Friday, June 27, 2008

Oil Stupidity

Most the thinking behind the U.S. anti-drilling movement is pretty weak and superficial. Oil drilling is supposed to bad for the environment, so many environmentalists support strict limits on the amount of oil America can produce. Then, “green” technologies should spontaneously emerge, making oil superfluous.

Really, no one expects strictly logical thinking from most in the environmental lobby, but this view is exceptionally poorly thought out. It is hard to argue that oil drilling is an environmentally friendly activity, but a ban on U.S. drilling won’t protect the environment much. If America is not permitted to drill offshore, for example, the oil that would have been produced there will simply be extracted from Saudi Arabia or another Middle Eastern desert country.

Most people don’t think of deserts as fragile ecosystems, but they are. They don’t look very alive, but they actually contain a wealth of plant and animal life. (That sounds like a something from National Geographic, but it’s true). So when the environmental lobby forces America to buy oil from the Middle East, instead of getting oil pumped from nice (comparatively) environmentally friendly American oil wells, they get oil from the much less environmentally conscious wells of the Middle East.

Fine. Let the environmentalists have their way—they drive as much as anyone, and high gas prices will hurt them too. Then listen to them complain when coal liquefaction becomes a reality. At present, converting coal into oil is not economically feasible—but with oil at over $140 dollars a barrel, it soon will be. Oil is, all things considered, environmentally friendly. Coal isn’t. Coal mining produces huge amounts of sulfuric acid, which severely damages ecosystems, and it destroys the land mined for years. With oil drilling, you just stick a drill into the ground—in coal mining, the preferred method is strip mining, and the entire landscape is permanently altered. (In fairness to coal companies, they do reclaim the mined land, but the land is still permanently changed. It’s hard to replace a mountaintop).

And those green technologies? They won’t happen. Oil prices are skyrocketing, nuclear power has been at a standstill for forty years, and environmentalism has become very fashionable in many circles. There has never been a better time for green technologies to emerge—yet they haven’t. That is because they don’t work, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. Solar technology works only when the sun is out (yes, that is obvious, but liberals don’t seem to see that), wind energy in inconvenient (it would take dozens and dozens of wind turbines to power a midsized city) and unmanageable to boot (it is a feast or famine sort of deal—if the wind blows, you have more energy than you know what to do with; if not, then there is no power produced at all). Green technologies sound good, but are ineffective.

On the other hand, the Right hasn’t been very useful on this subject either. Most of OPEC consists of countries at least somewhat unfriendly to the United States. And this year, OPEC will get 1.5 trillion dollars in net revenue. That’s nearly ten percent of the total value of the U.S. Fortune 500. Given that the GOP wants to be the party of national security and all, maybe, just maybe, it isn’t a good idea to let OPEC be America’s foremost energy suppliers?

The environmental lobby is powerful—but if there is one issue conservatives should fight for, it should be for increased drilling. (Thankfully, John McCain is willing to increase offshore drilling, and would expand nuclear power as well). It is insanity to give obviously unfriendly nations a large degree of control over our economy and energy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Case for Fear

Perhaps the most common accusation made against Republican politicians is that they rely on the “politics of fear” in order to frighten Americans into voting for them. Supposedly, the GOP uses foreign attacks on the country as reasons to vote Republican, and uses them to scare the American people into voting for the “party of national security.” This is supposed to represent a sort of moral failing of the GOP; that the Republican party uses terrorism as campaign talking point to attract voters.

They do. And there is nothing wrong with that—in fact, to do otherwise would be irresponsible. Anyone who does not realize that the world is (as it always has been) is a dangerous place simply has not been paying attention.

The threat of radical Islam has been in existence for decades. For a long time, it was unable to do much against America—its technological capabilities were simply not adequate. But the world is changing—military technology is becoming cheaper and more available to rogue nations. Were an Islamist terrorist group able to get even a small nuclear weapon, or tiny amount of smallpox virus, the damage that resulted could be unbelievable. Republicans tell people to be afraid of Islamic jihad—and people should be afraid.

(Although it should be noted that one of the most feared threats of radical Islam—the suitcase nuke—is not actually a threat at all. Nuclear weapons just cannot be compressed to suitcase size while remaining effective. Any real suitcase nuke would have an impossibly short shelf life, and would probably kill the person carrying it as well. The threat of radical Islam is dire enough without making up nonexistent threats).

China is another threat. It is not another Soviet Union—yet—but it’s trying. Its economy is booming, and it is expanding its military might. It has allied itself with the totalitarian Russia, and is encouraging its puppet state North Korea to attempt to get nuclear weapons. China cannot be considered an imminent threat (its economy is too dependant on that of the United States for it to be too aggressive), but it very well could be in the future.

The Democrat party has no coherent strategy for dealing with these (and other) threats, beyond the ever popular “talk to them and maybe they’ll go away.” Barack Obama’s entire foreign policy is built around the idea of simply talking to our enemies, a strategy which might not work so well on, say, Iran, which is governed by an irrational dictator. (And does Obama really think that “economic pressure and political isolation” will work on Iran? We’ve applied both to Cuba for half a century, and it hasn’t worked there).

The Republican party is not always correct on foreign policy either—it is possible to make a reasonable case that in hindsight, the Iraq War was a very bad idea. But they do at least realize that national security is an issue that must be dealt with, and have a coherent plan for doing so.

Were the Republicans attempting to exploit an irrational fear, then their tactics would indeed be despicable. But the threats they warn against are very real, and it is the Republican party that can best handle them. (Not so much because the Republicans have any special store of foreign policy sense, but rather because the Democrats have absolutely none).

Indeed, such “fear-mongering” has long been a part of conservatism. For years, conservative warned against the threat of Communism. William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, George Will, and the rest of the early conservative minds were accused of the same kind of “politics of fear” that contemporary Republicans are, and were rarely given attention until the election of Ronald Reagan. But they were mostly right, and so are Republicans today. There are real threats out there, and we should be frightened.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maverick; Or How I Learned To Stop Worring and Love McCain

Most conservatives detest John McCain. Some absolutely loathe the man, and refuse to vote for him under any circumstances; others will vote for him only to prevent Barack Obama from winning the presidency. Very few actually like McCain.

I do. When I cast my vote for McCain, I will do so cheerfully and contentedly. I don’t agree with McCain on everything—I don’t agree with anybody on everything—but McCain shares nearly all of my most important values. McCain isn’t the best possible candidate, or even the best possible Republican nominee (from a conservative perspective, that would have to be Fred Thompson), but he is good enough. I will feel quite happy about voting for him—certainly better than I would feel voting for George W. Bush.

There are three issues that are central to conservative thought: an aggressive foreign policy, a limited federal government, and a commitment to social issues.

McCain is probably the most qualified candidate in politics to handle the War on Terror. Had the United States implemented the surge in Iraq when McCain first called for it (while facing considerable criticism from many conservatives), the Iraq war effort would have been made much easier. In fact, had McCain’s advice been followed, it is not impossible to imagine a situation in which the United States could have left Iraq before the 2008 elections. McCain understands the threat posed by radical Islam, and will almost certainly deal with it better than either of his two immediate precursors.

McCain is also strong on most social issues. He opposes gay marriage, believes that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and thinks that abortion is immoral. His only social lapse is his support for embryonic stem cell research, and that particular kind of research is rapidly becoming obsolete due to scientific advances. McCain is strong on the issue of abortion, although oddly, he rarely mentions the issue.

That leaves the matter of limited government. McCain’s record in this area can (charitably) be described as “mixed.” In his favor, McCain does now support radical tax cuts, and is implacably opposed to earmarks. He does seem committed to slashing government spending.

On the minus side, McCain supports onerous and completely useless cap-and-trade standards, pushing the dreadful McCain-Feingold Act (which limits political speech) through Congress, and seems to favor punishing oil companies for high gas prices. His support for amnesty for illegal aliens displays poor judgment (although it should be noted that there is no good answer to the illegal alien problem, thanks to years of government incompetence).

McCain would be better than Obama on limited government issues, and would probably be better than Bush was as well. But this issue would certainly be his Achilles heel from a conservative perspective.

Even though McCain is, at worst, an average Republican presidential candidate, many conservatives still attack him every chance they get. It’s not hard to see why—McCain doesn’t seem to care what conservatives think of him, and refuses to do anything to attract him. He is ridiculously proud of his “bipartisan” achievements, which frankly aren’t all that impressive, and seems overly willing to compromise with Democrats while throwing Republicans under the bus.

Conservatives have legitimate grievances, but they should not let McCain’s attitude distract from his considerable strengths. It is not easy to find a candidate who supports low taxes, is pro-life, and is strong on the War on Terror. McCain does, and deserves conservative support.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Analyzing the Race

There isn’t much happening in politics. As I write this, the top story on Drudge is something about Congress’s mortgage bailout; the only big story about the presidential race is an article about a dispute between James Dobson and Barack Obama on the proper interpretation of the Bible. The top story on the Politico is a piece about the loose standards required to be billed as a “strategist” on cable TV. (Actually, it’s quite an interesting story, but not very earthshaking). The primaries are over, neither candidate wants to enter general election mode, President Bush is a lame duck, and the Democratic Congress has been inactive. This respite provides an opportunity to take a look at the static political situation.

First, it seems obvious that if the presidential election were held today, John McCain would probably be crushed. According to the RealClearPolitics national poll average, McCain trails Barack Obama by 7.5 points. The RCP electoral vote count puts Obama up 238-163 in electoral votes. Rasmussen’s Daily Tracking poll has McCain down by six. Granted, Obama is getting a bounce due to his defeat of Hillary Clinton, but his leads are simply too large to be the result of such a bump.

McCain trails for two primary reasons—first, the fact that many conservatives are withholding their support, and second, he does not seem to have hit on any dominant theme for his campaign.

When McCain got the nomination, most prominent conservative pundits were harshly critical of him, calling him a liberal and a disaster for the party. (Of course, if McCain is so bad, how come the voters couldn’t see that fact and give Mitt Romney the nomination?) I expected that—but then I expected those commentators to realize that McCain was the best there was left, and give him their (grudging) support, which didn’t happen.

McCain didn’t help by inexplicably turning liberal talking points into important campaign themes. He spent a week talking about climate change, which couldn’t have helped him at all. Obviously to everyone except McCain, anyone who thinks global warming is a serious issue will vote for the more environmentalist friendly Obama, while already suspicious conservatives will only have their suspicions confirmed.

Conservatives don’t like McCain, and he doesn’t seem very interested in pursuing them. In fact, it’s not quite certain which groups McCain is trying to attract. Oddly, the neocons who supported the Giuliani campaign don’t seem to like McCain, fiscal conservatives are understandably leery of his support for cap-and-trade policies (and McCain rarely mentions his tax program), and McCain rarely mentions social issues (even though his record on abortion is excellent).

It seems that McCain is attempting to build a voter base out of voters who a) want victory in Iraq, b) hate earmarks, and c) want to see bipartisanship. Unfortunately for McCain, Americans are a) tired of the Iraq war, b) like earmarks (they may dislike them in theory, but change their mind when money comes home to their district) and c) don’t really care about bipartisanship.

Happily for McCain, Barack Obama is displaying some significant weaknesses as well. It is apparent that he doesn’t speak well off the cuff, and that his style is more suited for lofty speeches and high-sounding rhetoric. This is a weakness McCain should exploit during debates.

Also, Obama seems to be exceptionally poor at handling scandals. When the Jeremiah Wright story broke, his explanations were comically confusing—he was only saved by a sympathetic media that hailed his subsequent speech on race as the next coming of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. (Quick, recite one memorable line from that speech). Obama has never really addressed his friendship with former terrorist William Ayers, or his relationship with the corrupt Tony Rezko, or the fact that he asked for over $740 million in earmarks.

Obama has one final weakness—the Bradley effect. It is undeniable that voters—for whatever reason—are much more willing to tell a pollster that they will vote for a black candidate than to actually do so.

If the election were held today, McCain would probably lose. However, if McCain could find either substantial conservative support or a consistent message, it would be quite possible for him to exploit Obama’s weaknesses and pull off an upset. His path will not easy, but a McCain victory is quite possible.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Obama's Lies

The Clintons proved that the best way to succeed in politics is to lie often and well. Bill Clinton was a master—he persuaded the nation (for a while) that he “did not have sex with that women—Monica Lewinsky”, that he made catching and killing Osama bin Laden one of his administration’s highest priorities, and that he remembered black churches being burned as a child living in Arkansas (they weren’t). Hillary is an impressive liar as well—she almost certainly lied about the Whitewater and Travelgate scandals, and she got away with many smaller lies as well—for example, she claimed that Chelsea Clinton was jogging around the World Trade Center on 9/11, even though Chelsea was nowhere near the towers. The only lie that the media ever bothered to cover extensively was the absurd story about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia, a falsehood so egregious that even the mainstream media (which was mostly in the tank for Barack Obama at that point anyhow) could not refrain from covering it.

Barack Obama is running on a platform of hope, change, and honesty. When contrasted with the Clintons, Obama does come across as an honest man. He isn’t.

In Barack Obama’s first general election ad, he claimed that he had “passed laws” (referring to Public Law 110-181) that “extended healthcare for wounded troops who’d been neglected.” A worthwhile accomplishment—except it isn’t true. Obama had absolutely nothing to do with that particular piece of legislation —he didn’t write it, or sponsor it, or add to it. He didn’t even vote for it. (He was absent on that vote). Obama’s claim in this ad is a blatant lie. (H/T The Corner)

While campaigning against Hillary Clinton, Obama was adamantly against NAFTA, calling it “devastating” and a “big mistake.” He went so far as to threaten to unilaterally demand a renegotiation of the treaty, ignoring whatever objections Mexico and Canada might have. Obama argued that NAFTA took American jobs and hurt American workers, and that he would not permit it to remain in its current form.

Just kidding. Turns out that campaign trail rhetoric gets “overheated and amplified.” Actually, Obama won’t be engaging in any unilateral negotiations—he says he’s not a unilateral kind of guy. When he said that there is “no doubt” NAFTA needs to be amended, he apparently forgot to add “unless Canada and Mexico really aren’t in favor of it.” Obama was clearly not quite straightforward about his true position on free trade.

A final Obama misrepresentation regards the issue of public financing for his campaign. Last November, and again in February, Obama promised to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” When in came time to start pursuing agreements, Obama looked at his fundraising figures and decided to break his pledge. He made no effort to meet with McCain in order to work out an agreement, even though he explicitly promised to do so. The excuse given for his turnaround was a complaint about the “opponents who become masters at gaming this broken system.” Of course, if the system is “broken”, it seems odd that Obama is so intent on preserving the status quo, and refusing public financing (which would limit the amount of money he could get from donations). (Though for the record, I believe that public financing is bad idea—politicians do deserve to have their campaigns underwritten by our tax dollars).

No politician keeps every promise made, but Obama has broken too many promises too quickly. The idea that Obama represents a new kind of politics is a pleasant thought, but not one borne out by reality. Obama represents the same old Washington—only the rhetoric is different.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Random Thoughts

A few random thoughts…

When the Democrats took control of Congress back in 2006, they talked a lot about how they were going to clean up Washington, fix the problems Americans worry about, and provide unceasing resistance to George W. Bush’s policies. They haven’t been able to do much to fulfill the first two promises, but that isn’t really surprising given Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s general incompetence. What is staggering is the fact that they haven’t fulfilled the third promise either—they have done almost nothing to oppose Bush. The latest example of this is the FISA reform bill which passed today—after months of promising absolutely no immunity for telecom companies, the Democrats simply caved and gave Bush most of what he wanted.

A lot of people have drawn comparisons between Barack Obama’s political talent and that of Bill Clinton. While taking nothing away from Obama’s political skill, which is considerable, it’s hard to imagine any politician more adroit than Bill Clinton. (Reagan, maybe). Obama has run an excellent campaign, and deserves credit, but Clinton destroyed everyone who stood in his way. (There is a reason that Newt Gingrich didn’t run for president this year). Obama has potential, but it is far too early to compare him to the master.

The whole issue of drilling for oil is frustrating for me—it seems so obvious that the best way to handle high demand is to increase supply. However, Congress doesn’t seem to agree that the best means of handling the oil problem is more drilling, and nothing anyone says (and public opinion is overwhelmingly favorable to drilling) seems to make a difference. I don’t really like Newt Gingrich, but his petition demanding an increase in drilling is a fantastic idea, and it’s worth signing. (H/T Maries Two Cents)

There are some books that are absolutely brilliant, and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny is one such book. Wouk is (in my opinion) one of the best postwar writers, and The Caine Mutiny is his masterpiece. Every character is drawn perfectly, and the plot is unforgettable. There are very few books that everyone should read, but I think that The Caine Mutiny is one of those. It is absolutely wonderful.

Many people (mostly found within the ranks of paleoconservatives, such as Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul) think that the Israeli lobby a disproportionate amount of control over U.S. foreign policy. These people believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were staged solely (or least party) for the benefit of Israel, and that simply withdrawing support from Israel would safeguard the nation against further terrorist attacks.

This line of thinking is valid, up to a point. The Israeli lobby does have a great deal of influence (though not nearly so much as many paleoconservatives seem to think), but for reasons quite different than the ones usually given. The U.S. values Israel because it provides the U.S. with a valuable first line of defense in the fight against Islamic extremists. If the Islamic world was abruptly pacified, Israel would lose its value to the U.S., and suddenly Israel’s demands would not be met with such respect by Washington.

Many people don’t realize this fact, however, and instead argue that there is some Jewish conspiracy undermining foreign policy. Jews are never nearly as powerful as anti-Semites make them out to be, and they aren’t in this case.

Apparently, NASA has discovered ice on Mars. This sort of thing is interesting, but it makes one wonder how far ahead our space program would be had we not abandoned the Apollo program.

John McCain’s official blog is quite interesting, which is unusual for campaign blogs. (It is written by the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb). But every post seems to involve Barack Obama’s shortcomings—isn’t there anything good about McCain? The official GOP website is even worse—Obama is mentioned numerous times, while McCain is hardly referenced.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Economic Stupidity

According to most national polls, Americans are more concerned about the economy than about any other issue. They worry about rising gas and food prices, a dismal housing market, and the threat of a recession. Americans are looking to Washington for help. Unfortunately, the presumptive nominees of both parties are complete economic morons.

John McCain and Barack Obama are both angry over the “obscene profits” raked in by oil companies. It is not clear how the word “obscene” can be used to describe profits of any kind (“obscene”{ is defined as something immoral or disgusting), or exactly by what criteria profits are judged “obscene,” or even why “obscene profits” are particularly bad. But they are, and the high profits made by oil companies (and most American oil companies are posting record profits) are definitely considered “obscene” by McCain and Obama.

This kind of thinking is offensive. Not because of the implied anti-profit ethos (which is obviously political posturing), but rather because of the complete nonunderstanding of simple, basic economics. This is not a mere misunderstanding, which is excusable—both McCain and Obama are willfully ignorant on this issue.

As everyone who has even the most rudimentary awareness of economics knows (or should know), the most revealing indicator of companies profitability is its profit margin, not its total profit. A profit margin shows the amount of money realized per dollar invested, and better allows comparisons of corporations of different sizes.

So how do oil companies stack up with other industries? Oil companies have a net profit margin of around 8.3%, which is a comfortable figure, but certainly not excessive. Electronics manufacturers get around 14%, and Microsoft has a net profit margin of 27%. (H/T Karl Rove) The profits made by oil companies are not only not “obscene”; they are even particularly high when compared to other industries. (Comparing oil profit margins to other corporations: McDonald’s has a higher net profit margin (10.4%); Toyota is at 6.9%; Hershey was at 4.3% in 2007, but at around 10% in the years before that; and Coca-Cola is at a whopping 20%)

Another stupid gripe both candidates have against oil companies is the idea that rich oilmen rake in profits while never investing anything in alternative fuel industries. Ignore, for the moment, that that assessment is totally false—oil companies are responsible for about a quarter of alternative fuel research. This idea is also profoundly anti-capitalistic, and against all common sense.

Self-interest is capitalism’s guiding force. It is absolutely illogical to attempt to force oil companies to attempt to invest in an industry in which they have little self-interest. It is difficult to imagine any oil company making a serious effort to render itself obsolete, so it is improbable that any alternative fuel development done by oil companies will free us from our dependency on oil.

Energy companies will, however, start seriously investing in alternative fuels when and if the price of oil becomes prohibitively high. At that point, their only hope of survival will rest with alternative fuels. Likewise, if someone ever discovers a way to make alternative energy profitable, oil companies will do their best to jump on board.

This idea is clearly independent of any understanding of economics, and is instead borne out of a sort of hair shirt environmentalism—oil companies are responsible for pollution (and high gas prices); therefore, they must perform some kind of penance. This penance is research into environmentally friendly but wholly useless “green” technologies.

Nobody on the right expected much in the way of economic understanding from Barack Obama, who thinks that it is possible to implement nationalized health care and save money while doing so. But conservatives should expect more from McCain. Generally, I like McCain, but it is hard to disagree with his own estimate of his economic knowledge: “the issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” Liberals and conservatives can agree on that point, though perhaps for different reasons.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Giving Bush Credit

President George W. Bush puts the “lame” into “lame duck.” True, presidents in the last year of their second term don’t often have a great deal of influence, but Bush has been virtually forgotten in the tumult of the 2008 presidential race. When he is remembered, he is usually despised—conservatives feel betrayed by his poor handling of the immigration problem and his spending irresponsibility, and are often disgusted by his poor handling of the Iraq War, while liberals believe that he is the cause of all that is wrong with America. Even those conservatives who defend the president do so in rather a perfunctory way, as though bound by an unwelcome obligation.

In my opinion, those who feel that Bush is responsible for all that is wrong in our government are partially right—in many ways, Bush has turned in a simply dreadful job performance. He has almost indisputably mishandled the Iraq War, both for wholly underestimating the extent of insurgent resistance and for not implementing the surge much earlier. (In addition, there is the fact that we did go into Iraq because of incorrect intelligence—invading Iraq may, in the end, turn out to be beneficial in the War on Terror, but not for the reasons Bush gave. Saddam did not have a budding weapons program, and he had few terrorist ties).

In addition, Bush has done a very poor job at controlling federal spending. He campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” which maybe should have been a warning sign, and from a fiscal point of view, his presidency has been worse than that of Bill Clinton. He has increased the federal debt by four trillion dollars, and has tacitly supported the current egregiously corrupt earmark system.

Bush has done a great deal wrong, but he has done at least one very important thing right—he has fulfilled his promise to keep Americans safe from terror.

Almost seven years after 9/11, it is hard to imagine the enormity of the challenge facing the country in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Three thousand Americans had lost their lives and three iconic skyscrapers had been devastated, all courtesy of a band of twelfth century thugs armed with flimsy knives and a childishly simple plan. This was a challenge unlike any other in our (admittedly short) history—we had to fight an enemy wholly invisible within the general population (for pictures of Mohammed Atta and his cohorts show that he looked perfectly normal), yet who could do incredible damage.

Somehow, Bush did it. There has not been a single major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. It is not for a lack of will on the part of radical Muslims extremists—they have hit many other countries very hard. In 2004, Spain was the victim of Islamic terrorists angry about its support of the Iraq War, and England was hit very hard by terrorism in 2005. Meanwhile, the United States (which the radical Muslim world considers the Great Satan) has not had even one major attack.

And this has been accomplished at a very low human cost. Naturally, every military death is a great tragedy, but the 4,500 dead in Iraq and Afghanistan is much lower than most would have predicted in the days immediately following 9/11. In hindsight, many of those deaths could have been prevented, but the fact remains that the death toll of the War on Terror has been extraordinarily low.

Bush has made more than his share of mistakes, and it is doubtful that history will remember him as a truly great president. But for all his flaws, he has had some significant successes as well, successes which should not be forgotten.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why is Cable News So Bad?

The 2008 presidential election started earlier than ever before. Americans crave political news—the Democrats held over twenty well-watched debates, and the Republicans had over a dozen, all of which were endlessly analyzed by talk radio hosts, bloggers, and TV talking heads.

It is possible to find a wealth of enjoyable, informative commentary on talk radio—Laura Ingraham (when she is not kicked off the air for—apparently—violating her contract), Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin, among many others, host intelligent programs. Likewise, the blogosphere provides interesting and amusing analysis of the news. Even network news, while often biased and shallow, does at least attempt objectivity and decorum. So why is cable news so stupid?

It is hard to find a cable news show that makes even the most cursory attempt to be either a) unbiased, or b) dignified. I confess to be unfamiliar with CNN’s shows—whenever I tune in to that channel, it always seems to be showing a program about such uninteresting topics as the plight of North Dakota’s turnip growers, or the growing market for grain silos. But I do watch both Fox News and MSNBC enough to be familiar with their entire prime time lineups. And both are pretty painful.

Fox News starts its prime time coverage with the O’Reilly Factor, aka the No Spin Zone. Bill O’Reilly is an extremely talented TV personality, and that accounts for his massive popularity, but he is also an egotist and a blowhard. His ego means that he is constantly getting into embarrassing arguments with other media figures (for example, Keith Olbermann), and starting understaffed social crusades (three million people is an impressive cable audience, but not enough to make a boycott really effective).

O’Reilly’s tough questioning ensures that few prominent political figures want to appear on this show, which means that the O’Reilly Factor often degenerates into Bill O’Reilly hollering his positions at some overmatched “strategist”, which turns what should be entertaining political debate into an embarrassing shoutfest. In addition, O’Reilly is a clever but shallow thinker, which means that his political positions are often ill-though-out.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is worse. His show is built around the fact that he is not Bill O’Reilly—Olbermann seems to harbor a stalker-like obsession with O’Reilly. He often names O’Reilly his “worst person in the world”, fanatically covers every O’Reilly gaffe, and often launches into a bad impersonation of O’Reilly’s voice when especially angry (which is often). I personally thought the show jumped the shark when Olbermann put on a puppet show acting out some event in Bill O’Reilly’s life.

The rest of the show is a sort of liberal Biazzro World—Olbermann lets liberals pretend, for a moment, that Bush is a sort of Richard Nixon/Bond villain combo, a world in which Olbermann is Edward R. Murrow (Olbermann has even appropriated Murrow’s “good night and good luck” line). Olbermann is by turns a psuedostalker and a nut.

After Olbermann comes Verdict with Dan Abrams. Dan Abrams used to be general manager of MSNBC, but got tired of that job and reentered broadcasting. Abrams is perhaps most notorious in conservative circles for gleefully speculating that Rush Limbaugh might be arrested for vote fraud. However, in other circles, he is known for…not much really, but he is a vegetarian, which probably the most interesting thing about him. His show is about as interesting as he is.

Fox News fills the 9 p.m. hour with Hannity and Colmes, which is a sort of less intelligent version of the O’Reilly Factor. Alan Colmes is more interesting and intelligent than he seems on TV—his talents are not exhibited well against the combative and bullying Hannity, so he is usually just ignored and brought out when the frequent well-known conservative commentators need a liberal punching bag.

Fox News follows Hannity with On the Record with Greta van Susteren, which provides important coverage of missing teenagers, runaway brides, and celebrity sex scandals. The most amazing aspect of the show is that Greta van Susteren has a job—she is certainly not particularly attractive, has little personality, and has a gravely, annoying voice. Sadly, her show is quite popular, presumably among the same people who read supermarket tabloids a lot.

MSNBC fills the hour with a repeat of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, in keeping with their commitment to making sure that Olbermann is on air as much as possible. (When not on Countdown, Olbermann anchors election night coverage, and sometimes moderates debates).

Cable news, in contrast with other media, seems to almost universally either boring, stupid, or biased (or all three). Neither Fox News nor MSNBC has a prime time show which could be called worthwhile. Possibly, media leaders are simply responding to what viewers want, which is the ultimate arbitrator—but it would nice if cable news could inject some civility and balance into its reporting.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Townhall Debates

Several weeks ago, John McCain extended an invitation to Barack Obama—both candidates would commit to a series of ten town hall meetings, during which each candidate would answer questions from ordinary people. It’s a hard idea to argue with, and the Obama campaign agreed to it, saying that it only needed to work out the details. After thinking the matter over, the Obama campaign came back with their counteroffer—they wanted the three traditional fall debates, a August debate about foreign policy, and one [!] town hall meeting. On the Fourth of July [!!!]. In effect, the Obama campaign shot down the whole idea.

Everyone interested in politics knows that Obama is much better at reading from a TelePrompTer than at thinking on his feet, and that the opposite is true of McCain. But can the Obama campaign possibly really be that concerned about a debate with McCain? Obama must know that his refusal to debate McCain will be seen as weak by many voters—does he think his debating skills are so poor that he simply cannot afford to debate McCain in the loose, unscripted town hall environment?

McCain should hope so. If Obama is as poor a debater as his response indicates, then he will probably trip up at some point in the debating process anyway. And Obama’s refusal to debate should make political hay for McCain, who needs all the good press he can get.

(On the other hand, maybe this won’t be a boost at all. At this point, McCain has no friends in the media—the liberal media find him too conservative, and the conservative media find him too liberal. I’m not sure there is any political commentator who really likes McCain. Possibly, Fox News will give him some favorable coverage, but realistically, cable news is becoming so nakedly partisan that it is hard to take anything said on cable seriously. The cable division seems to be Fox News—conservative; CNN—boring; and MSNBC: liberal and boring).

Even though Obama refused to attend any of McCain’s proposed town halls, McCain went ahead with them anyway. He held his first yesterday; it was televised on Fox News. The questions were pretty standard—how would you achieve bipartisanship as president, what would your Supreme Court look like, how would you improve education; and McCain’s answers weren’t very exciting either—the Democrats would work with me, John Roberts, whatever the typical line on education reform is. It was more interesting than, say, some the Democrat debates, but Obama’s presence would have made it much more exciting.

Watching McCain, it was hard not to notice the contrast with Obama. Obama is tall, athletic (he’s a very good basketball player), young, and speaks in nice, rolling tones. McCain is shorter, awkward (which may actually work in McCain’s favor; it’s hard to forget that his arms were broken by his North Vietnamese torturers), old (though he does look good for his age), and speaks in an annoying monotone. Obama’s image is much, much better, which may explain why he would rather reply on lofty, content free speeches than complicated debates.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Liberal Fiction

Conservatives spend a lot of time complaining about the undeniable liberal bias in Hollywood. With only a few exceptions, (Arnold Swartzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Adam Sandler) Hollywood is populated exclusively by far-left zealots. Stars like Sean Penn, Scarlet Johansson, and George Clooney routinely advocate for extreme liberal causes—for example, Scarlet Johansson is a very vocal supporter of Barack Obama (they routinely email each other), Alec Baldwin has called Dick Cheney a terrorist, and George Clooney has accused President Bush of “killing innocent people” in Iraq. Of course, the Hollywood elite would vilify any conservative star trying to do the equivalent. (See the case of Charleston Heston).

Often, this distaste translates into anti-American and anti-conservative films. Over the winter, a number of prominent directors released a whole slate of anti-war films—there was Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah” (which suggested that soldiers returning from Iraq are often mentally unhinged), Brian de Palma’s “Redacted”, (in which American soldiers persecute an Iraq family), and Kimberly Pierce’s “Stop-Loss”. The critically acclaimed blockbuster “The Bourne Ultimatum” used the CIA as the villain, and featured some waterboarding scenes, an obvious dig at the Bush Administration. Big corporations are the villain of choice in American movies. It is obvious that Hollywood seeks to spread its liberal point of view through its movies, and conservatives are right to be wary of the movie-making industry.

However, the extent that liberal movies actually influence people is debatable. Hollywood’s most recent bunch of anti-war movies all bombed—practically no one bothered to see them. The audience for films like “The Bourne Ultimatum” is probably not thinking much about politics—the movie expects us to believe that a bomb can completely destroy a car, but not the hero, even though the hero was standing between the bomb and the car. The waterboarding scenes probably went completely over most of the audiences’ head.

Liberal movies probably influence some people, but a case could be made that liberal novelists influence many more. People rarely go to the movies looking for an intellectual experience. They expect more from books.

One of the country’s foremost humorists is unfortunately Garrison Keillor, who has not let the fact that he is wholly unfunny (in my opinion) stop him from making a very successful career in humor. He is also a notorious liberal. He writes political columns for Salon.com, has published a collection of political essays called “Homegrown Democrat”, and often takes shots at Republicans in his stories. In his short story collection “The Book of Guys”, the whole point of one of the stories was that George H.W. Bush is an idiot who only won because of the Willie Horton issue. In another of his books, he invents a letter to an advice columnist which is supposedly from George W. Bush, in which the dim-witted Bush agonizes over whether or not to run for president. People read Keillor because he is (supposedly) funny, but they get a hefty dose of liberal thought as well.

Another humorist who incorporates liberal ideas into his writings is Bill Bryson (whom I don’t find very funny either). In an autobiography about growing up during the Sixties, he spends whole chapters criticizing U.S. foreign policy of the era, during the course of which he makes it clear that he has no idea of what he is talking about. In his travel books, he routinely accuses (presumably conservative) Southerners of racism.

However, easily the most prominent progressive author is John Grisham. His books are incredibly liberal—and he takes almost no criticism for it. His villains of choice are Big—Big Tobacco (The Runaway Jury), Big Health Insurance (The Rainmaker), or Big Pharmaceuticals (The Appeal).

Take, for example, his book The Street Lawyer. It is nothing more than a collection of liberal talking points about the homeless. Grisham actually has characters single out Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani for criticism, and the characters often take time out from the action to awkwardly reel off statistics about the homeless. Naturally, any character who does respond to the homeless problem in the proper way is portrayed as an unfeeling jerk.

Or consider his most recent book, The Appeal. I haven’t read it (and won’t), so I’m just going by the dust cover, but all of Grisham’s books are wholly predicable anyway, so I doubt I’m missing anything. The conflict involves an evil (of course) pharmaceutical which dumps toxic materials into water, gets sued, and buy themselves a state judge. Grisham sees this book as a stark, realistic look at the judicial system—and sadly (given that the book is wholly unrealistic), many of his readers will too.

Liberal authors, of course, have the right to publish anything they want, but conservatives should be aware that many novelists insert destructive and absurd themes into their novels. These novelists have a great deal of influence, and conservatives should attempt to counter them. Liberal books are just as damaging as liberal movies, and often more so.

Prius Review

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson presents a well-reasoned, considered view of the Toyota Prius. All in all, his review seems a bit harsh. (Via Ace of Spades)

(There is a little America bashing in this video, so don't click if you really, really hate that sort of thing. On the other hand, they do shoot a Prius with a machine gun, so it balances out).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teaching Evolution

One of the most controversial issues in public education is the question of whether or not to teach evolution in public schools. There are many who believe that evolution is only a theory, and that students should be exposed to all points of views and permitted to make their own decisions. Some of these people do not want evolution taught at all, others want equal time given to the intelligent design theory, and others want only a brief mention of intelligent design included in school textbooks. According to a 2005 Pew Research Center pollwatch, over two thirds of Americans want creationism taught in one form or another.

These partisans have been surprisingly effective. In the past decade, at least eight states have permitted the teaching of what is known as “intelligent design” in one form or another. (Exactly what “intelligent design” is is difficult to pin down, but it usually maintains that at least some natural processes are explainable only by the intervention of some supernatural agency). Intelligent design proponents (or creationists—there is a slight difference between the two groups, but it is negligible) have taken their effort to the state and local levels, which lets them fly under the radar until they actually achieve results, which sometimes get wider attention. The creationist movement has gotten significant support, both from common citizens and from such eminent individuals as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bobby Jindal. Most conservatives seem to agree that teaching intelligent design in schools is usually a good idea.

It isn’t. Creationism has no place in classrooms. One of the most common arguments for it goes something like this: evolution is just a theory, and we should present both sides to students and let them judge for themselves. This is based on two unbelievably wrong assumptions.

First, most people seem to think that a scientific theory is just a rough assumption that hasn’t been proven. It doesn’t work that way. Evolution is a theory, putting it in the same category as number theory, or atomic theory, or the theory of relativity. A theory is an “organized set of related ideas.” The fact that a scientific concept is considered a theory has nothing to do with whether or not it is true or false. Evolution is a theory, but has been tested experimentally and has not yet been found wanting.

Even if we assume that evolution is nothing more than a theory, does anyone think it makes sense to let high schoolers judge its validity? Teens are not allowed to drink, smoke, or (until sixteen) drive, but they are qualified to make judgments about evolution? What other scientific debates should we hand over to high schoolers? Quantum physics? Dark matter? Wormholes? The idea that students can “decide for themselves” is utterly absurd.

Anyhow, there is no scientific debate about evolution. There is literally not one reputable biologist who rejects the theory of natural selection. In fact, it is considered it so pivotal to our understanding of biology that some scientists believe that it should be considered a scientific principle; a law so pivotal that it is considered a cornerstone of biology.

If there were any biologists who believed that creationism was something more than pseudoscience, they could publish their thoughts in scientific journals. But they don’t—because there is no scientific basis for them.

There are some in the intelligent design fold who believe that there is some conspiracy within the scientific community to shut out creationists. This is nonsense, and unjust nonsense at that. There is absolutely no reason to assume that that the scientific community would deliberately cover up the truth. It is possible that occasionally intelligent design proponents are discriminated against by their peers. However, that is because they are often eccentric cranks, not because their colleagues are afraid that they will reveal some hidden truth.

Teaching evolution in public schools is a bad idea—not because it somehow violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, but because creationism is a stupid and unscientific idea. It has no business being taught in our public schools—or in schools of any kind. Conservatives should distance themselves from those who oppose the teaching of evolution.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

John McCain: Tax Warrior

Conservatives don’t always agree. Many neocons don’t really care about the concerns of social conservatives, and some social conservatives would be just as happy to see America leave Iraq. The libertarian wing of the party, in many cases, is indifferent to either side; instead, they promote dismantling massive federal programs that are probably here to stay.

One thing all these groups agree upon, however, is the need for lower taxes. It is pretty much universally recognized on the Right that taxes are a necessary evil—that they kill initiative, stunt economic growth, and give the government far too much power over our lives. And fortunately, the Republican Party has nominated a man who is committed to slashing taxes across the board.

John McCain got the reputation as something of a supporter of high tax rates due to his opposition to the Bush tax cuts. His opposition to these cuts was inexcusable and weird—he now claims that he opposed them because the GOP wasn’t cutting spending enough, but at the time, his justification was the same “all the tax cuts are going to the rich” screed that the Democrats employed both then and now. Now, however, McCain has flip-flopped on the issue and now supports Bush’s tax cuts—and a lot more.

I don’t know what changed McCain’s mind, but he now supports a radically altered tax plan, and his proposals are very, very good. McCain supports cutting taxes on gasoline (which won’t cut fuel prices at all, but is better than letting our money get consumed by the government), the middle class (by repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax), and supports doubling the personal exemption for dependants. He would raise the exemption for the estate tax to $10 million, and would cut the tax to 15%. He wants to slash the corporate tax rate by ten percent, and supports a ban on internet and cell phone taxes.

And McCain does not just espouse cutting tax rates—he wants to fundamentally change the tax code. He wants to mandate a 3/5 Congressional majority to enact a tax hike, which slow the ratification of new taxes. More importantly, his plan would release Americans from the current bloated tax code. The new system would involve two flat rates—you fill in your income, and subtract the percentage owed in taxes. This would end most of the needless IRS red tape. According to some polls, Americans fear an IRS audit more than a mugging—McCain’s revamped tax codes would change all that. (And if anyone wanted to employ the old tax code, that option would be available to them).

In 1984, the first thing Walter Mondale did upon receiving the nomination was to promise to raise taxes. Barack Obama doesn’t want to make the same mistake. So on his official website, the entire issue of taxes seems strangely invisible, like you wandered into some parallel universe where taxes are no longer an important issue. There are two mentions of taxes on Obama’s Issues page—one involves the vaguely Orwellian sounding “Making Work Pay” tax credit (which would provide tax cuts to working class families, although these cuts are a pale shadow of the cuts involved in McCain’s plan), and a simplified tax form, which basically lets the government do your taxes for you. That seems to be the substance of Obama’s tax plan.

Obama spends more time criticizing John McCain’s tax plan. He claims that McCain’s tax cuts are bad because they would deprive the government of too much revenue. (Like that is a bad thing). Obama ignores the fact that lower taxes often mean increased government revenue, as the money saved is usually spent or invested, which causes economic growth, and hence more tax revenues.

John McCain has his flaws as a candidate. He does seem to support the idea of an activist federal government, and his immigration plan is truly dreadful. But his ideas on taxes are absolutely wonderful (they seem borrowed from the Fred Thompson campaign), and he deserves a lot of credit for them. On the issue of taxes, as on so many other issues, McCain is not just acceptable—he is really, really good.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Atheist Innumeracy

In recent years, many atheist books have hit the bestseller lists. Christopher Hitchens’ god is Not Great (no, “god” is not supposed to be capitalized), Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith have all been recent bestsellers. Generally, reaction in the press has been quite favorable, and even religious believers have generally treated these books with respect.

One the key points that these authors make is the assertion that religion is the root cause of most of history’s wars and persecutions. Christopher Hitchens has written that “fascism is practically another word for Catholicism.” Richard Dawkins believes that religion is “lethally dangerous nonsense.” It is very common to see the accusation leveled that organized religion is responsible for most of history’s wars and persecutions; that the number of people killed because of religion dwarfs any other cause.

That charge is totally absurd. Religious conflict accounts for only a tiny percentage of history’s atrocities. Consider this Wikipedia list of wars and massacres throughout the course of human history. Being Wikipedia, the list is probably not exhaustive, but it should give a rough estimate of the damage caused by religion.

Adding up the lower estimates of the people killed in humanity’s more recent wars (the list seems to begin around the thirteenth century), the rough total comes out at around 190 million. Religious wars account for 28 million of those dead. (Although I used a pretty liberal interpretation of “religious war,” so the number is probably higher than it should be). That comes out to around 15%. This means that around fifteen percent of the world’s historical strife can be traced (however tenuously) back to religion—and 85% can’t.

But many atheists claim that religion’s greatest evil lies in its ability to make ordinary, day-to-day life miserable for those unlucky enough to fall into its power. So perhaps a list of genocides would be the place to look for the true measure of religions depravity.

The list mentioned above also has a (incomplete, as before) list of notable genocides. This list climbs to 75 million. Eight million were religiously motivated, which means that in this case, about ten percent of genocides can be traced back to religion. This number is tiny—barely statistically significant.

It may be possible to tack on a few more deaths to religion (medieval witch hunts were not mentioned), but not many more. Religious belief is simply not to blame for many mass murders.

Most atheists dodge this fact by attempting to blame religion for the deaths caused by the mostly atheistic totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, such as Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, or Hitler’s Germany. The reasoning behind this line of thought is that since all these ideologies rested on a theory that could not be questioned or disobeyed, they all count as religion, which atheists see as sharing the same characteristic. (Even though religious believers—even those of the same faith—rarely agree on philosophical matters). This argument is valid, up to a point: most totalitarianism does rest on a set of beliefs that, by virtue of their presumed infallibility, do become a secular religion. (This can be seen clearly in the global warming movement).

But totalitarianism is a secular religion. It places its faith in man, not God, and sets its sights on building a Heaven on Earth rather than during the afterlife, as theistic religions do. The mental processes required to profess both totalitarianism and religion are much the same—but the beliefs themselves are literally linear opposites.

Clearly, religion bears absolutely no responsibility for the vast majority of human suffering. It’s not hard to realize this—a quick look at history should suffice to prove it to any fair-minded person. Atheists consider themselves slaves to the scientific method, but the scientific method involves accepting all the information available, not just that which is favorable to your preferred side. This attack is either the product of bad faith or inexcusable ignorance—and atheists should stop using it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Blogosphere Gap

Many conservative bloggers worry about the fact that the conservative blogosphere is much smaller, less vocal, and less powerful than its liberal counterpart. The conservative blogosphere has nowhere near the level of support that progressive bloggers have—the Daily Kos, for example, gets more traffic than leading conservative blogs Instapundit and Hot Air combined. The Daily Kos has enough clout to get top Democrat presidential candidates to attend its YearlyKos convention, while the right-wing blogosphere doesn’t have enough traction to have a convention of any kind. Conservatives wonder: why does the left have such a massive online lead?

One reason is that most young people, when they care about politics at all, tend to vote Democratic. Since the Internet is populated largely by younger people, it is almost inevitable that liberal blogs would have a built-in advantage demographic advantage. As most young people seem to be relatively apathetic politically, this is a somewhat slight advantage, but it certainly explains part of the left’s Internet dominance.

Another, perhaps more substantial reason for this phenomenon lies in the fact that it is always easier to build a political organization when your party is out of power. During the Clinton years, the Right built up talk radio (which, outside of Rush Limbaugh, didn’t really exist before the Clinton presidency), create Fox News, and established the beginnings of the conservative online community by creating sites such as Freerepublic.com, Instapundit, and michellemalkin.com. During that time, the left did little to increase their media share.

Liberals have done the same thing during the Bush years. They have effectively taken over MSNBC (with the exceptions of Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough, it’s hard to think of a conservative on that network), created Air America (which was a flop, but not for lack of funding), and started the left-wing blogosphere. Conservatives have lagged behind—not because of some flaw inherent in conservatism or conservatives, but because movements that lack political power are always more vocal than the incumbents.

A final reason for the rise of the liberal blogosphere may lie in the fact that liberals don’t have a Rush Limbaugh. A liberal searching for an unashamedly liberal point of view has a difficult time of it—the networks lean left, but pretend to be unbiased (likewise for most of cable news), and liberal talk radio has always been almost wholly nonexistent. The only really unabashed liberal in media is Keith Olbermann, and his audience is very small. So liberals (who, remember, are often relatively young and tech-savvy) turn to the Internet, creating massive blog networks in which they can spread liberals views and news. The blogosphere is, in many ways, the liberal answer to talk radio.

But if liberals are so desperate for what talk radio can give them, why didn’t Air America succeed? The answer lies in the fact that the liberal movement is not a coherent political philosophy, as conservatism is, but rather a loose collection of allied causes. Liberals embrace many movements—they support environmentalists, feminists, and anti-war people, to name a few. But few liberals consider themselves all three, and most are content to lobby for their own pet liberal cause. The flexible blogosphere lets liberals of all stripes promote their individual causes under one virtual roof. Liberals dominate the blogosphere because conservatives don’t need it.

Will this Internet gap hurt the conservative movement? Not for the time being. The blogosphere really isn’t very influential. Although the number of people who actually read blogs is very difficult to pin down, the Daily Kos (which is perhaps the most influential political blog) can’t get much more than an average of 50,000 visitors a day—which is impressive, but hardly enough to make a very big difference in an election.

Inevitably, the blogosphere will become a more influential player in American politics, and the right will have to ensure that its share of the Internet is equivalent to that of the left. But at this time, the insignificance of the right-wing blogosphere shouldn’t worry conservatives a great deal.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

McCain's Strengths

The primary season ends tonight. As I write this, no one knows whether Hillary Clinton will concede or not—given her record, it seems reasonable to assume that she will not. [UPDATE: She didn't] But it is certain that Barack Obama will be the Democrat nominee. John McCain now knows who he will run against.

McCain hasn’t run much of a campaign thus far—since winning the nomination, he has preferred to let the two remaining Democrats slug it out (a safe strategy). Now he knows who his opponent is, and must start his general election campaign. Being the first candidate to win the nomination has disadvantages (the Democrats got huge amounts of media coverage, while McCain was mostly ignored), but there is at least one definite advantage—there is ample opportunity for him to set the tone of the first part of the election.

McCain must seize this chance. In a bad year for Republicans, he must attempt to steer the election towards the issues on which he is strongest. In an unpredictable election year, key issues may change, but there are two that McCain must focus on: Iraq and Obama’s inexperience.

Many things will change by November. The economy could improve or move into a recession, gas prices could go up or down, and the situation in Iraq could worsen. One thing will stay the same—Barack Obama will be perhaps the most inexperienced many ever to make a serious run for President. It is possible to base a whole campaign around that fact—and McCain should.

It is almost impossible to write about Barack Obama’s Senate career—there’s just nothing there. Obama’s biggest legislative compliment was the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. While this bill is a good and much-needed bill, which was hardly Obama’s brainchild, as Republican Tom Coburn was the bill’s primary sponsor. With the exception of this bill, Obama has done almost nothing of importance in the Senate.

He has been a Senator for three years—and definitely not made the most of them. Were it not for his race and his silver tongue, he would be considered nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, inexperienced Senator.

Whatever one’s feelings about Senator McCain, it is impossible to deny his experience. He has served in the U.S. government over thirty years. He has made some mistakes during his tenure in the Senate—the Keating Five affair springs to mind, as does the McCain-Kennedy act. But he does know Washington, and he knows the world in which we live—indeed, as one of the key movers of the most powerful nation in the world, he has had a hand in shaping it. Obama, in contrast, is three years removed from a career in the Illinois State Senate, which, while no doubt an honorable post, is not quite suitable for training the leader of the free world.

The other issue which McCain must focus on is Iraq. A year ago, the situation in Iraq looked very, very grim. Some on the right believed that a quick withdrawal was the only legitimate option—and almost everyone on the left thought so. Then came the surge. Now, Baghdad has been pacified, violence in the Anbar Providence is down, and U.S. combat deaths at at the lowest level since the war began. Clearly, the surge worked.

Unfortunately for Obama, he never thought it would. On January 30th of last year, he introduced the Iraq War De-Escalation Act, which was a direct response to President Bush’s surge. Obama displayed a clearly limited understanding of Middle Eastern politics when he declared that the bill was a “phased redeployment that can pressure the Iraqis to finally reach a political settlement and reduce the violence,” even though it is fairly obvious to most people that withdrawing troops isn’t the best way to apply pressure. Obama still believes the surge a failure. Ever since the beginning of the surge, Obama has been dead wrong on Iraq.

Americans are tired of the war, but they still want victory in Iraq. McCain can claim, truthfully, that he knows how to provide it. The best Obama can do is to outline a plan for retreat. If the situation in Iraq continues to get better, the war will give McCain the strongest possible issue (national security) with which to campaign against Obama. (If the situation in Iraq deteriorates, then McCain is finished. He has to try to make Iraq the campaign’s key issue).

When the 2008 presidential campaign started last year, things looked bleak for the GOP in general, and McCain in particular. But now the Democrats have chosen to nominate the most inexperienced (and one the most liberal) candidates in history, and McCain’s Iraq strategy is working well. Given the utter incompetence displayed recently by the GOP, McCain could not hope for a better situation going into the general campaign.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Conservatives Should Oppose Gay Marriage

Recently, the California Supreme Court overturned California’s ban on gay marriage. The law was a referendum overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2000, but was reviewed by the Supreme Court of California. The court found a “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship,” although such a right didn’t seem to be found in the text of the state’s constitution. Rather, the California Supreme Court relied on the equal-protection clause, which is a very liberal (in the sense of “loose”) interpretation of the clause.

The California Supreme Court decision is an absurd attempt to circumvent the will of the voters, but there is a good chance that it won’t matter. Conservative religious groups have submitted a petition that would set the ban on same-sex marriage as a state constitutional amendment. If passed, the amendment would overturn the new state position on gay marriage, and place the matter outside the reach of the state courts. Polls indicate that there is quite a good chance that the referendum will pass.

Most conservatives oppose gay marriage—but many of them don’t seem to know exactly why. Some (many fundamentalist Protestants seem to fall into this category) seem to be under the impression that homosexuality is some great, unprecedented evil, which must be resolutely opposed at every turn. This idea is absurd. To Christians (or at least to Roman Catholics, which are the only branch of Christianity I can speak for), homosexuality is a serious sin—but not quite as serious as some believe.

In Catholic ethics, homosexual acts are considered wrong because, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “they close the sexual act to the gift of life.” This is precisely the same reason that the Church considers birth control immoral—and most Christians (including most Catholics) have absolutely no problem with birth control. So it is not as if homosexuality is a crime so dreadful that no society could even dream of countenancing it.

(Other Christian churches may have other reasons for opposing homosexuality, but any other grounds for considering homosexuality are beyond me, other than the simple fact that the Bible forbids it. But that doesn’t answer the question of the underlying reason for such a prohibition.)

Social conservatives consider homosexuality wrong, but why is it worth opposing legal recognition of such a relatively (note the use of the word “relatively”) minor transgression? Only a tiny proportion of the population is gay, and only a small proportion of them want to marry. So why trouble?

Because an official recognition of gay marriage would destroy the concept of marriage. Marriage is a remarkably stable civilizational concept—it is quite similar around the world. One of marriages most important purposes is to provide a stable family unit, and to provide children with a stable home.

A state recognition of gay marriage negates this concept. If gay marriage is recognized, then marriage is a meaningless idea—any combination of individuals wishing to get married would have that right. There would be logical basis upon which to prohibit polygamy or polyandry. Even incestuous relationships could be justified, since as, the California Supreme Court pointed out, there is a “fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship.” A case (not a very good one) could even be made that bestial marriages could be recognized if someone wanted to build a “family” with his pets. Homosexual marriage probably would have little initial effect (remember, the number of gays whom actually wish to be married is fairly small), but such recognition would ensure that marriage would become meaningless as a legal and social concept. There would be no identification of the long-established purpose of marriage.

Of course, homosexual marriage is hardly the greatest threat to traditional marriage. In many Western nations, it could be argued that marriage already is a meaningless concept. In many European countries, illegitimacy rates are sky-rocketing, many couples are electing to forgo marriage for a permanent state of cohabitation, and many view the very idea of marriage an old-fashioned and outdated concept. Even in America, the federal government contributes to the breakdown of traditional marriage by increasing government handouts to single mothers, which means that many couples forgo marriage for federal funds. Gay marriage is indeed a threat to marriage—but hardly the only such threat, and not nearly the most serious one.