Was held yesterday, and a fine time was had by all.
Students from Berry College, Oglethorpe, and Mercer University were impressive in offering their thoughts on the state of contemporary politics. The most interesting--albeit unsurprising--observation was that on all three campuses--two of which could with some accuracy be called "evangelical"--the political energy is apparently focused on Obama. One young man from Mercer opined that the apathetic Republicans on his campus could probably outvote the Obamaniacs, but they couldn’t outwork or out-emote them.
Peter Lawler’s panel on liberalism and conservatism was "fair and balanced." Peter has already offered you the core of his analysis on the warrior and the preacher, both communitarian (and to some degree complementary) alternatives to "creeping (and creepy) libertarianism." Bryan McGraw offered serious doubts as to whether there would be a substantial evangelical drift leftward. Susan McWilliams deployed her inimitable and entertaining version of left Calvinism on behalf of beer-drenched communitarianism (although I have it on pretty good authority than John Calvin himself was a wine-drinker). Matt Franck brought Tocqueville to bear (in a good way) on Liberal Fascism and sorta kinds promised to make a version of his remarks available (eventually) on Bench Memos. The AJC’s Jay Bookman told us that conservatism was the ideological equivalent of an orchid that couldn’t survive outside the hothouse.
The elections panel, chaired by Berry’s Eric Sands, featured Alan Abramowitz telling us, quite persuasively (with numbers and pictures) that the Democrats enjoy a structural advantage this year, that, historically, partisan and conservative Republicans turn out much more reliably than their squishier brethren, that the only chance McCain has this year is to appeal to independents (roughly 10% of the electorate), who in 2006 looked more Democratic than Republican, and that therefore McCain should spend more time being himself than mending fences with the base. Bear in mind that this advice comes from someone who is a very sharp and solid electoral analyst, especially for Demcorats. If all things were equal, that might be sound advice, but McCain has to raise a pile of money, and it ain’t going to come from independents. Jay Cost made the case that McCain’s triumph was the final culmination of the party’s loss of control of its label. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version of that argument over at his blog sometime soon. As befits a political theorist and student of Lincoln, Jon Schaff argued that individuals and campaigns matter. I hope we’ll see a version of his argument at SDP or elsewhere. Finally, Eric Sands lamented the loss of dignity in contemporary politics, at least in the ominating process. I’m not sure who his guy was or is in the race, but it sounded to me like the lament of a Thompson supporter.
After a fine dinner surrounded by beautiful objets d’art, we reconvened to hear Jonah Goldberg talk about his book. He rehearses the arguments well and wittily. I remain of the opinion that the principal practical benefits to come from his argument will be the problematizing of the word fascism as applied to people like me and the problematizing of the word progressive as applied to people not like me. I think he does a very good job linking pragmatism, progressivism, socialism, and fascism (carefully defined so as not simply to mean "whatever Hitler did"). He also makes a compelling case for the argument that identifying fascism with the right comes above all from the propagandistic efforts of Stalin’s USSR, which had a bone to pick with the nationalist (as opposed to internationalist) left. I’ll have more later, as will Jonah, sometime after he arrives at the next stop on his book tour. In the meantime, you can sample a couple of local reactions.
Update: I neglected to mention that another of the chief virtues of Jonah’s book is that it mentions my place of employment, which hosted this smiley-faced fascistic commencement address, which JG also notes here. Another element that connects my employer to Jonah’s theme is a fellow by the name of James Woodrow, the first Georgian to hold the Ph.D., who happens to have been someone’s uncle.
Update #2: Safely back home in northern South Dakota, Jon Schaff has more.
Update #3: Matt Franck has posted his remarks.