Wednesday, April 30, 2008

McCain the POW

Winning the presidency is the most important, life defining accomplishment possible for a politician. It is the crowning achievement imaginable for most people, and represents the most difficult and important challenge that a candidate will ever face. While many have experienced tough challenges and difficult struggles, the presidency is the ultimate test of one’s mettle. This is true for every politician in Washington—except one.

The exception to that rule is John McCain. His presidency (provided he wins) would be a tremendously important one, and he would have to make difficult decisions and fight some tough fights. But it still couldn’t be the hardest battle he has fought. His most difficult struggle came while in captivity in Vietnam.

Everyone knows about McCain’s heroism in Vietnam. He was shot down over Hanoi, was brutally tortured by his Vietnamese captors, and refused an offer of an early release if those captured before him were not released as well. He was a true hero.

One particularly striking example of his heroism is the story reported on by Karl Rove (yes, that Karl Rove) in the Wall Street Journal. One of McCain’s fellow captives had his arm broken and set at an odd angle by the Viet Cong. The intent was to break the man’s spirit by ensuring that he would never fly again. John McCain, risking severe punishment, gathered bamboo sticks and reset the prisoner’s arm. He lived to fly again—thanks to McCain.

McCain was forced to display such courage and leadership while facing considerable torture himself. Both his arms were broken, and he was often forced to lie for hours with his head between his ankles, with his arms tied behind his back. Through all his suffering, he exhibited courage and gave hope to his fellow prisoners. When released, he resolved not to wallow in self-pity, but rather to forge a new career. He did, and now has a reasonable chance at becoming the next President of the United States.

After his Vietnam experience, even the presidency could not possibly become the defining event in McCain’s life. This unusual (perhaps unprecedented) situation would have both benefits and drawbacks in the event of McCain presidency.

An obvious advantage would be that McCain would, in all probability, stick firmly to his principles. His experiences have taught him fortitude and determination. He is old, and has experienced far more than most men ever shall. It seems logical (and his Senate record bears this out) that he would remain unshakable in defending his positions, no matter the political cost.

Another plus is the fact that whatever the situation in the White House, McCain would almost certainly have been through worse. His experiences have prepared him for whatever the job could throw at him. His Vietnam experiences have prepared him for dealing with the painful and the unexpected.

The negatives of his Vietnam experiences? First, and most obvious, his political intractability presents problems for conservatives—as seen on the illegal immigration issue. He sees himself as above the petty politicking so often seen in Washington. Unfortunately, that means that even when wrong, he would rather persist in his error than change his views. In a sense, he is the anti-Kerry—flip-flopping on an issue would be the last thing to cross his mind—even if it were better he did so.

In addition, his age is a legitimate issue—and the years he spent as a POW would tend to age him faster than years spent otherwise. Seventy-two is old to take control of the United States. But seventy-two years old, plus five years in a brutal POW camp—well, it raises questions about McCain’s ability to withstand the pressures of the presidency. McCain’s age is not an automatic disqualifier—but it should be a factor in the mind of every voter.

People can (and will) differ over whether McCain’s POW experiences are a positive or negative. They could be the force that transforms his presidency into one of the most successful ones of the century, or they could ensure that his administration is incompetent and unresponsive. However, it is a certainty that they are almost unprecedented in American history. In the matter, as it so many others, John McCain is unique.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why Obama Should Denounce Wright

Barack Obama has run a pretty good campaign. He got people excited from the start, forged a likable, engaging image, and destroyed Hillary Clinton’s aura of inevitability. He will probably win the Democratic Party nomination, and still has a good shot at the Presidency. His ascent to the likely nomination of his party is, from a political point of view, stunning and inspiring.

And he could lose the whole thing because of Jeremiah Wright’s seemingly pathological inability to shut up. Wright is ruining Obama’s campaign—and seems to be enjoying the unexpected chance of notoriety.

When Wright’s controversial comments first surfaced, Obama handled them as well as could be expected given the circumstances. He distanced himself from Wright’s comments, gave an “inspirational” (to liberals) speech with some nice soundbites, and moved on. (Unfortunately for him, he moved on to another easily avoided gaffe—his “bitter” comments). A major part of his fairly effective defense was that Wright’s comments were taken out of context; that they do reveal his true underlying philosophy.

Jeremiah Wright got a chance to expand on his philosophy over the weekend. He was invited to give a speech to the NAACP (I’m pretty sure that William Dean Howells and the rest of that organization’s founders are rolling in their graves) which gave the nation a chance to come to a better understanding of his view of the world. And after that performance, Barack Obama must be wondering if maybe it wouldn’t have been a better idea to renounce Wright.

That theme of Obama’s campaign is the idea that blacks and whites can live together as equals. The theme of Wright’s speech was that they can’t. I know Obama claims he didn’t hear much of Wright’s worldview, but that’s ridiculous. Wright explained his views on education, language, and change, and even reminded everyone of the deep philosophical concept that “different is not deficient.

Wright’s views on education seem to come from those e-mails that the people at Snopes.com spend so much time debunking. He thinks that “African and African-American children have a different way of learning.” Apparently, whites are “logical and analytical”, while blacks are “creative and intuitive”, who learn best by “experiencing” an object. So whites are better at learning concepts like math or science, while blacks are better at…rapping? Wright’s vision of the learning style of black children is pretty limiting.

Wright claims that this different style of learning is “different, but not deficient”. Actually, if these learning differences existed, (I don’t have to tell you that that they don’t, do I?) they would be a pretty good justification for racial discrimination. If it were accepted that blacks weren’t as good as whites at learning math, for example, and using Wright’s thesis it’s hard to argue that they would be equally good (how can you make the derivative of 2x^5+4x^2+9 “intuitive”?), then wouldn’t that be ample basis for denying blacks a job involving mathematics out of hand? Wright’s educational theory sounds like something out of one of David Duke’s most pleasant dreams.

Many commentators have rightly called for Obama to disown Wright because of Wright’s many anti-American comments. Obama has refused to do so. If Wright’s disdain for America is not reason to disown him, Obama should denounce him for his recent destructive and racist comments.

Wright’s latest controversial comments are not harmful to whites, but to blacks. For years, bigoted whites told blacks that they were not as clever or capable as whites. Now, Wright is saying precisely the same things. Wright’s notions are complete pseudoscience (the main point of his theory is partly based on the different ways blacks and whites clap), and are not supported by any serious cognitive psychologists. Being told it is inferior is the last thing the black community needs. If Obama will not disown Wright for saying “God Damn America”, perhaps he will do so for claiming that “blacks learn differently”. Such ideas are baseless, harmful, and have no place in our society.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bible-Thumping Democrats

On Earth Day, Nancy Pelosi shared her favorite Old Testament verse with the nation: “To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.” This is one of Pelosi’s favorite verses—according to Michelle Malkin, she has used it in official statements on global warming, the budget, Martin Luther King Day, Christmas, and why she’s a Democrat.

It’s hard not to notice that that quote doesn’t sound much like the Bible—it sounds more like something from the PETA charter. The Old Testament really doesn’t mention the environment much—even the endless lists of laws found in the Pentateuch don’t actually mention man’s relationship to the Earth (except for the “be fruitful and multiply” verse, but I don’t think that is what Pelosi was thinking of). This “verse” sounds suspiciously like something Nancy Pelosi just made up. A quick search of the Bible reveals that such suspicions are correct, and that this quote is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

During the last Presidential election in 2004, Howard Dean made much the same mistake. When discussing his religion with a reporter, Dean claimed his favorite New Testament book was Job which is in the Old Testament. (And I really doubt that Job is his favorite book—it is famous, but extremely hard to read and to comprehend. It’s not the first book that someone who rarely attends church, as Dean does, would read). Warming to his theme, Dean complained that he doesn’t like the ending of the book of Job, but that fortunately there is a more optimistic ending in “some of the books of the New Testament.” Apparently, he means that in some early translations of the book, there was an alternate “optimistic” ending, although it’s hard to imagine one more optimistic than the one that is actually in the book.

Going back two elections to 2000, Al Gore proclaimed in a debate with George Bush: “In my faith tradition, it's written in the book of Matthew, where your heart is, there is your treasure also. And I believe that we ought to recognize the value to our children and grandchildren of taking steps that preserve the environment in a way that's good for them." Except that is not in the Bible either. The actual quote is the inverse of Gore’s, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Anyone can make a mistake, but this is ridiculous. It seems that the Democrats have an election year tradition of having an extremely prominent Democrat make an incredibly dumb Bible-related gaffe. The misquotes by Pelosi, Dean, and Gore aren’t even explicable as some sort of misunderstanding—they make absolutely no sense, and this state of ignorance seems to pervade the highest echelons of the Democratic Party.

Why do Democrats make these elementary mistakes? Because they view quoting the Bible as a foreign language. Religion really isn’t friendly territory to liberals. Most prominent Catholic clergy, such as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XV, oppose most key elements of the liberal platform. Democrats also do poorly among the more religious Protestants, whose leaders also speak out against the Democrat’s anti-family message.

This leaves Democrats to harvest those who attend church, but not really seriously. They come to church to feel like they are spiritual people, but really don’t want to hear anything stronger from the pulpit than condemnations of sins they wouldn’t commit anyway, like murder and racism. This strain of churchgoer really doesn’t want to hear Bible quotes—apart from that being sort of like fundamentalism, ideas like “everlasting fire” are a little scary.

Is it any wonder why Democrats commit so many stupid gaffes when condescending to quote Scripture to the “bitter” (in Barack Obama’s words) believers in flyover country? The Bible has few passages that support their message, and is a book that is completely unfamiliar to many Democrat politicians. It is no wonder that Democrats commit so many mistakes—in fact, such mistakes are inevitable.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Environmental Destructiveness

Environmentalists are usually viewed positively. After all, most people find it hard to dislike those who spend their time trying to clean rivers and protect polar bears. Even among conservatives, environmentalists are often viewed as good people who sometimes go a little too far. Liberals, of course, view them as living saints.

Actually, however, environmentalists have done massive amounts of harm. True, they have saved some endangered species from extinction, and have done some good work preserving forests and rivers. But they also bear a large measure of responsibility for a great deal of human suffering.

There are over 300 million cases of malaria each year. Over one million of these cases die. DDT is an effective pesticide. It is extremely effective against the mosquitoes that carry the disease, and many African governments want to use the chemical to control malaria.

Unfortunately for them, environmentalists (not just the more radical ones, but your average, middle of the road environmentalists) are absolutely against such a practice. DDT is bad for the environment. It is absorbed into the bodies of animals in close contact with it, and increases in concentration up the food chain (since predators are poisoned by prey contaminated by DDT). It had particularly deadly consequences for birds of prey, which received the largest amounts of the poison, which resulted in weaker-shelled eggs. Since their young had such a high mortality rate, bald eagles and other raptors faced dramatic population declines when DDT was in heavy use.

Since the ban of DDT, bird of prey populations have rebounded. Granted, maybe a bunch of African children died of malaria (malaria hits children hardest), but at least we can rest assured that the African fish eagle is doing okay.

Is this accomplishment really worth the price? DDT alone wouldn’t eliminate malaria (mosquitoes adapt and become resistant), but it would probably help. Unspoiled nature is beautiful and worth fighting for, but it is indisputable that the needs of people, especially when the people are desperate as those living in sub-Saharan Africa, come first.

Ethanol is one of the Holy Grails of environmentalism. As envisioned by environmentalists, it would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, provide clean energy, stop global warming, and cure malaria. Well, it can’t actually do the last one, but then, it can’t do the first or second or third ones either. According to a February Associated Press article, it may actually double the greenhouse gas emissions from the gasoline it would replace, so it does absolutely nothing to slow the spread of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, even if ethanol did reduce greenhouse emissions, it wouldn’t work anyway. Even if every bushel of U.S. corn, wheat, rice and soybean were used for ethanol, it would cover about 4% of America’s energy needs. So ethanol is a) not all that environmentally friendly, and b) not that useful, even if it was.

Environmentalists are into symbolic things, however, and see ethanol as a Good Thing. Since the federal government feels a need to pander to environmentalists, and a need to pander to Iowa corner farmers for the Iowa caucuses, they provide generous subsidies for ethanol growth. As a result, over one quarter of all corn grown the U.S. is used in ethanol, and the amount rises each year.

Remember those poor Third Worlders dying of malaria? Environmentalists (and to be fair, greedy Iowa corn farmers) ignore that these people need to eat. Since much of the corn grown is used in ethanol, and much of the rest is fed to affluent Americans and Europeans, the price of food for billions of people as skyrocketed.

Rice, which is a main dish for billions of Asians, has increased in price 147 percent over the past year. People are rioting in Mexico over corn prices. India, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan have halted wheat exports. A third of the world’s grain markets are now closed.

It’s not hard to see that food costs will explode. In fact, they already have—global food prices have risen 83 percent over the last three years. These prices will hit poor, stressed countries the hardest, and those countries struggling with massive food shortages will see those shortages get worse. World hunger is a problem now—but if food prices continue to increase, it will become incalculably worse.

On the bright side, the amount of ethanol used continues to rise, making environmentalists and corn farmers happy. There might be a lot of African children starving to death (those are the ones who don’t die of malaria) because of the high price of basic food staples, but on the other hand, our cars are running on clean (well, not really clean, but still) energy. So I guess it’s all worth it, and I’m sure that those starving people can be comforted by the fact that they are really kind of environmental martyrs. So all’s well that ends well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

McCain's Confidence

Jeremiah Wright is one of Barack Obama’s most obvious vulnerabilities. The sight of this crazy pastor bellowing “God Damn America” or observing that 9/11 was just “chickens coming home to roost” would make almost anyone have second thoughts about voting for Obama. It is difficult to gauge the damage that Wright did to Obama, but the controversy certainly didn’t help him in Pennsylvania, where Hillary crushed him by ten points. Wright should be an effective hot-button issue for the GOP this fall.

Except he won’t be, at least if John McCain has anything to say about it. John McCain has declared the subject out of bounds. Apparently, McCain is “committed to running a respectful campaign based upon an honest debate”, and he seems to think that questioning Obama’s relationship with his crazy pastor is disrespectful.

That idea really doesn’t make much sense. Obama’s involvement in Wright’s church can certainly be seen as a tacit endorsement of Wright’s ideals. Furthermore, anyone who wants to lead America has a responsibility not to support such ideals. McCain is wrong not to take advantage of the Wright issue.

This same attitude can be seen in his dealings with Obama’s friendship with former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. After Obama compared Ayers to pro-life Senator Tom Coburn, McCain responded by meekly saying that such attacks “certainly [aren’t] in keeping with the [presumably Obama’s] overall attitude.” Hardly an effective response, especially considering the weakness of Obama’s position on the issue.

This episode reveals something of John McCain’s character. He runs his political career based on an unshakable assumption that he is absolutely in the right on every issue. This attitude can be both beneficial and harmful for McCain.

It helped McCain on the issue of Iraq. When nearly every Republican attempted to distance themselves from the war, McCain proudly and vocally stood for it. At the time, the war was seen a political killer, but McCain persisted in calling for the surge anyway. Now, McCain can be proud of the fact that he was one of the few Congressmen whom stood firm and full-heartedly supported our effort in Iraq.

But sometimes his obstinacy has very negative effects. McCain also stubbornly supported the illegal alien amnesty bill, which was anathema to conservatives. The rest of the GOP field realized the feelings of the base, and quickly shifted position, leaving McCain to face the brunt of conservative opposition. McCain has and will not budge on the issue, which will almost certainly cost him support from conservatives in the general election.

McCain’s overwhelming self-confidence is a mixed blessing. If he is right on an issue, conservatives can count on him defending his position to the death. However, if he is wrong, he will defend his incorrect decision equally strongly. Translating that philosophy to policy positions, that means that he will probably be wonderful on issues such as the war, abortion, and earmarks—but absolute death to conservatives on issues like immigration or global warming. McCain’s stubbornness, if he gets elected, will at times encourage and at other times enrage conservatives.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Musings

Today is Earth Day, when we are supposed to remember that we only have one Earth, that the Earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the Earth, that we can’t use up all the natural resources, and that global warming is bad. There may be a few environmentalist clichés I missed, but those pretty much sum up the effort. Earth Day advocates usually use Earth Day as an excuse to advance their agenda. In practice, that agenda takes on the qualities of a secular religion.

A religion without any real salvation, or even any point. Radical environmental leaders seem to think that being green is just too easy, hence an array of extra challenges for the believers. Nuclear power is anathema to believers, even though the widespread use of nuclear power would solve the greenhouse gas problem. Nuclear energy is clean and plentiful, and many nations, such as France, rely on it almost exclusively. Widespread nuclear power would be a boon the environment—and radical conservationists oppose.

True, nuclear power does result in nuclear waste, but nuclear waste has been responsible for very, very few deaths. Coal mining is dangerous and environmentally harmful, and oil is expensive and running out. Nuclear power is neither, but Greens oppose it anyway.

Another ridiculous challenge thrown up by radical environmentalists is the idea that helping the earth must be inconvenient and expensive. Some of their conservation ideas actually have some merit—recycling is inconvenient (and I personally don’t recycle), but is a good idea, and solar power probably saves money in some areas.

But environmentalists stress the inconvenient parts of environmentalism. For example, on wikihow.com’s guide to reducing global warming, one of the steps recommending is using a push mower (the kind they used in the fifties) instead of a power mower. This saves 80 pounds of carbon dioxide. That amount is totally insignificant. But it lets people feel good about themselves, and gain environmentalist grace. The actual effect on the environment is ignored.

Another sign of the global warming movement’s cultishness and unseriousness is its adoption of carbon credits. Carbon credits are used when a rich yet environmentally friendly activist feels guilty about his use of natural resources—but not that guilty. So he pays a sum of money that permits him to indulge himself and use as much carbon dioxide as he sees fit. That money goes, in many cases, straight into the coffers of Al Gore, who owns one of the largest carbon credit companies.

Environmentalists have a solid core philosophy—care for the Earth. Unfortunately, they have sullied it by embracing an impractical, cultish belief system. Their cause is now based on trendy assumptions of what it good for the earth, instead of practical, real-world solutions.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Effective Is Universal Healthcare?

It is no secret that liberals envy Europe’s state run healthcare system. They seem to be under the impression that getting sick in Europe is like getting sick in some wonderful utopia—you get instant, free treatment, regardless of your ability to pay. In this world, there are no poor laborers who’ve been laid off at the mill yearning for an expensive treatment for their five-year-old that is priced out of their meager allowance. Instead, the poor are guaranteed healing, which the generous state provides for. Liberals see only the greed of conservatives standing in the way of this wonderful reality.

Conservatives all too often respond to this dream by pointing out some embarrassing anecdote from a country with state run healthcare. These stories are often incredible—Great Britain is considering withholding treatment for smokers because of a lack of available physicians; a British boy deaf for years because of a botched operation; a Canadian mother flown into the United States because there were no open maternity wards in Canada—but are also usually anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence—and there are certainly more than enough horror stories that could be told about the American system.

The healthcare debate is best served by looking at the statistics. Life expectancy is probably the best method of gauging a healthcare system’s effectiveness—after all, healthcare is all about keeping people alive for as long as possible. The United States does not have universal healthcare—each person is responsible for his own care. The European Union does—the state pays for everything. Liberals routinely assert that the European model is much better than the American one—it provides doctoring for everyone, not just the privileged few. Therefore, life expectancy should be much higher

Average life expectancy in the United States is 78.14, which places it 47th internationally. Life expectancy in the European Union? It—and remember that this is a big selling point for advocates of universal healthcare—is…78.51(42nd). That is a difference of about five months.

Is five months enough to justify a complete overhaul of our healthcare system? No, unless you are a slave to the idea of meaningless equality. Many liberals are, which probably explains their passionate lobbying for universal healthcare. A look at the statistics shows that universal healthcare is not all that much better than the healthcare which we enjoy in America—the only reason to endorse it is to ensure that all Americans get the same mediocre treatment.

Unfortunately, that dream won’t work, even assuming that the U.S. goes over to a universal system. In most European countries, there is still a private healthcare system—it just works exclusively for the rich—and it works a lot better than the public system. Liberals complain that our healthcare system is weighted towards the privileged wealthy—imagine their reaction when the poor folk are forced to go to the government health clinic staffed by the same people now working at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, while the rich waft themselves over to the private doctor in the Gulfstream Five.

Liberals have made universal healthcare one of their signature issues. Unfortunately, they haven’t thought the matter through very well, and most of their arguments for it are lazy in the extreme. It is quite possible that they will eventually enact some version of it here. But if and when they do, universal healthcare won’t work in the way liberals hope. Instead, it will lead to a larger, debt-ridden government, chaos, and a system that—at best—would be no better than the one we have now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Obama's Rise and Fall

Two months ago, Barack Obama looked invincible. Republicans and Hillary Clinton partisans searched desperately for some chink in his armor—and the best attack they could find was his middle name. Obama represented hope, change, and an end to Washington’s bitter, divisive politics. He was a blend of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy; criticism couldn’t touch him, and he represented a youthful, independent, unifying style of politics.

It was inevitable that that image couldn’t last—no one is that perfect. What is astonishing is the speed and completeness with which Obama’s mystique was destroyed. Obama went from being the next Kennedy to being the next McGovern in less than two months.

The first sign that perhaps Obama wasn’t as adept a politician as many believed occurred when he was asked about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants during the Democrats’ November 16 debate. His response was so confusing and contradictory that the audience started laughing. That wouldn’t be particularly remarkable—except that Hillary Clinton had infamously flubbed the very same question in a debate that took place two weeks earlier. Were Obama really a smooth, ready-for-prime-time politician, one would expect him to have a ready answer to a question that had stumped his chief opponent.

Fortunately for Obama, no one really noticed that mistake. Then the Wright controversy broke. Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s insane rants hurt Obama in two ways—they undercut his image as the post-racial candidate, and they called into question his love of country. It makes you wonder how someone who presumably claims to love America could support (and Obama did some serious supporting—he has given over twenty thousand dollars to Trinity United Baptist) a church where Wright accused the U.S. government of creating the AIDS virus and screamed “God Damn America”. It is usually unfair to question a candidate’s patriotism, but in this case, either Obama a Machiavellian schemer who is willing to exploit religion in order to fool some of the people some of the time, or does not possess the love of country necessary to contest such statements.

Furthermore, the Wright permanently tarnished Obama’s status as the post-racial candidate. Obama’s response to the controversy revealed two things—a) that he believes that America is divided into separate white and black communities (which is the antithesis of the conservative position, which holds that America is one united community that takes the best of its composite cultures), and that b) he considers himself part of the black community. There isn’t anything wrong with being part of the black community (although many conservatives would prefer that he identify with the American community), but it certainly undermines the sentiment that “there is not a Black America and a White America—there’s the United States of America.” That sentiment, of course, was voiced by Barack Obama at the 2004 Democrat National Convention. It appears that Obama no longer believes in that, and perhaps never did.

Obama handled the Wright scandal fairly well, and minimized the damage, which was significant. But then “Bittergate” happened. Barack Obama told an audience of San Francisco billionaires that “bitter” Pennsylvanians “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.". This comment was both stupid and elitist. It is never wise to imply that people of faith cling to their beliefs the same way that racists cling to theirs, or that religion is caused by “bitterness”.

It is also incredibly elitist and condescending. Obama’s long-range evaluation of Pennsylvanians’ minds is more than elitist—it is incredibly arrogant. Obama’s haughty assertion that Pennsylvanians are racist because they are “bitter” shows his condescension and contempt for the people in flyover country.

And finally, is it really wise to suggest that anti-trade sentiment is a result of “bitterness”? I mean, it’s Barack Obama who wants to unilaterally dissolve NAFTA.

Obama didn’t do well in the last debate. He was defensive and ill-prepared. But that has been the condition of his campaign recently—out of touch, poorly prepared, and ineffective. Obama may recover and get his campaign back on the right track. But right now, he is reeling heading into the fall, where he will face the Democratic nominating convention and then the formidable John McCain.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Right to Free Speech

It is a cliché to declare that Americans, and Westerners in general, take our civil liberties and our democratic system of government for granted—but it is true. We know that there are places around the world where the rule of law is not respected, where a single brutal dictator rules, where freedom of speech and religion is not respected. But we do not think that such a thing could ever happen here (or in any Western country), or if it did, that it could only happen if a Hitler-like dictator seized power.

Sadly, though, it can happen here. In many Western countries, our basic liberties are slowly eroding away. Most blogosphere members have heard of the Mark Steyn-Ezra Levant case. Both of these writers have been investigated by the Canadian Human Rights commission for “flagrant Islamophobia”. “Islamophobia”, which is apparently illegal in Canada, can be defined as writings too critical of Muslims. While neither Steyn nor Levant will be charged, it is a chilling fact that simply criticizing Muslims can be a criminal offense in Canada.

In France, former film star Brigitte Bardot faces jail time for “inciting racial hatred”. Her “hate” speech? “I am fed up with being under the thumb of this population [France’s Muslim population] which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its acts”.

That sounds sort of tame by American standards—I’m pretty sure that Michael Savage or Ann Coulter have said far tougher things than that. And it’s also hard not to notice that Muslims aren’t a race, and it’s difficult to “incite race hatred” against a religion. Bardot’s comments may be inaccurate, and they are certainly critical of Muslims, but they definitely aren’t hateful.

But even if they were hateful, it is frightening to realize that in France—a modern country with protections for civil liberties—one can be jailed for saying things that do not conform to the official policy. The French philosopher Voltaire said “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. (Actually, that quote is probably apocryphal, but still). There is little evidence of that attitude in modern France.

Many see no problem with banning hateful sentiments—after all, is the world really a better place for the hateful rants of the people over at Stormfront.org? (For those fortunate enough to have never visited that particular site, it is a chat room run by David Duke that is known for both its hateful rants and the general stupidity of its members). Many people think that obviously hateful rhetoric should not be allowed.

Nobody likes hate speech, but it should be permitted. In fact, allowing such speech is essential for a functioning democracy. The first, and most obvious, reason is that if hate speech is not allowed, whoever controls the definition of “hate speech” controls political debate in the country. It is a good bet that Martin Luther King’s speeches would have been “hate speech”, and probably such works as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (which is pretty hard on slave owners—Stowe is at least as critical of them as Mark Steyn is of radical Muslims). Those who advocate controls on hateful comments should consider a world in which any dissenting point of view is banned.

There is also a more basic reason for opposing laws controlling speech. We have a constitutional, and, some would argue, God-given right to free speech. The essence of free speech is that the citizen can say whatever he wants to, without worrying about a government crackdown. People will not always exercise this right wisely—but that does not justify the withdrawal of this right.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pope's Visit

Pope Benedict XVI spent his first full day in the United States today by celebrating his 81st birthday at the White House while meeting with President Bush. Benedict received the same sort of rock star reception that his precessor, Pope John Paul II, regularly got when in the United States. Catholics and Protestants alike are excited and inspired by the Pope’s visit.

Count me among those inspired. Benedict XVI is not perfect—but he is a wonderful pope. It is impossible to realize the extent of the Pope’s influence on moral issues. Whether or not they agree with him, he speaks for the world’s billion plus Catholics. His (and his precessors’) leadership on this issue has been a significant, perhaps even vital, factor in the pro-life movement. He is easily the most influential religious leader in the world, and his uses his influence to advance the cause of traditional and Catholic morality. His visit to our country is inspiring to Catholics—and really, anybody of faith—across the country.

The only downside to the Pope’s visit is the revelation that so many Catholics have absolutely no knowledge of even the most elementary elements of their faith. It is understandable that some causal, “cafeteria Catholics” might not quite comprehend some of the more complex elements of their faith. Catholicism is difficult to really understand.

What is shocking—almost offensive, really—are the people whose ignorance is an insult not only to their faith, but to intelligence itself. Consider this piece by HuffPo blogger Verena von Pfetten
Is the Pope considered the physical representation of God on earth? (I should probably already know that or at least be googling it, but I'm lazy so I'm just going to let that question hang. And it has a point, I'm just getting there slowly.) And if he is, wasn't (isn't?) God all good? Wasn't / isn't the point of God just straight-up, undeniable, inarguable, all-around goodness?... So, in that regard, what exactly does the Pope do?... Feel free to fill me in here, this is not a rhetorical question.

I suppose that many Catholics aren’t quite clear what the Pope’s exact duties are, but anyone (espcially someone who claims, as von Pfetten does, to be an ex-Catholic) who thinks that Catholics believe that the Pope is the “physical representation of God on earth” clearly has never met a praticing Catholic. And anyone who is so “lazy” that she’ll just let the question hang is either too stupid or too intellectually lazy to be writing anything about the subject. Von Pfetten wrote an entire column asking for answers to the question of what the Pope actually does. Five minutes on Google would have given her the information needed to write a column that actually made sense.

Von Pfetten is hardly the only media representative to be clueless on this subject—coverage from many other media outlets and commentators is similarly sloppy. One can’t ever expect perfect coverage—but is it too much to ask that those who cover and comment on the Pope’s actions get the most basic facts right?

Fortunately, not all commentators are clueless. Many conservative blogs have provided good coverage of the visit, and NRO’s the Corner has provided some interesting comments. One of the most thought provoking (and most brutal) thoughts has come from Christopher Hitchens, writing in a Newsweek religious blog. He says
The scandal is not the presence of pedophiles in the church, but the institutionalization of child-rape by the knowing protection and even promotion (by non-pedophiles) of those who are guilty of it. The most grievous offender in this respect is Cardinal Bernard Law, currently an honored figure at the Vatican. This expression of contempt for the victims makes the Pope himself adirect accomplice in the very atrocity that he affects to denounce

Hitchens is immoderate in his language (did anyone in the Catholic Church promote child-rape? And it’s absurd to suggest that the Pope is an accomplice, direct or otherwise, in the child molestation scandal) but the main thrust of his argument is probably valid. The Pope was faced with a difficult dilemma when considering what to do with Cardinal Bernard Law (who covered up pedophile priests in Boston), and may have felt that keeping him in the Vatican where an eye could be kept on him was the best course.

But Cardinal Law enabled child molesters. That crime is so heinous that child rapists are kept segregated while in prison, since the rest of the population tends to kill or maim them for their crimes. If this crime is unforgivable even among rapists and murderers, doesn’t Law deserve a more dire punishment than that of being stuck on some Vatican committees?

I admire Pope Benedict XVI, and perhaps there are perfectly legitimate reasons for his actions regarding Cardinal Law. But someone should ask him to explain them. Child abuse is unforgivable, and no one who engaged in it should go unpunished.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jimmy Carter's Terrorist Friends

Jimmy Carter was an embarrassment while president. Nothing he did worked. He faced significant problems coming into office—an aggressive Soviet Union, a sluggish economy, and a burgeoning energy crisis. But far from solving any of these crises’s, he simply made them worse.

He changed America’s foreign policy against the Soviet Union from one of containment to one focusing on human rights. While human rights are desirable, his laxity towards the Soviet Union gave it much needed breathing room in its attempt to achieve military parity.

This attitude also cost the U.S. allies around the world. The Shah of Iran was apparently not democratic enough for Carter. When radical, anti-American Islamic fundamentalists tried to depose him, the U.S. refused to intervene, ensuring that they succeeded.

Under his watch, radical Muslims achieved their first major victory against the United States. Iranian fundamentalists took 52 Americans hostage to protest America’s sympathetic treatment of the Shah. Carter spent months in humiliating negotiations with these terrorists, and only managed to reach an agreement in the days after Ronald Reagan was elected President. The Iranian hostage crisis was a major humiliation for the U.S.

Since it was Carter’s policies that helped lead to the present robust condition of Islamic fundamentalism, one would expect Carter to leave the whole issue well enough alone. But sadly, Carter thinks that his “experience” in this area makes his insights helpful. (Maybe as a list of things not to do). He insists on trying to be a part of the Middle East peace process, giving his opinions on the subject and traveling to the areas in question.

In 2006, Carter came out with a book called Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. Because apparently a nation’s efforts to protect its people from suicide bombers is perfectly equivalent to a nation’s regulated discrimination against a whole race. Anyway, Carter’s point was that suicide bombing may be bad, but so is Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, so both sides have legitimate grievances. This problem can be brought to an end by…things getting better. Carter doesn’t seem to have a realistic, or even an unrealistic, peace plan. Instead, he declares that peace will come when Israel’s security is guaranteed and all the Middle Eastern nations come to a diplomatic agreement, which is pretty obvious.

Carter responded to criticisms of his book by airily dismissing critics as Jews who hadn’t actually been to Israel. He claimed that Israeli apartheid was not based on racism but only on the desire of some greedy Jews for Palestinian land. (Is Palestine really all that desirable? If the Jews are so greedy, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to occupy somewhere with oil?)

Carter’s book and past comments have made in clear that he is no friend of Israel. His actions in recent days make it clear that he isn’t much of a friend of America, either.

Carter has proudly vowed to meet Khaled Mashaal, exiled leader of the terrorist group Hamas, pausing only to lay flowers on Yasser Arafat’s grave and to embrace a few senior Hamas directors. Hamas is responsible not only for the deaths of dozens of Israelis, but has also committed numerous acts of terrorist against the United States. Carter might not care that Hamas kills Israelis, since they are just reacting against greedy Jews stealing Palestinian land, but surely he should draw the line at meeting a man responsible for the deaths of residents of the United States.

Jimmy Carter is not only stupid, he is also morally blind. He sees no difference between the actions of a state protecting itself against foreign enemies and the actions of a terrorist group. Carter’s support of Hamas is inexcusable and wrong. It should not be forgotten.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Is Liberal Talk Radio Nonexistent?

Liberal talk radio seems to be on its last legs. Air America is struggling financially, lost its biggest star when Al Franken decided to quit and run for the Senate, and the network has seen the number of stations carrying it plummet. Recently, Air America fired its last remaining star (using the term “star” loosely), Randi Rhodes, for calling Hillary Clinton a “f*cking whore”. Air America is probably facing collapse, and when it ends, liberal talk radio will be virtually nonexistent. The only two prominent leftist commentators remaining will be Ed Schultz, who is heard on relatively few stations, and Alan Colmes, who is even less significant than Schultz. For all practical purposes, liberal talk radio is dead.

Why can’t liberal hosts find success in talk radio? Talk radio has hundreds of voices, and intelligence isn’t exactly a requirement. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there are at least five stations that only broadcast talk radio. Many of these hosts are excellent (Rush Limbaugh or Laura Ingraham), others are dreadful (Michael Savage). None are liberal.

It certainly doesn’t help that so many liberal hosts are completely untalented. I listened to the unlamented Randi Rhodes a few times—she came across as a boring and unfunny liberal version of Ann Coulter. Al Franken, who hosted the flagship show on Air America, was remarkably untalented—even most liberals agreed.

In addition, Air America didn’t seem to exist to entertain, but existed only as a reaction to George Bush and Rush Limbaugh. Al Franken called his show the “O’Franken Factor” (get it? O’Reilly Factor, O’Franken Factor?) solely to tweak Bill O’Reilly. He implied that he would be willing to leave the network if George Bush was defeated. Air America seemed to be built solely to counter Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.

Contrast that approach to the approach taken by most successful conservative hosts. They take their conservative beliefs seriously—but they do not exist solely to counter liberals. Their primary goal is to advance their conservative beliefs. Had Air America billed itself as something other than the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, they might have a larger audience today.

Air America’s lack of talent hurt liberal radio, especially as their size ensured that the network would be seen as the representative of the format. But it isn’t the only reason. Talk radio has been around for years. Many liberals, even before Air America existed, attempted to break into talk radio. Jim Hightower, Mario Cuomo, Al Sharpton, and Ed Schultz are all well-known, talented liberals who attempted to break into talk radio. None of them made it.

Liberals often explain this away by claiming that talk radio is so dominated by conservatives that the rare liberal voice is overwhelmed. Except that fifteen years ago, there was no cable news channel that catered to conservatives. So when Rupert Murdoch attempted to found such a channel, it…uh…became the highest rated news channel on television. The liberal explanation doesn’t quite hold up.

Many conservatives claim that this disparity is due to the fact that Americans are so overwhelmingly conservative that liberal points of view are simply not tolerated. This does seem to have some validity—liberal voices are also significantly less popular than conservative ones on cable television. However, this explanation by itself is not sufficient—the nation is split between liberals and conservatives. So shouldn’t liberal hosts get a portion of audience share?

The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that liberalism is not so much a political movement, as conservatism is, but a confederation of allied causes. Blacks, environmentalists, antiwar groups, feminists—they all agree on most issues, but their pet cause comes first. Many liberal identify themselves as liberals second, and support their favorite cause first.

In contrast, most conservatives consider themselves conservatives first. They believe that government should be as small as possible, that it should uphold traditional morality, and that it should provide a strong defense. Conservatives can be divided into categories (social conservatives, neo-cons, libertarians, etc.). But these categories overlap to such a degree that a host can talk about taxes, for example, and still know that the social conservatives and the hawks will listen and enthusiastically agree. Liberal hosts, on the other hand, do not have that luxury, as each constituency in their audience is interested primarily in its cause of choice.

This puts liberal hosts at a disadvantage. They do have a single, common audience. Instead, they must speak to each groups’ specific concerns, a near impossible task.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Religion in School

Apparently, there is a taxpayer funded Islamic school in Minneapolis. Students are reportedly forced to participate in Islamic prayers, are supervised by teachers during their ritual washings, and fast during Ramadan. While the school denies the charges, it has refused to let reporters tour the school. It is very probable that this school did violate the law, and incorporated Islamic ceremonies and services into its school day.

The school will probably get investigated, and will get into trouble if any of these charges are proved true. Since it is taxpayer funded, any endorsement of religion is impermissible.

On the right, many conservative bloggers and writers are outraged. Michelle Malkin claimed that it represented the beginning of the implementation of sharia law in America. Ed Morrissey called the school a “maddrassa”. This school was mentioned disapprovingly by Ace, Stop the ACLU, and the Corner, among others. Most conservatives seem to think that our tax dollars should not subsidize such a school.

I don’t mind—as long as all religions are represented. Of course, any Christian denomination that even attempted to incorporate any shred of its beliefs into a state-funded charter school would instantly be sued by the ACLU. If a Christian group had attempted to promote Christianity on the taxpayer’s dime, it would be instantly stripped of its funding. There is a clear double standard—a Christian school that promoted its religion would have been treated entirely differently.

But double standards aside, publicly funded religious schools are actually a pretty good idea. Public schools, as a rule, aren’t exactly effective. No Child Left Behind didn’t work, and our education system is not effectual. We must take whatever steps necessary to improve it.

And if such steps involve state-funded religious schools, what of it? Liberals point to the constitutionally mandated “wall of separation of church between church and state”. That phrase is not actually in the Constitution (the real phrase is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” which is quite different). Neither of these phrases should ban religious charter schools. The language in both is clearly meant to prevent the founding of some Church of America, not to prevent religious groups from receiving government funds.

Funds for religious organizations should not be granted liberally. Generally, minimal contact between church and state is best for both groups. This prevents government from attempting to run the Church, and preserves the freedom given to each individual to practice his or her religion.

However, funds should be granted, in some cases, to religious charter schools. If, say, a Muslim school, a Protestant school, and Catholic school in the same community all receive state funds, is the government favoring any one religion or abridging anyone’s right to practice their freedom of conscience? The “wall of separation between church and state” (although not in the Constitution) is usually good policy. However, there are occasional circumstances in which government can provide funds to churches to advance the common good. Given that in many cases, government run education is an unmitigated disaster, is it such a bad idea to give religious organizations a chance?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Democracy in Iraq

Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus have given their testimony to Congress regarding the progress of the Iraq War. As expected, they report that affairs in Iraq are generally under control and improving, although perhaps more slowly than some hoped and expected. George Bush will withdraw 20,000 troops, then halt troop withdrawals over the summer.

Even with this setback, conditions in Iraq seem to be getting better. It is possible to see an end in sight, an end that will result in victory. If our government gives General Petraeus a chance, we can still win in Iraq.

Many, both on the left and on the right, have criticized the Bush Administration’s strategy of the early years on the war. It is undeniable that it was ineffective—the administration seemed to have no real vision for success, and was incredibly slow to adjust to new realities. It is fortunate that they eventually realized that their strategy wasn’t working, but it is impossible to wonder how many lives, and how much money, would have been saved had the administration adjusted earlier. Most people do wonder about this, and the administration has taken significant and well-deserved criticism for their management of the war.

But the mismanagement of the war was not the only problem with Bush’s Iraq strategy. He misunderstood one of the key tenets of the war—the idea that we could bring democracy to Iraq, and then (by some odd theory of causation) the whole Middle East. It’s a nice thought—but it doesn’t work that way in real life. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the ultra-aggressive neo-cons radically underestimated the difficulty of bringing democracy to Iraq.

Consider the history of democracy in the United States. America was the perfect place for democracy to develop—it had none of the oligarchial ruling traditions of more established territories, its culture combined the respect for democracy of Ancient Greece with Christianity’s respect for individual rights, and our Founders were some of the most brilliant men in history. And our democracy still almost collapsed twice in the first hundred years after its founding; first during the disastrous years following the Articles of Confederation, then during the Civil War.

In France, which had similarly fertile ground for democracy, democracy didn’t even outlive the French Revolution. France rejected a monarchy—and got a military dictatorship.

If democracy couldn’t survive in liberal (in the old sense) France, and could barely survive in America, what made Bush and the rest of the neocons think that it would instantly take hold in Iraq? Few people would argue that Islam is a more hospitable place for democracy than the West. In addition, Iraq really isn’t a country with any sort of tradition or ruling class—it is a creation of colonial administrators of the British Empire. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the only form of government in Iraq has been the survival of the fittest. There have been at least four coup d’etats in Iraq over the last half century, and then Saddam Hussein’s quarter century of absolute power. Hardly a good tradition for a democracy.

The U.S. should have let Iraq choose its own leader and form of government. It probably would not have been a democracy, and the leader probably wouldn’t have been perfect, or even particularly good. But we would have saved billions of dollars, and thousands of lives. And the leader chosen would have at least been strong and effective, unlike Nouri al-Maliki.

However, the Bush Administration did decide to set up a democracy in Iraq. That was probably a mistake, but we can’t reach into the past and correct our blunders. We have no choice but to create an Iraqi democracy, or else experience a humiliating defeat. General Petraeus is unusually competent, and there is good reason to believe that our military will succeed in its mission. Even if it is the wrong mission, we must still accomplish it. We cannot afford a defeat at the hands of al-Qaeda.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Boycotting the Olympics?

Many prominent public figures, such as Laura Ingraham, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton are pushing George Bush to boycott the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The reasoning behind this is that China’s brutal treatment of protesters in Tibet deserves some punishment, and what better punishment than a public humiliation before the entire world?

Quite a few others agree with this point of view. Chinese Olympic organizers prepared a “Journey of Harmony”, where the Olympic torch would be carried though cities around the world. Predictably, opponents of China’s communist, totalitarian regime took the opportunity to express their disapproval of the government, so the torch bearing ceremony has been a bit bumpy. In San Fransisco, the torch disappeared entirely, and the march descended into chaos.

So should the U.S. boycott some or all of the Games? Really, the question should not be on the table. When the decision was made to let China host the 2008 Olympics, it’s not like China had an outstanding, or even acceptable, civil rights record. Tiananmen Square, the extermination of dissenters, and the censored press were all well-known Chinese crimes. China’s poor record in human rights was common knowledge. This issue should be a moot point—China never should have gotten the chance to host the Olympics.

Unfortunately, we don’t like in an ideal world; we live in the one we have. So should the U.S. boycott the Olympics, or at least the opening ceremony? No. That sort of thing doesn’t usually work. China would get some bad PR, there would be a brief controversy, and things would go back to normal. Thinking the China would consider changing its human rights policy because George Bush isn’t at the Olympics makes those who think that talking with Iran is our only possible course seem like cynical, hard-headed realists.

Remember the 1980 Olympics? If you’re an American, you probably don’t, since the U.S. boycotted those Games to protest the Soviet Union’s involvement in world affairs. The Soviet Union responded by boycotting the 1984 Olympics in Los Angles. Does anyone feel that these boycotts made a difference?

In 1936, Hitler’s Germany held the Olympics. The U.S. attended those games—and Jesse Owens humiliated the “pure-blooded” Germans. He caused much more Aryan humiliation than a boycott ever could have.

If the U.S. wants to made a difference in China’s treatment of its citizens, there are many effective ways to apply pressure. A boycott of the Games is not one of them. It is a meaningless, empty, feel-good gesture.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pro-Choice?

Abortion is one of the most polarizing issues facing the country. Both sides are highly motivated, and both struggle to present their view as favorably as possible. Those who support abortion refer to themselves as “pro-choice”, and while those who oppose it call themselves “pro-life”. Both groups refer to themselves almost exclusively by their chosen label, and usually attempt to suggest the other side in opposition to their favored noun (either “choice” or “life”). But is either of these labels actually fair and accurate?

“Pro-life” is applicable. Granting the premise the fetus is a life, then it is fair to suggest that those who are anti-abortion support life in all its forms. It is possible to disagree with the premise, but abortion opponents are justified in calling themselves “pro-life”.

The only way in which the “pro-life” is unfair is its implied idea that those who support abortion are “anti-life”. It is certainly easy to make an argument that those who are pro-abortion support a heinous and gruesome practice—but if one assumes their good faith, it is unfair to say that they oppose life.

That quibble aside, “pro-life” is a fair description.

However, the issue is most often framed in the media as conflict of those who are “pro-choice” against those who are “anti-choice”. This labeling is blatantly unfair, and represents an obvious attempt by pro-abortion groups to “spin” their position to make it more appealing.

The “pro-choice” label is illogical on two counts. The first is that “choice” is such an all-inclusive noun that it could apply to almost anything. Drug legalization? It’s a matter of choice. Arson? Just exercising our right to choose. Murder? Don’t tell me what to do with my gun. The term “choice”, when used in the context of abortion, means literally nothing. One suspects that any desirable thing could have been a substitute for the word “abortion”.

The term “choice” is also inapplicable because it dodges the essential question. Liberals (and those conservatives who support abortion) attempt to frame the question as one regarding the right of a woman to control her own body. Liberals, showing a somewhat unexpected streak of libertarianism, support a women’s “right to choose”, leaving conservatives the alternative of opposing this “right”.

But the real issue does not involve “choice” at all. Instead, it involves the exact moment of embryonic ensoulment, which is an issue that is a lot more complicated and has no easy answer.

Everyone is America believes the concept of the soul in one form or another. All religious people do, and even atheists acknowledge that there is something that makes humans special, and gives them rights denied to less intelligent animals. So everyone agrees that humans have the right to life—the debate should consider the moment when an embryo becomes fully human, with all the rights conferred on us by our nature.

If this moment occurs at conception, then abortion is obviously immoral. If it occurs at birth, then abortion is obviously perfectly permissible, and of no more concern than any other medical procedure.

I find it baffling that so many believe that this complex issue is simply a matter best left up to the individual woman concerned. If we assume that abortion is morally wrong because a fetus deserves human rights, but what right do we permit its mother to decide if it lives or dies?

The soul cannot be measured scientifically, so the moment at which an embryo becomes human can be judged only through religion and metaphysics. This means that one side must impose their view on the other—either the nation will permit what many consider murder, or it will ban what many consider a routine medical procedure. This is unfortunate—but inevitable.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Case for Lieberman

According to ABC News, Condoleezza Rice is actively lobbying John McCain to make her his running mate. The State Department has denied the rumor, but Rice has met with conservative leaders, given a speech on race, and appeared in Fitness magazine, all of which do lend some credence to this story. It is possible that Condi is attempting to get some attention for a vice presidential bid.

Of course, if Rice is trying for the VP slot, she will probably be disappointed. It’s hard to see what she brings to the ticket—she is a black female, but apart from that, she doesn’t add much. Her experience is primarily based on her familiarity with foreign policy, which is the issue that McCain is strongest on. In addition, she really isn’t very good at foreign policy—it wouldn’t be fair to describe the State Department’s recent performance as a disaster, but it hasn’t been very good either.

Iran is still developing nuclear weapons. They are still training insurgents to fight in Iraq. Israel and Palestine are still at war. The situation in North Korea hasn’t improved much.

All of those are difficult problems, and the fact that they remain unsolved is not entirely her fault. Still, they do remain unsolved, and Rice is in charge. If she wants to be vice president, she needs to get some positive results.

Apart from national security, Rice doesn’t appeal to many voters. She won’t win the social conservatives, since she is (quietly) pro-abortion. Her views on immigration probably won’t be an advantage, and she doesn’t have any sort of record on taxes to appeal to the fiscally conservative wing of the party.

McCain has almost certainly considered all these points, and the speculation regarding a McCain-Rice ticket is probably nothing more than rumors. (Matt Drudge linked to the story, which gave it instant credibility, and Rush Limbaugh mentioned it in passing). McCain will almost certainly pick someone else for his running mate.

There are few people in politics more unpredictable than John McCain, which makes any attempt at guessing his running mate difficult. However, there is a strong case to be made that Joe Liebermann could get the nod.

McCain and Lieberman are far apart on most issues. McCain is pro-life, while Lieberman supports abortion. McCain supports a smaller federal government, while Lieberman supports a welfare state. The only issues on which they agree are the war, amnesty for illegal immigrants, embryonic stem cell research, a resistance to waterboarding, and a belief in global warming. All of which are, come to think of it, pretty significant issues.

Maybe McCain and Lieberman aren’t so far apart. Still, they are more different ideologically than most running mates usually are. They have one real point of similarity—they both enjoy going against the prevailing ethos of their party.

Lieberman was forced to run as an Independent because of his support of the Iraq war. McCain embraced amnesty for illegal aliens when most conservatives strongly opposed it. McCain values his reputation as a maverick. It would be consistent with McCain’s mentality if he decided to run with a fellow maverick.

Furthermore, Lieberman is a friend and political ally of McCain. Lieberman endorsed McCain when things looked bleakest for him. He has campaigned with McCain, and traveled to the Middle East with him. McCain may very well decide to reward Lieberman’s loyalty with a VP slot.

McCain may very well pick another candidate than Lieberman for his running mate (and even if he wanted to, he would face significant pressure from the GOP leadership). However, given the friendship and support between the two, and McCain reputation as a maverick, this union cannot be ruled out.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Conservative Party

Many, perhaps most, conservatives believe that if the Republican Party simply nominated true, pure ideological conservatives, then the party would be almost unstoppable in national elections. These people believe that the nominations of people like John McCain and George Bush are the primary reason that the Republican Party is in such dire straits. According to this line of thinking, a lack of conservatism is the only thing keeping the GOP out of power; a really conservative party would be massively popular, as most people would embrace conservative ideals.

This isn’t true. Conservatives don’t have enough influence to nominate a candidate within their own party. Does anybody think that they would have a better chance in the general election?

Many counter that argument by explaining that there were no conservatives to choose from, and that the movement’s only option was to pick the better of five (Giuliani, Thompson, Huckabee, Romney, McCain) evils.

Leaving aside the fact that Fred Thompson was pretty conservative, and that Duncan Hunter was impeccable from a conservative point of view, this argument leaves open the question of why no true conservatives stepped forward in 2000. Or 1996. Or 1992. Or 1988. If the conservative movement is so popular, why were the winners of those nominating contests moderates? Surely, if conservatism is such a sure win, at least one conservative should have stepped up.

Many conservatives invoke the name of Ronald Reagan as the ideal of the True Conservative who wins elections. Reagan was a great president. But he doesn’t quite live up to the legend conservatives have spun around his legacy. He was a) put in a wonderful position to win elections, and b) wasn’t a perfect conservative.

Few candidates could hope for a more advantageous position to run a campaign from than Reagan had in 1980. He was articulate, smart, and competent; Jimmy Carter was laughably lame. Carter was incapable of getting anything done, had seen the rise “stagflation”, and had been embarrassed by the Soviet Union and its allies in the field of foreign policy. It is somehow fitting that he is the only President to be attacked by a swimming rabbit—and to actually tell someone about it. (If a rabbit attacked you, wouldn’t you keep it quiet?).

In 1984, Reagan had to run against Walter Mondale, who was Carter’s vice president, which wasn’t exactly a glowing qualification. After being nominated, one of Mondale’s first moves was to inform the country that he his administration would raise taxes. Shockingly, he lost 49 states, even after using that little ploy.


It’s never easy to win a Presidential election. Reagan was a wonderful campaigner, and had the gift of communicating his principles effectively. He was a true conservative (Bill Buckley was one of his best friends), his conservatism helped him win. It just wasn’t the only factor—he ran against two of the weakest Democrats that party has ever nominated. Another conservative would have had a more difficult time against stronger candidates.

And Reagan, while the most conservative President we have ever had, wasn’t a perfect advocate of conservatism. He raised taxes during his second term, put through a law granting amnesty for illegal aliens, and, inexcusably, let the national debt balloon to an impossibly high level. He was a great man, and a great president, but not quite the paragon of conservatism that he is thought of as today.

Conservatism isn’t a guaranteed win because most people aren’t all that conservative. They are a mixture of the right and the left. They like the individual liberty, low taxes, and moral values that the GOP offers. They like the entitlements, environmentalism, and race consciousness found on the left. They do not have any coherent governing vision. Instead, the pick and choose, buffet style, among the policies formulated by the left and right.

That is not to imply that conservatism is not a good electoral strategy—just not the only winning one. Karl Rove’s “51%” strategy (which is to get 51% of the vote from as many different constituencies as possible, leaving aside any strict ideological foundation) works just as well, and probably better. (Bush beat two very tough opponents).

So what do conservatives do? It is foolish to assume that we can nominate a conservative candidate every four years, if the Republican Party itself is not conservative. Conservatives must remake the Republican Party. That means that conservative cannot afford to pay attention only to the Presidential race—state and local elections are just as important. If conservatives ensure that the political base of the party in solidly conservative, then the GOP will be a truly conservative party.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Mistake

When Ohio voted on March 4, I voted for Hillary Clinton. My reasoning was that, with the Republican primary decided, any vote in the GOP primary would be wasted. I decided to join Mitt Romney, kos, and Rush Limbaugh in strategic voting, where I would vote for the candidate who would be easiest for McCain to beat in November. I decided on Hillary.

I was wrong. Hillary probably would be a stronger candidate in the general election than Obama. At that time, Obama was riding a wave. His only negative was his extreme liberalism. He represented hope, change, and chance for America to elect a black President (which is apparently a big selling point for some). He had a decent lead in head-to-head polls against McCain.

Then everything fell apart. He managed to lose both Ohio and Texas. (Had he won just one of these states, he probably could have knocked Hillary out of the race). Worse, Jeremiah Wright surfaced, which revealed that Obama was, at best, comfortable with a preacher who was rabidly anti-American and racist, and at worst, actually agreed with these sentiments. People started scrutinizing his autobiography, Dreams From My Father, which reveals an oddly suspicious and hostile attitude towards whites. (Granted, whites haven’t always treated blacks justly, but is it really fair to whites to say that “[i]t was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied, they were relieved -- such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."? I mean, we’re talking about the Eighties here, not the Deep South in the Sixties).

Suddenly, Obama has become a more moderate version of Jesse Jackson. He can no longer claim to transcend race. In Obama’s world, blacks and whites are in a state of perpetual conflict. That is not a winning worldview—most voters want a colorblind country, not one in which everyone is judged according to the color of their skin.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are the Isolationists Right?

Some in the conservative movement are under the impression that America’s involvement in the affairs of other nations is an unacceptable and unnecessary. They consider America a worldwide empire, and point out the ubiquitous presence of American troops around the world as evidence as this assertion. This branch of conservatism supports isolationism and paleo-conservatism.

Isolationalists point to George Washington’s farewell address, which warned against entanglement in foreign affairs, and some of the more useless U.S. troop deployments (we have over 75,000 soldiers in Germany, almost three times the number we have in Afghanistan). They believe that the United States suffers from “imperial overstretch”, and will eventually overextend itself and fall.

The leaders of this branch of conservatism are, by and large, slightly crazy. They include Ron Paul, who has always been more than a little eccentric, Pat Buchanan, who was once a real leader of the conservative movement, but now has regressed to something of a xenophobic crackpot (literally, xenophobic is overused, but it fits Buchanan), and Joseph Sobran, whom makes Ron Paul look extremely rational.

There mere fact that nuts dominate a movement does not prove that it is incorrect—after all, during the early Sixties, the John Birch Society was one of the most influential conservative groups until William F. Buckley expelled them from the movement. Not all paleo-conservatives are like Ron Paul—many are rational, and defend their position intelligently. Still, most causes dominated by crazies are, in fact, crazy.

Paleo-conservatism is. First of all, the idea that America is an empire is absurd. “Empire” is defined as “a group of states under one monarch”. The United States, controls, at most, three countries (besides itself, it effectively controls Iraq and Afghanistan), but clearly on a temporary basis. Arguing that America has an “empire” because of its involvements in the Middle East is analogous to arguing that it had an empire after World War II, since this country controlled Germany and Japan.

But, paleo-conservatives reply, what of America’s global dominance? It is undeniably true that America is the world’s most powerful country, and has a great deal of control over the internal affairs of other countries. But that doesn’t equate to an American Empire, rather, it means that America is a global hegemony.

If the charge that America is an empire falls short, there it little left of the paleo-conservative argument, as it rests mostly on that alarmist claim. George Washington’s farewell speech, which does support the paleo-conservative argument, doesn’t hold up. George Washington was a) not a prophet, and b) was speaking over 200 years ago. In his day, America was separated from the rest of the world by two massive oceans, which took weeks and sometimes months to cross. Now, America is no more protected than any other country. George Washington was usually right, but it is as absurd to assume that his advice on foreign policy would be any more helpful in our day than the advice of Elizabeth I (who lived about 200 years before Washington) would have been in his.

Indeed, the idea that we could remove ourselves from the foreign policies of the rest of the world is incredibly naïve. We buy things produced in foreign countries, we sell things to foreign countries, we share our culture with (and export our culture to) foreign countries. The idea that we can do the above, but avoid entanglements in their conflicts is ludicrous. Arguing against foreign entanglements simply doesn’t make sense—by the very fact that the United States exists, it must be involved in world affairs. (Try to name a country that is truly isolationist). And since we dominate economically, we must attempt to exert influence on the foreign policies of other countries.

Are pale-conservatives wrong about everything? No—few movements are. The idea that we are the world’s policemen who are to spread freedom and democracy to the world is as preposterous as the notion that we could withdraw completely from world affairs. Granted, spreading democracy feels good, but all too often doesn’t work (for example, most of Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East). Anyway, there are far too many countries to spread peace and democracy to them all. In that particular criticism, the paleo-conservatives make a strong and valid case.

However, they do not see that we live in a dangerous world, and have lived in one for some time. One of the best tests of a political theory is to apply it to history, and see how things would have changed. Had the United States embraced isolationism during the twentieth century, Germany would have conquered England, and the Soviet Union would have almost certainly won the Cold War. That alone makes a very strong case against the whole isolationist ideal.