Nearer To Thee


High-Class Boilerplate

Barack Obama's biggest draw is not his eloquence. When you watch an Obama speech, you lean forward and listen and think, That's good. He's compelling, I like the way he speaks. And afterward all the commentators call him "impossibly eloquent" and say "he gave me thrills and chills." But, in fact, when you go on the Internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it--that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own--you see the speech wasn't all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate. (This was not true of John F. Kennedy's speeches, for instance, which could be read seriously as part of the literature of modern American politics, or Martin Luther King's work, which was powerful absent his voice.) --Peggy Noonan

In Obama's defense, JFK was working with the likes of Ted Sorenson. Still, I think Noonan (who has always been very kind to the Illinois senator) is right: it's Obama's presence that's remarkable, but stripped to bare text, his rhetoric lacks the gravity of a Lincoln, or an FDR, or a JFK/RFK.


Obama's Golden-Tongue?

Might be more like a stolen tongue.



It's hard not to be dazzled by Barack Obama. At the 2004 Democratic convention, he visited with Newsweek reporters and editors, including me. I came away deeply impressed by his intelligence, his forceful language and his apparent willingness to take positions that seemed to rise above narrow partisanship. Obama has become the Democratic presidential front-runner, precisely because countless millions have formed a similar opinion. It is, I now think, mistaken. --Robert Samuelson


Fidel Calls It Quits

HAVANA (Feb. 19) - An ailing, 81-year-old Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president Tuesday after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when parliament meets Sunday. --Anita Snow, AP

While I'm sure this won't change our official status with Cuba for quite some time (as his brother will most likely take over), I'd like to sign up now for the first legal cruise to Havana.


Happy Birthday, Mr. President

An appropriate article honoring probably the greatest president -- certainly the greatest republican -- this nation has ever known . . .

George Washington earned the respect even of his former enemy, King George III, by doing something exceedingly rare in history: When he had the chance to increase personal power, he decreased it — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.

During the American Revolution, Washington put service before self. His personal example was his greatest gift to the nation. It has often been said that the “Father of our country” was less eloquent than Jefferson; less educated than Madison; less experienced than Franklin; less talented than Hamilton. Yet all these leaders looked to Washington to lead them because they trusted him with power. He didn’t need power.

Ironically, the piece appears in National Review, a journal that has consistently supported the expansion of executive power and privilege during the last seven years.


$698 Million

How much money we're granting to Tanzania to combat disease in that east African country. Because, you know, our coffers are just bursting right now with surplus cash . . . This is typical Bush, selling out conservatism to ensure his legacy.

Look, I'm all for charity and aid, but only in proper doses. In a world of limited resources, there's a need for priorities. And the #1 priority of the government should be U.S. tax payers -- you know, the people who enable the government's very existence with their hard-earned buck. It's hard to see how their needs are best served by tossing half a billion dollars to third world paupers at a time when America itself is floundering economically.

By the way, Bush has now sent more money to Africa than his liberal predecessor Bill Clinton. Then again, Dubya makes Clinton look like Scrooge in more ways than one.

Bush the conservative -- when's that one finally going to bite the dust? I've said it before, I'll say it again: Bush is a hawkish liberal (the hawk part sorta thrust upon him after 9/11) with a couple social prejudices expected from a Texan. What conservative would find themselves messing around with this claptrap? . . .

"Bush also attended a roundtable on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, program, which Kikwete said is saving lives and helping the African continent avert a health disaster. Bush has requested $30 billion over the next five years for the program."

To Be Fair

There're bad guys on all sides of this great, long war.

Al-Kahtani was interrogated for 18 to 20 hours a day for 48 of 54 days; he had water dripped on his head and was blasted with cold air-conditioning and loud music to keep him awake; his beard and head were shaved; he was forced to wear a bra and panties and to dance with a male jailer; he was hooded; he was menaced with a dog, told to bark like one and led around on a leash; he was pumped full of intravenous fluids and forced to urinate on himself; he was straddled by a female interrogator and stripped naked; and more -- all under a list of interrogation methods personally approved by Rumsfeld. --The Atlantic

Pretty shameful. "Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one."



Human Rights Watch has appealed to Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft.

In a letter to King Abdullah, the rights group described the trial and conviction of Fawza Falih as a miscarriage of justice.

The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read.

Among her accusers was a man who alleged she made him impotent.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms Falih had exhausted all her chances of appealing against her death sentence and she could only now be saved if King Abdullah intervened. --BBC

Kings. Witches. Beheadings. 1008 or 2008 -- you be the judge.


Eurabia Watch

Authorities arrest three Muslim immigrants plotting to murder Kurt Westergaard, the Dutch cartoonist responsible for creating the now infamous Muhammad-in-a-turban cartoon. To celebrate, the newspaper reprints Westergaard's work. Right on.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Prime Minister declares Muslim assimilation in Europe is "tantamount to a crime against humanity."

Also, Dutch Catholics "rebrand" Lent as "Christian Ramadan."

"The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent," said Vastenaktie Director, Martin Van der Kuil.

At the same time, Muslims in Oxford are pressing -- not so vainly -- to have daily prayers broadcast via megaphone from the minaret of a major mosque, despite the surrounding community being predominately non-Islamic.

And, last but certainly not least, 17,000 women in Britain are now being subjected to so-called "honor" violence every year. Read it and weep, Western society:

Up to 17,000 women in Britain are being subjected to "honour" related violence, including murder, every year, according to police chiefs.

And official figures on forced marriages are the tip of the iceberg, says the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

It warns that the number of girls falling victim to forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murder by relatives intent on upholding the "honour" of their family is up to 35 times higher than official figures suggest.

Ah, but don't worry about any of this, it's just a few rotten apples. Right, Jeff? Clash of civilizations wha'??


Which's Which?

Numbers coming out of Virginia: McCain squeaks by Huckabee (Huckabee!) with 2-3 points, 47-45, while Obama trounces HRC by 25 points, closing the day out with 62 to her 47.

And McCain is the "presumptive nominee" while Obama is in a neck and neck struggle? Weird times, indeed.

I bet Mitt's starting to wish he stuck it out. I bet he would have played well in the Potomac Primaries, maybe snagged one or two other contests, and used that energy (as well as the mountain of establishment conservative support) to cinch the veep slot. Maybe he really is holding his horses for '12.



The global warming movement is finally revealing its true form: a hysterical, undemocratic, technocratic cult, one that wouldn't be all that out of place at the height of the French Revolution, say.

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. . .

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties. . .

We are going to have to look how authoritarian decisions based on consensus science can be implemented to contain greenhouse emissions.

But wait, there's more green authoritarianism . . .

David Suzuki has called for political leaders to be thrown in jail for ignoring the science behind climate change.

At a Montreal conference last Thursday, the prominent scientist, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient exhorted a packed house of 600 to hold politicians legally accountable for what he called an intergenerational crime. Though a spokesman said yesterday the call for imprisonment was not meant to be taken literally, Dr. Suzuki reportedly made similar remarks in an address at the University of Toronto last month.


"What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there's a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they're doing is a criminal act," said Dr. Suzuki, a former board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"It's an intergenerational crime in the face of all the knowledge and science from over 20 years."

The statement elicited rounds of applause.



2008 will end up pitting two senators against each other. It may not be the first time, but I'm hard pressed to recall another instance where that was the case. Should add another bizarre element to an already very bizarre election season.


Two Things I Don't Like

The recent primary results from Super Tuesday give me two major causes for concern.

1) Hillary Clinton is winning the race for the Democratic nomination, but not because of the elections. She's simply gathering more 'super-delegates' than Obama. This is completely unfair. The people should choose who their candidate is, not a few 'special' Congressmen and governors.

2) John McCain is going to have to pick an awfully good running mate. Let's face it: McCain's old. His chances of dying in office are much greater than any other candidate still in the race. So his vice president has a better-than-average chance of becoming the next president. So please, McCain, please don't choose Huckabee to win over the hardline conservatives. That would be a really bad idea. Choose Condi instead - everyone likes her! Or, I do, at least.

Romney's Push

McCain's lead in Cali is beginning to shrink. Not too much, but a noticeable amount -- some 3%. Apparently, this is explainable by the fact that absentee ballots were counted early, and these were overwhelmingly in the senator's favor. There's no way Romney will win CA, but if he can close the lead (say, 40 / 30), he'll save a lot of face.

Huge Night For GOP

Can someone please explain to me the far right's love affair with Mitt Romney? I've been trolling RedState, Townhall and other bastions of conservatism, and I keep running into sentiments along these lines: "Ah, well, Mitt in 2012!" That slogan has even popped up at National Review, which is significant more cautious and sophisticated than RS and TH.

It's hard not to laugh at these delusional hacks (especially when you're a McCain man). When will they face the facts? Romney was shut-out in the south, repelled in the west, and embarrassed in much of the north. Self-identifying conservatives didn't rush his way, neither did Christian conservatives. There's also indications from exit polls that those concerned with the economy preferred McCain -- this after Mitt's people have begun shifting his image from Family Man to Business Man. Ah, the snarls of a poll-driven campaign.

How is a man who placed second in South Carolina and third in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri supposed to represent the Republican Party? Granted, he may have done better without Huckabee, but how much better? Would a Yankee ex-RINO Mormon millionaire really have played well, even without competition? My guess is Huckabee is drawing on Republicans who dislike the Party of Bush, and they likely see Romney as the president's nearest heir (and rightfully so). Given McCain's semi change of heart regarding immigration and his military heritage, could the governor done all that better in a Huck-free race?

Long story short: With some 450 delegates, McCain is close to cinching the GOP nod. Romney still has a chance, but with only ~150 delegates, it's not looking good, not at all. That's a lot of ground to make up, and Mac is sure to do well by riding big momentum. The best Mitt can hope for is a miracle at a brokered convention (which is a miracle unto itself!). A McCain presidency -- even a McCain candidacy -- will hopefully rejuvenate Republican moderates, perhaps even kicking some life into the party's shriveling appendages in the Northeast, Rustbelt, and Mountain West.


In Praise of Common Sense

Sir — A nation has a history, a culture, an identity. Britain is not France, Spain is not Germany, and none of these are Bangladesh or Morocco. Nor do their citizens want them to become so. People do not want to be overrun by foreigners of a strange religion, a different race, or exotic (and sometimes repulsive) customs, even if it means a 1% rise in economic growth. No amount of lecturing will change these attitudes.

This letter appeared in a recent issue of The Economist, in response to an article run by that publication advocating relaxed immigration policies. I join John Derbyshire in marveling at the undiluted candor and old fashioned simplicity of those sentiments. You rarely find such straight-forward commonsense in the mainstream media these days, despite the fact that many Americans are still sharp enough to realize that preserving national identity is part and parcel of preserving our republic as we know it.

If I have an objection to make, it's with the letter writer's decision to use the word "race" instead of ethnicity, though I supposed the ethnicity was implied in the customs bit.

It's remarkable -- also, remarkably scary -- that the notion of "particular community" is receding from American public discourse. In public, in polite company, it's increasingly difficult to articulate a desire for a "familiar" nation without immediately being labeled a bigot, xenophobe, racist, or know-nothing. Really a pity.

Give Me A Break

Clinton cries again.

And she's supposed to be an example of strong, empowered womanhood? Riiight. By my reckoning, Hillary has done everything she possibly can to prove legitimate the patronizing expression that females are the "weaker sex."

When she's on the ropes, she cries. When she can't go eye to eye with the big boys, she whines. When she wants dirty work to be done, she drafts her husband.

Keep Ms. Waterworks out of the Oval Office, please.

Expect the Unexpected

There's something to hate about that trite and illogical expression, but it's the one thing on my mind going into Super Tuesday. Especially after the heartbreak in Phoenix last night, it's hard to be confident about anything.



"I would vote for the Devil over John McCain." --Ann Coulter, craven lunatic.

Clinton more conservative than McCain? Why won't anybody call her on these inane assertions?


John's Party

If you go by the Florida returns, maybe this year positions aren't everything. Republicans on the ground think the conservative is the one who suffered 5½ years in the Hanoi Hilton. Republicans on the ground think the conservative is the one who has endured a lifetime in the rounds in Washington and survived as antispending, antiabortion and pro-military. Republicans on the ground think the conservative is the old fighter jock who'll keep the country safe in a rocky time ahead. And maybe Republicans on the ground are saying: He earned it. --Peggy Noonan

Borderline Treasonous

Look, the military isn't perfect. It has used questionable tactics during these wars, and engaged in some behavior that should be roundly condemned. That said, is there any other way to describe this besides borderline treasonous?

Hey-hey, ho-ho, the Marines in Berkeley have got to go.

That's the message from the Berkeley City Council, which voted 6-3 Tuesday night to tell the U.S. Marines that its Shattuck Avenue recruiting station "is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

In addition, the council voted to explore enforcing its law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against the Marines because of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy. And it officially encouraged the women's peace group Code Pink to impede the work of the Marines in the city by protesting in front of the station.

In a separate item, the council voted 8-1 to give Code Pink a designated parking space in front of the recruiting station once a week for six months and a free sound permit for protesting once a week from noon to 4 p.m.

. . .

"I believe in the Code Pink cause. The Marines don't belong here, they shouldn't have come here, and they should leave," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates after votes were cast.


Straight Talk, That's For Sure

Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to apologize yesterday for his use of a racial slur to condemn the North Vietnamese prison guards who tortured and held him captive during the war.

``I hate the gooks,'' McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. ``I will hate them as long as I live.''

. . .

``I was referring to my prison guards,'' McCain said, ``and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends.''

McCain made it clear that his anger extends only toward his captors. As a senator, he was one of the leaders of the postwar effort to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam.

Say what you will about the man, but Mac's as honest as they come. As for what he said, I really don't care. He can use whatever language he pleases when referring to the bastards -- yes, the bastards -- who beat him, starved him, and left him to rot in solitary confinement for two or three years. They broke his bones and his teeth in torture sessions which would last for days on end. By the time McCain emerged from the Hanoi Hilton, he had white air. The man was only thirty-three.

If he has a bit of pent up anger, well, that's understandable.


Please Riot Here

Tell kids one thing, and they'll do the opposite. Definitely not going anywhere near Fenway, nope. Whistle . . .

Over the past few years, New England has been quite fortunate to have the Patriots as a regular participant in post-season contests. Unfortunately, at times some of the celebrating and disappointment has turned unruly, resulting in property damage, disturbance of the peace, arrests, personal injuries and even the loss of life.

With the Patriots and Giants scheduled to play in this coming Sunday’s Super Bowl, the College encourages you to root for your team, but asks that your behavior remains responsible, lawful and respectful of others and their property regardless of the outcome.

Boston Police Captain Evans recently sent a letter to all area colleges and universities. His letter states in pertinent part, “the BPD will be out in force in the Kenmore Square and Hemenway Street areas to prevent any disorderly conduct after the game. The areas surrounding Fenway Park will be closed during and after the game and many adjacent streets will be closed as well. Please do all you can to discourage your students from coming to these areas. Arrests will be made and acts of violence or vandalism will not be tolerated.”

Like Flies

First Giuliani, now Edwards. Can't say I'm too torn-up over either exit.

Pure Hatred

The conservative establishment is really, really, really unready to get on board with McCain. Witness the bitter -- and slightly deranged -- rantings of Michael Graham, a right-wing radioman from Boston . . .
Every day, [McCain] dreams of a world filled with happy Democrats and insulted Republicans. And he is, thanks to Florida, the presidential nominee of the Republican party.

Sure he does. The senator has a lifelong score of 80.something from the American Conservative Union, but whatever. I'm sure he wakes up everyday just looking to crush Republican hopes. Christ, these people are lunatics. It's almost as if they've been in asleep for the last eight years.


The "Stimulus" Scam

But that seems unlikely to me. Keynesian theories about why output might increase usually rely on imperfections in markets or information. Producers get fooled into increasing their output for a while, before the errors are worked out and output falls back to its long-term level.

But that wouldn’t seem to be the case here. Let’s say the rebate checks get mailed out in May and June. A U.S. cigarette producer may notice a slight uptick in sales in those months as smokers spend their government checks. But cigarette producers probably watch the news and they will know that this is just a temporary blip. As such, they won’t add any new workers or buy any new machines.

So output would stay pretty fixed, while prices would adjust upward slightly to clear markets. But I don’t claim to be a Keynesian expert, so if one of our Keynesian readers wants to tell me where I’m wrong, I’d be happy to hear it. Until then, I remain convinced that the Bush/Pelosi scheme is crack-pot. --Chris Edwards

The Obama Temptation

I'm not the only right-of-center joe with a soft-spot for the fiery senator from Illinois.

As a libertarian-minded conservative, I agree with almost nothing of Barack Obama's actual policy positions. Whether it is with education, health care, or fiscal matters, Obama is a liberal in the truest sense of the word. He fails to respect federalism and his policies can often border on socialism. Indeed, I have trouble identifying any policy positions of Obama's that appeal to me. In short, I think Barack Obama would make a terrible Head of Government.

Yet, as David Kopel has deftly noted, the Head of State is an entirely different role altogether, and regardless of your ideological perspective, there is something tremendously appealing about Obama. Indeed, several of his recent speeches - his Iowa victory, a speech on MLK Jr. Day, and the South Carolina victory - have given me goosebumps and caused me to swell with pride at being an American. --Josh Claybourn

In the end, I doubt my vote will go his way, but if he's elected I probably won't be tearing my hair out. (Hillary, on the other hand . . .)


The Old Bipartishanship Ruse

"We need ... leaders who look out at America and see not an electorate to be sliced and diced and pitted against each other, but citizens who want to do great things together." --John Kerry, endorsing Sen. Obama

All those "great things" are, to be sure, finely pictured in the platform of the Democratic Party.

That's what bugs me about the appeal to bipartisanship: it's too often unrepresentative of the speaker's true agenda. Furthermore, it's usually presumptuous and condescending. No two people see the world the same way, there are real conflicts of opinion out there -- and that's alright. It's annoying to have some Washington suit not only belittle but flat-out dismiss legitimate differences just to sound enlightened, particularly when you know that said talking-head actually wants nothing to do with the other side's vision (which is, duh, entirely contrived to begin with).

For the record, I do believe there are national goals that can and should be pursued by the two parties working hand in hand to some degree. Similarly, there are certain issues that are best considered in a non-partisan light. A large plurality of Americans are not of (or for?) either political cult, and even many card-carriers are moderates who could sit with relative comfort on either side of the aisle. This reality means that a rigid red state/blue state, us vs. them mentality is not just unproductive, but unrealistic. It'd be nice for the hacks and die-hards to see this, and quit doggedly forcing every last detail of their philosophy on the rest of the nation.

However, some fights must be fought. In fact, a lot of fights must be fought. Because there aren't enough room for too many Big Ideas, not in the end. And this is common knowledge and common sense, which is why 75% of bipartisan talk is calculated nonsense that we can do without.

The (Social) Democratic Party

Hillary Clinton is a "centrist democrat", "a pragmatist on the economy." So says Alan Dershowitz, writing in The New Republic today.

Huh. Well, accepting the legitimacy of that description, then relentless advocacy of universal healthcare now qualifies as a middle-of-the-road phenomenon. How depressing.

Hacktivists (For Real This Time)

A group of hackers issues a declaration of war against the Church of Scientology. You know who to root for.


It's . . . Alive?

Is it just me, or has The 1880 just gotten a make-over? No new posts, though. Too bad, it was one of the better publications started last year. And there were so many of them, right? Em Magazine, The 1880, EmCon (RIP), Urban Pirate . . .

I'd like to see it revived. If any of its people are reading this, do the right thing and get back to the snoop-and-gossip beat.

Eurabia Watch

The Netherlands has spent the past several weeks in a political crisis out of a novel by Borges. People are worried that a politician might say something he has already said. And they are divided over how to interpret a film that may not exist. Last August, the anti-immigration legislator, Geert Wilders, wrote in the daily De Volkskrant: "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands - not one more Muslim immigrant. I've had enough of Allah and Mohammed in the Netherlands - not one more mosque." Mr Wilders, whose Freedom party controls 9 of the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house, also urged banning the Koran, which he calls "the Islamic Mein Kampf ".

But his announcement in late November that he would make a short film to that effect sent the government into a panic. The cabinet met in secret. It ordered foreign embassies to draw up evacuation plans in case of mob violence. It put the mayors of Dutch cities on alert. It arranged meetings with imams and other Muslim representatives, distancing itself from Mr Wilders' positions. The interior, justice and foreign ministers summoned Mr Wilders to meetings, and the country's terrorism co-ordinator warned him that he might have to leave the country for his own security. The government reportedly investigated whether it would be possible to block or delay Mr Wilders's broadcast.

Not that there is anything illogical about taking precautions against radical Islam. When the director, Theo van Gogh, made a 10-minute film critical of Islam in 2004, he was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam by a Dutch-born Muslim. The printing of cartoons showing the prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked deadly riots around the world. Each time a gauntlet is thrown down, someone will credibly promise violence in the name of Islam. Mr Wilders' film idea was no exception. At the European parliament in Strasbourg last week, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria, warned that Mr Wilders would be responsible for any "violence and bloodshed" that resulted from his film - and that the Dutch people would, in turn, be responsible for reining him in. Noor Farida Ariffin, the departing Malaysian ambassador, told De Volkskrant: "Compared to what I'm expecting, the riots over the Danish cartoons will look like a picnic." --Christopher Caldwell

John Edwards Outdoes Himself

I just watched his S.C. defeat speech. He actually alleges that poor Americans have "no voice" in our democracy. Wait a minute, has universal adult suffrage suddenly been repealed? Have my guiltiest dreams come true?

Where's The Beef?

So, Obama has proved once again that he's capable of some very pretty poetry. His victory speech is being roundly applauded, both by the establishment media and the blogosphere. It's even tickling certain conservatives, with fond words coming from National Review folks. (Andrew Sullivan is, of course, beside himself. Surprise, surprise.)

It's hard to disagree with the many generous things which have been written and said over the last twenty-four hours. Technically speaking, as an oration, it was quite a feat, at once smart and readable, exuberant and clear-headed, inspired and approachable. Without a doubt, Obama is the most eloquent American political speaker since Jack and Bobby Kennedy (sorry, Bill).

Last night's victory speech was everything a victory speech should be -- except substantive.

Fluffy and pleasant sounding, the tone and style were better suited for a college commencement than a do-or-die primary race. And, unfortunately, the noticeable absence of seriousness isn't surprising. More and more, I'm beginning to think that Obama is leaning too heavily on his famous rock star charisma. For such an intelligent man, he's consistently failing to produce a realistic treatment of the present state of American politics.

His initial articulation of the nation's present malaise was indeed admirable, and he seemed to have enormous potential as a unifying and transformative figure. He was openly lamenting the corrosive effects of Clinton-Bush era red state/blue state politics before it was the cool thing to do. Currently, every other word out of every candidate's mouth is "change", but Obama's been at that for a while now. His critique of the Boomer impasse earned him a ton of respect and a bunch of strange fellows (such as myself).

Now, however, at least in my book, the senator is failing to live up to expectations -- not to mention his own promises of being a new breed of American leader. When his politics aren't conventionally liberal, they're frighteningly nebulous and half-baked. His upsetting talk about bombing Pakistan some time ago might have been an early warning sign that this man is better suited to write presidential speeches than to give them.

"Hope" and "change" and "progress", these omnipresent but undefined notions constitute an unseemly amount of Obama's appeal. When I saw the senator speak in the Commons, I was blown away by the emotional intensity of his performance (note that word: performance), but the paucity of tangibles concerned me. He's always relied a good deal on feel-good abstractions (which is why he plays well among the well-educated, who have the educational experience and intellectual tools to deal with ideas), but I thought they'd fade away as he evolved into a national personality and the likely Democratic nominee. That doesn't appear to be the case, though, and the clock is ticking.

What's behind this unfortunate lack of maturity? Was Obama sainted too early? After all, an icon doesn't escape his iconography, he luxuriates in it. Maybe, if he had been more thoroughly scrutinized by the public and the media, he would have been put through the crucible, and forced to develop "at gun point", so to speak (see: Mitt Romney). Wouldn't that be awful, if his success was his undoing. That's the stuff of good novels, but it's difficult to watch in real life.

I've not given up on Obama yet, not even close, but I am beginning to doubt him. Hopefully, he'll do something I normally hate and prove me wrong.

Just A Quote

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius that they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window - no, I don't feel how small I am - but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body." --Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


When He's Good, He's Good

Chuck Klosterman can be a whiny know-it-all, but this smart treatment of the Pats is worth checking out, even if you despise the finest team in NFL history. Nice bit of Bradyana, too.

With Enemies Like These . . .

First, John McCain gets the endorsement of The New York Times, mouthpiece of the liberal East Coast establishment. Then, Bill Clinton is quoted speaking warmly of him, noting that he and Hillary (liberal arch-villain) are close friends, and that an election between the two of them would be "the most civilized in American history."

I almost feel the like the left is doing this intentionally, so as to prove credible the far right's accusations that McCain isn't a conservative, and thus undermine the senator's bid for president. After all, Democrats must realize that McCain is the only Republican who can defeat them in '08, barring some kind of extremely upsetting national or global event. They know they can squash Romney or Huckabee, but when it comes to the maverick from Arizona, well, all bets are off. He has great pull among Independents, and might very well siphon off red state and national security Democrats (there's already talk of "McCain Democrats", which are the next gen "Reagan Democrats").

I bet the Limbaugh legion was giddy over the endorsement, and Bill's glowing assessment . . .


More Ground Surrendered

How long before we can write-off Britain completely?

A story based on The Three Little Pigs has been rejected by a Government-backed awards event because it might offend Muslims... and builders.

The digital book, retelling the classic children's tale, was criticised by judges who said "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".


The "virtual" book is designed for use on computers and interactive whiteboards and aimed at primary school children.

Its publishers, Shoo-Fly, insist there is nothing offensive in it.

But judges for the annual BETT awards, which recognise excellence in educational technology, claimed they had "concerns about the Asian community" and insisted "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

As a result, they "could not recommend this product to the Muslim community".

Tell me that joke again, you know, the one about Islam's ability to integrate into liberal Western society. Multiculturalism is the biggest sham ever forced upon the Anglo-American people. I hope we wake up and reject it before it's too late.

America the . . . Something

Since the paradigm-shifting September 11th attacks, America has been dogged by a great crisis of identity. Who are we, as a nation? What is our mission, our place in the current of human events? These existential questions – expressions of inner turmoil – have defined the post-9/11 era, but in 2007 they were especially loud, especially pressing.

That terrible and cloudless morning six year ago undermined a wealth of "conventional wisdom." As the towers crumbled and the Pentagon burnt, illusions of pax Americana were laid to rest. The inevitable success of liberal democracy, a notion challenged only by the political margins during the 1990's, no longer seemed set in stone.

What a difference decade or so makes! The rapid transitions America has endured (from peace to war, from economic sizzle to economic fizzle, from sole superpower to embattled republic, etc.) have shocked and disoriented. More fundamentally, they have sparked a genuine identity crisis.

There is no longer a dominant narrative by which we can understand ourselves. Some imagine the United States as a champion of freedom; others condemn it as ruthless, imperial. Between and beside these, there are a host of other takes, some positive and some negative.

Uncertainty about "who we are" has been the driving force behind some of the year's biggest events. The immigration uproar, the baseball brouhaha, the grassroots' struggle with establishment politics, the tension between secularism and evangelical Christianity: these all stem from anxiety over a potential loss of integrity, and settled identity.

Yet the rash of self-doubt has played out most interestingly, and most strikingly, on the silver screen. (How wonderfully American, to repackage an intense social issue as pop culture swag. . .)

There was The Invasion and I Am Legend, which featured identity loss on a very literal level (the seizure of one's mind and body by alien power and unnatural impulse). Top grossing Spider-Man 3 dealt with dual personality, while The Number 23 explored schizophrenia.
Southland Tales, Enchanted, and Bridge to Terabithia showed external reality as fundamentally unstable, thus disallowing any chance of objective identity formation.

Perhaps the finest film of the year, There Will Be Blood, was a brilliant interpretation of the old tug-of-war between country and city, collectivism and individualism. It resonates today, as America is torn between rural (religious) populism and urban (secular) modernity. Similarly high-grade pictures like American Gangster and No Country for Old Men tackled identity difficulties through the lens of race and class.

Even the raunchiest comedies got in on the action, though in more oblique terms. Knocked Up, Juno, and Superbad featured characters trapped in hilarious limbo between youth and maturity—an identity crisis if ever there was one.

Cinema is a most sensitive medium: it can detect and capitalize on cultural phenomena long before they are articulated in other forums. The films of 2007 reveal an America that is unsure of its worth, skeptical of its destiny, and deeply insecure about its moral and intellectual underpinnings.

For now, we can enjoy this anxiety in its artistic representation. Eventually, however, we must deal with it in more pragmatic terms. America cannot lose its sense of providence and wallow in malaise. If it does, then a great project is diminishing, and the world will be the worse for it.


Grim Milestone

35 years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed the so-called "right to choose", thus producing a society wherein it's perfectly okay to terminate a healthy human life, so long it's done before the little brat gets too big. Meanwhile, the torture and murder of domestic animals is not just taboo, but illegal and, in certain cases, punishable as a felony. Ah, moral relativism, what a beautiful thing.

Every decent person was up in arms about Michael Vick's dog fighting, but a large plurality of Americans -- perhaps most -- don't find much wrong with the willful destruction of hundreds of thousands of unborn children each and every year. Isn't something seriously wrong with that equation, particularly when the vast majority of abortions are not done out of medical necessity, but merely because pregnancy is an "inconvenience." An inconvenience.

I want to write more about this, but I'm saving it for an article in the next issue of The Beacon. Suffice to say that, to me, January 22 isn't cause for celebration, but for mourning.

Scary As All Hell

"Even though cutting off the hands and feet, or flogging the drunkard and fornicator, seem to be very abhorrent, once they are implemented, they become a deterrent for the whole society.

"This is why in Saudi Arabia, for example, where these measures are implemented, the crime rate is very, very, low," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

In a documentary to be screened on Channel 4 next month, entitled Divorce: Sharia Style, Dr Hasan goes further, advocating a sharia system for Britain. "If sharia law is implemented, then you can turn this country into a haven of peace because once a thief's hand is cut off nobody is going to steal," he says.

"Once, just only once, if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all.

"We want to offer it to the British society. If they accept it, it is for their good and if they don't accept it they'll need more and more prisons."

Tell me that joke again, you know, the one about Islam's ability to integrate into liberal Western society. Face it, unless there's serious and widespread reform of Islam in the near future, it's going to come to blows with every democratic, freedom-based and freedom-loving civilization it touches. This Dr. Hasan isn't even a radical, and he still buys into the barbaric notion that we should be cutting off the hands of "fornicators"! Unbelievable, and beyond frightening.


The Jerry Springer Debate

That was some tussle tonight. I'm surprised nobody walked away with a fat shiner, or a bloody nose. If the eventual nominee -- be it HRC or Obama -- scraps half as hard come general time, the Republicans haven't a chance. It'll be an absolute bloodbath. The Democratic primary has been a bit too dirty, but overall the combativeness is useful and positive. Remember what Hemingway said: "Strong at the broken places."

Of course, the internecine feuding could become too ferocious and fatally tarnish the victor, leaving him vulnerable to Republican tricks. That's always a risk, but perhaps one worth taking.

Both Clinton and Obama deserve praise. They proved their mettle, alright. Neither wilted in the limelight, though I think Obama's performance lagged towards the end. If I had to choose a "winner", it'd be HRC by a hair. Edwards continues to be a joke. When will he drop out already?

Mainly, I was struck by the essential weakness and incompleteness of the Democratic agenda, and how far they've fallen since the '06 triumphs. Coming out of the midterms, it seemed a robust, all-American, "purple state" liberalism was finally ready to emerge.

This brave new liberalism was colored by civil libertarianism and steeled by a healthy appeal to economic nationalism among Rust Belt and Heartland voters. Even the anti-war message was cloaked in that America First rhetoric (i.e. "American dollars for Americans, not Iraqis!").

This new liberal hearkened back to the "Reagan Democrat", but resisted playing into blue collar anxieties over sensitive cultural issues. At the same time, it situated deficit reduction as crucial, suggesting that tax raises were better suited to shrinking the national debt than expanding the welfare state. This 21st century liberalism was refreshingly free of technocratic sympathies (there was no talk of a "brain trust"), and it arose from the American interior by popular demand.

Unfortunately, the new liberalism doesn't appear to have had much staying power. The Democrats are back to their old games, bribing voters with the promise of curing all their problems using other people's money. The enormous and nefarious scheme that is socialized medicine is the base's favorite horse this cycle, and they candidates are clearly prepared to ride that sucker into the dust.


I was lucky enough to have escaped the frigid winter weather this past vacation, at least for a time. A friend of mine has a house outside Miami, in Coral Gables, and I spent a week or so bumming around that handsome area, baking in the sun and swallowing iced drinks on South Beach.

Miami is a place rich with imported flavor, that's for sure. Particularly for someone accustomed to the vanilla provincialism of New England, the city is an engaging creature, almost exhausting in its novelty. Mostly, the melange of foreign sights and sounds is a positive element of life among the palms.

The locals' apparent disinterest in adopting the English language is, however, troubling. The prevalence of Spanish speaking among immigrants and natives alike confounds me. Now, the desire to maintain the old country's tongue is understandable, even commendable, but it shouldn't be the preferred means of communication. This is America, where the king's (corrupted) English is the lingua franca. New-comers should accept this reality, and deal with it.

I was shocked, then, when my host reacted violently to these precise sentiments. I told her the way I felt following a frustrating ordeal wherein the entire staff of a convenience store was unable to give me directions to a location nearby. You see, not one of them seemed even remotely familiar with English. In response to my questioning, they just shrugged and winced. (And I'm supposed to consider them my countrymen?)

When I expressed my anger at the communication barrier, she call me a bigot. "If they want to speak Spanish, let them," she said.

I responded, "That's fine, they can speak Spanish so long as they deal with English in public, so long as they have a working relationship with the language."

But even that compromise upset my, eh, broad-minded companion. "Language is an artificiality," she explained in a strained tone of voice, "an illusion." Ever the cosmopolitan, she concluded, "One isn't better than the other. People should be free to use whichever they want without a negative reaction to their personal choice."

I lit a cigarette and shut-up. The spat blew over soon enough, but returned unexpectedly not too long after. We scooped a mutual friend, who that night was feeling particularly sore about her boss.

"And the worst part is," she said, "he really hates it when people speak Spanish. He says everyone should speak English, or be shipped back to who-the-hell-knows-where. It's so . . . simian."

I sighed aloud.

"What?" she asked, turning to me.

"We were having a similar debate before getting you. Let's just say I'm not altogether unfriendly to your boss' suggestion. Assimilate or emigrate -- catchy, if a bit extreme. Okay, a lot extreme, but I'm of the same general frame of mind on the issue."

The two girls rolled their eyes, visibly disgusted at what one of them described colorfully as "stupid fucking white nationalism." (Note: Race has nothing to do with it. If Miami was super-saturated by unapologetic French speakers, I'd be equally disturbed.)

"Your idea of America is pathetic. It's so, like, depressing. Let's just listen to music."

The radio came alive, filling the car with Latino music. One of the girls changed the station: more foreign clamor. The next flip brought the same -- spitfire Spanish, spoken and song -- as did the one after that and the one after that. It actually seemed that the airwaves were captive to some south-of-the-border disc jockey spinning out of a salsa bar. There we were, cruising American soil, struggling to catch a familiar word.

"What the hell . . . " muttered one of the girls, sporting a restrained frown.

"Where're the real stations, the good ones?" wondered the other, chagrined.

I said, "Frustrating, right? It's so, like, depressing."


Faux-Feminism Watch

Great, more faux-feminism care of Eve Ensler, the arch-enemy of women's progress herself. First, she forced upon us The Vagina Monologues, a vulgar text that sought to combat sexism by conjuring every female caricature imaginable (and without the slightest hint of irony!). Now, she's set to one-up that juvenile effort. Witness . . .

April 11 and 12 will find the Louisiana Superdome interior turned into a pink and red vagina -- "with a big vagina entrance," Ensler said -- as a setting for performance events, parties, parades, workshops, wellness and education programs, speakers, even spa treatments, which will be free to residents of New Orleans and the Gulf South. (Men are excluded only from the spa.) For those two days, New Orleans will be "the Vagina Capital of America," Ensler said. "We're coming here to say that we should celebrate New Orleans, cherish it, protect it, just as we do our vaginas, and make sure it goes on and on."

Great, once again Ensler is undermining women's equitable integration into society by symbolically reducing femininity to the vagina. Because, you know, that's not what patriarchy has done all along, right? Lady = Vagina; what a revolutionary formula!

Really, could these clitoris-transfixed bra-burners be any less self-aware?

McCain for America

Since Fred Thompson obviously isn't going to survive primary season, I've aligned behind John McCain 110% (McCain/Thompson '08?/!). Being young and from the New England, my conservative sensibilities are somewhat moderate. Even so, I disagree with Sen. McCain on certain pressing economic issues, and also on immigration. I worry a little about his scalding temper, and his tireless support for the occupation of Iraq makes me, well, skittish.

Why, then, am I banging the senator's war drum? It's quite simple, really, and I think it's the same reason many "lay conservatives" have flocked to the Mac, despite serious policy disagreements.

The thing is, I desire a red-blooded patriot in the White House. A true patriot, you know, someone who has actually bled for this country, someone who has endured "it all." John McCain began serving America in 1955 (that's 53 years now -- heck, nearly as long as, oh, Mitt Romney has been alive!).

He hasn't quit since then, not once, never. The senator isn't some MBA biznizman worth half a billion dollars. He isn't a hot-shot lawyer or famous entertainer or golden-tongued orator or corporate shill or professional talking-head or backwater preacher. His has been a life of national duty and dogged public service. That level of commitment and self-sacrifice resonates with main street conservatives, who value active patriotism. The presidency would be a fine, appropriate, and well deserved coda to such a legacy.

Why the conservative establishment, as represented by National Review and Rush Limbaugh and the rest, has failed to embrace McCain is more than confusing. It's ridiculous. It proves that the institutional right remains incapable of ending its Reagan fetishization, even if it means supporting a man who's carefully tailored each and every aspect of himself to fit that antique ideal.

Yes, I'm talking, of course, about Mitt Romney, an ex-RINO (so said Human Events) whose born-again conservatism was conveniently timed with his presidential campaign; a man who abandoned his state party to the wolves for the sake of personal ambition; a man with one term of governing experience; a man whose pandering is painfully obvious (life-long hunter, Soviet-style Michigan package, etc.)l a man with zero military know-how (!). It's beyond baffling, isn't it?

Thankfully, there's evidence of rank-breaking over at Nat'l Review following last night's results. Romney has won two uncontested primaries (Wyoming, Nevada), and one semi-contested one (Michigan), whereas McCain has triumphed in two key states (New Hampshire, South Carolina), both of which were difficult wins.

As Mark Steyn -- who's no McCain loyalist -- writes:

In that sense, McCain's is a genuine national candidacy. Rudy's campaign
announced itself as one, but, as I said a while back, it quickly turned into a
1-800 candidacy, rooted in no real area code, with no real physical presence, as
if he'd outsourced the thing to a call center in Bombay. That's why his
team have spent most of the last month artfully explaining why it doesn't
matter that ten per cent of American states have consigned "America's
Mayor" to a statistical asterisk. I'd love to hear from Lisa, David Frum or our
old pal JPod if this is truly where they expected the "frontrunner" to
be at this stage in the game: Two per cent in South Carolina, and a grand total
of one delegate.


On the Way Back

So as my father was driving me back to Emerson this morning, we passed a car with a bumper sticker that read "Gay marriage doesn't scare me, no healthcare does." And while I'm sure that's not a new phrase or anything, it was the first time I've seen it. I thought "Wow, someone who realizes that gay marriage isn't that pressing of an issue, given all the other problems in the world" and I was happy for a few minutes (only interrupted by an old John Kerry bumper sticker).

And if you're wondering, it was an older woman driving.


Before Paul Was Paul, He Was Saul

Hitchens apologizes for 1968. Peter Hitchens, that is. A competent, if incomplete, indictment of youth gone mad in paradise.

Bush = Liberal

He'd make a fine Truman Democrat. Check out the spectacular tripe Michael Gerson, his former speechwriter and ideological co-conspirator, is pushing this week. It's mind blowing. I can't believe anyone believes Gerson and his neocon comrades are conservative in any way, shape, or form. Watch as he sneers at Thompson's understandable hesitation to send boatloads of hard-earned American money to dysfunctional African regimes.

Thompson's argument reflects an anti-government extremism, which I am sure his defenders would call a belief in limited government. In this case, Thompson is limiting government to a half-full thimble. Its duties apparently do not extend to the treatment of sick people in extreme poverty, which should be "the role of us as individuals and as Christians." One wonders, in his view, if responding to the 2004 tsunami should also have been a private responsibility. Religious groups are essential to fighting AIDS, but they cannot act on a sufficient scale.

Thompson also dives headfirst into the shallow pool of his own theological knowledge. In his interpretation, Jesus seems to be a libertarian activist who taught that compassion is an exclusively private virtue. This ignores centuries of reflection on the words of the Bible that have led to a nearly universal Christian conviction that government has obligations to help the weak and pursue social justice. Religious social reformers fought to end child labor and improve public health. It is hard to imagine they would have used the teachings of Christ to justify cutting off lifesaving drugs for tens of thousands of African children -- an argument both novel and obscene.

In the lifeboat dilemma Thompson proposes, we are asked to throw overboard either an American child with leukemia or an African child with AIDS -- and, by gum, it had better not be the American. The real issue is different: Should we increase the amount of money devoted to our generous cancer research efforts at the expense of African lives that can be saved for about $90 a year?

Daniel Larison, a wonderful paleocon, has some wonderfully pointed commentary on Gerson's inability to organize our national priorities in a matter even vaguely conservative.

P.S. This makes a good case for just how much the Democrats sacrificed by making a sharp left turn in the cultural arena. The Boomer Dems ran the party flat into the ground by scaring off Social Gospel liberals, who just couldn't abide by sharing an organization with abortionists and same-sex marriage cheerleaders, but who have zero problem with spending public money on "good works." They were a critical element of the long perished New Deal coalition, and their departure helped end liberalism's dominance of American politics.

Dixie Do or Dixie Don't?

Huckabee spit polishes his image down South by loudly defending the flying of Confederate colors. The New York Times tells us . . .

“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag,” Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, told supporters in Myrtle Beach, according to The Associated Press.
“In fact,” he said, “if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.”

At a news conference on Thursday night, he said, “It is not an issue the president of the United States needs to weigh in on.”

I'm split on the issue myself. One one hand, it's stupid to claim that "outsiders" (presumably, anyone north of the Mason-Dixon) have no stake in the flying of the Stars and Bars. That flag represents a rebellious movement that was ended only after hundreds of thousands of "outsiders" lost their lives, with many others coming away maimed or mentally disturbed. For all non-Southerners, the Stars and Bars continues to be a reminder of that brutal conflict, and a symbol with significant emotional resonance.

Furthermore, the Confederates were, in part, fighting to maintain the cornerstone of their caste-based agrarian society: that is, human bondage. Thus the flag -- a flag of, for, and by the CSA -- is an icon of an illegitimate white supremacist nation that not only defended but championed a system of racial subjugation and exploitation. That being so, its continued veneration is a massive insult to all African-Americans, whose descendents suffered the greatest cruelties.

But . . . it's equally true that the Stars and Bars is a multifaceted icon. There are some liberal Yankees who are still eager to gloat over Appomattox. They would unfairly reduce the flag to an exclusively racist symbol, which is just wrongheaded. Undeniably, it is representative of the Old South, and its rich social, economic, and political heritage, not all of which is immoral or embarassing. Localism, particular community, respect of tradition, self-determination, popular sovereignty, anti-Caesarism, limited government -- these fine principles constitute the DNA of the Old South. They are notions to admire, and if a man looks into the Stars and Bars and sees those ideas, then more power to him.

After all, many people (particularly where I grew up, in New England) fly Revolutionary banners, or flags from the early republic (the circle of thirteen stars, etc.), and these represented the nation when it still accepted human bondage as alright, if not ideal. Yet, to most, those old school colors are not perceived as symbols of American slavery, but of American liberty. Isn't this somewhat of a double standard?

I suppose this is the ideal arrangment: keep the Stars and Bars off public property, but don't heckle others for giving it respect. The thing is a powerful, complicated symbol, rich it connotation, with meanings that range from despicable to utterly admirable.


Huckabee Gets Mean

War of attrition on illegals, so says the ex-fat preacher. I'm kinda like the sound of that.

I'm defensive about this country, protective, and I don't think admitting wave after wave of poorly educated, poorly assimilated, and just plain poor Third World immigrants is a wise choice. Given that we're a post-industrial information society, that's simply a recipe for disaster. It'd mean the erosion of our Anglo-Saxon character, and our descent into a balkanized banana republic. No thanks to that.

That said, the logistics of what amounts to mass deportation are challenging, and the scope of the project is, to sell it short, daunting. There are tens of millions of illegals in the country, many of them deeply ingrained in the fabric of American labor and, to a lesser extent, American society.

As Ramesh Ponurru, one of National Review' brighter bulbs, writes:

I can just imagine some 60-year-olds in my home town, still at work in landscaping after 40 years, who have never been arrested, own homes, and haven't a clue what Oaxaca looks like after 40 years, suddenly put on a bus back there. So while it is easy to say, "I oppose amnesty in all its forms," note apparently how difficult it is for the candidates to make the next intellectually honest and logical corollary, "Thus I am for the mass deportation of all illegal aliens."

It is fine and good to talk of "attrition" by slowly and incrementally rounding up illegal aliens as they come in contact with government agencies and need various licenses, papers, statements, etc., but you are still talking about deporting millions, who are currently working and crime-free, rather promptly.

The odd thing is that should illegal immigration cease at the border, the pool of illegals here, properly screened, would become static, and not be replenished, and, if the past is any guide, within a generation melt into the American pot.So it seems that while "amnesty" is a political death sentence, so is mass deportation-the only element of the immigration debate that would play into the hands of the Democrats who otherwise lose big on the issue.

Lock down the border. Kick out any illegal picked up with a serious criminal record. Lower the quotas for Third World immigrants, even legal ones. That much is common sense, but more exteme measures require careful consideration. Not to mention delicate, humane handling.

We could have avoided this problem by locking down the border decades ago, but . . .

The Fredheads Are Coming

His regular campaign e-reports are bubbly enough:

Fred's South Carolina surge is working!Two new polls by Zogby and Rasmussen, conducted just this week, show support for Fred growing. Thousands of internal calls by the campaign show Fred's strength increasing.It's Day 10 of Fred's South Carolina bus tour, and Fred is on fire!

Still, he's only at 16%, neck and neck with Romney but well behind McCain and Huckabee, who are tied with 24% each. And Romney has apparently abandoned efforts in S.C., which might bode well for Huckabee. With only a few days left, I'm not sure if Fred can manage it, though an upset would be awesome. I supported Thompson from the get-go; his dismal showing thus far has been disappointing, though I can't deny my affection for his "Quiet Cal" style. Just so refreshing compared to the zeal and statist rah-rah flooding from both sides of the aisle. Now if only he could just crack a smile . . .

Sin of Omission

So, I just saw a replay of some Romney speech (I believe the one he gave upon winning Michigan), and he named George H.W. Bush as an inspiration. What an exciting, energizing executive upon which to model yourself! Really, thrilling. That Romney guy, he's really one for walking the edge.

But seriously, you can't help but also read the comment as a backhanded slap at the younger -- and certainly lesser -- Bush. Mitt said that he derives strength and ideas from the legacies of Reagan and Bush I, the implication-by-omission being that Dubya isn't worthy of the adulation or replication (shocker . . .).

Not that I'm complaining about the choice to steer clear of Bush II's legacy. I couldn't agree more, really. If there's a recent Republican tradition to be observed, it's that of senior rather than the junior George. H.W. was an old Yankee conservative, ambivalent on social issues, cautious in foreign affairs, and at least somewhat dedicated to fiscal discipline. He was far from a great man, but his administration was a charming and successful venture compared to his son's.

The "Big Tent", Again

The realities of the GOP frequently conflict with its P.R. (which explains why hacks and spinsters are so valued by the party). While paying ample lip-service to limited government, constitutionalism, and Judeo-Christian morality, Republican actions – on a personal and collective level – consistently fail to advance those righteous principles.

Perhaps the greatest discrepancy between the supposed and the actual stems from the flawed claim that Republicans operate a “big tent” party. This has been standard mantra for a while now, but despite having been around the block, it remains mostly uncontested.

Rather than tolerating unorthodoxy, Republicans are notorious for enforcing lockstep march, and punishing any hint of ideological deviation. This prejudice is evident by the institutionalized resistance to Pat Buchanan’s bid in 1996, or John McCain’s independent-minded campaign in 2000, as well as the violent reaction of today’s establishment against Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and others.

Indeed, the current Republican Party is a brittle and unadventurous organization, complacent with graying dogma. It eschews critical thinking, has a puny capacity for ideas, and a worrisome unwillingness (inability?) to consider even the most modest paradigm shift.

Crystallization began in the 1980’s – when conservatism finally exploded onto the national stage in two spectacular elections – but it reached completion following the neo-conservative putsch earlier this decade. During that stretch, there arose a GOP elite, ensconced primarily in Washington and Manhattan. These slick, coastal bigwigs have slowly produced a rigid mold into which all Republicans (and, presumably, all conservatives) must fit, or risk excommunication.

The present right-wing ideal – an unabashed hawk with Wall Street and White House loyalties, a nasty spending habit, and passing interest in constitutionalism – is relentlessly praised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and National Review. There are, of course, other attractive qualities (an unusual amount of concern over the “gay agenda”, for example), but these are definitely secondary, often used to sucker Heartland voters to no real benefit of their own.

In enforcing this Republican model, the partisans of the “Reagan coalition” (a strange term, since much 21st century GOP policy would horrify the Gipper) have, very consciously, dismembered the Grand Old Party. Liberal, moderate, and libertarian cadres – those old boys from New England and the urban Northeast and the mountain West – are increasingly viewed as heretical, as is the expansive Old Right.

Now, it’s untrue to say that these blocs have been totally shut-out of party process. The Washington/Manhattan axis has seen fit to maintain a loose alliance with them, conjuring single issue firestorms (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) in order to keep relations somewhat viable. The upper-crust similarly manipulates right-wing populists (a.k.a. Christian Democrats, a.k.a. Reagan Democrats) and Bible Belt folk. However, the establishment has less obvious disdain for these types, owing to their impressive voting strength.

The net result of this hierarchically-imposed orthodoxy is an ever-narrowing definition of what it means to be in and of and for the “right.” The only chance for a more inclusive right-of-center party is popular rebellion, from the dirt on up. The disenfranchised groups must make their voices heard, their sentiments known. They must demand that their unique takes on conservatism are once again considered legitimate, and respected by the larger coalition. There must be no more institutionalized mockery and exploitation. It’s time that moderates, paleos, and all the others refuse to be second-class conservatives, second-rate Republicans.

This election suggests that the grassroots are in fact disgruntled, and itching to rock the boat. The candidacies of Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and even John McCain represent insurgencies. Lou Dobbs’ new-found success is also good news, as is the public’s realization that unchecked multiculturalism, bellicosity, and globalization have the potential to destroy (what remains of) our republic.

Given the internal and external dangers currently facing America, the need for a truly “big tent” right is of the utmost importance. Yacht club grandees, red-meat nativists, cautious suburbanites, “Country” faction decentralists, pro-worker traditionalists, crunchy cons, isolationists, and constitutionalists may not have everything in common, but they can surely unite behind one slogan: “It’s Our Party, Too --- Give It Back!”


Ah well . . .

It appears that Mitt's first gold is coming down the pipe right now. Okay, that's fine: Mac in S.C.! (Plus, in the end, is Romney really the worst the GOP could put up front? No, hardly.)

This nomination is still way up in the air. Now even the prospect of a brokered convention doesn't seem so crazy. In fact, it seems sensible. As it presently stands, Feb. 5 may not really decide all that much. It might confuse, rather than confuse.

If the Republicans know what's best for them, they'll end up settling with McCain. Here's hopin'.


Calling the Wolverine State

Nobody can say with any real confidence who will win tomorrow's GOP primary in Michigan. On the eve of this critical contest, McCain and Romney are running neck and neck. And given the breathtaking events in New Hampshire, pollsters and pundits alike are spooked. Few hard predictions have been issued by the T.V. and radio men.

Me, my money's on McCain. The senator's bold and forward-looking vision for Michigan labor may not push him over the edge (just too hard to hear for many laid-off autoworkers), but I imagine Romney's calculated polish has, on some level, offended potential voters. On the other hand, McCain's grandfatherly appearance and knockabout personality are decidedly Midwestern, and should've endeared him to the Wolverine State.

Then there's the iffy matter of immigration, which will hurt the AZ senator, but I don't think Romney has fashioned himself a staunch enough nativist to draw robust support from the Minuteman crowd.

Maybe I'm banking too much on personality. Maybe Michigan voters are too conservative to accept a Republican who doesn't foam at the mouth over Mexican strawberry pickers, a Republican who's willing to state a hard truth: global capitalism is killing the Midwestern auto complex, and unless we're willing to go the way of aggressive protectionism, that trend ain't getting any better. America is rapidly becoming a post-industrial society; certain parts are feeling the disorientation of change in a particularly negative way. That is, sadly, the nature of the market, the same market that once drove America's automotive field to global prominence. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . . money makes and unmakes with equal ease.

Perhaps tax incentives could be used to anchor heavy production and manufacturing at home, but again, will Americans (and REPUBLICANS??) support that degree of interventionist government?

Anyway, Michigan to McCain, by a small but respectable margin (+2.5pts??).

Will I regret that in some twenty-four hours? Stay tuned . . .

Patriots, Not Partisans

I think the great appeal of John McCain and Barack Obama among the grassroots and on Main Street has much to do with their muscular patriotism. Both men exhibit an honest love of country, a wholesome affection that stands in stark contrast to the bellicose nationalism of the GOP and the Democrats' standard "America's okay" anemia.

They don't appear strictly beholden to party interests, nor are they easily lured into ideological crusades. McCain and Obama understand the presidency as a chance to unite and lead the whole United States, not just red states or blue states.

Their shared passion also explains why many thoughtful individuals are smitten by both at once, and why N.H. independents were neatly divided between their respective camps. An Obama/McCain general election really couldn't turn out badly: regardless of who loses, America would win.

Santorum Slams McCain

Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's most sensational puritan, has come out against the senator's presidential bid. Yet another reason to vote McCain, mm?

“The bottom line is that I served 12 years with him, 6 years in the United States Senate as leader, one of the leaders of the Senate — the number-3 leader — who had the responsibility of trying to put together the conservative agenda, and almost at every turn on domestic policy, John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side.”

Helpless Romney supporter Kathryn Jean Lopez brings you the full story.

Performer-Enhancing Steroids?

We all know about the steroid allegations against athletes. It's not like that's ever been a surprise, either - some people will do whatever they can to gain an advantage on the field. So the claims against Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Chris Benoit aren't that hard to believe.

But in a new investigation, it seems the sports stars aren't the center of attention anymore, but the stars of the music industry - most notably in the urban genres of rap and R&B. The biggest artists named in the report include rappers 50 Cent, Timbaland, and Wyclef as well as renowned singer Mary J. Blige.

And since steroids don't have any effect on vocal chords - as far as I'm aware, anyway - the question becomes why? Yes, they can help prevent the appearance of aging just as well as Botox injections and yes they can help improve the overall growth of muscles, but what effect does that really have on a professional career in the music industry?

Everyone has come to expect rappers like 50 Cent to have extremely large muscles, but I fail to understand how that effects the music. Would hits like "Candy Shop" have been less successful if he didn't look the same? It's too bad I can't actually answer that, as I have no clue how much the image goes into marketing...but I'd guess it wouldn't have much of an effect since there are 'bands' out there like The Gorillaz.

And then there's Mary, who surely doesn't have to worry about muscle mass. Instead, she's (if the allegations are true) probably caught up in the never-ending attempt to look younger. This I don't understand, either. I'm much more impressed with performers who age gracefully in the spotlight rather than hide their age with artificial supplements.

I suppose I'm just stumped, then. Since I can't see the performers while the CD is playing, it just doesn't matter to me.

Dirty Little (Public?) Secret

Well, well. The Romney campaign is out for laughs, asserting that a pro-Huckabee group is up to no good in Michigan.

"It was an attack call masquerading as a poll," Hoekstra said in a phone interview . . . Hoekstra said the calls attacked Romney on his past support for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights.

This is really so terrible? Basically, team Romney is upset that team Huck is pointing out the obvious: the former governor of Massachusetts' Reaganite conservatism is freshly acquired (to put it nicely). Funny thing is, there was a time -- a time in the not-so-distant past -- when this was public knowledge. Mitt was once your standard Yankee moderate, a RINO in bed with the likes of Linc Chafee and Chris Shays and Olympia Snow.

Throughout most of his public life, Romney situated himself away from the culture warrior wing of the GOP: he was first and foremost a competent and honorable manager, a man capable of shrinking and streamlining the state. That's a basic formula for New England's right-of-center politicians, particulary in Massachusetts (see: Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci, etc.). During his Senate run in 1994, he even declared openly for abortion.

It's a pity, then, that Romney let opportunism get the better of him. His (fairly rapid) transformation into a torture-praising, church-storming virtuecrat (well documented in Harper's September '07 issue) is one of the more bizarre consequences of this election. Ultimately, I think the change undermines the future of his career, severely impugning his integrity as an individual and a public servant. Once you start rubbing elbows with the wrong folks, their stink can really stick.
Ah, what things men will do for the White House. But what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?


The Bush Legacy

Eight years of bleeding heart conservatism -- that is, big guvmint conservatism, sham conservatism. Even Jonah Goldberg freely admits as much now . . .

When Huckabee says that, he means it in the same way that Bush promised not to surrender health care and education (another Huckabee issue) to his opponents when he ran as a "compassionate conservative." As a result, we got the biggest federal government expansion into education in history and the largest spike in entitlement spending since the Great Society?

Is limited government conservatism dead? That question is on the forefront of every right-of-center American mind.

If that notion is exhausted, then along what ideological axis are self-described "conservatives" to align? Will reactionary social policy be the central organizing principle? Maybe kneejerk nativism? War and torture and bald-faced corporatism?

So many questions to be answered . . .


Doug's Opening Thoughts, Election and Otherwise

Look! I finally figured this blogger thing out! For a while I was feeling completely inept, but hopefully I won't make any big mistakes for the time being.

Anyway, I'm quite excited to have this opportunity to write in a more informal manner than on the actual opinion page. Don't get me wrong, I love The Beacon, but mild rants and spur-of-the-moment outbursts seem more appropriate here (but don't worry, Phil, I'll definately keep it professional and, hopefully, thought-provoking) and I'm more likely to have a lot of those than ideas for full-blown articles.

Overall, I'm looking forward to the upcoming semester and I hope we can really move the section in a positive direction.

Introduction aside, this election has me worried. The stakes (as far as I'm concerned) have never been higher in economics, foreign policy, and domestic issues such as equal rights and education - yet none of the candidates seem to have a grip on reality; some even go as far as saying that there is no real problem with social security. Seriously? Get a reality check.

But my biggest concern is Hillary Clinton. Where did she come from? New York? No, she only moved there because she knew she could win a Senate seat. Her husband's shadow? More likely.

The recent remarks Bill made have me wondering what Hillary would be without him. It's gotten to the point where he can't even make a comment without having a major impact on her campaign.

But is he enough to win her the election? In AOL's latest straw poll, Hillary is leading with support from 51% of Democrats...so, maybe. But I don't understand where the support is coming from. It's not like she has the experience - oh, sorry, I forgot that none of the top three Democrats have any real experience...

I guess we'll wait and see.

John McCain's Conservative Conundrum

Common knowledge: John McCain is not a hardline conservative.

He's right-of-center, sure, but his positions on campaign finance reform, environmental warming, immigration, tax cuts, and institutionalized torture set him apart from many of his Republican colleagues. Perhaps more critically, the senator has long refused to play nice with the vulgar and vitriolic breed of culture warrior that has consumed the modern GOP -- thus rendering him a total black sheep.

He has a deeply-held but closely guarded sense of righteousness. It causes him to "act out" now and again, to chafe against the demands of Washington partisanship. Detractors and cheerleaders alike call McCain a "maverick", but I disagree with that characterization, which implies that an unnecessary degree of contrarianism. In reality, he's just an old timer, set in his ways, confident of the integrity of his moral compass.

Anyway, the senator's ideological unorthodoxy, abrasive temperament, and history of cross-aisle overtures have earned him knots of enemies among the right's media-political monolith. In certain corners, there was visible delight over the sight of his faltering campaign.

But now "The Mac is Back." Not only is the Mac back, the Mac is dominating. An easy win in New Hampshire established the senator as national frontrunner. This come back frustrates the National Review set, that loose fraternity of the canon conservatives which dominates right-wing airwaves and magazine pages and pulpits. It means Mitt Romney, their horse in the race, is in danger of losing. Their money's in serious jeopardy.

So they've switched into attack mode. Rush Limbaugh regularly beamons McCain's success, and the lesser dons of talk radio have followed suit. There's serious anxiety at The Corner. National Review, mouthpiece of D.C. conservatism, endorsed Romney (who, entirely coincidentally, once contributed to that exact publication!); they consider him the only thoroughbred conservative. By their estimation, he's bears a fine enough resemblance to Ronald Reagan to carry the party standard come November. He's the "most conservative", thus he deserves to be the nominee; so goes their logic.

But what does that imply? That Republicanism is now beholden to an agenda "solid right" in every way, shape, and form? There was a time when true red voters still gave equal ear-time to liberal and moderate candidates, a time when the GOP was a more balanced organization. Well into the 1970's, the Republican Party was freckled with "purple" conservatives -- Rockefeller, Ford, Eisenhower. Even the first Bush flirted with so-called RINOdom here and there.

The GOP will always be the more conservative party (the more American party...), but it need not become a party of, for, and by strict conservatives. There must be as much room for the Chamber of Commerce man as there is for the Club for Growth man. There must be room for Main Street, not just K Street. Maybe America is sick of the Republican right. Maybe, maybe, it craves the rejuvination of the GOP's middle -- of the GOP's heart.

John McCain is the only man with power to exorcise the far right from the inner sanctum of the Republican Party. His win in N.H. should excite anyone who doubts the potential and questions the intentions of GOP wingers. Down with the extremes, power to the center.