Several people have already commented on President Obama's speech at the United Nations yesterday. Reading over his speech, I was struck by his comment that "No balance of power among nations will hold." Well, duh! That is, and has always been true. But, and here's where I suspect my analysis parts company with the President's, there still is no better way to maintain peace. Balance of power, however imperfect, is the best tool available in the world we're given. For over two centuries, radicals have disliked that solution, and sought to find another answer. Perhaps some day they'll find it. Color me skeptical.
Wherefore this quest for a new and different world? I think it might be connected to science. The President noted that "The technology we harness can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a single child - anywhere - can enrich our world, or impoverish it." Modern science has made life easier (and longer) in countless ways. But it has also increased the power of our arms exponentially.
If war is, like death and disease, an inescapable part of the human condition, then science is a mixed blessing at best. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson put it best in an 1812 letter to John Adams: "if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest and estimable, as our neighboring savages are." The presumption that deep progress, progress that fundamentally changes what it is to be human, is possible, is, perhaps, essential to modern liberalism. The alternative, of balance of power as much as possibe and war sometimes, is, for many, too terrible to contemplate.
NY Times headline: "General Denies Rift With Obama Over Afghan Strategy" That would be General McChrystal of course. These stories denying resignation talk don't look good.
Sarah speaks before an international business group in Hong Kong. A couple Americans stomped out, a European praised the speech as "brilliant." Here's one account, here another. Excerpts. She delivered a 75-minute defense of "common sense conservatism," for example: "We engage with a hope that Beijing becomes a responsible stakeholder, but we must take steps in the event that it goes in a different direction."
Today I heard Francis Fukuyama (of SAIS and "end of history" fame) present the second of a four-part series summarizing his most recent tour d'horizon book, to be published next year. In a little over an hour he presented an extraordinary summary of the origins of the modern state in China and India, and how they reflect religion (or its absence) and kinship groups. The first lecture, on evolutionary biology, can be found here. Later ones will be posted as well.
On a visit to Johns Hopkins University today I learned how a student defended himself and his housemates and killed the intruder with a Samurai sword, hacking off his hand. Better than savoring a John Belushi skit. Given that Maryland authorities had considered prosecuting the exposers of ACORN antics, it is not surprising that they are still considering charges against the undergraduate student.
Here's a sample Belushi Samurai clip.
The President wants a civil tone on healthcare and other issues. But, for the umpteenth time, I ask when has a President, addressing Congress, ever called his political opponents liars? This is unprecedented, I believe, and has demeaned the presidency and coarsened the debate. Obama's genius, displayed in The Audacity of Hope, is making himself look moderate when in fact he is a radical.
I've been reading books on gnosticism so these commentaries by a former Bush speechwriter named Matt Latimer struck me as more than wise-guy talk. One observation from his WaPo piece:
The crumbling of the conservative movement, though, is not merely a story of past events to be dissected. Thousands marched in Washington last weekend to protest the Obama administration's expansion of the role of the federal government. This is an important debate. But the message on such serious issues is undercut when conservatives are lumped together with those bashing Obama as a secret Muslim and questioning his citizenship. Indeed, one of the organizers of the "birther" movement is a former personnel vetter at the Pentagon.
He also has this book excerpt, which seems naive in some respects but telling in others. You decide.
The last Administration did not treat speechwriting with the seriousness it deserves, as this current Administration thinks that speech is all (a gnostic heresy). Just try reading former head speechwriter Michael Gerson's columns in the WaPo, and you'll get the picture. But such bigotry of low expectations starts from the top. Whether they were Bush's rhetorical shortcomings or Cheney's impolitic manner, both undermined the Administration's ability to lead and thus its obligation to govern by consent. Both men have many virtues, but it is wrong to overlook the weaknesses that paved the way for the incumbent.
UPDATE: See Ross Douthat's NYT column for another take on Latimer and, more important, Bush's presidency; some obvious points on Bush as master of his own disasters but worth keeping in mind.
UPDATE #2: Latimer's former boss, WSJ columnist Bill McGurn, strikes back.