Friday, December 24, 2010

To All Cool Hot Centrists, a Merry Christmas or Whatever Foundational Holiday You Recognize, If Any

At the Cool Hot Center, we pitch a big, big tent.

My best to you and your loved ones.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tomorrow's Conventional Wisdom -- Coming True

You'll recall that two posts ago, in a pararaph titled "Raw Numbers Underestimate the Policy Impact" of the election, I argued that the fear of the rising Tea Party tide would continue to influence lawmakers to move to the right -- or even the center, especially those up for re-election in 2012.  Mickey Kaus in Newsweek reports on an analysis of the defeat of the pro-amnesty DREAM Act that pretty convincingly shows that, at least among so-called "centrist" Republicans, this influence probably caused the bill's demise.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tomorrow's Conventional Wisdom -- Today! (PART 2)

Three more hot thoughts on Politics 2010: 

This Is No Time for Bipartisanship – Let the Bickering Begin; or, Don’t Fear the Gridlock. Most of the American electorate – especially in this election -- doesn’t want the parties to get along. They don’t want the parties to compromise on bad policies. They want good policies. The voters do not agree, of course, on what those good policies are. But we now have a Republican majority in the House, and a Senate that will begin to tilt away from the Obama agenda. And the reason for that majority is because the voters want the Obama/Democratic policies stopped and reversed.

Does anyone suppose that this election was about a craving on the part of voters for bipartisan compromise? No – the majority loathed the results of Democratic hegemony from 2008-2010. They truly want to turn back the clock. They (no, no, not everyone, but the people whose numbers matter) regret their vote for Obama and are counting the days when they can turn him out (unless the Republicans nominate a peckerwood, of which they are surely capable – see later entry re Republicans' peckerwood problem). The Republicans should demand reversal of the last two years of nonsense and should not back down, even at the risk of nothing getting done.

I recall college discussions with pals over whether we would prefer almost any House or Senate candidate we could think of, Republican or Democrat, over a robot who would vote NO on every single vote. (Perhaps exceptions for veto overrides and the like.) Robot always won.

Another exception would be voting yes on certain specialized legislation, such as . . . .

*    *    *

Republicans Must Make Every Effort to Repeal The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” – Policy and Politics.   Stop laughing. Yes, that’s the real name of “Obamacare.” As though it ended up having much to do with patients, protection, affordable care, or care at all. Surely the most reviled single piece of legislation in memory across a broad spectrum of American voters. Legislators could not tell you what was in it. Nancy Pelosi said we’d have to pass it to find out what was was in it. The bureaucracy it promised was gigantic and staggeringly complex. And in the meantime, we were treated to the vision of government social services collapsing economies and spawning beggar classes throughout Europe who demonstrated against any attempt to turn the tide of ruin.

And, of course, the bill itself was dead on arrival save for the legislative bribery it took to pass it.

And what’s happened since?

   --  Employers are cutting back and, in some cases, dumping health care benefits, and passing on higher expenses to employees. 

   --  Analysis after nonpartisan analysis has demonstrated its almost certain nonviability.

   --  President Obama himself admits that his repeated representations that healthcare costs will decrease under his plans may have been, um, untrue.

Almost nobody believes this monstrosity can work or is even beneficial to all but a few, at gigantic expense. To believe that people will tolerate a shrinking doctor class as MDs' rewards for excellence are slashed, while undeserving patients consume vast resources -- well, there are some who do believe that.   Supporters are scarce, and they seldom emerge from what is almost always a tower of academe or cosseted media position.  With each passing week, public support for the thing reaches a new low.

Obamacare doesn’t need fixing. It needs to die, and quickly, before the prospect of the economic and healthcare horrors it will unleash keep one more employer from adding one more employee.

Republican candidates called for repeal during the campaign, and now they need to demand it. Make the case – get the facts out – and work for repeal without compromise. It is the correct policy move.

But would it be politically prudent? The idea of repeal is very popular right now, and, as noted in my previous article, a large majority of Senators up for re-election in 2012 are Democrats. It is not beyond imagining that a strong Republican leadership could round up the votes required for repeal.

Nevertheless, it might well be a lost cause, since the President could veto any attempt at repeal, and Republicans are a Senate minority.  A majority for repeal might not be the necessary majority for override.  And, as we have seen with the recent tax agreement, there are Democrats out there (in this case, socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont) who will filibuster.

Your Cool Hot Center advises Republicans: Let them filibuster. Let them vote against repeal. Let them vote to sustain the President’s veto. As long as you fight the good fight and present a factual, supportable case for repeal – not the peckerwood case, but the sound economic, moral, and policy case, perhaps while acknowledging the need for reform in certain areas – you will be rewarded in November 2012.   If you fight the good fight and lose, all it tells the electorate is that the housecleaning of 2010 was incomplete, and will energize the base for further corrections in 2012.

And, Republicans, if you don’t fight that fight, if you just nibble at the corners of Obamacare, if you try only to “reform” the beast, then you will have justified those souls who are convinced that principle counts for nothing in Washington, that anyone who goes there is inevitably compromised, must go along to get along, in derogation of the best interests of the Republic.

It’s gotta go. It or you.

*     *     *

No, I Don’t Miss George Bush.  And I don’t feel sorry for Wade Phillips.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tomorrow's Conventional Wisdom -- Today! (PART 1)

In  my first post on the 2010 election I looked back at some of the reasons given for the shocking collapse of President Obama’s coalition.    It was fun to revisit the past two years of liberal incomprehension and error, but it did not meet my personal requirement that I offer the Cool Hot Centrist Nation something other than warmed over punditry of others.  (I frequently warm over my own punditry.)  Herewith, then, some nuggets of what I’m thinking about the next few years and beyond.  Quite a bit of it consists of priceless instruction to the Republican Party.  Starting with:
Don’t Underestimate Barack Obama.   I’ve received criticism from some readers for noting occasionally that the man has some very admirable qualities.  His policies are so bad that the temptation is strong to judge him as a bad man through and through.     Never mind whether this is ungracious – it’s simply wrong.   Barack Obama is smart (see my series on the nature of his intelligence –  Part 1 -- Part 2).   The Republicans should not take for granted that his ego will not allow him to move to the center, will not allow him to offer compromises to Republicans that they will be unable to decline.  I’m not saying that I expect this to happen; I’m not saying that it is likely to happen; I’m saying it’s wrong to assume that it can’t happen because the President lacks the brains to be flexible about his principles.  In fact, it is my expe  ctation that, at least at first, he will continue to press his academic statist agenda for reasons I have set forth elsewhere.
[Note:  This was composed before his recent compromise on taxes.  See?] 
It is the case that he has squandered a great deal of his personal capital through the exposure of his tendency to dissimulate.  But he still cuts an appealing physical figure.  He speaks very well off the cuff and from the lectern; his reliance on teleprompters has been overstated because his oratorical skills were overpraised in the past.  He has a fine speaking voice – must be the smokes.   I’m not being frivolous here – style points count in American politics.  In politics everywhere, for that matter.  Except maybe China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Minnesota.
The economy is likely to get better, as the economy almost always does.
And if he runs again (80%) and is renominated (less certain) he will be formidable in debate against any Republican candidate who isn’t highly intelligent and thoroughly prepared, or who lacks his glibness.  Excuse me a moment – coughsarahpalincough.
I’m serious.  Don’t forget about the debates.  We (by this, I mean I and people who don’t want Obama to win in 2012) need someone who is Obama’s equal in intelligence, grasp of policy, self-assurance, and for lack of a better phrase savoir faire.  (“Charisma” is overused.)   I’m not sure who fits that bill in the current batch of hopefuls, but I know a couple who don’t.   Beg pardon --hackbobbyjindalwheeze.

Raw Numbers Underestimate the Policy Impact of November 2.   The Republican sweep was compelling everywhere except traditional liberal strongholds – the Northeast, California and a handful of outliers that I’ll consider elsewhere.   It included statehouses and local races. 
But the Republicans did not regain the Senate.   As things stand right now, the Senate is 51 Democrat, 47 Republican, and 2 Independent.  The independents are Joe Lieberman (Connecticut) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont).  Sanders is a socialist – no, that’s not a hyperbolic slam, he really is a socialist.   He caucuses with the Democrats. 
Of the 33 Senators up for re-election in 2012, 20 are Democrats.  And of those 20, not all of them are left-crazy, although they might have gone along with what they mistakenly believed was the bulletproof Obama-endorsed legislative agenda the past two years.  These guys aren’t dumb – they see what happened to apparently firmly- entrenched senators like Russ Feingold.  They see Scott Brown sitting in Edward Kennedy’s seat.  Would you expect them to go down the line with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama on hot-button conservative issues?   Would you expect them to ignore the message rising from the entrails of the November 2 slaughter?
Personally, I would not.
It is probably too much to hope that the Republicans can assemble a veto-proof majority to do what they need to do to undo the legislative wreckage of the last two years.  But even with a minority in the Senate, the right-moderates stand some chance of maintaining effective control.

Part 2 will appear in a few days.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Old-Fashioned Read -- I Thnk

Some of the most pleasant memories I have and will ever have are of browsing in bookstores. I don’t mind the the big chains, I understand why they exist and why the small independent stores, most of them, are fewer and number and don’t live long when they pop up hopefully in artsy neighborhoods. So I cherish those small ones all the more when I find one.

On our family vacation in Estes Park a couple of years ago I happened on the Macdonald Book Shop on Elkhorn, the village’s main drag. I bought Jayne Anne Phillips’s most recent novel (which I really must get to sometime) and struck up a conversation with the proprietor. I don’t often ask for recommendations, but I wanted to spend more money there and didn’t see how I could go wrong.

At this point, my dreamy recollection from the musty stacks takes a left turn, because one of the books she recommended was one of the very worst books I have ever read, and I warned you about it here. So I was not particularly looking forward to reading the other one she recommended, So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger.

Yet I found myself quickly charmed. Turning the pages to find out what happened next took very little effort. This struck me almost from the outset as a very old fashioned novel in the former sense of the word – a novelty, an unusual tale, something that transports us into a new (that is, novel) world. I won’t be giving anything away to tell you that the novel is narrated by Monte Becket, a man living in Minnesota with his lovely wife and lively adolescent son in the mid-1920s. He wrote one successful novel and found himself unable to finish another one. He encounters an enigmatic stranger, Glendon Hale, who, after initial reticence, becomes friends with the family. Hale, who has skill as a boatmaker, plans to set off to find his first wife he calls Blue, a Mexican woman he left many years earlier, to apologize to her. Becket decides to join him, and the book is about their journey and what happens to them along the way. There are two other major characters, a young buck who is magic with horses and engines – the automobile is still in its preadolescence – and the real-life character Charlie Siringo, a former Pinkerton detective. About the plot I will say no more.

I read this book quickly to its conclusion (285 pages) and when I was done, I thought my, what a fine book. And then I thought: but what was the point? Was there a catharsis? Did the characters change? What explains its unexpected conclusion, and how does it illuminate the darker corners of the human condition? Was it intended to do so, or was I just tricked into reading something that was just a plot, a coupla guys who started out here, to whom stuff happened as they moved along, and ended up there, the end?

No, I don’t think I was duped. I felt enriched, as I do when I feel like I’ve ingested something of value and I think I will remember this book. But I will tell you that it perplexed me, and it perplexes me as I write these lines. This is one of those books that has a study guide in the back with a bunch of questions designed to guide the discussions of book clubs. I looked through them and as I did, I thought yeah, I should have noticed that.

Which makes me think that this is one of those books with hidden riches that are so skillfully hidden that I – who must read quickly and perhaps less reflectively than I should properly to honor the author’s art – would not experience them unless I worked at it. That’s not a criticism. I felt the book’s value as I read it, but I knew just as certainly that I wasn’t going to be able to articulate its lessons. But I feel that those lessons are there.

Perhaps you can experience them. But even if you don’t, it’s a fine read, and I commend it to you.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Two Years Gone: An Election Punditry Checklist

In the coming days I’ll have some original thoughts on what’s coming up in the next two years and beyond. Mark your calendars.

Right now, though, I think it’s worthwhile to look back on one of the most rapid political collapses in anyone’s memory. This went far beyond the usual mid-term corrections in legislative balance. This election meant something. Something good, in my opinion, but if you don’t think so, OK. You’ve got a couple of years to see whether the voters like what they’ve wrought, or not.

What follows is not particularly original. One pundit or another (including Your Cool Hot Center) has said one or more of these things at one time or another. I’m in agreement with most of the conventional wisdom on the reasons for the spanking the Dems took on November 2. With so many plausible explanations, it is small wonder that they summed to nudge the pendulum so far from where it was in November 2008.

Think back to the avalanche of goodwill that accompanied President Obama into office. A lot of that goodwill was from folks like me who didn’t vote for him, but who admired him in many respects and hoped – maybe even assumed – that he was shrewd enough not to attempt to govern from the far left where he had resided throughout his legislative career and before.

And a lot of that goodwill came from – yep, the mainstream media.

Two years later, his coalition has evaporated, he is personally unpopular, his legislative majorities are gone (I know, the Dems still have a tiny majority, but if you were a Democratic senator up for election two or four years from now, how would you be voting?), employers won’t hire, Afghanistan festers.

How did it go so wrong so fast for this brilliant, charismatic figure of true historical significance?

Oh, it’s not so hard to figure, really.

          -- The President and Congress began immediately to promote and enact a well left-of-center, big-government, union-gaga, tax-and-spend, redistributionist Euro-model agenda. The public perceived it clearly and rejected it.  Check. The President has already rejected this explanation, stating instead that there was a failure of communication. I hope he keeps on thinking this, because it’s risible nonsense. The guy was on the teevee almost every day. It became a joke at our office; we have CNN on in the lobby and every time I’d walk through, there he’d be, promoting his agenda to one friendly audience or another.

It was just a real damned bad message. And, of course, you have Nancy Pelosi saying that the contents of the healthcare act could not be disclosed and that it had to be enacted before people would see what’s in it. Well, this might be a failure of communication – only problem is, the more people found out about what was really in the thing – that is, the more accurate communication the public received -- the less they liked it. Nope, there was no failure either (i) of communication other than a failure to tell the truth about the programs, or (ii) of voter understanding.

Which reminds me: I would ask those who believe that voters were misinformed or underinformed, or who misunderstood the information they received either because they’re dumb or because they got their news from Fox News or the Drudge Report – what is your view of the status of their intelligence, information, and understanding at such time as they handed the Democrats an very impressive victory a mere two years previously? Was the uncritical and even fawning Obama coverage by the mainstream media during the election (and don’t you dare try to deny it if you hope to maintain a molecule of credibility) your idea of accurate informing of the public? They were informed and smart two years ago but ignorant and dumb now? (And by the way, Fox News and Drudge were as popular then as they are now.) I need to write about this foxnewsphobia some day, but surely it must be clear at this point that Fox News whips the daylights out of its competitors (and the Drudge Report whips the daylights out of Huffington Post and and the like) because their reportage corresponds more closely with what their viewers perceive as reality than does the output of the now-suspended Keith Olberman, the clownish Chris Matthews, NPR, Katie Couric, David Gregory, the New York Times, and so on ad infinitim? (And I’m not a big fan of O’Reilly/Hannity/Fox & Friends.)

          -- The Democrats misunderstood their 2008 election victory as a rejection of conservatism, when it was actually (i) a rejection of Bush for his own abandonment of conservative principles (like GHW Bush before him), combined with (ii) some Bushy personality and communications deficiencies, (iii) a very weak Republican ticket, and especially (iv) a misleading media and self-portrayal of a charismatic, eloquent, historically-inevitable black guy.  Check.

          -- Voters felt betrayed; Obama ran as a bipartisan moderate but was neither from the get-go.  Check. He and his acolytes were so impressed by his margin and the tsunami of praise that swept him into office that he figured voters weren’t interested in him compromising the left agenda he’d coyly concealed during the campaign. This was error.

          -- The President fibs. He is mendacious about many things, including (probably) his personal composition of Dreams of My Father, but most vividly about the health care bill and the existence of “shovel-ready jobs” ready to be stimulated by the stimulus.  Check.

          -- The Democrats were thuggish in enacting their unpopular stuff, strongarming it through Congress using legislative logrolling that crossed the line into spectacularly brazen bribery.   Check. Special provisions favoring five states, unions, trial (plaintiffs’) lawyers. Obama was elected to change the way Washington did business, but his allies put on the most astoundingly craven display of legislative corruption in recent memory to enact the healthcare bill.

          -- Joe Biden.   Check. The gift that keeps on giving, although Nancy Pelosi is giving him a run for his money. Tell me true: Hypothetical: Big-time terrorist attack on the US. President drops dead of a heart attack. You would prefer the vice-president be: (a) Joe Biden or (b) Dick Cheney. Mm-hmm.

          -- The President’s overseas apology/bowing tours exhibited his discomfort with the idea of American exceptionalism that most voters rightly embrace.   Check.

          -- The President doesn’t believe strongly in the international Islamist terror threat.   Check.

          -- The President doesn’t believe strongly in the dangers represented by illegal immigration from Mexico. Check and double-check. With Mexico dissolving into criminal anarchy, and with that culture osmotically creeping into the American border states, the Obama administration sues Arizona for its efforts to do something about it. Nice.

          -- This historic black racial-healer president tolerated, if not promoted, a racist Justice Department under Eric Holder, and appointed a self-racially-identified candidate, and a mediocre one at that (Sonia Sotomayor), to the Supreme Court.   Check. The Republicans will continue to press for an investigation of Holder’s disgraceful stewardship of Justice. And now we’re stuck with Sotomayor. Just this week a memorandum to the President from constitutional and Supreme Court expert Laurence Tribe (a liberal, by the way, who has long hoped for an appointment to the High Court himself) surfaced in which he advised his former student Obama respecting this self-proclaimed “wise Latina”: “Bluntly put," Tribe wrote the President, "she's not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is[.]”  But nothing was going to stop POTUS from appointing a Hispanic judge.

          -- The President dithered for months over what to do in Afghanistan, and ended up neither getting out nor giving his generals what they wanted.  Check. In fairness, no one is entirely sure what to do in Afghanistan at this point. But Obama, after having identified this as Job One during the campaign, seems to have lost interest.

          -- Voters did not like it when the President, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and other Democrats repeatedly talked down to them, accusing them of narrow-mindedness, misunderstanding, misperception of their own interests, ignorance, fearfulness, rejecting of science (!), and the like.   Check. This is a variation of “we didn’t communicate our programs well enough.” What they really want to say is – hell, what they actually did say was, in one form or another -- “the American voter has not understood our communications – or has unreasonably declined to accept our assurances – on the benefits of government takeover of healthcare, bailouts, cap-and-trade, increased regulation, promotion of trade unionism, etc.”   Unstated finish:  because they're too dumb, afraid, etc.  Well, sure, sometimes people are dumb.  But they almost always know when they're being insulted.

          -- The President vacationed and golfed even more frequently than recent presidential champs in this regard.  Check. The President and FLOTUS definitely love to party and vacation. Can’t blame them for that, really. But in the midst of an economic downturn, it just doesn’t play well.

          -- Barack Obama isn’t all that. Charm and eloquence emanating largely from those twin slanty transparent screens that seem always to show up at his public appearances.   Sorry, no check. The President remains a very impressive man in many respects.

And I’ll pick up with this thought in the next article.

Overall, however, not so terribly surprising that the electorate got out the brooms.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Consider the Buckeye

One of the benefits of a childhood spent reading everything that was remotely within my reach is that I can now dazzle (and bore, and annoy) my grandchildren with my knowledge of the natural world. I bring them what we call “treasures” – fossils, minerals, shark jaws, stuff I find on the ground.

So I was thinking of them when on a downtown Dallas sidewalk, I spied what looked like a leaf, but which I knew was not. It was a butterfly with its wings folded up, only its dull brown underwings visible. It was not dead, but it was not at all well. I was able to pick it up by its wings, and was rewarded with the sight of the beautiful wings of a buckeye – my favorite butterfly from all those years ago, narrowly edging out the mourning cloak. 

Buckeyes are not extremely rare, but they are hard for casual strollers to notice because they’re usually on the fly, and they’re mostly brown – they’re not distinctive, and barely visible, when they’re on the move.  One of my childhood recollections is being amazed by its beauty in my triple-digit rereadings of Herbert S. Zim's Golden Nature Guide for "Insects," and one day seeing a nondescript brown butterfly whiz by.  I stuck out my net and -- I couldn't believe it -- a buckeye.  It was like accidentally bumping into a celebrity in line at the grocery store.

I didn’t have any way to transport the buckeye, but I decided if it were still there when I came back from where I was going, I would take it back to the office.  Turns out, it was, so I put it in the bag with my purchase. I wasn’t seriously impacting biodiversity here. The insect was obviously in distress – I suspect it was hit by a car and simply stunned beyond recovery. It wasn’t going to last long on that sidewalk. It would either roast, or a bird would get it. It flapped when I picked up, but showed no interest in flying away. I took it back and put it on an Aeron side chair, pretty confident that it would not fly away, and it didn’t. I sent out an email to the firm for people to come see, and it had a number of curious admirers. It expired about a day later. I kept it and brought it home for the grandboys, who were politely impressed. Here it is:

This little shot doesn’t do justice to its beauty. I have a point I want to make about the buckeye and about the world, but I need to show you a more accurate portrait of the creature.

Look at those colors. Even this better shot doesn’t do justice to the depth of the midnight blues and purples, the cocoa brown, and those amazing burnt orange sergeant’s stripes.  Look at this remarkable combination:

So I wonder whether you have the same thought about them that I do: They’re perfect. They don’t offend the eye, just the opposite – they’re delightful, they’re in harmony, they’re not fighting with one another despite their distance from one another on the spectrum.

And that got me to thinking, so let me invite you to consider along with me: Think of the most colorful, wildly piebald living thing you can imagine. I’m thinking of the wildest koi I’ve seen in my recent koi education. I think of the coral reef creatures I watch on those documentaries on the teevee. Any number of blooms. Jungle birds. Can you think of a single one that leaves you with the same impression you get when you see someone wearing mismatched colors? Some of us have better color sense than others, and I am sadly among the others (although I’m getting better under The Memsahib’s tutelage).   So I address some of the more discerning among you:  Have you ever seen a color scheme in nature that displeased your eye?

I suggest to you that this is not a result of sentimentality about nature – the feeling that if it’s “natural,” it must be beautiful – but because we connect instinctively with the world around us. That is, what our senses collect from the natural world define for us what “works” when we judge beauty that we have tried to create for ourselves.

It’s just a little buckeye, only a little more than an inch across. It met with some misfortune that put it in my path, unable to fly. Perhaps it doesn’t bear the weight of my mullings. But I thank it nonetheless; would like to assure it that its life acquired meaning as people who would never ever see a buckeye paused to admire it; and hope that it finds a place with the boys’ other treasures, at least until its colors fade and its scales slough away and it crumbles utterly, all as must come to pass in the natural world.

*     *     *
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

If You Only Read Stuff You Know, You’ll Never Know Anything Else; or, A Summer Heavy Reading Roundup

Last spring I overdosed on true crime, thrillers, westerns, and other high-calorie, low-nourishment books. I reviewed some of them on this site. But I needed a break. Herewith some quick-hit reviews of my stouter fare from recent months, probably not to everyone’s taste.  But you never know -- something may strike a chord.  I was going to write a separate article about the Nussbaum book and probably should have, but once I got started  .  .  .  .   Anyway, here's some gruel for thought:

Truth: A Guide
Simon Blackburn

Every so often I read a book that’s way over my head, one I could never hope to understand in full. I do so deliberately, and I’ve done it ever since I was a little kid. Even though I slog through concepts that I couldn’t repeat back to you five minutes later, I’ve always felt that a little something sticks. More important, this exercise reminds me there is so much out there that I don’t know and don’t understand, but there are people out there who aren’t frauds who do understand it.  I even try to read a book about math or modern physics at least one a year.

Our first book here falls in this category of stuff I don’t really get but feel elevated by having read it. It is a survey of philosophical attitudes towards the concept of truth. Blackburn examines the relativist and the absolutist points of view and all shades in between and surrounding them. I was doing pretty well until the chapter on Nietzsche. Then my eyes glazed over and I had to switch into hope-some-of-this-sticks mode. Wittgenstein, Rorty, Kant, Hume, and many others stroll across the stage.  On the theory-of-truth scale, Blackburn is somewhere on the absolutist side of the dial but not all the way over, as am I.  Or at least I think I am -- books like this have the salutary effect of rattling one's certitude.

What did I learn? You’ll have to wait for my book.

Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy
Yuval Levin

A slender book, but a rich one. Levin examines the relationship between the enterprise of scientific inquiry and ordered liberty. His point is that in general, science is engaged in a search for knowledge, and that it is aimed at improving our lot generally. That aim is one shared by elected politicians.

He accordingly suggests that government may have some role in how science is conducted. That sounds scarily repressive of free inquiry, but Levin seeks to show that we need not fear legislation on subjects such as stem cell research and the like.  (NOTE:  I am, in general, opposed to such legislation.)   Contrary to caricatures of Neanderthalic Tea Party types, Levin believes that the Left is generally less supportive of science than popularly believed, and the Right more so. It is a humane and careful analysis.

The Age of Wonder
Richard Holmes

This history of the “Second Scientific Revolution” in England that took place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was an unalloyed pleasure. It focuses on a handful of the most prominent scientists and explorers, focusing on Joseph Banks, the South Pacific explorer who went on to become the head of the Royal Society and whose influence spans the period; William Herschel, the German immigrant who made astonishing astronomical discoveries with his self-designed telescopes, including a 50-inch (that’s the diameter of the concave mirror that collects and focuses the light) whopper that was 40 feet long, although he discovered Uranus with a much smaller one; and Humphry Davy, the brilliant chemist who, among other scientific advances, invented the Davy Lamp, which greatly reduced the threat of coal mine explosions. There is a fascinating chapter of Europe’s obsession with ballooning. Especially welcome is Holmes’s attention to the contribution of female scientists and patrons, especially Hershel’s long-suffering sister Caroline.  She was a prolific comet-finder and recognized then and now as an important scientist in her own right. 

I see in the Amazon reviews for this book that some readers have noted some scientific errors.  I found one myself, a use of "billions" when he should have said "millions."  Minor stuff.  It's a first-rate scientific history about a critical period in the intellectual development of the West.

Speaking of the West  .  .  .

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900
Andrew Roberts

This one’s a bit of a cheat: I’m only about two-thirds through it, but it deserves a place here. The title hearkens back to Winston Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which ends at 1900. You will not read a lot of modern histories like it, as it is unapologetically friendly to the ascendance of Britain (and its dominions) and America.  Roberts also devotes attention to former British colonies like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.   These days you’ll seldom find a book of any genre, much less a scholarly work, that:

  -- has some kind words for colonialism;

  -- expresses some sympathy for the Treaty of Versailles;

  -- is decidedly unromantic about Ireland; and

  -- takes the position that not all civilizations are created equal, and that the civilization represented by the English-speaking peoples is mainly responsible for what progress and peace we find in the world today.

Amazing passages on the murder required to sustained communist regimes worldwide, the creation of the British welfare state, the loyalty and sacrifice of British commonwealth countries during both world wars (Ireland excepted), and the relative benignity of such repression and discrimination as is from time to time found in the English-speaking countries. Coming in for special condemnation is the liberal intellectual after World War II, whose blindness to (and sometimes, outright lying in support of) the horrors of Stalinism and Maoism, and contempt for political systems based on individual and economic liberty, makes you wonder what pathology could possibly be the source of such eloquent ignorance.

It’s lively, mixes anecdote and big-picture data-gathering, and is rather convincing. If you want a pretty hairy-chested view of world history during the Twentieth Century, this is your meat.  (Approx. 650 pages of text.)

Not for Profit
Martha Nussbaum

Your Cool Hot Center tries to identify the good and the bad about the Left and the Right. Professor Nussbaum holds some claim to being the world’s foremost feminist scholar, which is kind of like having the biggest . . . . nope, won’t go there. In fact, calling her a “feminist scholar” somewhat demeans her, as her academic and philosophical interests range far and wide, and she writes interestingly on many of them. She is also a fine prose stylist. I’ve read many of her articles with pleasure, but this is the first book I’ve tackled.

I agree entirely with her thesis that the decline of support for the humanities in our educational system from top to bottom – but especially in the universities – is deplorable. I also agree with her that a firm grounding in the universal human values examined in art, literature, and history promotes democratic values.  In fact, I believe she would agree with me that such an education nourishes the mindset necessary for informed, common-sense decsionmaking. She argues pretty convincingly that the humanities are being reduced at the expense of programs that purport to prepare students for the world of business and competition. Hence the title.

But there is something a bit odd about her argument. She doesn’t spend much time demonstrating the link between the humanities and a robust democracy – but I didn’t mind that, since I agree with her anyway. What struck me as odd is what she asserts the humanities are mainly good for.  I was cruising along nicely with her until this sentence stopped me:

“These abilities are associated with the humanities and the arts: the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.” (At 19.)

Gosh, I guess I don’t disagree with any of those, and I even think I’d also give pride of place to “the ability to think critically,” but the rest – I dunno. Numbers 2 and 3 aren’t wrong, but I sure wouldn’t have put them in my top few benefits of studying the humanities.  "Transcend local loyalties" -- hmm, well, I suppose it isn't a strict necessity that a humanist believe in American exceptionalism, so OK.  But this odd little list is the first tip that she's up to something.

The reader isn’t puzzled for long. Professor Nussbaum gives up the game less than ten pages later when she writes sarcastically about what she calls “education for economic growth”:

“But care must be taken lest the historical and economic narrative lead to any serious critical thinking about class, about race and gender, about whether foreign investment is really good for the rural poor, about whether democracy can survive when huge inequalities in basic life chances obtain.” (At 28.)

This is what Professor Nussbaum means by the humanities as a requirement to a vigorous democracy. She means humanities that stress the ideology of victimization and redistribution (i.e., “equality”) over the primacy of the individual and political freedom.  (Really -- the humanities should spend some time on "critical thinking" on "whether foreign investment is really good for the rural poor"?  I would be interested in knowing whether Professor Nussbaum thinks that it is or isn't, and what important literature or art takes this as its theme.)   She’s not shy about this – she congratulates the American public on the election of Barack Obama as having “opted for a group committed to greater equality in health care and a greater degree of attention to issues of equal access to opportunity generally.” (I'm sure she'd like a clawback on that one, as it is now apparent that most of the Democratic Party and all of the Left (and a lot of Republicans, too) completely misunderstood Obama's victory.  She later bemoans Obama’s apparent support for growth-friendly educational programs.  The poor guy just can't stop disappointing his admirers.)

This leftish view of the value of the humanities to democracy may be the reason that Professor Nussbaum places sole blame for their decline on the ascendancy of more employment-friendly studies. While I do not disagree with her that this is a factor, I suggest that another reason, which is not mentioned in Professor Nussbaum’s analysis, is that way too many humanities departments have rendered themselves jokes by their politicized emphasis on exactly the issues she thinks crucial, those being race, class, and identity orientation generally.  Not to mention the Poststructuralist/Postmodernist/Deconstructionist rubbish (Derrida, Foucault, Rorty, that crowd) that is the tenure-enforced philosophy in so many humanities departments today.  Nobody with a lick of sense takes it seriously, but university humanities departments are shot through with it.  It is small wonder that such value-free university literature studies (in particular) are regarded as largely irrelevant both by students and those who interact with them after graduation.  You can call it "humanities" if you want, but very little of it connects up with what most humans perceive about their own condition.

So – a legitimate concern on the part of Professor Nussbaum, and a very interesting and readable book (her passages on her experiences with the Tagore school in India are fascinating).   But she exhibits the myopia about what ails modern humanities education that one sees too often from its most celebrated contemporary representatives, and her argument is undercut by her notion that democracy is best served by using instruction in the humanities to heighten race/class/gender/you-name-it awareness.

Yeah, like we need more of that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Was the Vatican Soft on Nazism? An Exclusive Report on Some Intriguing New Evidence

It's the dream of every blogger to come up with something resembling a scoop, since we’re usually relegated to commenting on other people's news-gathering. But today, my Cool Hot Centrists, I have for you what amounts to something of a news flash. It will mainly engage persons interested in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century, the relationship of the RCC to the Nazis, the history of the Third Reich – and, of contemporary interest, the current campaign to declare Pope Pius XII a saint. It centers on a fascinating photograph recently discovered by an attorney looking for something else entirely, and his subsequent investigation into what he found.

Let me declare my interest. The attorney is Stephen H. Galebach, lately of Medford, Massachusetts. Steve was my college roommate for three years at Yale and a good friend in all the years since. He contacted me when he discovered this photo and asked me to comment critically on an essay he had written about it. I did so, extensively, and corresponded with Steve on my concerns with his text. I have sent him a few items I found online that relate to his research. His questions – and conclusions -- are entirely his own.

Galebach has discovered a photograph of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Luis Copello, that purports (I use this cautionary verb for reasons I’ll get to) to show him blessing a Nazi flag during the Eucharistic Congress held in Buenos Aires in 1934.   The photo appeared in a Nazi newspaper in 1935. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933.  Archbishop Copello was elevated to Cardinal in 1935.  Here is the link to Galebach's preliminary disclosure of this picture and his research into it.  I believe there will be more to come in scholarly publications.

Here is the photo:

Caption:  "An Archbishop Blesses the Swastika Banner"

You can examine a larger version by clicking on the image.

Galebach believes that the photograph may raise important questions about the attitude of one Eugenio Pacelli toward German National Socialism. At the time, Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He was present in Buenos Aires at the Eucharistic Congress, the guest of Archbishop Copello, when this photo was allegedly taken.

That same Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII. Pius XII's attitude toward the Nazis is the subject of vast and bitter controversy into which I do not propose to delve. More importantly to Galebach’s inquiry, Pius XII is currently going through the Vatican's process to determine whether he should be declared a saint.

Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII

Now . . . my headline up there is a bit of a tease.  Galebach's initial disclosure on his website is not nearly so sensational, but instead reproduces the photograph and poses ten questions, to which he appends some (but by no means all) of the research he has conducted to date, modestly acknowledging that further research is needed. He saves to last this question: “How, in the final analysis, does this evidence reflect on Eugenio Pacelli [the future Pius XII] and the pope of the time, Pius XI?” To this question he appends no additional information or speculation.

Galebach is not anti-Catholic. Quite the opposite. He is an adult convert to Roman Catholicism who takes his devotion with utter seriousness. He served with prize-winning distinction in the Marine Corps (I personally witnessed Kingman Brewster, Jr., Yale's rather liberal President at the time, wincingly present Steve with something his roommates (Chuck Casper, Alan Ringel, and I) called the Grunt of the Year award for his Officer Candidate School achievements at Quantico). After Yale and the Marines he went to Harvard Law School and was an editor on the Harvard Law Review. He served as a policy advisor in the Reagan White House and Department of Justice and has been in private practice since then. Nor is Galebach a fundamentalist crazy – he discovered the photograph in question in the course of handling World War II restitution claims for American descendants of the Czech "shoe king" Jan Bata who was attacked in the Nazi press as a Jew.  He has written extensively on the abortion issue, and has proposed creative approaches to the prosecution of RCC pedophile priests. And, lest his Roman Catholic bona fides remain in doubt, he and his lovely wife Diane have ten children. QED.

My friend, Steve Galebach

(I am not Catholic and have no interest in whether Pius XII is declared a saint.  I have studied the history of the Third Reich but know almost nothing about the scholarship over whether the Vatican closed its eyes to Nazi atrocities.)

To the best of Galebach's ability to determine, no researcher – nobody at all – has ever noticed the existence of this photograph since its appearance in Germany in 1935. And here I must remark on the first important question raised by this photograph: Is it real? That is, is it a true representation of what it purports to be? Did the act it portrays take place? If so, then it is every bit as important as Galebach expects that it is, and it raises all of the other questions he presents. To his credit, the question of the photo’s authenticity is the first one he tackles.

Galebach found the photograph on page 5 of a microfilm version of a July 1935 issue of Der Stűrmer, the virulently anti-semitic Nazi newspaper published by the notorious Julius Streicher, eventually convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremburg and hanged in 1946.  (His hanging was botched -- he suffered considerably before he was finally dispatched.)   Any resemblance between Der Stűrmer and a real newspaper is probably limited to its use of newsprint. It contained mainly anti-Jewish propaganda, incredibly lurid, and by no means a reliable source for any kind of information. So the begged question is critical: Did it really publish a photograph accurately portraying a Roman Catholic archbishop blessing a Nazi flag at an international conference in 1934? 

Der Stűrmer; Julius Streicher

Many questions spring to mind;

--   Is that really Archbishop Copello?  (Probably.)
--   Was the image manipulated to create a false image?
--   Why was this 1934 photo not published until 1935 (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why did the Nazis make no other use of this photo (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why didn't the Vatican or any of its German representatives take any notice of the photo or the event it purports to show (to anyone's current knowledge)?
--   Why did it only appear on page 5 of Der Stűrmer?
--   Why have no scholars noticed this photograph or reported on the event it purports to show (to Galebach's current knowledge)?

Galebach is a private citizen. Although trained as a scholar at Yale, he has neither the time nor the resources to travel the world checking original sources or poring through German or Argentine libraries.  (He is fluent in German, but not Spanish; he relies on one of his accomplished sons for the latter.)  He is accordingly required to reason from negative evidence – other than the facial appearance of the photo itself, he is limited to arguing that there is no reason to believe that it is inauthentic. He presents a fair number of arguments against inauthenticity, and some of them are provocative and even persuasive, but in the end it will probably be left to full-time investigators to determine whether this photograph appearing in a notorious Nazi propaganda organ portrays an event that actually took place, and whether the accompanying text in Der Stűrmer (which Galebach details) describes it accurately. I should add that Galebach has not had access to original newsprint copies of Der Stűrmer, so the preliminary question is whether the primary source is accurately reproduced in the microfilm copy Galebach examined. For what it’s worth, I lean about 55% toward authenticity. If I were going to fake a picture like this, I don’t think I would have put a kid at the edge of the frame; that unusual image gives the thing just the slightest whiff of legitimacy.  (That the figure on the far right is a child is clearer on the larger versions of the photo.  On the other hand, the other officials Der Stűrmer reported to be present at the event are not shown.)  It’s the threshold question, and you can bet that when Galebach’s find becomes generally known, lots of historians with a stake in Roman Catholic and Third Reich history -- and Pius XII’s legacy -- will be looking into this topic with considerable verve.

The photo is of interest even if it is fake.  At a minimum, it demonstrates the Nazi Party's interest in demonstrating that its legitimacy, and maybe even its publicly-known goals, were endorsed by the Vatican.

If the consensus is that the photo is the goods, then look out. A ceremony of this significance taking place while Archbishop Copello was hosting the most influential of Vatican officials, Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, soon to become Pope Pius XII, during a Eucharistic Congress of enormous importance to Roman Catholics worldwide, will focus renewed attention on the question of Pius XII’s attitude toward the Third Reich during his papacy.   (Not to mention that of Pius XI, pope at the time of the photograph.)   And that, in turn, may influence the views of Roman Catholic churchmen on the current question before the house – is Pius XII a saint?

And folks, unless you know Steve Galebach – you read it here first.

Check out his site.  Here it is again.

*     *     *

Follow Your Cool Hot Center on Twitter: @CoolHotCenter

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sorry I've been away.  Will be up with a new article shortly, and hope to get back to the seamless flow of tasty observations soon. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Victor Davis Hanson Explains it All for You

Here is a brilliantly compressed summary of why the Obama administration has fallen so far so fast.  It isn't talk radio, it isn't Tea Party demagoguery -- it has been a combination of pre-election snake oil and post-election misunderstanding of what the voters were saying and why.

And a not-tiny dose of old-fashioned pride, that of the variety that goeth before a fall.

VDH is one of the best, and this one's a pearl.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Memo to Democrats: Fox News Is Not Causing Your Problems

Matt Drudge is.

Yeah, that guy with the hat.

The Drudge Report is not entirely in the pocket of conservatives, or even of Republicans. The site conducted a widely-noted flirtation with Hillary Clinton when she was running for president, and was not a particular friend of the McCain campaign. In fact, the Clinton campaign leaked news items to Drudge, according to a report in The New York Times, if you can believe that.

However, since the election Mr. Drudge’s selection of news items to headline and highlight has been severely slanted against the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats.

Today provides an excellent example. He has chosen to highlight Stephen Colbert’s disastrous appearance before a House immigration subcommittee at the invitation of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D.-Cal.). His leering visage appears above Drudge’s headline of the moment “THE COLBERT CONGRESS.” The upper left list of related links reads as follows:

       ...tries to enter images from his colonoscopy into congressional record
       Sarcastically Argues For Farm Workers...
       Makes 'Gay Iowans' Joke...
       Gets 7 Armed-Guard Escort...
       Shock: Even DC reporters declare Colbert to be out of line...

Stephen Colbert testifying before Congress today

Appearing to confirm, as though confirmation were needed, the thoroughgoing unseriousness of the Democratic congress in considering serious issues.

But, you may say, surely Mr. Drudge, one guy who offers no opinions of his own and a website devoid of content, just a bunch of links, cannot be as influential as Fox News and its popular line-up throughout the day.  And it is true that there is only a very little original reportage on the site – less, it seems to me, than there used to be (during the Lewinsky scandal, for example).

Well, let’s take a look. Bearing in mind that I’m not a savvy interpreter of ratings or website hits, the raw numbers nevertheless strike me as extremely interesting.

The website TV by the Numbers keeps track of cable news ratings and viewership numbers. It reports that on Thursday, September 23, Fox News’s viewership looked like this:

       Daytime: 1,177,000
       Prime time: 2,285,000
       25-54 daytime: 299,000
       25-54 prime time: 574,000
       35-64 daytime: 555,000
       35-64 prime time: 1,070,000

While Fox News far, far outstrips each of CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and HLN in viewers, if you add up the viewers of those demonstrably liberal outlets (with the possible exception of HLN, formerly CNN Headline News and CNN2) in the various categories, you will find that they are roughly equivalent to Fox News’s viewership. (So, as a stand-alone proposition, query whether Fox News has a disproportionate effect on the nation’s cable news viewers. A topic for another day.)

In any event, certainly a lot of folks watching conservative old Fox News.

Down in the far bottom right of The Drudge Report, where folks seldom venture, there is a list of statistics for visitors to the site. As I sit here composing, the number of visitors for the past 24 hours is:


Or well over ten times Fox News’s primetime viewership, and, even assuming that the daytime and primetime viewers are entirely different people, almost eight times its total viewers.

Well yeah, you say, but TV news has a much greater impact than internet news.

That it might. And those 27 million includes clickers from all over the world, from places where Fox News does not appear. But I had a feeling that Drudge drives a lot of what cable news ends up highlighting during its broadcast day. I went in search of support, and I found the following fascinating series of quotes in an article by Matthew Felling appearing on October 23, 2007 on, of all places, the CBS News website. Here is a sample from several observers of political reportage:

"The most interesting part about Drudge's reach is how it speaks to the laziness of many reporters and cable television, in particular. You can rest assured that, once a story is linked to on Drudge, it will be on MSNBC, Fox, CNN and the rest."

"Drudge has an enormous effect on political media – primarily on the shallower variety, like cable TV and some daily newspapers. To some extent it's just because he (and his helpers) obsessively scan the wires and other media, plus he has a million tipsters, so he's often the first to have some good new story. So people check him a lot because he's often the first to bring something small but important to a larger audience and that's a valid service. But there's also some completely irrational way in which he's driven media coverage—again, especially cable TV—which I really think to some degree has to do with the psychological effect of his big screaming tabloid headlines."

"I think Matt Drudge has tremendous influence inside and outside the media. It's no secret that his site is monitored in network newsrooms. What he includes, how he writes his headlines, and the stories he links to, can affect what shows up on the air. And the campaigns know it. The strategists see the value of getting a story on Drudge, which can then end up on cable or broadcast news shows."

"I think Matt Drudge has tremendous influence inside and outside the media. It's no secret that his site is monitored in network newsrooms. What he includes, how he writes his headlines, and the stories he links to, can affect what shows up on the air. And the campaigns know it. The strategists see the value of getting a story on Drudge, which can then end up on cable or broadcast news shows."

"There is no doubt that Drudge has become a force in news-media decision-making. In my experience, many talk-show hosts – including Rush – often read from Drudge on the air, making it a national bulletin board. I'm guessing that media titans now see a story splashed across Drudge as a story that will be harder to ignore, a story that's going to be "water-cooler buzz," although few have water coolers they stand around. Stories that are 'blessed' by Drudge are more likely to be noticed by major media."

So, lefties, if you’re looking for a villain, don’t start with that crew on Fox & Friends in the morning, the succession of blond anchors during the day, or O’Reilly and Hannity at night.

Because -- putting aside your unmeritorious political positions -- your public relations troubles start with Matt Drudge.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do Y'All Know How Bad Things Are in Greece?

Michael Lewis does. He’s the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and, most recently, a great book on the Wall Street meltdown awhile back, The Big Short. He’s got an article in the recent Vanity Fair on the destruction of the Greek economy called "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds."  

I recommend that you read the whole astounding article. Here is an excerpt:

In addition to its roughly $400 billion (and growing) of outstanding government debt, the Greek number crunchers had just figured out that their government owed another $800 billion or more in pensions. Add it all up and you got about $1.2 trillion, or more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek. Against $1.2 trillion in debts, a $145 billion bailout was clearly more of a gesture than a solution. And those were just the official numbers; the truth is surely worse. “Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

The Trojan Horse -- beware of gifts bearing Greeks

I do not wish to suggest that the United States is likely to become like Greece anytime soon. I do suggest that democracies who wish to remain democracies pay some heed to the growth of the public sector. Which is set to explode under the policies of the current President. The last couple of Republican presidents didn’t do us any favors in this regard, either, so there is plenty of blame to go around.

I have nothing against the Greek. I thank him for much of what has become Western Civilization, which is really an excellent civilization. A first-rate civilization, and much of it started with the ancestors of this beautiful people.

But I am telling you, Cool Hot Centrists, there is something in the human condition that inspires its constituents to say to themselves, if we are promised something, we are entitled to it even if the keeping of that promise is devastating not only to our countrymen, but to the world into which our descendants will be born. You see it here in the demands of unions and all groups benefiting from the federal dole, which numbers are alarmingly large (although, thanks to a startlingly principled Republican Congress during the Clinton Administration, and Bill Clinton’s shrewd read of the American gestalt, is smaller than it could be).  You see it in the truly desperate condition of the California state government.

I don’t wish to be wearisome on the topic of our unsatisfactory President, I truly don’t. But Greece is the ultimate endpoint of the European Model of the role of government. It is a model that our President admires, at least if you take his advocacy of the present version – that is, the enacted version – of healthcare reform as evidence. The percentage of our economy accounted for by governmental activity – and that means persons employed by the federal government, and the taxes needed to support them and their benefits – is set to grow markedly under him.

The Democrats also seek to expand the influence of labor unions, as well as their ability to organize employees in businesses where their effect is unlikely to be any less baleful than their effect on the auto industry and local and state governments.

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio said this the other day:  "This election is nothing less than a referendum of our identity as a nation and as a people."  I have misgivings about the Tea Party, but this much they have absolutely right.

Think about it. Just think about it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do You Remember the Moment? No, Really, When Was It?

There are a lot of folks out there who still strongly support President Obama. There are also folks out there who thought him an irredeemable fraud from the moment of his nomination and before.

This article is not for them.

It’s for those who supported him and welcomed the Democratic hegemony that trailed him into office and now don’t like either one. It’s even for folks like me who didn’t vote for him but thought there was a fairish chance he would govern practically, somewhat like Bill Clinton; or folks (also a little like me) who found his stylish sophistication a welcome change that carried with the possibility for an enhanced American profile in the world. That, combined with bulletproof Democratic legislative majorities, guaranteed at a minimum that the era of extremely disappointing Republican rule was over.

My question for that rather large and growing cohort of Obama/Democrat apostates is – when did you know? What event finally convinced you that Obama and the Democrats (who were unanimously following his lead) had clearly broken faith with their promise and were not going to turn back to the center?

Here’s my example from the latest Bush administration. I’ll bet I share it with a lot of people who voted for G.W. a couple of times but gradually grew disgusted with his spending, his inattention to the military situation in the Middle East, and his failure to communicate clearly his . . . well, just about everything.

If there is one presidential gift that keeps on giving, it’s Supreme Court justice appointments. When Sandra Day O’Conner retired, President Bush’s base saw that rarest of opportunities to replace a mostly-unfriendly and at best unreliable vote with a much more solid jurist, an asset that could pay ideological dividends to the Republican core for years to come. There were many distinguished candidates, some of them women. But what did Bush do? He walked out of his office, spotted White House counsel Harriet Miers, said “you’ll do,” and walked right back in.

Harriet Miers and President Bush

It may not have been quite that casual – he might have run it by Karl Rove – but the decision couldn’t have been given much more care than that. It was a terrible pick. Miers and her views were unknown. She had crafted a successful but careful career as a Texas lawyer. Abortion, one of the most important issues to the base – no idea where she stood. No judicial experience. She was a woman for a “woman’s seat,” apparently her sole recommendation. Tokenism plus cronyism, sheesh. It was George W.’s equivalent to George H.W.’s reneging on his “read my lips – no new taxes” pledge. The Miers nomination pretty much proved to anyone still prepared to give Bush the benefit of the doubt that the man simply did not give a damn – or that if he did, he was giving altogether the wrong kind of damn.  The entire right and much of the Cool Hot Center revolted and Bush was humliated into withdrawing her nomination.  A far superior candidate (Samuel Alito) took her place.

Many pundits have speculated on the cause of President Obama’s breathtaking decline. (I hesitate to call it a “fall” – I’m not at all sure the guy won’t make a comeback, and sooner than anyone might think. He’s been formidable and can be again, especially if the Republicans continue their flirtation with Tea Party peckerwoods like Sarah Palin as serious presidential possibilities.) Amazingly, Obama is lazier than either Bush. But if he rallies, look out.) You hear a lot of chatter about the failure of the massive stimulus to create jobs, but I hold with those who believe the discontent runs much deeper – people feel defrauded generally, and they absolutely disbelieve the promises made for the President’s policies.

Yeah, but when did you know that the awfulness of O/Dems’ first year was only going to intensify? When did you know that they simply had to go?

I have a candidate.

I feel for President Obama just a little. (I mean, it’s really a tiny little feeling, itty bitty thing.) He put his legislative agenda in the hands of two of the least appealing political figures of our time: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  Pelosi is tough but not smart; Reid is – I don’t know, it just seems like the guy needs more sleep or maybe an adjustment to his spectacles prescription.

First Lady Michelle Obama demonstrates appropriate presidential obeisance to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

It was Pelosi who gave us that crystallizing moment on March 9, 2010. Heavens, let’s not take it out of context:

"You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

"But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

There it was, in one sentence, in one phrase. And this was not a casual misstatement or an offhand response to a reporter’s question. This appeared in remarks prepared for delivery to the Legislative Conference for National Association of Counties. Rep. Pelosi is proud of this statement.  She issued a press release and you can still find it on her website.  Now in fairness: If you read the whole statement, you might conclude that her intention here was to say that the blessings of healthcare reform will only be fully appreciated when it is enacted.

But recall that this statement was issued at a time when it had become apparent that legislators themselves in fact did not know what was in the healthcare bill, could not explain its operation, fled from questions about its contents, had to be bribed to vote for it (Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's shocking abandonment of princple was only a couple of months old) and had not, in fact, even bothered to dip into its 2,409 pages to discover the monstrous new bureacracy that would have charge of a huge chunk of the U.S. economy.    (Source: Republican Congressman Kevin Brady’s staff. If the accuracy of this chart has been challenged, I haven’t been able to find it. Brady has said that this is only a partial chart containing only about a third of the plan’s Medusan entanglements. (Actually, he didn’t use the phrase “Medusan entanglements.” That was, uh, me.))

So when Rep. Pelosi said that we have to pass it to find out what’s in it – you know, “away from the fog of controversy” caused by people asking to know what’s in it – she broadcast O/Dems’ fundamental contempt for the deliberative process. It showed their arrogance and indeed, the arrogance of contemporary liberalism, which is no more attractive or justifiable than the arrogance of the right personified in the bad old days by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove (who have in recent years somewhat repented of that attitude). It was disrespectful. And it was myopic – the O/Dems simply saw things wrong. They misread the results of the election. They misread the interest and attention span of the American public. The congressional Democrats misread the nature of Obama’s appeal (so did Obama). And they misread history and the experience of every country (and state – let’s not forget the failing Romneycare in MA) that has ever nationalized healthcare. And, of course, they didn’t even misread the law they passed – the horrors hidden in its labyrinthine prose (and folks, I know a little something about labyrinthine prose) are still being excavated, because they never read it at all.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) (top); Reptilicus (political affiliation unknown)

That was the moment for me. The contempt, the arrogance, the misunderstanding, the regular-style ignorance, and the intentional ignorance – folks, this is how the entrenched political elite thinks. Some Republicans, too. 

Get out the brooms.  And keep them close at hand for 2012.

Nancy Pelosi, President Obama's deluded handmaiden, has done us the favor of explaining the Tea Party in seventeen words.