Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Random Observations

1. If you go to RCP and look at the polls including 10/16 or 10/17, it appears that Obama’s real margin now is 5%. No McCain bleeding right now, still time for a surge.

2. On the Senate, the result could be pretty bad or really bad. Right now there are five races in the South that could go either way--NC, KY, GA, TX, and MS. They all go R, and no way the Ds get to 60. They all go D, and my prediction is they get 62. NC is enouraging insofar as Dole is hanging in there, but there’s a general consensus she’s unlikely to be reelected. Texas shouldn’t be as close at it is, but probably still R. Texas is one state where McCain really will be a help. Wicker holds a statistically insignificant lead in MS and is a lame candidate for a variety of reasons. Those in the know say a huge African-American turnout in MS will make the prez race closer than the polls show. If that’s true, Wicker loses. Chambliss is now targeted by Sam Nunn and friends in a big, big way, and a likely big, big African-American turnout in Georgia puts the odds against him at this point. I’ve haven’t seen any very recent polls on McConnell, but the few things I’ve heard don’t sound all that promising for him. The WSJ reminds us of the importance of the filibuster as a weapon in 1993-94.

3. I for one cringed some at McCain’s repeated use of Joe the Plumber. But surely the MSM/D fake outrage about his various human failings--and their intensive investigation of every nook and cranny of his existence--is something worse than negative campaigning.

Supermajority, or, unchecked left-wing ascendancy

This Wall Street Journal editorial is very good in explaining the kind of change (also see below) that is coming if Obama is elected: Liberals would dominate the entire government for the first time since 1965 or 1933.   

Charles Kesler on Obama

Charles Kesler’s "The Audacity of Barack Obama," in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books is now available through RealClearPolitics. First class piece showing Obama’s ambition to the be the greatest progressive.    

Fed Up

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an interview with Anna Schwartz, Milton Friedman’s co-author in A Monetary History of the United States. Her conclusion? Bernanke is fighting the wrong war:

We now hear almost every day that banks will not lend to each other, or will do so only at punitive interest rates. Credit spreads -- the difference between what it costs the government to borrow and what private-sector borrowers must pay -- are at historic highs.

This is not due to a lack of money available to lend, Ms. Schwartz says, but to a lack of faith in the ability of borrowers to repay their debts. "The Fed," she argues, "has gone about as if the problem is a shortage of liquidity. That is not the basic problem. The basic problem for the markets is that [uncertainty] that the balance sheets of financial firms are credible."

Read the whole thing. 

Ashbrook Center

Race and Obama Matters

Barack Obama may be cool and collected, but so is John McWhorter. This New Republic piece considers how folks would and should think about race if Obama loses, or wins. Thoughtful. Also see this interesting, albeit less satisfying, essay on Obama and Ralph Ellison by David Samuels. Related is this essay in The Economist by Glenn Loury. Also see the essay in the Chronicle by Gerald Early 
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Sen. Saxby Chambliss

We hosted Sen. Saxby Chambliss on campus today. He’s in an unexpectedly tight race for reelection, running against his fraternity brother. (I should add that Chambliss and his Senate colleague Johnny Isakson attended UGA at the same time and married sorority sisters; Jim Martin, Chambliss’ challenger is two years younger. The Southern equivalents of Skull and Bones are the fraternities and sororities at the flagship state university.)

But back to Sen. Chambliss. He spoke very impressively on energy policy and quite lucidly on our current economic woes, winning over colleagues who aren’t exactly your typical Republican voters. (I won’t swear that they’ll vote for him, but they surely won’t slit their wrists if he wins reelection.) Chambliss has a style that isn’t exactly post-partisan, but his partisanship is subtle and understated, a model for what might work and win in this very bad Republican year.

In response to a question about the partisan climate in Washington, D.C., he made two interesting points, one institutional and one cultural. The institutional one is familiar: generally speaking the Senate is less bitterly partisan than the House (a function of statewide races, often with relatively evenly divided electorates). The other built upon his experience attending a weekly prayer breakfast, for Senators only. When you hold hands and pray with someone, he said, you don’t care whether they’re Republican or Democrat. I think he’s right. I seem to recall that Hillary Clinton has attended those breakfasts. Has Barack Obama? Or has he been too busy running a post-partisan campaign?

A tax increase I can support

Anyone else around here willing to support a tax on all foundation endowments, including those of colleges and universities, in excess of, say $1,000,000?

I’d go further, actually, and end the tax deduction for anything that is not directly helping poor people--helping them get health care, food, education, etc. I’m not quite sure where religious institutions would fit in.

Update: A few more points. Wealthy people sometimes give significant donations to Harvard to get their sons into the college. Why should they get to write off the bribe? Second point. It can’t be good that foundations can buy and sell stock without paying capital gains, but everyone else has to. That has to bias the market somehow. And one final point for now. The commentator below has a good point. Charities are perpetuties. In that sense, they are like the aristocratic institutions of the medieval era. America was founded upon prnciples opposed to such things.

A Rare Twofer

Several people have pointed to Joe the Plumber’s comment that Senator Obams can " "tap dance...almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr." Inevitably, this had led to charges of racism. Actually, since we’re talking about Sammy Davis, Jr., Joe will presumably be accused of both racism and anti-Semitism!

A Tightening Race?

Some of the polls indicate that it may be. I have always believed that the race is tighter than the polls suggest--for all kinds of reasons. Are people lying to pollsters in order not to appear racist? I think that’s probably true to some degree, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on it or even hope for it. But there’s also this to consider (particularly if we do get a surprise result and people then are too quick to yell "racism!"): Although it’s true that McCain is going to have to have a perfect storm on the electoral map in order to get to the magic number of 270 (which I admit, at this point, looks pretty bleak) speaking more broadly, Obama is going to have to have a perfect storm in turnout (particularly of the young) and a change in historical party affiliations in order to support the numbers he’s been polling. The thing to remember when considering these facts is that it is easy to talk big ("I’m going to vote, even though I’ve never voted before!" and "I’m changing parties because I’m so mad at Bush!") but actually doing what you say--particularly if we get a soul-searching second look at McCain and a serious critique of Obama--will be harder for many of these apparently "energized" voters to do. And I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of voter fatigue. Who isn’t sick of this darn campaign?

Why Can’t We Get These Guys to Find Bin Laden?

Okay, so I turned 50 years old yesterday. No need for cheers and jeers--I got plenty of those all week.

Today I received my first e-mail solicitation from the AARP. Figures. (Of course, if we had truth in labeling laws for interest groups, AARP would stand for Angry Advocates for Rapacious Pensioners. I’m not joining.)

"Surely the reality it, the people who lent all this money have been incredibly stupid."

A remarkably prescient send-up of the credit crisis from two Brit comedians--taped over a year ago. (A YouTube video--about eight minutes long, but worth the watch; best stuff at the end.)

Hat tip: Roger Ream

McCain--Pretty Good. Obama--Really Bad

That’s the truth, as Yuval explains. Obama seems cool, and he certainly is calm. But the truth is he’s an utterly conventional--and quite extreme--liberal reactionary. McCain, meanwhile, is quite a fascinating and rather unique piece of work, far from perfect but altogether a much better choice.

Yeah, but What Does Jimmy Buffett Think?

Warren Buffett says it’s time to buy stocks, for the reasons I laid out here last week. I’m still following his advice, but it takes some steady nerves.

P.S. I believe Jimmy and Warren are distant cousins, which accounts for the headline.

The Last One

The last living survivor of the Titanic is 96.

McCain the liberal?

How bipartisan would a President McCain be, Ann Althouse asks:

Better a principled, coherent liberal whose liberal choices will, if they don’t go well, be blamed on liberals than an erratic, incoherent liberal whose liberal choices will be blamed on the party that ought to get its conservative act together.

Obama’s Mean-Spiritedness Emerges

I just heard the two candidates speak at the Alfred Smith annual dinner, where notables (and the two presidential candidates) are expected to deliver humorous, self-deprecating speeches. Both were funny, but I sensed an overflow of bile in Obama’s contribution to the evening. McCain’s by contrast was funny and gracious (with a couple barbs). The evening’s remarks reinforced why Aristotle made wittiness literally his ultimate moral virtue.

Some representative quotes here.

A Fake Debate

While watching yesterday’s debate between Senators McCain and Obama, I kept thinking that their ten point plans were beside the point. The question is not what a President Obama or McCain would propose, but what would we actually get, after Congress had its way with the proposal. Too bad no one asked them to speculate about what the actual bills would be.

Liberal Elitist Contempt for Middle America

Does anyone really want to argue that high powered liberal elitists have anything other than utter and complete contempt for middle America? What they did to Sarah Palin, despicable as it was, was one thing. She is a public person and she had to know that she was jumping into a shark-infested pool. All things considered, she held her own. But Joe the Plumber? I have no doubt that he can handle the attacks . . . but why should he? As Jules Crittenden puts it, Joe is just a guy.

On the other hand, I won’t second the counsel Crittenden offers to Joe. Crittenden thinks he should just hold his tongue now and go back to plumbing before he gets caught in a "gotcha." I think I’m more inclined to trust Joe to make that call for himself.

Joe Wurzelbacher for President!

The now famous, Joe the Plumber talks not only about what it takes to be prosperous, but also about what it means to be an American. He talks about the kind of pride all Americans ought to have in themselves that propels them to resist efforts to cast them as peasants dependent on a patron and spurn suggestions that they can’t make it on their own. This video and this interview are only a couple of the several I’ve watched or read of this guy and, I’ll tell you . . . he gets it. They are all very, very good. Is it too late to draft this guy? We ought, at least, to invite him to come to our blogger’s talk next week. Joe, if you’re out there, I’d be proud to buy your ticket--not because you need my help but, rather, because you deserve my gratitude.

If You Really Want to Know

...why attacks on Obama’s character, associations, and actual political opinions don’t work, consider that plenty of voters just don’t care. They know that they probably won’t even like him as president, but they’re so negative or angry that anything MIGHT be better...

More Free Advice

...from Frank on why liberal-leaning independents still might want to vote against utter Democratic domination. Frank sticks to energy, the economy, and national security. It’s still possible to focus the campaign message with guys like Frank in mind.

Our Election and Elections Past

Here are some comparisons by ME that might give McCain the audacity of some hope.

Voting in Ohio

On Tuesday, the full Sixth Circuit found that the Secretary of State actually needs to follow federal law and send records mismatches identified between motor vehicles and the Secretary of State records to the county election boards. The only thing surprising about this case is that the Secretary of State arbitrarily decided not to do this leading up to the election. As Judge Gibbons said in her concurrence, “As far as I can tell, the Secretary submitted no affidavits relating to harm to her in carrying out her duties or the public interest.” Despite howls of disenfranchisement, the court noted that a mismatch does not remove a voter from the rolls, it simply permits the board to investigate to see whether there are errors or fraud (multiple or false registrations). What the Secretary of State seems to forget is that allowing fraudulent votes to be cast dilutes the votes of actual legal voters, and that this is itself a violation of the right to vote.

Of No Consequence

...that’s the truth about the debate in terms of the outcome of the election. Obama stayed in character and probably increased people’s comfort level with him. McCain was more aggressive and relatively competent. I really liked the shots he took at Biden and his comments on the judiciary etc. in general. But he didn’t take it to Obama on Fannie as the real cause of our woes. Nor did he mention the danger of "unified government" under the Democrats. Finally, I’m not being critical; McCain gave it his best shot.

Tonight’s debate

This was, I think, John McCain’s best performance. He was consistently on the offense, setting the tone of the debate, and forcing Obama to react.

Of course, all Obama has to do is try to run out the clock, and he will likely be able to do that, as he did with Hillary Clinton.

I have to write 150 words about the debate and the way forward for the campaigns for the Atlanta paper, to appear on Sunday. Any suggestions?

I will say that this was the best of the three debates, because it approached most closely what we actually mean by a debate, with give and take. Bob Schieffer did a pretty good job of asking good and difficult questions, and the candidates responded less frequently than usual with canned answers.

My only disappointment with McCain was his judicial answer, which I found lacking in coherence. He’s right to argue that "elections have consequences," but that doesn’t square well with his claim to focus only on qualifications. He could have stressed constitutionalism much more than he did and he could have pounced on Obama’s blather about judges who stress fairness and looking out for the little guy, which perhaps ought to be the job of our representatives, not our judges. McCain’s wisecrack about the statute of limitations was on point, but insufficiently well-developed, frightfully close to the kind of Dole Senate-speak that we saw in 1996.

Our Friend Thomas Frank

I was as surprised as the next conservative when Thomas Frank became a columnist for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. The Journal editorial page is conservatism’s most prominent platform, while Frank’s criticisms of conservatives – in many articles and his books, What’s the Matter With Kansas? and Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule – are among the most strident on the Left. As I’ve slogged through one predictable essay after another I’ve kept thinking, “Why does the Journal give so much valuable real estate to this guy?”

Now I get it – and I’m embarrassed it took me so long. A house lefty who writes an article on “My Friend Bill Ayers” does more to remind conservatives why they’re conservatives than a Fox News marathon. What’s hard to understand is why Frank, in every other instance hypersensitive to the way conservatives and capitalists exploit the worker, would be complicit in advancing the WSJ editorial agenda by turning in copy indistinguishable from a right-wing parody of left-wing obtuseness.

Frank could have titled his piece, “My Hero Bill Ayers.” Ayers is not only “a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself” and “unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help.” He is a “kind and affable and even humble” man, who “has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything.” Saint Francis has no right to polish this guy’s halo.

There was, of course, some vaguely unpleasant business involving Ayers a very, very long time ago. Frank skips past the Weathermen trivia quickly, describing it as a group that “planted bombs and issued preposterous statements in the Vietnam era.” How does Frank feel about all that? “I do not defend the things Mr. Ayers did in his Weatherman days.” (But neither does he criticize them.) “Nor will I quibble with those who find Mr. Ayers wanting in contrition.” Those who make this accusation might be right, but the point is too insignificant to argue about.

Frank, however, immediately does go on to quibble, saying that Ayers’ critics have it wrong, and their criticism reveals their own shortcomings, not his: “His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.” As several critics have shown, the “shot through with regret” summary is a howler.

Contrast these mild and carefully measured criticisms with how Frank assesses Republicans’ attacks on Barack Obama for associating with Ayers. “This is their vilest hour,” he says evenly. “The McCain campaign . . . has chosen to mount its greatest attack against a man who poses no conceivable threat to the country, who has nothing to do with this year’s issues, and who cannot or will not defend himself.” (Really? Why can’t he, or won’t he?) The Republican efforts to criticize Ayers, and criticize Obama for associating with him, are “desperate and grotesque.”

So. Denouncing a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? A crime against humanity. Being a guy who tried to set off bombs in police stations and military bases? The moral equivalent of jaywalking.

There’s an interesting ambivalence/hypocrisy/dishonesty about the attitude of the American Left in 2008 to the American Left of 1968. “We don’t go in for that sort of thing anymore,” the modern leftist insists, but can’t refrain from adding, “When you think about it, though, the ‘excesses’ committed in those days were understandable, defensible and really quite noble.”

The voting is less than three weeks away, and Obama is ahead in all the polls. The one thing that might yet turn the election in the Republicans’ favor would be for Thomas Frank to write a Journal article every day until November 4th.

The Truth About Obama, Fannnie, Freddie, and Our Crisis told clearly and concisely by that honest liberal Free Frank Warner. I wish McCain would be reading what Frank has to say right about now. He might even be able to make the case that our deepening financial crisis should actually be making people more inclined to vote for him.

Getting Deregulation Backward

If one wants economic growth, a country needs three things: a secure medium of exchange, the right to hold, use, or transfer one’s property at will, and a government that ensures the first two. The current financial panic makes me wonder if we have the equation out of balance in the US. Our banks, although heavily regulated in some ways, have a great deal of liberty in how they do business, and they have taken liberties with financial instruments. (To be sure, this was done partly because Congress and the administrative bureaucracy egged them on in the real estate mortgage department. But that’s not the whole story). Even so, mistakes made in finance pose systemic risks unlike those of any other industry. A couple of years ago, a blown transformer (or something like that) in Ohio took down the power grid of the entire Eastern US. The Financial system is similar. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to coin money and regulate the value thereof precisely because they understood the importance of guaranteeing a stable circumating medium.

Given OSHA regulations, zoning restrictions, ADA regulations, affirmative action, environmental regulations, minimum wage requirements, union-friendly laws (particularly in some states), and a host of other regulations, industrial businesses have less freedom of action. We have a heavily service economy, I suspect, partly because the regulatory burden on services is lower than that on industry. That truth applies, even moreso to financial services.

Two further comments on the financial sector. The S&L mess of the 1980s was, to a great degree, the result of two main factors. The high inflation, and interest rates, of the late 1970s made the S&L business model of charging 6% interest on mortgages and giving 3% interest on money in the bank untenable. Rather than admit that the game was up, Washington tried to free the S&Ls to be more like regular banks. The result was excess and corruption. The new model worked for a few years, but ultimately was doomed. Might that be part of the problem now? The old regulations of banks, drawn largely from the 1930s were dead. No one quite knew what to replace them with. Hence our financial sector was allowed to get over-leveraged. There is also the rise of private equity. That provided competition and a rival to emulate.

A further question: Was the financial sector given more freedom precisely because it’s a white collar business? The argument makes some sense: the folks on Wall Street are big boys, and, for that reason, don’t need the kind of big brother watching them that, the argument goes, is necessary to keep the auto makers from exploiting their workers. We have deregulated trucking and airlines and have had some success with that. But the deregulation was only partial. These businesses gained more liberty to pursue or not to pursue certain lines of action. They did not, however, get anything like at-will hiring and firing, nor did they get relief from a host of other regulations. Finance, precisely because it does not pollute, does not need large parcels of land, or any raw materials (with the partial exception of precious metals) was easy to deregulate. Liberating other industries from the grip of regulatory bureaucracy would require more work.

Not long ago, I was speaking with a colleague who teaches the history of the late Roman Empire. He noted that it was less expensive to grow food in Egypt and ship it to Byzantium than to grow it closer to home. He suggested that we are, to a degree, in a similar situation. To him, however, the new plutocrats and the Republicans are at fault. There is certainly some truth to that. (Even Reagan did not turn back the Administrative state that the Progressives built upon the original American constitutional order). On the other hand, the reason why basic goods are so much more expensive to produce in American than abroad is the high cost of labor, regulations, and taxes. Were we to drop the regulations noted above, and perhaps scale back the hand-outs (ie: “entitlements”) that we now give to poor, middle class, and even wealthy Americans, we could change that situation.

I can’t help thinking that Senator Obama will win this year because he represents the hope that there is another answer.

TV Show Theme Song Quiz

A great time-waster for middle aged guys like me trying to avoid today’s lousy poll numbers. I got nine out of ten. Which shows I watched too much TV in my youth, or haven’t killed enough brain cells yet with my wine collection. (Don’t you still have some bottles of Palin Syrah?--Ed. Yes, but I’m saving those for election night: they’ll work either way.)

My Latest Star Turn. . .

. . . as moderator of the Manhattan Institute’s panel discussion at the National Press Club yesterday on modernizing the nation’s electricity gird can be viewed online. I called Peter Huber’s compelling idea for a national "backbone grid" the "No Electron Left Behind Act."

Yes, I’m suffering from some kind of plague, so my voice is scratchy and weak, no doubt bringing great joy to much of Washington. (But hey--you can still annoy people through blogging!--Ed. Indeed.)

Chavezmo on the Rocks

The falling price of oil is causing problems for Hugo Chavez. It’s also going to cause problems soon for our pal Pat Deneen: remember our bet from back in June? Check out this paragraph:

Goldman expects crude to average USD 75 in the fourth quarter and USD 70 at the end of the year, but added: "Should the financial and economic crisis cut deeper into demand, the market could fall as low as USD 50 a barrel."

Oil at 13-month low this morning, just barely above $75 a barrel. Pat--better get your favorite maitre’d on speed-dial.

Fathers and Sons (Thoughts on Obama’s Dreams from My Father, Part II)

A couple other contemporary autobiographies help illustrate the remarkable character of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory takes young Ricardo through the steps by which he became the Americanized intellectual Richard, while young Barry became Barack, signifying sentimental ties to Africa and Islam. Clarence Thomas’s My Grandfather’s Son describes a man who grew to appreciate his American roots and his grandfather’s discipline; it is truly an American story. Obama’s memoir describes his halting attempts to find a home in place after place, within America and in Asia and Africa.

Thomas saved his soul by rejecting the flotsam of American higher education, in favor of his grandfather’s character lessons, which eventually brought him to appreciate one of the finest achievements of western civilization, natural law. Obama lost whatever bearings he had by absorbing the post-modernism and faddish sophistry of the contemporary university, rising to high status in the legal community even before graduating from Harvard Law School. “I was a heretic,” he declares, as he denounces the certainty that plagues politics and religion—“one man’s certainty always threatened another’s.” And a heretic will believe in “the truth of his own doubt.”

He bears the stamp moreover of his Kansas-born mother, who died of cancer in her early fifties She was a leftist intellectual, so devoted to her anthropological field work in Indonesia that she sent her son to live with her parents, in Hawaii. He did not grow up poor (as he portrays himself, on the stump); he had a zealous graduate student for a mother. Those are two very different things, as anyone who has been in graduate school knows. His Kenyan father abandoned his wife and Obama when he was two.

The Obama we find at the end of his quest to discover himself is not anti-American, but he is a-American. He is not a Muslim, because he lacks the certainty that faith requires. Just as he rose above certain otherwise confining situations, Obama rises above his American birth. That is what the Declaration of Independence comes to mean for him: becoming independent, tearing up one’s roots, even flinging the dead dendra in the faces of other, less sophisticated types. That explains his foreign policy of moral equivalence, his deflating of American privilege, his recent insistence on “sharing the wealth.” One telling example of his approach: He tops off a list of Hawaiian injustices with “the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.” But ethnic Japanese in Hawaii were not relocated en masse as they were on the mainland. Obama does not know his State history and is only too quick to issue condemnations.

He knew his Kenyan graduate student father only from one brief visit and some letters, and then later, upon his death, from the tales of his African relatives. Obama is fascinated and appalled at the father and grandfather he discovers. He loves his African relatives, but he sees his distance. He declares himself “too busy” to learn the native Luo of his relatives, while a relative chides him for being “too busy to know his own people.” An aunt explains how Kenyan ways have been multicultural for centuries. What then is the meaning of being rooted in Africa? Isn’t there a better way to view relationships across the globe?

He found one link in Chicago. As a community organizer, he needs acceptance by the local ministers. He feels a distance from the Christian church, but he becomes a Christian through the preaching of Reverend Wright, in particular a sermon entitled “The Audacity of Hope.” Despite the emotion with which he describes his conversion, this has all the appearance of a political choice. (For a magnificent interpretation of Obama’s Audacity of Hope, see Charles Kesler’s
in the Fall Claremont Review of Books [subscriber only, so do subscribe!].)

It is fascinating to think that in 2009 the two leading public voices of the left and the right in this country will likely be two black men who needed roots and fathers—Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas. This is an invitation for all Americans to rediscover their roots, as descendants of immigrants and as native-born. It is a struggle between Christian faith and nihilism, between a rooted American and a cosmopolitan.

The first part of these reflections on Dreams from My Father was here.


The folks over at (they do terrific work, by the way) have fun with the idea that John McCain keeps bad company, too--not Bill Ayers, but Members of Congress! And since he works with Barack Obama, he’s only two degrees of separation away from Bill Ayers himself!

Doubting Congress

Our Ivan the K ably defends the proposition that it’s an indispensable part of McCain’s final surge to call attention to how much the Democratic Congress would run amok without experienced presidential restraint. Some experts have been explaining Obama’s surge by a sort of Clinton nostalgia: The last time a smart Democrat was in the White House we had big-time prosperity. But that’s only because he had to deal with a Republican Congress. Clinton’s first two years with the Democratic Congress were a mess.

McCain as adult supervisor

Ivan Kenneally has some advice for McCain: Start selling yourself as the adult who will--as president--supervise the underachievers in Congress.

The Market

A sign of stabilization in the market: "It was the first time in nine sessions that the Dow Jones industrial average didn’t close up or down in triple digits although it did swing in a 700-point range." It fell 76.62, or 0.82 percent.

Bloggers Talking

Some of our own NLT Bloggers are getting together over dinner (next Thursday, Oct 23) to talk about the election. Although it is a dinner, we mean to have a good and informal conversation among ourselves and the two hundred plus who are coming. If you are in the area, come on over and join Lawler, Ponzi, Knippenberg, Hayward, and Voegeli. Call the Center at 419-289-5411 for reservations; ask for Linsey Bruce.

"Plumber Rich" and Proud of It!

Here’s the transcript of Sarah Palin’s interview on Rush Limbaugh’s show today where she discusses her affinity with people who are "plumber rich" and all good Americans who only want the freedom to get there--or beyond it--someday. Whatever happens on November 4, Republicans will do well to remember that there are only two reasons why McCain isn’t 20 points down in the polls right now. One of them is the weakness of Barack Obama. The other is Sarah Palin. She and the brand of conservatism that she represents aren’t going to go away--no matter who wins this election.

Home Schooling . . .

. . . will be a growth industry during a Barack Obama administration, opines Andrew Breitbart.

Rock Star Politics

Maybe it takes a rock star to figure out how to combat an opponent who thinks he is a rock star.

Soak the Plumbers! Obamanomics 101

A plumber in Ohio wants to know why Barack Obama thinks it is a good idea to punish him for fulfilling the American dream. Why is he being taxed more and more for every success he achieves in his business? "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?" the plumber demanded to know when given the opportunity to question Obama.

In response, Obama offered the following: "It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."

Not so fast. Does Barack Obama really care about the people who are behind this plumber or does he, instead, want to make sure that the plumber stays behind his ultra-rich constituency? Robert Frank offers some insights into the factors driving the support of the ultra-mega rich toward positions that seem, on their face, to go against their interests. We know that the ultra-rich increasingly favor higher taxes on the wealthy and tend to spend their time talking about idealistic ways that the government can and should spend tax dollars.

But is it really altruism that drives these patrons of society? It looks to me more like a kind of expensive taste; a "Gucci Liberalism," as they used to say.

Revealing as it is, Frank’s piece doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. He is content to believe that neither candidate will want to tout the results of a survey that shows support for one candidate coming from the "rich" and support for the other candidate coming from the "ultra-rich" in an age where populism rules the day. After all, the "richies" have already decided so the candidates are only competing for the votes of the rest of us. Who among us will consider that our interests are aligned with either category of rich people?

McCain should reconsider that counsel if he reads Mr. Frank’s report. Obama told the plumber that he’s concerned about the people behind the plumber. So Obama wants to tax the plumber (and his richer friends who can afford it) and spread their wealth to those behind and, somehow, this is supposed to improve the economy for everybody. Well, that’s poppycock and we know it. The truth is that he’s protecting his buddies above the plumber from the competition of folks like the plumber. This plumber and other small businessmen like him need to learn their place, pay their taxes happily, and keep their mouths shut about issues that are (obviously) beyond them. They can’t understand things noble causes like caring for the environment or health care justice. They only know things like plumbing and how to grub out a living. If these guys are not taxed heavily, then they might grow their businesses and then expand into real estate or other sectors of the economy. Their children may become lawyers, professors, or politicians. Their families might become very wealthy and then (gasp!) they might begin to expect that they can associate with the likes of Barack’s patrons!

Like Jed Clampetts (only of a more hard-working than lucky variety), these rubes might tote their guns and their God into Martha’s Vineyard or Beverly Hills and upset the whole social order with their small-minded politics. The plumber’s kids, if they don’t just stay put in the plumbing business, should take Michelle’s advice, go to college (on government grants, of course), learn from the faculty there how to become Democrats enlightened, and then work in the non-profit sector so that they don’t interfere with the high-minded efforts of their betters in the classes patronizing Barack Obama. If they’re lucky, maybe they can write a couple of best-selling auto-biographies.

A populism, rightly understood, would explain to the American people why there are those who want to see their hard work and success punished and who, exactly, they are. And it would also encourage those behind the plumbers to understand that their real friends are not those who want to patronize them with favors from the government, but those who are happy to have them come along--as employees or as competition--in a truly free economy.

Why Do Electors Have to Go to College?

Here are some elementary reflections on how this endlessly fascinating and fake-controversial institution works these days by ME. It goes without saying that it doesn’t look like this election is going to generate any EC controversy at this point.

Who Knew. . .

. . . that you’d get good political analysis from Howard Stern. Here he trips up voters by attributing McCain’s positions to Obama, and no one notices. . . or changes their vote. Truly cult-like.

Gerard Alexander remarked to me last night that, if four or five years ago, you had predicted that we’d soon see a presidential campaign suffused with self-conscious messianic fervor, you’d be certain that it would come from the religion-soaked Republican Party.

What Did Obama Know About Himself and When did He Know it?

“When classmates in college asked me just what it was a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly. Instead, I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White house, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.

“That’s what I’ll do, I’ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.”

In this self-deprecating account of how he came to his calling, Barack Obama now identifies this choice as “part of that larger narrative,” more an “impulse, like a salmon swimming blindly upstream toward the site of his own conception.” But now his whimsy, written when he was 33, has become his signature theme! (Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance [1995, 2004], 133-134). Who’s he snickering at now?

As a politician Barack Obama has been creative and resourceful. But his mind has been predictable in the sense that we have had laid out for us his intelligence and insight, as well as his blindness and hubris-—by himself. Indeed, early in 2008 in A Bound Man: Why We are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, Shelby Steele saw a tragedy in the making, a Zelig, a protean character who tries to live in too many worlds at once--“an iconic figure who neglected to become himself.” (And of course Sarah Palin accused him of running for president in order to discover who he is.)

But Dreams from My Father is of greater significance than the Palin riff on it; if that were all to it, Obama’s excellent Socratic adventure would not have carried him this far. This elegant, compelling work is a fountain of insight into his mind. (These recently raised authorship issues, while worth pursuing, are not relevant to my analysis.) Since he may well be our next President, we are obliged to ask: What did he know about himself, and when did he know it? The fact that he admits he makes some things up (xvii) does not compromise the book’s importance as his narrative, his love-song to his bi-racial, far-flung family, “an honest account of a particular province of my life.” And in fact Dreams from My Father is an insightful book on race and American life.

In the course of several postings on his book, I’ll compare it with other notable autobiographies, including the recent one by Clarence Thomas. I’ll note the significance of both the Declaration of Independence and of the now-notorious Reverend Wright (his declaration of dependence). I will bring forth the book’s (and its author’s) underlying theme, its post-modern pathos. This intellectual radicalism, not his connections with William Ayers, etc., is the fundamental problem with Obama. His conception of himself and the country he would lead make him misunderstand it. More an Oedipous than a Socrates, he is crippled in his capacity to protect and defend his country.

Overmatched and Dysfunctional

Bill Kristol is right to characterize McCain’s campaign that way in the article Julie links below. But I also note that the advice Bill gives McCain now is quite different from what he was telling him just a week or two ago. At this point, we all have to concede that Mac’s strength is his authenticity, and his weakness is every other area of campaigning--from issues to debating to strategy to raising money to organization. So he has to get back in character, and we have to hope that the result isn’t disaster. There’s little point in the various experts offering any more unsolicited advice.

The most recent polls show Obama ahead everywhere that was studied--including North Dakota--with the exception of Georgia. But the truth is he isn’t that far ahead. Maybe the Stock Market surge will create space for a McCain surge in the mode of Truman or Humphrey or Ford. Even McGovern closed fast and avoided a record lost. Even the MSM gets bored with any guy who’s ahead too easily for too long.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for September

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

Bob Dienhart

Ike May

Annette Tyson

David Cooper

Clark Irwin

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 October’s drawing.

No More Mr. Nice Guy?

Victor Davis Hanson effectively takes apart the notion that the McCain camp has taken a nasty turn and rightly directs his scorn at those elements of sometimes conservative bent who have jumped ship on the grounds that this is all just too "distasteful" for their stomachs. On the other hand, Bill Kristol makes a different argument. His stomach has not gone weak, but his brain is telling him that the legitimate attacks on Obama are not working or, at least, are not working in the way they are being offered at the moment. He suggests that this has to do with McCain’s lack of comfort with the style and a failure to understand the primary and common concerns that will move the voters at this late date in an election. The time for planting the seeds of doubt with Wright, Ayers, et. al. was in the summer. Now he should be reaping the crop. It’s too late for planting. Kristol is probably right about how he should proceed going forward.

UPDATE: Michael Medved has been talking about the notion that McCain should stop his attack on Obama for Ayers/Wright (though Mac hasn’t really mentioned Wright) and other questionable associates and suggesting that this idea is only half-baked. It’s true, he says, that focusing on this exclusively or primarily and sectioning it off from the broader campaign--as though it were not related to the big issues in the race (and right now, the only real issue is the economy)--is stupid. It’s not just a question of who Obama likes to hang out with or have tea with or go to fundraisers with or serve on boards with. It’s a question of what other things they share--like ideas. Noting the similarities between Obama and these questionable people in terms of thinking on the issues is not only fair, it could be effective. Is it not, for example, interesting to note that Bill Ayers’s daughter works for Hugo Chavez and that Hugo Chavez is, as most Americans know, a violent and vocal critic of America and of democratic capitalism in general. Doesn’t that have something to do with the economy? To what extent do the people surrounding Barack Obama agree with this sort of critique of our economic system? To what extent does he agree with it? That said, Medved also very much liked Kristol’s article--especially the part that advises McCain and Palin to open up and get back to that looser McCain style of letting reporters--even when they are in the tank for the other guy--have free access to you and your ideas untethered by a manuscript. He needs to look like he’s having fun again.

Professor Harry Victor Jaffa Turns Four Score and Ten

As numbered by the 90th Psalm, the Master turned four score and ten on October 7. A Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute, he remains active by teaching a class at Chapman Unversity Law School and writing a book on Leo Strauss. Anyone who wants to know and love America needs to devote a significant portion of his life to the study of Harry Jaffa’s words and deeds. A belated happy birthday to America’s teacher, and may he enjoy a wider and even more thoughtful following in the years to come!

Yuval on the Real, Fundamental Difference on Health Care

...between our two candidates. McCain’s plan levels the playing field between employer-based and other sources of health care. Say, as Biden often does, that your employer really does spend $12K on your health care. Without the tax break, he might not want to do that any longer. Then, it follows, he would give that compensation directly to you in salary. Instead of paying you in insurance, he’d pay you in salary. So you could expect, say, a 9K raise. Plus you’d receive a 5K tax credit or subsidy from the government for insurance (which it could afford because of the increased tax revenue that would come from taxing money spent on health care). You’d end up with maybe 14K to spend on health care for your family, with a wide variety of private options from which to choose. You could afford to choose to have private, affordable, portable health insurance. Health insurance that is much more really YOURS.

NOT ONLY THAT, Yuval explains how Obama’s plan would be a magnet pulling people away from employer-based health care into a system run by the government.

Let’s hope that McCain goes on the offensive by laying out these specifics and aggressively accusing Obama and Bidening of being extremely misleading the public when it comes to comparing the two plans.

Sarah on Abortion

Well, here’s a very eloquent speech she gave, which very accurately shows how extreme Obama’s record is on this issue. Would that she could have used this evidence in the debate with Biden, challenging Joe to talk about the real differences between the two Democratic candidates on this issue. Joe, of course, really thinks ROE was some kind of compromise, is for outlawing partial birth abortion, and is against federal funding of abortion. Why wasn’t she ready and able to do this? I suspect it wasn’t her call.

Random Observations

1. You don’t have be a big-time social scientist to know that, as long as the stock market bleeding continues, McCain’s will too.

2. The election today would be a landslide. And a lot of the election IS today (and yesterday); a huge amount of early voting is going on.

3. It’s very possible--almost likely--that the early voting will carry Obama to victory in Georgia. He’s within the margin of error in the most recent poll. Senator Chambliss, the most recent studies show, has even less chance of holding on.

4. The Republican blame game today is mainly on how McCain isn’t a true conservative. That’s true, of course, in this sense: He doesn’t really "get" the characteristic conservative take on domestic issues. Mac didn’t make a secret of that, and he won the nomination as a "warrior" opposed to the waffling Romney who could do nothing more than articulate our "interests."

5. But, truth to tell, Mac’s hyper-patriotic convention speech doesn’t speak at all to the anxious concerns ordinary Americans have today. WELL, maybe it could in this way: I want to a lead Americans in the direction of honorable self-discipline. I’m phasing out Fannie Mae etc. I want us to return to the time of 20% down on home mortages, based on an honest appraisal. I’m not against the "rescue" etc. to ease the pain in the short-term, but over the long-term we don’t want overly politicized and insufficiently risk-averse institutions such as Fannie Mae to keep tempting Amreicans to lose all sense of prudence in their personal finances.

6. The average American is complaining that he didn’t really know how risky investing in stocks is. He knew that the market would have its ups and downs. But not like this. The whole 401(k) retirement strategy seems discredited, and people really do want government to do something to make retirement planning less risky.

7. There are lots of articles, including one by a professor in the local paper, that say that the era of neo-liberalism is over. That means that the rough consensus on behalf of market-based globalization that included Clinton, Bushes, Thatcher, and Blair is collapsing. That consensus, of course, is one reason I always preferred Hillary to Obama. But it’s not so clear how Obama stands on "neo-liberalism." Rubin, who really and truly does excel at "trickle-down economics," is an Obama advisor. The leaders in the Democratic Congress are another mattter.

8. The likely result of this election is an extension of 2006. The landslide two years ago was based on the perception of incompetence, cluelessness, and corruption among the Republicans. Well, that perception is back. McCain and our Sarah have responded to the crisis in a way that’s spun by the MSM and actuallly seems, I’m sad to say, clueless, and they’re not exuding competence. The corruption should point to Fannie and Democratic Congressional leders, but the Wall-Street (allegedly Republican) greed "narrative" is carrying the day, because nobody very visible is opposing it effectivley.

9. I was on a great panel discussion on Saturday morning at Georgetown with Gil Meilaender and William Saletan. Saletan really knows his stuff and is a pleasure to hang out with. His take on the election: Don’t worry, Obama is boring. Saletan really is a maverick when it comes to his unusual--yet quite defensible--combination of opinions and insights, which I’ll talk about later. (Nobody inside the Beltway thinks McCain has a chance, and everyone agree that this Ayers stuff ain’t working.) Gil, of course, is great too, although not so obviously political. The event was sponsored by our Dr. Pat Deneen, who will admit over lunch that some of our present woes might have their source in evildoers in the Democratic Congress