From various recent issues of the Economist: the Chinese navy is operating off the coast of east Africa for the first time since the 15th century; China now has more internet users than the United States; “in 2007, India had slightly more mobile phone users than America and China had more than twice as many;” “the number of middle class people in Asia has overtaken the number in the west for the first time since 1700.”
To follow up on Julie’s fine post, I’d thought I’d post a few paragraphs from the talk I’m giving tomorrow:
Most of our sophisticated “bourgeois bohemians” today take pride in both their autonomy (Kant) and their productivity (Hobbes). They are, as we way, increasingly libertarian or pro-choice both socially and economically. In both cases, they’re all about the person freely choosing against nature and for him- or herself. Because there’s no dignity in acting according to natural instinct, Hobbes and Kant incline us to think that there’s no dignity in being either begetting or belonging beings—in being social, gregarious animals. So part of being autonomous is refusing to be determined by doing what comes naturally, by, for example, having babies. That’s why today’s productive and autonomous woman is so insistent about her reproductive freedom, in refusing to subject herself to the tyranny of her body’s baby-making equipment and her natural inclination to be a mom. That’s also why our sophisticates affirm the autonomous claim to the right to same-sex marriage; no free human institution can be constrained by biological imperatives. Two or more autonomous beings can come together for any purpose they choose, and marriage should be nothing but the public affirmation of the dignity of that personal choice.
Because there’s no dignity in living according to nature, the perspectives of both productivity and autonomy also accord no dignity to living well with our limits, with what we can’t or even shouldn’t change. There’s no dignity in living with well with death or in being grateful for the human goods that depends upon our mortality or finite existence in this world. Productivity is about fending death off as long as possible. Nature’s victory over each of us may be inevitable but its timing is quite indefinite, and so there’s no need to accept nonbeing. And the idea of autonomy can’t help but point us in the direction of hatred of our bodies and their control over us. The goal is to be able to live as if nature doesn’t determine us at all. Our autonomy freaks are in rebellion against all those institutions that having bodily limits make necessary as truthful reflections of who we are—such as the family, the nation, and the church. The autonomous being lives in humanitarian or cosmopolitan detachment from such parochial constraints.
Productivity and autonomy both point in the direction of “transhumanism”—a free existence unlimited by bodily constraints. So productivity and autonomy are both incredibly unerotic; the incompleteness that animates the various forms of love is undignified. Disembodied eros may well be an oxymoron; even God had to become man to display his personal love for us. Both productivity and autonomy suggest that there’s dignity in separating sex from birth and death or making it completely recreational or an absolutely free expression of who I am. The productive view is that the only limitations to sexual behavior should be SAFETY and CONSENT. A free being does what he or she pleases so long as it doesn’t bring a body into existence, cause a body’s demise, or tyrannizes over another free being. A productive being doesn’t let love or sex get in the way of work. And the autonomous being refuses to allow love—the result of mere biological instinct running amok—to produce undignified or unfree behavior. So it’s no wonder that we live in a particularly UNEROTIC time. Neither the productive nor the autonomous being can extend his or her erotic imagination to include families, children, countries, or maybe even friends and lovers in the full sense.
Food, in fact, has become more exciting—more a dangerous liaison and risky business--than sex. We’re increasingly paranoid, puritanical, and prohibitionist when it comes to food from a health and safety perspective. Gluttony is a vice that can kill you, or it can at least make you fat and less pretty and pleasing and so productive. But sex can kill only if it gets mixed up with too much love—like in the case or Romeo and Juliet--or is unsafe. The truth, the bourgeois bohemian says, is that you can’t get too much safe, recreational sex, and it’s puritanical and prohibitionist to think otherwise. How bohemian could it be to make SEX that unerotic and FOOD that scary? “Safe sex” is the bourgeois view of sex, and obsessive calorie and carb counting is the bourgeois view of food.
George Will writes a provocative essay in today’s Washington Post examining a recent Policy Review article by Mary Eberstadt which asks whether we haven’t witnessed a reversal of moral attitudes regarding food and sex. In other words, we are food prudes and sex gluttons where we used to be quite the reverse. Will wonders whether this means that we’re in for another renaissance of sexual mores as--following the trend with regard to food--we become ever more inclined to replace a moral compass with strict evidence from the empirical record. It turns out that the empirical evidence is proving that smorgasbord sex is about as healthy for your body as an all you can eat buffet full of red meat and sweets. No serious reader of Aristotle or ordinary grandmother with common sense is probably surprised by these findings. Lack of moderation in most things can be expected to have both moral and physical consequences.
What concerns me, however, is the increasing (and ironic!) Puritanism that I see bubbling beneath the surface of these reversals. The generation of today’s food police go too far. They cling too tightly and rigidly to their empirical evidence about the health effects of food. If nutrition were the only reason for eating, they’d have a point. But human beings and human bodies are not mere machines operating on a fueling schedule. Those who infuse (or confuse) nutrition with morality take all the joy out of eating and, thereby, make it less human. And those who insisted on the inherent joy of every kind of miscellaneous sex similarly sucked all the joy out of it and made it inhuman by making it more animal. We may get some nominal improvement in our situation if the sexual libertines become infused with this material concern for the health of the body and begin to call for some more restraint with regard to sex. But in the most important (that is to say, the most human) respect we’re still going to be missing something. A morality based only on the importance of the body and health will not concern itself either with joy or with love. After all, the healthiest kind of sex (if we’re talking only about physical health) would be something akin to a breeding program or mere self-gratification of a Seinfeld brand. And with today’s reproductive technology, one could easily imagine a movement toward a completely sexless world (though I remain dubious about the potential popularity of such a movement). The irony of all ironies is that as we have become more and more obsessed with the vulgar things we are pleased to imagine are erotic, we have become less and less erotic. The only way to preserve true eroticism is to preserve true morality and moderation. The only way to get a true morality is to really understand what it means to be a human being.
I will be speaking tomorrow night at 7 at Bowdoin College in Maine on "The Greatness and Misery of Our Bourgeois Bohemians" OR "Why Productivity Trumps Autonomy Every Time" OR "Why Libertarian Self-Actualization is an Oxymoron."
On the speeches: The most obvious FACT is that our president spoke well and with confidence. Another obvious fact is that Bobby Jindal sounded like a nervous assistant guidance counselor speaking to fifth graders and said nothing memorable at all. The governor was much better on the TODAY show in getting his message across about why he was turning down a portion of the stimulus. He has a lot of rhetorical work to do, and PETE should volunteer to be his speech writer. Our president didn’t inspire confidence in me because words don’t really trump deeds. I’ve already explained why I think his key policies are misguided. But the MSM fawned and fawned, and there are good reasons why ordinary Americans distrust the stimulus but still trust the MAN.
My extended essay on recent environmental books, focusing especially on the theme of growing environmental hostility to the institutions of liberal democracy, is now up over at the Claremont Review of Books. (Disclosure/warning: There is also a contribution in this issue from some nobody named Schramm, Peter.)
ALL the studies show that all "end of" authors are always wrong. The liberals and allegedly recovering conservatives who are trumpeting conservatism’s demise are too ideological about "ideology" and forget that the great conservative Burke would regard pragmatism as yet another pernicious "ism."
Megan McArdle’s comments: "I’ve noticed an upsurge in liberal blogs claiming that of course, borrowers don’t bear any responsibility for their current straitened circumstances. After all, there are two parties in a transaction, and the lenders are professionals and should have known better."
Here’s Benjamin Franklin on an 18th Century version of the problem:
We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o’clock, and another when he had done his day’s work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos’d, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under.
There’s, for example, a prominent physicist famous for his neo-Malthusian warnings about stuff that hasn’t and won’t happen. Cutting carbon emissions significantly probably won’t happen and might well not make much difference. But scientists associated with both parties ignore the real possibility of just removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere altogether. The truth is that the Greens just don’t want to believe that there can be technological fix for a technological problem, while their opponents often won’t acknowledge that there’s a problem that needs fixing. The evidence so far, to say the least, is that Obama is not keeping his pompous and misleading promise not to wage partisan war against real science. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)
First Xenophon, and now. . . This is almost too ironic to be true: Locke Expected to Be Commerce Nominee.
OR to what extent is courage primarily a virtue for men? The manly Mansfield observes that women, today, might be more in need of courage than ever. But it’s also true, as his female interlocutor (Ayaan Hiris Ali) adds, that our enemies despise us because they think of us all as being as weak as women.
I’m not saying I know the answer, but, with the help of the always provocative Ralph Peters, I am asking. Could it be that a surge was the only real alternative in Iraq, but a very imprudent alternative in Afghanistan?
The Dow fell again, now to 1997 levels. Confidence is sagging. No kidding. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama and his team (as people still like to say, but now with less gusto) have not yet been capable of instilling confidence that they know what to do. Charles Krauthammer is quoted from Fridayï¿½s Fox News (just a couple hundred words), the short of it: "The markets are responding remarkably, exquisitely, sensitively to political events, much more in than in the past. And the reason is for the last year we have had huge intervention of the government in the markets and the banks, in autos. So it is not just a reaction to economic news, but to whatï¿½s happening in Washington." And this is a nice summary from Investorï¿½s Business Daily. And then there is the issue of possibly nationalizing the banks (This took a bit of an explanation to my mother the other night. Is this possible son? No, no, Mom, this is America, says I with wink toward Hucklebery Finn and his stretchers; why upset my old Mom.): This story indicates that it will not happen. That would surely be the end of regaining confidence and trust...for a long while.
This time from the Washington Times. It praises Norrell’s book, but is otherwise unrevealing. In the meantime, Up From History makes the New York Times "Editor’s Choice" list. I’m glad everyone--left and right--is praising this good book. It gives Mr. Washington a chance to take his rightful place in the pantheon of American greats.
James Piereson discussed his book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism at our Colloquium Friday. His point is that the surprising reaction to JFK’s death stalled the progress of liberalism and led to a change in its meaning. Although his book makes this more clear than his talk--he spends more time than he should on the assassination history itself--it is still very good and his point is unmistakable.
There’s nothing new here, but these words are from a particularly respected mainstream economist who is, in principle, a stimulus hawk. Using the stimulus for unrelated policy goals radically decreases its stimulating power, and spending increases for particular programs--although allegedly temporary--will be just about impossible to reduce later. The economic logic of stimulation has probably been fatally compromised by politics.
The more I ponder the current economic troubles, the more I am growing to think that it is quite possible that we understand the problem so poorly, and that we are so bad at guessing what the likely consequences of our actions will be, that it is entirely possible that there is nothing that the government can do that will make it better. Sometimes life is difficult. Sometimes the efforts to minimize the difficulty make it more difficult, and sometimes they don’t. The trouble is, we often don’t know which is the case until we’ve guessed at an answer, and perhaps not even then. In short, it might be that he root of some of our disquiet is a reluctance to admit that human intelligence cannot solve all of our problems. Politicians don’t like to admit that--it makes their job less important. But we’re all guilty, or, at least, most of us are.
That’s the just accusation of THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Wieseltier against our president. He should trumpet the grandeur of liberalism, which is the grandeur of big government, including the stimulus package as social policy. Obama might respond that if he were to admit he were a liberal in the grand tradition of his party, then conservatives, whatever their American differences (and including even Dr. Pat Deneen), might summon the courage to unite against him, in the name of the free market (libertarians) or subsidiarity (traditionalists, observant biblical believers, natalists, localists, and agrarians) or the truth about human greatness (Tocquevillians). Lots of conservatives, of course, would embrace more than one of these causes (true Lincolnians and American Thomists, for example). (I just noticed that Steve H posted the same article, but I’m on a roll and am not de-posting. My apologies to Steve.)
Leon Wieseltier lays out in this week’s New Republic much the same point I was suggesting last week in the Wall Street Journal, namely that liberals have forgotten or lost the ability to argue from first principles.
This story is almost as revealing about the Democrat strategy to be deployed against Jindal as it is about GOP strategy in deploying him. Politics isn’t going to be boring in the next few years. We know that much.
Eugene Volokh sheds light on the doings of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center:
Types of Hate Speech
We identified four types of speech that, through negative statements, create a climate of hate and prejudice: (1) false facts [including "simple falsehoods, exaggerated statements, or decontextualized facts [that] rendered the statements misleading"], (2) flawed argumentation, (3) divisive language, and (4) dehumanizing metaphors.
For those who have not studied 1798 in a while.
a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel. A statement is seditious if it "brings into hatred or contempt" the Queen or her heirs, or the government and constitution, or either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice, or if it incites people to attempt to change any matter of Church or State established by law (except by lawful means), or if it promotes discontent among or hostility between British subjects. A person is only guilty of the offence if they intend any of the above outcomes. Proving that the statement is true is not a defence. It is punishable with life imprisonment.
I talked with Steve yesterday about President Obama’s first month in office. Just what you would expect: a good, whirlwind conversation, broad-ranging, even amusing. Thanks Steve!
Our own William Voegeli has a very thoughtful and compelling essay in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he examines the roots of the inclination on the left to always consider themselves to be on the inside of the joke their making on the rest of the country. It fits nicely with the theme discussed below on the question of anti-intellectualism on the right. It’s not so much that conservatives disdain intellectual activity or intellectual arguments or even that they disdain the so-called intellectuals themselves--argues Voegeli. It’s that we live in a time where intellectual arguments have a promiscuous sort of grounding beneath them or, worse yet, they have no grounding at all. In other words, we do not trust the common premises of their arguments because they do not share common premises. In speaking of William Buckley’s famously half quoted notion that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty at Harvard, Voegeli notes that people rarely give Buckley’s explanation for this provocative point. It is not, Voegeli notes, because he thinks there is something inherently more intelligent or virtuous about those random people. It is not because of something that their nature makes them more likely to possess but, rather, because of something in their circumstances that makes them NOT likely to possess impiety.
Buckley’s position, then, is not really populist. The ism of populism is the idea that the people are inherently more sound and virtuous than the elites. Buckley is saying, less categorically, that we live in an age when the people happen to possess better judgment than the professors. If the reverse were true, if the professors had more respect than the people for God’s laws and tradition’s wisdom, Buckley’s argument would have favored entrusting government pari passu (as he would have said) to scholars instead of citizens.Another choice quote is this:
Thus, if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major.And this:
Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.But read the whole thing.
It’s pessimistic (=realistic), non-triumphalist, and identifies patriotism with traditionalism and localism. So it’s not patriotic in the senses of Reagan or Lee Greenwood
The models of virtue for these American conservatives can be found on THE WALTONS. I admit that I enjoy the Waltons (except for that annoying John-boy) in a romantic and selectively nostalgic way. I find LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE more realistic, though. And for a contemporary model of American virtue, I’m more likely to turn to KING OF THE HILL. Let me add, though, is that one fine thing about the Waltons is that the virtue it displays is southern, and so Pat is acknowledging that there’s something good about the South.
This author says that conservatives are naturally repulsed by the idea of a public intellectual. That’s not because they’re dumb, but because there’s something too fancy and citified about the intellectual’s vain concern with status. Intellectuals are those we can trust to have something important and INTERESTING to say. Still, we can’t help but notice that New York and DC do seem to have a good number of well known figures who think conservative and act intellectual. Are their souls torn apart by some inauthentic internal contradiction? Or have they just found a cool niche market as conservative intellectuals? (Thanks to Ivan the K.)
A color-blind act, to be sure, from the grace-ful Wheat&Weeds .
It turns out that most of Obama’s seemingly cool ad libbing at his campaign events was teleprompted. Not only that, the experts think that the allegedly unscripted remarks at his press conference actually seemed too scripted. The proposed remedy: Put a small teleprompter in the podium in the press conference room to allow the experts to perfect the appearance of spontaneity.
As the Stock Market dropped almost 300 points today (circa 3.7%), you might want to note that there is more cash "available to buy shares than at any time in almost two decades, a sign to some of the most successful investors that equities will rebound after the worst year for U.S. stocks since the Great Depression.
The $8.85 trillion held in cash, bank deposits and money- market funds is equal to 74 percent of the market value of U.S. companies, the highest ratio since 1990, according to Federal Reserve data compiled by Leuthold Group and Bloomberg." What does this mean? Some smart guys think that it may be "a sign the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will rise after $1 trillion in credit losses sent the benchmark index for American equities to the biggest annual drop since 1931. The eight previous times that cash peaked compared with the market’s capitalization the S&P 500 rose an average 24 percent in six months, data compiled by Bloomberg show." You’re in the weeds now, so might as well read the whole thing. It may be time to invest.
Kevin Hassett writes a provocative piece today for Bloomberg in which he asks whether we can’t pin some of the blame for Wall Street’s troubles on the so-called "education" received in American universities by the majority of folks making up the workforce there. It’s an interesting argument to ponder, even if it doesn’t explain everything. I’m willing to believe that a good deal of the problem we’re facing today can be traced back to the entitlement mentality fostered on the majority of American college campuses but I’d extend the scope of that infection pretty far beyond Wall Street. And if I were running an American university today and faced with a looming recession, declining enrollment, and so on . . . I’d probably start thinking about what my university could do to start bucking this tired old trend and start selling it. People are going to be looking for something more solid and sensible and worthy of their investment in the coming years.
Last week I brought to your attention the concerns of Senator Jim DeMint about the unreasonable nature of legislation intended to reduce the risk of importing and selling goods meant for children with high lead content. Today I bring to your attention a report from Walter Olson in The City Journal wherein he discusses the impact of this law on second-hand bookshops, libraries, and thrift stores. It turns out that books printed before 1985 very often used a lead-based ink. So you can imagine what is happening and, of course, what is being lost as a result. Isn’t it comforting to know that the same geniuses who designed Fannie and Freddie, brought us TARP and now offer us this miraculous stimulus package also have the time to exercise so much concern for our safety and welfare as to ban books that they think will make us sick? I wonder if I’ll be liable for second-hand lead poisoning if I read an old book in the car when my kids are present . . .
...according to David Brooks. People continue to want to move out and move West. They’re not so interested in returning to crowded cities and bicycles. To be more exact, the young are attracted to old cities and the "new urbanism" as a form of extended adolescence, but there’s scant evidence that the future of the American family is in Americanized versions of Amsterdam. And one reason our citizens stubbornly persist in preferring McDonald’s to Starbucks is that the former now clearly has better coffee, even by bourgeois bohemian standards.
I just caught this NRO piece by Allen Guelzo in which he surveys colleges and Lincoln courses therein. He concludes that Lincoln has trouble getting into college; but not at Ashland.
Do note that Guelzo has the cover story, "The Conservative Lincoln," in the current hard-copy issue of National Review (not available on line). It’s first-class. Do get it and read it. The subtitle of the piece is "Obama he was not."
UPDATE: Legal scholar Free Frank reminds us in the thread that Presidents' Day was the brainchild of President Nixon. Congress never okayed the change, which means that, technically, we are only celebrating Washington's Birthday. So we should ask: "If Washington had an iPod..." today.
...is out, with an article by ME. It’s not available online yet, which is why you subscribe or pick it up at your newstand. The first five or so of you that send me your complete address in a way that’s easy to forward will receive a free copy.
Lincoln Prize winners for 2009 are two books on Lincoln as war president, by James McPherson and Craig Symonds. Shelby Steele reviews Robert Norrell’s new biography of Booker T. Washington. While worthwhile, it merely whets my appetite for Schramm’s forthcoming review. Finally, in case you haven’t seen it already, here’s C-SPAN’s Lincoln archive , including reenactments of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
My friends and neighbors--including students--willing to give me a hearing were gracious and many good private conversations have happened as a result, from taverns to supermarkets. Even though the bias--for which I am grateful--in this Whig area of the country (the town is named after Henry Clay’s estate in Kentucky) is in favor of Lincoln--both his mind and ways--it is fair to say many are surprised by Lincoln’s facility of expression and lucidity of thought. I meant to use his characterization of Douglas’ popular sovereignty, but forgot: "as thin as homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pidgeon that had starved to death."
A number of folks have asked me to list a few history books about Lincoln that are accessible to the general reader. So here are a few:
Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President has to rank as one of the best biographies, along with Charnwood’s Biography, which might be a bit off-putting to some because the prose is less familiar today (originally published in 1916); yet he captures the essence of his statesmanship and character as well as anyone. I think Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is very good for the period of presidency; it is never misleading, and reads like a novel. This very short biography James McPherson is quite good. I didn’t think it possible to be able to do it in under seventy pages! Allen Guelzo’s Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction is almost as short, and is also excellent. Another just published biography, well written and not short, is by Ronald C. White.
Nalin’s interpretation is ingenious, innovative, and ably and admirably defends both the wisdom and the nobility of Socrates. At no extra charge, you get an introduction--"Our Hero, Socrates"--by ME.
Here’s a quote from ME: "Ransinghe shows us a Socrates old and beautiful, the hero most needed to remedy what ails an aging society consumed by image and vanity. He helps us to appreciate that Socrates is the anti-technological thinker most able to show us how to benefit from our technological progress. This Socrates gives us confidence that the best way to win friends and influence people is through truth and love."
It was achieved behind closed doors in response to Obama’s gloomy words exaggerating the prospect of doom. The right word to describe the messy package is WASTEFUL. But we shouldn’t use that word, because confidence in its stimulating effects is the key to stimulating our ANIMAL SPIRITS. If the stimulus works, it’s as a placebo to get investors investing.
Here are some very thoughtful comments by Ivan the K. People who care about people--and human freedom--have to admit that Lincoln was more important than Darwin. But Darwin, to be fair, was a great critic of the idea of personal importance or significance.
Warner wonders whether making the transition from CYNIC to DEMOCRATIC LEADER is above our president’s paygrade. There’s some encouraging rhetorical evidence, but it’s yet to be matched by deeds. (Frank and our Pete, in my opinion, are the most astute [and so somewhat appreciative] critics of Obama around.)
I’m not only missing Bush, I’m beginning to miss Rice! It’s that bad. See, for example, this story on an American base in Kyrgyzstan , which was important in the Iraq war. Now the Kyrgyz want to boot the Americans.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to oust the Americans [from their base] after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow last week. The Russians insisted, however, that they had nothing to do with the decision, saying the aid package had been under discussion for months.
The Washington Times reported last week that the Obama administration was prepared to engage in a bidding war with Russia to retain access to the base, which is a major hub for U.S. troops and cargo. It warned the Kyrgyz that they might be hoodwinked by the Russian offer, and that keeping the base open would be more beneficial to them than the aid package, which includes loans and grants.
I tweaked a former Kyrgyz student of mine, for its tilt to Moscow. She responded in turn:
Based on mass media resources I see that US wants to cooperate with Russia on major issues as anti-missile defence, terrorism, etc. I also read that Vice President of US stated that US was open for cooperation with Russia on the international conference in Germany. Politicians say that that was the first reaction of the new administration toward American-Russian relations. I see changes.
If the U.S. wants to get along with Russia, so do the Kyrgyz!
And very topical to our current economy: Four minutes of Lewis C K on Conan O’Brien.
I neglected to mention that while Steve has been busy today gracing the pages of the Wall Street Journal and hanging with Neil Cavuto on cable T.V., and while Lawler was busy talking about important topics at a conference with Bill Kristol and Mark Blitz, and Schramm spent his afternoon addressing a large gathering at Ashland on Lincoln’s Bicentennial, I had the pleasure of spending my morning with 28 fourth graders and talking to them about Abraham Lincoln.
We began with what they knew and, typically, the first thing that they were pleased to report on that score was that Mr. Lincoln wore a size 14 shoe. So I learned something too--there was give and take. I was allotted half an hour for the talk but, because I did not lecture and instead engaged them in a conversation, an hour had passed before I even noticed that we were going over my time. I apologized but they insisted that I stay and they continued to pepper me with questions and demand explanations. They were fascinated with the hardships of Lincoln’s life but were even more astonished by the great joy he took in reading, memorizing and talking. Before it was over, they had read (with highlighters in hand) the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, discussed why Lincoln found them so striking, read the Gettysburg address (and done the math)and discussed what might be the difference between a self-evident truth and a proposition. They even discussed the idea of consecration (as in "we cannot consecrate") and ended by suggesting to me that what we ought to do, instead of consecrating Gettysburg or Lincoln or anything/one else, is to continue to work to make sure that we and our nation are dedicated to the proposition in the Declaration and that, if the time ever (God forbid) comes, we are ready to do our part to consecrate it. As I said, there was give and take. It is safe to say that I took more than I gave from this morning. Thanks, especially, to these 4th graders for making it a certain thing that I will never believe anyone who tells me that it is impossible to get kids interested in American history.
That Abraham Lincoln is worth remembering 200 years after his birth is self-evident. Much can be said about him, and I will say a few words at a talk here today, and we will say more in the upcoming issue of On Principle which is going to press today (ten good essays...well, nine, plus mine), but for now let me just bring to your attention a passage from Fred Kaplan’s book, Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer in which he points to a passage in Lincoln’s Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society and re-arranges it typografically and says this: "the paragraph reveals a free verse poem of sophisticated triadic phrases, alliteration and assonance, and a delayed climactic phrase that remembers the first sentence, providing both recognition and unity." He calls it "Lincoln’s best poem." Read aloud, please.
Every blade of grass is a study;
And to produce two,
Where there was but one,
Is both a profit and a pleasure.
And not grass alone;
But soils, seeds, and seasons
Hedges, ditches, and fences,
Draining, droughts, and irrigation
Plowing, hoeing, and harrowing
Reaping, mowing, and threshing
Saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops,
And what will prevent or cure them
Implements, utensils, and machines,
Their relative merits,
And [how] to improve them
Hogs, horses, and cattle
Sheep, goats, and poultry
Trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers
The thousand things
Of which these are specimens
Each a world of study within itself.
National Review kindly asked me to contribute to their symposium on the Best 25 All-Time Conservative Movies. My contribution, ranked #10, is up over at The Corner this morning.
Me in today’s Wall Street Journal on why Obama got off to a bad start--and may not get any better.
UPDATE: I’ve been booked on the Neil Cavuto Show on Fox Business News channel at 6 pm eastern time to chat about my article. Tune in if you have cable or satellite TV.
How did Bernie Madoff get away get away with it? His crime was too simple to be believed:
In reality, the SEC is already one of (if not the)most well funded and professional federal agencies. SEC staff make way more money than most federal employees, and that is out of necessity because the SEC has to recruit people out of very highly paid private sector positions. I work with the SEC staff on a regular basis, and have a number of close personal friends at the agency. They are most definitely NOT suffering from a lack of funding, morale or White House support for a strong investor protection mission. According to my acquaintances, the Madoff failure was simply a big screw up. The SEC is very good at rooting out sophisticated fraud, especially in accounting gimicks. But they, like most human beings, are simply not that good at identifying accounting statements that are simply made up out of whole cloth. Hindsight is 20-20 though and I’m sure plenty of people will be calling for heads to roll.
Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg has a nice column about the so-called centerists in the Senate who supported the porkapalooza "stimulus" bill. His reflections put me in mind of an old saying from Texas made popular by Jim Hightower.
Now I never cared much for Hightower’s "populist" aka socialist politics. But he had this right: "The only thing you find in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead skunks." Fits Specter to a tee, don’t you think?
I will be speaking on LIBERALISM AND THE FUTURE OF NATIONS tomorrow (at 9:30 a.m.) at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. If you come to hear ME, you’ll also get to hear Mark Blitz and Bill Kristol, among others.
According to Charles Kesler, our president is the prophet of American unexceptionalism.
Obama is reminding me more and more of the John Cleese character in the Monty Python skit about the highway robber Dennis Moore, who says in exasperation: "Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is tricker than I thought!" But I think I’ve figured out his secret plan: Simply destroy enough wealth and you won’t need to redistribute it. Churchill nailed it with his characterization of socialism: The equal sharing of miseries.
Cross posted at The Corner.
UPDATE: From Jay Leno last night: The economy is so bad Obama’s new slogan is "Spare change you can believe in."
I think this is going to come back to haunt Democrats come election time next year:
From Robert J.Samuelson’s latest column:
The real collapse has occurred in securities markets. Since the 1980s, many debts (mortgages, credit card debts) have been "securitized" into bonds and sold to investors -- pension funds, mutual funds, banks and others. Here, credit flows have vaporized, reports Thomson Financial. In 2007, securitized auto loans totaled $73 billion; in 2008, they were $36 billion. In 2007, securitized commercial mortgages for office buildings and other projects were $246 billion; in 2008, $16 billion. These declines were typical.
This is the best laugh I’ve had in while. (YouTube video; about 4 minutes long.)
...whether or not government STIMULI really work. Our born-again faith in being stimulated is based in some mixture of hubris and anxiety. Still, this might be a really good time build lots of highways and other infrastructure stuff, for reasons having nothing to do with stimulation.
...when it comes to press conferences, even his friends admit. (Truth to tell, it turns out he’s not even a Bill Clinton.) I may need to revise my judgment that he’s a cool ad libber.
By now, you've probably heard about the President's attempt to tweak the initiative, renaming the office and expanding somewhat its mandate. If you leave aside the breathless media accounts of his efforts, the most measured response I've seen is this one, written by two prominent evangelicals long involved in these issues.
Candidate Obama called for an "all hands on deck" approach to our social problems, with government as the senior partner and the payer of the piper. He said much about the evils of religious discrimination and not much about the wonders of religious freedom. That was disheartening and led me to fear that he would follow the lead of his erstwhile Congressional colleagues and sacrifice religious hiring rights on the altar of equality. He may still do that, but not in one swell foop. Instead, we're told, the new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (so different from the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives!) will consult with the Department of Justice about the law and these rights on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps, then, the Obama Administration will nibble away at religious hiring rights somewhat out of the limelight, avoiding the public repudiation of them embraced by candidate Obama. And I have a hard time believing that the President will spend any political chips resisting the efforts of Congressional Democrats to promote equality and non-discrimination at the expense of religious liberty.
In other words, I think that the President is trying to extend his honeymoon a bit, but that, in the end, the only deckhands he'll really welcome are those who are willing to serve secular governmental ends in a secular governmental way.
One last point: the new head of the OFBNP, Joshua DuBois, seems to get high marks from everyone. I can't speak from any experience of him, up close or at a distance, which is only to say that he wasn't involved in the substance of these issues during the Bush Administration. I will note that he comes to this position from the political side of Obama's life (is there any other?) and that he lacks the stature and long-standing experience with faith-based social services that all those associated with the Bush Administration efforts had. Perhaps this is a good thing, on some level, for if this version of the faith-based initiative is closer to the political heart of the Obama Administration, perhaps folks outside the OBNP will take it seriously, which seemed always to be the problem in the Bush Administration.
But then let's not delude ourselves about the nature of this initiative: its goal is above all to keep the religious Left engaged (as opposed to enraged) and to charm those theologically and socially conservative evangelicals who are charmable.
Update: I slightly revise and extend my remarks here. I'm ultimately working toward some sort of op-ed, so feedback is welcome.
We put together a special section on Abraham Lincoln in honor of his 200th birthday over at TeachingAmericanHistory.org that you might find interesting or useful. Take a look at the lessons plans Moser, Morel, and others did for NEH, if you haven’t already seen them. They’re terrific.
Here is his farewell speech in Springfield, February 11, 1861: "My friends———No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
Jeff Sikkenga is going to speak at The Villages (Florida) next week, for President’s Day. The title of his talk is "What Makes a Great President: President’s Day Lessons from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln." The talk is Monday, February 16th, at 2 p.m., and I recommend it. If you are in the area, drop in. Sikkenga is a smart guy and a good speaker.
David Forte writes a thoughtful piece reflecting on the striking similarities between Barack Obama’s approach to the Presidency and the approach of a certain American president from the middle of the nineteenth century. No, not THAT president. Forte also examines the ways in which the tired comparisons between Lincoln and Obama are little more than window dressing.
Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:
Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter February’s drawing.
I just noticed that John Zvesper’s "Political Philosophy and Rhetoric: A Study of the Origins of American Party Politics," is back in print (paperback) from Cambridge. Pricey, but worth it. Also note that the, what to call it, less philosophical--and more readable--version of it, called "From Bullets to Ballots" is avaliable here for free (note the good documents section as well).
A handsome volume landed on my desk yesterday (also from Cambridge) by Colleen Sheehan: "James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government". I read about twenty pages into it and then had to force myself to put it aside (to go back to Lincoln) because it was so enticingly written I was afraid that, out of control, I would read it all now. It’s hard to be moderate sometimes. You should look at this book as soon as you are able to allow yourself pleasure.
Well, I’ve now seen REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and am continuing to inch closer to ridding myself of filmic illiteracy.
I wouldn’t recommend that you see it. It’s a highly unentertaining movie portraying less than admirable characters. It’s a display of over-acting intensity, and director Mendes comes off as a rather deranged control freak.
Still, it may have some redeeming features. It seems to me it’s not about the hopeless emptiness of suburban life in the comformist fifites. It doesn’t show the suburbs driving people insane, but an insane person living in the suburbs. It’s about the vanity of thinking yourself more "interesting" than the people around you. In a way, it’s about the hopeless emptiness of the word "interesting." Insanity is nicely displayed as the inability to be a relational being, an inability to find meaning in personal love. Sanity is displayed in terms of abandoning one’s interesting pretensions for a life more in accord with your personal responsibilities and natural paygrde. The movie also seems to have a sort of pro-life message: There’s something unnaturally self-destructive about a woman who wants to kill a baby to achieve personal liberation.
The suburbs themselves are treated ambivalently. It’s sometimes clear enough that they can be a blessing for good family people, and they aren’t that ugly or devastating to nature. People in the suburbs are shown dancing at a cool nightclub wth a great band. Smoking and martinis are displayed frequently in the manner of MAD MEN. But they don’t always seem altogether evil, but at least sometimes real and fairly harmless pleasures. The living room of the home of the main characters is made to seem very tacky and quite claustrophobic. That might be more evidence still that they’re less interesting than they think, or it might be a shot at the fifties’ smallness of suburban houses. Or it might be a shot at "interesting" people yesterday and today who view ordinary nice houses as claustrophic.
This reminds me of the beautiful post by our Kate on the experience of raising six kids in a small, three-bedroom house. Maybe a part of our crisis today is putting too great a premium on "the right to privacy" achieved by lots of square footage.
This is news you can use (at a frat party at least): Wired magazine on the changing body-mass index statistics for Playboy playmates over the years.
Hat tip: Instapundit.
The Washington Post has quite a hit job on Michael Steele on the front page this morning, with an above-the-fold story alleging he violated a number of campaign-finance rules. Despite the purple language and frothy allegations of the story, my in-house (literally) campaign finance law expert says it is far from clear that Steele actually violated any of the increasingly arcane and impossible-to-explain federal campaign finance laws, but of course as we all know it’s the appearance of impropriety that counts for Republicans.
Not until you reach well down on the jump page do you learn this interesting little detail: "The U.S. attorney’s office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the newspaper requested the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum." Inadvertently sent what was supposed to be a sealed document to the Post? Yeah, sure, and the Post will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge real cheap, too.
Is anyone in the U.S. Attorney’s office going to lose their job over this? Will the Obama DOJ launch an investigation to make sure this wasn’t politically motivated? What would the Post and others have said if this had happened to, say, Howard Dean, during the Bush administration?
Here’s Yuval reflecting on the true meaning of the Palin phenomenon. Sarah really wasn’t mainly a cultural populist until both the intellectual elite (with its paranoid feeling of moral vulnerability) and the real cultural populists (needing their Joan of Arc) made her into one. So Sarah felt both more love and more hate than any candidate in recent years. We learned that cultural populism--or the idea that the country should be governed by the sound moral opinions of real people with real lives (vs. virtual people with bourgeois bohemian lives)--is a potent force, but it has to be given real content by articulate candidates to be politically effective. The best form of government, to distort Jefferson just a bit, is an aristocracy of talent and virtue that governs according the genuine wisdom of the people.
In the past generation or two, social scientists have often spoken of unintended consequences, notably the unintended consequences of well intentioned regulation. The trouble is that those with a familiarity with human nature and human history often were able to predict such consequences. Recent efforts to cap CEO pay fit into that formula.
Here’s an interesting reflection from today’s Wall Street Journal about what the effoft to cap CEO pay will probably do:
For starters, the limits seem to apply only to "senior executives" -- the chief executive, chief financial officer and the like -- and not to many of the people who can earn the really big bucks on Wall Street, like traders, hedge-fund managers and the mad scientists who cooked up all those derivatives that almost destroyed the world financial system. Leaving the compensation of these hot shots intact, while reducing the pay of the people who are supposed to boss them around, isn’t going to make the investing world any safer.
Outsourcing is another way to get around a pay cap. In 2003 and 2004, managers at Harvard University’s giant endowment came under withering fire from the ivory tower for earning upward of $35 million apiece. They soon left to start their own firms, which were promptly hired by the endowment and got paid a percentage of assets under management rather than a cash salary and bonus. That new form of payment stopped the criticism cold -- even though it isn’t likely the managers earned any less. . . .
Finally, the new rules from the Treasury Department permit Wall Street’s "senior executives" to get incentive pay in the form of preferred stock that can’t be cashed in until the taxpayers get their money back. But there s no rule yet against cashing all of it in at that point -- what compensation experts call cliff-vesting.
Thus, managers may be tempted to take greater risks in hopes of speeding up their preferred-stock payoff. If the risks go bad, Uncle Sam will eat the losses. "It’s the classic trader’s option," says George Wilbanks, a managing director at executive recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates: "Heads I win, tails you lose." He adds, "That’s my biggest fear: that people are going to swing for the fences to get to the cliff-vest faster."
Some of the history behind the study of unintended consequences in our day has to do with modern social scientists slowly learning that not all human problems have solutions. That conclusion cuts against many of the reigning myths of the field.
That’s why the stock market is surging a bit, Kudlow says. And no inflation, low energy prices, and no tax increases are great news if you have a job, which more than 90% of Americans still do.
Caused by Wall Street’s own logic, by the progress of things in Washington, or by signs that Mark to Market accounting rules will be suspended soon? (If done, the latter will instantly improve bank balance sheets, at least in the near term, and thus improve their credit ratings, and perhaps, as a result, open up capital markets. Megan McArdle had an interesting reflection on Mark-to-Market rules. In normal times, the rules might make a great deal of sense, but in a financial squeeze, they can create a domino effect the freezes up financial markets).
Here’s Peter Wallison’s argument that the government was a key contributor because it pushed banks to weaken their standards for home loans. Wallison has been worried about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the 1980s. This is not a new concern for him.
: The effort to reduce mortgage lending standards was led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the 1994 National Homeownership Strategy, published at the request of President Clinton. Among other things, it called for “financing strategies, fueled by the creativity and resources of the private and public sectors, to help homeowners that lack cash to buy a home or to make the payments.” Once the standards were relaxed for low-income borrowers, it would seem impossible to deny these benefits to the prime market. Indeed, bank regulators, who were in charge of enforcing CRA standards, could hardly disapprove of similar loans made to better-qualified borrowers.
Sure enough, according to data published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, from 2001 through 2006, the share of all mortgage originations that were made up of conventional mortgages (that is, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage that had always been the mainstay of the U.S. mortgage market) fell from 57.1 percent in 2001 to 33.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006. Correspondingly, sub-prime loans (those made to borrowers with blemished credit) rose from 7.2 percent to 18.8 percent, and Alt-A loans (those made to speculative buyers or without the usual underwriting standards) rose from 2.5 percent to 13.9 percent. Although it is difficult to prove cause and effect, it is highly likely that the lower lending standards required by the CRA influenced what banks and other lenders were willing to offer to borrowers in prime markets. Needless to say, most borrowers would prefer a mortgage with a low down payment requirement, allowing them to buy a larger home for the same initial investment.
The problem is summed up succinctly by Stan Liebowitz of the University of Texas at Dallas:From the current handwringing, you’d think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards--at the behest of community groups and "progressive" political forces.… For years, rising house prices hid the default problems since quick refinances were possible. But now that house prices have stopped rising, we can clearly see the damage done by relaxed loan standards.
The point here is not that low-income borrowers received mortgage loans that they could not afford. That is probably true to some extent but cannot account for the large number of sub-prime and Alt-A loans that currently pollute the banking system. It was the spreading of these looser standards to the prime loan market that vastly increased the availability of credit for mortgages, the speculation in housing, and ultimately the bubble in housing prices. . . .
Fannie and Freddie used their affordable housing mission to avoid additional regulation by Congress, especially restrictions on the accumulation of mortgage portfolios (today totaling approximately $1.6 trillion) that accounted for most of their profits. The GSEs argued that if Congress constrained the size of their mortgage portfolios, they could not afford to adequately subsidize affordable housing. By 1997, Fannie was offering a 97 percent loan-to-value mortgage. By 2001, it was offering mortgages with no down payment at all. By 2007, Fannie and Freddie were required to show that 55 percent of their mortgage purchases were LMI loans and, within that goal, 38 percent of all purchases were to come from underserved areas (usually inner cities) and 25 percent were to be loans to low-income and very-low-income borrowers. Meeting these goals almost certainly required Fannie and Freddie to purchase loans with low down payments and other deficiencies that would mark them as sub-prime or Alt-A.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on some new research. Sociologists doing time studies have concluded that parents are spending more time with their kids now than in the past. Other researchers have concluded (by looking at twins and adopted children) that nature is more important, a lot more important, than nurture in determining what kind of people we become. Finally, other research shows that kids are happier when their parents don’t spend as much time with them. Seems that parents don’t really like spending a lot of time with their kids and doing so makes them unhappy. The kids are unhappy because their parents are unhappy. The same issue of the Chronicle carried another article reporting that significant numbers of Ph. D. students at prestigious schools do not plan on teaching at major research universities, so that they can spend more time with their kids.
President Obama now vows to turn up the heat and has attacked Republicans in the House and Senate who are not yet wagging their tails in approval of Democratic plans for a stimulus. Never mind that, by implication, he’s also attacking some 54% of the American people who also have serious objections to the plan. Or . . . is that precisely the point of his attack?
Rich Lowry has written a fine article in which he suggests that Obama’s argument that, "I won" really amounts to an non-argument. It shows, as Lowry put it, "he’s out of better arguments." Not that he’s ever offered any real argument in favor of this kind of "scattershot" and massive government spending. He certainly did not campaign on such a plan. So "I won" isn’t going to cut it, Lowry argues.
That’s a fair point, it seems to me. But I wonder if it’s fair to suggest that Obama doesn’t know it. Obama certainly knows that he can and will pass this bill or some equally porky version of it and all, more or less, without Republican support. Other commentators in talk radio and elsewhere have observed that the President is making all this fuss because he wants cover for when the stimulus does not stimulate. That seems to be a fair observation--as far as it goes. But I wonder if it goes far enough.
It seems to me that this week has been hard on Obama less because of the opposition coming from Republicans than because of the stubborn trough-diving of his fellow Democrats and the startling revelation that--on this point anyway--the American people are not marching in lockstep with him. It’s tough stuff to go from celebrated American hero to the guy who’s stuck with the job of shining up a pig all in the span of two weeks. This is dirty work and I think there’s a tell in his reaction to it. This guy doesn’t seem to enjoy rolling in the mud. So the smart thing to do, if you’re a Republican, is to keep him there as long as possible. He’s never had to make a serious argument on behalf of this kind of reckless spending. Make him try.
A sign of the times or part of the natural order of things?
My 13 year old son has decided in the last couple of days that he wants to make our coffee in the morning. I’ve been doing this for our household since the day we set it up, and for myself for more than a decade before that. I bought my first coffee grinder in grad school (back in the Carter Administration).
So, naturally, I feel a little like an old buck being challenged by a young buck. I was happy to hand over lawnmowing responsibilities, but this is coffee, which is oh-so-close to the heart of things.
Is this the new order in our Obama-nation (my son almost believed me when I told him after the election that Alabama was going to be called Al-Obama from here on in)? Or is it just what happens to us middle-aged guys as our children naturally marginalize us? (Perhaps I can talk him into doing our taxes this weekend.)
Remember the bubble that burst in Japan in the 1980’s? "Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery." And. "In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations."
Today’s Charles Krauthammer’s op-ed is relevant to this. The title of his essay is "The Fierce Urgency of Pork."
1. FROM Adam Gopnik, ANGELS AND AGES: A SHORT BOOK ABOUT DARWIN, LINCOLN, AND MODERN LIFE (2009: "...[T]he originality [of the Lyceum speech] lies its radicalism of its case for reason. Lincoln’s argument was simple but original: the curse of American life was violence; its cure was law. Although Lincoln was a Southerner, nothing could be more remote from the Southern cult of honor or idea of noble vengeance. Cold calculation, the dispassionate parsing of the people of the Northern land of steady habits, was the path to the future.
"Lincoln tempered but never really abandoned that conviction. His rhetorical genius lay in making cold calculation look like passionate idealism, in making the closely reasoned argument ring with the sound of religious necessity."
2. FROM (Dr.) Patrick J. Deneen, "Strange Bedfellows: Allan Bloom and John Dewey Against Liberal Education, Rightly Understood" (in THE GOOD SOCIEITY, 2008): "For all the differences in emphasis on texts and approaches, the basic aim is the same for the epigones of [John] Dewey and [Allan] Bloom: the liberation of students from the limitations of place and background, a suspicion of the ’ancestral,’ an endorsement of scientific or philosophic ’critical thinking’ bordering on skepticism, and the praise for a form of mobility that sets us loose from places and traditions."
3. FROM Ralph Hancock, "Back to Where We Started, or, The New Hobbism Comes Out" (in PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE, Winter, 2009): "Of course, Hobbes could have refuted the existence of neither of a good higher than comfortable survival nor of a God who reveals himself as a man. His brilliance, Lilla argues (in A STILLBORN GOD), lay not in attempting that impossible theoretical task, but rather in skirting it altogether by practically changing the subject. If violence-fraught questions of God and the good cannot be answered, everything must be done to destract us from them. To say, with Lilla, that Hobbes changed the subject is thus to say that modernity is a giant diversion, a sleight of hand in which everything depends on keeping the subject changed...."
In the seven states where no GOP contender for the Senate has been successful since 2000, Pitney suggests looking to the GOP gubernatorial candidates who were successful in the last eight years. The issues that drive voters to elect governors are often different from the ones driving them to choose senators, but the fact that GOP candidates for governor could win in these states suggests that the Republican brand is not, in itself, DOA. There may be lessons these guys can offer of both a strategic and rhetorical nature.
Pitney also suggests studying the efforts of the other side. Howard Dean's controversial "50 state strategy" to rebuild party organizations that had withered now looks more like genius than insanity. The good news for the GOP is that they do not have to aim for radical transformations of the electorate. A plodding, careful, deliberate and principled chipping away at Democratic strongholds will make a big difference in electoral outcomes.
In case he is misunderstood, Pitney is careful to note that he is not suggesting capitulation on the issues that move the GOP base:
Such a strategy does not mean that Republicans must renounce the Second Amendment, embrace abortion, or endorse amnesty for illegal aliens. Indeed, it would make no sense to abandon the principles that matter to the party's most loyal supporters.Rather, Pitney suggests, persuasion is the thing we must engage in--not capitulation, Of course, persuasion has the disadvantage of being terribly hard work--and work that is made even more hard as a result of GOP electoral and political failures. But persuasion, at least, has the virtue of possibly working--if not immediately, perhaps over time. As Pitney said, chipping away at Democratic strongholds will do more than is apparent if one only looks at the massive scale of the Democratic sweep in this last election.
The GOP cannot abandon its principles and expect victory. But neither can it dig in its heels and cross its arms with a scowl directed at those who fail to embrace her. It is time for wooing and this will take patience. As Pitney put it, we cannot give in to what now passes for popular sentiment:
. . . [b]ut Republicans do have to frame [their] principles in terms that appeal to a wider array of voters. The party cannot think of growing if it depends on a base that is shrinking.
Apparently the community organizer side of President Obama thinks its a good idea to keep people engaged in the political process by using the extensive contact list it developed during the campaign to keep people informed and energized to support its initiatives. The latest effort in this direction is a series of meetings to discuss how to improve the economy. Since, as we all know, dissent is patriotic, I think conservatives ought to start showing up at these parties and join the fun. After all, lively argument is a basic element of any healthy political system.
The Foreign Policy Research Insitute (FPRI) has just published my monograph on Lincoln as war president. Ben has posted a PDF file of the piece here.
As I say in the essay, Lincoln’s leadership in wartime has not been addressed to the extent one would expect. The history of this essay attests to this puzzling fact. I have posted aspects of this essay on the Ashbrook site before, so my argument will not be much of a surprise to those who have read what I have written before.
Those who want hard copies of the monograph can contact FPRI directly.
Next Monday, I will be speaking on this topic at the Union League of Philadelphia. If you’re in the area and would like to attend, let FPRI know. Here’s the announcement:
FPRI Event Advisory for Monday, February 9 Foreign Policy Research Institute
Topic: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
Speaker: Mackubin T. Owens, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute and Editor of Orbis
Time: 4:00 reception, 4:30 lecture
Place: Union League of Philadelphia, 140 S. Broad Street
Free for FPRI Members and for Educators and Students; $20 for everyone else (Business attire required)
Especially in Congress. Here’s Jim Cooper (D, TN):
They know its a messy bill and they wanted a clean bill. Now, I got in terrible trouble with our leadership because they don’t care what’s in the bill, they just want it pass and they want it to be unanimous. They don’t mind the partisan fighting cause that’s what they are used to. In fact, they’re really good at it. And they’re a little bit worried about what a post-partisan future might look like. If members actually had to read the bills and figure out whether they are any good or not. We’re just told how to vote. We’re treated like mushrooms most of the time."
I had a nice talk (podacst) with Lucas Morel on Mr. Lincoln’s three short speeches on his way to the inauguration (the Feb 11 Farewell Speech; the Feb 21 Address to the New Jersey Senate; and the Feb 22 Speech at Independence Hall). Good conversation. Thanks, Lucas!
Peter Berkowtiz, in his long version of constitutional conservatism, explains why he thinks we constitutionalists need to come to term with both. I hope this long version generates a long response from Dr. Pat Deneen.
"computerized age-regression portrait," from the WaPo: "We always see Martha with a withered face in her old age. But she was quite a beautiful woman in her younger years, and Washington loved her deeply," said Edward Lengel, senior editor at the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. "What’s happening now is revisionist. But I think it’s a whole lot closer to the reality of what she was." And the article is not just about her looks or her Sarah Palin-style shoes (click on the photo box).
These upscale voters, according to the astute Michael Barone, should be the special targets of the Republicans. That means going on the attack in those areas in which Obama and his Democrats would restrict individual choice and downplaying those areas in which the Republicans would do the same.
I think Michael is either wrong or exaggerates by viewing the fundamental American division in terms of age and class, instead of faith and family.
But here’s how I do agree: The Republicans do have to look smarter and cooler. The sagacious Jim Ceaser recently remarked that the Republicans haven’t had a presidential candidate who could ably produce unscripted answers to informal questions since Nixon. And Nixon, of course, wasn’t cool. Obama, of course, is good--if somewhat overrated in a weak league--at seeming smart and cool. Comparatively speaking, Obama is cool in two senses: He’s "with it" and usually seems calm and collected.
Some claim that Sarah Palin was chosen as a young and cool antidote to McCain. But, let’s face it, she’s not good at producing smart and cool answers to a variety of questions. Her lack of coolness may be to her credit in certain ways, but not to the young and the affluent (who are. of course, much dumber than they think) with their iPods, iPhones, and other iThings.
Getting the young back is more a matter of style than Barone thinks. Who do the Republicans have, I wonder?
Well, I’ve finally seen THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, MILK, THE READER, and DOUBT.
How many Americans or NLT readers can say THAT? I haven’t seen REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, it’s true, because it hasn’t come to my town. But I accept in advance the criticism that the movie turns the novel’s smart satire (of haute bourgeois whining) into tragedy (in the stupid mode of AMERICAN BEAUTY).
All the films I saw are well made and feature excellent performances. But they are all shamelessly and, in my case, unsuccessfully manipulative--with the exception of DOUBT. DOUBT captured my attention as a realistic portrayal of the way people really are.
The distinguished Dan Mahoney told me yesterday that he doubted he would see DOUBT because it portrays for our contempt a rigidly authoritarian nun. But that’s exactly what it doesn’t do. Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the Mother Superior/principal of the early 1960s--a breed that has disappeared completely--is uncannily accurate. And there’s nothing rigid or authoritarian about her. She has her doubts, but she keeps them to herself, and she leads with authority--and brilliant cleverness--out of genuine love. We see what was so good about the old working-class parochial schools, as well as what wasn’t so good about a complacent church on the brink of semi-collapse. So DOUBT is all about feminism rightly understood. It’s also about the sometimes criminal (and aggressivley unremorseful) self-induglence that was liberated in the Sixties out of trendy doubt and lawless love. There’s more for traditionalist than progressive Catholics to like about this movie, although it should make both groups somewhat uncomfortable. This message movie is unfashionable enough to have all the principals nominated for Oscars but not the film as a whole. (It’s also an injustice that DARK KNIGHT wasn’t nominated, by the way.)
All the other films I saw were naive by comparison. Quick reviews: CURIOUS CASE, RACHEL and THE READER are creepy incredible in different ways. SLUMDOG’s manipulations are overtly shameless and mean to be in the service of huge and edifying sentimental entertainment. I just wasn’t that entertained by the really silly premise. BUT the Indian game show host is a large and interesting character, and India is displayed as an endlessly fascinating and very crowded country full of charming, if often criminally ruthless, entrepreneurs on the make. I’m glad India is our ally, although I’m not that interested in visiting there soon. MILK on one level is shameless propaganda, and it’s useless to criticize that fact. It also shows that we’re still not ready for an authentic gay men are people too movie. I’m ready to believe that Harvey Milk was a rather remarkable and effective political figure, but this movie goes the hagiography route. Sean Penn’s acting is more subtle than the words he’s given to say.