the outcome of the caucus with uncanny accuracy before a single vote was counted.) Huck won with little money, universal and intense establishment hostility, and lots of dumb campaign errors. It’s now time to start thinking about why. Those who voted for Huck shared his values and admired his character, even though they didn’t think he
is the most electable candidate.

Obama is now the favorite for Democratic nomination. Hillary is going to have become tough about supplying reasons why he should be stopped that appeal to Democratic primary voters.

Bill Kristol was very gracious about Huck’s victory, admitting that he underestimated him in just about every way.

Although McCain’s actual vote total is pretty underwhelming and didn’t reflect any surge, he’s probably the big winner. Now he’s the clear favorite for the Republican nomination. My real thought remains: How is John going to self-destruct this time?

Here’s why many Republicans should be unhappy: Both Huck and McCain are very unreliable conservatives on domestic policy. The policy competence of both men, in fact, could easily be questioned, and neither of them seems able to formulate characteristically Republican positions on issues such as health care and taxation. Huck and John like and are like each other as a couple of moralizing outsiders. Isn’t it amazing that they might end up having to duel each other as the two favorites? My playful suggestion of the authentic ticket of McCain-Huckabee is now serious business.

Romney, in fact, is on balance more conservative and has exhibited much more competence. But he now has to win in New Hampshire to remain a credible candidate. That’s going to be a tall order. McCain is already ahead. Mitt is going to suffer from negative momentum, and he has only five days to shake it off. I’ve expressed my doubts about Romney as a candidate, but let me add again that he would probably be a solid president. Mitt looked good as the alternative to Giuliani, but that way of looking at things became obsolete way too soon. He also looked good as the man who could vanquish Huck, but now his "establishment" supporters are likely to jump to John.

The exit polls revealed somewhat of a surge for Thompson, but probably not enough of one. He was plagued by rumors all day that he was about to drop out of the campaign. And he doesn’t have a firm view of what he’s going to do next. But the opportunity remains: There is, arguably, no other real conservative in the race, and he might surge with a win in South Carolina. Fred has been saying the right things of late, but can he get the word out that he really means business when it comes to winning this thing?

I still don’t see Huck getting anywhere near the nomination. Nonetheless, there’s no reason he can’t be competitive in Michigan, South Carolina, and even Florida. Polls showed him doing well in those states even before the bump he’s going to get now. He might well be more than a one-state wonder. Certainly it’s a fantasy for Giuliani supporters to believe they can win some kind of big victory in Florida against Huck and McCain.

It could be we’ll be facing a February 5 with Huck, McCain, and Giuliani all bruised but still kicking. And the result that day could be agonizingly inconclusive. Meanwhile, Obama may have delivered a crushing blow to Senator Clinton and be basking in the midst of media adulation.

Huckabee, Obama win Iowa

Here are the WaPo Republican story, its Democratic counterpart, and the NYT article. Here are the NBC Democratic and Republican exit polls.

For instant analysis, see this NYT piece, the Corner, and TNR’s The Plank (especially this post about the Obama and Clinton campaign styles).

Here’s the lead story on The Politico site, as well as some analysis of hte Republican campaign’s future.

My first thought is that Huckabee will never again face a friendlier crowd--60% of the caucus-goers were evangelical Christians, and he won 46% of them (more than 80% of his overall total). By contrast, roughly one-third of the Republican voters in the 2000 South Carolina primary were members of the "religious Right." (I know the question won’t be asked that way this time, and I suspect the proportion of evangelicals will be a little higher, but not 60%.) Unless he can reach out beyond his base, he’s not going anywhere, save perhaps as a running mate.

My second thought is that Romney has to worry a lot about McCain (13% to Thompson’s 14%) in New Hampshire.

My third thought is a question: what happens to Thompson supporters if he pulls out? If they’re the authentic conservatives, where do they go?

As for the Democratic side, HRC is in trouble, perhaps, if Mark Steyn is right, deep, deep trouble.

More Holiday Films

Well, I only saw two more:

WALK HARD is very uneven. It has some really funny moments mocking Dylan, Brian Wilson, and the Beatles in India. But its main story mocking Johnny Cash is often just stupid and needlessly gross. The songs aren’t good enough and the acting is in a nervous, often annoying position between slapstick and something like serious. John C. Reilly has some talent, but not enough self-irony. You’ll leave the theatre longing for that Will Farrell touch.

ATONEMENT is a very classy and endlessly layered psychological study that connects with every English aristocratic virtue and vice, except those that have to do with God and ruling. In its own deep way it’s sort of a chick flick and not quite for me. But as far as I’m concerned it’s the best made movie of the year. As a man of undistinguished Irish and American stock, I have to admit to being a little tonedeaf to things classy and English.

So I tend to agree with many critics that JUNO is no. 1 and ATONEMENT no. 2 for the year. The more I think about Juno the more I admire it, and I’m managing not to think much about ATONEMENT. And I’m not forgetting CHARLIE WILSON’s war.

So, you might ask, why have you not seen NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, which as kind of tied JUNO across the critical spectrum for best picture of the year? When a movie is praised for its revelation of the nihilistic and violent core of human existence, I have the decency to wait until the twelve days of Christmas have past before satisfying my curiosity about what the brilliant Coen brothers have thought up now. But stay tuned.

Blaming Huck and Rollins

This strange article seems to blame Huckabee for imploding the Reagan coalition. I agree with some of the thoughtful particular criticisms of Huck’s campaign. But we philosophic Republicans would like less blaming and more learning from the success of the new man from Hope.

Iowa morning sweep

The WaPo’s Dan Balz conveniently summarizes the conventional wisdom. Dana Milbank takes a look at the young voters supporting Obama, wondering if there’s another Dean in the making here. Methinks not, but I’ll bet that Huckabee’s homeschoolers are more reliable than Obama’s college students. (Here’s why.) David Broder gives us some more conventional wisdom about the unrepresentative character of the Iowa caucuses, characteristically preferring to regard New Hampshire (say what???) as more representative.

The NYT’s Adam Nagourney tells us that Iraq is off the front burner (duh!). For all their differences, Huckabee hearts Obama (for reasons that Peter L. has already noted). This NYT article suggests that support on the Democratic side is softer than on the Republican, though the anecdotes don’t amount to data.

This WSJ article discusses the populist rhetoric on both sides of the campaign. It resonates, but wouldn’t it be nice if the populists took the time to get their facts right? It kinda makes you want to vote for Fred, who’s in a media-assisted (or is that resisted?) fade.

Or maybe McCain, who still draws the media, if not the crowds. A "surprisingly good" third-place showing in Iowa will help him a lot, especially with his friends in the media, and especially if Romney doesn’t impress.

NR’s Stephen Spruiell explains why the liberal netroots don’t cotton to Obama (he sounds too little like them and too much like someone who really wants to go in a new direction--even if, in the end, the direction isn’t all that new). Indeed, I think this is what makes Obama a formidable general election candidate, especially if his opponent can’t get anyone to listen to how Obama--despite the fog--is still just the same old same old.

This NR editorial concedes some of David Brooks’s argument, especially that none of the Republican candidates has articulated the way forward for conservatism. The excuse? You have to consolidate the existing base first. But the editorial notes that tax-cutting doesn’t at the moment have the traction it used to have, since many fewer of us are paying a painful share of our income in taxes. Give the Democrats a couple of election victories and that might change, but the easy fiscal promise doesn’t energize voters right now and the hard one almost never does.

TWS’s Richelieu predicts that Republican women will put Obama over the top on the Democratic side and hurt Romney on the Republican side. Low Republican turnout helps homeschoolers for Huckabee and manly men for McCain. Stephen F. Hayes thinks Romney will win and McCain won’t do as well as he’d like.

Finally, here’s a look at the independent voters who might help Obama in Iowa and McCain or Obama (or both?) in New Hampshire. Interestingly, it seems to me that the independents who say they’ll support Obama look more like McCainiacs and those who tend to support McCain part company with him on Iraq. In the end, I’m not convinced that the independent vote in New Hampshire can help candidates in both parties.

Huck on Leno

Well, he was good. Like Clinton, he showed he has some musical talent and for a Republican politician is a cool guy. Jay (apparently not a member of the Republican establishment) didn’t go for his throat. Huck compared himself to Obama--and he sort of meant inspirational and liberal or at least compassionate about the real causes of human suffering. But there’s a difference; he’s pro-life. Studies show that young people today are more pro-life and more liberal (in this sense) than their parents, and if Huck weren’t a bit too Arkansan and and somewhat too evangelical he would be energizing the young in a Republican/Obama way. (Lots of evangelicals are already for Obama and others hold back only because of the "life issues," and some Huck supporters will surely turn to him next.) According to the editors of NATIONAL REVIEW,
Republicans are more free-market, more nationaist, and more traditionalist than the Democrats. Huck, as Jonathan Adler remarks on the CORNER, defies this left-right characterization. I admit that means he’s not right as the Republican nominee, but he does appeal to a swing constituency that is vital for winning the election and could easy be swept by Obama.

Getting Ink Undone

When you are away from old peers and colleagues for a long time and then have the opportunity to catch up with several of them in a short span of time, you sometimes notice things that seem to represent a kind of trend. As I am creeping closer to 40, here is one that I’m noticing. It seems whenever I come across a woman I haven’t seen in awhile (or even another mother whom I barely know), and she has a tattoo she once considered to be a sign of her "edgy" and hip persona, I find myself listening to a lengthy apologia for the thinking that led to her inking, laced with regret, and nervous chatter about the improvements in laser removal techniques. Tattoo removals (like manicures, facials and various spa treatments) seem to be the new status symbol for young (well . . . not yet old) professionals and moms. It will be expensive and painful, but I guess this is a good sign for my generation (and it means that we’ll all have fewer sagging butterflies peeping out at us on the backs of old ladies in another 30+ years). But geesh! There has to be a less painful way to grow up!

I did notice on this last trip to Ohio, by the way, that an old Victorian mansion that was once converted to a bridal shop (and where I once purchased a prom dress) had been converted, yet again, into a tattoo parlor this time. It was a local establishment, however, and not a big box tattoo center with ink imported from China . . . so maybe it would be o.k. with some of our communitarian friends? Nevertheless, times did not look good for this establishment. I’m pretty sure it went the way of my hideous prom dress from 1987.

Some nuggets from the NYT

David Brooks doesn’t like Mitt Romney’s chances in the fall. He’s your father’s Republican, doing poorly with the younger, less affluent constituencies a winner would have to attract. Hugh Hewitt, who is the most pro-Romney blogger I know, is too busy attacking Huckabee to respond. Though not convinced of the Republican crack-up thesis, Jonah G. thinks the column is worth pondering. I agree.

Here’s a subtle attempt to account for the domestic differences between Clinton and Obama. She’s Al Gore in drag, reinventing government to promote liberal goals. He is less confident of our narrow rationality and hence favors a kind of soft paternalism, distrusting the efficacy of economic incentives. Pick your poison.

The government job creation myth

Amity Schlaes sounds a fair warning to those who think that government spending and job creation programs helped us out of the great depression (pay attention Clinton, Huckabee, and Kucinich).  

The light bulb

is on the way out thanks to environmentalists, producers, and the government. Good article by Brian Carney of the WSJ editorial board. Almost enough to make one a libertarian!  

Back to the Future with Sprawling Nonsense

The reappearance of sprawl as a preoccupation is a sure sign that the post-9/11 world is over. Back in the late 1990s and into 2001 I was working intensively on this issue, writing a number of articles and book chapters including, for example, this one, which may have contributed to the sacking of a left-wing hack at the National Governors Association.

Back, in those days, I used to get called about once a week by a reporter, radio show, TV gabfest, or documentarian, for a sprawl-related project. That all ended abruptly on 9/11, as reporters and editors were quickly reassigned. I’ve had maybe two media calls about sprawl since 9/11.

A couple of points: First, don’t count of high gas prices curbing the urge to sprawl (that means YOU Deneen). European cities are actually sprawling faster than American cities, even with their $6 a gallon gas. My figures are a little old and need updating, but between 1970 and 1990:

Amsterdam expanded its developed area 12 percent while its population declined 12.4 percent;

Copenhagen expanded its developed area 10.3 percent while its population declined 14 percent;

Frankfurt expanded its developed area 33.3 percent while its population declined 5.4 percent;

Hamburg expanded its developed area 54.6 percent while its population declined 7.9 percent;

Paris expanded its developed area 54.3 percent (twice as much as Chicago) while its population rose only 15.3 percent; and

Vienna expanded its developed area 19.2 percent while its population declined 4.6 percent.

Second, while I am a big fan of the New Urbanism—and have done slide shows about Kentlands, one of Andres Duany’s best NE developments in Maryland—New Urbanist development does not save very much land. I can demonstrate this fairly easily, but not on a blog. By the way, anyone ever noticed where most of these heralded developments are located? Out on the suburban periphery.

Meanwhile, too many of the New Urbanists have become a bit thuggish about the whole matter, wanting to use the law to mandate the form exclusively. Even Duany has broken with most of these folks, and I know Philip Bess (a fine and thoughtful fellow of moderate disposition) has come to see this problem.

Lots more to say, but mainly—whoa there, folks.

Sprawl, New Urbanism, and natural law

The few of you who care about these matters, last discussed here, should hie yourselves over to Mirror of Justice, a site devoted to Catholic legal theory. The author of the WaPo op-ed is a contributor, as is Rick Garnett, who recommends this paper on natural law and New Urbanism by Philip Bess whose book he also approvingly cites. It’s another tome that should be added to the pile on our friend Gary Seaton’s nightstand.

Is the Reagan Coalition Dead?

Well, that question is the basis of an NRO Symposium. I’m not sure how reasonable the question is, given that Reagan’s victories depended upon anti-communism, distaste for McGovernism/Carterism, and the Gipper’s admirable and quite singular personal qualities. Today, the point is rightly made, the foreign policy issue is less toughness than competence, and whatever Hillary is, she’s no McGovernite or Carterite. (Her political correctness might turn out to be worse than McGovernism, but that’s something that more clear to us academics than to ordinary guys, and it probably won’t extend to her foriegn policy.) When Republicans win, I agree, it’s because they capture the swing voters who are to the left of the party economically, but to its right culturally. (The point of the Huck campaign, despite its strangeness [which may culminate with the proably hugely ill-advised Leno appearance], is to remind us of that fact.) I really do disagree that Hillary-hatred, by itself, can reunite the coalition, and, in any case, it’s not at all clear today that Hillary will be the nominee. (And Pelosi has been around long enough and has laid low enough that the swing voters won’t be animated by her repulsiveness.) And the slogan "No more Clintons or Bushes!" would resonate with lots of Americans only if used by a real outsider. Sadly enough, that would be Obama.

The end of French philosophy

as we have known it, if the same for the German, that may be a good thing.

McCain will take New Hampshire

So predicts Patrick Ruffini, and he has some interesting numbers from 2000 to give weight to his view.

Roger Wicker

Gov. Haley Barbour has appointed Roger Wicker to fill Trent Lott’s Senate seat. He’ll have to be a candidate in November to fill the remaining four years of Lott’s term. Good choice, I think.

Don’t Reach for That Alarm

New York Times columnist John Tierney offers this worthy reflection on the certitude of continued alarmism in the year ahead, and how something called the "availability cascade" works to perpetuate the conventional wisdom. Sample:

The availability cascade is a self-perpetuating process: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and more fear. Once the images of Sept. 11 made terrorism seem a major threat, the press and the police lavished attention on potential new attacks and supposed plots. After Three Mile Island and “The China Syndrome,” minor malfunctions at nuclear power plants suddenly became newsworthy. . .

Once a cascade is under way, it becomes tough to sort out risks because experts become reluctant to dispute the popular wisdom, and are ignored if they do. Now that the melting Arctic has become the symbol of global warming, there’s not much interest in hearing other explanations of why the ice is melting — or why the globe’s other pole isn’t melting, too.

Happy new year, by the way.

The last (?) Iowa polls

Here’s a Kristol-clear speculation, and here’s the Des Moines Register poll. If Kristol is correct, then Huckabee holds on to win Iowa. My question then would be how close McCain comes to Romney, and how that might alter the dynamic in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, Obama leads, but his support might be a little soft and, in its youth, perhaps unreliable about showing up. As the WSJ’s John Fund points out, the rules for the Democratic caucuses are complicated, with second choices mattering a lot. Since I’d bet that the’re’s a lot of ABH sentiment out there, that can’t help the Clinton campaign. (Here’s a Knippenberg speculation: given the gender and age gaps, the smoothest path to a Clinton victory would be a caucus dominated by older women.)

It’s also worth noting that the principal speculations in these posts aren’t borne out by the substance of the Register poll. Nevertheless, the Obama campaign’s apparent confidence about the outcome (and its effort to discourage belief in Edwards’s staying power) suggest, first, that they’re worried about him (as, apparently, are the Clintonistas) and, second, that the stakes in Iowa are very high, as this Voegeli post summarizes.

I’ll close by noting this summary of the poll reactions and this analysis by the dean of Iowa observers, who suggests that his newspaper’s own poll--probably the best of the bunch--will have problems in predicting the outcome.

Wishing everyone

A blessed, safe, and happy New Year.

After a late night, everyone else in the Knippenberg household is still asleep, but Rocky the dog decided he needed to go out for a bit. And whenever it’s inconvenient for everyone else, he’s MY dog.

Romney and McCain Again

According to one poll, McCain has officially become the FRONT-RUNNER again. If you take the famous margin of error into account, though, it’s a 4-way tie: John, Huck, Romney, and Giuliani. And they’re all below 20%. My tentative conclusion, based on our limited experience of McCain’s behavior as a candidate, is that he is probably peaking too soon for his own good.

If we had a national primary today with no runoff, either Huck or Rudy might win. (Or we might be stuck with a runoff between the two most extreme candidates.) But the truth is that they are both in desperate situations: Rudy’s "national" strategy has clearly collapsed, and it makes good sense to say that he’ll continue to fade as other candidates (probably Mitt and John) pick up frontloaded momentum.

Meanwhile, Huck has to win in Iowa to meet what might be objectively be called unreasonable expectations. The polls aren’t that clear on his situation; the newest one released this morning shows him still in the lead. But we have to assume that Romney has a better ground game, and that Huck will continue to be the focus of attacks from all directions. (The newest one [not supported by any evidence at all]: Fat Huck became thin Huck not through incredible self-discipline but through a gastric bypass.) And, although Huck did well and was treated well on MEET THE PRESS, he just doesn’t have the staff required to launch an effective counterattack. (Our friend Joe Carter no longer works for him, for example.)

McCain now has come to Huck’s defense against Romney. One "good man," the pretense is, is defending another. There’s obviously a lot of self-interest in John aiding Huck in his effort to hold on in Iowa. But there’s also some principle and even affection: John seems really to like Huck, but not Mitt. (And vice-versa.)

Actually, Mitt’s negative ads against Huck have been fair enough, and Huck’s decision to make a similar ad about Mitt’s flip-flopping record, show it to reporters, and not run it on TV is just strange.

Iowa, darn it, will probably turn out to be more important than ever. The likely effect of its caucusing will be to "winnow" the Republican race to two. One guy has yet to feel the love or inspire the confidence that comes with character displayed. The other has a record of self-destruction when in the lead as a way of perversely or self-righteously displaying his character. One relies too much on showing the competence of an experienced executive, the other has never been disciplined by having to shoulder the burden of being an executive. There’s something to be said for a McCain-Romney ticket, but that ain’t going to happen.

I can’t help but think that the post-Iowa story will be more complicated than a simple shoot-out between Mitt and John. (It’s likely, though, that a fatally wounded Huck will emphatically endorse McCain over Romney, and that’s the way, to repeat, that Mitt will probably have to pay for his somewhat successful negative campaigning in Iowa.)

On the Democratic side, as was explained below, Hillary is in big trouble if she doesn’t win. Actually, she’s not in bad shape if Edwards wins (showing Obama is not invincibly charismatic etc.), which I really think might happen. I admire the tenacious O that has kept Democratic John in the race against two formidable rivals. I’ll even say all three leading Democrats (well, four, if you include the persistent Biden) have been more impressive on the campaign trail than all the Republicans.


Jonah at NRO thinks that our techies should have put down their drinks and fixed our problems. I can tell you that drink had nothing to do with it. Indeed, I was encouraging them to drink (they tend to work faster when they do), but alas, they got into Roger’s good cigars (they tend to work slower when smoking) and I heard them collectively make music to words like these....the internet is just the internet, but a good cigar is a smoke! Eventually, they ran out of matches, so we’re back, and I thank them for their effort and wish them the best for the New Year, and am sending another box of stogies!

2007 Ends with a Bang . . .

First in Pakistan and now in Kenya. This is probably also something to watch in the coming days and months. Kenya is one of the more reasonable places in Africa but, as you can see from this article and the other dispatches coming out of the place, still beset by the problems--caused mainly--by tribalism but put to use by various factions only too happy to use that weakness to their advantage.

Happy New Year

to everyone!

The end of sprawl?

Patrick Deneen notes this op-ed that finds a silver lining in the cloudy confluence of housing bust and high gas prices.

But let me cite the argument of Witold Rybczynski and Robert Bruegmann that sprawl is universal, even in places with old nice housing stock, good public transit, and high energy prices.

I’ll note my experience with the Austrian town near which my mom grew up. Where once it was a relatively self-contained market town serving local farmers, it’s now a suburb of the booming metropolis of Salzburg. There’s still town-like density and open land between Seekirchen and Salzburg, but the yuppies are coming--indeed, they have come--and are bringing their chain stores with them. We discussed it all here. For me the bottom line is this: the environs of Salzburg are a little more American-looking than they were when last I visited.

These things are, of course, matters of degree: houses and cars are bigger in the U.S. than elsewhere. I see some evidence that the latter are getting smaller, but little that the former are. Infill housing everywhere I see it consists of big houses (perhaps energy-efficient and "green," but nonetheless BIG) on little lots. And as Eduardo Penalver, the WaPo author, points out, we haven’t yet really begun to talk about "affordable" middle class housing as infill. Certainly the market won’t produce it, as the margins aren’t there for developers (unless we’re going to become again a nation of tenement dwellers). What’s more, unless we’re going to become a nation of home-schooling tenement dwellers, much will have to change before people other than the wealthy or childless will move close in.

In the end, then, my question mark is probably much bigger than is Penalver’s or Deneen’s.

Candidate responses to Pakistan again

Using a different metric than the one I’d use, the Washington Post grades candidate responses to "the Pakistan test." The WaPo editorialist liked John Edwards, who managed to get Musharraf on the phone, and Edwards is loving the opportunity to appear "presidential", despite the fact that conducting diplomatic relations with other nations, especially in times of crisis, is currently President Bush’s job.

As I said, I’d grade the candidate reactions somewhat differently. Their job at the moment is to sketch in broad strokes what their approach to foreign policy would be, when they sit in the Oval Office, not to pretend they’re sitting there now. If they step beyond this bound, all they do is send a confused message to foreign leaders and make it more difficult for the current President to do his job.

By my metric, by the way, HRC and McCain do well, as do Romney and Giuliani, the former for reasons stated by the WaPo editorialist, the latter because they attempt to put the events in a larger context. Make no mistake about it, all the responses are political and pitched to meet campaign necessities. HRC, for example, was highlighting her experience on the world stage, something Obama can’t match.

But the fact that all the statements and actions were intended to gain a narrow political advantage and the fact that none of the actors can be held responsible for his or her actions and statements is precisely what makes it so inappropriate for them to go beyond the kinds of general statements offered by Romney and Giuliani. And even in those cases, they reacted before the President did, which strikes me as unseemly.

Two Tickets – At Most – Out of Iowa

If Noam Scheiber’s analysis is right, in the 5 days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary either Hillary Clinton will become the presumptive Democratic nominee or Barack Obama will. His argument is that Obama could not recover from a clear victory in Iowa by John Edwards. The 2007 campaign could tolerate several alternatives to Hillary Clinton, but once the voting starts on the third day of 2008 that throng will very quickly be winnowed to one. If that one is Edwards, however, he will be ground down in New Hampshire and beyond by the huge disparity between Clinton’s bank balance and his own. So a Clinton victory is a Clinton victory, especially if Obama finishes third, but an Edwards victory is also a Clinton victory.

An Obama victory in Iowa would be an Obama victory, not just in the limited and immediate sense, but also because the only way Edwards can survive is by winning there. By depriving him of that victory, Obama reduces the race to a contest between himself and Hillary Clinton. Obama, unlike Edwards, does have enough money to compete against Clinton until the race is settled. More importantly, after Hillary’s 15 years as a national figure, the majority of Democrats around the country who list Edwards (or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Bill Richardson) as their first choice are likely to gravitate to Obama, not her. That is, there are a lot more Democrats who harbor deep misgivings about Hillary than about Obama; a post-Iowa Clinton-Obama contest would be Obama’s to lose.

There’s a fourth possibility, in which a Clinton victory in Iowa would be an Obama victory. That would require Obama to finish a close second to Clinton, with Edwards a disqualifying third. Though Obama leaves Iowa as the loser to Clinton, he does leave Iowa in a one-on-one race against Clinton, with his campaign treasury intact and with a bigger upside than Clinton in New Hampshire and every subsequent primary. “An inconclusive muddle actually benefits Obama,” Scheiber argues, because “without Edwards in the race, Obama consolidates the anti-Hillary vote, which nudges him over the top in what’s now a dead-even race in New Hampshire, makes things look pretty good for him in South Carolina (where he’s been closing but still has to convince some African-Americans he can win), and generally gives him the upper hand for the nomination.”

That argument leaves the question of what constitutes a narrow victory by Clinton over Obama in Iowa. Scheiber guesses that if “Hillary wins by more than a point or two, [then] the race is basically over.” Conversely, a one- or two-point victory by Clinton over Obama leaves the race an “inconclusive muddle.”

Perhaps, however, the mainstream media won’t tolerate an inconclusive muddle. America’s most powerful writers and editors are not famous for diffidently saying, “Far be it from us to impose a master narrative on the ambiguous and confusing jumble of facts before us. Rather than arrogantly and fatuously rushing to say ‘what it all means’ when no one can possibly know, let’s withhold our interpretations until more voters in more states have spoken, and only then offer our opinions about front-runners and also-rans.”

It’s entirely possible, then, that even a photo-finish Clinton victory over Obama will mean the race is basically over. After weeks of mostly bad press and sinking polls, she would be this year’s “Comeback Kid” by doing “better than expected.” (Her husband, after all, got to be 1992’s Comeback Kid by finishing second in New Hampshire to Sen. Paul Tsongas; the numerous reasons to think that Tsongas’ victory was more impressive than Bill Clinton’s silver medal didn’t matter.) Five days of good media would seal a victory for Hillary in New Hampshire, and the brief holiday from inevitability would be over.

The mainstream media is supposed to be much weaker in 2008 than it was in 1992, when there was no blogosphere, barely an Internet, no Fox News or MSNBC, etc. Its ability to forge a master narrative has been permanently subverted. Perhaps. But front-loading the primaries was supposed to diminish the role of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nominating process, yet so far has only enhanced their importance. The fact that the herd of opinion makers is much bigger now than it was 16 years ago may mean only that the herd mentality is more powerful now than it was then, and the 2008 stampede will be quicker and more decisive than 1992’s.

2008 will be the first election since 1952 in which neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president is running for the presidency. A large majority of the electorate has no recollection of a race in which both parties’ nominations are seriously contested. There could be surprises and ambiguities in both parties. A final question that will emerge in the 48 hours after the caucuses conclude is whether the media has the power to shape two ambiguous results into one master narrative. If it does, then there will be only one big story coming out of Iowa. Does a Mitt Romney victory make him the Comback Kid, diminishing a Clinton victory and making an inconclusive muddle for the Democrats possible after all? Does a Mike Huckabee victory constitute big news or old news, making him the Paul Tsongas of 2008 for meeting expectations that he was unfortunate enough to raise a news cycle too early, rather than late enough for his victory to be “dramatic”? Never has the advice, “Stay tuned,” been more appropriate.

China as Paper Tiger

It would appear that Western experts have overestimated the size and power of China’s economy, by around forty percent. Worries that China is on the verge of overtaking the United States as the world’s economic powerhouse now appear vastly overblown.

Tax Heresy!

Okay, sit down for this bit of heresy from me:

Keep the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)!

I dislike the AMT as much as the next guy, as it nicks me pretty hard every year. But one reason Democrats are terrified of it is that it hits hardest the high-tax blue states, which typically have higher state income and property taxes that can’t be deducted under the AMT, such as New York and New Jersey. As such the AMT is a modified flat tax.

Cast your mind back for a moment to the debate over the original Reagan tax reform proposal of 1986. Reagan’s first plan would have ended for everyone the deductability of state and local taxes in return for lower rates across the board. The chief opponent of this was New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who knew that it was a de facto tax hike for New Yorkers. The point is, deductability of state and local taxes is a de facto federal subsidy for high tax states, and therefore a buttress for liberalism.

Reagan’s original proposal was dropped, but the non-deductability of state taxes lived on in the AMT, and is now biting blue state folks hard since it was not indexed to inflation.

Pat Buchanan, in 1986 Reagan’s communications director, got the matter right with this pungent comment in defense of Reagan’s initial proposal: “We do not believe in a neo-socialist approach to government that redistributes wealth. This plan will force people to take a second look at government and see what they are getting from it.” Cuomo called it “wrong, insulting, unfair, and denigrating.” Heh: That’s why I like it.

It is fun watching liberals squirm over this. They hate to give up the money, but their own constituents will be increasingly up in arms so long as the AMT lasts. It can’t be "patched" every year forever. Look for the Democratic Congress to repeal it outright before long.


I’m very late in commenting on events of the past week--travels, site troubles here, and trying to get a chunk of work done have kept me away from the keyboard. Anyway, for a while now I’ve been telling people who ask me that what really keeps people awake at night in Washington is not Iraq, or Iran, but Pakistan. If it slips under the waves, look out. It is not merely that terrorists might gain access to nukes, but the prospect that India might feel the need to launch a pre-emptive war. That India would like to have a go at Pakistan is no secret, but remarkably undiscussed. Pres. Clinton apparently had to intervene strongly to prevent the outbreak of war ten years ago; maybe it’s a bad thing Hillary didn’t attend NSC meetings.