Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

"Uncovering" Their Founding Principle: What IS Sexy?

Hoping to push up sagging sales, Victoria’s Secret CEO, Sharen Turney is making the case that the brand has become "too sexy" and needs to return to it’s "heritage." "We use the word ’sexy’ a lot and really have forgotten the ultra-feminine," said Turney. She’s not kidding. According to one CBS report (to which I cannot link, sorry) one issue of the company’s catalog used the word "sexy" more than 75 times!

All joking (and laments from male readers) aside, I actually think this could be an interesting development. Is there a point at which even our jaded popular culture begins to feel repulsed by a non-stop assault of the senses by overtly sexual imagery and exhortations to be more sexy? Is it any coincidence that the lingerie chain’s most recent advertising campaign asked this poignant and pregnant question: "What Is Sexy?" It is as if they finally understand they’ve reached the end of the road. They ask because it is so apparent that they no longer know.

Part of "sexy"--or really, any kind of appeal--has to be its mystery. You pique the interest and invite discovery. This is probably why Victoria’s Secret was so successful in the beginning. Their very name suggested the Victorian age--where such things were whispered but never spoken aloud. Instead of blasting rock and rap music, they used to pump classical and jazz music into their stores. They even used to feature pretty little feminine things you might find in a gift shop--apart from the underwear. (Years ago, I bought a lovely scented little volume of poetry from Victoria’s Secret--but I won’t say if I bought anything else.) Now they market "Sexy Little Things" and other items that more resemble things you’d have to search for in an adult bookstore 20 years ago. Once upon a time, you were not embarrassed to walk past their store front with an eight year-old in tow. Now, you avoid the mall.

In the beginning, the emphasis of the company was on the "Secret" . . . you got the catalog in the mail, it was just a little racy, but always feminine. No more. Look at the frightening woman marching at the camera in link above. She looks like something you’d get when Cruella D’Ville crashes into Xena the Warrior Princess and drags out Lorena Bobbit on the way--complete with the scissors. I mean, I realize that God made her an attractive woman . . . but no one could possibly believe that wearing that get-up is going to help her look anything other than ridiculous. Good lingerie advertising should make you believe it’s possible to aspire, in some way, to be pleasing to your man. But everyone knows that no one but a Victoria’s Secret model could carry off such a look without looking downright creepy. Whether the model succeeds in the "not looking creepy department" is even up for debate. Perhaps if she lost the leather and the scissors . . . but then you’re back to Turney’s point.

Taking stock

I mentioned in a previous post that now might be a time to begin staking stock of what WFB hath wrought, above all the so-called three-legged stool that is the consequence of the melding of libertarianism, traditionalism, and Cold War anti-communism that took place under his sophisticated, genial, and nonetheless tough-minded aegis in the 1950s.

Here’s a question that I hope will provoke an interesting and fruitful discussion: is "liberty" a means or an end for conservatives?

It strikes me that the three legs can be understood in the following way: libertarians think that individual liberty is the end and that virtue might be a means. National security conservatives think that the country’s liberty is the end and that virtue (understood above all as patriotism) might be the means. Traditionalists think that virtue is the end and that liberty of a sort (let’s call it "ancient liberty") is the means.

Needless to say, there are different conceptions of liberty (and of virtue) at work here. Libertarianism is thoroughly "modern," owing everything, including its conception of virtue, to the thought of philosophers like Locke and Montequieu.

National security conservatism has ancient and modern aspects. On the one hand, to the degree that it emphasizes what might be called "republican liberty," it owes a good bit to ancients like Cicero and Livy. On the other, to the degree that it emphasizes national security, it owes more to Machiavelli’s reinterpretation of those ancient sources. In the latter case, virtue is understood as instrumental and contingent, defined largely in terms of what works to protect national security. In the former, there are times when the price to be paid for success--in terms of virtue--is too high. Republican honor conditions the pursuit of success and security.

With certain caveats, "virtue conservatism" is most akin to the ancients. Republican liberty is understood as the means of producing virtuous human beings, but republican liberty leaves a good deal of room for a political order (polis or res publica) that is very "intrusive" in forming the character of its citizens. The central concern of political life is moral education that upholds and inculcates principles and practices derived from a moral order understood to be natural.

I can see how having common adversaries--domestically or internationally--could bring these strands together. But the common cause would, needless to say, only mask tensions that would otherwise come to the surface. And these tensions have to do with the most crucial question--the end or goal of political life.

I can also see two sorts of "natural alliances" among these three strands. The partisans of "modern liberty" (libertarians and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can make common cause in recognizing--at least on a practical level--that "national greatness" maximizes individual liberty. Or the partisans of "ancient liberty" (moral conservatives and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can find common ground in their adherence to republican liberty, with patriotic virtue as a central concern.

In the former case, traditionalists would be on the outside looking in, unable to find much support for their cultural concerns and hoping that merely private institutions could do the necessary work without much public support and perhaps in the face of a good deal of public and cultural opposition. In the latter case, libertarians would be compelled to make the prudential case that freedom and "choice" are the most solid grounds of republican virtue and republican liberty. Or they could join the opposition, looking to a certain sort of state-guaranteed prosperity as the best ground for an individual’s freedom to do as he pleases.

So I ask, where do we stand? Am I right about this?

Obama afta NAFTA?

We’ve heard this talk, especially in the Rust Belt, which doesn’t quite square with his apparently (or it is allegedly?) "non-ideological" policy shop.

Now (with thanks to our friend John von Heyking), we hear stories about people connected with Obama assuring the Canadians that they don’t really mean it. Of course, when that news hits, there are denials all around.

Obama’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric may be pandering; he may not really mean it. Or he may, in which case he’s adding an immense international complication to what ought already be a full plate of foreign policy concerns. And if he and his supporters think they’re going to get "something" for "nothing," that we can just opt out without consequences or extract concessions from our neighbors without giving anything up in return, they have another think coming.

Obama should be pressed to explain what exactly he wants from Canada and Mexico and what price he’s willing to pay to get it. Whose oxen is he willing to have gored in order to "improve" NAFTA?

Update: Of course, Clinton is afta NAFTA too. For a sample of reactions north of the border, see this post.

Obama channels Cosby

Change of which I can approve.

Gerson on oratory

An excellent apology for fine speechifying, by one of our generation’s best speechwriters. By the by, he reminds us that it’s the substance that we need to pin down and criticize.

Cleaner Louisiana

Bobby Jindal, six weeks into his term as governor of Louisiana has started his reforms. The watchwords are ethics and transparency and almost no one thought he could do it, but he has. This fellow is worth keeping an eye on.

Black History Month podcast

I talked with Lucas Morel about Black History Month. This means he talked about Fred Douglass, Lincoln, King, Ellison and other actors and thinkers, or, if you like, the "stewards of American optimism." This was a very fine conversation, based on a recent talk he gave on February 12 at the Heritage Foundation.

Allen Guelzo on the Daily Show

Allen Guelzo talks about his book Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America on Jon Stewart’s "Daily Show". Informative and hilarious. Stewart’s set-up questions are just too funny: e.g., a query about the role of technology in the debates. Enjoy!

Creepy, short-sighted, (and ultimately juvenile) libertarianism

Ronald Bailey doesn’t seem to like kids much, perhaps because they can’t buy his books or otherwise support his "voluntarily childless lifestyle." As Matthew Yglesias (whose position has its own problems, according to our pomocon friend) notes, this calculation works--I’d say might work--until you’re old. But perhaps Bailey doesn’t care about the loneliness of old age without children and grandchildren, or perhaps he doesn’t plan to grow old. And it’s quite likely that he’s utterly indifferent to the cost of social insurance and other government programs that provide benefits to the elderly. Does he care about a functioning economy, one vibrant enough to generate his private retirement income? Who’s going to collect his trash, clean his streets, and keep him safe from criminals and terrorists? Or won’t there be any terrorists and criminals in his largely child-free future, where all the unpleasant stuff is taken care of by robocop and robotrashman?

But let me return to the central point: one of the things that makes us human is feeling and living up to responsibilities for others, which is manifest much more powerfully in child-rearing than even in marriage (especially if you’re talking about two "autonomous adults," each of whom is earning an income sufficient to support himself or herself). Bailey’s position seems to run away from adulthood, because it isn’t much fun. The libertarians I respect are grown-ups who aren’t afraid of grown-up responsibilities.

I hold out the possibility that Bailey is better than his argument, but if the argument shows the man, it actually shows the adolescent.

Next week, this November, and after the New Year

Jay Cost suggests that there is indeed some evidence that HRC is a "good closer," but wonders if that means much more than that typically ill-informed late deciders have heard of her. If that’s true, then it’s hard to imagine that those folks haven’t heard of Obama by now.

Daniel Henninger argues that the Democratic primaries are auditions for the part of selling a dream. Is anyone prepared to contend that Obama isn’t the better salesman?

Karlyn Bowman and Ruy Teixeira (doesn’t he play first base for my Braves?) walk their readers through the state of the art in political demography. Here’s one of the interesting nuggets:

Married voters typically vote solidly Republican and married voters with children even more so. But their representation in the national electorate is waning, as are some values to which these groups have traditionally been linked. According to Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center, two-parent families with kids at home were 23% of the population in 2006, down from 45% in 1972. The proportion of never-married adults rose to nearly a quarter of the electorate between 1972 and 2006, up from 15%. Overall, never-married, divorced, or widowed women are now a narrow majority of adult women, and unmarried households are now a majority of the nation’s households. The growing, unmarried slice of the electorate is tilting Democratic.

Finally, our friend Steve Thomas sends along
this TNR piece about Obama’s domestic and foreign policy advisors. Obama apparently consorts with economists from the University of Chicago who are not true believers in the rational actor model. I regard this, generally speaking, as a good thing. It doesn’t tell me that I’ll find the policies of an Obama Administration (I may have to get used to typing that) congenial. Liberal big government solutions that are adjusted pragmatically at the margins (see, for example, his appraoch to health care) are still liberal big government solutions.

From out of the gloom at NRO

Comes word that a certain book will soon rise to the top of the NYT best-seller list.

WFB, RIP, second version

I never had the fortune of meeting William F. Buckley, or hearing him in person, but I find myself envying those who did. You can read plenty of reminiscences and appreciations over at The Corner, which will, I’m sure, be draped in black for the foreseeable future (as well it should be).

Lots of people will be using this occasion to take stock of the state of American conservatism, which wouldn’t have been widely acknowledged as a three-legged stool without Buckley’s efforts. Whether it will continue to be so understood is, I think, an open question. For the moment I can’t ask you to do anything more than to read Patrick Deneen’s reflections as a point of departure. I don’t agree with everything he says, or at least with the way he says it, but he seems to me to frame some of the issues quite well.


Story here. There will be plenty of commentary to follow, I am sure. In the meantime, a toast to the man and his work and a life well-lived.

Campaign financing again

The Democrats press their attack on John McCain as he attempts to opt out of public financing. Some conservatives appear to be enjoying the spectacle.

The definitive post on the subject is by former FEC Commissioner (and current Ohioan) Brad Smith.

All this leaves me with a few questions unanswered. First, does or does not Barack Obama have a hold on Bush FEC nominee Hans von Spakovsky? The WaTi article says he withdrew his hold in December; everyone else says the hold is still in place. Since that nomination is what is effectively preventing the FEC from reaching a quorum so as to be able to resolve this dispute, people need to be asking Obama and his fellow Democrats about their actions. The opposition to von Spakovsky is connected with his role in promoting voter ID legislation and purging the voter rolls of felons. Partisan Democrats don’t like him. Are they going to be able to get away with prosecuting their partisan ends and putting a cloud over the McCain campaign? As I said before, since they don’t actually have to do anything to keep this mess going, and since it’s pretty arcane, I fear that they can get away with it. Who’s going to put the heat on them? The press? President Bush? The RNC?

Another issue concerns Senator McCain’s place on the Ohio ballot, which he secured by showing that he was authorized for federal matching funds (even though he hadn’t received a penny). This enabled the McCain campaign to avoid the more cumbersome and expensive means of securing voter signatures to win a place on the ballot, a means all the other campaigns seem to have used. In this case, it strikes me that the ball is in the Ohio Secretary of State’s court. Why does Ohio law permit this alternative means of ballot access? I assume that demonstrating to the FEC’s satisfaction that you’ve raised lots of money in small increments in lots of states is a proxy for demonstrating that you could, if you needed to, jump through Ohio’s hoops for getting on the ballot. But I don’t know what the intention of the Ohio law is, and I don’t know how the official charged with administering that law will rule.

The big Pew survey revisited

The good folks at Acton have given me an incentive to think about the Pew survey I mentioned yesterday. They even suggested that I take a look at these two essays on church-shopping, which seems to be one of the big take-aways from the report.

Virtually all the major stories on the survey make our church shopping the headline, followed closely by the observation that we’re headed toward minority status for Protestants, and the observation that the secularist category is growing like gangbusters. This WaPo article is typical. The WaTi’s Julia Duin (for my money one of our best religion beat reporters) focuses on the decline of Catholicism (kept afloat by immigrants, but losing those raised in the Church) and the rise of evangelicalism. Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly nicely summarizes the various angles stories have taken.

As for me, I have lots of questions. To wit: why do people move from one church or denomination to another? Are they changing or are the denominations changing? (In the Knippenberg family, it’s a bit of both. We attend a church that’s somewhat like the church in which my wife grew up, but it’s a different denomination. As for my own upbringing...well, that’s another story.)

Another issue: the secular number in the survey is large--around 16%, as I recall. But only 4% of those call themselves atheists or agnostics. The other 12% are divided between people who apparently don’t give religion a thought (let’s call them "worldlings") and those who are kinda sorta spiritual but don’t fit into a denominational box at the moment. Some of the latter are immigrants; some others are young folks. Both these types find themselves in circumstances when their identities (for want of a better term) are in flux. I assume that many of them will settle. Where? So-called seeker-friendly churches are made for people like that, though one hopes that they eventually move from seeking to finding. In a similar vein, I’d add that one thing that tends to motivate people to church or back to church is marriage and family. All of this is a long way of saying that I’m not sure that our relatively high (by American standards) percentage of people who claim no religious affiliation is necessarily a harbinger of a post-religious future. It may be, but a lot depends, I think, on such "mundane" considerations as whether the decay of the family continues apace and whether churches and denominations do a good job of reaching out to immigrants. (Indeed, if our religious health were my principal consideration, I’d be very accommodating to immigrants...and make certain that women and children accompanied the young men. Without the former, the latter are much less likely to find their way into a church.)

Your thoughts and observations are welcome, especially before tomorrow morning, when I’ll be joining the Radio Free Acton podcast.

Update: The not-yet-ex-Catholic Jon Schaff has more. (I by the way do not mean to suggest that he’s on his way to being an ex-Catholic, but I do think he nails one of the problems with Catholic religious education as I experienced it--at least episodically--growing up.) Which leads me to another question connected with our religious fluidity: to the degree that churches all too often consist of rather poorly educated ex-members of other churches, how on earth can anyone successfully inculcate anyone in a religious tradition? Pastors have to carry an awful lot of weight, a problem that’s compounded in the Roman Catholic Church by the relative shortage of priests.

Update #2: You can listen here to the Radio Free Acton podcast.

Today’s Clinton Fun Fact

Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978 at the age of 32. He lost his first bid for re-election in 1980, giving him the odd distinction of being the youngest governor and youngest ex-governor in American political history. Newsweek reports that after his surprising defeat, "Clinton sank into a deep funk. Wandering the streets of Little Rock, he’d stop to question strangers: "’Why do you think I lost?’" [The correct answer to that question is, "Because you’re the kind of guy who wanders the streets of Little Rock asking strangers, ’Why do you think I lost?’"]

Ashbrook Center

Video on the Ashbrook Center

Earlier this month at CPAC, Ashbrook Chairman Marv Krinsky gave the annual John Ashbrook Award to Lee Edwards. We put together the following video for the dinner as an introduction to John Ashbrook and the work we are doing here at the Center.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

The faith-based initiative at risk?

Being otherwise occupied, I missed this article last week (hat tip to Howard Friedman through Jordan Ballor). The usual secularist subjects want to strip the affirmation of religious hiring rights from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Act renewal. Their argument is the old "no government funding of religious discrimination" canard, with which I dealt many moons ago here. The short version of my argument is that we’re not funding religious discrimination, we’re supporting religious freedom in carrying out programs that work. We shouldn’t fund programs because they’e religious, but because they work. We shouldn’t refuse to fund programs that are religious if they work, assuming that a wide range of alternatives is available (and also funded). This isn’t a violation of the First Amendment.

I have more to say about these matters in a review forthcoming this summer in the CRB.

Sikkenga on NBC Affiliate

Our own Jeff Sikkenga will be on NBC4 in Columbus this evening providing commentary on the Obama-Clinton debate starting at 9:00pm. If your cable system doesn’t carries NBC4, he will also be hosting a live chat on the debate on NBC4’s website during and after the debate. Follow the link and you will see a banner near the top of that page advertising the live chat. Log on tonight and take the opportunity to ask him questions about the debate as it happens.

Hillary’s Wilderness Campaign

One point about Hillary Clinton’s dire situation hasn’t received enough attention: her need to win both the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. A split-decision next Tuesday will be as damaging to her campaign as two defeats. Today’s Real Clear Politics average of the latest polls shows Clinton 8 points ahead of Obama in Ohio and 1.5 points behind in Texas. Polls in both states have shifted in Obama’s direction over the past week. According to Marc Ambinder, Clinton’s advisors now “figure that a loss in Texas is as likely as a win in Ohio.”

To put this problem of needing two big victories in military terms, Clinton’s position is like an army that needs to stretch its forces to defend the entirety of a long front, facing an opponent that can mass its troops for an assault on the point of its choosing. The similarity to Robert Lee vs. Ulysses Grant becomes stronger considering that Obama, like Grant, has more troops and more firepower. His campaign organization has shown itself to be more nimble and disciplined than hers over the past 8 weeks. He spent five times as much as she did on television advertising in Wisconsin. His financial advantage over the next week will be smaller than that but still considerable. With that advantage Obama can put extra ads on the air in Texas, if that continues to look more promising, while spending enough in Ohio to pin Clinton down there and prevent her from shifting resources to Texas.

Facing this tactical challenge, Hillary’s army in not only running low on bullets but, as you would expect after losing 11 straight battles, suffering morale problems. Patrick Healy reported in the New York Times that some Clinton campaign staffers are “burning out.” Some have “taken to going home early — 9 p.m. — turning off their BlackBerrys, and polishing off bottles of wine,” he writes, while others “have taken several days off, despite it being crunch time.” Mike Allen and John Harris reinforce that point in today’s Politico, portraying a campaign team “consumed with frustration and finger-pointing” that has “slipped into full recriminations mode.” The campaign has become “a grim slog,” they write.

Military history teaches that most tactical dilemmas are begotten by strategic blunders. We’ll give Michael Barone the last word on Hillary’s: “The way Clinton has run her campaign – like the way she ran health care reform in 1993-94 – undercuts her claim to be ready for the presidency from day one. In both cases, she had no fallback strategy, no Plan B, in case her best-case scenario failed to come to pass.”

Change in which I could have believed

Ah, but not so fast.

Cultural illiteracy yet again

There’s another survey--described in this article--that points toward the weakness of our schools as transmitters of anything like our full cultural legacy. Yes, the kids get Martin Luther King, but not Martin Luther; civil rights, but not so much the Civil War.

And this explanation won’t wash: it is, after all, possible to read about our history and culture.

I haven’t yet seen the report itself. When I find it, I’ll provide a link and will doubtless have more to say.

Update: You can download the report from this page and you can take a look at the survey’s sponsoring organization here.

Jonah Goldberg at Oglethorpe

No, he’s not coming back, but you can listen to a podcast of his speech here, in the second hour of this radio show (halfway through the podcast). The show’s hostess introduces Jonah’s talk by confessing that she’s kinda liberal, but (now) more conservative than she realized.

Random Observations

1. David Brooks explains in his new column that nobody is going to get anywhere claiming that McCain is too cozy with the lobbyists. Nobody has a more consistent record of taking on the special interests, the earmarks, the clever legislative insulations from competition and all that. Someone might say he’s too comtemptuous, in a warrior’s way, of ordinary democratic interest-group politics.

2. Stephen Hayes has a thoughtful comparison of Obama with Reagan in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Anyone who listens closely notices that Barack doesn’t just speak in platitudes, but has a complex and nuanced grasp of very liberal positions on policy issues. He’s careful to express his extreme views without being strident, and while always showing respect for the other side. So he might have what it takes to mainstream liberalism--to make it young and beautiful--again, just like Reagan mainstreamed conservatism in many ways.

3. Brooks concludes his column by claiming that we really do have two extraordinary candidates this year.

Religious landscape survey

The Pew Forum has issued the first installment of a report based upon a massive survey (we’re talking 35,000 respondents) of the American religious landscape. Bookmark the main page, with its interactive features, read the executive summary, and, if you dare, download the whole dang report, all 143 pages of it.

The folks at Pew promise more to come from this impressively comprehensive survey later this year.

I’ve just started browsing the report and playing with the interactive features.

No! Don’t Retract It!

It is reported that John McCain acknowledges that one of the central things he must do as a candidate for the presidency is to convince Americans that there is a reason to continue with the war on terror. When asked what happens if he can’t do that, he is reported to have said, "I lose." I gotta say . . . I like that. I suppose there’s a "rabbit’s foot" sense in which acknowledging the possibility of defeat can be considered the wrong way to conduct a campaign. But I like the very clear acknowledgment from McCain that this is his task before November. It is and it must be. He has to make the case for this war because we must go on fighting it.

And, whatever Barack Obama may say about what he’ll do as President, I really don’t believe he’ll simply stop. It’s juvenile to believe that it’s even possible. McCain can demonstrate (in a way that is not boring, please) exactly why it will be impossible to simply stop fighting. Then he can show why it would be irresponsible. Finally, he can ask the American people whether they want a guy with no experience and no heart for the fight leading the inevitable fight. If they are with him in understanding why the fight is here whether we like it or not, then it’s hard to make a reasonable case that Barack Obama is the better man for that job.

Obamacans running amok in Ohio?

The L.A. Times finds a couple who have bought the post-partisan line. To them, the tone and the personality matter more than the substance. Did they always?

Iowa faith-based prison program to end

Thanks to the federal courts and a Democratic governor. You can read all about it on Knippenblog.

Barack Obama to the contrary...

"I still haven’t found what I’m looking for." (Apologies to U2.) Bill Kristol is the latest to note that Barack Obama and his wife have a certain this-worldly messianism about them.

Obama has long noted that "we" (or at least some of us) have a hole in our souls, but in earlier speeches (such as the one I discuss here), he described the hole as one "that the government alone can’t fix." The implication was that the loving efforts of religious congregations could help heal what ails at least some of us. (This, by the way, is a view that George W. Bush shares.)

But the new faith healer Obama, as Kristol points out, seems to think that his election will begin a process of healing. This is, of course, a much less modest view of government’s role, let alone his role.

Obama, McCain, and the FEC

The WSJ editorializes about the questions I discussed here. Much as I too would hate to hand Obama and his allies a victory on Hans von Spakovsky, I think removing the shadow from McCain’s campaign is more pressing.

Update: In the meantime, Democrats are enjoying the spectacle of McCain twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. (Full disclosure, lest I be accused of plagiarism: those aren’t my words, but belong to John Ehrlichman.)

The 49th State

1. Those who want to hear my message of hope and change that promises to fix the hole in the American soul will have to travel to the University of Alaska Anchorage (recently visited by Peter Schramm) this week. There I’ll speak on the Tocqueville and America’s three races or on the American display of both middle-class and aristocratic virtues and vices or on greatness and justice on our very own soil. McCain and Huckabee are bound to make a brief appearance (in my speech). Go to the Polaris website at UAA for further details on this event next Thursday night.

2. There’s a lot of talk about Barack and Michelle’s effort to plug the hole in the American soul through inspirational rhetoric about change. Here the Big O is traveling in televangelist country, with the promise to make us better through his gracious word and without meriting salvation through our good deeds. And, as Michelle has proclaimed, we can finally be proud of our country only because it has recognized its savior through the testimony of its voters.

3. By contrast, Bill Kristol asserts, John McCain loves his country more than himself and is much more about deeds than words. But it’s surely an exaggeration to say that Mac is a man of few words, and it’s probably more accurate to say that he loves both his country and himself a lot. Thank God we don’t have a candidate this time with the self-doubt that plagued even Lincoln and de Gaulle on occasion.

4. I, for one, wish Mac would start talking up the virtue of ordinary Americans in their daily lives. Men and women who know how to live well under God don’t need political salvation. But they do benefit from the encouragement of the right kind of (limited) government policy, and we return once again to "the Warrior" becoming credible as a Republican on domestic policy.

5. I could expand my previous remarks on the Warrior and the Preacher to include one warrior and two preachers (Huck and Obama). Huck has the guts or lack of prudence to make his preaching pretty sectarian (God’s law) and policy-laden (the Human Life Amendment). Barack’s seems nonsectarian and really does seem to replace God with Himself.

6. An article in new AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE (which, as usual, I skimmed for free at Barnes and Noble) makes the point that President Obama is not likely to have either a humble or an isolationist foreign policy. He might well rival the present president in his ideological and even military interventionism--he’s out to the save everyone and maybe every species on the planet and not just our people.

7. If you’re really tough on immigration and a "realist" in the technical sense in foreign policy, you’re out of luck this time. Depending on your definition, it’s possible to say that both candidates are nationalists or that neither of them really is.

Huckabee’s future

Here are two pieces speculating on Mike Huckabee’s post-08 future. Does he want to be a erious contender in ’12, or someone with whom all the serious contenders must deal? By staying in the game so long, he’s been able to introduce himself to voters who otherwise wouldn’t have paid much attention, especially in Texas.

Note also David Kuo’s argument that, with the passing of the old religious conservative guard, the successors are less likely to focus relatively narrowly on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They’ll still be important, but the portfolio will be more extensive...and also more likely to depart from fiscal conservative orthodoxy.

As I’ve said before, there are ways of talking about these matters that don’t require "big government" solutions, but Republicans do have to indicate that they "care" about them. Otherwise, Amy Sullivan’s analysis of the ways in which Democrats have been hostile to the concerns of religious folks will find a mirror image in someone’s analysis of Republicans. Nothing is to be gained from having a tin ear...except permanent back-bencher status.

Frederick Douglass

Peter C. Myers’ new book on Frederick Douglass landed on my desk just as I was leaving for Florida on Thursday (I just got back), so I was able to read some it on the trip (it encouraged me for I had to speak on Lincoln at The Villages on Friday, about 250 folks showed up, by the way; I enjoyed it very much, hope they did). The Myers book is probably the most serious study of Douglass’ mind ever written, in my opinion. Is it too much to hope that Mrs. Obama (or the Senator) might read it? (Or Toni Morrison, for that matter, who said in 1986, "At no moment of my life have I ever felt as though I were an American.") Well, this might be a good time to remind ourselves that Frederick Douglass--under much more difficult conditions than are experienced today--was not alienated from our ancient faith. Or--to put it more simply--in seeing the difference between the good principles and the bad practice, he reminded folks, especially white folks, of both their hypocrisy and the soul of their country. Douglass speaking on the Fourth of July, 1862: "No people ever entered upon the pathway of nations, with higher and grander ideas of justice, liberty and humanity than ourselves." Douglass knew that Americans were not living up to their purposes, so he made it his life’s work to both change the practice (agitate, first against slavery then against segregation) and always to instruct his fellow citizens on the first principles of government. And so he instructs us today, and that teaching is revivified by Professor Myers. Good for us.

Peter Lawler

1. One effect of the Obama campaign has been to strengthen the Democratic party state-by-state. That’s what’s going on now in Texas. He’s attracting new voters and energizing the existing ones. Not only will he carry Texas against Hillary, there’s serious talk that he may carry Texas in November.

2. The column by David Brooks and the article in the NYT on McCain’s choice of running mate both make clear how thin the Republican talent pool is. I would say that Romney would be much better than the Governors of MN, FL, NC, and even Haley Barbour of Mississippi. I would encourage Mac to think "outside the box," but that might lead him to pick some Democrat or Huck.

3. Fred Barnes makes the interesting point that one of McCain’s strengths is that he’s relatively immune to the characteristic Democratic ideological attack on global warming, torture, Guantanamo, guns, tax cuts for the rich, and so forth. And that’s true, although we might wonder whether people who vote with such issues in mind would vote for any Republican. But the downside, I repeat, is that he’s not particularly well suited to bring on the ideological attack on those issues where the characteristic Republican position is actually popular--judges and tax cuts for families. Mac is strong on the patriotism issue, and Obama might well be even weaker than McGovern on the "nationalism" front. This might not be the most promising year for milking the American’s love of country for Republican purposes, though. Mac needs, I repeat once more, needs to become credible AS A REPUBLICAN on the domestic issues.


Hnery Kissinger conducts an interview with Der Spiegel (don’t panic, it’s in English). It’s typical Kissinger, broad ranging and careful; yet he manages to say that it is too bad that in a post nation-state Europe they can’t ask their people to make sacrifices for the ware against radical Islam. He thinks there is a vacuum between Europe’s past and Europe’s future.


The two main opposition parties in Pakistan are setting aside some differences in order to form a government. Could this change the agreements (secret) that we had reached with Musharraf regarding secret drone strikes against the bad guys? There are many interesting items in this article worth noting, but above all note the amount of U.S. activity on Pakistani soil (and in the air).

Kosovo and Serbia

With his typical verve, Christopher Hitchens gets it mostly right. It’s a messy thing, talking about the "historical reasons."

Loving one’s country

John McCain doesn’t have a problem with it. Peggy Noonan wants to know if the Obamas do.

Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? Do they confuse patriotism with nationalism, or nativism? Are they more inspired by abstractions like "international justice" than by old visions of America as the city on a hill, which is how John Winthrop saw it, and Ronald Reagan and JFK spoke of it?

Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?


And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don’t teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you’re losing America, you really don’t want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

Noonan notes that America did well by Michelle Obama, even if her professors at Princeton and Harvard Law were more interested in telling her of how badly our country has treated its African-American citizens. She also notes that a lot of folks--regardless of race, creed, or color--love their country, even if they don’t have immediate access to the heights she has scaled.

I recognize that pride in one’s country and love of one’s country aren’t the same thing. But how likely is it that Barack and Michelle Obama could utter the words--"My country, right or wrong"? I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone why this statement is unproblematical.

More campaign finance maneuvering

Last week, I noted an effort by Barack Obama, early in his candidacy, to envelop himself in a McCain-Feingold good government aura. With his success in fundraising, Obama hasn’t exactly been eager to join John McCain at the pulpit.

But earlier this week, Obama did give us some more words, revising his pledge in a way that is intended, as the WSJ’s Kimberly Strassel notes, to hamstring McCain.

Here’s Obama:

I propose a meaningful agreement in good faith that results in real spending limits. The candidates will have to commit to discouraging cheating by their supporters; to refusing fundraising help to outside groups; and to limiting their own parties to legal forms of involvement. And the agreement may have to address the amounts that Senator McCain, the presumptive nominee of his party, will spend for the general election while the Democratic primary contest continues.

Here’s Strassel:

Mr. Obama knows Republican 527 groups are scooping up cash and will soon unleash it to Mr. McCain’s advantage. He knows Mr. McCain’s greatest asset is the next few months, when he’ll be able to define himself and his opponents while Democrats slap away at each other. So Mr. Obama is proposing a new ethical challenge to Mr. McCain, one that conveniently hobbles his rival. You can call this savvy, and it might reassure voters who’ve wondered if Mr. Obama has the fists to tangle with the big boys. But you can’t call it high-minded or visionary.

Further, as Strassel notes, public financing of the general election is actually a pretty good deal for both candidates, permitting them to spend over a million a day (that is, roughly what Obama raised in January). So he’s using the threat of his prowess as a fundraiser to try to get McCain to agree to slow down his general election campaigning until the Democratic race has been settled.

I’d add this: Obama would probably love to turn the Democratic 527 volume down in the general election. It’s harder to sound like a post-partisan candidate when and the Soros-funded groups are yelling so loudly. So long as no one touches GOTV activities, he’s happy.

Another thing that’s noteworthy in all this is that McCain has his own FEC problems, centering on a bank loan the McCain campaign took out late last year. He is in the process of being hoist by his own petard.

McCain’s position would be strongest if he could get FEC permission to withdraw from public financing, permission that in principle would be forthcoming, if the FEC had a quorum. But Senate Democrats, led by Barack Obama and Russ Feingold, are holding up three other FEC nominees because of their objections to a fourth. To keep McCain on the hook, they only have to sit on their hands. Or if the Bush Administration tries to help McCain out by withdrawing the objectionable nominee, Senate Democrats only have to move s-l-o-w-l-y, er, deliberately, to restore the ranks of the FEC.

Bush’s people probably ought to sacrifice their nominee, press the Dems to act quickly, and strongly suggest the impropriety of the presumptive Democratic nominee making it hard for the "clean government" FEC to do its job.

And McCain ought to learn his lesson, conveniently drawn for him by Strassel:

As two believers in complex campaign-finance laws, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama helped create a system that now requires both to engage in games over 527 spending and tax subsidies. If they really believed in better government, they’d call for a system in which donors can give what they want, so long as it is transparent. That’s called having faith in your citizens, and it would be change we could believe in.

Attention Teachers!

To commemorate Washington’s Birthday, play this podcast with Chris Burkett for your students on Friday morning and print out this document--which is short and, I promise, is something they’ll enjoy (especially if you do it in tandem with the podcast). Do this and then, with your students, consider how good it is that we can look back--not only with pride, but also for instruction--to a man who exemplified nobility of character but, at the same time understood, intimately, the necessity of respect for democratic authority if true nobility was to be preserved (and, we might argue, vice versa). Have them read that letter and consider their good fortune in having, as the father of their country, a man of that stature rather than a Napoleon or a Ghengis Khan.

Peter already linked to this below, so I apologize for the repeat. But he didn’t say enough good about it. It’s really just the thing--especially for students or anyone curious enough to begin an exploration of this great and good man.

Obama: Right Symbol for the Wrong Party?

Daniel Henninger makes some thoughtful observations in today’s WSJ about what Obama’s widespread appeal really means. He’s not buying--too much--the argument that white guilt is leading people to pour their hopes into Obama. Too easy to be good--and, as Thomas Sowell has noted--Obama doesn’t appeal to white guilt (at least, not yet). But there is a common thread between Obama and a group of up-and-coming black politicians with a message (or at least a symbol) that may have some interesting cross-cultural appeal. The question, Henninger notes at the end, is whether the Democrats can countenance this message. Sadly, the Republicans haven’t given any indication that they can do it better.

You Knew this was Coming . . .

Duke Lacrosse players sue school and town. Great. I’m sure they probably have a case. Much has been made of the lack of ethics involved in their prosecution. Much has been made of the girl’s lies. And I agreed with all of it. But missing--sorely missing!--from almost all discussion of this case, was any serious condemnation of the boys for engaging in behavior that was so irresponsible as to put them in an awkward and compromising position. There was plenty of unjust condemnation directed at them--about their supposed racism and imagined proclivities for sexual assault--but admitting that these guys acted like a bunch of stupid jerks who didn’t deserve a lot of sympathy would not have implied support for those moronic attacks. Team sponsored (whether "official" or not) drunken parties with strippers? I’m not so naive as to be shocked by the occurrence of these things . . . but I am offended by a call for my sympathy to be attached to the idiots who get caught with their pants down--so to speak. Boys, if you don’t want to end up in this situation here’s an idea . . . don’t go to these kind of things. Don’t hang out with drunk sluts you don’t know and can’t trust. Exercise some judgment if you can’t exercise your virtue. If you don’t, it may go badly for you. And, when it does, perhaps you’ll have a legal case if you don’t end up in jail. But so what? You’re still an idiot. And we all end up having to watch your sad spectacle and foot the bill for this kind of absurd litigation? Thanks so much for that.

Ashbrook Center

Podcast on George Washington

It is Washington's birthday tomorrow so I talked with Christopher Burkett about George Washington in this podcast. Burkett knows the Founding and the Father as well as anyone I know (that's what he teaches at Ashland) and it was a very good conversation.

Washington always both reminds us of our limitations and our virtues, and any conversation about Washington teaches us something about the virtues necessary for self-government. You Americans do well to remind yourselves of this great man, this peak of human excellence, and you have reason to be proud of your country, both for its Constitution and its Father.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Day Care Blues

How many absurdities can be packed into one article? This one by Sue Shellenbarger today makes an heroic attempt to be the clown car of absurdity. Titled "The Brat Race" the article expresses sympathy for the plight of wait-listed parents at hoity-toity child-care centers across the country. These neurotic yuppies (the tuition in these joints makes it highly unlikely that they’re catering to blue-collar folks or even mid-level execs) fill out applications for enrollment before their little bundles of joy are even conceived. There are so many things to consider, after all, and you have to get into the right place. This can be quite distressing . . . as Shellenbarger says, "The trend poses a challenge for parents, who may not know how far to plan ahead and how to navigate the wait lists."

Well, this much is clear . . . they don’t know how to plan very far ahead!

"Quality" is ever the watch-word . . . as in "quality" care and "quality" time. And what connotes "quality"? Well, this will (of course) depend upon your "values." For example . . . do you want a program that works toward "reading readiness" or do you want your child to begin a rigorous reading program by age 2? Can you imagine coming into this world and being thrust into the warm bosom of such a household? It sounds perfectly charming . . . about as charming as a straight-jacket.

Masters of our own Domains . . .

There’s an interesting article in the style section of today’s New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom that discusses the rising trend of young, smart, and female bloggers and on-line content providers out-producing and over-shadowing their young male counterparts. The article is full of the usual speculation about evolving gender roles and wistful longing for a new generation of uber-chicks who can put those nasty boys in their proper place. "Girls Rule" is the mantra of the little darlings (who, I’m sure, are actually very nice and bright young girls) interviewed for the story. Whether that sentiment is coming from someplace deep (!) in their 14 year-old souls or it is something foisted upon them by their less successful (compared to men) and aging mothers . . . I’ll leave that to you to judge.

Despite the breathless reporting and ill-concealed enthusiasm for kicking boys in the shorts, the article ends up making some sensible (because they are timeless) observations. Girls like to talk. They especially like to talk about themselves and to reflect upon themselves and the meaning of their lives. Boys don’t. [One "wise" observer argued that this stems from the "fact" that girls, unlike boys, are more accustomed to thinking of themselves as objects . . . of course it does.] Girls have the patience to learn design techniques and to operate complicated programs if it means they can exhibit their thoughts and feelings--the article actually compares it to a girl’s propensity to "dress up" and the patience that requires. Boys have more patience when they are the ones developing these complicated programs that girls use. Boys like to post more videos of themselves--especially when the video gives evidence of their amazing physical exploits (skateboarding or some such daredevil stunt).

So, I guess you could go read this article. But, if you prefer (as you should), you could just go re-read Tom Sawyer and observe the interaction between Tom and Becky Thatcher. I’ll bet you anything he would have posted a video of himself too. And Becky would have had something to say about it.

Obama in Texas

I’m starting to think Peter Lawler is right about Obama’s prospects in Texas and Ohio. A friend at the University of Houston sends this tidbit along today:

"Obama drew 20,000 two nights ago in our new professional basketball arena. Last night, Bill Clinton showed up more than an hour late to the UH campus and drew 2,000."

Obama’s View of Your Rights

Ken Blackwell nicely unpacks some of the words dripping off Barack Obama’s silver but forked tongue. The specifics discussed in this example are his real views concerning the Second Amendment. He’s claimed to support it and, even on Drudge, he’s been heralded as a defender of individual gun rights. But not so fast. You may have these rights but, apparently, your possession of these rights does not mean local governments can’t have their own rights . . . like the right to take your guns away. Obama supports the DC total ban on gun ownership. Whatever your views on the Second Amendment, consider what’s really at the heart of Obama’s twisted view of rights. You possess individual rights and government possesses separate rights--to be defined (presumably?) by Obama--and these governmental rights can overrule your mere individual rights. Your rights come with strings . . . we already knew Democrats thought that--that’s why they’re always so eager to tie you up in a ball of dependence. But now, apparently, there’s also an escape clause. I mean, after all, you can’t really be trusted with your rights. You’re not as smart as they are.

Little Change and Less Hope

Victor Davis Hanson writes a pithy condemnation of both Obama and Clinton and also the tortured world view that permits them to get just about everything exactly backwards. Just the sort of thing to pass along to an otherwise sensible friend who is toying with the idea of voting Democrat. 

Random Observations

1. The campaigns for the party nominations are more over than ever now. The Wisconsin result was ever more devastating than the Virginia one. Let me said I told you so on Hillary. I will now boldly predict she’ll actually lose the Ohio and Texas primaries. Huck’s usefulness for McCain is over; he should drop out

2. My interviewing of Berry College presidential scholar candidates and my visit to Baylor both reinforced my opinion that there’s are real pockets of evangelical love for Obama and not much evangelical like for McCain at this point.

3. Obama, of course, doesn’t share McCain’s record of reaching out to members of the other party. I’m not sure, though, why he’d have to as president; the Democrats will surely have enhanced majorities in Congress. But part of the Republican argument--one that might draw the libertarians back in--is that divided government is safer and probably cheaper than unified government. Mac, of course, is in some ways well suited to rule with the other party controlling Congress.

Barack Around the Clock

Okay, so this headline isn’t exactly original, but neither is the Obama Phenomena, which continues to present one of the most extraordinary spectacles in American political history. I keep thinking he is going to deflate like a souffle, but perhaps not.

I have commented several times now to reporters that Obama reminds me of Gary Hart in 1984, the charismatic candidate of "new ideas" who had none beyond his own name change (from "Hartpence," remember). I keep waiting for the roof to fall in on Obama from the media and from Billary’s brass knuckles, just as the media and Mondale turned on Hart with ferocity that year. Maybe, this week, we are starting to see the matter turn, but perhaps too late for Clinton.

Margaret Carlson makes the case today in Bloomberg News that "it’s the nature of the press to have severe morning-after regret for having gotten a lump in the throat over a candidate." They sure did in 1984. Here’s a passage about Hart from the chapter on the 1984 election in my forthcoming Reagan book:

On the CBS Evening News in early March, shortly before the next round of big primaries, Dan Rather led a segment thus: “Who is this man, this Gary Hart?” On NBC the following night, Roger Mudd asked: “How old is Gary Hart? And why did he change his name?” NBC wasn’t done. Two nights later, NBC’s John Dancy offered another Hart segment that began: “Who is Gary Hart, anyway, and what does he believe?” Tom Brokaw dismissed Hart as “this season’s hit rock-‘n’-roll single.” Roger Mudd practically taunted Hart in an interview: “Why do you imitate John Kennedy so much?” CBS’s Bruce Morton kept up the theme: “Gary Hart is the hottest political property around, at least this week. But who is he?” ABC was not left out, with Jack Smith delivering a devastating syllabus of Hart’s strangeness: “He’s even fudged the year of his birth.”

Hart compounded the fresh doubts about his character with several miscues in the next round of primaries that happened to be in the big unionized, Mondale-friendly states including Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Mondale’s campaign was suddenly rejuvenated and skillfully exploited Hart’s vulnerabilities. The most devastating hit was the “red phone” TV spot, which never mentioned Hart. Instead, the camera panned in slowly on a blinking red telephone, meant to evoke the mythical “hot line” to Moscow, with the voiceover: “The most awesome, powerful responsibility in the world lies in the hand that picks up this phone. The idea of an unsure, unsteady, untested hand is something to really think about. Vote as if the future of the world is at stake, because it is. Mondale. This President will know what he’s doing, and that’s the difference.”

We’ll see if Obama is about to get this kind of press treatment. My guess is he will. Hillary is already attempting the equivalent of Mondale’s red phone ad. But it’s hard to make that line work in a party that does not believe we are in a serious conflict.

The emperor has clothes

In styles from the rive gauche, says Karl Rove, who also argues that relative specificity means relative vulnerability. A snippet:

Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama’s promise to change Washington by working across party lines. Mr. Obama hasn’t worked across party lines since coming to town. Was he a member of the "Gang of 14" that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations? Was Mr. Obama part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues like energy, immigration or terrorist surveillance legislation? No. Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.

Mrs. Clinton can do much more to draw attention to Mr. Obama’s lack of achievements. She can agree with Mr. Obama’s statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration -- and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

I don’t think that Senator Clinton will be able to puncture Obama’s balloon, especially since her own balloon seems to be losing altitude, but an aggressive John McCain might. And I’m sure that every time HRC says something negative, folks from the McCain campaign are taking notes, not to imitate her, but to remind voters in the fall that even members of Obama’s own party don’t think he’s ready for prime time. Which he isn’t.

Lowry, torn between Obama and Clinton

This paragraph at The Corner from Rich Lowryon how he is torn between Clinton and Obama is perfect:

"I really don’t know who to root for in the Democratic race. I’m obviously with all those complaining about Obama’s messianism. And I agree with my friend Peter Feld who had this excellent piece in the New York Post yesterday pointing out how candidates elected on soaring, unrealistic promises of change usually have trouble governing once they are in office (e.g. Deval Patrick, Jimmy Carter). There is a grounding and a realism to Hillary that I have found appealing. I still remember what she said in reply to Obama in some debate long ago: the day after the election later this year, everyone is going to still believe everything they did they day before, i.e. everyone isn’t suddenly going to agree with Obama’s liberalism. That’s exactly right. Plus, I sympathize with Hillary’s lunch-bucket constituency (former constituency?) more than Obama’s upscale liberals. Yet the Clintons have been simply repellent on the campaign trail, and Obama has run an honorable campaign and is a genuinely likable and talented guy. So I was delighted as Obama’s lead grew and grew to 17 points last night, at the same time I was cheered back in January by Hillary’s puncturing of the insufferable Obama hype in New Hampshire. At this point, I guess I could welcome anything: an Obama steam-roller through Texas and Ohio that ends the House of Clinton with a bang, or a Hillary comeback that pricks the ridiculous Obama bubble and draws out the race. There’s nothing to do but sit back and enjoy."

Funniest Comment on Castro’s Demise

Courtesy of Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner. Of course, I’m happy to see the tyrant go . . . but I wish he had been taken by something less natural.

McCain’s Speech Last Night

Here’s the text. It is short and semi-sweet. Some of the construction is awkward and unclear--as in the third paragraph where he poses a choice for Americans. You have to read it about six times to understand what he’s recommending.

On the other hand, his focus on the war and on his aims to improve our military and intelligence efforts is admirable. It is both good and wise to force this issue. This bit is not bad:

The most important obligation of the next President is to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. They are moral monsters, but they are also a disciplined, dedicated movement driven by an apocalyptic zeal, which celebrates murder, has access to science, technology and mass communications, and is determined to acquire and use against us weapons of mass destruction. The institutions and doctrines we relied on in the Cold War are no longer adequate to protect us in a struggle where suicide bombers might obtain the world’s most terrifying weapons.

I like that he does not hesitate to call our enemies monsters. But he is right not to stop there. He is also very clear about their capacities and their determination and, therefore, the dangers they pose. He does not dismiss them in calling them monsters--as some seem happy to do--implying that there is nothing that can be done with such people. Instead, he attempts to inspire and instruct the dragon slayer hiding in all of us. We can take these guys, he’s saying. Again, not bad.

I am less impressed with his riff on "change"--both in its implied dig at Obama and in his meditation on our "world of change." The attack on Obama’s rhetoric of change as empty would have been more effective if he did not follow it up with that almost equally empty reflection. Empty calls for change vs. confronting real change with experience? I don’t know . . . I suppose it could work, but it didn’t in this speech.

I did like the direction this quote implies McCain can take his campaign:

"We need to marshal all elements of American power: our military, economy, investment, trade and technology and our moral credibility to win the war against Islamic extremists and help the majority of Muslims, who believe in progress and peace, win the struggle for the soul of Islam.
Again, it attempts to inspire us to join the effort and get on board with a team that can and must win. But if this is to hold up as a campaign theme, I think he should get a little more specific about the ways we can join the effort.

I thought the weakest part of the speech was the domestic focus at the end. It was a pudding with no theme. Again, we got the vacuous reference to "change" . . . "The challenges and opportunities of the global economy require us to change some old habits of our government as well. " If McCain never gives another speech with the word "change" in it, it will be too soon. I’m sure it must be possible to give a speech without that word. He should try it. Really.

The biggest problem with this part of the speech is its lazy composition. It began with that empty reference to change, led into a laundry list of as yet unmentioned bullet points, and tried to tie it all up at the end with the too neat and painfully obligatory mention of "the children." It is not hard to do it better.

If he wants to "understand our strengths and rely on the common sense and values of the American people" then he should try articulating the substance of our strengths, our common sense and our values. He hints at it when he points to the "false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people" but he doesn’t quite nail it because this is a combative explanation. Here he is explaining more of what he is not about than he offers an explanation of what he is. Thus, while he invites us to join him in the dragon slaying abroad, he appears to suggest that we park our carcasses and let his "experience" guide us on the domestic front. We have to trust him because he’s older and wiser. That’s not going to play well, I’m afraid. It doesn’t get people fired up to do battle against Barack Obama if their ammunition is nothing more than their "trust" for and the "experience" of their candidate. Where are our guns? What about our capacities? If McCain wants us to trust him, he’s going to have to show us--better than he has--that he trusts the goodness and the judgment and the capacities of the American people. He has to invite us to join him in the fight (really, both fights) instead of just inviting us to tune in for it.

David Brooks on Obama’s Fade

No, not Obama’s haircut. Read Brooks’slatest op-ed (Feb. 19) to see why the Great Light Hope will inevitably have trouble keeping hope alive. My favorite line:

"If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper."

Then again, there’s this one:

"His Hopeness tells rallies that we are the change we have been waiting for, but if we are the change we have been waiting for then why have we been waiting since we’ve been here all along?"

As for a disappointing op-ed (Feb. 18) my man Stanley Crouch is taken by the optimism that is the Obama experience, reading into his Airness Crouch’s own profound blues sensibility (informed, of course, by the novelist Ralph Ellison). Crouch gets off a few good riffs: for exmaple,

When Obama links the 13 Colonies fighting the Revolutionary War to the abolition movement against slavery, and that to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and that to women getting the vote and unions being able to represent workers, and that to defeating Hitler and European fascism during World War II, and that fight to the Civil Rights struggle in which black and white people, some young, some not, brought this country much closer to its democratic destiny, Americans feel both purified and closer to each other.

Too bad Obama’s policies give little evidence of being informed by the principles that really could bring about the unum from the pluribus that is our diverse but United States of America. Crouch wants to believe in Obama, and will, if the senator starts reading and preaching from Crouch’s script.

Plan of Attack

John McCain has been offered, free of charge, two very good pieces of advice today. The first comes from Pete Wehner who argues, very astutely, that a simple criticism of Obama as vacuous will be ineffective. Wehner notes that there is something to this charge as surely there is something distasteful in the rock-star persona and circus surrounding the new King of Liberalism. But don’t forget the Liberalism, Wehner notes. Obama is the King of Liberalism in more than the fluffy sense. He really is astoundingly liberal, "in a country that is not." McCain should reject out of hand anyone who argues that attacks on Obama’s liberalism are "so 1980s"--even if they are, that doesn’t make them any less effective or true.

The second bit of advice comes from John Podhoretz in a piece the focus of which is more Michelle Obama than Barack or John McCain. Michelle Obama’s over-the-top rhetoric is probably an insight into the soul of the Obama family’s kitchen table conversation, Podhoretz postulates. It exposes their sincere (though bizarre) belief that they are a new Messiah for America. But why do they imagine that America needs a new Messiah? The Obamas don’t argue that America is fundamentally good, but flawed (as the overwhelming majority of Americans believe to their core) . . . they argue that America is "fundamentally flawed and only occasionally good." McCain needs to expose this and challenge Obama--even directly--to defend it if he can. This is a wide open hole through which McCain should be able to make a successful run in my view.

One aspect to an argument against the Obamas that will appeal to young people, for example, is to point out their monumental hypocrisy. If America is "fundamentally flawed" and only "occasionally good" how is it that a Michelle Obama (with her Princeton and Harvard degrees) and a guy like her husband (similarly outfitted) even came to be? What silver spoons did they have to suck in order for a country as screwed up as this one to take them seriously? You mean . . . there weren’t any silver spoons? They’re not the son or the daughter of privilege? Oh . . . what a rotten country! Well . . . what exactly is it that they need to save? Perhaps we need John McCain to save us from the saviors!

Relative radio silence

I’m in far western Virginia/far eastern Tennessee working for the Man, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have for blogging this week.

I would have had some time this evening, but for the fact that my hometown airline let me down. As it was, I became far too closely acquainted with the charms of my hometown airport, experienced, albeit fleetingly, the charms of an airport I hadn’t intended to see, and enjoyed a two-hour drive through the dark and empty Tennessee countryside, reacquainting myself with the grown-up joys of country music.

Now if only the bag that I so stupidly and trustingly checked some twelve hours ago would materialize!

Obama and the superdelegates

Joe Knippenberg explains why the Democratic Party instituted the superdelegates, what ends they were supposed to serve, and why the Obama campaign is questioning those purposes. There are two possibilities: Either Obama is an ordinary politician, and just wants to get an advantage, or he is an advanced version of a democratic politician who will claim (as a democratic leader) to represent the will of the people, institutions and other safeguards cast aside, and the people’s will is to be simply followed. Joe hopes he is the former. I think the whole superdelate issue (a kind of "republican" inconvenience to simple majority rule) is very much worth watching. What happens will reveal much about the party and the candidates.   

Kipling and us

Bill Kristol, amazingly (and indelicately?) and in the New York Times, brings Kipling (via George Orwell) into our current political discussions. I guess when you get to Bill’s status, you don’t have to worry about the prudence of such a thing. No matter. I like the idea in part because I use Kipling for his language (at least), in which, he is still without peer. Any of the Just So Stories will do, but this one is the best. It’s about men and women, and cats and dogs, the beginning of things, and trust. Read it aloud, please, even if you aren’t reading it to a child.

Morel Podcast on Lincoln

I talked with Lucas Morel last week about Mr. Lincoln. I wanted to put it out on president’s day, just to make a point that both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays should be holidays and on the right dates, darn it! Anyway, here is my Podcast with the good Professor Morel.   

Ignore the man behind the curtain!

Is it Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick?

Shameless Self-Promotion and Random Observations

1. I will be speaking at BAYLOR (in beautiful Waco) next Tuesday. At NOON on Locke an at 7 on Stoicism and Christianity in America (inspired by Walker Percy, Willian Alexander Percy, and Tocqueville). See the ISI or Baylor websites for further details.

2. The ghost of a chance for Hillary’s comeback depends on her actually winning in Wisconsin on Tuesday. The polls show her just outside the margin of error. This fact is so obvious to me that I wonder why she hasn’t poured everything into that state and flattered its residents even more on the significance of their decision.

3. If we follow the experts in saying that candidates can be judged on character, competence, and ideology, we see that Senators Obama and McCain are strong in the same category--character. Obama’s strength comes from his visionary and, some say, ennobling words, and McCain’s from his noble deeds (which he doesn’t hesitate to call to our attention).

4. They both score low on competence, insofar as neither really has a record of executive accomplishment. Obama is just inexperienced and untested, and a lot of his planet-saving, quasi-messianic talk should remind us that he often seems pretty clueless on what he’d actually be able to do as president. McCain was for the surge, but he’s not really been carrying it out, and everyone knows his practical judgment is questionable.

5. When you listen carefully, Obama is very clear on ideology. He’s not hiding the fact that he’s the most liberal of the senators. And so any Republican would stand to gain by waging an ideological campaign against him--on taxes, judges, immigration, foreign policy, political correctness, a national health care bureaucracy, and so forth. McCain’s perceived ideological moderation might be viewed as a strength, but it’s actually more like incoherence. He’s to the far right, so to speak, when it comes to budget cutting, surges, and maybe even bombing Iran, and on these issues the conservative position (although it might be right) is not particularly popular. And his flip-flopping when it comes to taxes, immigration, and judges might make it hard for him to bring the ideological attack on against Obama. Mac’s main job is to work on this ideological thing, because that’s where Barack is weakest. He needs to turn incoherence into moderation, and genuinely moderately conservative policies might well be good enough to energize "the base" against a liberal extremist. He needs really to believe that the Bush’s best domestic accomplishments were the pro-family tax cuts and two really smart and reliably conservative justices.

Deneen on Obama

Turns out Patrick Deneen has his own reasons for agreeing with Jonah G. about Obama. In his critique, he invokes the shade of Augustine against the shades of Dewey and Croly, two figures who loom large in J.G.’s "devil’s dictionary."

But Patrick reminds us that there’s a realist tradition that doesn’t come out of the Enlightenment and that doesn’t regard religion in either an instrumental or inimical way.

If you want more, Jon Schaff has it.

Reaganites for Obama???

Say it ain’t so, Prof. Kmiec, last seen advising Mitt Romney. Well, Kmiec himself might not go over to the other side, but he suspects more than a few Catholics, even conservative Catholics, will. A snippet:

Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural. Anyone seeking "liberty and justice for all" really can’t be satisfied with racially segregated public schools that don’t teach. And there’s something deeply hypocritical about being a nation of immigrants that won’t welcome any more of them. And that creation that God saw as good in Genesis? Well, even without seeing Al Gore melt those glaciers over and over again, Catholics chose Al to better steward a world beset with unnatural disasters. Climate change is driven by mindless consumption that devotes more ingenuity to securing golden parachutes than energy independence.

Of course, marriage and family are indispensable as well, and until now, Catholics saw the Republicans as having a lock on the family issue. But if either Clinton or Obama would acknowledge the myriad problems associated with a declining population in the developed world and affirm the importance of both having and raising children (and not just punting these duties over to Hillary’s "village"), Catholics could well contemplate a Democratic adoption.

Rick Garnett offers a brief for the other side, seizing on the BIG "beyond life issues" caveat, McCain’s support for--and Obama’s opposition to--school choice, and immigration policy, where McCain’s position is closer to that of many in the Catholic hierarchy.

Nonetheless, this is a point to remember that the non-Catholic Michael Gerson insists upon the importance of Catholic social teaching as a strain in conservatism, something too many conservatives are willing to forget in their headlong flight from anything that smacks of compassionate conservatism. It’s also worth noting that Catholic social teaching is attractive also to some thoughtful evangelicals.

I don’t think that McCain--the God and country (hold the God) candidate--is the man to articulate these themes for conservatives and/or Republicans in the upcoming campaign. But he needs a running mate who can.

Update: Our friend RC2 has much more. Consider this, for example:

Is Kmiec unfamiliar with No Child Left Behind, "comprehensive" immigration, and all the Bush Administration support for "green" policy? Conservatives are furious about those things, but Catholic voters of the sort Kmiec is describing should be happy with Bush and not eager to shed their Republican identities if he’s correct -- if we bracket the Iraq war, which I’ll come to in a minute. Does Kmiec not know that McCain supports school vouchers (there’s that 3rd non-negotiable) while Obama opposes them? Or that McCain’s in trouble with Conservatives precisely because he supported Bush’s immigration program and is aggressively in favor of attention to climate change? If Kmiec is right about what Catholics care about, he’s listed reasons in favor of McCain. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up Catholic opposition to torture --another topic on which McCain deviates from Conservative orthodoxy in the Catholic direction.

The real issue, she says, is probably the war, and though the Roman Catholic Church’s position on this is nuanced, that nuance will likely escape many voters.

Over at The Corner, there’s been some back and forth, with
Ramesh Ponnuru starting it off, Kmiec responding, Ponnuru coming back, Shannen Coffin jumping in, Kmiec responding to Coffin, and Ponnuru getting testy. Here’s the portion of Kmiec’s argument I found most revealing and problematical:

John McCain has all the appearance of business as usual – Bush II or is it III? That being so, we need to face the reality that we are about to lose the Presidency and the Congress, thanks to the incumbent, and by backing a lackluster, "it’s my turn" Republican who is not perceived as advancing the interests that Catholics care deeply about be it the right to life or the broader social teaching of the Church. Oh yes, we are well aware of Senator Obama’s morally unacceptable position on abortion. No Catholic can or will endorse the taking of innocent life. Indeed, conscience could not just dissuade, but directly preclude, casting a vote in his column. However, Catholic moral teaching enjoins us to work to transform the culture in every vineyard, not just those that are friendly. And Senator Obama has courageously and intriguingly opened a window of opportunity for important conversation across faith traditions, by reminding us that "we should not use faith as a wedge to divide, but instead use faith to resolve cultural tensions and mediate conflicts rather than engage in a politics that exploits them and drives us further from a solution."

I certainly don’t see McCain as the second (or third) coming of Bush. There are surely some continuities, but also some signal discontinuities, as there are with so-called mainstream Republicanism. But if Kmiec means to say that the combination of support for the war in Iraq (at least as it’s currently executed) and an (unimaginative, "uncompassionate"?) focus on the interests of business marks McCain’s continuity with some elements of the Bush record, he’s surely onto something. Whatever may have been the case with Michael Gerson and GWB himself (along with a few others), there were certainly plenty of people in the White House between 2001 and the present who didn’t care a whit about Catholic social teaching. And I don’t think McCain does either, for reasons that Peter Lawler has sketched.

I think that Kmiec is quite wrong about any sort of opening Obama is offering. He offers respect as a way of inviting people to the table, but the conversation is one-sided: you can be persuaded to agree with him, but he will never move toward you. If some folks on the right use cultural issues as wedges, Obama’s approach is to regard them as something like fishing lures. They’re intended to attact people to his political agenda, whose substance, such as it is, is almost entirely statist.

Changing Souls and Changing the World

Michelle Obama is an interesting character. In speaking about her husband and his capacities, she informs us that he is capable not only of changing souls (which, in her view, is what we all need in America) but also of changing the WORLD. Hugh Hewitt has been playing bits from this speech this afternoon. Go have a listen and then, when you hear it, ask yourself if John McCain really looks so bad. Hugh Hewitt is not given to wild expressions of over-statement. But even Hewitt remarked that it reminded him of the fascist stump speeches from the 30s. He’s been reading Jonah’s book, so perhaps that’s why it came to his mind. I haven’t read Jonah’s book yet but Mrs. Obama’s speech did remind me of somebody else.

Fred Barnes remarked that the Obama campaign had better reign her in before she becomes the next Teresa Heinz-Kerry. Whatever happens, this is going to be interesting to watch.

How to Think About Black History Month

Shameless self-promotion. Yours truly gave a lecture on Lincoln’s birthday entitled "The Problem of Black History: Race, Memory, and the American Creed." If interested in the webcast, click away. Here’s the blurb for the event:

Frederick Douglass argued that “The sum of the black man’s misfortunes and calamities are just here: He is everywhere treated as an exception to all the general rules which should operate in the relations of other men.” In light of this, what should we think about Black History Month? What was its original purpose, and has it outlived this purpose? And does it now serve to divide rather than unite America, highlighting racial differences and fostering “identity politics”--where individuals are treated differently depending on their race and not their merit?

Give Her Some Room . . .

Michael Medved just noted this James Taranto piece from yesterday on his show. Apparently Obama has hit upon a spate of faint females at recent rallies. Medved wondered whether this wasn’t an indication of some calculation on the part of Obama because there seems to be a distinct pattern in the incidents: woman faints, he pauses, asks the crowd to give her some room, occasionally offers water, and then returns to his speech among enthusiastic cheers for his heroic efforts. Medved thought it sounded reminiscent of Giuliani’s fake phone calls from his wife during campaign speeches. Hmmmmm. Maybe. He went further to suggest that if this story broke larger than it has, Obama’s call to "give her some room" may end up giving the other HER some room in the race against him. Again . . . maybe.

But I think that Taranto’s take on the matter is, in a way, even more interesting. Let’s suppose that none of this is contrived. Let’s suppose these women actually ARE fainting during Obama rallies as they swoon in his irresistible presence. What is that about? Isn’t that, in its way, even more disturbing than the possibility that he’s staging this?


Just over ten years ago, on January 27, 1998, Hillary Clinton informed America that a “vast right-wing conspiracy . . . has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.” One of the accomplishments of her own presidential campaign has been to bring into existence a vast left-wing conspiracy. Every day, one more leftist commentator looks on the Clinton campaign tactics and unleashes a volley of dismay and scorn.

Jonathan Chait, Michael Tomasky and Robert Reich have been prominent critics. Ezra Klein now weighs in with the kind of fury that would play well on FoxNews: It’s “getting a bit annoying to watch [the Clintons] discover brand new principles as soon as they become politically useful. I never, not once, heard anyone in the Hillary Camp say the real test for the candidate was how they did in huge, heavily-Democratic states like California and New York. Rather, before she lost a bunch of small states, I kept hearing that her experience in upstate New York would assure her the Missouris of the world, which Democrats needed. I never, not once, heard anyone in the Clinton campaign denigrate the representative nature of caucuses when it [looked] like they might win Iowa. Never, not once, did they respond to a poll showing Hillary in the lead by saying, ‘hey, it’s just a caucus, and basically undemocratic.’ Now, of course, they want caucuses not to count. Fine, that’s politics. Similarly, when the DNC decided to strip Michigan and Florida of their delegations, I never, not once, heard the Clinton campaign stand up [to] stop the whole thing from happening. They stayed silent, and even assented to the DNC’s decision. Clinton’s campaign manager released a statement saying, ‘We believe Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina play a unique and special role in the nominating process, and we believe the DNC’s rules and its calendar provide the necessary structure to respect and honor that role.’

He concludes, “If it’s cynical, risky politics that brings a lighted match and a can of gas near the Democratic coalition, it should be named as such, and its consequences understood, and it should become part of the complex calculus we’re all building to help us understand these campaigns.”

A straw in the wind?

With gusts up to 100 mph. Back in October, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton. Just before Super Tuesday, Lewis repeated his endorsement.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that superdelegate Lewis is disinclined to defy his constituents, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama. That is, he’s inclined to accept the Obama argument that superdelegates shouldn’t exercise an independent judgment in the nomination race. (Incidentally, this tells you something you already knew about Obama’s approach to "original intent.")

Now, there is a little confusion here: my hometown paper is reporting that Rep. Lewis’s office is calling the NYT story "inaccurate." Is this a response to Clinton campaign pressure? Is it simply an insistence on the difference between endorsement (active support) and acquiescence in "the will of the people"?

Who’s asking?

As a critical friend (to be distinguished from a friendly critic, though I’m also that), I am.

Of course, one could say that the person in question is just following the lead of someone else. I’m not sure that either position makes political sense, though the latter one perhaps makes business sense.

Campaign financing: promises, promises?

I’m not a big fan of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform." But way back when, Barack Obama sought lay the foundations for a public funding truce for the general election, and John McCain took him up on it.

But now, things look a little different.

In a sense, McCain has the larger problem, first of all, because he lacks Obama’s fund-raising prowess and, second, because he’s one of the principal authors of a system that doesn’t really work. But when he was a fresh face, Obama seemed to want to play by McCain’s rules, at least for the rhetorical advantage, image-polishing, and attention it would give him.

McCain should relentlessly challenge Obama to live up to this "deal," but if that tack fails, he should be man enough to admit that the public financing system with which he’s identified is irretrievably broken. He and Obama both have something to lose if the "gentleman’s agreement" doesn’t hold. But McCain’s "change" can be explained (call it "spun," if you must) as a manly recognition that the ways of the political world can’t be regulated as rigidly as he’d like. He can adapt, coming up with something new (now there’s a word that’s in fashion!).

Obama, I think, has a harder time coming up with a plausible rationale for his unwillingness to keep his "pledge." Does he say that effecting change in Washington is more important than keeping his word? Does he say he never really meant it, that it was just an option his campaign was exploring in its early stages? To those who pay attention, he’ll look a little more like an ordinary politician.

The question is, how many will be paying attention?

Religion and Politics

The Associated Press reports that the IRS is going to investigate a pastor, also an official in Sounthern Baptist Convention, who wrote parishoners on church letterhead endorsing Mike Huckabee for President. The endorsement letter said in part “I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can. . . . I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running, Mike Huckabee will listen to God.” The pastor is defending himself by arguing that the letter was only a personal endorsement of Huckabee. The Associated Press also reports that “Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS. Drake [the pastor who wrote the letter endorsing Huckabee] later lashed out at them in an Aug. 14 press release and urged his supporters to direct "imprecatory prayer" toward two of the group’s officials, Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming. He gave as examples of imprecatory prayer: "Persecute them. ... Let them be put to shame and perish." "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow." "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg."”

A Different Sort of Valentine . . .

Ben Boychuk at informs us that Valentine’s Day is old hat for some progressive Manhattan and university types. For those folks, there’s another thing beginning with the letter "V" that they’d rather celebrate every 14th of February and, yes, "Monologues" are part (but I’m sure, only a part) of the story. The "holiday’s" creator Eve Ensign (also the creator of the infamous "play") was asked what she thought of "V-Day" hitting the 10 year mark (who knew?!) and she had a few more "V" words to throw in . . . something about this being a great "victory" for women as they finally find their "voices" and blah . . . blah . . . blah . . . you get the idea. (If you don’t, follow the link to Ben’s post and you’ll get an earful.)

I’ve never been a great fan of Valentine’s Day . . . it always seemed so contrived and it seemed to create so many unrealistic expectations and unnecessary heartache (of course, these were opinions I had before I had responsibilities and spontaneity was easily and smugly extolled). But Valentine’s Day--corny as it has become--is looking pretty good to me by way of comparison with this . . . what do you call it? . . . "holiday?"

Obama’s speechifying...again

Here, first of all, is the written version of the Dean Barnett’s argument, to which I alluded in a previous post. Barnett makes three points; I agree with two-and-a-half of them. First, Obama is much less impressive without his teleprompter. Yup. Second, his style is to "respect" those with whom he disagrees without moving an inch in their direction. Yup; for Obama, working across the aisle means luring his opponents to his side, not compromising. Third, when he adlibs, Obama reveals the angry, backward-looking partisan beneath the cool, conciliatory exterior. Well, sort of. Barnett is right that his adlibs are more partisan; it was a partisan crowd, after all, not a "big tent" Obama rally. I’d want to see him really pushed and tested in a debate (by McCain) before I came to Barnett’s conclusion.

Daniel Henninger tries to penetrate Obama’s rhetoric and finds John Edwards:

Listen closely to that Tuesday night Wisconsin speech. Unhinge yourself from the mesmerizing voice. What one hears is a message that is largely negative, illustrated with anecdotes of unremitting bleakness. Heavy with class warfare, it is a speech that could have been delivered by a Democrat in 1968, or even 1928.


I am not saying all of this is false. But it is a depressing message to ride all the way to the White House.


Unease about the economy is real, but Sen. Obama is selling more than that. He is selling deep grievance over the structure of American society. That’s the same message as John Edwards, or Dennis Kucinich for that matter.

Henninger draws a contrast with McCain’s classically conservative (in the American sense) belief in the efficacy of initiative. So we have angry hopefulness against hopeful anger. Let’s see how this plays out.

I don’t think Obama can get much better. In the general election campaign, he’ll have to pay attention to his opponent and start managing the policy and vision debates. It would be a mistake not to try very hard to pin him down, or not to show how evasive he is when you try to pin him down. Can McCain do it? I hope so.

The incredible lightness of Barack

Commenter extraordinaire Steve Thomas called our attention to this dark and foreboding piece by Leon Wieseltier. A snippet:

The turbulence that I have described is not caused by misunderstandings. It is caused by the interests of powers and the beliefs of peoples. Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, Islamabad, Gaza City, Khartoum, Caracas-does Obama really believe that he has something to propose to these ruthless regimes that they have not already considered? Does he plan to move them, to organize them, to show them change they can believe in? With what trick of empathy, what euphoria, does he hope to join the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds in Iraq?


My problem is not with "day one": nobody is perfectly prepared for the White House, though the memory of Bill Clinton’s "learning curve" is still vivid, which in Bosnia and Rwanda cost more than a million lives. My problem is that Obama’s declarations in matters of foreign policy and national security have a certain homeopathic quality. He seems averse to the hurtful, expensive, traditional, unedifying stuff.

Read the whole thing.

Andrew Ferguson on Lincoln’s Religion

Nice essay by the author of Land of Lincoln (and Weekly Standard editor) in First Things magazine. Excerpts:

Ferguson on Lincoln’s view of the Civil War: "This is no ordinary war, because this is no ordinary country."

"At Gettysburg, Lincoln explained why the country—the Union—was worth preserving. It was not any Union that was being ­preserved, it was a particular kind of Union: a Union dedicated to a timeless proposition that existed before the Union was even conceived."

"The war would determine whether such a proposition could be safely entrusted to human institutions."

The country, Lincoln believed, is the carrier of a precious cargo, a proposition that is the timeless human truth, and the survival of this principle will always be of providential importance. We assent to Lincoln’s creed, wide open as it is, when we think of ourselves as Americans."

Who Let the Dogs Out?

As we watch the unraveling of Hillary Clinton’s carefully crafted campaign and the ascendancy of Barack Obama, it is impossible not to notice that Ms. Clinton and the Democrats of her mold are finally hitching their wagons to the real star that is the longing of every modern Democrat heart: victimhood. Unfortunately for them, they are the victims of a monster born out of their own experiments: Barack Obama. That child of the Boomer era has grown up and he’s learned his lessons well. He’s out-boomered them all. He even captured the endorsement of the last remaining vestige of the Boomer generation’s childish sentimentality: Ted Kennedy--a link to the sainted John of their youthful memories and imaginations.

Some months ago, we had a discussion here about a piece by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal wherein he pointed to the fact that Obama’s appeal stemmed from the way in which he appeared to transcend the politics of the 60s generation. I pointed out that it was true, but that it was only appearance. Moreover, sooner or later, the 60s generation would catch on and try to "kill" the Frankenstein they created. South Carolina and events following on the heels of it, proved this an accurate speculation.

As these events have played themselves out, Florida blogger, Rattlegator has some very thoughtful and worthy ruminations about the implications of it all. They’re worth a few mugs.

But when you finish there, you MUST, simply MUST go check out the further and compelling observations of his fellow blogger, Michael David Cobb Bowen, who argues that these developments mark the beginning of the end of multiculturalism as we understand it.

McCain’s victory speech

Is here. It’s an impressive effort that draws characteristically conservative contrasts with his opponents (the Democrats, I mean). For instance,

[The American people] don’t send us to Washington to take more of their money, and waste it on things that add not an ounce to America’s strength and prosperity; that don’t help a single family realize the dreams we all dream for our children; that don’t help a single displaced worker find a new job, and the security and dignity it assures them; that won’t keep the promise we make to young workers that the retirement they have begun to invest in, will be there for them when they need it. They don’t send us to Washington to do their job, but to do ours; to do it better and with less of their money.

But the speech needs to be better, I think, in articulating the relationship between "principle" and "interest." The first line of the paragraph whose conclusion I quoted reads:

The American people don’t send us to Washington to serve our self-interest, but to serve theirs.

This is too sober and pedestrian, not just for a man whose bread-and-butter is the self-sacrificial nature of his biography, but for a leader who thinks we face a civilizational challenge and a candidate who will likely face a stirring, albeit largely vacuous,
"idealist." This is more like it:

[W}e face no enemy, no matter how cruel; and no challenge, no matter how daunting, greater than the courage, patriotism and determination of Americans. We are the makers of history, not its victims.

But people don’t "make history" and face down daunting challenges in the name of self-interest. (I take that [partially] back: obviously someone with a thoroughly materialist view of history--a Marxist, say--would argue that self-interest makes history. But McCain is surely not one of "them.")

The closest McCain comes to addressing the question I’ve raised is here:

My hope for our country resides in my faith in the American character, the character which proudly defends the right to think and do for ourselves, but perceives self-interest in accord with a kinship of ideals, which, when called upon, Americans will defend with their very lives.

But I’m not sure what it means to "perceive self-interest in accord with a kinship of ideals." Does this mean that we conceive our interests in terms of our ideals? Does it mean that we’re united by our ideals? Perhaps this helps:

When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest ambition, and that all glory was self-glory. My parents tried to teach me otherwise, as did the Naval Academy. But I didn’t understand the lesson until later in life, when I confronted challenges I never expected to face.

In that confrontation I discovered that I was dependent on others to a greater extent than I had ever realized, but that neither they nor the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, I discovered that nothing is more liberating in life than to fight for a cause that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone.


I do not seek the presidency on the presumption that I am blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me. I am running to serve America, and to champion the ideas I believe will help us do what every American generation has managed to do: to make in our time, and from our challenges, a stronger country and a better world.

How the principles or ideals are different from "America" remains hard to tell. I’m left wishing for a reference, at least, to the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address, that latter of which certainly would give McCain language in which to discuss the sense of sacrifice he feels in his bones.

His peroration doesn’t help matters:

I intend to do that by fighting for the principles and policies I believe best serve the interests of the American people: for a government that takes and spends less of your money and competently discharges its responsibilities; that shows a proper respect for our rights and values; that provides a strong and capable defense; that encourages the enterprise and ingenuity of individuals, businesses and families, who know best how to advance America’s economy, and secure the dreams that have made us the greatest nation in history.

Our "rights and values," our "dreams," are expressions of our interests. The most you can say for this is that McCain is the apostle of self-interest properly understood. This isn’t bad, but it isn’t enough, as Tocqueville recognized. The great Frenchman recognized the reductionism, and hence the inadequacy, of this self-understanding. Let’s hope that McCain, and his speechwriters, can do the same.

When is it time for Huckabee to quit?

Byron York argues that Huckabee runs the risk of diminishing the political capital he has accumulated if he stays in too long. The McCain campaign has to be weary of embarrassing results among constituencies he is supposed to consolidate into his coalition.

Of course, at the moment Huckabee is the vehicle for anyone displeased with McCain as the GOP nominee, which doesn’t mean that all those who vote for him actually like him, only that they dislike the Arizona Senator more.

I’m inclined to say that, for conservatives, McCain’s discomfiture is a good thing, assuming that he makes some (more) gestures in their direction. But it’s worth recalling that the necessarily public nature of this discomfiture and the presumably ensuing attempt at conciliation offers folks in the press opportunities to write stories that might harm McCain’s subsequent efforts to build a winning coalition in the general election. It would have been better for the outreach to have been conducted under the radar, so to speak. If McCain is in fact an honorable man, even quiet promises ought to have been sufficient.

The other possibility, of course, is that the publicity drives McCain in the other direction, so that he won’t do what he needs to do to consolidate his base until after Huckabee is out. The more time passes, the harder conciliation might become and the more newsworthy it is when the attempt does come. This complicates further McCain’s efforts in the fall.

For me, the bottom line is this. McCain must by now have received any message he’s going to receive through the primary process. He knows that there are constituencies in the GOP that are unhappy. He knows he needs their votes, their work, and their money to win the general election. But he also needs the votes of independents and moderates. A quiet rapprochement with conservatives serves everyone’s interests better than a loud, public one. Assuming, as I said, that McCain is an honorable man, the only thing that publicity accomplishes is embarrassing him and making his path to election more complicated. Even if Mike Huckabee doesn’t get out, it’s time for conservatives to register their discontent in other ways than in the polling booth.

Watch for falling moose

Just in case you don’t quite see that Alaska is the last frontier, I should mention that a couple miles into the city (of 300,000, half the population of the state), in other words twenty minutes after I landed, I saw a moose nibbling on a tree in someone’s back yard as we drove by. Then, this morning a front page article appeared in the Anchorage paper: "Falling moose nearly takes out trooper: Animal plunges to its death of Seward Highway cliff." Now, although there is more to the frontier cover of the state than this, these two moose stories will be great to hang it on later.

No Miracle in Virginia

1. No miracle for Huck: The polls were right that showed him surging but falling short in Virginia. The bad news for Mac: The self-described conservatives and evangelicals are more against him than ever. If there’s any campaign that’s been blessed or at least lucky it’s McCain’s.

2. To repeat what many experts have been saying: The people who still give Hillary a chance are the same ones who actually thought Giuliani’s fallback strategy could work. The demographics of Obama’s big win in Virginia show how hopeless her effort is to slow down the Change-and-Hope train.

3. Obama’s speech in Wisconsin tonight was very, very impressive. It was much more specific than usual. He praised McCain as a national hero, but added that he’s too wedded to Bush/Cheney. Evidence:
McCain was right to call Bush’s tax cut for the rich in the time of war unpatriotic, but now he’s flip-flopped. And Obama made it clear that he (unlike Hilltary) can’t be criticized for ever having supported the Iraq war, which he claims everyone now knows was a mistake. He also talked a lot about heath care. I can’t help but wonder how well Mac’s going to do in articulating and defending his (newly?) Republican views of tax cuts and health care. Defending the war is easy enough in Republican primaries, but studies show it’s going to be tough in November. It won’t be enough to defend the surge; McCain will have to make a convincing case for having gone to war in Iraq in the first place.

Evangelical Democrats

These stories describe the results of this poll, which found that a little less than a third of the white evangelical voters in Missouri and Tennessee on Super Tuesday partcipated in the Democratic contests (overwhelmingly favoring Clinton, by the way). The poll also found that evangelicals on both sides were less focused on "traditional" culture war issues, though I wouldn’t necessarily leap from there to the conclusion that an extremely pro-choice party or candidate can command the allegiance of such voters over the long haul.

This poll echoes somewhat the result of this survey, described here. I would note, however, that Barna’s "born-again" voters sound to me like self-identified Christians and that his evangelical subset still overwhelming favors Republicans (albeit with a very significant proportion of undecideds).

Republicans would do well to remember that Bush’s narrow victories came with an unprecedentedly high level of support from evangelicals, support that John McCain will be hard-pressed to duplicate this fall. They should also remember that Catholics tilted into the Republican camp in ’00 and ’04, but not in ’06. Finally, they should note that simply mouthing support for the pro-life position and for traditional marriage likely won’t be enough to galvanize their erstwhile supporters among traditionalist evangelicals and Catholics. A meaningful commitment on these issues is essential, but so is recognition of a broader agenda. You can favor smaller government, but you have to explain how smaller government creates conditions that will help people lift themselves out of poverty. As Jim Wallis has said, the budget is a moral document, and one shouldn’t speak about it simply in terms of letting me keep what is mine. One ought to offer a vision of the common good that is served by a less intrusive government, one that leaves the initiative to and assists the institutions of civil society.

Lincoln and self-government

I’m in Anchorage, having just heard (at 7 a.m.!) the president of the University of Alaska talk some academic politics. Seems like a smart enough fellow and I was pleased to hear him note that, never minds that president’s day stuff, today is Mr. Lincoln’s birthday. And I will be speaking tonight on "Lincoln’s Majestic Interpretation of the Universe." (Which speech, if it works, I’ll put out later.) But this speech on Abe is the best oration ever, and worth re-reading. Andrew Ferguson has a very nice essay on Lincoln’s cabin and its logs. If you ever wondered about the details and rumors surrounding it, it’s all here, explained in a clear and charming way. Besides, as the last paragraph explains, its the undeniable truth about Lincoln and the American miracle that counts more than the logs.

I was in New Delhi some twenty years ago, with a brief four-hour break from my labors. So my Indian driver asked if he could take me to the soul of India. I said, sure, if it isn’t too far. He took me to Ghandi’s tomb and explained to me that he was their "great souled" man, great as in "ma" and soul as in "hatma." We talked about that for a while, and then we talked about the Greek word for soul and how that is related to Hindi (Sanscrit) and he asked who our great souled man was. He was testing me. He already knew the answer, but I got it right. We noted two things: that the word soul means breath (and the word sounds like breath in most languages, perhaps even in non Indo-European ones, at least the one’s we knew between us two), and that the great of soul of a man differs from India to America. It is related to justice, and excellence, and a kind of love, but in our version it was vitally important for Lincoln to speak, and to speak clearly, and always to be understood by his audience. In his soul he knew this. He wanted to lift them to his thoughts, and then, of course, persuade them if he could. But he wanted them to come to their own conclusion, to prove to themselves that they could. They should feel at ease and at home in the presence of their reason and their language and the great truths about the human soul, and know that they could get it on their own. Lincoln’s great gift to his friends and citizens was to show them how they may come to know the great truths about their purpose and freedom as human beings, and then to act like men in the world and become worthy of those truths. My driver saw the difference.

The Democratic struggle

Pardon me for focusing on this, as at the moment I think it’s more immediately interesting than what remains of the contest on the Republican side.

In the NYT, Ron Klain argues that, as the difference between Clinton and Obama is, in effect, "stylistic," it’s not the ground of a lasting, and electorally consequential, schism in the party:

Democrats are engaged in a primary battle over the means of leadership, not the ends. While means are important, they are an unlikely ground for a lasting schism, especially when a choice emerges between a Democratic and a Republican nominee in the fall.

I agree that the grown-ups in the party--somewhat immune to Obama’s mesmerism--will nonetheless turn out in large numbers in the fall. What about the kids? And what about African-Americans, if the Clintons have to use legal legerdemain to secure the nomination? It may be that "cooler heads" who are interested in winning would accede to the enthusiasm, using their heads to follow others’ hearts.

But I also am unwilling to underestimate the ambition in Mrs. Clinton’s heart, facing her last chance to return to the White House as anything other than a dinner guest.

More on governing as choosing

David Brooks follows the Stuntz argument about campaigning with some questions about governing in an Obama or Clinton Administration.

If in fact a Democrat wins the presidency, along with an augmented Congressional majority, the (party) unity that brought victory will give way to divisions over governing. The big tests will be Iraq and government spending. Brooks thinks (hopes???) that centrists will prevail in the showdowns.

What’s A Girl To Do?

Lori Gottlieb is a 40-year-old single mother who, tired of waiting to find the right husband and start a family, conceived a baby with the sperm bank three years ago. She doesn’t sound thrilled about her overextended life since making that choice, advising younger women, in the current Atlantic Monthly, to “Marry him!” “Don’t worry about passion or intense connection,” Gottlieb says, because, “Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business.”

The women who heed Gottlieb’s advice to “settle for Mr. Good Enough,” however, may have to settle down – way down. According to Kay Hymowitz in City Journal, “Today’s single young men hang out in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood.” This limbo is filled with drinking, hooking up and video games, she says, pointing out that 31% of 25-year-old white men were single in 1970 but 67% were in 2000. (For 30-year-olds the figures were 15% and 42%.) The “child-man” who is Maxim’s target demographic – and has made the magazine massively profitable – is a “social retard” who would “like to forget that he ever went to school.”

Hymowitz discusses “Knocked Up” as a film that both celebrates and criticizes semi-permanent male adolescence. The New Yorker’s David Denby made the same argument, calling “Knocked Up” the culmination of a recent trend in popular film: the “slacker-striver romance,” whose stories are fueled by “the struggle between male infantilism and female ambition.” Hollywood has offered romantic comedies since the silent films of Buster Keaton, but the male leads always “wanted something,” Denby remarks, while the modern slacker-striver romance features men who are “absolutely free of the desire to make an impression on the world [yet] still [get] the girl.”

Gottlieb says that it’s not just in movies that losers end up with impossibly superior women. Friends of hers have, “in varying degrees of desperation,” recently married “a recovering alcoholic who doesn’t always go to his meetings; a trying-to-make-it-in-his-40s actor; a widower who has three nightmarish kids and who’s still actively grieving for his dead wife; and a socially awkward engineer (so socially awkward that he declined to attend his wife’s book party).” Her advice to younger women is that the sooner you settle the less settling you’ll have to do. For older women, “settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods,” while younger ones can make the smaller concession of building a life with “a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger.”

If Hymowitz is right, however, women in their 20’s and 30’s will have to abandon more than romantic dreams when assessing the sea of perfectly unacceptable doofuses before them. Is she right? Her evidence is vivid but doesn’t quite hang together. If the Single Young Males are underachievers for whom adulthood is “receding,” it’s hard to understand how Maxim’s readers can have a median income of $60,000 at a median age of 26. They might prefer to spend all their time drinking and playing video games, but are at least grown-up enough to curtail that agenda in order to get and hold decent jobs.

Is it also true that the SYM’s devote many leisure hours to “bars and parties, where [they] meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes”? If so, are these enablers the same SYF’s who complain in “Internet chat rooms, in advice columns, at female water-cooler confabs, and in the pages of chick lit, [that] the words ‘immature’ and ‘men’ seem united in perpetuity”? Or are they scabs who ruin the bargaining position of the women outside on the picket line?

Adolescence “appears to be the young man’s default state,” concludes Hymowitz, because “it is marriage and children that turn boys into men.” It’s a point Rousseau would have understood: “Men will always be what it pleases women for them to be; therefore, if you want men to be great and virtuous, teach women the meaning of greatness of soul and virtue.”

Obama without the teleprompter

Tonight, Dean Barnett observed that Obama without a teleprompter is much less impressive than when he’s on top of his game. Judge for yourselves. Here’s his teleprompterless Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech in Richmond this weekend. Here’s the speech as written.

Clearly not his most impressive effort.

Campaigns matter

Jon Schaff has posted the gist of his remarks from last week’s conference. Read them.

There exists a recording of Jonah Goldberg’s keynote speech, but I don’t have my grubby hands on it yet. As soon as I do, I’ll post a link.

Our inconvenient truths?

William J. Stuntz offers both sides a cold shower. For conservatives: the poltiical phase of the culture war over abortion has been lost; and the immigrants are here to stay. For liberals: we’re winning in Iraq, so it would be exceedingly foolish to choose to lose; and there’s no money for big new government programs.

I could quibble with Stuntz’s analysis of the conservative/Republican issues. For example, he seems to assume that political and cultural developments operate on entirely separate tracks, as if pronouncements of political principle don’t affect "the culture." Says who?

On immigration, Stuntz is probably right that the political and governmental price of attempting to deport all the illegal immigrants is too high. But can’t we gain control of the border, reestabish the rule of (immigration) law, and make an effort to "assimilate" the people who are here? This is a political program that’s also a cultural program.

But my main purpose in calling this article to your attention is to prompt a discussion. Here’s Stuntz’s conclusion:

Because these are Democratic-leaning times, Republicans have the most to gain from embracing this year’s inconvenient truths--and may have a nearly ideal candidate to do the embracing. John McCain may be better positioned than anyone in either party to secure the southern border without alienating America’s Latino population. He has a strong pro-life voting record, but has never been in the thick of the culture wars. On Iraq, McCain is prominently identified with Petraeus and the surge. Politically, he stands in much the same position today as Dwight Eisenhower in 1952: tough-minded and hard-nosed without being reckless--and, like Eisenhower with Korea, he bears none of the blame for the war’s mishandling. On spending, McCain may be the country’s leading proponent of fiscal discipline: Ross Perot without the lunacy. A McCain-led Republican party could become the party of deficit hawks--just when deficits are about to become the political liability they were in the 1990s.

The two Democrats seem less impressive on this score. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talk about border control the way children talk about eating their vegetables. As kids leave the table before the beans and carrots are gone, one suspects a Democratic administration might quit on border security before the borders are secured. Neither sounds much like a deficit hawk. And on the war--the real one--both have made statements that could make wise governance impossible if either reaches power. Political talk matters: It shapes voters’ expectations and defines the political context in which decisions are made. Standing tough in Iraq may be impossible after voters have heard, again and again, that their new president is firmly committed to bailing out, as quickly as possible.

Read and discuss.

Obama: nothing new under the sun?

From north of the border, this blogger offers an interesting intervention into our conversations about Obama’s appeal to the young. In a sense, Obama is promising the impossible--a unity that overcomes division. As our pseudnymous Canadian friend (if I may be so presumptuous) observes, any "new" unity simply opens us up to a new set of divisions:

[I]t’s not that unity is never possible; it’s not that we can’t all agree to change; it’s just that if we are all to agree on change it has to be over a real promise that is truly open-ended, open to a further exchange of differences, open to new, if yet undeveloped, divisions. And if Obama presumes to represent such a promise, he needs to make clear how he can set up a new political dynamic, a new form of exchange, by bringing new ideas and realities into play in a way that widely raises excitement that a new game, a new challenge, is about to be unboxed and no one yet can know who will learn to master this game, since all players have reason to hope. That’s a consensus: the start of an exciting game.

So one question is whether Obama is capable of developing this sort of transformative vision. I’m, to say the least, dubious. Once you get beyond the soaring words, the ideas are quite conventional. And while the words are important, sooner or later they’ll have to be translated into policies, which will be ground up and chewed out by Congress. There will be perfectly mundane debates, and a President Obama won’t be able to rise above them. He’ll have to (try to) gore some oxen.

Our Canadian friend also notes that youthful insurgencies are nothing new (just ask the good doctor of Italy, Nicholas Machiavell) and quotes approvingly Julie Ponzi’s advice to McCain about how to speak to the young. I’d state the matter more theoretically and abstractly, as kind of a test: can the young admire anyone who is not essentially a vessel or reflection of their own self-image? I think they can. Narcissism is an omnipresent possibility, but so is admiration of the genuinely noble and good. I’m not sure a cranky old warrior is the best possible presenter of the human virtues, but at least this version of the old warrior lacks the darkness and cynicism of his losing predecessor from 1996.

A Miracle?

...or just bad studies? Anyway, Survey USA has Huckabee making up 21% on McCain in two days in Virginia, which means he’s only down 11. And nationwide, two of three studies still have McCain well below 50% and Huck gaining.

And thanks to the good word of Dr. Pat Deneen, Mr. Crunchy Con (Rod) has a long, appreciative comment on my "The Warrior and the Preacher," which includes his own observations on Huck’s strengths and weaknesses. It turns out he’s weak on reading and reflecting, which makes it clear how he should spend the next couple of years if he’s to be a real force (and he has the raw talent) in 2012. I should link these sites, of course.

And despite the astute comments of dennis, John, and others in the thread below, I still say Hillary’s position is as untenable as Battista’s at the New Year’s Eve party in GODFATHER, part 2. I would gladly bet the plantation if the odds are right.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for January

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

John Dillender

Diane Shuskey

Ben Boychuk

Lauri Shannon

Andrew Willis

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.

Cult of personality

Whatever Mike Huckabee’s views of his calling are, it seems to me that there’s a good bit of quasi- or pseudo-religious sentiment in a different venue on the campaign trail. Consider, for example, this post, by our friend RC2 (who, it’s safe to say, isn’t likely to vote for Obama in tomorrow’s Potomac primary) and this post, by MOJ’s Rob Vischer, who seems largely immune to the enthusiasm (and I would call attention to the literal meaning of the word) for Obama, despite his unfulfilled intention to vote for him in last week’s Minnesota caucuses.

Although I was taken to task by some commenters for viewing the Obamenon through lenses offered by Jonah Goldberg, I can’t help but call attention to this passage from an email one of Rob’s readers sent to him about Obama:

isn’t it true that at the very heart of progressivism lays the desire to subject all (or most) or human life to politics? That seems to lie at the base of Historicism which is the philosophical expression of progressivism: as the State becomes more and more "rational," experts are more and more able to govern the minutiae of human life in the name of the common good. There is less room for "little platoons" of civil society as their functions are swallowed up in the all-encompassing State. This in turn leads to greater "democracy" because the whole people are able to govern the whole of everyone else’s lives through the State.

This is not to say that all modern-day progressives wish this to occur, but at the very least it needs to be addressed and explained by those who seek to take up the mantle of progressivism today.

I think that there are some countervailing tendencies in Obama’s own understanding of things. But he doesn’t seem to be doing much to discourage the messianism of his supporters (I almost typed "followers"). Locked in a dogfight with the Clintons, that would probably be bad politics. Perhaps I should just take solace in the facts that Obama acknowledges that he’s a sinner in need of a savior (which gives some "hope" for his humility) and that he uses the first person plural a lot (at least that’s better than "I...I...I").

Still, I worry....

The candidates and religious constituencies

This interview with religion and politics maven John C. Green goes over a lot of familiar ground, but contains an interesting nugget at the end: Obama has had some trouble with both Catholic and Jewish voters. Since Catholics have been the proverbial swing voters in the past few elections (as in 2006, where their swing in the Democrats’ direction, mostly because of Iraq, sealed the Republicans’ doom), this is a potentially important datum.

Random Observations

1. I’m not sure why people aren’t saying the Democratic race is as over as the Republican one. Obama will win three more primaries on Tuesday and Hillary is hoping (quite unreasonably) that her leads in state polls (Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania) will hold up after ten defeats in a row. Hillary’s last big win (California) depended on votes cast early. Time is and has been on Obama’s side, and he’s now clearly both the establishment and the change candidate. I can’t understand why some Republicans are happy about this. The more responsible Democratic brains have been with Hillary; she’d be a better president, and she’d be easier (especially for McCain) to beat. The odds are, to repeat, that Obama is our next president, with a very solidly Democratic Congress.

2. I think Huck’s reliance on revelation and miracles for a comeback probably won’t work. And he’s become tedious. He’d become interesting and even important if he’d actually take McCain on on the domestic front. Still, I don’t think he should withdraw until he actually has a bad day. That’ll probably be tomorrow, but you don’t have to believe in miracles not to be entirely certain about that.

3. I really hope Mac starts to think hard about the fact supported by a thousand studies that his character and the surge alone won’t get him anywhere near victory in November, especially against the most charismatic candidate in a long time.

Debunking the "Bradley Effect"

Robert Novak writes this morning of "the Bradley Effect", i.e., the phenomenon whereby black candidates underperform their polls on election day. This is purported to explain why Obama is losing to Hillary in most primary states but winning the caucus states.

The Bradley Effect refers to Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who lost the 1982 governor’s race in California after leading in the polls by a large margin. This is supposed to indicate America’s latent racism, of course. But not so fast. That conclusion is not so easily reached if you take a closer look at that election. First, Bradley was a boring, cautious candidate (not that George Deukmejian, who beat him, was Mister Excitement--but he was the attorney general, not a slouch statewide job). I recall talking to someone in the Duke’s camp the Saturday before the election, and he told me their tracking polls showed them pulling ahead, and he predicted they would win narrowly, which they did. So the general polls, always several days old, were out of date on election day. (This did not stop Mervin Field, the head of the Field poll, from saying on TV as late as 10 pm election night that Bradley was going to pull it out.)

Second, Bradley actually did win among the votes cast on election day; the Duke’s margin of victory came from absentee ballots, which Republicans actively procured ahead of time that year, in of the most advanced absentee drills to date at that time. Third, the Duke had huge turnout from the state’s not insubstantial Armenian community, which was probably undersampled in the general polls. Finally, there was a stupid, lefty gun control initiative on the ballot that year that juiced turnout from gun owners. Many Democrats at the time attributed their loss to the tactical error of having such a red meat initiative on the ballot. Finally, don’t forget that the 1982 election was coming after eight years of Jerry Brown in Sacramento, and the desire to switch parties was probably a small factor with some voters.

This does not mean that there is no Bradley Effect at all; people point to Doug Wilder in Virginia, who underperformed his polls back in the 1980s. But that might be more understandable in Virginia, an old Confederate states. It seems less plausible in California. After all, remember that Bradley was first elected mayor of LA at a time when the black vote in LA was tiny.

The Anointed One

After the voting Tuesday, I heard Huckabee on the radio. He opened his remarks by referring to two biblical passages, one of which implicitly compared him to David. He has since been talking about miracles, apparently including one that allowed a Huckabee for president campaign sign to survive a tornado. So, God has chosen him and is supporting him. The problem with this kind of talk is that it injects into our politics principles and justifications that are not open to every citizen as a citizen. Huckabee is the beneficiary of a special revelation. How does one argue or discuss this? How would one argue or discuss with President Huckabee some decision he made based on what God whispered in his ear? This kind of talk alone should disqualify Huckabee from holding any public office.

In case you hadn’t noticed

There were some primaries and caucuses yesterday, with Obama narrowing Clinton’s lead and Huckabee winning in states that resemble Iowa and Arkansas. You can read more about the Republican contests here.

The Republican result in Washington state is muddy, as you can read here and here. Aside from the fact that Huckabee seems to be disputing the results, there’s also the fact that roughly half the delegates will be assigned in accordance with the results of a February 19th primary. If this story is correct, the Huckabee campaign seems to be willing to go to the mat over an issue that can’t really help their man and can only give aid and comfort to the Democrats. If he were a few delegates behind McCain, this might make some sense. But shouldn’t he display some magnanimity here?

The End of the Longest Campaign

Perhaps the three Obama victories of yesterday do not surprise us. They didn’t surprise me (I bet a cup of coffee that he would). But the quickly surfaced crisis in the Clinton camp is a bit of a surprise. They are in the throes of chaos. Patty Solis Doyle, Hillary’s campaign manager, has resigned. Since they already started talking about lowering expectations for the next many primaries, you could feel the problem; the Clinton campaign was putting the squeeze on everyone, including MSNBC; they were grasping, ignobly grasping. But the problem is worse, and has come upon them much more quickly, than I thought it would. Her electoral support is dissolving, or has dissolved. They now know this. The only hope she may end up having is: 1) twist the arms of the Superdelegates and 2) get the Michigan and Florida "non votes" back by some legalistic sophistry. Both would represent an "anti-democratic" Machievellian move, given that Obama is in the lead through the regular (and legal) primary process. If there is a Democratic Party that is separable from the Clintons this cannot be allowed to happen because the Dems would lose the general election for certain. But if the DNC is able to prevent Hillary from backroom and anti-democratic dealing, the DNC will gave a Democrat a chance to become president, but it will certainly not be Hillary for she will not be the nominee. It’s over.

More Warrioring and Preaching

1. I’m back in town after speaking at a great conference hosted by Michael Poore and his Humanitas biotech think-tank in Monteagle (next to Sewanee on the mountain), TN. The other speaker was Bill McClay (who was in excellent form), and there was a geuinely diverse, smart, and engaged sell-out crowd. I couldn’t invite you to this event because seating was limited, but Michael is having more. (Go to his website etc.) My title: "Our Great and Miserable (and Erotic and Virtuous) Human Future"

2. Thanks also to Joe for a very classy and high-level conference at Oglethorpe. There I learned that McCain might really be the strongest candidate the Republicans could have had, and there was a lot of good-natured discussion about the strengths and limits of Jonah’s "liberal fascist" thesis. Susan McWilliams (with whom I was always in half-agreement) also confirmed my suspicion that the replacement of beer by bottled water as the beverage of choice among young people is tearing our social fabric part.

3. McCain may be the presumptive nominee, but his performance in the three contests yesterday was sure weak. The highlight for him was a "victory" in Washington with 26% of the vote, or just 2% more than Huck and 5% more than Ron Paul. Huck, meanwhile, scored a huge victory in Kansas (famous for not being a Confederate state) and a narrow one in Louisiana. And even with Huck as the only opponent worth mentioning left, Mac is having trouble breaking 50% in the national polls. Gotta get credible on those domestic issues... (And Huck’s not giving up. He says he didn’t major in math but in miracles!)

4. Obama, meanwhile, beat the heck out of Hillary three times, more or less evening up the national delegate count. She may still be very, very slightly ahead in the national polls, but her people ain’t showing up when it counts.

5. Thanks to Peter S. for posting my Oglethorpe talk, although only two cups seems harsh. Actually, Peter has been very tolerant of my deviation from the dominant Ashbrook view of what’s going on today, as were the panelists and audience at Oglethorpe.

The Great Game

An important Pakistani Army General was killed in a helicopter crash in the "restive South Waziristan region," near the Afghan border. Two other generals died in the same crash. The copter "crashed because of a technical fault."

"According to the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad, the death of Maj Gen Sultan will dent morale among Pakistani troops who have already suffered heavy casualties in the region. He is the most senior Pakistani officer to be killed in military operations in the area. Hours before the crash was reported, Taleban militants based in Pakistan said they were scaling back operations against the military."

In the meantime, Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said in Munich that the European public needs convincing that Nato’s mission in Afghanistan is part of a wider fight against global terror.

Gates: "On a conceptual level, I believe it falls squarely within the traditional bounds of the alliance’s core purpose: to defend the security interests and values of the trans-Atlantic community. We must not - we cannot - become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not. Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the alliance."


Allen Guelzo’s book just landed on my desk. It looks great. I had intended to get a lot of work done around the house this weekend. Instead, I’ll get back in bed and tell everyone I need to nurse my cold. What I don’t finish of it, I’ll read Monday on the flight to Alaska. Perfect. Thanks, Allen.

Book reviews, continued

The Sunday NYT book review section has all sorts of nuggets (calling them gems would be too strong). Michael Lind reviews the Gerson and Bolton tomes. Alan Ehrenhalt (one of my favorite fair-minded observers of American politics) takes a look at David Frum’s new book. And Notre Dame historian R. Scott Appleby reviews two of this season’s efforts to resuscitate the religious Left, by E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Amy Sullivan.

Life science

William Saletan reviews the latest attempt by the tireless Robert P. George (and co-author Christopher Tollefsen) to defend human life against scientific efforts aimed at the relief of our estate (as Francis Bacon would put it).

Saletan poses some challenges to their case, which apparently relies almost exclusively on science to make the case for respecting our humanity from its earliest beginning. Here’s the nub of Saletan’s argument:

“The proper way to identify the nature of an organism,” they write, is “to look at it through time.” Each of us “comes into existence as a single-celled human organism and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood.” But in the big picture, the embryo isn’t a future adult. It is, as the authors acknowledge, a future corpse. And the program is far bigger. It doesn’t end at death, because it doesn’t run on one body. It runs on the network of humanity. In fact, it runs on the entire Internet of evolving species.

According to even a teleological science, in the end we’re all dead, providing food and fertilizer for our successors. Our humanity gains its significance, not from science, but either from our capacity for self-assertion (in which case, the argument against abortion or destructive embryonic stem cell research is at best merely a pragmatic one) or from our creatureliness. Because science can’t answer the biggest question, it can’t settle the dispute. And since we’re "doomed," so to speak, to be unable all to agree on the answer, the dispute will always be with us.

Properly understood, this gives no comfort to those who would privatize abortion decisions or deregulate embryonic stem cell research. Rather, it leaves us with the various political mechanismes for conducting our disagreements--legislation and constitutional amendment, above all.

Unity in politics

Dennis Hale makes the entirely commonsensical and grown-up point that choosing means dividing. Unity requires the overcoming or suppression of politics. Obama promises to build the kingdom on earth, which amounts to the overcoming of politics. But people who promise that usually end up trying to suppress politics.

If Obama were serious about unity, he’d be Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Mussolini. I credit him with not being altogether serious. He’s merely, as Jonah G. would say, a liberal fascist.

Worth Reading

This is AOL’s Political Machine, and it so happens that a former student, Justin Paulette, blogs there. This is his latest, as he rolls through the possible VP candidates for McCain. Justin is a lawyer living in Italy. Tough life for some folks, isn’t it?   

The perils of going negative

Jay Cost argues that Romney’s attack ads might have made it difficult for him to win over voters--supporters, especially, of Huckabee--who were otherwise persuadable. Romney might have had the effect of driving down Huckabee’s support, but leaving others to reap the benefit of the defections. And he might also have made it more difficult for Huckabee supporters--having, perhaps reluctantly, concluded that there wasn’t any hope for the man from Hope--to transfer their allegiances to him.

All of this is to say that campaigns matter and that issue positioning isn’t everything.

The Democratic Problem

We have all noticed (all TV news broadcasts are now into this in great detail) that the focus is now on the probability of a brokered Dem convention, on cutting deals with the superdelegates, on re-writing the rules for Michigan and Florida in order to make "their votes count," etc. In practice this means that Hillary will do anything to be the nominee, and Obama will resist as long as he is likely to have the majority (albeit slight) of chosen delegates going into the convention. Because the possibilities for mischief are endless, I am betting that the Dems will "solve" these problems before the summer. If they don’t, there really is a chance that the ’68 Chicago mess will seem like a walk in the park compared to what could happen this summer. All this, I hasten to add, just proves that the so-called reforms (post ’68) having to do with proportional representation, etc., are very bad for democratic government at any level. Forming
majorities, especially rational majorities, is not such an easy thing. We’ll see if anyone on that side of the isle will notice this good lesson. Here is an

L.A. Times story on the immediate problem, and this from the WaPo.

Romney Postmortem

John Ellis breaks down the five main mistakes of the Romney campaign. Sounds about right to me on all five.

The Warrior and Preacher

Here is Peter Lawler’s speech of this title at Oglethorpe. Nothinbg in the talk should surprise readers of NLT, but it’s all in one place now, so to speak, and maybe even more poignant given that Huck and Mac are the only ones left.  

Dobson endorses Huckabee: too little, too late

Rather late, don’t you think? Such an endorsement could have helped Huck raise some money earlier on, or perhaps bolstered him in South Carolina, where every little bit would have helped. Had Dobson spoken, say, after Iowa, it’s not clear that McCain would now be the presumptive nominee and that it would now be hard to find a plausible political rationale for Huckabee’s persistence. I’m far from saying--in this counterfactual fantasy--that, but for Dobson’s silence, Huckabee would now be closing in on the nomination. But consider this: Huckabee wins Iowa; McCain wins New Hampshire; and Huckabee wins South Carolina. Who then wins Florida? Wouldn’t it have been a three-way or even four-way race, with Huckabee having the money to persist, McCain not doing so well in the panhandle, and Giuliani not necessarily bleeding votes? It’s not out of the question that any one of the four could have won, under those fantasy circumstances. I take it as given that, on Super Tuesday, Huckabee wouldn’t have won much more--perhaps Missouri and Oklahoma. But Romney would have done better, and Giuliani might have hurt Mac in the Northeast.

My fantasy bottom line: by endorsing Huckabee earlier, Dobson could have made it more likely that someone he could tolerate--Huckabee or Romney--would be well-positioned after Super Tuesday. I don’t say this because I think that Dobson is a king-maker. His endorsement matters at the electoral margins and probably looms a bit larger in fund-raising. But that might have been enough to change the dynamics of a closely fought race.

Again, I say this as someone who will vote for McCain and would have voted for Romney or Huckabee.

McCain the honor politician

Yuval Levin does an excellent job of explaining what makes John McCain tick (almost identical with what ticks him off), its uneasy relationship with "principled conservatism," and how conservatives can try to make their causes his. The result won’t have much staying power beyond this campaign or a McCain administration since it depends almost entirely on the mostly admirable character of the manly man, but it is the hand we have been dealt.

And to the degree that politics is about the formation of character--something conservatives who haven’t sold their souls entirely to libertarianism surely can’t deny--a McCain candidacy and presidency could offer a highly particular and personal vision of a kind of national unity.

The problem, as Peter Lawler has pointed out in an all-too-brief post (though doubtless soon to be in print or online somewhere in a more expanded version) is that honor politics is problematical or incomplete as a democratic politics. Men of honor have a hard time feeling compassion or respecting the ordinary lives of their fellow citizens or living with even a non-debased equality. McCain the "aristocrat" needs a leavening of "democracy"--not mere egalitarianism or pandering (the old Clintonian feeling our pain)--but what Peter has called "the preacher." This is a vision of nobility that justifies sacrifice not as an act of generosity or noblesse oblige, but as an expression of solidarity.

John McCain 1.0 could do well campaigning against Hillary Clinton. In both of them, "democracy" looks more like aristocratic generosity than solidarity. The difference is that McCain’s distance comes from his character, whereas HRC’s comes from her wealth. Clinton’s can even come across as interest group log-rolling, which really helps McCain. (If she could ever compellingly make her liberal Methodism part of her public persona, it would help her at the margins, adding a small element of solidarity to her noblesse oblige. But I digress.)

It would, I think, take a McCain 2.0 effectively to contest the election against Obama, whose seemingly vacuous message of unity hits all the right democratic notes. McCain the mere aristocrat can’t beat that. He needs someone not named Huckabee who can relatively plausibly present himself as a "sacrificial servant" as a running mate.

But even if you don’t buy a word of what I’ve said, read Levin’s article. It’s that good.    

Gerson on McCain

On the whole, I like Michael Gerson, which I know makes me one of the few people who call themselves conservatives who do. Some might call me delusional--either for my affection for Gerson or for thinking myself a conservative.

But I have a pet peeve or two about Gerson. I find him most annoying when his moralism overcomes his humility, making him seem less intelligent than he is. Today’s column, about the triumph of John McCain, is a good example. Gerson reads McCain’s improbable victory over a flawed field as a vindication of the Bush Admministration’s approach to immigration and its "moral internationalism."

Now, aside from the fact that such an argument isn’t going to help McCain woo the conservative base, the simplifications about immigration in which Gerson engages are unworthy. Here’s Gerson:

First, tough immigration restrictions were supposed to be a unifying rallying cry -- the defining domestic commitment of the post-Bush Republican coalition. Illegal immigration was framed as a simple political issue: Since illegal immigrants are just another type of criminal, targeting them is merely a defense of the rule of law.

But a young woman who dies in the desert during a perilous crossing for the dream of living in America is not the moral equivalent of a drug dealer. Millions of hardworking, religious, family-oriented neighbors make unlikely "criminals." And treating them as such alienates an even larger group of Hispanic citizens.

Immigration is not a simple political issue like crime....

No, it’s not a simple political issue like crime, but it does have both law enforcement and national security elements, elements that Gerson’s moralistic humanitarianism apparently leads him to overlook completely. McCain’s adjustment of his position is not mere "trimming," as Gerson would have it, but recognition that the President’s job includes responsibility for enforcing laws and protecting the nation’s security. His humanitarianism has to be contained within and conditioned on those constitutional responsibilities. Compassion for people who want a better life should lead us to creating a rigorous and generous immigration program, not to turning a blind eye to a porous border and overlooking the base criminality of some in order to celebrate the decency and hard work of others. It is a complicated picture, but Gerson simplifies it in order to bash those with whom he disagrees from what he takes to be the moral high ground.

In so doing, he does his cause and, apparently, his candidate, no favors.

Why "Agenda Conservatives" Couldn’t Seal the Deal

Blogger, Patrick Ruffini over on Hugh Hewitt’s site, delivers a thoughtful, harsh, and (sadly) fair look at the intellectual cocoon a good number of what he calls "Agenda Conservatives" have spun around themselves. This explains the shock many of them are now feeling and, probably, a good deal of the bitterness too. There’s more to it than a simple charge of being "out of touch" and Ruffini, to his credit, offers more. A good place to go to start thinking about how it might be done better next time.

McCain’s Speech at CPAC

Nicely done. The last bit of the speech, where he got semi-autobiographical, was very good. It was his version of a love letter to America--and that, as I have long argued, is exactly what we need. In future speeches, he will do well to develop the theme. He pointed to his life experience, acknowledged his imperfections, and asked us to come together anyway on the points we share because of the stakes. It was very good for him to say, for example, that his experience as a POW made him love liberty more than he had before but, on the other hand, he does not presume to love liberty any more than any of the rest of us do. There are about ten speeches that could be worked out of that. It is hard to find any fault in what he said here. His speechwriter should get a raise.

Our post-Super Tuesday conference

Was held yesterday, and a fine time was had by all.

Students from Berry College, Oglethorpe, and Mercer University were impressive in offering their thoughts on the state of contemporary politics. The most interesting--albeit unsurprising--observation was that on all three campuses--two of which could with some accuracy be called "evangelical"--the political energy is apparently focused on Obama. One young man from Mercer opined that the apathetic Republicans on his campus could probably outvote the Obamaniacs, but they couldn’t outwork or out-emote them.

Peter Lawler’s panel on liberalism and conservatism was "fair and balanced." Peter has already offered you the core of his analysis on the warrior and the preacher, both communitarian (and to some degree complementary) alternatives to "creeping (and creepy) libertarianism." Bryan McGraw offered serious doubts as to whether there would be a substantial evangelical drift leftward. Susan McWilliams deployed her inimitable and entertaining version of left Calvinism on behalf of beer-drenched communitarianism (although I have it on pretty good authority than John Calvin himself was a wine-drinker). Matt Franck brought Tocqueville to bear (in a good way) on Liberal Fascism and sorta kinds promised to make a version of his remarks available (eventually) on Bench Memos. The AJC’s Jay Bookman told us that conservatism was the ideological equivalent of an orchid that couldn’t survive outside the hothouse.

The elections panel, chaired by Berry’s Eric Sands, featured Alan Abramowitz telling us, quite persuasively (with numbers and pictures) that the Democrats enjoy a structural advantage this year, that, historically, partisan and conservative Republicans turn out much more reliably than their squishier brethren, that the only chance McCain has this year is to appeal to independents (roughly 10% of the electorate), who in 2006 looked more Democratic than Republican, and that therefore McCain should spend more time being himself than mending fences with the base. Bear in mind that this advice comes from someone who is a very sharp and solid electoral analyst, especially for Demcorats. If all things were equal, that might be sound advice, but McCain has to raise a pile of money, and it ain’t going to come from independents. Jay Cost made the case that McCain’s triumph was the final culmination of the party’s loss of control of its label. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version of that argument over at his blog sometime soon. As befits a political theorist and student of Lincoln, Jon Schaff argued that individuals and campaigns matter. I hope we’ll see a version of his argument at SDP or elsewhere. Finally, Eric Sands lamented the loss of dignity in contemporary politics, at least in the ominating process. I’m not sure who his guy was or is in the race, but it sounded to me like the lament of a Thompson supporter.

After a fine dinner surrounded by beautiful objets d’art, we reconvened to hear Jonah Goldberg talk about his book. He rehearses the arguments well and wittily. I remain of the opinion that the principal practical benefits to come from his argument will be the problematizing of the word fascism as applied to people like me and the problematizing of the word progressive as applied to people not like me. I think he does a very good job linking pragmatism, progressivism, socialism, and fascism (carefully defined so as not simply to mean "whatever Hitler did"). He also makes a compelling case for the argument that identifying fascism with the right comes above all from the propagandistic efforts of Stalin’s USSR, which had a bone to pick with the nationalist (as opposed to internationalist) left. I’ll have more later, as will Jonah, sometime after he arrives at the next stop on his book tour. In the meantime, you can sample a couple of local reactions.

Update: I neglected to mention that another of the chief virtues of Jonah’s book is that it mentions my place of employment, which hosted this smiley-faced fascistic commencement address, which JG also notes here. Another element that connects my employer to Jonah’s theme is a fellow by the name of James Woodrow, the first Georgian to hold the Ph.D., who happens to have been someone’s uncle.

Update #2: Safely back home in northern South Dakota, Jon Schaff has more.

Update #3: Matt Franck has posted his remarks.

Romney bows out

Here’s what is in effect his concession speech, laying out the challenges we face in a comprehensive and, I think, admirable way.

Although at the moment Huckabee says that he will continue his campaign, I think that he’ll face a lot of pressure to follow Romney’s lead.

Is it good for the GOP for the race to be over so soon? On the one hand, McCain can start preparing and raising money for a general election campaign, adjusting his message and making nice with the appropriate constituencies. On the other hand, this effectively ends news coverage of the Republicans, with everything devoted to the Democrats until someone wins that nomination. Whether this is good for McCain and the GOP depends entirely on the character of the ensuing campaign. If both sides attempt or feel compelled to win ugly, there’s some gain for McCain. If one side plays nice while the other doesn’t, and the good guy wins, that’s bad for the GOP. If the bad guy wins, there’s a small opening for McCain. I suppose that it’s possible that there will be dignity all around, which I don’t think helps McCain.

The bottom line is that McCain’s free media really diminishes until around the time of the convention, although I suppose there will be a low-level explosion watch.

Romney Out, Positioned for VP?

As you all know, the Ashbrook Center always has a serious presence at the annual CPAC conference in Washington. The same is true this year. Roger Beckett, Marv Krinsky, and a number of our students are there. We will give the Ashbrook Award tomorrow night.

But the most interesting thing I want to report to you is this: Mitt Romney just set Senator McCain up to get the most positive reception he could from such a conservative audience. Romney ended his speech ten minutes ago. The critical part of the speech is that he’s withdrawing from the race and effectively endorsing McCain. Thereby, Romney is, in my opinion, setting himself up to be seriously considered for VP. He may have out-clevered the clever Huckabee.

McCain is supposed to speak a few hours from now at CPAC. Everyone believed that he would be booed. Now, after everyone overcomes the shock, he is likely to get a warm reception and will, therefore, be the GOP nominee with authority. If I get any further reports, I will pass them along.

The Drew Carey Project

The host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT comments on the desperate plight of America’s middle class.

It’s McCain

CNN is reporting that Romney is suspending his campaign. He’s expected to make the formal announcement at this afternoon’s session of the CPAC conference.

There’s nothing terribly surprising about this, of course, but it’s sad nonetheless.

Meanwhile, a plausible theory has emerged regarding just who wrote Ron Paul’s newsletters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Lincoln’s Union

NEH’s EDSITEMent has just put out our latest effort at helping teachers with lesson plans. This Curriculum Unit, called "A Word Fitly Spoken": Abraham Lincoln on the American Union, consists of four lesson plans. I think the thing is tremendously useful for teachers and students, indeed, anyone interested in studying history the way it should be studied, through documents. Lucas Morel is responsible for this Unit, and the whole project has been under the statesman-like rule of John Moser, who has done a tremendous job on them all. The whole project is almost completed, although not all are on line yet. The ones that are (from "The Road to Pearl Harbor," to the "Constitutional Convention," to
"Religion in 18th Century America", etc.) may be seen here. You really should look at all this, smart, clever, useful, and some of the interactives are spectacular and very appealing. See this one, A Word Fitly Spoken, as an example.

Allen C. Guelzo podcast

Guelzo’s new book was published yesterday: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America. My copy is arriving tomorrow, so I haven’t read it yet, but I’m willing to bet it will be first class, like his others. I had a short conversation with him about it (but not the last, I hope) as a Podcast. If you have 25 minutes, have a listen.   

Youth Voters

We all know the standard curmudgeon GOP line is that youth talk but they don’t vote. Yes, that’s generally true. But youth talk is important. Young people develop habits and opinions in their youth. Right now, we’ve got a whole lot of young people developing bad habits and opinions by jumping on the Obama Express. Even if Obama doesn’t pull off the upset that the dark side of my soul longs to see (as I know HRC is the better candidate to run against in November and the better President if we must suffer a Dem) the Obama Express is still going to be there and then benefit Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general for a long time to come.

Duane Patterson noted something incredible last night that’s only bolstered when you consider the last paragraph of Richard Reeb’s post on the Remedy. The combined age of the five folks in the camera shot with John McCain last night was something like 332 years old! Everyone (excepting McCain’s lovely wife) was grey. (And in another thread below Clint points out that Mrs. McCain is hopelessly "out of style"--though I admit this shows that he knows more about women’s fashion than I.) When you look at Obama’s supporters on the other hand, you see people in their 20s. You see life, exuberance and, yes, also inexperience. But Americans will forgive inexperience before they forgive crotchetiness. They will, anyway, unless they’re given a very good reason not to forgive the inexperience.

John McCain obviously can’t make himself younger. His wife would look foolish if she attempted to look more "hip." As old as his mother is, I thought she looked impressive and alert and her recent interviews demonstrate that her mental faculties are in no way diminished by age--to say nothing of her spirit. This bodes well for John. He comes from strong stock. John McCain will not get the same kind of youth support that Barack Obama gets. Indeed, he ought not want to inspire that kind of reflexive, unthinking and insipid prostration.

But all young people are not twits. There is plenty to be tilled from the fertile garden of thinking and emerging-in-intelligence youth. John McCain can start by reminding us that he, too, was once young. He can talk about character in a way that inspires rather than chastises. His story is an inspiring one. He has not used it to as much good effect as he might--partly, I think, out of a sense of modesty and partly out of a (sensible) desire not to bring up the whole Vietnam debate and, thereby, hearken back to the debates of the 1960s (yet again). There is some danger in this, I admit. But the debate that Obama wants to engage is, for all his youth and inexperience, a very old one. This can be demonstrated. The truth is that Obama is nothing new under the sun. And he can be made to look very foolish for thinking that he is. Young people are always insecure about the possibility that they look foolish. Don’t offend them by telling them that they are foolish--but point things out that lead them to this conclusion on their own.

There are things a septuagenarian can do to inspire young people. Two of them are NOT pandering to or ignoring them. Appeal to their minds and give them credit for having minds and then, perhaps, you may win their hearts. Such a strategy would do more than win McCain and the Republicans young voters. It would go a long way toward winning him all kinds of voters in general. For, in this need to have respect for our minds and in the desire not to appear as fools, we’re all very young at heart.

Who are the Republicans?

At some point, while I was watching the returns last night and listening to the pundits as they chattered about the division in the Republican party when compared to the unity of the Democrats, I began to ask myself if this whole narrative of Republican division isn’t just a bit too tidy. The division itself cannot be denied. Just look at the map of many colors and you can see it. And it’s true that no single Republican candidate has been able to generate the level of enthusiasm that Obama or, even, the Clinton Machine has produced. The standard talking point today (and also most of yesterday) from every MSM pundit I’ve heard speak on the subject, is how Democrats can’t decide because they "like both choices" and Republicans can’t decide because they don’t really like any of them.

That analysis is cute, neat, (in its way) true, and completely beside the point.

Today the question we all ought to be asking ourselves is not so much "Who is John McCain?" or "Who is Mike Huckabee?" or "Who is Mitt Romney?" Today we ought to be asking ourselves, "Who are the Republicans?" What are we all about? How are we different from the opposition? Those who see no difference or are inclined to be petulant because "their guy" didn’t get (or appears unlikely to get) the nod, need to focus--HARD--on this question. There’s a huge difference and the patchwork quilt of our electoral map last night is the first, most obvious and perhaps most important evidence of this difference.

The difference between Republicans and Democrats that our division demonstrates is the degree to which Republicans (and especially, perhaps, conservatives) are inclined to deliberate (and, yes, fight) about our principles. Hillary and Obama spar . . . but about what? Who’s the most authentic candidate for female voters? Who deserves the Hispanic vote? Who can get the biggest payoff for the labor unions or the old folks? There’s never any talk about the purposes and the ends of government. That’s all assumed. The only time you’ll hear the word "should" is when they’re leveling some insult at a Neanderthal Republican who is not yet on board with their program. To be a Democrat today is to acknowledge that you believe in the "End of Political Thought"--or, to be less generous, that you don’t believe in thought at all. The only thought is that given to the means to achieve pre-determined ends. That’s why their politics is almost always more wonkish and less interesting and fascinating only when it is more Machiavellian and internal.

Today Republicans should hold their heads up high. We have been engaged in a long and serious conversation with each other. We have acted like Americans--which is to say free and thinking human beings. We have deliberated and now--it appears--we are closer to a choice. All of us are not going to be happy with the choice and no one ought to be forced to accept a choice he does not like. But it is within the power of those who argued on behalf of the choice now before us to persuade the reluctant. McCain tried hard to be gracious in his victory last night. He should continue this effort and--considering only the things that unite us--begin to set his sights on the real opposition. The warrior candidate needs to understand that the terms of the battle have now shifted. He will have to move to a different front and save his fighting for there. Within his own ranks he needs to work more on persuasion--and, perhaps after a bit of penance--to give us a rousing Agincourt speech. We can be happy warriors together. But if McCain wants to keep us happy he must respect our independent spirits and our penchant for thoughtful disagreement.

Super Tuesday: the day after for Republicans

Here are CNN’s results page and its main election page, with delegate counts. You can read the summary stories here, here, here, and here. You can read analysis here, here, and here.

Going forward, McCain looks unbeatable. He’d have to self-destruct.

I’m also still not buying the argument that Huckabee is preventing Romney from consolidating the conservative opposition to McCain. First of all, in only four states that McCain won was the combined Romney-Huckabee vote total higher. In two (California and Delaware), Romney finished a relatively distant second; in the other two (Missouri and Oklahoma), Huckabee finished a close second. It seems to me at least as plausible to say that Romney harmed Huckabee as to say that Mike hurt Mitt.

Second, those who make this argument assume that "conservatism" is so salient for voters that their preferences are simply transferable from one "conservative" to another. Might not character or particular issues matter more? Indeed, isn’t it McCain’s stance on particular issues--as opposed to his overall orientation--that leads some to declare he’s not a conservative?

Third, note that in many places--California, for example--McCain gets a significant portion of the "conservative vote." To be sure, in California he lost the "very conservative" vote (roughly a quarter of the Republican electorate) quite substantially, but even if all the "very conservative" Huckabee supporters had gone over to Romney (a totally implausible scenario in any event), McCain still would have won...and handily. It’s more likely that on some issues (e.g., the war) or some dimensions (e.g., character or leadership) or some considerations (e.g., electability), some conservatives are going to choose McCain over Romney. Taking Huckabee out of the picture doesn’t change any of this. And, to be fair, taking Romney out of the picture wouldn’t enable Huckabee to climb Mount McCain.

Finally, if you look at the distribution of the self-identified Republican vote in the states McCain won, there are four (CA, IL, MO, and OK) in which his percentage of the Republican vote was lower than the combined Romney-Huckabee proportion. McCain did worst in states--Missouri and Oklahoma--where Huckabee came in a close second. Indeed, if all these states had closed primaries, Huckabee would have won Missouri and tied McCain in Oklahoma. And the only way Romney could have won in California and Illinois is by taking an implausibly high share (75%+ in CA, 85%+ in IL) of the Huckabee vote. In other words, McCain did quite well among Republicans, winning outright majorities in three of his states and effectively insurmountable pluralities in three others. In the other two, he would have tied Huckabee or finished a close third behind Huckabee and Romney.

I’m far from arguing that McCain is the perfect Republican or conservative candidate, but there is no one in this race who is doing so much better as to be the Republican or conservative.

And, by the way, I didn’t vote for McCain yesterday, though, unlike James Dobson, I could vote for him in a general election.

Is Huck Back?

...well, not quite. But it makes you wonder what would have happened had he won in SC. It’s too early to know who actually will win most of the southern states, but Huck is running impressively everywhere. I shouldn’t write this down, but I think he wins Georgia and conceivably Tennessee, not to mention Alabama. (And he’s not far off in OK and MO.) McCain’s showing is less than spectacular almost everywhere, even NY and AZ. Romney is not really shining anywhere, but there’s still hope for a Missouri and California combo. Once again, it’s the type of night that will help McCain, although he certainly doing worse than (at least I) expected. Will he feel chastened? You know the answer.

UPDATE: McCain finished strong with a very narrow winner-take-all victory in MO over Huck and a more decisive one in California. It’s hard to know how Romney can stay in the race now. Will Huck finally take McCain on? Hillary also finished strong to win all the big, contested states and manage a draw overall for the evening. That was actually a bit of a comeback on her part. Maybe those Clintons can never die!

55% Dixie?

Who would have thought a Lincoln-phile like me could be described so? But according to this quiz that’s exactly what I am--at least in my speech and pronunciation. If you want to take your mind off of politics for a bit today, go see where you fall on the spectrum. Thanks to my Mom for passing this along. She, by the way, is 57% Yankee.

Random Super Observations

1. Obama is now clearly ahead of Hillary nationwide. So now she’ll be lucky to get a tie today. I wish I had bet the plantation on the collapse. Will Bill Clinton be able to salvage his wife’s campaign? I, for one, hope so.

2. Romney closed a little nationwide and in particular states but not enough to make any difference. Geogia is basically a three-way tie.

3. From the point of view of people such as myself, Julie, and Joe who want to chasten McCain, the Georgia situation provides a stategic dilemma. I’m too manly to share with you the soul-searching that produced my final choice. And because it is, in truth, nothing more dramatic than a coin-flip, I’ll spare you the burden of being guided by that choice.

4. If you come to Oglethorpe tomorrow, you can hear my ten-minute talk on the Warrior and the Preacher. It tentatively includes this paragraph: "The weakness of the warrior--and this is the theme of many a Clint Eastwood movie--is that they prefer war to peace. So they’re all for sacrifice even when it would be counterproductive to require it. McCain was against the Bush tax cuts because they’d be unpatriotic in time of war. Now he’s finally for the cuts--in a way--because they’d stimulate the economy. It doesn’t seem to occur to the warrior that Bush’s pro-family tax cuts might have actually improved the ordinary lives of struggling parents. And McCain’s also a hawk when it comes to budget cuts, of course, because they usually require that someone sacrifice, and that can never be bad."

5. I might also say tomorrow: "Instead of taking Darwin on in the name of Creation, Huckabee should have said that Darwin is on his side: Members of our species--like members of all the others--are happiest when they live dutifully as social beings, when the do their duty to their species by having kids, raising them well, and not trying too hard to stay around forever, contrary to nature’s clear intention for each of them."

Three Parent Embryos

"Heather Has Two Mommies" gets a whole new meaning.

What I’m Going to Do Today

Joe’s very interesting dialog with himself (see below) about what he’s going to do today has inspired one of my own. I think I’ve learned a lesson from this election. Some months ago, I looked at the unsatisfying field before me and asked myself, "Which one of these guys has the best chance of winning in November and is the least disagreeable to me?" I concluded--we now know incorrectly--that this guy was Rudy. (Though I still think he’d have done well if he could have pulled through the primary.) All the available evidence--including polls--supported the notion that he was our best bet. Seeing the alternative, and admiring Rudy’s personal toughness, made me sanguine about the prospect of a Giuliani-led ticket even though I have strong differences with him on many issues. But now I’ve stopped asking myself who has the best chance in November. I no longer think I’m wise enough to know the answer to that question.

At this point, our leading choice seems to be a prickly fellow with positions firmly set and, quite often, opposite mine. Our other choice is a guy whose positions might generously be called "wobbly." He is not a prickly fellow but he’s also not particularly endearing. (I won’t go through my long critique of Romney’s missing love handles again.) On the other hand, when you look at his executive experience and you look at his many accomplishments and you compare them to McCain’s . . . McCain doesn’t look so good. Romney is standing by what he says he believes now . . . and he’s shown an admirable amount of determination that I’d really like to see applied to our foreign policy. I think he’ll be like a terrier with a bone when he sinks his teeth into the war on terror. Further, the looming prospect of Obama and the energy that ticket will bring with it makes me quite skeptical about the argument that McCain can carry independents. So I’m disregarding it.

That said, I have a very strong feeling that nothing I or the numerous outraged conservatives say about John McCain, is going to keep him from carrying the day. And, if he does, I’m not going to give my vote to the Democrats by sitting out. On the other hand, it’s not yet clear that this is inevitable and, more important, I think Romney would be a better President.

So I’m going to vote for Romney today. I’m voting for him in the hopes that he’ll carry the day. But, failing that, I’m counting on a good showing from Romney at least chastening his establishment opponent. To me, it’s pretty obvious now what needs to be done . . . even if you like McCain. Perhaps, even, especially if you like McCain. He needs to sweat.

Truly the End of an Era

I’ve been too depressed lately (okay, really just too d--- busy) to post much lately, but on top of all the chatter that the Reagan Era is well and truly over, comes the news that Bobby Knight is retiring from college basketball. Truly the end of an era. Knight was the General Patton of college basketball coaches.

Peter: Can we make Knight an honorary fellow of the Ashbrook Center?

The judicial road to same-sex marriage

The New York Times celebrates this decision, described here. The upshot is that, in the absence of any positive legislative action, the state of New York is required to give effect to marriages that are legally performed in other jurisdictions.

The court also acknowledges a line of precedents that prohibit state acknowledgement of marriages that are not in accord with "natural law." But in this case:

The natural law exception also is not applicable. That exception has generally been limited to marriages involving polygamy or incest or
marriages “offensive to the public sense of morality to a degree regarded generally with abhorrence” and that cannot be said here.

As the court understands it, natural law "evolves" with the public tastes and sensibilities, at least as they’re perceived by the judges. Legislators who favor this result don’t have to do anything, not even take political heat for supporting same-sex marriage. I’d prefer a more "inclusive" discussion of the state of the "public sense of morality."

Dr. Barack’s Traveling Salvation Show

E. J. Dionne, Jr. puts his finger on the stylistic differences between the Clinton and Obama campaigns. A snippet:

The larger difference between Clinton and Obama is in their respective theories of change. Implicit in the Clinton narrative, as she put it on the stump last weekend, is the idea that "making change is hard." Only someone with carefully laid plans and the toughness to go toe-to-toe with the Republicans in the daily and weekly Washington slog can hope to achieve reform.

Obama agrees to an extent. "I know how hard change is," he says. But he promises to transcend the old fights -- the liberation narrative again -- by building a "bottom-up" movement to create inexorable pressure for reform that would draw in even Republicans.

"Good intentions are not enough," he said in his Wilmington speech. They need to be "fortified with political will or political power." Obama marries a softer rhetorical line on Republicans with a more far-reaching and activist analysis of how change happens. He thus manages to go to Clinton’s right and left at the same time.

That’s why Obama is on the move in a way that worries Clinton’s lieutenants. She promises toughness, competence, clarity and experience in a year when many Democrats are seeking something closer to salvation.

One of the politicians who spoke before Obama at the rally, Delaware state Treasurer Jack Markell, cited the New Testament letter to the Hebrews in which Saint Paul spoke of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It was a revealing moment: While Clinton wages a campaign, Obama is preaching a revival.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the introductory speech Dionne cited in his last paragraph--a fine and "stirring" example of the religion of humanity Obama’s presence incites people to preach.

And here is yet another example of the pseudo-religious sentiment Obama inspires:

To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

Perhaps the election of Obama would be a good thing, because no one could live up to the worldly messianic hopes people have attached to him (which he’s done nothing to discourage). Boy, what a hangover that would be!

What happens to the Huckabee voters?

This guy thinks that a significant proportion of them might consider voting for a Demcoratic candidate. Some of his "analysis" is based on this poll, described here. Since those who answered the questions in effect "volunteered" for the poll, I don’t find the results credible.

This article captures the lay of the land a bit better, I think, as it describes a certain confusion, but no mass movement in the direction of the Democrats. Yes, the issue portfolio is broader than it might have been a decade ago, but note that the war against radical jihad is up there too.

And Nicholas Kristof is onto something, as George W. Bush has been for years.

Finally, I’d second at least some of the line of argument the good folks at Acton have been making, especially this part:

Now of course there is no one “Christian” set of policies on the best way to help poor or stimulate an economy. Unlike life issues, these are prudential matters and good Christians can disagree. Yet there seems to be a growing tendency among Christians to allow the left to claim the moral high ground with their big government interventionist plans despite the fact that history has shown this to be not only ineffective but harmful.

Trying to figure what I’m going to do tomorrow

Let me begin by saying that I could, in the fall, vote for any one of the Republican candidates still in the race (excepting Ron Paul, of course). The prospect of a President Clinton or Obama for judicial appointments, the conduct of our foreign affairs, and the management of our economy does not exactly warm the cockles of my heart.

But what to do when I go to the polls tomorrow? If I were to be influenced by the robocalls I’ve received, I’d vote McCain (having received five on his behalf and two on Huckabee’s, with none for Romney, despite the fact that I live in a district represented in Congress and the state legislature by Romney-like Republicans). If I were influenced by the positions taken by the Georgia Republican establishment, I’d vote McCain, since both my Senators have endorsed him. (That, by the way, covers a bit of a spectrum in Georgia Republicanism, since they’re not exactly peas in a pod.) But, O.K., I’m not merely a product of my political environment, so I’ll actually have to think a little.

McCain’s pluses are obvious: he’s a stalwart in foreign and defense policy, relatively solid on life issues, and hasn’t been a friend of the GOP pork-lovers. He polls well among independents, which would probably help him against Clinton, though I have a hard time thinking that he’d win that vote against Obama. Indeed, at the moment, I think he’s the only electable Republican (of course, there has to be a general election campaign, and lots can happen). McCain’s negatives are also obvious: he has a mercurial temper, no administrative experience, and a penchant for tweaking his fellow Republicans. At his age, none of this will change. At his age, I have a hard time imagining him successfully contesting the elusive "youth vote" with, say, Obama.

Romney has solid administrative experience. He’s smart. I worry about his changes of heart, though I think that the very public markers he has laid down, especially on life issues, will be hard to walk away from. But I have a hard time imagining him beating either Clinton or Obama. If he were an electrifying campaigner, I wouldn’t have such a hard time, but he’s not.

And there’s more. I mentioned in another post the resistance I’ve gotten when I’ve talked about Romney with fellow evangelicals. It is very deep-seated. Some portion of the folks with whom I’ve spoken will surely sit on their hands rather than vote Romney in the fall. And no GOP candidate is going to win if a significant portion of the base sits on its hands.

If I just wanted to send a message to the man, I’d vote Huckabee, free from any expectation that he could actually win the nomination and confident that he’d have a harder time even than Romney winning the general election.

So my calculation at the moment is that it might be possible for the GOP to win with McCain, and that it’s pretty much impossible with the others. I know that I won’t get what I like from Clinton or Obama. I might get what I like, at least some of the time, from McCain.

But suppose I thought the GOP was very likely to lose in November, regardless of the nominee. What then? A McCain defeat would be a personal loss for him, but not for the self-appointed keepers of the party orthodoxy. They wouldn’t likely learn anything. A Romney defeat would compel more rethinking in the GOP, perhaps leading to a reconsideration of how conservative principles have to be in this new environment.

And, as an added bonus, it would compel rethinking among the evangelicals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon candidate. With a "reward in heaven," they might be willing to pay the price of a new Democratic ascendancy on earth. But, then again, perhaps not. They might gain a new or renewed appreciation of the role of constitutionalism and a recognition that what we should look for in our political leaders is reasonable righteousness and good judgment, not theological orthodoxy.

Can you tell which way I’m leaning?

McCain’s Appeal

I have taken something of a beating by calling into question the idea advanced by some that conservatives ought to sit out the general election, or even support Clinton or Obama, if McCain is the Republican nominee. I would observe that the same argument was advanced in 1992 about Bush 41. Eight years of Billary Clinton would seem to illustrate the folly of such reasoning. Character ought to mean something, and McCain has shown he possesses it.

Y’all come reminder: liberalism, conservatism, fascism?

Jonah Goldberg, ably supported (and perhaps also contradicted) by our own Peter Lawler, Jay Cost (of RealClearPolitics), Jon Schaff (of South Dakota Politics), Matt Franck (of Bench Memos), Susan McWilliams (friend of our friend Patrick Deneen of What I Saw in America), Alan Abramowitz (of The Democratic Strategist), Bryan McGraw (friend of many of our friends), and Jay Bookman (of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) will be speaking at Oglethorpe University this Wednesday (the day after Super Tuesday...or is it Not-so-Super Tuesday?). The topics will be liberalism, conservatism, and fascism(???).

Festivities get underway at 11 a.m. with a student panel, continue through two afternoon roundtables, and culminate in Jonah’s keynote at 7 p.m.

All the events take place in Lupton Auditorium on the Oglethorpe campus. All the sessions are free and open to the public.

Happy Warriors

Bill Kristol makes the very sound and sensible point that movements composed of happy warriors are the only kind that tend to succeed in American politics--and with good reason. In the course of making this important point, he leads up to an attempt to elicit good cheer on the part of those elements of the conservative movement who--in all likelihood--are going to find themselves much distressed come Wednesday morning. (Is it any coincidence, by the way, that this Wednesday also happens to be ASH Wednesday . . . ashes to ashes . . .?)

My big quibble with Kristol’s otherwise sound advice in this piece is that I would suggest some re-phrasing at the end. He borders on the indignant (without, as yet, demonstrating a good reason for indignation) when noting the virulent reactions many conservatives have had in the face of a pending McCain coronation. He chooses words like "temper tantrum" and suggests that we not "close our eyes" to McCain’s virtues. Accusing others of temper tantrums at this stage in the game is not the sword I’d choose to defend support for Senator McCain. With that last bit about closing the eyes, however, I do have some sympathy. Problematic as John McCain is, he is not Hillary Clinton and certainly not Barack Obama. But it is condescending--right now--to suggest that anger at McCain (even anger that leads people to say wildly imprudent things) is the same thing as closing one’s eyes to the differences. We’re still in a primary and Romney though seriously wounded and probably seeking life support, is not yet dead. His supporters and McCain’s detractors are right to say what they will and to elucidate the differences as they see them and with as much force as they deem necessary. If that wounds John McCain, I’d suggest then that it’s a wounding he’s brought upon himself and probably one that he needs. I hope he begins to feel it and to make amends (as we enter the season of Lent!). It will be nothing compared to the wounding the Democrats are going to try and give him.

Kristol’s larger point for the conservative movement, however, is that in many ways this fight has got nothing to do with John McCain or Mitt Romney or, even, Mike Huckabee. It’s about the many fragmented elements of the conservative coalition. His discussion of what it is that conservatives are trying to do and what makes their efforts so difficult in a liberal democracy is worthy of committing to memory. His call to recognize the limits of the possible is less a capitulation to the zeitgeist than a call to arms. We should be happy warriors and press on--not only because it will make us more successful--but more because we’ve got much about which we ought to be happy. First among the things that ought to inspire a cheerful tone should be the knowledge that the smallest of our successes have produced greater felicity for our country than the combined results of the grand delusions concocted by the opposition. We need to focus our efforts on them and their schemes and to do this sooner rather than later.

The game

I have a miserable cold, so I have turned into a complaining ten year old boy. Still, I was able to take in a great football game yesterday and, in case you didn’t see the very beginning, here is the almost complete YouTube version of the reading of the Declaration of Independence shown yesterday just before the National Anthem. It’s about six minutes, and worth it.

Christian Democracy in America

I tried in an essay to make sense of Barack Obama’s various utterances about religion and politics. My conclusion: his "awesome God" is a thoroughgoing, card-carrying Democrat. I know this comes as a shock to everyone.

Update: I’d forgotten about the rather hetrodox religious dimensions of Oprahbamalooza until David Innes reminded me.

Random Observations

1. Zogby now gives Romney a clear lead in California. But the national poll shows him barely ahead of Huck and way behind McCain. A few narrow victories in the South and in California will hardly offset the landslide coming in most of the country.
John will be able to run the convention and campaign as he pleases after tomorrow.

2. Obama really is closing fast and may well more or less tie Hillary tomorrow. If that happens, he’ll pick up lots more senatorial and other prominent endorsements. If I really were to bet the plantation on something on which I could still get good odds, it would be on an impending Clinton collapse. Let me say once more: Nobody should be happy about this.

3. The Superbowl is, generally speaking, the most overhyped and boring event in sports. But obviously not this time. Two great quarterbacks struggling--finally with some brilliant success--against tough and smart defenses...Even Tom Petty showed up ready.

Another It Ain’t Right Update

1. The latest studies from Georgia (yes, more than one) put McCain, Romney, and Huck in a virtual three-way time, with John with an insignificant lead. The Republican elected officials in Georgia--with the most prominent exception of our mediocre, McCain-endorsing Senators--are rallying around Romney in a fairly impressive way. It’s hard to know what to advise to avoid the enraging outcome of McCain sneaking through with exactly 30% of the vote, with the other two just a point or two behind. Romney is surging some, but Huck is apprently not declining that much. I anticipate and hope for some movement from Huck to Romney in these last couple of days. At this point, it makes sense to vote Romney in Georgia, unless you’re one of those Huck guys who would choose McCain next (you stick with Huck).

2. In Tennessee and Alabama, Romney is not doing as well, as far as I can tell.

3. As a matter of honor--to avoid even the appearance of corrupt bargaining or simiilar impropriety--McCain should make it clear that he won’t pick either Huckabee or Thompson as his running mate.

4. McCain might think about selecting Romney, just to show that he’s not too "McVain" to really deliberate. His contempt for Romney seems to based in his "patriotism not profit" thing. Romney and his five strapping, species-perpetuating sons didn’t "serve." That view is based upon a too-spirited elevation of martial over marital virtue. From the point of view of the family guy, Romney is the most virtuous MAN in the race. And so the McCain-Romney ticket is the marrige of the warrior’s courage and the father’s responsibility and fidelity.

5. Obama is really surging in the polls. Gallup has him within the margin of error nationwide. He’s also just about caught up in states like CA and NJ. Time is on his side, and his time is approaching faster than I guessed.

Romney Wins Gold in Maine!

1. proving that I was wrong to say he’d only carry Mass. and Utah.

2. The Zogby poll now has Mitt ahead in California, and the others have him within striking distance. That may be one big state where the anti-McCain vote has become somewhat united. If he wins there, he can legitimately stay in the race. (From a Romney point of view, it’d be better if CA were winner-take-all.)

3. Almost all the Southern states are now looking something like Florida or South Carolina, with McCain poised to get 30-some% and the vote against him divided. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to consolidate that vote, in part because it’s not really anti-McCain enough.

4. With the strange exception of Rasmussen (which shows a tie betwen John and Mitt), the national polls now give McCain a huge lead.

5. On the Democratic side, the proportional representation (or lack of winner-take-all) will keep Hillary from scoring anything near a knock-out on Tuesday. And time is certainly Obama’s friend. Let me repeat that we shouldn’t really be happy about this. McCain, I really do think, is not well suited to run against Barack, and the Democratic Congress will be no brake on the extremism of President Obama.

Abu Laith al-Libi’s death

A senior al Quada leader, really a top field commander, was killed in North Waziristan (occasionally controlled by Pakistan), and, surprisingly, this was announced by a terrorist website. Was he killed by the U.S., or by Pakistanis? No one is taking credit, but at first it was thought to be by an American drone. And, of course, no one is commenting on the specifics.
Still, if it is true that al-Libi has been killed--he was responsible for the attack on Bagram sir base that killed over twenty people when Cheney visited in February 2007--it is probably a sign that the U.S. is much more active inside Pakistan than, say, we were three months ago. Perhaps that explains why the bad guys announced the hit.

It Ain’t Right Update

1. McCain is now ahead about everywhere but Arkansas, Utah, and Massachusetts--the home states of his two opponents.

2. One (deviant) poll does have Romney and McCain tied in Georgia now, and Huck fading. In general, Romney is doing (for me, unexpectedly) better in the South, and so it might make more sense now for even Southerners to vote for him as part of the "tough love" project described below.

3. Huck’s campaign has become repulsive. It’s not directed against McCain at all and it’s all about questioning Romney’s conservative credentials.

4. Still, remember that McCain remains the second choice of (probably) most Huck voters and (certainly) most Romney voters. Taking one out wouldn’t help the other all that much. So maybe my advice is to stick with your favorite non-McCain choice.

5. There’s something valiant and tragic about Romney’s current campaign. He’s desperately trying to figure out and focus his resources where he might win, but he just doesn’t have time to get his strategy or message right. And of course he had to take time out for Gordon Hinckley’s funeral.
It’ll take a miracle for him not to be thinking very seriously about dropping out next Wednesday.


The latest poll in Georgia has McCain with an 11 point lead over Huckabee and Romney, who are tied.

Interestingly enough, in this poll, McCain wins the young overwhelmingly, with Romney getting nothing, I repeat, nothing, from them.

Conservative responses to McCain

The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick surveys the range of reactions to John McCain as the nominee. WHile some, like James Dobson, say they’ll never support him, others, who claim to be more in touch with the grassroots, can find a way of reconciling themselves.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks McCain is the candidate of the "Republican establishment," which isn’t ho it looks from where I sit. He also thinks that the "capitulation [of "Republican elected officials," who are moving into the McCain camp] signals the end of the Reagan-Bush era and the beginning of something quite different." If McCain wins the general election, perhaps. But the future of the GOP isn’t in the plurality coalition that has vaulted Mac to the top. He’s too idiosyncratic and mercurial to have a long-term effect on the party or on conservatism. My real concern remains how he, or any other nominee, is going to connect with the next generation of potential Republican and conservative voters. Someone has to get them into the habit....