Fred the Quiet

Last year, I wrote favorably about Fred Thompson for a Beacon election symposium. Since then my fondness for him has only increased. And it's not that I've grown more attracted to his issue positions; his demeanor on the trail has been the turn-on.

The former senator isn't glitzy or done-up. He avoids showboating and is never shrill or self-righteous. He's not dull or dumb, of course, just entirely unpretentious. His words are natural, his tone easy, his presentation unhurried, with a grandfather's sense of confidence.

Most impressively, Thompson doesn't seem eager to please. You won't find him pandering on the street corner. You won't find him hollering from atop the soapbox, that bully's puplit.

So, naturally, the rat race that is 21st electoral politics rubs him the wrong way. Witness these wonderful remarks:

BURLINGTON, Iowa -- Fred Thompson said Saturday he does not much like the modern form of presidential campaigning and that he "will not be devastated" if he doesn't win the election.

"I'm not particularly interested in running for president," Thompson said, but rather he feels called to serve his country.

"I don't know if you have a desire to be president," Burlington attorney Todd Chelf told Thompson during a question and answer session raising an issue that has dogged his campaign.

"I am not consumed by personal ambition," Thompson responded. "I'm offering myself up."

This understanding of the democratic process recalls the thinking of earlier times, when politics was more than a beauty pageant and charm contest.

Thompson knows himself as a public man: it is his duty to present himself honestly, to articulate his platform with clarity. Then, he must step back and let the people do as they may. There's no bread and circus; he's no Roman patron (though he may be something of an American Cincinnatus, sort of).

We have suffered eight years of Clinton ambition, and eight years of dogmatic neoconservatism. I, for one, am tired of ideological zeal. I am sick of worldly men, regardless of their stripe.

The American republic would do well to have a drowsy administration for a while. Of all the viable candidates, Thompson is really the only one under whom federal interventionism would be curtailed, and federal expansionism slowed.

That brings to mind a nice campaign slogan: "For peace and quiet, Fred '08."


'Tis the Season

There isn't a better time to pray -- or, if that's not your style, just to hope -- for peace and love on earth. Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah or simply a well-meaning Jewish carpenter, it's hard to deny the inspirational core of his life and teachings.

Eat and drink, be happy and safe. Merry Christmas!

The Giuliani Question

The anxiety of social conservatives over Rudy Giuliani has greatly shaped public discourse regarding his potential nomination and election. This narrative has left another begging for notice: that is, concern over Rudy's so-called "authoritarian" tendencies.

Unease about the mayor's strong-man rep proliferates across the political spectrum, alarming Democrats and Republicans alike. While this has been a favorite liberal meme, it's now being assumed by entities that fall significantly right-of-center.

The new issue of The American Conservative, for example, features Giuliani dressed in what can only be described as a fascist uniform (complete with flashy armband). The accompanying articles decry Rudy as a warmonger, a libertine, and, yes, an authoritarian.

It's difficult to disagree with the first couple of accusations. Indeed, the mayor is quick with the bellicose rhetoric (but is it Reaganesque huff-and-puff?), and his social stances are charmingly moderate. How many other GOP candidates are serial monogamists who've paraded about in dresses and lived with gay men in a Manhattan penthouse? Exactly...

However, I am bothered by the authoritarian claim, and I notice that author Glenn Greenwald (of Salon fame) fails to really substantiate his bold assertion. He uses next to no hard examples; the most damning evidence produced is a quote (taken out of context?) from 1994.
It reads:

"What we don’t see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do. "

Granted, this is a garbled -- not to mention extraordinarily Catholic! -- articulation of "freedom." I doubt if he would stand by those words, particularly given his apparent admiration of "strict constitutionalist" judges.

Still, I am hard-pressed to figure out when (if ever) Giuliani actually imposed state power to the genuine detriment of liberty. Yes, he supports Bush's questionable surveillance and detention programs, but so do many Republicans, including nearly every one running for the nomination. As much as you may disagree with the operations (and I largely do), they aren't off limits until the Supreme Court says as much.

Plus, American history is loaded with over-bearing and over-reaching executives, some of which are fully canonized civic saints (Abraham Lincoln, FDR, even JFK).

Now, as mayor of NYC, was Giuliani a bully? Probably. Is this a bad thing? Hardly. Rudy's drive, muscle, and demand/ability to micro-manage helped turn NYC from an ungovernable, post-industrial waste to a thriving, 21st century metropolis.

"[Giuliani] crushed seemingly immovable bureaucracies, took control away from the most sacrosanct municipal fiefdoms, and forced the city’s powerful unions and political factions into submission," Greenwald strangely whines in The American Conservative.

That's just fine by me. If he can do the same to the federal government, more power to him (literally). So long as his exertions aren't aimed at rolling back civil liberties, he's free to be as aggressive as he pleases.

A president isn't a mayor. The federal Constitution cannot be as easily side-stepped as the "long-standing limits on mayoral [power]", which Greenwald bemoans Rudy for having violated. Particularly after Dubya, Congress (all Democrats and a lot of Republicans) are going to have a hawk-eye for executive power abuse. Similarly, one would like to think SCOTUS has learned something of a lesson.

In short, a mountain has been made out of a mole hill. Giuliani is a tough-fibered cosmopolitan, an able administrator and tireless manager, a tested enemy of public corruption. In his time, he has tackled squeegee-men, white collar crooks, and everyone in between. A hard Catholic upbringing instilled in him a sharp sense of justice, and a limitless capacity for work. Isn't this precisely what we want -- what we need -- in a national leader? After sixteen years of scandal, equivocation, and incompetence, we must say: enough is enough!

A bit of wisdom -- fitting, I think -- to leave you with. It brings the of-so-Roman mayor to mind, and offers revealing commentary on his character, and his potential.

At daybreak, when you loathe the idea of having to leave your bed, have this thought ready in your mind: I am rising for the work of man." Should I have misgivings about doing that for which I was born, and for the sake of which I came into this world? Is this the grand purpose of my existence-to lie here snug and warm underneath my blanket? Certainly it feels more pleasant. Was it for pleasure that you were made, and not for work, nor for effort?

Look at the plants, sparrows, ants, spiders, and bees, all working busily away, each doing its part in welding an orderly Universe. So who are you to go against the bidding of Nature? Who are you to refuse man his share of the work?

To live each day as though it were your last-never flustered, never lazy, never a false word: herein lies the perfection of character. --Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"


I (Don't) Heart Huckabee

It is a shame to devote the first post of this blog to Mike Huckabee, but he is a very dangerous man who deserves more than a little scrutiny. So let us hold our noses and proceed.

The Huckabee phenomenon is horrifying but of little surprise. In most every way, he is George W. Bush's natural successor. The two are remarkably similar. Both had less-than-stressful governorships, both exhibit ideological confusion, both lead public lives characterized by guiltless participation in the spoils system. (Both like running...)

More importantly, both are married to political Christianity. However, where Bush's relationship with evangelicals seems calculated and fairly exploitive, Huckabee's is natural, genuine, and proud. Critics have long bashed Dubya for his overt religiosity, but next to the preacher from Arkansas his exhibitionism seems rather timid.

Plus, Bush's faith rarely serves as the driving policy force. Christianity informs his decisions, yes, but it does not act as the one and only source of context. On the contrary, the president has been smart enough to surround himself with clever men, men far too cynical to use the whole heaven-and-hell routine as a regular inspiration for earthly governance.

Huckabee, on the other hand, is a self-branded "Christian leader." His political thinking emerges solely from his spiritual orientation. For example, he is skittish about Iraq because, well, the Bible says war is bad. Christ, that Hebrew hippie, was a peace and love sorta guy. And Huckabee seeks to emulate his messiah.

That's why he wants the state to play dear mommy: to care for the people's health, to regulate their morals, to lift the poor and embrace the foreigner, etc. Never mind that his policies wouldn't facilitate any of this ('FairTax' help the poor!?), it's the thought that counts.

To make matters worse, the governor has clear disdain for expertise. "I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy," he declared recently, "but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night." The only thing more depressing than a person reveling in his own ignorance is a person who wants to be president reveling in his own ignorance. Michael Dale Huckabee: The Aww Shucks! Candidate. His international stances -- presented this month in Foreign Affairs -- are facile and unambitious.

Small-minded, bleeding heart conservatism isn't good for the GOP and it isn't good for America. It would destroy the Republican coalition by alienating Wall Street, defense hawks, libertarians, and the few remaining moderates. More pressingly, it would really harm this country. Huckabee's election would mean unabashed statism, ruthless culture war, and disastrous foreign policy.

Some will quibble with calling the governor a conservative. I understand this objection. At his core, Huckabee is a right-wing religious populist. His presidency would mean a win for pedestrian ideas and values which are reactionary even by my standards.

That isn't what America needs right now. It isn't what America requires.