Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy

Catholics in Politics

Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has written a book entitled, "Catholics in Politics." The introduction by Stefano Fontana is available on Zenit. An excerpt:

The fundamental issue tackled by Most. Rev. Crepaldi's book (Catholics in Politics, A Handbook for the Recovery, Cantagalli, Siena 2010) is the status of politics, what politics is, and in doing so it assumes a metaphysical vision of politics, which serves as the epistemological basis for a theological foundation of politics. To paraphrase what Horrkheimer had to say in "Nostalgia of the totally other-than-self", and Joseph De Maistre even before him, politics is first of all and above all a theological issue. This is the book's main premise and on that basis it challenges Catholics in politics. Opening up before us on the basis of this approach to things is a complete series of fundamental questions.

. . .

The subject of the book, therefore, is whether the city of man can be suitably constituted without reference to the city of God. It is a matter of the autonomy of the temporal with respect to the spiritual, of nature with respect to race, of politics with respect to religion. A fundamental theme for all times, but especially for ours, which seem to even have lost the selfsame sense of the problem at hand, to say nothing of its solutions. St. Augustine pondered the causes behind the downfall of the Roman empire. He defended the Christians against those who accused them of being the main cause and called the pagans into the picture saying the empire had fallen due to the vices that had replaced the traditional virtues. But this means the virtues existed even before Christianity. Gilson notes in this regard: he specified this so people would not deceive themselves about the specific supernatural aim of the Christian virtues. The Christian virtues make Christians citizens of another city. But in so doing Christianity also releases all the constructive forces of temporal society and it is not necessary for the temporal sphere to refuse looking upon itself as a stage towards eternity. This is why I consider the more important phrase of Bishop Crepaldi's book to be the one on page 63; a phrase well worth the whole book: "When a Catholic in politics strives to clarify the problem of laicity for himself I think he should ask himself two questions: the first is if Christ is just useful for the building up of social togetherness in harmony with human dignity, or if He is indispensable. The second is if eternal life after material death has any relationship with the community organization of this life in society".


Shallow Thoughts About Last Night's Debate

It's what I do.

1.  Bret Baier started off by throwing Pawlenty a quote where Pawlenty called Obama weak and then asked him how that squared with the killing of Bin Laden.  Pawlenty gave a plausible response.  He was gracious in giving Obama credit for Bin Laden's death but quickly shifted to the big picture. Pawlenty gave the vague impression that he was in favor of waterboarding but without using the term.

2.  Santorum comes off badly on his Bin Laden question.  He gives a small spirited, harshly partisan and not entirely accurate account of Obama's Afghanistan policy (Obama did adopt and resource a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.)  There is also a note of hysteria in Santorum's demeanor.

3.  Baier asked Pawlenty about waterboarding and Pawlenty danced around the question.  Baier then asked for a show of hands as to who would authorize waterboarding under certain circumstances.  Pawlenty then raised his hand.  Baier kind of had Pawlenty's number.  I'm not sure what Pawlenty thought he had to gain by the tack he took.  First he refused to commit and the he refused to commit to not committing.  It made him look shifty.

4.  Pawlenty is pretty good at transitioning questions on economics to his blue collar roots and personal experience of economic anxiety and decline.  He also didn't answer the question what policies he would adopt to spur job creation.  He did get in a shot at the National Labor Relations Board and the Obama administration.

5.  Cain's policy on gas prices is the same as his policy on Afghanistan.  He will have a plan at some point in the future.

6.  Santorum had a pretty good answer on Medicare Part D using private competition to reduce costs to the government, but the stuff about capping the Medicare entitlement is the wrong frame.  We're not really arguing about capping Medicare.  Both the Obamas and Ryans of the world are going to limit Medicare spending at some level.  Obama wants one-size-fits-all centralized rationing.  Ryan wants a choice of plans in which seniors can choose which procedures (above a government mandated minimum) they want.  It would be even better if we had a plan where seniors faced better incentives.  If seniors wanted a plan that didn't cover certain high cost, low success procedures that they might or might not need someday, then they should have greater disposable income in the here and now (including pocketing some of the government-provided premium support.)  If they want coverage for those procedures then they pay more and get more peace of mind.  It beats waiting to get sick and then wondering if some committee is going to tell them to shut up and die.  

7.  Santorum's answer on Obamacare wasn't so good.  More passion than coherence. 

8.  Gary Johnson is so awkward he is likeable.  His proposal to immediately cut Medicare spending by over 40% and block grant the program to the states would have killed his chance to be President if he'd had one.

9.  Then there is his unconditional amnesty and open borders position.  Give him credit.  He would rather be Gary Johnson than President.  Good for him and good for us.

10.  Pawlenty knows his issue salience.  He turned a question about creationism into an answer about his working-class roots and the connected interests of employers and employees.

General impressions:

Herman Cain is going to make some noise.  He has a kind of socially conservative Ross Perot "I'll get some smart people together and with my managerial skill and public spiritedness we'll solve our problems and you can trust me because I did it in business" approach.  This approach creates (for a while) the impression of expertise without all the costs and trade-offs that would be evident if you discussed actual policies. It tries to convince people that you are detail-oriented without having to give details.  

It isn't just Cain's business experience.  It is that Cain can present himself as a businessman-outsider who will save politics from the politicians.  Romney has business experience but he can't replicate Cain's outsider appeal because Romney (by both background and demeanor) comes across as almost a cartoon of a slick politician.  Cain's combination of business experience + outsiderness + managerial approach to political problems + minimal policy content will get him some attention and some support.  It is a kind of technocracy that many conservatives will find attractive at first, but if he becomes more than a gadfly he will need a second act.

One thing that drove me nuts about the Frank Luntz focus group was the people saying that Cain "really answered questions."  Well maybe compared to Pawlenty, but Cain came in a distant fourth when it came to answering questions candidly and completely.  Rick Santorum (who came out for capping Medicare immediately and converting it into a premium support program for current seniors) answered questions.  Ron Paul (who wanted to undo American collective security arrangements and legalize heroin) answered questions. Gary Johnson (who came out for amnesty, open borders, and huge immediate Medicare cuts) damn sure answered questions.  This is like several weeks ago when I heard people (Hannity and one of those people who fill in for Neil Cavuto as well as lots of talk radio callers) calling Donald Trump a straight shooter.  There is something about emotionally satisfying (and especially cost free) answers that makes people want to describe those answers as the opposite of what they really are.  Cain seems a far better and more serious man than Trump, but he wasn't the guy who really answered questions.  He was the guy who was going to have a meeting (possibly after the election) and get back to you.          

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

In Case You Missed It

Hidden in the midst of the most prominent headlines this week were some things generally overlooked by the media at large:

1. The rift between Iranian clerics under the Ayatollah and secular hardliners under Ahmadinejad continues to grow. The president's chief of staff (someone notably hated by the Ayatollah, who also happens to be the president's son-in-law), Esfandiar Rahem Mashaei, and several others close to Ahmadinejad were arrested this week and charged with witchcraft. Yes, the nuclear power-seeking government is accusing officials of summoning spirits to bewitch the people and arresting them. Ahmadinejad has still not appeared at cabinet meetings since his latest spat with the Supreme Ayatollah.

2. The Prime Minister of Turkey survived an assassination attempt. A bomb exploded in front of his convoy, killing a police officer. Separatist Kurds claimed responsibility.

3. The vile Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir--who provides safe haven and funding to monstrous terrorists like the Lord's Resistance Army and is partly responsible for the genocide in Darfur--says that he will refuse to recognize the newly-elected nation of Southern Sudan when it formally declares independence in July unless they give up claim to the oil-wealthy region of Abyei. To prove his point, he moved his rampaging soldiers into the region this week in violation of a previous peace deal that ended the nation's civil war a few years ago. For Bashir's continued support of the LRA terrorist group and his renewed violence against a people yearning to be free of his oppression, Western leaders ought to revamp and strengthen sanctions against the regime.

4. Conservaties now have majority-rule in Canada for the first time ever. Opposition Liberals, Socialists, and Separatists split the minority amongst themselves. Interestingly, the more center-left Liberals have been replaced by the socialist New Democrats as the leaders of the opposition. This means that while Canada is ruled by conservatives now, the main opposition is even more radically to the left than their predecessors; if the Conservatives screw up, these fellows could get a bump and do their best at harming American-Canadian relations. In the mean time, the Conservative Party will continue to rule under Stephen Harper, who has improved Canada's economy over his past two terms and even led the country to surpassing the United States on the Index of Economic Freedom
Categories > Foreign Affairs


God's Marine in Congress

House Speaker Boehner is nominating a Jesuit priest, former Georgetown University chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, as the 60th House chaplain. Conroy will be the first Jesuit, and only the third non-Protestant, chaplain in the chamber's history.

Categories > Religion


Good News for Obama at the Pump

A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll indicates that only 1 in 8 Americans blame gas prices on "political or policy-related" factors. Most blame a nexus of "greed, speculation and oil companies." Factually, this is somewhat inverse to the true nature of things - private speculation is a phantom with negligible effect on oil prices and greedy oil-companies are a straw man which Obama hopes to publically vilify as a means of extracting ever increasing tax revenue (and thereby aid "green" energy). These rhetorical villains are conveniently evoked to corral people into cheering the very source of their economic pain: government intrusion in the market.

Obama is thus enjoying great fortune. He will own gas prices at the election, but not so dearly if external factors are seen to share the blame. Republican candidates would do well to educate the public on the facts of oil prices as well as the inevitable effects of Obama's policies toward oil producers between now and next November.

Categories > Economy

Refine & Enlarge

A Moral Victory Greeted with Honor

Daniel Krauthammer  writing today at NRO is not to be missed.  He writes the most adept piece I have seen, to date, that comes to grips with all the strange sniping (coming from otherwise rational sources) directed at those who celebrated bin Laden's death with jubilation. 

Because it happened on a Sunday, I was out with my family and away from all the usual sources of news when the story broke.  In a sign of the times (and in keeping with the youthful developments of the last decade) I first heard of it via Facebook.  There I read reports from young friends in Washington, New York and other places who noted that they would be heading out to celebrate, have drinks and otherwise make merry at the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.

It must be a sign that I am getting old because my first reaction was to smile at them and think of them as blessedly young.  I was glad we got him, of course.  But it was not my instinct to make merry.  I was so accustomed to our NOT getting him, that I began to believe the non-nonsensical mantra that it didn't matter if we did.  He is just a symbol, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But, darn it!  Symbols matter.  I know that, but I had chosen to forget.  Then I turned on the TV and watched the burgeoning crowds.  My husband and I both remarked, "My God!  They are so young!  Look at them!  They are so happy!  Are we missing something, here?"   And, as Krauthammer describes, though jubilant, they were respectful.  They chanted, "USA! USA! USA!"  They did not worship death.  They celebrated life--a life they could now live knowing that evil does not always go unanswered.  For if you consider the timetable of their lives, you must forgive them for only now coming to this conclusion!

As I watched, I grew envious of them and of their youth and I yearned to join them.  For I was young like that once, too.  I had forgotten what it felt like.  On the other hand, I realized, I absolutely do not envy them.  Because I don't think that today's young people have ever felt their youth so vividly as they did last Sunday--whereas I have a number of such memories.  I think it was a new and a fresh experience for them, and more's the pity.  For those beyond, even, my advanced (ha!) years . . . you must strain not to do the math (which is easy here as even I can do it), but you must strain to remember to do it.  That's the biggest thing I see missing from all the sanctimonious commentary about the celebrations on the right.  Consider the American experience as it exists for those now under 30.  If they are 20 now, they were 10 in 2001. 

The last time I was young like they are now--that is, the last time I really believed that evil could and would be punished without flinching--was in September 2001.  I was in the beginning of my third decade, had one baby in tow and had another one very much on the way.  I woke up on that fateful morning--8 months pregnant--to the cries of my husband watching the news as he was getting ready to go to work.  I spent the rest of that day draining myself of all that youth and filling myself up with worry and the cares of a burden-laden adulthood.  Determination, to be sure.  But not an ounce of certainty in the result.  How would we avenge this great injustice?  Could we?  It seemed impossible.  And, indeed, it is impossible in many ways.  But it could not go unanswered. 

And yet every answer has been met with a counter-answer and self-flagellation.  Those now in their early twenties have grown up in this constant beating down of hope; this constant berating of the possibilities of their country serving justice.  This beast of man unleashed this madness that has turned us, not only onto an almost impossible task of beating back terror, but also in on and against each other.  To the young people of today, the country that could competently take on evil and defeat it must have seemed like an echo of a lost world belonging--possibly--to their grandparents but beyond us today.  And yet . . . in the end, who was it taking out that evil man?  Navy Seals who, no doubt, were young Americans watching those towers collapse while they were in school.  

While flaccid, flabby, calcified and unoriginal commentators like to tell us that our best days are behind us . . . that America's power, greatness, and capacity to serve justice are a thing of (false) memory, this generation of young Americans is rising up to prove them wrong.  They are proving that they mean to show themselves equal to the task.  And they are right to celebrate it.    

As I watched their joy, I washed away the last ten years of worry.  I reflected that I have raised children who have known nothing but the kind of terror this bastard unleashed on the world but who, I am now certain, have no good reason to be afraid.  There is nothing that we Americans cannot accomplish when we mean to do it and stick to it.  I didn't begin to chant, "USA! USA! USA!" but I did shed some tears of joy and sheepishly ask my husband if we couldn't dig out some sparklers for the kids so they could share in it.  But we are no longer young and they are, in fact, too young to fully understand.  So we skipped the exercise, put them to bed, and I slept a sleep I haven't really slept since September 10, 2001 (though now without the discomfort of heavy pregnancy!).  It is not that I am deluded into thinking that the task ahead of us is that much easier.  It isn't.  But because of those beautiful young people,  I remembered, again, who we are.  We are Americans.  God bless them for standing up. 
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Euro-Scorn in the Age of Obama

Charles Lane writes well of European criticism toward Obama in the wake of Bin Ladin's death in today's WaPo:

By ordering a covert raid on Pakistan that resulted in Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy SEALs, Obama has earned the kind of condemnation Europe's cognoscenti once reserved for his predecessor, George W. Bush.

And nowhere is the chorus more moralistic than in Germany, where former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, has pronounced the action "clearly a violation of international law." The quality press is full of carping and quibbling. Handelsblatt called the raid "an act that violates both the international prohibition of force and humanitarian law." Der Spiegel, under the headline "Justice, American Style," reports an expert's view that it's "questionable whether the USA can still claim to be engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida." Elsewhere in the same journal, a reporter calls NewYork celebrations of bin Laden's death "reminiscent of Muslims celebrating in the Gaza Strip after the 9/11 attacks."

Lane comes close to identifying the cultural rift by noting:

It never occurs to [German critics] that Americans might not be celebrating bin Laden's death as such but the suddenly real chance that a long and costly struggle could end -- and end in victory, no less.

While some Americans reveled in the death itself, it is unmistakable that Bin Laden was the most symbolic personification of Islamic terrorism in the minds of most Americans. He was murderous, unrepentant and irritatingly beyond our ability to exterminate. His defeat, therefore, provides hope (as Obama smiles) to Americans that the greater evil can be overcome in the same manner as its emissary.

Europe will always stew in its taciturn brooding when America succeeds where they could not, and Obama was always wrongly confident that his post-American persona would alter this condition. Lane commends Obama's leadership and suggests that "he, like his predecessor, should wear [European scorn] as a badge of honor." This will not happen, not only because Obama is incapable of expressing any commonality with Bush, but because Obama likely sympathizes with his European critics.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Music

I was reading into Roger Rosenblatt's slight volume, "Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing," thinking it is never to late to learn.  Anyway, there are some good passages in the book, but the best, by far, is the following, from a chapter entitled, "A Fine Frenzy":

There is also something less threatening about poetry.  It seems to be conjured up and conceived in a space so removed from the world that the world, however admiring of it, does not take it seriously.  Thomas Hardy said that if Galileo had announced in a poem that the earth moved, the Inquisition might have let him be.  And yet poems of the ages go on and on, differentiated from prose by an ethereal quality derived from elliptical thought and their deliberate avoidance of understanding.  A poem should be at once clear and mystifying--in Shelley's terms, "the words which express what they understand not."  Prose, on the other hand, strives to be understood, especially in its own time, which accounts for both its strength and its weakness.  In that same poem, "Preface," in which Milosz conceded the power of prose, he said nonetheless that "novels and essays serve but will not last," as compared to the weight of "one clear stanza."  It may be that poetry is favored by my students, including those who do not write it or intend to, because it seems like history's protectorate, kept safe for no other reason than its aim of beauty.  In ancient Ireland, poets were called The Music.  When one king would attack another, he instructed his soldiers to slaughter everyone in the enemy camp, including the opposing king.  But not The Music.  Everyone but The Music.  Because he was The Music.


The GOP Debates

The first GOP debate took place today in South Carolina between Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain (view a bit here). Though many of the debaters make up the GOP's second string, they seem to have brought their A game. Cain, as noted by Pete, seems to have been the breakaway candidate - and Cain doesn't even qualify as a GOP benchwarmer. The sample group featured on Hannity's Fox News slot are sold on Cain, though I agree with Pete that his star will fade.

Of course, none of this really matters yet. My foreign lady is still shocked that we're having presidential debates 18 months ahead of the election, and most Americans probably share her sentiment (mixed with a bit of jaded annoyance). The true significance is simply that the presidential cycle has fully begun.

Categories > Presidency



I broke down and saw the debate.  First takeaway.  Herman Cain has found a niche as a more socially conservative Ross Perot-type outsider/businessman/populist/technocrat.  It probably shouldn't all go together but it does at first glance.  It won't last.
Categories > Politics


The 10-Year-Old Chess Master

Chess was a big thing for me when I was a child. My mother taught me the game basics at about the age of three, before I had figured out how to read. By the age of five I was beating the family, and then really moved into the game by the 3rd grade with a teacher supporting me and entrance into tournaments. I was by no means a master, or even that great; I was skilled among amateurs and okay among regulars, for my age. At most I could see four or five moves down the line; never more, often less. After a disagreement with the US Chess Federation at a tournament when I was some eleven or twelve years old, I (now amusingly) "retired" from tournaments and spent most of the following decade teaching chess at a few schools and playing a few times a year with friends or family. I finally rejoined the federation last fall, and played in a USCF-ranked tournament last month for the first time in a long time. It felt good. I was slow to get back into the mindset needed to excel at chess, and easily overcome by weaknesses that I would have been embarrassed by back in my tournament days. By the final game I was back into the swing of things, and after it entirely exhausted. The mind is something that needs to be exercised, especially if you are going to take it out to battle like that.

Ever since Bobby Fischer initiated a sort of chess renaissance in our country that, at least for a short while, almost rivaled half as much the obsession that the Russians have with the game, the average age of chess masters--those who accumulate so many points in USCF ranked games--has steadily lowered. Fischer was the youngest master for quite some time, earning the title at the age of thirteen. While there have been younger since, the difference of course is that Fischer went on to dominate the world of chess and famously annihilate the Russians on the world stage; no one has ever played like he did, and if not for the unfortunate madness and hatred that consumed him in his later life, I think he would still be remembered as a hero of sorts for our nation in the way other great athletes and thinkers are. There are constantly new prodigies stepping up, though. Take, for example, ten-year-old Sam Sevian, who became the youngest chess master ever at the age of nine. He, like the other greats, did not resist the temptation that the game offers those who are drawn to it; his mother comments that chess is almost the boy's life. He is obsessed with it; it is all he reads and all he does. Obsession is the only way to succeed at it. Part of me envies him for that. He'll be taking a class with Kasparov, probably the greatest living master, this summer. Good for him. (He'll need help defending his title from a few ambitious 8-year-olds next!) I congratulate him on his achievement and wish him luck on his continued pursuit of excellence in the game.
Categories > Leisure


To Choose...To Choose

So I can't decide whether to watch the new episode of World's Dumbest or the GOP presidential debate.  I guess I am interested in what Pawlenty has to say and how he handles the environment.
Categories > Politics


What's Going on with Panetta?

Leon Panetta has come out of the Osama hit stronger than ever.  The president had already indicated that Panetta was his choice to succeed Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, but now I wonder if he isn't up to something bigger.  Why, for instance, would he make a point of saying that "enhanced interrogation techniques"--waterboarding explicitly among them--yielded vital information that helped to track Osama down?  Given that his own administration has repeatedly denounced such methods, characterizing them as torture, such a statement is curious, to say the least.  Panetta also all but promised that photographs of Osama would be released, only to be overruled by the president.  Is this a sign of trouble?  Finally, what are we to make of this, which alleges that Obama--influenced by Valerie Jarrett--dithered at the critical moment, and that it was in fact Panetta who made the actual call to take out Osama.  I don't know a thing about the site, which in fact looks rather sketchy; it seems, for example, to have an odd fascination with theories regarding the end of the world, so maybe it's mere crackpottery.  Whether it's true or not, though, surely Panetta's recent behavior is noteworthy, particularly given his longtime connection to the Clintons.  This could be something well worth following.
Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

The Course of Human Events

This week's Letter from an Ohio Farmer focuses on how difficult civic and civil conversations are in our democratic politics, and yet how necessary and good they are when well done.  And then:  "Our civic moderation might be further strengthened by the reminder we received on Sunday night that, whatever the lively differences among ourselves in our pursuit of happiness, we are at war--and have been ever since that surprising turn in the course of human events on September 11, 2001.  Whatever our differences, we join past generations of Americans, going back to the Revolutionary generation, in mutually pledging to one another "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." The sacrifices of many patriots teach us constantly that this is no vagrant commitment, that there is some enduring thing in our country for the sake of which Americans make such a pledge, generation after generation, each to all and all to each. They teach us to summon the better angels of our nature to our national conversations as we pursue our happiness in freedom."

Incidentally, if you would like to receive an email notification when a new Letter is published, you can sign up to receive one on the Farmer website by entering your email address in the field in the upper portion of the right column. You can also follow the Farmer on Twitter.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Thought for the day

If it is a good idea not to publish photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse, for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities, then why was it a good idea to publish the photos of the Abu Ghraib abuses?
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Some Random Thoughts on the President and Bin Laden

In ascending order of significance: 

--The breathtaking operation that took down Osama bin Laden represents a victory not only for the country at-large and for President Obama but for proponents of American unilateralism.  The president didn't wait for U.N. approval, nor did he consult the Pakistanis before taking down the twenty-first century's greatest mass murderer.  That alone is gratifying. 

--Predictably, the president now hopes to capitalize on a resurgent "national unity."  He said as much in his Sunday speech and again the next day.  To this the loyal opposition might respond with something like the following: "Mr. President, when you make a decision that rids the world of a monster, covers your administration and your country in glory, and secures your personal fame for all time, we will support you.  When you and your allies in Congress attempt to force upon us unconstitutional legislation, however, we will resist you.  This will never change." 

--Meanwhile, President Obama is entitled to some well-earned basking in what promises to be an extended afterglow.  Whether that glow extends all the way to November 2012 remains to be seen and, in any case, is beside the point.  As I recently told my undergraduates, fifty years from today their grandchildren will not read a single speech from President William Jefferson Clinton, nor will they devote any serious study to any aspect of that lurid and inconsequential administration.  The same cannot be said of President Obama, whose tenure, prior to Sunday's bombshell, already ranked among the most significant in recent U.S. history. 

--Finally, there is the remarkable photo from the White House situation room.  How interesting it would have been to be able to access the president's thoughts as that elite group of Navy SEALs, with exquisite execution, carried out one of the most dangerous missions imaginable.  If President Obama allowed himself even a moment of reflection, then he must have marveled at the fact that men such as these, capable of such astonishing feats of heroism, actually exist in the world.  It's humbling, to be sure.  Of all the feelings conjured and expressed over the past few days, one hopes that this awe-inspired sense of humility will endure the longest. 


Categories > Foreign Affairs


Scattered Thoughts - Mostly Birther Related

Yeah I'm late, but I think slowly.

1. I listened to three conservative talk shows (two local and one national) in the two days following President Obama revealing his long form birth certificate.  For some fraction of the callers, birtherism had taken on justification through self-referentialism.  They still refused to fully believe that the President was born in the US, but they ascribed their own continuing malice and bad faith to flaws in the President.  What a monster he must be to make them act so dishonestly. 

2.  Folks should stop acting as if birtherism is some kind of unique phenomenon.  It has become quite common for some fraction of the opposition to connect the current President to the most despicable conspiracies (often worse than birtherism.)  I'm not sure what fraction of the partisans actually believe the charges they are flinging about.  I suspect most might doubt that factual basis of their particular charge but believe that the charge gets at something real at the core of their hate object.

Birtherism is just as stupid as the charges that the Bush Administration conspired (actively or passively) in the 9/11 attacks or that the Bush administration blew up the New Orleans levees (or otherwise conspired to flood the majority African American neighborhoods of New Orleans.)  What unites all three is that they hold beliefs about the character of the President that is illustrated by, but not dependent on the conspiracy they are peddling.  The hate comes first.  The 9/11 truthers believe that the Bush administration was itching for a war in order to seize oil assets.  The New Orleans levee conspiracists believe that the Bush administration was infinitely and maliciously racist.  The birthers believe that Obama is (in some sense) anti-American and alien.  Even if the conspiracies are untrue, they are still fake but accurate. 

The biggest difference between birtherism and those others is that a celebrity with more marketing savvy than integrity chose to run a fake, flash-in-the-pan presidential campaign on the issue.  When it came to trutherism, Rosie O'Donnell chose to remain co-host of a mainstream program (until she left for other reasons.)  And Spike Lee spread the levees conspiracy but otherwise chose to remain a good citizen of Hollywood rather than running -or pretending to run - for office.

2.  Like most truthers and levee conspiracists, most birthers will vote like rational political actors in 2012.  Obama denied that the Bush administration was racist in the handling of Katrina and got the support of the left (mostly.)  And most who have claimed that Obama was born outside the US will end up voting for a Republican who argues that Obama is a patriotic, native born American citizen who has some misguided policy ideas. 

3.  I've generally been disgusted by the birther issue, but some perspective is in order.  I think the issue did some harm.  There are opportunity costs.  The time spent arguing about this issue would have more profitably been spent talking about Ryan's entitlement plans, but that mostly wasn't going to happen anyway.  The Trump-related birther coverage was probably mostly going to go to some other celebrity story (royal wedding, some star passing out in a nightclub etc.) and not on issues.  Even some of the coverage in the right leaning media (like Hannity calling Trump a straight shooter -  gag) would have gone to something equally ephemeral.  There was probably some crowding out, but not very much.  Alas.  Also, do you think that the median voter of November 2012 is going to vote against Pawlenty, Daniels or Romney (or whoever) because of something Donald Trump said in April 2011?

4.  Ross Douthat is right that the killing of Bin Laden has reduced the political returns on finding ways to call Obama un-American.  Killing bin Laden is a net positive for Obama (though intervening events and especially the course of the economy will be more important), but if it gets Republicans to spend more time talking about issues that are relevant to people's lives, it will be good for the Republicans too.  And more importantly the country.

5.  The most reassuring thing yesterday was Secretary of State Clinton's comments on Afghanistan where she repeated the US commitment to preventing the reemergence of an al-Qaeda client-state in Afghanistan.  This is more important than the killing of Bin Laden.  The Sunni Awakening and the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy were more important than the slaying of al-Zarqawi in defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq.  Killing Bin Laden is obviously much more important (s a symbolic matter and perhaps as a matter of jihadist morale) than the killing of al-Zarqawi, but it would be a damn shame if Bin Laden were killed but Afghanistan became an al-Qaeda staging base again

Categories > Politics


Going to Hell

All this recent talk about who's in hell should turn our thoughts to some serious theology.  One leading authority, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), wrote in an early book of his:

The depths we call hell man can only give to himself. Indeed, we must put it more pointedly: hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything, in his desire to be self-sufficient. It is the expression of enclosure in ones's being alone. These depths accordingly consist by nature of just this: that man will not accept, will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient unto himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the rejector. Hell is wanting-only-to-be-oneself.... Conversely, it is the nature of that upper end of the scale which we have called heaven that it can only be received, just as one can only give hell to oneself. (239).

Such an account would seem to place many a liberal (in the broad sense of one who believes in his moral and political autonomy) in hell.  For more on hell see Fr. James V. Schall's conversation (about 3/5 of the way down).  He has another, brighter take on hell here

Thorough investigation of politics demands serious understanding of theology, including this most unpopular (and most unpleasant) notion of hell.  Instead of the Five People You Meet in Heaven, we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell.

Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

Why I'm Not Celebrating

Maybe it's the fact that it's finals week, and am up to my neck in work.  Maybe it's the persistent lousy weather (I don't ever remember having to wear a heavy jacket during finals week of spring semester).  But although I see the death of bin Laden as an unalloyed good, I'm not ready to join in the celebrations.

First of all, they seem out of place.  The comparisons to VE and VJ day are inevitable, I suppose, but they aren't apt.  True, there was celebrating on VE day, even though there were still months of hard fighting ahead against the Japanese, but most Americans didn't expect that.  They had believed all along that Tokyo was acting as a puppet of Berlin, and that the surrender of Germany would lead immediately to the end of the fighting in the Pacific as well.  The new Truman administration knew better, as did the men who had encountered the Japanese in combat and understood how they fought.  There wasn't much in the way of celebration of VE day on Okinawa and the Philippines.

Surely, the celebrations of VE Day and VJ Day were appropriate because they represented the destruction of the Axis war machine and the return of peace.  What does the death of bin Laden mean?  The end of patdowns and full-body scanners at airports?  The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan?  We all know that's not happening anytime soon.  Indeed, we're now being put on alert about further al-Qaeda attacks. 

At best, what happened over the weekend could be compared to the death of Hitler on April 30, 1945--eight days before VE Day.  The news was warmly welcomed, of course, but there wasn't anything like the widespread spontaneous celebration that we saw on Sunday night.  In fact, bin Laden's demise probably counts for even less than Hitler's, since it's unlikely that he had any real control over al-Qaeda operations in the past few years.  It's hard to run a worldwide terrorist operation when you can't even use a telephone.

The comparison to Hitler leads me to the other reason why I haven't been jumping for joy.  After Hitler's death Stalin was determined that he was going to get hold of the body.  The Nazis recognized this, which is why they had it burned--unfortunately for them, there wasn't enough gasoline for a proper cremation.  But as soon as Soviet troops entered the city, a special detachment of NKVD was tasked with finding his remains and spiriting them back to Moscow as soon as possible.  Those remains were subjected to repeated testing over the next 25 years before finally being incinerated and scattered into a river in 1970.

By contrast, what has happened to bin Laden's body?  Today it lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't believe that there was a conspiracy--that he was secretly released, or any foolishness like that.  I'm certain that he's dead.  But I'm puzzled by the apparent haste to get rid of the body.  The only reason I've heard so far for handling things in this manner was the need to follow Islamic funeral protocols--a Muslim is expected to be buried within twenty-four hours of death.  Not only does this strike me as an incredibly weak justification, but if it was done for the sake of Muslim sensibilities it has demonstrably not worked.

Would it have been a big problem to hang onto the body for a while?  Not for the purpose of dragging it through the streets of New York City (although I understand why some might find that appealing), but to be able to pull it out for display whenever someone suggests that he's not really dead.  Worried about his grave becoming a shrine for Muslim extremists?  Fine--once it lost its usefulness, it could have been cremated and dumped, just as the Russians did with Hitler's bones in 1970.

Why does this matter?  Because Bin Laden's leadership of al-Qaeda has been largely symbolic, which means that his death only serves the larger ends of the War on Terror to the extent that the terrorists themselves believe it and are demoralized by it.  The quick disposal of the body opens the floodgates to the sort of conspiracy theories that already run wild in the Islamic world.  Mark my words, it will not be long before we are hearing reports of Elvis-style sightings of Osama.  He may even prove to be of greater service to the cause of Islamism dead than alive.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Osama Bin Gone

This morning, I thought the New York Post and the Daily News pretty much nailed it:
Then, as only he can do, Michael Ramirez comes along and sums it all up:

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Jubilee in Washington

When the news of the monster's slaying reached our televisions and computer screens, some twenty of my peers and neighbors made our way to Union Pub for a celebratory drink as we waited for President Obama's speech. Late on a Sunday night, the bar had been winding down to close but welcomed the business as more trailed in behind us. While we waited for the president's remarks, we saw on CNN that crowds were beginning to form outside of the White House. Within minutes we were sprinting across the street to Union Station, hailing a taxi cab and cramming as many inside as we could. The driver, unaware of what was going on, started up his blue tooth to tell others of the development when we relayed the news.

We were soon outside of the North Lawn, a crowd having already formed at the sidewalk there as TV cameras rolled. Every minute, more and more descended upon the area with celebratory joy from every direction until it was completey packed from the fence to Lafayette Park, throngs out to cheer the demise of our greatest enemy. Sparklers were lit, vuvuzelas sounded, and chants abounded. Every few moments the crowd broke into the Star Spangled Banner or other songs, American flags waving about. People climbed atop the lampposts and trees to hang their flags high, police and Secret Service watching from a distance as the happy crowd was self-controlled. The atmosphere was almost that of a school pep rally at times.

Opting to walk back to our Capitol Hill home sometime after one in the morning, we continued to pass throngs of happy people heading towards the White House. Throughout the city cars were honking their horns in celebration, their windows rolled down as they cheered or waved flags. Many cars passing by, and an occasional bar, had Toby Keith's Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue blasting (Refrain of that song: "Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list, and the Statue of Liberty started shaking her fist, and the Eagle will fly, man it's gonna be hell when you hear mother freedom start ringing her bell, and it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you, brought to you courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue."). It was not until approaching Chinatown that the sounds of the White House crowd finally began to die away. Returning home, we put on the President's speech (having missed it while out and about), said goodnight, and slept a good sleep knowing that justice had prevailed over the beast who had taken something from us in our youth when we all sat in our schoolyards, homerooms, and dormitories ten years ago and looked on in confused horror on that terrible day. Justice prevails. God Bless America.
Categories > History


American Justice

Because I was watching a mediocre movie, although with great music (Crossroads), I didn't get the word until about half an hour after President Obama's announcement.  Then couldn't sleep, just watched for incoming reports and reactions for many hours.  Details aside, this is good.  A foreign born friend said this morning, "These Americans, you can't wrong them and expect to get away with it.  They will come after you until they get you.  I'm in awe of you people."  President Obama made the right decision not to bomb the place, but rather have an American shoot him in the head.  Good for him, good for us.  The event--how planned, carried out, and so on--reveals much about both our capacities and our character as a people.  The public rejoicing was also revealing--from West Point, to Ground Zero, to Washington--mostly the young were expressing spontaneous joy, but then another camera to soldiers in a camp in Afghanistan upon hearing of bin Laden's death.  No cheering, no noise, no fear.  Quiet sobriety from men at work.  Impressive.  You Americans are a towering and thrilling people and you will be remembered for that and the things for which you stand.  May the good Lord keep you.
Categories > Military



Over on NRO's Corner I observe that that the secrecy of the operation to find and kill Bin Laden is extremely impressive, given the propensity for leaking or for just plain blowing our cover.  From Obama and other accounts it appears things got into high gear last August, which is a long time for such operational secrecy to hold this well.

But digging further into some accounts it appears we've had our eye on this compound in Abbottabad (by the way, I think I'm the first blogger to post a GoogleEarth photo of the probable location) for several years now, and may well have guessed Bin Laden was there maybe three or four years ago, but needed to figure out how to confirm it.  Which makes the patience, discipline, and secret-keeping of our intelligence services all the more impressive.  I'd love to hear David Tucker's observations about all of this.  (Hint: Time for another Schramm-Tucker podcast?)

The precautions Bin Laden took to conceal his whereabouts remind me of how drug kingpins isolate themselves from police surveillance; can we get the producers of The Wire to make the movie of how this whole thing went down?  Bin Laden had nothin' on Avon Barksdale, yo.
Categories > Military

Foreign Affairs

Bin Laden Dead

The president was to make the announcement fifteen minutes ago, but he is still delayed and the press has broken the story. Apparently, Bin Laden was killed last week by a U.S. bomb and we have his body.

Just rewards, even if belatedly served.

Obama will take credit (shared with the military), because this event took place on his watch. That's fair. But, as an anti-war candidate and hesitant wartime president, Obama should take care not to overplay his hand. Most Americans will not credit his policies with the kill, but the military's dogged pursuit. It would be nice if Obama also shared credit with George W. Bush, who's policy he has followed in Afghanistan - but don't bet on it.

While of uncertain strategic importance, Bin Laden's death is a long overdue symbolic victory for America. If it also has a positive effect on regional politics, all the better.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Ryan And Daniels For President?

Some thoughts on two of my favorite Republicans,

1.  I'm late getting to it, but I've read some commentary about a potential Paul Ryan run for President.  I admire Paul Ryan (not to say I agree with every detail of his every policy proposal), but I don't think he would make for the best Republican presidential candidate.  As regular commenter Art Deco pointed out in the threads, Ryan's has little experience of either executive responsibility or the private sector.  He is primarily a congressional aid turned member of Congress.  This kind of experience is a substantive weakness, but it is also a political weakness.  The obvious retort is that Obama had no experience as a political executive (along with a thin legislative record) and he was elected President.  That is true, but circumstances differ.  As a social democratic-leaning politician running in an unambiguously favorable  environment, his lack of a record was actually a strength.  He had never raised taxes as a governor or voted for middle-class tax increases and large defense cuts as a Senator.  His lack of a record allowed him to promise everything to everybody without anyone able to point to an Obama record that contradicted his promises.  To think of a similar situation, imagine if the Republicans were running against a President Obama with his job approval ratings in the low 30s and the Republican platform was huge tax cuts for everybody + a balanced budget and all to be financed from the savings that would come from tort reform.

The Republicans in general, and Ryan in particular, are in almost the opposite situation.  They aren't offering easy and cheap answers (well, other than Donald Trump.)  They are proposing large spending cuts and major health policy reforms.  Ryan is an excellent spokesman for those policies.  He is informed, articulate and unflappable and doing a great job of spreading the word.  The problem is that Ryan doesn't have much record implementing similar policies as an executive.  Ryan's policies sound like a good idea when Ryan explains them, but they are ideas.  Without an executive record, it is easier to paint Ryan the presidential candidate as a well meaning but ideologically intoxicated dreamer trying to peddle a bunch of think tank fantasies that will never work in the real world.  Also the implications of the tax policies in his Roadmap would, by itself, be huge and possibly fatal weakness in an otherwise close presidential election.  If anybody has a convincing rebuttal to the study in the link I would love to see it.

2.  Which brings us to Mitch Daniels.  His record as governor would put him in a stronger position to run on Ryan-type reforms.  Daniels has cut spending while maintaining or even improving public services.  He has instituted consumer-driven health care reforms that have saved the government money, increased workers' disposable income and maintained access to high quality health care.  A record can make for a pretty good rebuttal.

Erin McPike thinks that Daniels has played the media beautifully so far.  Maybe.  He has gotten favorable profiles from National Review and the Weekly Standard.  He gets favorable mentions from those portions of the liberal-leaning media that are not explicitly partisan.  But those aren't the whole media.  In the Republican presidential primaries, the populist conservative media is more important than National Review or the New York Times.  But candidate quality is more important than the support of (or even opposition from) the populist conservative media.  McCain got nominated despite sharp criticism from Limbaugh and National Review's support of Romney.  Daniels is a much better ideological fit for the Republican primaries than was McCain.  He has a better record as governor than Romney.  I doubt he will win over everyone in the populist conservative media, but I could see him doing just fine on Hannity and Ingraham.   

Categories > Politics