Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mubarak?

Oh oh, I feel a ramble coming on. I’ll try to keep the paragraphs short so at least it will be easy to read. But ramble on with me for a bit here.

I think the current situation in Egypt presents Americans with one of the central moral dilemmas of our time. One that we’ve seen repeated frequently, and to which we have been frequently accused of having selected the wrong answer. I’m going to try to work it out for myself onscreen here. I’ll be grateful for your company.

The present dilemma is very close to the problem of the “right-wing dictatorship” that the US has struggled with for decades. It is a problem for both liberals and conservatives. It is almost impossible to guess right. Think, for example, of the Shah of Iran. A dictator. And a friend to the U.S. in a part of the world where friends are few and far between. And a bulwark against fanaticism. The U.S. supported the Shah, antidemocratic though he may have been. Then came the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Mmm, maybe not such a bulwark. Shah out, Ayatollah(s) in. Iran now not only unfriendly, but close to a nuclear state, and a haven for anti-U.S. Islamist conspiracy.

So what to do this time around?

You got yourself a prominent Middle Eastern country, Egypt. It is a large country, and could hardly be more strategically located. It has been a prize in many a war.

The leader of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, is authoritarian (but not totalitarian), extremely corrupt, and anti-democratic. Oh, Egypt has elections, but they’re corrupt, too. He has ruled for around 30 years, since shortly after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Egypt’s people are very poor and oppressed. He qualifies as a dictator.

The assassination of Anwar Sadat

For themselves, Americans disfavor dictatorship and oppression, and favor democracy and self-determination. As do all peoples blessed with a history of personal freedom.

Egypt is around 90% Muslim. Some Egyptian Muslims, by no means all, are known these days as Islamists, fanatical totalitarian Muslims who want to impose Islam on the entire world, through violence if necessary. While Islamists are less active in Egypt than in some other Middle Eastern countries, they do tend to radicalize the societies in which they are active, through threats of violence against moderate Muslims, if not by the persuasiveness of their ideas.

And by the way, let’s review generally what Islamists want. They believe that a a Twelfth Imam is in hiding and will emerge to save the world after a period of unimaginable chaos throughout the world. The chaos is a necessary predicate to his appearance. The Twelfth Imam will then emerge to establish a worldwide – that includes us – caliphate in which all will live in peace. There’s more, but you get the idea. This isn’t just about local self-determination. It remains unclear, to me at least, what “moderate” Muslims expect to happen and whether they feel called upon to create the chaotic conditions necessary for the Twelfth Imam’s arrival.

There is a small but strong minority of Coptic Christians in Egypt. There has been some Muslim violence against them recently. Both Muslims and Christians have participated in the recent revolt.

Egypt is not now an Islamist state or notable as a hotbed of Islamist anti-Western conspiracy.

Egypt under Mubarak is not a threat to the United States.

Egypt has reached an accommodation with the Jewish state. I can’t tell you the details, but they’re at peace and have been for quite some time.

Given the opportunity to vote, Muslims sometimes install radical governments (Hamas in Palestine, Ahmadinejad in Iran) who are powerfully opposed to America and supportive of the violent spread of Islam. And sometimes revolution goes directly from secular despot to religious despot (the Shah of Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeini). (Iran, like Egypt, is nominally a democracy, but in name only – only those who have demonstrated unquestioned fealty to the theocracy are permitted on the ballot. Like when Saddam Hussein would win elections with almost 100% of the “popular vote.”)

Meet the new boss, worse than the old boss.

So as we view recent events in Egypt: What’s it gonna be?

Support Mubarak and “stability” in Egypt because it tends to suppress the spread of radical Islam, keep Israel safe, provide some security for local Christians, and maintain a generally pro-U.S. presence at that critical world intersection, at the cost of continued economic and political oppression of the Egyptian public accompanied by massive corruption?

Or support the people in their efforts to overthrow Mubarak and introduce some measure of self-determination into Egypt, with the risk that hostile Islamists will eventually take over, destabilize Jordan (also at peace with Israel), possibly also Saudi Arabia (which has condemned the revolution), ally with Iran, and greatly increase the radical Muslim threat worldwide?

The choice, in my view is a moral one: I understand that the following is reductive, but I think it is generally fair to say that the choice is between the short-term certainty of increased freedom for Egyptians (good) and the long-term likelihood of enhanced security for free peoples worldwide (also good)?

Well, I’m going to vote.

I vote for the people and freedom and revolution, for instability and the risk of spreading Islamist influence.

My reasons are not sentimental or a hearkening back to our own American Revolution that turned out so nicely.

-- (1) There’s the obvious: The likelihood of increased freedom and better conditions for Egyptians. Won’t happen overnight, but even in the short run hope is better than hopelessness.

-- (2) Mubarak is going to lose. He has not been effective in quashing dissent, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, nominally illegal but active in Egypt.

-- (3) Is a state with Islamist elements in the government – or expressly Islamist -- worse than one where the government professes cooperation with the U.S. but cannot control the corruption that allows Islamists to conspire under government protection in the intractable interior? Is Iran worse than Pakistan? Aren’t we better off with a government to target – a hostile government that can be credibly threatened with sanctions and the threat of military attack – than with a hypocritical government nominally cooperative with the U.S. that is completely ineffective at quashing the export of Islamic imperialist terror? Aren’t we better off with an enemy we can see than one we can’t?

If Islamism takes over a government as strong and stable as Mubarak’s has been for the past three decades, its face will be revealed even more dramatically for those who aren’t already convinced by events in almost every European country. Creeping Islamism is a palpable threat in France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands, where Sharia “law” threatens liberal Western values; the slightest criticism of radical Muslim totalitarianism calls forth violent demands for silence, and even murder.

-- (4) But I’m not that worried about an Islamist takeover. Unlike Iran, this does not appear to be an Islamic revolution. It is political and economic, with some Islamist participation. The military is strong and is a fair bet to form the new government, one not beholden to the clerics.

-- (5) Mubarak is pretty bad. Islamists are never going to be happy with the U.S., but we may make a few friends by being on the side of political freedom.

On 9/11, a phrase kept going through my mind: The Middle East needs to be seriously reordered. The United States, correctly in my view, began this process in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is true that much of its effort was incompetent, but at least we live in a society that allows us to say it. Whatever the Middle Eastern “street” may think, or claim to think, about the United States, they can see that the people of Iraq are struggling towards democracy, as difficult and fraught with danger and insecurity as that may be. I’m betting that the Egyptians will not trade Mubarak for a mullah, and that in the long run, it will continue to be a force for stability in the Middle East, only this time with a population having some voice in its future – and friends of the United States.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I'm Going to Miss Keith Olberman

I’m sorry that Keith Olbermann has left MSNBC.

WHAT? The worst newsman on TV?

Yes, I’ll miss him. Oh, I never watched him, except by accident whilst channel surfing looking for Third Reich documentaries, UFO documentaries, coral reef documentaries, and Errol Flynn movies. And we won’t miss him for long. Like Conan, he’s agreed to stay off TV for a few months, but some channel will surely pick him up for something or other.

I think TV news needs Keith Olbermann.

Oh, yeah, he’s awful. And don’t talk to me about Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and their colleagues. I don’t much care for them, either. But at least O’Reilly and Hannity (if not Beck ) can be counted on to air the other side of the issue with interviews with people with whom they disagree. Major political figures on both sides of the political spectrum sit down for interviews with O’Reilly. He shows up on programs where he can be expected to be attacked (The View, Letterman). Olbermann was a man of the left, he was always a man of the left, and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” was relentlessly, unrelievedly leftist.

[So how do I know that Olbermann didn’t interview persons with differing views? I don’t. I was not a viewer, so I did a little research. As nearly as I can tell, when he interviews Republicans, they tend to be pretty weak marks – Alvin Greene, the extremely improbable black Republican Senate candidate in South Carolina, and silly Republican Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle. He may have interviewed more credible conservatives, but I couldn’t find any reference to one. I can stand to be corrected on this point.]

[One more thing: When left/right content is examined in the cable news channels, Fox News consistently scores as the most balanced.]

So why do I regret his separation from MSNBC? A couple of reasons.

First, the left needs a televised place to gather. MSNBC is a perfectly good place for it, and with Comcast’s acquisition of the network, we might expect to see some moderation of its ideology. Too bad. With Olbermann gone, that leaves the clownish Chris Matthews, reliably liberal but not seriously regarded by much of anyone.

Why do we need a network devoted to advancing wrong thinking? My reason is partly selfish: With MSNBC out there, criticism of Fox News loses a fair amount of its sting. But also, this is, after all, The Cool Hot Center, and there is value to hearing from the loyal opposition. May be corny, but I believe in public debate. It’s too bad that it has to be rancorous, and I wish it weren’t, but better some mudslinging than only having one side represented. It leads to ideological flaccidity and dangerous self-certainty. We need some cross-sniping to keep the focus on the issues sharp. And let’s face it: A lot of Republicans and conservatives need to have their own rhetoric punctured and bad actors exposed. Olbermann and Jon Stewart were good at it.

Second, Olbermann personifies a lot of what is wrong with American liberalism. He’s smug. He’s sarcastic. He knows better than you. I liked having him on TV every night, reminding voters of what they don’t like about the Democrats and contemporary American liberalism generally.

So, I wish him well. I hope he gets a starring role in prime time elsewhere, although I’m not entirely sure where that would be. He is a talented broadcaster, I’ll give him that. He’s smart and quick. He’s still interested in sports – he worked one of the nighttime NFL broadcasts until MSNBC asked him to stop because it was interfering with his “Countdown” duties. And I have a recollection that he was a lot of fun to watch on ESPN with Dan Patrick. Maybe he’ll head back there, but I reckon that having had a taste of the spotlight on national issues, he won’t want to be pegged as just-a-sports-guy again.

How about a radio show, you know, on that liberal Air America network? Oh, wait.

Maybe MSNBC will release his greatest broadcasts on DVD, which the Republican National Committee can buy up and distribute in 2012.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm Not a Birther, but . . . .

.  .  .  hokey smokes, Bullwinkle.

I have always accepted the President's claim that he was born in Hawaii.  Partly because it seemed likely, and partly because if you're a "birther" you probably also have to hang out (on the Internet, at least) with the 9/11 "truther" lunatics.

It's an important issue.  If he was not born in the U.S. (given the other known circumstances of his birth, mainly his Kenyan non-citizen father), then he cannot be President of the United States.  There is no available interpretation of the Constitution and related U.S. statutes (8 U.S.C. sec. 1401, 1403) that would allow it, if I understand matters correctly.  His birth in the United States is, because of the other circumstances of his birth, a critical requirement.   If he was not born in the U.S., he would have no alternative but to resign, or be instantly impeached and removed. 

Yes, yes, even if that would result in President Biden.  That's another reason I'm not a birther.

So now, the State of Hawaii, or at least it's rambunctious governor, says that there is documentary proof, if not a gilt-edged birth certificate, that proves his birth in that lovely venue. But, says Hawaii, it can't release it because of a law forbidding release of birth info without the consent of the one claiming to have been born.

So I would expect the President to prepare a letter, certified, return receipt requested, to the Hawaii secretary of state authorizing her to release that instrument forthwith.

If he doesn't, then Congressional leaders should call upon him to do it. 

If he still doesn't, those leaders should investigate the circumstances of the President's birth, and subpoena it.  If it demonstrates his birth in Hawaii, we're done.  If not, we're back where we were.

Now, it must be said that the Constitution does not require a birth certificate or any documentation of any kind.    It only requires that its requirements be met, and there is more than one way to prove that.  If you're willing to take the word of Hawaii's governor that he knows Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, that's fine.  That's not nothing, that's evidence of birth.  It's not great evidence, but it's something.  Is it enough for something this important?  Not for me, but I'm willing to listen to all nondocumentary evidence of where the President was born.

The Baby Obama

I am very, very regretfully coming to the conclusion that this topic requires some kind of official inquiry, and I would be hopeful that Hawaii can be persuaded to part with what it claims to be definitive evidence on this subject.

Hey  .  .  .  do we have any baby pictures of Barack Obama taken outdoors?

Friday, January 21, 2011

GUILTY PLEASURES: "Army of One" (First of a Series)

‘Fess up. We all have them.

We all like certain artifacts of popular culture that we’re supposed to like: “The Bicycle Thief”; A Farewell to Arms; Rhapsody in Blue; “Guernica.”

But in the course of our movie-watching, book-reading, music-listening-to, or art appreciation, there are those works that will never make it onto any top ten lists of achievements in their field; face it, they’ll never make onto any top ten thousand lists.

They’re your guilty pleasures. Those works – I hesitate to call them “works of art” – that are dumb, sentimental, so-bad-they’re-good, obscure, one-hit, or just flat awful by most critical standards – that you nevertheless find irresistible for some reason or another, or maybe for just those reasons. Maybe you even feel sorry for them, or the people who made them. Some of them may even have artistic merit, perhaps even considerable artistic merit, but for some reason slipped through the cracks of public consciousness.

I’m going to tell you some of my Guilty Pleasures. And I’m going to start with the one that defines the concept for me: “Army of One,” originally released in 1993 as “Joshua Tree.”

We’ll start with the cast: Dolph Lundgren, my favorite (and, in my view, a very underrated) action star; George Segal, in his most scenery-consuming performance, which is saying something; Michelle Phillips, playing an improbably beautiful alcoholic; and a bunch of others: Kristian Alfonso, Bert Remsen, Khandi Alexander, Geoffrey Lewis.

Now, I confess, it has been some time since I have seen this movie, so I have jogged my memory on the plot with some adroit Googling. Actually, the plot hardly matters, so I’ll just give you the premise. Lundren is a truck driver wrongfully imprisoned for murder, framed by a police executive (Segal). He escapes from prison and seeks justice. He gets a girlfriend along the way – by kidnaping, I think (Alfonso) – who turns out to be a po-lice.  (Lundgren, so capable in many other ways in this film, selects for kidnaping (in order to get her car) a woman who has not yet put gas in the car, which obviously requires it, making it a bad candidate for an escape vehicle, especially when this kidnaping and car theft takes place in a parking lot in which several police cars are parked, with their police officer occupants standing around outside them.)  Other police chase him. I’m sure that Michelle Phillips had something to do with this plot, since I remember her, but I can’t find a plot summary quickly that even mentions her.  Wait, here she is nuzzling Dolph, who is acting.

Dolph Lundgren (left) and Michelle Phillips

The show starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with gobs of gratuitous violence and two truly unbelievable scenes.  (Well, the whole thing is unbelievable, but these scenes are unbelievable in context.) The first is a shootout between Lundgren and several dozen Uzi-wielding Asian bad guys, and even some cops, in a chop shop. It is entirely absurd – Lundgren apparently kills them all amid many explosions, fires, shooting, and paint. Paint? You’ll find yourself start to laugh and finally shake your head at the sheer over-the-topness of it all.

The second is the climactic car chase between a Ferrari F40 and a Lamborghini Countach. Surely they’re replicas; the budget for this thing couldn’t possibly have included the real things. It takes place largely in Joshua Tree National Monument, hence the film’s – excuse me, the movie’s – original name.  I tell you true -- it will legitimately put you in mind of the car chase from "Bullitt."  I mean, even the brief nudity uses replicas; it is pretty plain that they employed a body double for Ms. Alfonso, whose face is not shown during this -- yes, entirely gratuitous -- scene.

A warning: I saw it on TV and enjoyed it. I have read that the DVD version is not a good transcription, something to do with the aspect ratio, but I wouldn’t let that stop you if you’re looking for a couple hours of mindless pleasure, lots of asplosions, bad guys dying in large numbers, destruction of automobiles, dialogue so wooden you could burn it and make s'mores, and George Segal finally shutting up.

A final note on the fine, fine acting of Swedish muscle thespian Dolph Lundgren. If you haven’t encountered his splendid work before, you might recall him as villainous boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, or the former consort of Grace Jones, or the original Punisher (a likely future Guilty Pleasure). I don’t know exactly what the note on his acting should be, just that he’s fun.

Dolph Lundgren (left) and Kristian Alfonso

And now, a final confession, which I truly regret having to make.  While I urge you to seek out the entire work so that every absurd moment of it can be enjoyed without interruption and as the auteur – director Vic (don’t call him Victor!) Armstrong – intended in his artistic discretion, the truth is that you can watch the entire movie on You Tube. Just enter “army of one lundgren,” find “Part 1,” watch it, and you will see the successive “parts” show up on the right-hand side as related videos. And candor further requires me to disclose that the chop shop battle is in Parts 7 and 8, and the car chase is Parts 11 and mostly Part 12.

So get out your rosary, and check it out.

*     *     *

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The President's Arizona Speech . . .

. . . wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, pretty good in the respects that mattered. Oh, it was too long, and he’ll probably be blamed for trying to take credit for the miracle of Congressman Giffords’s eyes opening after his visit, but he said some very good things about avoiding the quick and easy conclusions, and asserted with some heat that the current state of political discourse was not responsible for this tragedy. For that he deserves credit.

President Obama after his Tucson speech.
A couple of other thoughts:

       (1) Was anyone else embarrassed at the behavior of the University of Arizona student body?  While most of the speakers' remarks were very fitting, the constant cheering and calling out of the students -- to my ear, mostly female, but I couldn't swear to it -- made the whole thing difficult to watch.  I was watching the Fox News feed of the speech and the accompanying commentary, which was complimentary to the President.  It was also very tolerant of the screaming and hollering that accompanied what was supposed to be a memorial.  In large measure, the cheering seemed to be a hysterically celebratory reaction to the presence of President Obama in Tucson. Not his fault, and in fact he himself seemed rather discomfited at the students’ inappropriate behavior. The Fox guys seemed to think it was – well, I’m not entirely sure what they thought, but they didn’t disapprove. If I were that university president, whatever his name was, I’d have been mortified.

       (2) The Obama Administration has certainly discovered religion. The President, Attorney General Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano each made extensive and specific references to the Bible and the Christian God.

       (3)  The President's oratorical skill has been much remarked on, and he is indeed a fine speaker.  But something has changed since he last burst on the scene with his notable appearance before the Democratic National Convention in 2004.   As I said, I didn't hear much to dislike in his speech lats night, and a couple of things to like, but it rhetorically it was a pretty ho-hum speech.  His delivery has been decidedly influenced by his reliance on teleprompters, and their absence last night may have had something to do with it.  (I think they were absent -- I didn't see them.)  He doesn't seem to know what to do with his head.  He swings it from side to side, as though moving from prompter screen to prompter screen.  And the content -- just OK.  I tried to imagine George W. Bush giving the same speech and I found it quite easy to do.  If Bush had delivered the line about the little girl splashing in rain puddles in heaven, he'd have been hooted off the screen by the MSM.

       I think there's one more thing -- he's lost his listeners' trust with his performance over the past two years.  Phrases that rang in 2008 sound insincere and scripted in 2011.  He's lost the benefit of the doubt, and it's been replaced by -- doubt.

       (4)  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – at the risk of making a political point as the winds of the Tucson storm continue to swirl around us – do not underestimate Barack Obama. He made points tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an uptick, maybe a material one, in his personal popularity.

       And 2012 is a century off.

So You Think You Want to Read A Novel About Vampires, Do You, Dearie?

I had always thought vampires were supposed to be evil, murderous, and scary.

Then, about 35 years ago, they became exquisitely sensitive and romantic and even beautiful in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and were portrayed by the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in the movies.  Now, with the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series and inevitable batch of movies, they have become even more exquisitely sensitive and romantic.   And still very beautiful, in a pasty, vacant, heroin-chic kind of way.  While I haven't read any of these books or seen the movies, I get the impression that they can even be protective of honkies, or whatever non-vampires are called, especially cute female ones. 

Well, dearie, I've got news for you.

Real novelistic vampires, and I mean vampires in real, red-meat, hard-core vampire novels, are, in fact, evil, murderous, and scary.  I know this because I have read a novel called Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, and I novelistically believe every word of it.  Any novel that begins with a guy working late one night in his dreary desk job when his slovenly, loathed boss unexpectedly arrives and before long transforms into a slobbering, furious, hungry werewolf, immediately establishes its credibility with me.  The book's central figure, Owen Pitt, improbably defeats his boss's efforts to kill and eat him, and this act of heroic self-defense comes to the attention of an organization -- the Monster Hunters of the title -- dedicated to suppressing outbreaks of the malign supernatural when they pop up around the world.  They recruit him to join their crusade against supernatural evil, and we're off and running.

Their efforts are not limited to vampires, oh no.  They also battle zombies, several species of demons, werewolves, wraiths, and the list goes on and on.  (There are also some helpful monsters of the elvish variety.)   The battles are violent and bloody -- although some of the bodily fluids involved aren't so much blood as they are goop. 

But here's what you need to know about vampires -- they're not just out for blood and, I guess, chicks these days -- they are planning world domination which involves the end of all other nonvanpiric forms of life (although what they would then feed on remains unclear).   These are bad, bad vampires, and were it not for various organizations like the Monster Hunters, our day of reckoning would have long since arrived. 

The book is great fun.  The Monster Hunters themselves are memorable, there's some romance, the usual friction with federal monster-hunting authorities, and the Monster Hunters organization itself has some deep, dark secrets of its own.  Oh sure, there's massive slaughter, astounding violence, exotic firearms, and serial dismemberment, but the tone is breezy and comedic, owing mainly to the character of first-person narrator Pitt.

One misgiving -- although it moves along briskly, the book is too long.  The mass market paperback version I read is 732 pages and could have easily stood to have lost about 150 of them. 

But if you're looking for a thoroughgoing escapist read -- that is, a read that will tell you absolutely nothing about yourself, the human condition, or the meaning of the universe, then put on your body armor and lay in a good supply of paper towels and Formula 409 and give this one a whirl.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tomorrow's Conventional Wisdom -- Today!! (CONCLUSION)

More freshly-minted thoughts – actually, getting a little musty since the election was awhile ago.

[PS:  I've made a strong resolution to post much more frequently in 2011 -- a larger number of shorter observations, interspersed with the longer essays.  I'll be grateful if you'll check in from time to time, even if you don't receive a notification that there's anything new up.  Many thanks.   -- Steve.]

It’s Not the Economy, Other than Secondarily.

I have seen polls where voters said that the economy was their main concern.

I partly believe this. When the pundits talk about the economy, they focus on jobs.

Jobs are important. Real important. If you don’t have one, then jobs are the most important thing.

But most people have jobs. And most people are not extremely fearful that they will lose their jobs. More people than usual, these days, but still a long way from most. I don’t mean to be snotty about this. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose one’s job because of economic conditions. (Heaven forbid one is also incompetent.)

I think that when most people say they are concerned about the economy, I think they mean they are concerned about what our political leaders on the federal, state, and local levels have done and are doing to it, and that it will be extremely difficult to undo. That is, they’re not worried about the current dip – they’ve seen dips followed by booms – they’re worried about the rest of their lives, worried that after years of spending and required future spending by both Republican and Democratic administrations (with the current administration the champeen), the damage will be long-lasting and hard to undo. Deficit spending, spending on nothing, spending on (certain) public employee unions for poor service, corrupt spending, spending to create and enforce niggly regulations, pork spending, earmark spending – and only a little of it actually classifiable as economically productive. So, so much of it is paying bureaucrats to do nothing more than move it around, something markets do so much better and cheaper and with less injury to freedom.

Not my intention to mount a defense of markets versus a command economy, as if they needed one. My point here is that this election was about more than short-term joblessness, to the extent it was about the economy at all. In spite of everything, the public is optimistic. The government has screwed up the economy, by commission (spending) and omission (failure to curb financial sector wrongdoing). They can tell the government to fix it. They just took the first step.

The Peckerwood Factor.

It wasn’t a Republican sweep. There’s not much accounting for California, which continues its descent into economic lunacy. And parts of the Eastern seaboard, they can’t be helped either.

But there were some other losers. Joe Miller in Alaska. Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.

Thereby hangs the danger of the Tea Party. When the population rises, there are lots and lots of slots to fill. Some of the candidates to whom the population turns are going to be peckerwoods, just like some to whom they turned in 2008 were, to put the matter kindly, more liberal than voters cared to see as they swept out the Republicans in that wave of revulsion.

(When I use the term “peckerwood,” I mean a style of conservatism that is reactionary, extremely ideological, and almost aggressively ignorant. Your peckerwoods may vote sensibly, but their manner and rhetoric is, after awhile, offputting and offensive and guaranteed to lose the center that the Republicans need. I do not use it in the 19th and early 20th century sense of poor southern whites.)

And, like the hard libs who slipped through in 2008, some peckerwoods slipped through in 2010.

The Republicans need to keep charge of these types. I don’t have any prescriptions on how that can be accomplished. Not all – I’d say probably only a few – Tea Party-supported candidates are peckerwoods. But they tend to be loud and to draw attention to themselves and paint responsible Republicans with their broad brush.

Beware the peckerwood.

Who Will Lead?

In November many of us got a lot of what we wanted.

Now what?

The Republicans considerably increased the size of their tent in 2010. Who will emerge to lead the party to 2012? Who will step forward to avoid screwing this up?

At this writing, there are no breakaway front runners. An off-the-cuff survey:

Sarah Palin: No. I’m sure I’ll be writing more as time goes by, but let me say it straight out – she is not smart enough. And there’s the odd family life, Bristol making Billy Carter look respectable.  I’m not entirely sure Palin wasn’t born in Kenya. I’m tired of flaky exotics in the White House or near it.

John Boehner: Prematurely orange. I don’t know what to think about his lachrymose tendencies. I know the guy has come up from a hard life, and that’s terrific. But I’ve never heard a public utterance of his that stayed with me. He seemed to think the first two years of the Obama presidency were about lack of transparency. Not impressive.

Michael Steele: Every team needs some really, really good black guys. I’m not sure any team can win these days without excellent black guys. Well, I gotta tell you, the Democrats’ black guy is totally kicking the Republicans’ black guy’s ass. What a mediocrity – I can’t believe the party hasn’t shown him the door. You never see him as a spokesman anymore, and he’s compromised by his profligacy in office. I think the country has really grown up – we’re confident enough in our judgment, independent of race, to kick black guys out of leadership positions in both parties. (I hope.)

Newt Gingrich:  Really smart, really good debater, real knowledgeable, extremely sound on the issues, but hopelessly compromised by his seamy mistreatment of his (former) wife and his condescending manner (former professor, like we need another one of those). He should have Michael Steele’s job. He could be a party leader, just not a national leader.

John McCain: No. His maverick act was always a sham and was exposed in the campaign. And let’s face it, he’s old and seems older than he is.

Bobby Jindal: Not this time. Needs some seasoning before the cameras and some serious sartorial advice. Otherwise, really like the guy.

Tim Pawlenty: The guy gets a lot of attention, but so far I’ve found him pretty Lamar-Alexanderish. Smart but in love with his press clippings.

Rudy Giuliani: A guy who runs as bad a campaign as he ran (or allowed to be run for him) in 2008 has not exhibited a model for national leadership. Having said that, I still like the guy and believe there’s a role for him. But he has to hook up with some professional campaign management that won’t tell him to hide out in Florida for two months while every other candidate is on the news every day.

Mitt Romney: Strong, but he’s going to have to deal with the crisis of Romneycare in Massachusetts.  He should say something like:  "I can't believe how incredibly stupid I was, and I've like absolutely totally learned my lesson, and don't you want a president who learns from his mistakes?"   I don’t think the Mormon thing is a big electoral problem. Is it? Don’t have a feel for it. He needs to get out front on some current issues, though. He’s not going to look good riding Boehner’s coattails. Maybe he’s trying not to peak.

Chris Christie: Look out. A term or two under his impressive belt and he could be a guy. A mountain of common sense.

Michele Bachmann: Never seen her look bad. Like Christie, she could be a great national leader. Need to see more.

Mike Huckabee: A lot to like here. Personable, smart, not crazy-right. I’ve seen it written that his parole decisions could be a problem, but I don’t see it. Right now, my personal favorite. Not without reservations. But he seems like a reasonable man who could more than hold his own with the President in debate, and who could attract . . .

. . . the Cool Hot Center.