Thursday, July 31, 2008

How to Take Back the GOP

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Republican party has gradually drifted left, and how conservatives were in part responsible for letting that happen. It’s hard to disagree with the idea that nonconservatives have taken control of much of the party—the de facto Republican position on the proper role of government, immigration, and spending is at odds with the conservative one. But what’s done is done, and conservatives must now take back the GOP.

Before conservatives “take back” the GOP, however, they should realize that it was never very conservative to begin with. With the exceptions of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, the Republican party has never nominated anyone for president who was a true ideological conservative, and the GOP Congressional leadership has never been particularly strong from a conservative standpoint. (The 1994 Congress had some good conservative ideas, but it mostly squandered whatever promise it may have had). It would probably be more accurate to say that conservatives must “take over” the Republican party.

The first step, and the most obvious one, is to support conservative candidates at the grassroots level. There are a great many Republican Congressmen who are not conservative (Arlen Specter), or corrupt (Don Young, or the Ohio state government pre-2006), or both. It seems obvious the conservatives should oppose them in the primaries, but that really hasn’t happened, at least not enough to make a difference. (One exception is the attempt by some Pennsylvania conservatives to unseat liberal Republican Arlen Specter in favor of Pat Toomey in the primary. George Bush undercut them by endorsing Specter).

This does seem to be changing. There are now grassroots movements such as The Next Right and Down the Ticket that actively promote conservative GOP candidates. This is a necessary step, and the first phase of remaking the GOP.

Another, less obvious answer is ensuring that the Republican leadership is conservative. The key leaders of the GOP are not always politicians—some of the most influential people in the party are the directors of the Republican National Committee. The RNC is very powerful—it organizes the party platform, helps with fundraising, and decides which candidates get funds. The ideology of the RNC goes a long way towards deciding the ideology of the party as a whole.

Mike Duncan is the RNC head right now, and I honestly don’t know how conservative he is, and Google doesn’t have many answers. He was head of the Committee during the whole amnesty fiasco, though, which might tell us something. I imagine that he is a Republican first, and a conservative second; the GOP position will always be his.

Pre-Duncan, the RNC did both a very good and very poor job. Very good, because it really was quite good at such things as micotargeting and message delivery to help get its candidates elected, but poor because those candidates weren’t always worth helping. For years, the RNC basically ignored pork fiends like Ted Stevens—had it cracked down on corrupt candidates, perhaps the Republican party would be stronger today.

There are some people who feel that the best way to turn the Republican party back to its conservative ways is to throw the 2008 election. This, they feel, will so alarm the Republican leadership that they will instantly move the party to the right. Actually, there is a fifty-fifty chance that the leadership would just give up conservatives as a lost cause and move left to attract center-left moderates, but no one ever thinks of that. And anyhow, Obama is far too liberal, and the damage he would do too the country would be too great. He would withdraw precipitately from Iraq, would appoint at least one and probably two Supreme Court justices, and would increase federal spending maybe almost as much as George W. Bush. It’s not worth it. (Although given the incompetence of the GOP, I can understand the temptation).

Taking back (or taking over) the Republican party won’t be easy. But it is necessary—if conservatism is to remain a functioning political philosophy, it will have to be represented by the GOP. And since the country needs conservative principles now, changing the GOP is an essential task.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Did the GOP Become So Liberal?

Few on either the left or right would deny that America faces a great many problems today. The economy is on the brink of recession, gas and energy prices are higher than they have ever been, and dollar is frighteningly weak against the Euro and other currencies. Illegal immigrants continue to swarm past our southern border (and considering how urgent immigration reform was just a year ago, both parties seem to have shut up about the issue), and the federal government is deep in debt. It’s easy to explain that liberals bear the brunt of responsibility for these problems, but that isn’t fair. Conservatives bear responsibility as well.

Republicans have controlled Washington for six of the past seven years. For five of those years, we were openly at war with radical Islam, which relies on guerrilla terror tactics to advance its aims. In that sort of situation, protecting America’s borders would seem to be a top priority.

And if the threat of terrorists illegally entering the U.S. is not reason enough to guard the border, the financial stress caused by twelve million illegal immigrants is. It has been obvious for years that illegal immigration was out of control, and that eventually a price would have to be paid. (Right now, our options are amnesty and enforcement, both of which would be very costly). Yet Bush and the Republicans did nothing.

The federal government spends massive amounts of money—far more money than it actually has. In 2008, the federal budget was nearly three trillion. The federal budget has increased roughly $550 billion dollars a year since 2003, and George Bush has just signed into law the boldest federal aid package since the new deal. When Bush took office, the federal debt was five trillion dollars; now, it hovers around ten trillion.

Gas prices are skyrocketing, the price of oil is going up, and America may soon face a real energy crisis. Much of the problem is due to Democrat obstruction—they oppose offshore drilling and nuclear power. But if Bush had pressed for such things when he had a GOP-controlled Congress and reasonable approval ratings, it seems probable that the energy situation would be better today.

So how are conservatives responsible? Open borders is a liberal policy position, and a big government is one of the key tenets of the Left. Many of the nation’s energy woes are the result of liberal opposition to sensible measure such as off-shore drilling and nuclear power. True, George Bush bears responsibility for some of these problems, but he is hardly the embodiment of conservatism. Doesn’t the blame lie only with RINO’s and “centrists,” and not with true conservatives?

No. Conservatives have not supported Bush’s liberal policies, but they have enabled them. When Bush was busy signing the 2002 pork-laden farm bill into law, how many conservatives spoke out? (How many spoke out about the 2008 farm bill, which also received a great deal of Republican support?). When Bush proposed No Child Left Behind (which is at best ineffective and at worst a miserable and expensive failure), did conservatives oppose the law? And as Bush rapidly expanded the federal budget, did conservatives fight him?

The answer is no, mostly. Some did, but their opposition was not very vocal. For years, conservatives covered for Bush. (At least until the amnesty bill). Even as Bush saddled the government with an impossible debt, and egregiously mismanaged the Iraq War, conservatives stuck with him, and condemned anyone who criticized him. (John McCain took a lot of conservative flak for his early advocacy of the surge). Bush could always count on the conservative movement to have his back.

Some conservatives are so disgusted at the Republican party that they have decided to leave it to fend for itself, and either not vote or vote for a third party. While this feeling is, I suppose, understandable, it seems to me that this is the party conservatives paid for. When did conservatives fight against Bush’s spending, or against Republican corruption (Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young spring to mind).? They didn’t, at least not with appropriate vigor, and now we see the consequences. The Republican party has drifted away from conservatism, but conservatives have done nothing to arrest that drift.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Torture and Moral Equivalency

Perhaps the most common movie and TV clichés is the following situation: the protagonists are being set upon by the forces of evil, one of them thinks of a brilliant but slightly morally uncertain plan to defeat the villains, the leader of the good guys vetoes it while pointing out that the immorality of the plan would make them no different than those they are fighting against. Then the heroes find another plan that works just as well. This highlights the virtue of the heroes while making the villains seem all the worse.

Liberals believe that we face much the same situation today. The United States captures dozens of prisoners in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism. Many of them are then rushed to clandestine prisons across the world (Guantanamo Bay is the most notorious), held for months, sometimes years, without trial, and occasionally tortured. (At least if you count waterboarding as torture. And the U.S. has used waterboarding only rarely, and then only on high-profile prisoners). So is the U.S. morally equivalent to its enemies—does the only difference between us and those we fight lie in degree, but not in kind?

No. Even assuming the worst about America—which you can always count on liberals to do—the United States is undoubtedly morally superior to its enemies.

The adversaries we face are evil—wholly, irrationally evil. Radical Islam has been a dangerous threat for decades. After the creation of the state of Israel, the Muslim countries surrounding it wasted little time in attempting to annihilate it, even though Israel was controlled by Great Britain (not by an Islamic country) before becoming a sovereign country and has few natural resources. Then came the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, and the horrible Iran-Iraq War, which pitted the Soviet-backed Iranians against Saddam Hussein’s vicious armies in a war that truly had no good guys.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Islamic terrorists ratcheted up their attacks against the United States. They attacked the World Trade Center with a car bomb, struck U.S. embassies in Africa, attacked American peacekeeping Marines in Somalia, and attempted to sink the U.S.S. Cole.

Finally, Islamic terrorists pulled off the disastrous 9/11 attacks, killing nearly 3,000 people and destroying two the tallest buildings in the world. The sheer damage and unrest caused by Islamic jihadists over the last twenty years is unmatched by any other group in the world during that time. (And I have only mentioned the attacks on Americans; Islamic radicals have killed many more people from other countries).

Making this situation perplexing is the fact that the Islamic world really doesn’t have a legitimate quarrel with us. Okay, they don’t like our support of Israel, but that is a wholly inadequate reason to launch a war. Apart from the U.S.-Israel alliance, the Muslim world has nothing to complain about—during the Cold War, America gave a great deal of aid to the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against their Soviet opponents. In the Gulf War, the U.S. came to the aid of tiny Islamic Kuwait against Saddam Hussein. During the Nineties, America went to war in Kosovo in part to aid Albanian Muslims. The U.S. has treated Muslims well, and they have nothing to complain about. Hitler was more justified in invading Poland than Osama bin Laden was in attacking the U.S. on 9/11.

So, to sum things up: radical Islam slaughters thousands of innocents for absolutely no reason. It kills indiscriminately and without mercy. In addition, it is to blame for a great deal of suffering around the world, and is guilty of untold numbers of human rights abuses. It opposes women’s rights, freedom of religion, and any form of dissent.

On the other hand, the United States waterboards terrorists sometimes.

The two sides are not morally equivalent. America makes mistakes and commits injustices. But its role as a force for good so much outweighs its moral weaknesses that any attempt to suggest that radical Islam and America have anything in common is simply a disgraceful slander. Instead of worrying about possible American torture, perhaps liberals should focus on the numerous crimes committed by radical Islam.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama's Lost Poll Lead

Everything went right for Barack Obama during his world tour. Nouri al-Maliki seemed to endorse his plan for Iraq. (Not quite, but its not like most voters will care enough to bother finding out what al-Maliki really meant). He got a crowd of 200,000 for his Berlin speech, which was, according to the media, quite brilliant. All in all, his trip was perfect—as superb as the three-pointer he effortlessly drained for the media. (Give Obama credit; making threes isn’t easy, and he would have looked pretty foolish if he had missed). Barack Obama couldn’t ask for more.

John McCain could. It would be unfair to say he had a bad week—he didn’t make any significant gaffes—but he couldn’t say he had a very good week either. He was supposed to visit an oil rig, but he didn’t, he was (according to Bob Novak) supposed to name his running mate, but he didn’t, and he was supposed to publish a New York Times op-ed, but he didn’t. (In fairness to McCain, the Times wouldn’t accept his op-ed, which was staggeringly biased even for them. Even more staggeringly, some in the left-wing blogosphere claimed this represented bias towards McCain). Barack Obama had a good week, McCain didn’t.

Then why does Obama only lead McCain by three points?

That’s the RCP national poll average. True, some polls put Obama up by more (a recent Gallup poll has Obama up eight), and one poll puts McCain up four (among likely voters; that poll was also done by Gallup), but three points is probably a safe estimate of Obama’s lead (that’s what Rasmussen has). And if an unpopular Republican party, adoring media coverage, and well-managed foreign tour doesn’t give Obama a bounce, nothing will.

It’s hard to explain the situation. I’m an optimistic sort of person, as least as regards the GOP’s electoral hopes, (I actually clung to the hope that the Republicans would pull out a stalemate in the 2006 elections), but this is beyond what even the most relentlessly positive Republican could hope for. The most obvious explanation is the notion that Hillary voters are still angry at Obama and haven’t given him their full support yet, which probably accounts for some of the disparity. Another explanation may lie in the fact that at least some voters may be uneasy with the idea of a black president, which may also keep Obama from leading by more. But neither of these explanations is wholly satisfactory—most Hillary voters are probably over there loss, and any racist voters are probably negated by voters happy to have a black presidential candidate.

A more probable reason for Obama’s lack of a larger lead is that he never should have had one anyone. Many of the perceptions of the Obama campaign resemble the point of view of those who supported Ron Paul—against all logic, Paulians constructed an elaborate fantasy world about their candidate, proposing “clever” strategies to ensure his primary victory, and then “crafty” dodges to snatch victory right out of McCain’s hands at convention. The media has done likewise for Obama—it is just barely possible that maybe Obama isn’t the defining, changing movement that so many hoped he was (note how I slipped “hope” and “change” into that sentence—clever, huh?), and that maybe the country isn’t quite as weary of Republican presidents as it is supposed to be.

Back in November, Obama truly seemed unstoppable. He was pulling huge crowds, getting adulatory media attention, and had the luxury of watching his weak GOP opponents try to tear each other down. McCain was hardly in the race—all the other candidates were crushing him in the polls. So naturally, when Fox News did a head to head poll…McCain led Obama by four points. In early January, Rasmussen put McCain up by three. Even after Obama’s Iowa caucus bump, McCain was still tied with him in the polls. McCain still led in a USA Today/Gallup poll as late as early May.

So perhaps the reason Obama isn’t getting his expected lead in the polls is because such expectations weren’t based on reality. Obama was never the transformational leader, the “agent of change”, the Messiah the media billed him as. He was merely a very good (but not great, or even Clintonian) politician. He is not the most capable politician to ever run, or even the most talented of this election cycle. (Mike Huckabee was). Ace writes that “given the wild-eyed zealotry of Obama's cultists, I know that previous voter-turnout models are wrong. I just don't know how wrong.” I predict that the previous voter-turnout models are right (at least as much as anything is “right” in politics). Obama is more John Kerry (typical politician) than Franklin Roosevelt (transformational historical figure).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts…

A lot of political observers thought that John Edwards had a decent chance to become Barack Obama’s running mate—after all, he is white, Southern, and liberal. But unfortunately for Edwards, it doesn’t look like that will happen—the National Enquirer seems pretty confident in its report that Edwards had an affair that produced a child. According to the National Enquirer, Edwards met with his mistress Monday night in the Beverly Hilton, and was caught by Enquirer photographers. The words “National Enquirer” and “responsible journalism” don’t usually go together, but the Enquirer is probably right in this case—Fox News has confirmed at least some of their report. Whatever the truth is, Edwards almost certainly won’t be Obama’s running mate now.

Blatant anti-Semitism of the week: Time Magazine’s Joe Klein explains his idea of the weaknesses in John McCain’s foreign policy: “[McCain has] surrounded himself with, and been funded by, Jewish neoconservatives who believe Iran is a threat to Israel's existence.” Yes, Jewish neoconservatives—they’re the worst kind. I hate to violate Godwin’s Law, but I would just point out that seventy years ago, Germans blamed Jews for their loss in World War I. Now, Jews get blamed for all of our woes in the Middle East. Progress.

News from the religion of peace: Jihadis punish homosexuality by raping gay men. I’m not saying my gaydar is infallible, but if you rape homosexuals to prove your manhood, you’re trying too hard. Gays tend to be liberal, but given what would happen to them if radical Islam ever got any sort of political or social power, they would probably be better off voting Republican.

Okay, I realize that Barack Obama isn’t a very good debater, but would it kill him to have just one debate with McCain? He is having an event with McCain in August, which is something, but it won’t be a real debate—the two men won’t respond to each others points. Dodging debates probably won’t help him in the long run—if he gets a reputation as a bad debater, his debate performances will be scrutinized that much more carefully.

Any doubts that the media is actively rooting for Obama? This piece from Bild (in fairness, this is a German maginize, not an American one) should help dispel them.
He goes and picks up a pair of 16 kilo weights and starts curling them with his
left and right arms, 30 repetitions on each side. Then, amazingly, he picks up
the 32 kilo weights! Very slowly he lifts them, first 10 curls with his right,
then 10 with his left. He breathes deeply in and out and takes a sip of water
from his 0,5 litre Evian bottle.

I love the breathless reporting of the completely ordinary events taking place—from the tone of the piece, it sounds like Obama is lifting entire mountains, but that particular workout regimen doesn’t really sound that hard. (Although I’m sure that Obama has some harder ones—he looks to be in pretty good shape).

Barack Obama got a bounce of a few points from his European trip. It should be interesting to see how it holds up—will is dissipate quickly, or will he keep at least some of that support?

Michael Savage has stirred up controversy by suggesting, basically, that most kids diagnosed with autism are really just coddled brats. It is possible that “normal” kids are sometimes misdiagnosed with autism, but Savage’s main point is ridiculous, as well as being hurtful to people who do have autism. I hesitate to write this, knowing that I am playing into Savage’s attention-hungry hands by mentioning it, but this sort of thing should be condemned.

Dennis Kucinich has instituted not-quite-impeachment hearing against George Bush. Apparently Democrat party leaders wouldn’t let him mention impeachment, so he and his friends just critizied Bush for a while. The mood in the room was described as “slightly demented.” Sounds about right.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Right and Left: The Online Gap

Everyone knows that the Right has a significant Internet disadvantage. It’s hardly worth pointing out the Huffington Post’s massive traffic levels, or the fact that the Daily Kos gets many more readers than any conservative blog. (The only conservative site that can even compare is National Review Online, which is as much online magazine as blog). Barack Obama has energized the Internet—he had gotten huge amounts of money from online donors, while McCain has struggled to keep anything like an even footing. On Facebook, John McCain has 177,422 supporters. Barack Obama has 1,192,922, nearly seven times McCain’s number, and the highest of any public figure in the world. (Although it should be noted that many, perhaps most, of Facebook’s users don’t vote, and people popular on Facebook aren’t necessarily particularly well loved in the real world. The Chris Moyles Show ranks third, and it isn’t exactly breaking records out here).

In an interesting Politico piece, Jonathan Martin points out that what online presence the Right does have focuses almost solely on commentary, while liberal sites (such as HuffPo) concentrate on reporting as well. This allows the liberal online media to drive stories, while the conservative media is forced to react. For example, HuffPo brought attention to some of John Hagee’s controversial remarks, which eventually forced McCain to renounce him. This sort of reporting doesn’t happen on conservative blogs—they almost always focus on stories already broken by other sources.

In addition to its superior reporting, the online Left also has a significant edge in political strategy. The Daily Kos holds an annual YearlyKos, where Democrat strategists and politicians meet. The Daily Kos also focuses on tight races, giving embattled Democrats financial and moral support. Conservative blogs have nothing like this—they organize a few rallies, but nothing with any real impact.

In fact, most conservative websites, with a few exceptions, seem a bit dated and behind-the-curve. (National Review Online and the Drudge Report are exceptions). The conservative blogosphere isn’t exactly an interactive place—many conservative blogs don’t allow comments, and there are very, very few with an active comment community. Visiting the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post are interactive experiences—one can both read commentary and exchange views. The conservative blogosphere is generally a one-way information street.

The Left has a massive, nigh insurmountable (at least for the foreseeable future) Internet advantage. So is the Right in serious trouble? Not really. The Internet is really not all that influential. The Huffington Post is by far the largest political blog—and according to Nielsen Online, it gets under four million unique view a month. Bill O’Reilly gets three million viewers a day. Network news gets around six million a night. Rush Limbaugh gets twenty million a week. The Internet has influence—but its influence is insignificant when compared to other media outlets.

The Left’s cyberdominance is nothing to worry about. Eventually, conservatives will start effectively utilizing the Internet, and the web gap will close quickly. The web is a fast changing place; things can change almost immediately. Eventually, the Right will regain a significant share of the Internet.

The reason the Right has not done so yet is because it hasn’t had to. From a media standpoint, conservatives are in good position—they can get news and analysis from talk radio, Fox News, Drudge, or conservative blogs (which, thought they lag behind liberals blogs in terms of traffic, are still influential). There is no pressing need to build an extensive online community—there are more than enough communities for conservatives to join. At some point in the future, the web may become important enough that conservatives will be forced to build an extensive online community—but for the present, domination of the Internet is not crucial.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Election Math

In the 2000 presidential election, everything came down to the results of the Florida vote—the winner of Florida won the presidency. In 2004, the key state was Ohio—had George Bush gotten just 150,000 less votes in Ohio, John Kerry would be running for reelection. 2008 will be the same way—a handful of swing states will decide the election. Realistically, it doesn’t much matter how you vote if you live in states such as Texas or California—barring a landslide, those states will go Republican and Democrat, respectively. The all important toss-up states will choose the next President of the United States.

These states are: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. Florida is the most important of these states for McCain—if he loses Florida, it is nearly impossible to see a realistic path to victory for him. It’s tempting to assume McCain will run away with Florida—all those retirees should be his biggest fans. But the RealClearPolitics average puts him tied with Obama there; the most recent Rasmussen poll puts Obama ahead by two points. In fairness, Obama may be riding a bounce from his foreign tour (the most amazing thing ever, according to the media), but his rise in Florida polls is still a bad sign for McCain.

Pennsylvania isn’t really much of a swing state. Obama leads in the RCP poll average by nearly eight points, although the most recent polling in that state was done in June (meaning that opinions may have shifted). Pennsylvania voted for Hillary in the primaries, and has a lot of Second Amendment-supporting hunters, and…that’s about it, really. Pennsylvania went for Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000, and it is difficult to imagine McCain really being competitive there. (Spark of hope for McCain: the latest Rasmussen poll—completed on June 22nd—put Obama in front by only four points, within the margin of error).

Michigan is another swing state that probably won’t swing very far—the RCP poll average there has Obama up by 6.3 points. Granted, a Detroit News poll finished on July 16th put Obama up by a mere two points, but a Rasmussen poll done on July 10th put Obama up by a more sizable eight. Michigan is governed by Democrats who haven’t done a very good job; and if McCain picks Mitt Romney (whose father was governor of Michigan) as his running mate, Michigan might conceivably be in play, though realistically, it probably won’t be. But Michigan, like Pennsylvania, is a must-win for Obama. If he loses either of these states, his campaign will be in serious trouble.

Speaking of must-win states, McCain has to win Virginia. Virginia’s electoral votes are indispensable. Fortunately, he is in fairly good position to win them—the RCP average puts Obama up by one point, but a recent Rasmussen poll puts McCain up one. Add in the Dinkins effect (the phenomenon of white voters telling pollster that they support a minority candidate when they really do not)—which could be significant in a Southern state like Virginia—and McCain should (and must) win there.

This brings us to the most important swing state: Ohio. Ohio is crucial since it is not really a must-win for either candidate, it has a sizable number of electoral votes, and has been close in recent elections. (In addition, I live here, so I’m biased). The RCP poll average puts Obama up by 1.5 points (a virtual tie). However, a recent Rasmussen poll puts McCain up by ten points[!]; an equally recent PPP (Public Policy Polling, an outfit I’d never heard of before now) puts Obama up by eight. (So much for polls). I would think that Rasmussen is generally more accurate than PPP, but it is undeniable that Ohio could very easily go either way.

If we give Obama Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as the other states where he leads (there isn’t much doubt about New York or California), Obama ends up with 268 electoral votes. If we give McCain Florida and Virginia, as well as the all the states where he leads (I also gave him New Mexico, which I couldn’t find any polling for, but its proximity to Arizona means it could easily go McCain, and Nevada, where Obama leads, but barely, and being a Western state will probably also go McCain), McCain gets 250 votes. Ohio’s twenty electoral votes, in this scenario, would make the difference in the election.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Conservative Coalition

I have argued often in the past the liberalism isn’t a coherent political philosophy, but rather a loose collection of interest groups, such as feminists, environmentalists, and minorities. This lack of theoretical underpinning helps explain the lack of really popular liberal media figures (Keith Olbermann’s ratings are as good as it gets for liberals, and his ratings are only about half of those of his arch-rival Bill O’Reilly) and much of the absurdity and immaturity found on the Left.

However, the Left was not always this way. When liberalism first became a coherent political philosophy, it had a firm philosophical foundation. (This foundation is a bit complicated; liberalism has its origins in the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and maybe even in the works of Karl Marx, and evolved from there). But over the years, liberalism embraced one interest group after another: blacks (the Left deserves credit for its early civil rights work; however, it has since embraced the grievance theory of racial relations), feminists, environmentalists, gays, and the list goes on. Now, liberalism is simply a theory of government that preaches that government exists to help the needy, minorities, or any other Democrat voting bloc.

This could happen to the Right as well, if conservatives forget their roots. Modern conservatism is founded on three primary principles: traditional values, a strong foreign policy, and fiscal minimalism.

I say “modern” conservatism because these three main beliefs are not mutually inclusive—it is quite possible to support both abortion and fiscal responsibility, or an assertive foreign policy and the welfare state. Modern conservatism works because it has managed to keep these groups united, without favoring one to detriment of another. Together, these groups form a unified, coherent movement.

These groups came from very different traditions. The foreign policy hawks are the oldest element of conservatism—they owe their existence to the Soviet threat. Many, perhaps most, liberals favored appeasing Communism, and some even found elements to admire and emulate in it. Early conservative thought centered around opposition to this concept.

The libertarian movement formed shortly afterwards. Many Republicans were aghast at the changes wrought by the New Deal; unfortunately, they were hopelessly ineffectual in their opposition. A new brand of fiscal conservative arose in response to Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs. Whether it was because of the ineffectiveness of big government, because they were better organized, or for some other reason, they had much better luck than the opponents of the New Deal. They didn’t roll back many government programs, but they have been successful in slowing their growth.

Social conservatives were the group that put the GOP into the majority. They believe that traditional values should be preserved, even if that means government must get involved. This group was the latest to join the conservative coalition, and probably the most underrepresented among the party elite.

There is nothing to keep these groups unified. In a way, the conservative movement’s dilemma is much more difficult than the one the Left faced—the Left simply kept adding pressure group till the philosophy collapsed into a confusing mess; the Right must, in order to survive, keep its component constituencies from tearing the movement apart.

This could happen so very easily—the different branches of conservatism have many potential contradictions. For example, social conservatives often support government action to preserve traditional values; this could be considered inconsistent with libertarian wing of the movement. (I say “could be” since many libertarians—for example, me—believe that the right to life from conception outweighs many concerns about the dangers of big government). Libertarians support a small government; foreign policy hawks support an aggressive government, and the two are not often found together. Conservatism has given the GOP a sturdy majority—but it is a fragile coalition. Conservatives must do everything possible to ensure that this coalition endures.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Maturity Gap

The conservative movement has a lunatic fringe. Talk show host Michael Savage commands a huge audience which loves to listen to him rant about gays and foreigners while making ridiculous historical analogies. Ann Coulter often makes bizarre accusations against liberals (liberals aren’t traitors, as Coulter often charges—you can’t judge subjective intent by objective consequence). Even National Review’s John Derbyshire is more than a little eccentric—he describes himself as a “a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one,” and I have absolutely no idea what that means. So the Right is home to some rather odd and sometimes hateful people.

However, it often seems that the entire Left is composed of absolute lunatics. This isn’t true—there are many liberals who are quite thoughtful and intelligent—but it is true that most of the most prominent liberals are…a lot of adjectives come to mind (deranged, hateful, silly) but the most accurate (to my mind) is childish. The Left is wholly immature.

Take the example of Al Franken. Sadly, Franken is, despite a distinct lack of talent (outside his Saturday Night Live days) one of the Left’s leading lights—he wrote several bestsellers, hosted Air America’s flagship program, and is currently running for a Minnesota Senate seat.

Franken cemented his liberal reputation with the success of his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. This book—prepare to be totally blindsided here—was about liars. It was also about as stupid and immature as its title was—the book was filled with awful jokes and was poorly researched. Examples of Franken’s keen, finely honed satiric wit: he challenged National Review editor Rich Lowry to a fistfight (my sides!), falsely claimed that Richard Armitage knocked over Helen Thomas while bolting from a Senate hearing (these are the jokes), and called George Bush a liar simply because he disagreed with Franken’s position on tax cuts, which is more than a little irresponsible. Franken’s other books (such as his initial work, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations) are equally stupid and immature.

Or consider Keith Olbermann. Thanks to luck, persistence, and Bill O’Reilly’s inability to ignore anyone who insults him, Olbermann has become the Left’s official television voice. And he is as immature as Franken—his vocabulary may be that of a high school freshman trying to impress his English teacher, but his tone and grasp of the political situation are that of someone several years younger. I’m not sure if Olbermann is really as immature as he comes across or simply deranged, but anyone who gives speeches entitled “Go to Iraq and fight, Mr. President” with a straight face is almost certainly one or the other.

However, the most influential outlet of liberal immaturity is almost certainly the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post has set out to be the Internet’s newspaper—and is working towards that goal quite satisfactorily. It is by far the most widely read political blog—it dwarfs competitors such as RealClearPolitics or the Politico. It sets out to be a liberal combination of the Drudge Report and National Review—combining news with political analysis. And given its success, it evidently succeeds. It is exactly like NR and Drudge—except, as with many liberal enterprises, about a hundred times less adult.

Its commentary is dreadful—many of its bloggers are washed-up C-list celebrities; the rest are semi-prominent (within the Democrat party) commentators who provide nonsensical views of current events. A sample of the posts featured on the site as I write: Raymond Learsy warns of the dangers of falling oil prices, Joshua Stein writes that Batman (as seen in The Dark Knight) is no longer good, but only less bad than his enemies, just like Bush, and Lincoln Chafee (yes, that Lincoln Chafee) compares the presidential candidates’ decision to engage in a forum hosted by a church to radical Islamic extremism.

HuffPo’s news coverage is worse. Their top story for most of today—given a big red Drudge-style headline—was a piece reporting that McCain has confused Iraq and Afghanistan. (He made a reference to the “Iraq-Pakistan” border). Embarrassing, true, but hardly significant—after all, Obama has made his share of such gaffes. This is typical of HuffPo’s news coverage—oversized, absurd headlines about wholly insignificant events.

Why is so much of the Left so immature? There are some liberal publications that are quite sober and dignified—The Nation and The New Republic spring to mind—so why can’t the rest of the Left be equally decorous? There is no one reason for this, or even two reasons, but there is one reason that does seem to provide an adequate partial explanation.

Modern Liberalism has no set of guiding principles the way that conservatism does—it is a collection of interest groups (environmentalists, feminists, unions, etc). Part of that is due to the fact that liberalism isn’t a terribly coherent philosophy; part is due to the fact that since the Sixties, liberals have had a deeply rooted distrust of authority figures, which prevented the rise of a unifying figure such as a William F. Buckley or Rush Limbaugh. Liberalism is not serious because there is nothing in it to be serious about—it is not so much a political philosophy as a method for advancing the interests of its component constituencies.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts…

Today, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed on a “general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals”; in other words, a timetable for withdrawal. Predictably, the Left is cackling that it has been vindicated, that Bush has come around to their way of thinking on timetables. Of course, they are absolutely wrong—Bush’s timetables are being implemented because we are winning and will presumably be able to leave with honor, the Left supported timetables no matter what the conditions on the ground were. There is a massive difference between the two attitudes.

Also, Phil Gramm has resigned as the McCain campaign co-chair. Apparently, McCain really wasn’t happy with his remarks about a “mental recession.” Still, forcing him out seems a bit excessive to me.

RealClearPolitics has an interesting electoral map that features state-by-state polling. If the polls are accurate, Obama would win in an electoral vote landslide—he is ahead in most of the toss-up states, and is close in many traditionally Republican strongholds. Interestingly, though, nether candidate can get much above fifty percent support in any state, even states they will win in a landslide. (For example, Obama leads by 17.6 in California, but only gets 53.2 percent of the vote, to McCain’s 35.5, leaving 12 percent of Californians unaccounted for). Where are the rest of the voters? Are they undecided? Third party supporters? Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it seemed strange to me.

I won’t deny that there is a pretty large lunatic fringe in the conservative blogosphere—even some well respected conservative bloggers are a little nuts. But it seems that the whole liberal blogosphere is belongs in the lunatic fringe—take this post from a Daily Kos blogger. It’s a recommended diary, and got over 500 comments, yet it is absolutely insane—full of stuff about how the Republican party relies on racial tension to win elections and how Barack Obama would negate all that. (Actually, if that was true, I would expect Obama to be a good thing for Republicans—it would get out the base). All total nonsense, but taken seriously by the nitwits at Daily Kos.

Nancy Pelosi has called Bush a “total failure.” Maybe he is, but look who’s talking. It’s not like Pelosi’s Congress is grabbing record approval ratings either.

Republicans have tried sticking a variety of labels on Obama. First they tried “liberal”, then “flip-flopper.” Neither really seemed to catch on. However, perhaps “arrogant” will. I really don’t have problem with a healthy ego, but Obama is far too self-satisfied with way too little to be satisfied about. He designs his own presidential Great Seal, he says that he is embarrassed that more Americans don’t speak foreign languages (even though he doesn’t), and he goes off make a speech in front of Berlin’s Victory Column—all before becoming president. Self-confidence is one thing, smugness is another, and Obama often seems annoyingly smug.

Obama might have lead in individual states, but McCain is tied nationally. The Gallup and Rassmussen tracking polls put him one point down, and he is just four points behind in the RCP average. Good news for McCain.

Starbucks has had to close over 600 stores. That’s amazing—who would have thought that four dollars for a cup of coffee would drive people away?

If this post seemed a little boring, well, there just isn’t a lot going on. It isn’t like the primaries where there was a debate about once a week and candidates were always saying crazy things. Nothing is happening. Maybe I’ll try to start blogging about celebrities or something.

Anyway, have a nice weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pointless: The Fight Against Global Warming

Recently, Al Gore made headlines by declaring that the world must end the use of fossil fuels for energy within ten years in order to prevent irreparable harm to the planet. According to the UK Guardian, Gore didn’t get into specifics in his speech, which was probably a good idea since the Alliance for Climate Protection (which Gore chairs) estimates that the cost of ending fossil fuel would range between 1.5 trillion and 3 trillion dollars. Gore claims that he is aware of the difficulties of this goal. He isn’t .

Reducing carbon dioxide by any meaningful amount is not just difficult—it is impossible. Anyone who claims differently simply has no idea of the role carbon dioxide plays in the modern world.

It really isn’t clear just how much carbon dioxide needs to go. Gore thinks all emissions should stop by 2018; that obviously won’t happen, even if we discover alternate energy sources which would provide for our energy needs. Gore and his acolytes really don’t say just where the tipping point is—the emissions level in 1900 were 50 billion metric tons, and today emissions hover around 350 billion tons, but just where worldwide emissions crossed the line isn’t clear. For the sake of argument, lets assume that the salvation of the world depends on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent. While probably actually less than Gore and company would want, that is a goal that is at least somewhat conceivable.

And to meet even this comparatively modest goal, America, China, and Taiwan would have to completely eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, and we still just barely reach this objective. And by America, I mean all of America—Canada and Mexico are included, along with the entirety of South America. That is what climate change advocates are up against—you could wipe two continents off the face of the earth and the problem would still exist. (Chart here)

Fortunately, Gore (Gore, by the way, seems to represent nearly all global warming doomsayers, so his statements usually speak for the whole movement), has a plan. By doing simple things like using environmentally friendly light bulbs, turning down the thermostat, and turning off lights when not in use, YOU can do your part to save the planet.

Nonsense. You could eliminate Great Britain and over 98% of carbon emissions would remain. Fighting global warming is waste of resources—if the science behind the theory is flawed, then doing so is unnecessary, if accurate, then it is futile. There is nothing we can do to affect global warming.

Most environmentalists would, I assume, would counter that argument by saying that when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, the least we can do is to try to stop it, even if the chances of success are slight. This is a bad idea. First, the concept of “humanity banding together to meet a near impossible challenge” only works in science fiction movies when the aliens invade Earth—it doesn’t hold up so well in real life. Second, humanity may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb—if the oceans will boil and the icecaps melt, we might as well preserve a decent standard of living in the process.

Furthermore, fighting global warming has a steep price. In Tanzania, the population can’t turn their thermostats down two degrees because they don’t have thermostats. In many South American countries, most people don’t have lights to turn off. Most of the globe remains poor in a world in which energy is mostly cheap and abundant. If Gore and his cronies get their way, energy will become immeasurably more expensive. These people will remain forever poor, victims of a war fought against an enemy that is either nonexistent or inescapable.

Climate change advocates should realize this fact. Taking government action to prevent global warming is more than pointless or futile—it is grossly irresponsible, and the global warming movement should consider the consequences of their policies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Comparing Energy Plans

Iraq is no longer the key issue of the 2008 presidential election. Neither is the economy in general. The focus now rests mostly on the high price of gasoline; whoever can win on this issue will probably win the election.

John McCain has a well-articulated plan to deal with the problem—in one of the few neat rhetorical touches found in his campaign, he calls his plan the “Lexington project”, which sounds goal-oriented and interesting. The key component of his strategy involves drilling for more American oil and natural gas, solutions so obvious that is shocking that they aren’t already standard U.S. policy.

McCain also supports nuclear power, another glaringly obvious energy solution, which would solve many of America’s power troubles. (In addition, nuclear power plants are much, much more environmentally friendly than coal-powered ones are). And he opposes a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Since such a windfall tax amounts to retaliating against oil companies for a situation beyond their control, McCain’s opposition to this tax represents a definite policy strength.

That is the good part of McCain’s proposal. Unfortunately, his plan also involves many proposals that are extraneous—they will not really affect the situation one way or another. He would give a 300 million dollar prize to the person who develops a battery package that can “leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” A nice idea, but the person who does make a viable electric car probably wouldn’t need $300 million—the profits he or she could make from this invention would dwarf that sum. Investigating oil speculators is another pointless component of the Lexington project—oil is not $150 a barrel because of oil speculators, but rather because increased demand for a limited supply.

And parts of McCain’s strategy are just bad. McCain would set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases companies could produce, which is probably not what American industry needs in these troubled times. (This would give a huge edge to Chinese and Indian industries). It appears McCain is serious about fighting global warming, and a large portion of his energy plan in geared towards stopping climate change. This is not a winner—in the minds of many Americans, global warming takes a back seat to four dollar gas.

One of the most frustrating things about the Obama campaign is Obama’s inability to take a stand on any issue. Honestly, I don’t know what he would do to lower gas prices. I know that he said that he would have preferred a more gradual rise in gas prices. And I know he doesn’t think that we can “drill our way out of this problem.” I assume that he wants to invest in green technologies, which he apparently thinks would somehow then lower gas prices. (Solar and wind power are all well and good, but I’m not sure how they would lower gas prices, especially in the short term. Doubtless Obama has it all figured out).

Anyway, the rest of Obama’s statements on this issue seem to consist of threats to impose a windfall tax on oil companies (even though their profit margins aren’t particularly high) and to investigate oil speculators, since Obama seems to think that the price of oil is affected mostly by the futures market instead of supply and demand.

McCain’s plan is much better than Obama’s—any plan that does not involve more drilling is almost useless, and Obama’s does not. (Anyway, Obama doesn’t really have a plan, so McCain wins by default here). The question is whether McCain will be able to sell his plan to voters. After all, McCain’s communication troubles are notorious.

The evidence would seem to indicate that he is selling his plan—and the gas crunch hasn’t hit yet. Most summer vacations take place in late July and August, and that is the time when voters will really feel the demands of high gas.

According to Rasmussen, voters trust the Democrats on the economy, which includes gas prices, more than the Republicans by ten percentage points. But when asked which of the two presidential candidates they trust most on the economy, Obama leads by only two points (within the margin of error), and the candidates are tied on the issue of energy. Given that voters tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans on these issues, McCain’s competitiveness here is surprising. McCain’s energy plan does indeed seem to be attracting voters, and it will probably attract more as the campaign heats up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

McCain as Victor Henry

Back in March, I compared Hillary Clinton to Herman Wouk’s immortal character Captain Queeg, a comparison which I still feel works pretty well. She insisted she could win the Democrat nomination weeks after it was obvious her fight was hopeless, she told obvious lies without hesitation, and she displayed some odd personality quirks throughout the campaign (remember her frightening cackle, or her collection of temporary local accents?). When faced with the fact she had lost the race, she was quick to blame her failure on an anti-feminist plot. Hillary wasn’t crazy (neither was Queeg, by the way), but she clearly was deluded by her quest for power, and her delusions hurt her.

John McCain is the opposite. His whole stock-in-trade is his fundamental fortitude and decency. If Hillary is Queeg, then McCain represents Wouk’s other famous captain, Victor Henry (featured in The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Nobody really gets excited about McCain’s politics—while he leans right, he really isn’t a conservative, and doesn’t have much of a grasp of many important issues. For example, he doesn’t seem to understand economics very well; he wants to cut taxes, which is commendable, but doesn’t know how the country will pay for his hefty tax cuts. His position on social issues is also odd—he is strongly pro-life, and his record bears that out, but he doesn’t seem to care about appealing to social conservatives.

The primary reason McCain won the nomination was because voters trusted him. They actually thought that his promises of “bipartisanship” and “change” would be kept. They believed that he really would reach across the aisle and seek to solve the country’s problems while seeking no credit for himself. They looked at his service in Vietnam and believed that the fortitude he displayed in his Hanoi prison cell would translate to his presidential performance. McCain ran on his image, not his ideas—and won.

So, does this point have any relevance other than proving that I, like many other people, enjoy reading Herman Wouk? Actually, it does. Conservative pundits agonize over McCain’s every gaffe, fearing that every one is a sign of imminent dementia, while liberals gloat over all of McCain’s missteps, seeing in McCain another Bob Dole to run against.

However, I think that a strong case could be made that none of these gaffes matter. Most voters aren’t really paying attention to McCain’s positions. No one really cares that McCain doesn’t understand the economy, or that he flip-flopped in his support of Bush’s tax cuts, or that he supports amnesty for illegal aliens. Some people support McCain because he is not Barack Obama, or because they automatically vote Republican. But McCain’s base, the people who got him the nomination, supports him because they believe he is a man of honor.

McCain may be as honorable and courageous as his supporters think he is. It is clear that McCain is unafraid to take controversial positions—his support of the Iraq War was political suicide until the surge started to work, and his support of amnesty was equally damaging during the early parts of the 2008 presidential campaign. But honor is not necessarily an essential qualification for president. Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were both decent men (at least until Carter became an anti-Semitic crank), and they made poor presidents. Franklin Roosevelt was a scheming, manipulative liar, yet he did manage to stop Hitler’s Third Reich. Winston Churchill was an impetuous, warmongering egomaniac, yet he managed to pull Britain through World War II. Abraham Lincoln ruthlessly cracked down on any form of dissent, jailing dissidents and ignoring their right of habeas corpus. Honor is essential for a good soldier, but is not always found in strong presidents. Honor sounds good, but cold, scheming ruthlessness usually gets the job done. McCain’s principles may get him into the White House—but they may not help him much while there.

Monday, July 14, 2008

McCain's VP Choices

Most Republicans aren’t terribly excited about the prospect of a John McCain candidacy, and they look to his Vice Presidential choice to provide a conservative voice in his campaign. Ann Coulter, after a few weeks of slyly hinting that she would vote for Hillary Clinton, announced that she would vote for John McCain on the condition that he selects Mitt Romney for his running mate.

Ann Coulter is an eccentric, hateful nut (sorry, Coulter fans, but it’s true), but many conservatives feel exactly the same way—including me. The McCain campaign knows it must pick a strong running mate to win—the only question is: who might that be?

There are to be several realistic candidates—former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, or Somebody Else.

I realize that I have left out several individuals who many believe have a good chance at the job, such as Charlie Crist, Tom Ridge, or Mike Huckabee. But choosing any these individuals would be a disaster—such a move would rightly be seen as an unforgivable slight to conservatives, and really wouldn’t pick up many more votes for McCain. If McCain wants conservative support, he will have to pick a running mate who has closer ties to the conservative community than he does.

Mitt Romney is considered by many a perfect candidate—he is a strong organizer, so organized that they managed to lose Iowa even with a massive financial edge over Mike Huckabee, he is conservative, so conservative that right-wing magazine Human Events named him one of their top ten RINOs in 2005, and an articulate politician, so articulate that he couldn’t rally enough conservative support to win Florida even though Rush Limbaugh endorsed him shortly before the primary. So maybe he doesn’t have many strengths after all.

Tim Pawlenty is another common suggestion. He is conservative enough, and he is apparently articulate and likable, but…he just doesn’t add much. He hasn’t done much as governor of Minnesota; and that leads to another problem—he is governor of Minnesota, a state that isn’t exactly the first one to spring to mind when conversation turns to important, relevant states.

Sarah Palin is a talented person, and she certainly has a bright political future in the GOP. Her stand on oil drilling deserves admiration—there are few more vocal proponents for drilling in ANWR and offshore. But she has been governor for less than two years, and before that she was mayor of the relatively small city of Wassila. That is simply not enough experience for the office of Vice President. Her time will come—but it is not now.

Bobby Jindal has done a fine job as governor of Louisiana, and seems to have attracted the interest of many prominent conservatives—Rush Limbaugh has called him the “next Reagan”, Michelle Malkin and Katherine Jean Lopez are big fans, and many conservatives bloggers look to him as the party’s next leader. He would insulate McCain from conservative criticism—after all, few conservatives want to attack the “next Reagan.” By all accounts, he is a very articulate man, and his youth might help offset McCain’s age.

The downside is a lack of experience. He has been governor of Louisiana for only seven months, and served in the House of Representatives for three years. He has been in Washington since 2001 (he spent the rest of his time there in the Department of Health and Human Services), which is actually longer than Obama, but his experience is still pretty limited. If something were to happen to a President McCain, it is questionable whether Bobby Jindal would be ready to lead the nation.

Or McCain could pick someone else. Former SEC chairman Chris Cox has been suggested as a possibility, but he is such an obscure figure that it is difficult to imagine many voters getting excited over his nomination. So has former Ohio Representative Rob Portman, who, while conservative, doesn’t spark much a reaction in me. And I think he should, given that I live in Ohio in his former district.

All of McCain’s choices come with disadvantages. My choice, though, is Jindal. He is conservative, articulate, and savvy, and would emphasize the fact that the Republican party is a conservative party. Given the patriarchal nature of GOP, there is a good chance that he would be the party’s nominee in 2012, and it is difficult to imagine a better choice. McCain should nominate Jindal. There are risks in that pick, but the reward more than makes up for them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts…

Most people think that Jesse Jackson’s now infamous rant about Barack Obama (“I’d like to cut his nuts off!”) is actually a good thing for Obama—after all, many moderate voters who may be unsure of Obama don’t like Jackson, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There may be some truth to that, but I think that an equally strong argument could be made that Jackson’s criticisms hurt Obama. Obama is running as a unifying, transformational figure, and criticism by anyone, especially an (ahem) “civil rights leader” like Jesse Jackson undercuts that image. It isn’t possible to know what kind of impact Jackson’s statements will have in November, but I doubt the Obama campaign is very happy about them.

Actually, I do know what impact Jackson’s statements will have in November—none. In four months, everyone will have completely forgotten about them.

Speaking of November, it seems (incredibly) that McCain could still actually win. Gallup’s daily tracking poll has the two candidates tied, Rasmussen has Obama up by two, which is within the margin of error, and the RealClearPolitics national poll average has Obama up by 4.8 points, down from almost seven points up only a few weeks ago. Right now, is seems that neither candidate really wants to seize control of the race.

Considering how entertaining the race was just a few months ago, the whole political landscape has suddenly grown very dull. Bush is a lame duck and won’t do anything, Congress will probably wait until the next president is sworn in before doing anything, and neither presidential candidate is making much news. Boring.

And just to put things in perspective, the Daily Kos is one of the most popular liberal blogs. It has a lot of influence among Democrats, presidential candidates attend its YearlyKos conventions, it gets tons of liberal traffic. is a website that makes funny lists about pop culture—it’s amusing (I read it), but sort of…lightweight. Cracked gets twice as much traffic as the DailyKos. (Compare them at It’s fun seeing how different websites compare). If you’re reading this, you probably think about about politics a great deal, and it’s easy to forget that most Americans really couldn’t care less.

One series of books I really enjoy is the Inspector Rebus series by Ian Rankin. They are dark, rather depressing books, but they hold your attention and feature interesting plots and well-done dialogue. They are set in Scotland, and if Rankin’s books are at all accurate, there is a wholly different culture regarding crime over there. The police are almost powerless, there are whole neighborhoods that they can’t enter without extreme caution, and it is considered almost impossibly difficult to get a conviction. There are crime-ridden places in the U.S., of course, but I’m pretty sure that police officers can at least patrol most areas in our cities. Anyway, you might want to check them out.

On the bright side, there aren’t many guns in Scotland. (The bad guys seem to use mostly fists and knives). So they’ve got that going for them.

John McCain has come out with an ad that basically tells Hispanics what great people they are. (I’m not exaggerating). It’s a pretty blatant pander, and it might annoy some conservatives, but I think it’s pretty effective. It shows McCain talking about Hispanic military service during a debate, and McCain can be surprisingly eloquent when talking about that sort of thing. See it here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We Are Winning

Conservatives often feel that the America they know is slipping away. Neither presidential candidate can be called an true ideological conservative, the supposedly conservative Republican party all too often slides left, and the Supreme Court has an unconstitutionally large amount of power. (It doesn’t matter which side of the abortion debate you are on, Roe v. Wade was, by any objective analysis, a ridiculous decision). Abortion on demand is legal and socially acceptable, tax rates are often far too high, and government spending is out of control. Odds are, by this time next year we will have a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, and a Democrat president. It sometimes seems that the conservative cause is a losing one.

Sometimes it is. But more often, it is not. America, from a conservative point of view, is by far the best run country in the world. There is no other country in the world that utilizes conservative philosophy as the United States does.

Most of Europe consists of quasi-Socialist states (and some European countries can drop the “quasi”—they are full-fledged socialist). But worse than the massive government power (though it may be because of it), Europe is killing itself. Europe’s birth rate is collapsing, their share of the world economy is dwindling, and their social institutions seem to be breaking down. (In Britain, they are discussing whether or not to continue to bother jailing burglars. It is possible that in a few years, it will be possible to be convicted of a burglary in that country and not draw jail time). Europe seems to have lost its will to live.

(Europe may be dying, but it is a long way from dead. European states have a way of surprising—England was only a minor power for centuries, then conquered most of the world, France went from Revolution to Empire in a decade, and Germany rose from it’s World War I ashes astonishingly quickly. Don’t count Europe out.)

Europe may be a dying socialist continent, but it is at least possible to live a prosperous and happy life there. In most of the world’s countries, an easy life is not an option. Much of the world is poor, much of the world lives under repressive dictatorships, and much of the world must endure both poverty and tyranny. Most of Africa, most of Asia, most of the Middle East, and much of South America is ruled by totalitarian regimes. The vast majority of the world’s countries have not concept of democracy, no freedom of speech or religion, and no laws governing the judicial system. That kind of puts the whole ANWR drilling thing in perspective, doesn’t it?

The fact that the United States is both prosperous and free should not make conservatives complacent—after all, the fortunes of a country can change very quickly. But it is important not to miss the forest for the trees (an overworked cliché, but still an accurate one). America, for all it’s flaws, is a truly great country, and it probably better now than it has ever been in it’s history, and that is due in large part to the efforts of conservative leaders. Conservatives can be proud—our work is often difficult, but it is effective. We are winning.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Critiquing McCain's New Ad

John McCain has released a new ad entitled “Love”. The ad has gotten mostly positive reviews, and most commentators seem to think that it is effective. The ad is undeniably helpful to McCain—but much of it is also wholly irrelevant.

The ad hits on McCain’s two biggest strengths: his military service and his maverickness. The military service part is hard to miss—the ad opens with the narrator saying:

It was a time of uncertainty, hope and change. The “Summer Of Love.” Half a world away, another kind of love — of country.
John McCain: Shot down. Bayoneted. Tortured. Offered early release, he said, “No.” He’d sworn an oath.

All accompanied, of course, with images of McCain’s bravery. (And note the sly digs at Obama's rhetoric--McCain links "hope" and "change" to the decadent Summer of Love. This, of course, could backfire if enough voters decide they like the Summer of Love).

There is no one who admires McCain’s heroism more than I. The sheer courage and fortitude required to withstand constant beatings and long periods of solitary confinement as McCain is beyond belief. John McCain is an American hero, and the story of his life shows his strength of character and bravery.

But heroism and character are not qualifications to the presidency. If they were, John Kerry (he exaggerated his service, but he did fight in Vietnam) and George McGovern (yes, he fought very bravely in World War II) would have made fine presidents. But however courageously they may have fought in their youth, their policies would have been disastrous for the country. McCain is no different—his service makes him a hero, but not necessarily a strong leader or a good president.

McCain’s service should be irrelevant, and looking at the matter logically it is, but it makes a difference to many undecided voters. (John Kerry’s candidacy was due in large part to his military service, which is why the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were such a disaster to his campaign). And if his military service attracts votes, it is hard to imagine that McCain would not capitalize on the issue. His inclusion of his military credentials as a qualification for the presidency does not reflect poorly on him, but rather upon the stupidity of so many American voters. Given the apathy that so many Americans display towards politics, it often seems that we do not deserve democracy.

The rest of the ad focuses McCain’s time in Washington, and actually hits many of the points I suggested in yesterday’s post (although of course this ad was conceived of long before I wrote that post). The ad goes on to say:

Home, he turned to public service.
His philosophy: before party, polls and self … America.
A maverick, John McCain tackled campaign reform, military reform, spending reform.
He took on presidents, partisans and popular opinion.
He believes our world is dangerous, our economy in shambles.

It seems that possibility McCain is going for the underdog maverick approach—the announcer really makes a point to stress the word “maverick”, and the ad is quick to mention all the people and institutions he’s gone up against.

The “service” part of the ad works fairly well, even if it is irrelevant, and the “maverick” part is effective too. But the conclusion of the ad is absolutely fantastic—it manages to neutralize Obama’s without seeming mean-spirited or petty.

John McCain doesn’t always tell us what we “hope” to hear.
Beautiful words cannot make our lives better. But a man who has always put his country and her people before self, before politics can. Don’t “hope” for a better life.
Vote for one.

This part of the ad is insightful, smart, and relevant. (Much of Obama’s “hope” and “change” rhetoric is no more relevant than McCain’s military service is—what does “we are the people we have been waiting for” even mean?). If McCain is to win, he will have to run a nearly perfect campaign. This ad is a good start.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Being a Maverick

Right now, things don’t look good for the Republican party. John McCain trails Barack Obama by 5.5 points in the RealClearPolitics national poll average. Obama’s favorable rating is over ten points higher than McCain’s. InTrade market odds put Obama’s chances of winning at nearly 65 percent, and the RCP electoral count gives Obama 238 electoral votes to McCain’s 168.

Things are even worse for Congressional Republicans. Over twenty Republican House members have retired, leaving their seats vulnerable, and the RCP Generic Congressional ballot gives the Democrats an 11.5 point advantage. Even Sen. John Ensign, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said that Republicans should be “running scared.”

So the Republican party is in bad, bad shape. Who does that benefit? John McCain.

During the Republican primary season, radio talk show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt was noted for declaring every development in the race benefit for his candidate, Mitt Romney. (Eventually, this devotion led to a hilarious parody by Iowahawk). I’m not as optimistic as Hewitt always was (and, of course, he turned out to be wrong about Mitt’s chances). And it is obvious that the Republican party’s doldrums are a very big advantage to the Obama campaign. But John McCain really can benefit as well.

John McCain runs best as a gritty, underdog maverick. In fact, it is possible that he can only run as a maverick. He is a lousy speechmaker, using odd cadences and strange grimaces in his speeches. He is only a fair debater, and is unlikely to decisively best Obama in any debates of this fall’s debates. (He is much stronger in a townhall format, but Obama wisely, if cravenly, turned down McCain’s offer of a series of townhall debates) He doesn’t make political allies well—in addition to drawing the ire of conservative leaders, he hasn’t made many friends among the party elite (which, come to think of it, might be a good thing, given the incompetence that the Republican leadership has displayed). In contrast, the entire Democrat party loves Obama.

Even with McCain’s shortcomings as a candidate, he must have something—after all, he almost won the Republican nomination in 2000, and did win in 2008. His appeal seems to lie in his sheer unpredictability and perceived independence of thought. His main selling point seems to lie in a Don Rickleseque ability to attack those in authority or who disagree with him (Bush, Rumsfeld, and those Republicans who don’t support campaign finance reform or amnesty). John McCain’s political persona is that of a principled man speaking truth to power.

That’s hard to do if one is leading in the polls—insults would just make one look petty and self-absorbed, and speaking truth to power isn’t possible if you are actually in power. But if one is behind in the polls, then it is possible to take on the role of the scrappy underdog fighting against the odds. This is what McCain must do.

Surprisingly, McCain hasn’t really exploited this potential strength. Instead, he has…he hasn’t done anything much, really. He’s given some speeches, none of which really went over that well, and challenged Obama on a few issues, and hasn’t really done anything else. Perhaps McCain will decide that the “maverick” strategy won’t work for him, and decide to do something else. But he has to come up with some strategy.

McCain has a perfect opportunity to utilize his maverickness, and doing so would probably help him, but it is important to note that this is an “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” sort of deal. The McCain campaign would much prefer to be in Obama’s position (even though polls done this early in the process are almost meaningless). If McCain plays the underdog, he will be making the best of a bad situation—a situation that will probably put Barack Obama in the White House with both a Democrat Senate and House.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Left's War on Science (and History)

Liberals often complain conservatives are waging a “war on science.” This accusation is partly valid—on the issue of teaching evolution in pubic schools, and to a lesser extent on the issue of climate change, many conservatives do basically ignore the relevant scientific data. (Even though I don’t believe that the prevailing global warming hypothesis is necessarily valid, many conservatives seem to start with the premise that manmade global warming isn’t happening and work back from there. Though in fairness, liberals often do the same thing in reverse). So this liberal criticism is somewhat justified.

But liberals are guilty of much the same thing. They habitually misuse science and history to advance their agenda. Take, for example, Al Gore’s famous (or infamous) documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Gore suggested that Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming (2005 was an exceptionally busy hurricane season, but Category Three hurricanes aren’t exactly rare), that Lake Chad is drying up due to global warming (Lake Chad is drying up, and that is due in large part to human activity, but that activity is over-extraction of the lake’s water, not excess carbon dioxide), and that his claims are part of a wide scientific “consensus” (even though there are many scientists who vocally disagree with the idea of man made global warming).

Possibly, man made global warming is a very real threat. (Although if so, it is hard to see what could be done about the problem). But those who believe it is a menace have an obligation to ensure that the evidence that they use is absolutely reliable. Sadly, many on the left do not live up to this responsibility.

The left may take occasional liberties with science, but that is nothing compared to the way they treat history. The various ways the Left abuses history are too numerous to mention, and most have been pretty thoroughly debunked. It seems a waste of time to remind liberals that Stalin and Mao were every bit as evil as Hitler, that the Scopes Monkey Trial was not an epic battle between science and religion, but rather a (successful) publicity stunt for the town of Dayton, Tennessee (Dayton felt as though it wasn’t getting enough attention, so it decided to capitalize on the then-raging evolution controversy. Scopes was in on the scheme, and actually persuaded some of his students to testify against him), or that Three Mile Island didn’t actually kill anybody.

The development of Christianity is one area in which leftist historians are particularly unfair. True, some of the developments in this area are staggering—the Dead Sea Scrolls spring to mind. But much of the literature regarding this era seems designed to unfairly denigrate Christian teachings.

Take the Gospel of Judas. This gospel is one of many non-canonical gospels written during the early days of Christianity. (The Church didn’t formally decide which books were canon until the fourth century). Many of these gospels were written to bolster the teachings of various Christian sects that sprang up during the early years of Christianity, and include some bizarre events. The Gospel of Judas includes some of the strangest of these—it claims that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, and that Judas was actually the only truly loyal disciple.

This gospel is quite interesting to scholars—it reveals the roots of the sect called Gnosticism, and provides some insight into the development of Christianity. However, that is not how National Geographic billed the finding. In an April 2006 cover story, the magazine claimed that the “most hated man in history is back,” and that “Judas, reborn, is about to face the world,” as though the gospel had real significance in the origin of Christian doctrine.

It didn’t. People have known about the Gospel of Judas for centuries. (Early Christian leaders condemned its teachings). Gnosticism was one of the most well-known of the early heresies. Furthermore, the Gospel of Judas was written decades after the events it describes, and decades after the four Gospels that we recognize as canon today. (The four Gospels were written between AD 65-95; the gospel of Judas was written around 180). The Gospel is an interesting artifact, but it is a record of a failed religion (Gnosticism) rather than any radical reinventing of early Christian doctrine.

Liberals are entitled to point out conservative failings regarding science and history—but should make sure to clean their own house before being too critical. If the right is waging a “war on science,” then the left is guilty of doing so as well.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Wonder of Rush

Rush Limbaugh has just signed the largest contract in radio history, renewing his deal with Clear Channel Communications. His new deal runs eight years, and is worth four hundred million dollars, with an incredible signing bonus of one hundred million. Rush wasn’t doing so badly before—according to the New York Times, he has been raking in about $38 million a year. But his new contract is off the charts—to give a little perspective, Sean Hannity’s last contract provided him with a five million dollar salary. (Hannity has since signed a new contract, so his salary is higher now). According to Drudge, Rush’s salary is higher than that of Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer — combined. It is $150 million dollars more than Alex Rodriguez’s mega-deal with the Yankees.

Rush deserves it. His contributions to the conservative movement have been incalculable, and he provides intelligent political commentary in a climate where such commentary is becoming increasingly rare. He is one of the few pundits who is listened to by both intellectuals (the folks at National Review all seem to listen to him) and ordinary people (he has an audience of over twenty million).

The conservative movement has been fortunate in its leadership choices. The man who founded the movement as we know it today was William F. Buckley, as it is impossible to imagine a better choice. He was conservative, intelligent, and articulate, and was very good at getting his message out. He also knew which movements to support, such as the social conservative movement, and which ones to throw under the bus, such as the John Birch Society and Ayn Randists.

Rush Limbaugh is a worthy heir to Buckley. In a way, his task is harder than Buckley’s—Buckley had to found a movement; Limbaugh has to try to keep it on track. It is due in large part to Limbaugh’s influence that the Right has not drifted towards a European style Christian Democrat type of movement (concentrating on social issues while accepting big government) or towards strict libertarianism (rejecting the social conservative movement completely), or towards neo-conservatism (focusing on a hyper-aggressive foreign policy. Rush been vocal in his support for the Iraq War, but as fortunately refrained, for the most part, from advocating the sort of “world’s policeman” hawkishness of, say, Bill Kristol). Rush Limbaugh’s authority has helped insure that the Right is, mostly, a cohesive political philosophy, in a way that the Left is not.

In addition to leading the conservative movement, Limbaugh also created a whole new media format—political talk radio. To be sure, there was talk radio before Limbaugh, but only a small portion of it focused on political issues, and there was no such thing as a nationwide talk radio program. (Radio convention wisdom was that only local programming would sell). Due to the success the Rush Limbaugh Show, there are now dozens of nationally syndicated talk show hosts, providing a wide range of perspective from conservative to very conservative.

Perhaps this post seems a bit over adulatory of Rush Limbaugh, and maybe it is. But Rush has had a significant influence on me—it was his show that got me interested in the conservative movement. There were other influences before Rush (I believe that Ann Coulter was the first conservative author I read), but I never really grasped what it was to be a conservative before listening to his program. For better or worse (depending on how you feel about what I write), this blog exists, in large part, because of the influence of Rush Limbaugh.

I doubt that I am the only person who can say this—it seems that many of the brightest stars on the Right, and many rank and file conservatives, got their start by listening to Rush Limbaugh. There have been many great conservative leaders—Bill Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater. But it is possible to make a case that Rush Limbaugh has had the greatest positive influence on the movement, and conservatives should be grateful to have him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Health in America

Liberals love to point out the shortcomings of America’s health care system. They point out that it is much too expensive, which is true, and claim that countless Americans don’t get adequate care, which is not. They call attention to the fact that that there are almost 47 million uninsured Americans (sometimes it’s nearly 50 million, depending on which liberal is quoting the stat), and suggest that those Americans face a horrible fate if they happen to become ill.

Wrong. America’s health insurance system may be broken, but its health care system is working quite well. In fact, American health care is possibly the very best in the world. The U.S. ranks 47th in life expectancy. The European Union as a whole ranks 42nd in life expectancy. There is less than five months difference between the two entities.

This is astonishing considering the incredibly poor way Americans care for their health.. America is the world’s top drug consumer—over 16 percent of Americans have tried cocaine at least once (thanks for pushing that percentage up, Barack). The next highest percentage is New Zealand (does New Zealand have a drug problem?), with a total of four percent of the country’s population having experimented with cocaine. Not every cocaine-trying American will experience drug-related health problems—but some certainly will.

In addition to being the world’s leading cocaine consumers, the United States also has the embarrassing distinction of being the world fattest country. Over 30 percent of the nation is obese (not merely overweight, but obese). Obesity is a major health risk—it can cause back and joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, among others.

In fairness, I should point out the United States has a relatively low smoking rate when compared to Europe, though at over 15 percent, it is still far too high.

Given the awful health habits displayed by Americans, the U.S. health care system holds up remarkably well. It does not only have to deal with diseases, but also with the consequences of medical conditions people inflict upon themselves. Our health care system is not perfect, but overall, its performance is truly remarkable. It provides most Americans, regardless of health habits, with long and comfortable lives and deserves credit.

The Goldwater Myth

Right now, the conservative movement is in a state of transition. The Bush (father and son) era is over, the influence of the Gingrich-Armey-Dole Republicans of the Nineties is fading, and the Republican party seems unsure of what ideological direction to more towards. The GOP nominee is John McCain, who, depending on your feelings towards him, is at best a maverick, or at worst a conservative apostate. Many conservatives don’t know which way to turn.

Many are looking to the past for guidance. The conservative movement became a political force in 1964, when Barry Goldwater was nominated instead of the very liberal New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. Understandably, many on the Right look to this episode for guidance. But sadly, the whole affair has become shrouded in myth and urban legend.

It seems that many, perhaps most, conservatives think that in 1964, the Republicans nominated the conservative paragon Barry Goldwater in a hopeless, quixotic effort to defeat Lyndon Johnson. He lost, but directly paved the way for Reagan’s victory, so Goldwater’s loss was a good thing for conservatives.

If that’s your view of the Goldwater candidacy, then everything (maybe not everything, but a great deal) that you know about Barry Goldwater’s 1964 candidacy is wrong.

Goldwater was one of the most important conservatives of his day (although a lack of competition helped his standing). During a time when conservatism was viewed as a losing cause, Goldwater stood his ground, and attracted many, many people to the Right. However, it is often forgotten that Goldwater was a Republican first, and a conservative leader second. He supported the party man, Richard Nixon, in 1968 over Ronald Reagan, the conservative choice. In 1976, he gave his support to Gerald Ford, jilting Reagan once again. Incredibly, he once declared that the uber-liberal Nelson Rockefeller would be a good president (and he evidently meant it—in his 1979 autobiography With No Apologies, he reiterated the sentiment, putting the relevant quote prominently on the back cover). Goldwater did a lot for the conservative movement—but he was nothing like the conservative leader Ronald Reagan was.

Another misconception about Goldwater is the idea that he was the sort of perfect conservative the present-day GOP needs. He wasn’t. If he ran in today’s GOP, he would almost certainly not be nominated—because he would be too liberal.

Goldwater supported an aggressive foreign policy (“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”), a balanced budget, low taxes—and abortion. Social conservatives make up an integral part of the GOP base, and it’s hard to imagine any Republican winning without them. And as the Rudy Giuliani candidacy proved, they won’t vote for a pro-choice candidate. Goldwater represented the next wave in American politics—but he didn’t wholly represent the conservative revolution..

A third Goldwater myth is the idea that he was nominated only to make a point; that he stood absolutely no chance against the Democratic nominee. By the time Goldwater was nominated, that was in fact true—he stood no real chance against Lyndon B. Johnson. But at time the Draft Goldwater movement formed in 1961, the president was John F. Kennedy, who was a much easier target. He was a polar opposite of Goldwater—rich, privileged, Northeastern, and liberal, while Goldwater came from Arizona from a less advantaged background. A Goldwater-Kennedy match-up would have been challenging, but Goldwater would have had a definite chance.

Unfortunately for Goldwater, Kennedy’s assassination changed all that. Overnight, Kennedy became a legend, and Goldwater’s opponent became Johnson, whose background was similar to Goldwater’s. Given that fact, and the fact that many Americans didn’t want to change leadership so quickly after Kennedy’s assassination, Goldwater (and probably any Republican candidate) was doomed. But it is important to note that Goldwater’s supporters didn’t deliberately nominate a losing candidate—they nominated a conservative candidate whom they thought could win.

(This myth is often used as a justification for voting for Ron Paul, Bob Barr, Pat Buchanan, or any other unelectable candidate. Supporters of this type of candidate often cite the Goldwater nomination as a flawed precedent.)

George Will famously said that “it took 16 years to count the votes [of the 1964 election], and Goldwater won.” That is wrong—Goldwater was no Reagan. His electoral strategy was flawed, and his vision of conservatism would have almost certainly been almost been a losing one.

Reagan’s great victory lay in the fact that he attracted working-class social conservatives—who up to that point had often voted Democrat—to the Republican banner. The influx of social conservatives pushed the GOP over the top, and created a new Republican majority (at least for a while). Goldwater’s vision was essentially different—it didn’t the crucial social conservative bloc. Goldwater deserves credit for his contributions to the conservative cause, but he wasn’t Ronald Reagan, and in fact disagreed in large part with Reagan’s ultimately successful conservative vision. For all of Goldwater’s virtues, his strategy was, and always would have been, wholly ineffective.

Why is Goldwater important today? Because the conservative movement must choose a new direction today, and as the cliché goes, the past is the key to the future. The Goldwater candidacy holds many lessons for conservatives, and it is crucial that conservatives know what actually happened in 1964.